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Title:      The Dancing Floor (1926)
Author:     John Buchan
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Dancing Floor (1926)
Author:     John Buchan





"Quisque suos patimur Manes"

VIRGIL, Ĉneid, vi. 743





TO

HENRY NEWBOLT




An episode in this tale is taken from a short story of mine
entitled "Basilissa," published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1914.

J. B.





THE DANCING FLOOR



PART I



CHAPTER I


This story was told me by Leithen, as we were returning rather late
in the season from a shooting holiday in North Ontario.  There were
few passengers, the weather was a succession of snow blizzards and
gales, and as we had the smoking-room for the most part to
ourselves, we stoked up the fire and fell into a mood of yarns and
reminiscences.  Leithen, being a lawyer, has a liking for careful
detail, and his tale took long in the telling; indeed, snatches of
it filled the whole of that rough October passage.  The version I
have written out is amplified from his narrative, but I think it is
accurate, for he took the trouble to revise it.


Romance (he said) is a word I am shy of using.  It has been so
staled and pawed by fools that the bloom is gone from it, and to
most people it stands for a sugary world as flat as an eighteenth-
century Arcadia.  But, dry stick as I am, I hanker after my own
notion of romance.  I suppose it is the lawyer in me, but I define
it as something in life which happens with an exquisite aptness and
a splendid finality, as if Fate had suddenly turned artist--
something which catches the breath because it is so wholly right.
Also for me it must happen to youth.  I do not complain of growing
old, but I like to keep my faith that at one stage in our mortal
existence nothing is impossible.  It is part of my belief that the
universe is on the whole friendly to man, and that the ordering of
the world is in the main benevolent. . . .  So I go about expecting
things, waiting like an old pagan for the descent of the goddess.
And once--only once--I caught the authentic shimmer of her wings.


I


My story begins in January 1913, when I took my nephew Charles to
dine with the Amysforts for a ball they were giving.  Balls are not
much in my line, for when I came first to London it was the foolish
fashion of young men not to dance, but to lounge superciliously in
doorways, while their elders took the floor.  I had a good deal of
work on hand, and I meant to leave immediately after dinner, but
the necessity of launching Charles made me linger through the first
few dances.  My nephew was a cheerful young gentleman in his second
year at Oxford, and it presently appeared that he did not want for
friends of his own age.  There was a perpetual bandying of
nicknames and occult chaff with other fresh-coloured boys.

One in particular caught my attention.  He was a tall young man of
about Charles's age, who was not dancing but stood beside one of
the windows with his head silhouetted against a dark curtain.  He
was uncommonly handsome after the ordinary English pattern, but our
youth is mostly good to behold, and that would not have fixed my
attention.  What struck me was his pose.  He was looking at the
pretty spectacle with a curious aloofness--with eyes that received
much but gave out nothing.  I have never seen any one so completely
detached, so clothed with his own atmosphere, and since that is
rare at the age of twenty, I asked Charles if he knew him.

"Rather.  It's old Milburne.  He's up at Magdalen with me.  First
string for the 'Varsity mile.  Believed"--his voice became
reverential--"to be going to knock five seconds off his last year's
time.  Most awful good chap.  Like me to introduce you?"

The young man in response to my nephew's beckoning approached us.
"Hullo, Vernon, how's life?" said my nephew.  "Want to introduce
you to my uncle--Sir Edward Leithen--big legal swell, you know--
good fellow to have behind you if you run up against the laws of
England."

Charles left us to claim a partner, and I exchanged a few
commonplaces with his friend, for I too--consule Planco--had run
the mile.  Our short talk was the merest platitudes, but my feeling
about his odd distinction was intensified.  There was something
old-fashioned in his manner--wholly self-possessed yet with no
touch of priggishness--a little formal, as if he had schooled
himself to be urbanely and delicately on his guard.  My guess at
the time was that he had foreign blood in him, not from any
difference of colouring or feature, but from his silken reserve.
We of the North are apt to be angular in our silences; we have not
learned the art of gracious reticence.

That boy's face remained clearly fixed in my memory.  It is a thing
that often happens to me, for without any reason on earth I will
carry about with me pictures of some casual witnesses or clients
whom I am bound to recognize if I ever see them again.  It is as
freakish a gift as that which makes some men remember scraps of
doggerel.  I saw the face so vividly in my mind that, if I had been
an artist, I could have drawn it accurately down to the finest
lines of the mouth and the wary courtesy of the eyes.  I do not
suppose I gave the meeting another conscious thought, for I was
desperately busy at the time, but I knew that I had added another
portrait to the lumber-room of my absurd memory.

I had meant to go to Scotland that Easter vacation to fish, but a
sudden pressure of Crown cases upset all my plans, and I had to
limit my holiday to four days.  I wanted exercise, so I took it in
the most violent form, and went for a walk in the Westmorland
hills.  The snow lay late that year, and I got the exercise I
sought scrambling up icy gullies and breasting north-easters on the
long bleak ridges.  All went well till the last day, which I spent
among the Cartmel fells intending to catch a train at an obscure
station which would enable me to join the night mail for London at
Lancaster.  You know how those little hills break down in stony
shelves to the sea.  Well, as luck would have it, I stepped into a
hole between two boulders masked with snow, and crawled out with
the unpleasing certainty that I had either broken or badly wrenched
my ankle.  By the time I had hobbled down to the beginning of the
stonewalled pastures I knew that it was a twist and not a break,
but before I reached a road I knew also that I would never reach
the station in time for my train.

It had begun to snow again, the spring dusk was falling, and the
place was very lonely.  My watch told me that even if I found a
farm or inn and hired a trap I should miss my train.  The only
chance was to get a motor-car to take me to Lancaster.  But there
was no sign of farm or inn--only interminable dusky snowy fields,
and the road was too small and obscure to make a friendly motor-car
probable.  I limped along in a very bad temper.  It was not a
matter of desperate urgency that I should be in London next
morning, though delay would mean the postponement of a piece of
business I wanted to get finished.  But the prospect was black for
my immediate comfort.  The best I could look forward to was a bed
in a farm- or a wayside public-house, and a slow and painful
journey next day.  I was angry with myself for my clumsiness.  I
had thought my ankles beyond reproach, and it was ridiculous that
after three days on rough and dangerous mountains I should come to
grief on a paltry hillock.

The dusk thickened, and not a soul did I meet.  Presently woods
began to creep around the road, and I walked between two patches of
blackness in a thin glimmer of twilight which would soon be gone.
I was cold and hungry and rather tired, and my ankle gave me a good
deal of pain.  I tried to think where I was, and could only
remember that the station, which had been my immediate objective,
was still at least six miles distant.  I had out my map and wasted
half a dozen matches on it, but it was a map of the hill country
and stopped short of my present whereabouts.  Very soon I had come
to a determination to stop at the first human habitation, were it a
labourer's cottage, and throw myself upon the compassion of its
inmates.  But not a flicker of light could I see to mark the
presence of man.

Then something white glimmered faintly on my left, and I saw that
it was a wicket gate.  This must mean a house near at hand, so I
hopefully pushed it open and entered.  I found myself in a narrow
path running among fir trees.  It was nearly pitch-dark in that
place, and I was in fear of losing the road, which was obscured by
the fallen snow, and getting lost in a wood.  Soon, however, I was
clear of the firs and in more open country among what looked like
beeches.  The wind, too, had swept the path bare, and there was
just enough light to make it out as it twined up and down a little
glade.  I suspected that I was in a demesne of some considerable
house, and the suspicion became a certainty when my track emerged
on a broad gravel drive.  After that my way was clear.  The drive
took me into a park--I knew it was a park because of the frequent
swing-gates for cattle--and suddenly it bore to the right and I saw
half a dozen irregularly placed lights high up in the air before
me.  This was the house, and it must be a large one, for some of
the lights were far apart.

Five minutes later I found myself ringing the bell in a massive
pillared porch, and explaining my case to a very old butler, to
whom I gave my card.

"I've had an accident on the hills," I said, "and twisted my ankle
rather badly.  I wonder if I might ask for some assistance--to get
to an inn or a station.  I'm afraid I don't in the least know where
I am."

"This is Severns Hall, sir," said the man.  "My master is Mr.
Vernon Milburne.  If you will come in, sir, I will acquaint him
with the position."

"Mr. Vernon Milburne?" I cried.  "I believe I have met him.  I
think he is at Oxford with my nephew."

"Mr. Milburne is a member of the University of Oxford," said the
ancient man.  He led me into a vast hall of the worst kind of
Victorian Gothic, in which a big bright wood fire crackled.  When
he saw me clearly the butler proved a very angel of mercy.  "I
think, sir, you should first have a little refreshment," he said,
and brought me a whisky-and-soda.  Then, while I thawed my frozen
bones before the logs, he departed to seek his master.

I was too preoccupied with my own grievances to feel much interest
in the fact that I had stumbled upon the dwelling of the boy who
had so intrigued me at Lady Amysfort's ball.  But as I warmed my
hands at the blaze it did occur to me that this was the last kind
of house I would have linked him with--this sham-mediĉval
upholstered magnificence.  It was Gothic with every merit of Gothic
left out, and an air of dull ecclesiasticism hung about it.  There
was even an organ at one end, ugly and staring, as if it had come
out of some nouveau riche provincial church.  Every bit of woodwork
was fretted and tortured into fancy shapes.

I heard a voice at my elbow.

"I think we have met before, Sir Edward," it said.  "I am so sorry
for your misfortune.  Let's get the boot off and look at the
ankle."

"It's only a sprain," I said.  "I really don't want to bother you.
If you would be so very kind as to lend me a car to take me to
Lancaster, I can manage to travel all right.  I ought to be in
London to-morrow morning."

"Nonsense!"  He smiled in a pleasant boyish way.  "You are going to
stay here to-night, and if you're well enough I'll send you into
Lancaster to-morrow.  You look simply fagged out.  Let's get the
boot off and see if we need a doctor."

He summoned the butler, and the two of them soon had my foot bare,
while the boy, who seemed to know something about sprains, ran a
light hand over the ankle bone.

"Nothing very bad here," he said; "but it must have been jolly
painful to walk with.  We'll bandage it and you need only limp for
a day or two.  Beaton, find out if Sir Edward's room is ready.
You'd better have a hot bath and then we'll do the bandaging.
After that you'll want some food.  I'll lend you a dressing-gown
and dry clothes."

The next hour was spent in restoring me to some ease of body.
Severns might be an ugly house, but whoever built it had a pretty
notion of comfort in bedrooms.  I had two rooms, each with a
cheerful fire, and when I had had my bath the two Samaritans
bandaged my ankle as neatly as a hospital nurse, and helped me into
a suit of flannels.  Then Vernon disappeared, and when he returned
he was dressed for dinner.  A table had been laid for me in the
sitting-room, and Beaton was waiting to ask me what I would drink.

"Champagne," said Vernon.  "I prescribe it."

"But you're making far too much fuss about me," I protested.  "I
can easily dine downstairs with you."

"I think you ought to dine here.  You've put yourself in my hands
and I'm your medical adviser."

He saw me start my meal before he left me.

"Do you mind if I say good-night now?" he said.  "You ought to get
to bed pretty soon, and I have some work I want to do after dinner.
Sound sleep and pleasant dreams."

I dined excellently, and after a single pipe was resolutely put to
bed by Beaton the butler.  They were benevolent despots in this
house who were not to be gainsaid.  I was sufficiently weary to be
glad to go to sleep, but before I dropped off I wondered just a
little at the nature of my reception.  There were no other guests,
Beaton had told me, and it seemed odd that a boy of nineteen alone
in this Gothic mausoleum should show so little desire for human
companionship.  I should have expected, even if I were not allowed
downstairs, to have had him come and talk to me for an hour or so
before turning in.  What work had he to which he was so faithful?
I remembered that Charles had mentioned that he was a bit of a
swell at his books, but, as Charles himself had been ploughed for
Pass Mods, that might mean very little.  Anyhow, there was
something morbid about a conscience which at nineteen forced its
possessor to work in vacation time after dinner.  He had been
immensely hospitable, but obviously he had not wanted my company.
That aloofness which I had remarked at Lady Amysfort's ball had
become a heavy preoccupation.  His attitude had been courteously
defensive; there had been a screen which robbed his kindness of all
geniality.  I felt quite distinctly that there was something in or
about the house, something connected with himself, from which I was
being resolutely excluded.

I slept well, and was awakened by Beaton bringing my early tea.  He
had undrawn the curtains and opened one of the windows, and a great
flood of sunlight and spring airs was pouring through.  The storm
had passed, and April was in her most generous mood.  My ankle felt
lumpish and stiff, but when Beaton examined it he pronounced that
it was mending nicely.  "But you can't press on it to-day, sir," he
added.  "Mr. Vernon won't let you move to-day. . . .  Breakfast
will be laid in the sitting-room, and Mr. Vernon's compliments and
he proposes to join you at nine o'clock.  I will return and bandage
the ankle and assist you to rise as soon as Prayers are over."

Presently, as I lay watching a ridge of distant hill seen through
the window and trying to decide what it could be, the sound of
singing rose from some room below me.  It must be Prayers.  The
old-fashioned hymn tune reminded me of my childhood, and I wondered
how many young men of to-day kept up the fashion of family worship
when alone in a country house.  And then I suddenly remembered all
about the Milburnes, for they had been my mother's friends.

Humphrey Milburne had been a rich Lancashire cotton-spinner, whose
father or grandfather--I forget which--had been one of the pioneers
of the industry.  I don't think he had ever concerned himself
greatly with business, for his métier had always been that of the
devout layman who is more occupied with church affairs than any
bishop.  He had been a leader of the Evangelical party, a vigorous
opponent of ritualist practices, and a noted organizer of religious
revivals.  Vague memories of him came back to me from my childhood,
for my own family had been of the same persuasion.  I had a
recollection of a tall, bearded man who, on a visit to us, had
insisted on seeing the children, and had set me on his knee, and
had asked me, a shivering, self-conscious mite, embarrassing
questions about my soul.  I remembered his wife, Lady Augusta, more
clearly.  She was a thin little woman who never seemed to be
separated from a large squashy Bible stuffed with leaflets and
secured by many elastic bands.  She had had a knack of dropping
everything as she moved, and I had acted as page to retrieve her
belongings.  She had been very kind to me, for to her grief she had
then no children. . . .  I remembered that a son had at last been
born--"a child of many prayers," my mother had called him.  And
then came a vague recollection of a tragedy.  Lady Augusta had died
when the boy was an infant, and her husband had followed within the
year.  After that the Milburnes passed out of my life, except that
their nurse had come to us when I was at Oxford, and had had much
to say of young Master Vernon.

My vague remembrance seemed to explain my host.  The child of
ageing parents and an orphan from his early years--that would
account for his lack of youthful spontaneity.  I liked the notion
of him I was acquiring; there was something quaint and loyal in his
keeping up the family ritual--an evangelical athlete with the looks
of Apollo.  I had fancied something foreign in his air, but that of
course was nonsense.  He came of the most prosaic British stock,
cotton-spinning Milburnes, and for his mother a Douglas-Ernott,
whose family was the quintessence of Whig solidity.

I found Vernon waiting for me in the sunny sitting-room, dressed in
rough grey homespun, and with an air of being ready for a long day
in the open.  There was a change in him since the night before.
His eyes were a little heavy, as if he had slept badly, but the
shutters were lifted from them.  His manner was no longer
constrained, and the slight awkwardness I had felt in his presence
was gone.  He was now a cheerful communicative undergraduate.

"Beaton says you had a good night, sir, but you mustn't use that
foot of yours.  You can't think of London to-day, you know.  I've
nothing to do except look after you, so you'd better think of me as
Charles with a nephew's privileges.  It's going to be a clinking
fine day, so what do you say to running up in the car to the moors
above Shap and listening to the curlews?  In the spring they're the
joiliest things alive."

He was a schoolboy now, looking forward to an outing, and we might
have been breakfasting in Oxford rooms before going out with the
Bicester.  I fell into his holiday mood, and forgot to tell him
that I had long ago met his parents.  He lent me an ulster and
helped me downstairs, where he packed me into the front of a big
Daimler and got in beside me.  In the clear spring sunshine, with
the park a chessboard of green grass and melting snow, and the
rooks cawing in the beech tops, Severns looked almost venerable,
for its lines were good and the stone was weathering well.  He
nodded towards the long façades.  "Ugly old thing, when you think
of Levens or Sizergh, but it was my grandfather's taste, and I mean
to respect it.  If we get a fine sunset you'll see it light up like
an enchanted castle.  It's something to be able to see the hills
from every window, and to get a glimpse of the sea from the top
floor.  Goodish sport, too, for we've several miles of salmon and
sea trout, and we get uncommon high birds in the upper coverts."

We sped up by winding hill-roads to the moors, and there were the
curlews crying over the snow-patched bent with that note which is
at once eerie, and wistful, and joyful.  There were grouse, too,
busy about their nesting, and an occasional stone-chat, and dippers
flashing their white waistcoats in every beck.  It was like being
on the roof of the world, with the high Lake hills a little
foreshortened, like ships coming over the horizon at sea.  Lunch we
had with us, and ate on a dry bank of heather, and we had tea in a
whitewashed moorland farm.  I have never taken to any one so fast
as I took to that boy.  He was in the highest spirits, as if he had
finished some difficult task, and in the rebound he became
extraordinarily companionable.  I think he took to me also, for he
showed a shy but intense interest in my doings, the eagerness with
which an undergraduate prospects the channels of the world's life
which he is soon to navigate.  I had been prepared to find a touch
of innocent priggishness, but there was nothing of the kind.  He
seemed to have no dogmas of his own, only inquiries.

"I suppose a lawyer's training fits a man to examine all kinds of
problems--not only legal ones," he asked casually at luncheon.  "I
mean he understands the value of any sort of evidence, for the
principles of logical truth are always the same?"

"I suppose so," I replied, "though it's only legal conundrums that
come my way.  I was once asked my opinion on a scientific proof--in
the higher mathematics--but I didn't make much of it--couldn't
quite catch on to the data or understand the language."

"Yes, that might be a difficulty," he admitted.  "But a thing like
a ghost story, for instance--you'd be all right at that, I
suppose?"

The boy had clearly something in his head, and I wondered if the
raw magnificence of Severns harboured any spooks.  Could that be
the reason of his diffidence on the previous evening?

When we got home we sat smoking by the library fire, and while I
skimmed the Times Vernon dozed.  He must have been short of his
sleep and was now making up for it in the way of a healthy young
man.  As I watched his even breathing I decided that here there
could be no abnormality of body or mind.  It was like watching a
tired spaniel on the rug, too tired even to hunt in his dreams.

As I lifted my eyes from the paper I saw that he was awake and was
looking at me intently, as if he were hesitating about asking me
some question.

"I've been asleep," he apologized.  "I can drop off anywhere after
a day on the hills."

"You were rather sleepless as a child, weren't you?" I asked.

His eyes opened.  "I wonder how you know that?"

"From your old nurse.  I ought to have told you that in my boyhood
I knew your parents a little.  They stayed with us more than once.
And Mrs. Ganthony came to my mother from you.  I was at Oxford at
the time, and I remember how she used to entertain us with stories
about Severns.  You must have been an infant when she left."

"I was four.  What sort of things did she tell you?"

"About your bad nights, and your pluck.  I fancy it was by way of
censure of our declamatory habits.  Why, after all these years I
remember some of her phrases.  How did the thing go?  'What
fidgeted me was the way his lordship 'eld his tongue.  For usual
he'd shout as lusty as a whelp, but on these mornings I'd find him
with his eyes like moons and his skin white and shiny, and never a
cheep the whole blessed night, with me lying next door, and a light
sleeper at all times, Mrs. Wace, ma'am.'  Was Mrs. Wace a sort of
Mrs. Harris?"

He laughed merrily.  "To think that you should have heard that!
No, she was our housekeeper, and Ganthony, who babbled like Sairey
Gamp, made a litany of her name.  That's the most extraordinary
thing I ever heard."

"You've outgrown that childish ailment anyhow," I said.

"Yes.  I have outgrown it."  My practice with witnesses made me
detect just a shade of hesitation.

At dinner he returned to the subject which seemed to interest him,
the exact nature of the legal training.  I told him that I was an
advocate, not a judge, and so had no need to cultivate a judicial
mind.

"But you can't do without it," he protested.  "You have to advise
your client and pronounce on his case before you argue it.  The
bulk of your work must be the weighing of evidence.  I should have
thought that that talent could be applied to any subject in the
world if the facts were sufficiently explained.  In the long run
the most abstruse business will boil down to a fairly simple
deduction from certain data.  Your profession enables you to select
the relevant data."

"That may be true in theory, but I wouldn't myself rate legal
talent so high.  A lawyer is apt to lack imagination, you know."
Then I stopped, for I had suddenly the impression that Vernon
wanted advice, help of some kind--that behind all his ease he was
profoundly anxious, and that a plea, almost a cry, was trembling on
his lips.  I detest confidences and labour to avoid them, but I
could no more refuse this boy than stop my ears against a sick
child.  So I added, "Of course lawyers make good confidants.
They're mostly decent fellows, and they're accustomed to keeping
their mouths shut."

He nodded, as if I had settled some private scruple, and we fell to
talking about spring salmon in the Tay.

"Take the port into the library," he told Beaton.  "Sir Edward
doesn't want coffee.  Oh, and see that the fire is good.  We shan't
need you again to-night.  I'll put Sir Edward to bed."

There was an odd air of purpose about him, as he gave me his arm to
the library and settled me with a cigar in a long chair.  Then he
disappeared for a minute or two and returned with a shabby little
clasped leather book.  He locked the door and put the key on the
mantelpiece, and when he caught me smiling he smiled too, a little
nervously.

"Please don't think me an ass," he said.  "I'm going to ask a
tremendous favour.  I want you to listen to me while I tell you
a story, something I have never told to any one in my life
before. . . .  I don't think you'll laugh at me, and I've a notion
you may be able to help me.  It's a confounded liberty, I know, but
may I go on?"

"Most certainly," I said.  "I can't imagine myself laughing at
anything you had to tell me; and if there's anything in me that can
help you it's yours for the asking."

He drew a long breath.  "You spoke of my bad nights as a child and
I said I had outgrown them.  Well, it isn't true."


II


When Vernon was a very little boy he was the sleepiest and
healthiest of mortals, but every spring he had a spell of bad
dreams.  He slept at that time in the big new night-nursery at the
top of the west wing, which his parents had built not long before
their death.  It had three windows looking out to the moorish flats
which run up to the fells, and from one window, by craning your
neck, you could catch a glimpse of the sea.  It was all hung, too,
with a Chinese paper whereon pink and green parrots squatted in
wonderful blue trees, and there seemed generally to be a wood fire
burning.  He described the place in detail, not as it is to-day,
but as he remembered it.

Vernon's recollection of his childish nightmares was hazy.  They
varied, I gathered, but narrowed down in the end to one type.  He
used to find himself in a room different from the nursery and
bigger, but with the same smell of wood smoke.  People came and
went, such as his nurse, the butler, Simon the head keeper, Uncle
Appleby his guardian, Cousin Jennifer, the old woman who sold
oranges in Axby, and a host of others.  Nobody hindered them from
going away, and they seemed to be pleading with him to come too.
There was danger in the place; something was going to happen in the
big room, and if by that time he was not gone there would be
mischief. . . .  But it was quite clear to him that he could not
go.  He must stop there, with the wood smoke in his nostrils, and
await the advent of the something.  But he was never quite sure of
the nature of the compulsion.  He had a notion that if he made a
rush for the door at Uncle Appleby's heels he would be allowed to
escape, but that somehow he would be behaving badly.  Anyhow, the
place put him into a sweat of fright, and Mrs. Ganthony looked
darkly at him in the morning.

Those troubled springs continued--odd interludes in a life of
nearly unbroken health.  Mrs. Ganthony left because she could not
control her tongue and increased the boy's terrors, and Vernon was
nine--he thought--before the dream began to take a really definite
shape.  The stage was emptying.  There was nobody in the room now
but himself, and he saw its details a little more clearly.  It was
not any apartment in Severns.  Rather it seemed like one of the big
old panelled chambers which he remembered from visits to the
Midland country houses of his mother's family, when he had arrived
after dark and had been put to sleep in a great bed in a place lit
with dancing firelight.  In the morning it had looked only an
ordinary big room, but at that hour of the evening it had seemed an
enchanted cave.  The dream-room was not unlike these, for there was
the scent of a wood fire and there were dancing shadows, but he
could not see clearly the walls or the ceiling, and there was no
bed.  In one corner was a door which led to the outer world, and
through this he knew that he might on no account pass.  Another
door faced him, and he knew that he had only to turn the handle for
it to open.

But he did not want to, for he understood quite clearly what was
beyond.  There was a second room just like the first one; he knew
nothing about it except that opposite the entrance another door led
out of it.  Beyond was a third chamber, and so on interminably.
There seemed to the boy to be no end to this fantastic suite.  He
thought of it as a great snake of masonry, winding up hill and down
dale away to the fells or the sea. . . .  Yes, but there WAS an
end.  Somewhere far away in one of the rooms was a terror waiting
on him, or, as he feared, coming towards him.  Even now it might be
flitting from room to room, every minute bringing its soft tread
nearer to the chamber of the wood fire.

About this time of his life the dream was an unmitigated horror.
Once it came while he was ill with a childish fever, and it sent
his temperature up to a point which brought Dr. Moreton galloping
from Axby.  In his waking hours he did not, as a rule, remember it
clearly; but during the fever, asleep and awake, that sinuous
building, one room thick, with each room opening from the other,
was never away from his thoughts.  It amazed him to think that
outside were the cheerful moors where he hunted for plovers' eggs,
and that only a thin wall of stone kept him from pleasant homely
things.  The thought used to comfort him when he was awake, but in
the dream it never came near him.  Asleep, the whole world seemed
one suite of rooms, and he, a forlorn little prisoner, doomed
grimly to wait on the slow coming through the many doors of a fear
which transcended word and thought.

He became a silent, self-absorbed boy, and, though the fact of his
nightmares was patent to the little household, the details remained
locked up in his head.  Not even to Uncle Appleby would he tell
them, when that gentleman, hurriedly kind, came to visit his
convalescent ward.  His illness made Vernon grow, and he shot up
into a lanky, leggy boy.  But the hills soon tautened his sinews,
and all the time at his preparatory school he was a healthy and
active child.  He told me that he tried to exorcise the dream
through his religion--to "lay his burden on the Lord," as the old
evangelical phrase has it; but he signally failed, though he got
some comfort from the attempt.  It was borne in on him, he said,
that this was a burden which the Lord had laid quite definitely on
him and meant him to bear like a man.

He was fifteen and at Eton when he made the great discovery.  The
dream had become almost a custom now.  It came in April at Severns
about Easter-tide--a night's discomfort (it was now scarcely more)
in the rush and glory of the holidays.  There was a moment of the
old wild heart-fluttering; but a boy's fancy is more quickly dulled
than a child's, and the endless corridors were now more of a prison
than a witch's antechamber.  By this time, with the help of his
diary, he had fixed the date of the dream; it came regularly on the
night of the first Monday of April.  Now the year I speak of he had
made a long expedition into the hills, and had stridden homeward at
a steady four miles an hour among the gleams and shadows of an
April twilight.  He was alone at Severns, so he had had his supper
in the big library, where afterwards he sat watching the leaping
flames on the open stone hearth.  He was very weary, and sleep fell
upon him in his chair.  He found himself in the wood-smoke chamber,
and before him the door leading to the unknown. . . .  But it was
no indefinite fear that now lay beyond.  He knew clearly--though
how he knew he could not tell--that each year the something came a
room nearer, and was even now but twelve rooms off.  In twelve
years his own door would open, and then--

He woke in the small hours, chilled and mazed, but with a curious
new assurance in his heart.  Hitherto the nightmare had left him in
gross terror, unable to endure the prospect of its recurrence, till
the kindly forgetfulness of youth relieved him.  But now, though
his nerves were fluttering, he perceived that there was a limit to
the mystery.  Some day it must declare itself and fight on equal
terms.

The discovery opened a new stage in his life.  As he thought over
the matter in the next few days he had the sense of being
forewarned and prepared for some great test of courage.  The notion
exhilarated as much as it frightened him.  Late at night, or on
soft dripping days, or at any moment of lessened vitality, he would
bitterly wish that he had been born an ordinary mortal.  But on a
keen morning of frost, when he rubbed himself warm after a cold
tub, or at high noon of summer, the adventure of the dream almost
pleased him.  Unconsciously he must have braced himself to a harder
discipline.  His fitness, moral and physical, became his chief
interest for reasons that would have been unintelligible to his
friends or his masters.

He passed through school--as I knew from Charles--an aloof and
rather splendid figure, a magnificent athlete with a brain as well
as a body, a good fellow in every one's opinion, but a grave one.
He could have had no real intimates, for he never shared the secret
of the spring dream.  At this period, for some reason which he
could not tell, he would have burned his hand off sooner than
breathe a hint of it.  Pure terror absolves from all conventions
and demands a confidant, so terror, I think, must have largely
departed from the nightmare as he grew older.  Fear, indeed,
remained, and awe and disquiet, but these are human emotions,
whereas terror is of hell.

Had he told any one, he would no doubt have become self-conscious
and felt acutely his difference from other people, so it was a
sound instinct which kept him silent.  As it was, he seems to have
been an ordinary schoolboy, much liked, and, except at odd moments,
unaware of any brooding destiny.  As he grew older, and his
ambition awoke, the moments when he remembered the dream were apt
to be disagreeable, for a boy's ambitions are strictly conventional
and his soul revolts at the abnormal.  By the time he was ready for
the university he wanted above all things to run the mile a second
faster than any one else, and he had hopes of academic distinction,
for he was an excellent classic.  For most of the year he lived
with these hopes and was happy; then came April, and for a short
season he was groping in dark places.  Just before and after each
dream he was in the mood of exasperation; but when it actually came
he was plunged in a different atmosphere, and felt the quiver of
fear and the quick thrill of expectation.

During his first year at Oxford he had made an attempt to avoid it.
He and three others were on a walking tour in Brittany in gusty
spring weather, and came late one evening to an inn by an estuary
where sea-gulls clattered about the windows.  Youth-like they made
a great and foolish feast, and sat all night round a bowl of punch,
while school songs and "John Peel" contended with the dirling of
the gale.  At daylight they took the road again, without having
closed an eye, and Vernon told himself that he was rid of his
incubus.  He wondered at the time why he was not more cheerful, for
to his surprise he had a sense of loss, of regret, almost of
disappointment.

"That was last year," he said, and he opened the little locked
diary and showed me the entry.  "Last night I went to bed not
knowing what to think, but far more nervous than I had been since I
was a baby.  I hope I didn't show it, but I wasn't much in the mood
for guests when you turned up."

"What happened?" I asked eagerly.  "Did the dream come back?"

He nodded and passed me the diary so that I could read that
morning's entry.  The dream had not failed him.  Once more he had
been in the chamber with the wood fire; once again he had peered at
the door and wondered with tremulous heart what lay beyond.  For
the something had come nearer by two rooms, and was now only seven
doors away.  I read the bare account in his neat, precise
handwriting, and it gave me a strong impression of being permitted
to peep through a curtain at a stage mysteriously set.  I noticed
that he had added some lines from Keats's Indian Maid's Song:


     "I would deceive her,
      And so leave her,
      But ah! she is so constant and so kind."


There was a mark of exclamation against the "she," as if he found
some irony in it.


III


He seemed to be waiting for me to speak, waiting shyly and tensely
like a child expecting the judgment of an elder.  But I found it
hard to know what to say.

"That is a very wonderful story!" I ventured at last.  "I am
honoured that you should have chosen me to tell it to.  Perhaps it
will be a relief to you to know that some one else understands what
you are going through. . . .  I don't suppose you want sympathy,
but I would like to congratulate you on your fortitude."

"I don't need sympathy--or congratulation.  But I want help--the
help of your brain and your experience. . . .  You see, in seven
years some tremendous experience is coming to me, and I want--I'd
like--to know what it is."

"I wonder if a good doctor wouldn't be the best person to consult."

"No, no," he cried almost angrily.  "I tell you there's nothing
pathological about it--not now that I'm a man.  I don't want it
exorcised as if it were an evil spell.  I think--now--that I'd
break my heart if it all vanished into moonshine. . . .  I believe
in it as I believe in God, and I'm ready to face whatever is
coming.  But I want to be forewarned and forearmed, if possible,
for it's going to be a big thing.  If I only knew something about
what was coming--even the smallest something!"

Those were the days before psycho-analysis had become fashionable,
but even then we had psychologists, and in my bewilderment I tried
that tack.

"Might not it all spring from some fright--some strange experience
at any rate--which you had as a baby?  Such things often make an
abiding impression."

He smiled.  "You're still thinking it is pathological.  Fright
would account for recurring nightmares, but surely not for a thing
so rational as this--a fixed day every year, the same room, the
time limit.  It would not explain the thing moving on a room last
year when I had no dream."

"I suppose not," I admitted.  "Have you looked up your family
history?  I have heard stories of inherited obsessions and
premonitions--what they call a 'weird' in Scotland."

"I thought of that, but there's nothing--nothing.  There are no
Milburne records much beyond my grandfather, and by all accounts
they were the most prosaic kind of business men.  My mother's
family--well, there's plenty of records there, and I've waded
through most of the muniment room at Appleby.  But there's no hint
of anything mysterious in the Douglas-Ernotts.  They were a time-
serving lot, who knew how the cat was going to jump, but they kept
out of crime and shunned anything imaginative like the plague.  I
shouldn't think one of them had ever an ambition which couldn't be
put in terms of office or money, or a regret except that he had
missed a chance of getting at the public purse.  True-blue Whigs,
all of them."

"Then I'm hanged if I know what to say.  But, now you've told me, I
want you to remember that you can always count on me.  I may not be
able to help, but I'm there whenever you want me.  Perhaps--you
never know--the thing will reveal itself more clearly in the next
seven years and come within the scope of my help.  I've taken a
tremendous liking to you, my dear chap, and we're going to be
friends."

He held out his hand.

"That's kind of you. . . .  Shall I tell you what I think myself?
I was taught to believe that everything in our lives is
foreordained by God.  No caprice of our own can alter the eternal
plan.  Now, why shouldn't some inkling of this plan be given us now
and then--not knowledge, but just an inkling that we may be ready?
My dream may be a heavenly warning, a divine foreshadowing--a
privilege, not a cross.  It is a reminder that I must be waiting
with girt loins and a lit lamp when the call comes.  That's the way
I look on it, and it makes me happy."

I said nothing, for I did not share his Calvinism, but I felt that
suddenly that library had become rather a solemn place.  I had
listened to the vow of the young Hannibal at the altar.



CHAPTER II


I


I have a preposterous weakness for youth, and I fancy there is
something in me which makes it accept me as a coĉval.  It may be my
profession.  If you are a busy lawyer without any outside ambitions
you spend your days using one bit of your mind, and the rest
remains comparatively young and unstaled.  I had no wife and few
near relations, and while I was daily growing narrower in my
outlook on the present and the future I cherished a wealth of
sentiment about the past.  I welcomed anything which helped me to
recapture the freshness of boyhood, and Vernon was like a spring
wind in my arid life.  Presently we forgot that I was nearly twice
his age, and slipped into the manner of contemporaries.  He was far
more at his ease with me than with the men of his own year.  I came
to think that I was the only person in the world who KNEW him, for
though he had an infinity of acquaintances and a good many people
who ranked as friends, I suppose I was his only comrade.  For I
alone knew the story of his dreams.

My flat in Down Street became his headquarters in London, and I
never knew when he would stick his head into my Temple chambers and
insist on our dining or lunching together.  In the following winter
I went to Oxford occasionally, nominally to visit Charles; but my
nephew led a much occupied life, and it generally ended by my
spending my time with Vernon.  I kept a horse with the Bicester
that season and we hunted occasionally together, and we had
sometimes a walk which filled the short winter day, and dined
thereafter and talked far into the night.  I was anxious to learn
how his contemporaries regarded him, and I soon found that he had a
prodigious reputation, which was by no means explained by his
athletic record.  He at once impressed and puzzled his little
world.  I think it was the sense of brooding power about him which
attracted people and also kept them at a respectful distance.  His
ridiculous good looks and his gentle courtesy seemed to mark him
out for universal popularity, but there was too much austerity for
a really popular man.  He had odd ascetic traits.  He never touched
wine now, he detested loose talk, and he was a little intolerant of
youthful follies.  Not that there was anything of the prig in him--
only that his character seemed curiously formed and mature.  For
all his urbanity he had a plain, almost rugged, sagacity in
ordinary affairs, a tough core like steel harness under a silk
coat.  That, I suppose, was the Calvinism in his blood.  Had he
been a less brilliant figure, he would probably have been set down
as "pi."

Charles never professed to understand him, and contented himself
with prophesying that "old Vernon would be the devil of a swell
some day."  On inquiry I found that none of his friends forecast
any special career for him; it would have seemed to them almost
disrespectful to condescend upon such details.  It was not what
Vernon would do that fired their sluggish imaginations, but what
they dimly conceived that he already was.

There was the same fastidiousness about all his ways.  I have never
known a better brain more narrowly limited in its range.  He was a
first-class "pure" scholar, and had got a Craven and been proxime
for the Hertford.  But he was quite incapable of spreading himself,
and his prospects looked bad for "Greats" since he seemed unable to
acquire the smattering of loose philosophy demanded by that school.
He was strictly circumscribed in his general reading; I set it
down at first to insensitiveness, but came soon to think it
fastidiousness.  If he could not have exactitude and perfection in
his knowledge, he preferred to remain ignorant.  I saw in him the
makings of a lawyer.  Law was just the subject for a finical,
exact, and scrupulous mind like his.  Charles had once in his haste
said that he was not a man of the world, and Charles had been
right.  He was a man of his own world, not the ordinary one.  So
with his intellectual interests.  He would make his own culture,
quite regardless of other people.  I fancy that he felt that his
overmastering private problem made it necessary to husband the
energies of his mind.

During that year I think he was quite happy and at peace about the
dream.  He had now stopped hoping or fearing; the thing had simply
become part of him, like his vigorous young body, his slow
kindliness, his patient courage.  He rarely wanted to talk of it,
but it was so much in my thoughts that I conducted certain
researches of my own.  I began by trying the psychological line,
and plagued those of my acquaintances who had any knowledge of that
dismal science.  I cannot say I got much assistance.  You see I had
to state a hypothetical case, and was always met by a demand to
produce the patient for cross-examination--a reasonable enough
request, which of course I could not comply with.  One man, who was
full of the new Vienna doctrine, talked about "complexes" and
"repressions" and suggested that the dream came from a child having
been shut up by accident in a dark room.  "If you can dig the
memory of it out of his subconsciousness, you will lay that ghost,"
he said.  I tried one evening to awake Vernon's earliest
recollections, but nothing emerged.  The dream itself was the
furthest-back point in his recollection.  In any case I didn't see
how such an explanation would account for the steady development of
the thing and its periodicity.  I thought I might do better with
family history, and I gave up a good deal of my leisure to the
Douglas-Ernotts.  There was nothing to be made of the Ernotts--
gross utilitarian Whigs every one of them.  The Douglas strain had
more mystery in it, but the records of his branch of the great
Scottish house were scanty, and sadly impersonal.  Douglases many
had endured imprisonment and gone to the scaffold, but history
showed them as mere sounding names, linked to forays and battles
and strange soubriquets, but as vague as the heroes of Homer.  As
for the Milburnes, I got an ancient aunt who had known Vernon's
father to give me her recollections, and a friend on the Northern
Circuit collected for me the Lancashire records.  The first of them
had been a small farmer somewhere on the Ribble; the second had
become a mill-owner; and the third, in the early nineteenth
century, had made a great fortune, had been a friend of William
Wilberforce and later of Richard Cobden, and had sat in the first
Reform parliament.  As I looked at the portrait of that whiskered
reformer, bland and venerable in his stiff linen and broadcloth, or
at the early Millais of his son, the bearded Evangelical, I
wondered what in them had gone to the making of Vernon.  It was
like seeking for the ancestry of a falcon among barnyard fowls.


II


In the spring of 1914 I badly needed a holiday, and Lamancha asked
me to go cruising in his yacht.  He gave me permission to bring
Vernon, whom he knew slightly, for I wanted to be near him
on the first Monday of April.  We were to join the yacht at
Constantinople, and cruise through the Northern Ĉgean to Athens,
and then by way of the Corinth canal to Corfu, where we would catch
the steamer for Brindisi and so home.  Vernon was at first a little
disinclined, for he had a notion that he ought to be at Severns,
but when he allowed himself to be persuaded he grew very keen about
the trip, for he had been little out of England.

He and I travelled by the Orient Express to Constantinople, and
after three days there and one day at Brousa shaped our course
westward.  We landed one morning on the Gallipoli peninsula, and
found birds' eggs on Achi Baba where, in a year's time, there was
to be nothing but barbed wire and trenches.  We spent a day at
Lemnos, which at that time few people had visited except the
British Navy, and then turned south.  On the first Monday of April
we had half a gale, an uncomfortable thing in those shallow seas.
It blew itself out in the afternoon, and after tea we anchored for
the night under the lee of a big island.  There was a little bay
carved out of the side of a hill; the slopes were covered with
heath and some kind of scrub, and the young green of crops showed
in the clearings.  Among the thyme of the nearest headland a flock
of goats was browsing, shepherded by a little girl in a saffron
skirt, who sang shrilly in snatches.  After the yeasty Ĉgean the
scene was an idyll of pastoral peace.  Vernon had all day shown
signs of restlessness, and he now proposed a walk; so, leaving the
others playing bridge, we two were put ashore in the dinghy.

We walked northward towards the other horn of the bay, past little
closes of fruit blossom, and thickets of wildwood, and stony
patches of downland bright with anemones and asphodel.  It was a
strange, haunted world, bathed in a twilight of gold and amethyst,
filled with a thousand aromatic scents, and very silent except for
the wash of the waves and a far-off bleating of goats.  Neither of
us wanted to talk, being content to drink in the magic of the
evening.  Vernon walked like a man in a dream, stopping now and
then to lift his head and stare up the long scrubby ravines to the
sharp line of the crest.

Suddenly a cuckoo's note broke into the stillness and echoed along
the hillside.  When it died away it seemed to be answered by a
human voice, sweet and high and infinitely remote, a voice as
fugitive as a scent or a colour.

Vernon stopped short.

"Listen to that," he cried.  "It is the Spring Song.  This has
probably been going on here since the beginning of time.  They say
that nothing changes in these islands--only they call Demeter the
Virgin Mary and Dionysos St. Dionysius."

He sat down on a boulder and lit his pipe.  "Let's burn tobacco to
the gods," he said.  "It's too enchanted to hurry through. . . .  I
suppose it's the way I've been educated, but I could swear I've
known it all before.  This is the season of the Spring Festival,
and you may be sure it's the same here to-day as it was a thousand
years before Homer.  The winter is over, and the Underworld has to
be appeased, and then the Goddess will come up from the shades."

I had never heard Vernon talk like this before, and I listened with
some curiosity.  I am no classical scholar, but at that moment I
too felt the spell of a very ancient and simple world.

"This was the beginning of the year for the Greeks, remember," he
went on--"for the Greeks as we know them, and for the old
Mediterranean peoples before them whose ritual they absorbed.  The
bones of that ritual never altered. . . .  You have to begin with
purification--to feed the ghosts of the dead in the pot-holes with
fireless and wineless sacrifices and so placate them, and to purify
your own souls and bodies and the earth by which you live.  You
have your purgation herbs like buckthorn and agnus castus, and you
have your pharmakos, your scapegoat, who carries away all
impurities.  And then, when that is done, you are ready for the
coming of the Maiden.  It is like Easter after Good Friday--the
festival after the fast and penitence.  It is always the woman that
simple folk worship--the Mother who is also the Maid.  Long ago
they called her Pandora or Persephone, and now they call her the
Blessed Virgin, but the notion is the same--the sinless birth of
the divine.  You may be sure it is she whom the peasants in this
island worship, as their fathers did three thousand years ago--not
God the Father.

"The Greeks had only the one goddess," he went on, "though she had
many names.  Later they invented the Olympians--that noisy, middle-
class family party--and the priests made a great work with their
male gods, Apollo and the like.  But the woman came first, and the
woman remained.  You may call her Demeter, or Aphrodite, or Hera,
but she is the same, the Virgin and the Mother, the 'mistress of
wild things,' the priestess of the new birth in spring.  Semele is
more than Dionysos, and even to sophisticated Athens the Mailed
Virgin of the Acropolis was more than all the pantheon. . . .
Don't imagine it was only a pretty fancy.  The thing had all the
beauty of nature, and all the terror too."  He flung back his head
and quoted some sonorous Greek.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Euripides," he replied.  "It has been well translated," and he
quoted:


"'For her breath is on all that hath life, and she floats in the air
  Bee-like, death-like, a wonder.'


"I can see it all," he cried.  "The sacred basket, the honey and
oil and wine, the torches crimsoning the meadows, the hushed, quiet
people waiting on the revelation.  They are never more than a day
or two from starvation all the winter, and the coming of the Maiden
is a matter for them of life and death.  They wait for her as
devout souls to-day wait for the Easter Resurrection.  I can hear
the ritual chant and the thin, clear music of the flutes. . . .
Yes, but they were seeing things which are now hid from us--
Dionysos with his thyrsus, and goat-feet in the thickets, and the
shadows of dancing nymphs!  If you starve for three months and put
your soul into waiting for the voice from heaven, you are in the
mood for marvels.  Terror and horror, perhaps, but unspeakable
beauty, too, and a wild hope.  That was the Greek religion, not the
Olympians and their burnt offerings.  And it is the kind of
religion that never dies."

I thought this pretty good for the scion of an evangelical family,
and I said so.

He laughed.  "It isn't my own creed, you know.  I dislike all kinds
of priestcraft.  But, though I'm a stout Protestant, I'm inclined
to think sometimes that it is a pity that we have departed from the
practice of all other religions and left out the Mother of God. . . .
Let's go on--I want to see what is on the other side of the
cape."

Beyond the little headland we came suddenly on a very different
scene.  Here was the harbour of the island.  Beside a rude quay
some fisher-boats lay at anchor with their brown sails furled.
Along the water-front ran a paved terrace, a little dilapidated and
with bushes growing in the cracks of the stones.  Above rose a
great building, showing to seaward as a blank white wall pierced
with a few narrow windows.  At first sight I took it for a
monastery, but a second glance convinced me that its purpose had
never been religious.  It looked as if it had once been fortified,
and the causeway between it and the sea may have mounted guns.
Most of it was clearly very old, but the architecture was a jumble,
showing here the enriched Gothic of Venice, and there the straight
lines and round arches of the East.  It had once, I conjectured,
been the hold of some Venetian sea-king, then the palace of a
Turkish conqueror, and was now, perhaps, the manor-house of this
pleasant domain.  The owners, whoever they might be, were absent,
for not a chimney smoked.

We passed the quay and wandered along the great terrace, which was
as solidly masoned as a Roman road.  For a little the house hung
sheer above us, its walls level with the rock, with in three places
flights of steps from the causeway ending in small postern doors.
Obviously the main entrance was on the other side.  There were no
huts to be seen, and no sign of life except a little group of
fishermen below on the shore, who were sitting round a fire over
which a pot was boiling.  As we continued along the terrace beyond
the house we came to orchards and olive yards, no doubt part of the
demesne, and had a glimpse of a rugged coast running out into the
sunset.

The place impressed even my sluggish fancy.  This great silent
castle in the wilds, hung between sky and earth, and all rosy in
the last fires of the sun, seemed insubstantial as a dream.  I
should not have been surprised if it had vanished like a mirage and
left us staring at a bare hillside.  Only the solid blocks of the
causeway bound us to reality.  Here, beyond doubt, men had lived
and fought far back in the ages.  The impression left on my mind
was of a place inhabited for ĉons, sunk for the moment in sleep,
but liable to awake suddenly to a fierce life.  As for Vernon he
seemed positively rapt.

"There's your castle in Spain," he cried.  "Odd thing! but I seem
to have seen all this before.  I knew before we turned the corner
that there were olive trees there, and that the rocks tumbled just
in that way into the cove.  Listen!"

The sound of voices drifted up from the beach, and there was a
snatch of a song.

"That's Antiphilos of Byzantium--you remember in the Anthology--the
fisher-boys singing round the broth-pot.  Lord! what a haunted
spot!  I'd like to spend the night here."

I can give no reason for it, but I suddenly felt a strange
uneasiness, which made me turn back and stride at a good pace along
the terrace.  We seemed to have blundered outside the ordinary
natural world.  I had a feverish desire to get away from the shadow
of that pile of masonry, to get beyond the headland and in sight of
the yacht.  The place was wonderful, secret, beautiful, yet somehow
menacing.  Vernon clearly felt nothing of all this, for he grumbled
at my haste.  "Hang it, we're not walking for a wager," he
complained.  "There's loads of time before dinner. . . .  I want to
stay on here a bit.  I never saw such a place."

At the beginning of the paved terrace, close to the quay, we came
suddenly upon two men, probably from the fishermen's party we had
seen on the shore.  They were well-set-up fellows, with handsome,
clear-cut faces, for the true Greek strain is still found in the
islands.  We came on them by surprise as we turned the corner of a
rock, and they may have thought from our direction that we were
coming from the house.  Anyhow they seemed to get the fright of
their lives.  Both leaped aside and looked at us with startled
angry eyes.  Then they flung up their right hands; and for a moment
I thought they were going to attack us.

But they contented themselves with spitting on their breasts and
each holding out a clenched fist with the little finger and the
thumb extended.  I had seen this before--the ancient protection
against the evil eye.  But what impressed me was the expression in
their faces.  It was at Vernon that they stared, and when their
stare moved from him it took in the pile of the house above.  They
seemed to connect us in some way with the house, and in their eyes
there was an almost animal fear and hate. . . .  I looked after
them when they had passed, and observed that they were hurrying
with bent heads up the path which may have led to their village.

Vernon laughed.  "Queer chaps!  They looked as scared as if they
had seen Pan."

"I don't like this place," I told him when we were approaching the
dinghy.  "Some of your infernal gods and goddesses have got loose
in it.  I feel as if I want to run."

"Hullo!" he cried.  "You're getting as impressionable as a minor
poet. . . .  Hark!  There it is again!  Do you hear?  The Spring
Song?"

But the thin notes which drifted down from the upland no longer
seemed to me innocent.  There was something horrible about that
music.



Next morning, when we were steaming south in calm weather with the
island already dim behind us, I found Vernon smoking peacefully on
deck and looking at sea-birds through a glass.  He nodded gaily as
I sat down beside him.

"I had the dream all right--one room nearer.  But the room in which
I wait has changed.  It must be due to being out here, for hitherto
I've always spent April in England.  I suppose I furnished it
unconsciously with things I had seen at home--there was a big
lacquer cabinet for one thing, and something like pictures or
tapestry on the walls--and there were great silver fire-dogs.  But
now it's quite bare.  The same room of course--I couldn't mistake
it--but scarcely any furniture in it except a dark lump in a
corner. . . .  Only the fire-dogs are the same. . . .  Looks as if
the decks were being cleared for action."

I had expected to find him a little heavy about the eyes, but he
appeared as fresh as if he had just come from a morning swim, and
his voice had a boyish carelessness.

"Do you know," he said, "I've lost every scrap of funk or
nervousness about the dream?  It's a privilege, not an incubus.
Six years to wait!  I wish I knew how I was going to put them in.
It will be a dull business waiting."


III


Fate contrived that to Vernon, as to several million others, the
next four years should scarcely deserve the name of dull.  By the
middle of August I was being cursed by a Guards sergeant in Chelsea
barrack yard, and Vernon was training with his Yeomanry somewhere
in Yorkshire.

My path was plain compared to that of many honest men.  I was a
bachelor without ties, and though I was beyond the statutory limit
for service I was always pretty hard trained, and it was easy
enough to get over the age difficulty.  I had sufficient standing
in my profession to enable me to take risks.  But I am bound to say
I never thought of that side.  I wanted, like everybody else, to do
something for England, and I wanted to do something violent.  For
me to stay at home and serve in some legal job would have been a
thousand times harder than to go into the trenches.  Like everybody
else, too, I thought the war would be short, and my chief anxiety
was lest I should miss the chance of fighting.  I was to learn
patience and perspective during four beastly years.

I went to France in October '14, and Vernon dined with me before I
started.  He had got a curious notion into his head.  He thought
that the war would last for full six years, and his reason was that
he was convinced that his dream had to do with it.  The opening of
the last door would be on the battlefield--of that he was
convinced.  The consequence was that he was in no hurry.  My nephew
Charles, who was in the same Yeomanry, spent his days pleading to
be sent abroad and trying to exchange into any unit he thought
would get away first.  On the few occasions I met him he raved like
a lunatic about the imbecility of a Government that kept him
kicking his heels in England.  But Vernon, the night he dined with
me, was as placid as Buddha.  "I'm learning my job," he said, "and
I've a mighty lot to learn.  I ought to be a fair soldier in six
years' time--just when the crisis is due."  But he was very anxious
about me, and wanted to get into the Guards to be beside me.  Only
his fatalism kept him from agitating for a change, for he felt that
as he had begun in the Yeomanry, Providence most likely meant him
to continue there.  He fussed a good deal about how we were to
correspond, for I seemed to have taken the place of his family.
But on the whole I was happy about him, his purpose was so clear
and his mind so perfectly balanced.  I had stopped thinking
seriously about the dream, for it seemed only a whimsy in the
middle of so many urgent realities.

I needn't tell you the kind of time I had in France.  It was a long
dismal grind, but I had the inestimable advantage of good health,
and I was never a day off duty because of sickness.  I suppose I
enjoyed it in a sense; anyhow I got tremendously keen about my new
profession, and rose in it far quicker than I deserved.  I was
lucky, too.  As you know, I stopped something in every big scrap--
at Festubert, Loos, Ginchy, Third Ypres, Cambrai, and Bapaume--so
that I might have covered my sleeve with wound-stripes if I had
been so minded.  But none of the damage was serious, and I can
hardly find the marks of it to-day.  I think my worst trial was
that for more than three years I never had a sight of Vernon.

He went out in the summer of '15 to the Dardanelles and was in the
Yeomanry fight at Suvla, where a bit of shrapnel made rather a mess
of his left shoulder.  After that he was employed on various staff
jobs, and during '16 was engaged in some kind of secret service in
the Ĉgean and the Levant.  I heard from him regularly, but of
course he never spoke of his work.  He told me he had learned
modern Greek and could speak it like a native, and I fancy he had a
hand in Venizelos's revolution.  Then he went back to his regiment,
and was in the "Broken Spurs" division when the Yeomanry were
dismounted.  He was wounded again in Palestine in '17, just before
the taking of Jerusalem, and after that was second in command of a
battalion.

When I was on leave in February '18 Charles dined with me at the
Club--a much older and wiser Charles, with an empty sleeve pinned
to his tunic, who was now employed in home training.

"It's a bloody and disgusting war," said my nephew, "and if any
fellow says he likes it, you can tell him from me that he's a liar.
There's only one man I ever met who honestly didn't mind it, and
that was old Vernon, and everybody knows that he's cracked."

He expatiated on the exact nature of Vernon's lunacy.

"Cracked--as--cracked, and a very useful kind of insanity, too.  I
often wish I had half his complaint.  He simply didn't give a hang
for the old war.  Wasn't interested in it, if you see what I mean.
Oh, brave as you-be-damned, of course, but plenty of other chaps
were brave.  His was the most cold-blooded, unearthly kind of
courage.  I've seen the same thing in men who were sick of life and
wanted to be killed and knew they were going to be killed, but
Vernon wasn't that sort.  He had no notion of being killed--always
planning out the future and talking of what he was going to do
after the war.  As you know, he got badly mauled at Suvla, and he
nearly croaked with malaria in Crete, and he had his head chipped
at Neby Samwil, so he didn't bear what you might call a charmed
life.  But some little bird had whispered in his ear that he wasn't
going to be killed, and he believed that bird.  You never saw a
fellow in your life so much at his ease in a nasty place.

"It wasn't that he was a fire-eater," Charles went on.  "He never
went out to look for trouble.  It was simply that it made no
difference to him where he was or what he was doing--he was the
same composed old fish, smiling away, and keeping quiet and
attending to business, as if he thought the whole thing rather
foolishness."

"You describe a pretty high class of soldier," I said.  "I can't
understand why he hasn't gone quicker up the ladder."

"I can," said Charles emphatically.  "He was a first-class
battalion officer but he wasn't a first-class soldier.  The trouble
with him, as I say, is that he wasn't interested in the war.  He
had no initiative, you understand--always seemed to be thinking
about something else.  It's like Rugby football.  A man may be a
fine player according to the rules, but unless his heart is in the
business and he can think out new tactics for himself he won't be a
great player.  Vernon wasn't out to do anything more than the
immediate situation required.  You might say he wasn't dead-set
enough on winning the war."

I detected in Charles a new shrewdness.  "How did the others get on
with him?" I asked.

"The men believed in him and would have followed him into hell, and
of course we all respected him.  But I can't say he was exactly
popular.  Too dashed inhuman for that.  He ought to fall in love
with a chorus-girl and go a regular mucker.  Oh, of course, I like
him tremendously and know what a rare good fellow he is!  But the
ordinary simple-minded, deserving lad jibs at Sir Galahad crossed
with the low-church parson and the 'Varsity don."

The Broken Spurs came to France in the early summer of '18, but I
had no chance of meeting them.  My life was rather feverish during
the last weeks of the campaign, for I was chief staff-officer to my
division, and we were never much out of the line.  Then, as you
know, I nearly came by my end in September, when the Boche made
quite a good effort in the way of a gas attack.  It was a new gas,
which we didn't understand, and I faded away like the grin of the
Cheshire cat, and was pretty ill for a time in a base hospital.
Luckily it didn't do me any permanent harm, but my complexion will
be greenery-yallery till the day of my death.

I awoke to consciousness in a tidy little bed to learn that the war
was all but over and the Boche hustling to make peace.  It took me
some days to get my head clear and take notice, and then, one
morning, I observed the man in the bed next to me.  His head was a
mass of bandages, but there was something about the features that
showed which struck me as familiar.  As luck would have it, it
turned out to be Vernon.  He had been badly hit, when commanding
his battalion at the crossing of the Scheldt, and for a day or two
had been in grave danger.  He was recovering all right, but for a
time neither of us was permitted to talk, and we used to lie and
smile at each other and think of all the stories we would presently
tell.  It was just after we got the news of the Armistice that we
were allowed to say how d'ye do.  We were as weak as kittens, but
I, at any rate, felt extraordinarily happy.  We had both come
through the war without serious damage, and a new world lay before
us.  To have Vernon beside me put the coping-stone on my
contentment, and I could see that he felt the same.  I remember the
thrill I had when we could stretch out our arms and shake hands.

Slowly we began to build up each other's records for the four
years.  I soon knew, what I had guessed before, the reason of that
inhuman composure which Charles had described.  Vernon had had a
complete assurance that his day of fate was not due yet awhile, and
therefore the war had taken a second place in his thoughts.  Most
men who fought bore the marks of it in harder lines about the mouth
and chin and older eyes.  But Vernon had kept his youth intact.
His face had always had a certain maturity beyond his years, and
his eyes had been curiously watchful.  These traits were perhaps
slightly intensified, but otherwise I noticed no difference.

"You remember what I told you when we last met in October '14?" he
said.  "I was wrong and I'm rather sorry.  I thought the war would
last for six years, and that the last stage of my dream would be in
the field.  That would have been such a simple and right solution.
As it is, I must wait."

I asked if the dream had come regularly in the past four years.

"Quite regularly," was the answer.  "The room hasn't changed
either, except that the dark shadow in the corner has moved, so I
think it must be a human figure.  The place is quite bare and empty
now, except for the silver fire-dogs. . . .  I think there is a
little window in the wall, rather high up."

"You have only two years more to wait," I said, "less--a year and a
half."  It was then November '18.

"I know. . . .  But I am impatient again.  I thought the climax
would come in the war, so I stopped speculating about it. . . .  I
thought I would be called on as a soldier to do something very
difficult, and I was quite ready. . . .  But that has all gone, and
I am back in the fog.  I must think it all out again from the
beginning."



CHAPTER III


The immediate consequence of peace was to keep Vernon and myself
apart.  You see, we neither of us got better very quickly.  When
his wounds were healed a kind of neuritis remained; he was tortured
with headaches, didn't sleep well and couldn't recover his lost
weight.  He was very patient and cheerful about it, and did
obediently what he was told, for his one object seemed to be to get
fit again.  We returned to England together, but presently the
doctors packed him off abroad with instructions to bask in the sun
and idle at a Riviera villa which had been dedicated to such cases.
So I spent a lonely Christmas in London.

Heaven knows I had nothing to complain of compared with most
fellows, but I count the six months after the Armistice the most
beastly in my life.  I had never been seriously ill before, all the
four years of war I had been brimming over with energy, and it was
a new experience for me to feel slack and under-engined.  The gas
had left a sort of poison in my blood which made every movement an
effort.  I was always sleepy, and yet couldn't sleep, and to my
horror I found myself getting jumpy and neurotic.  The creak of a
cart in the street worried me so that I wanted to cry; London noise
was a nightmare, and when I tried the country I had a like horror
of its silence.  The thing was purely physical, for I found I could
think quite clearly and sanely.  I seemed to be two persons, one
self-possessed enough watching the antics of the other with disgust
and yet powerless to stop them.

Acton Croke was reassuring.  "You're a sick man, and you've got to
behave as such," he told me.  "No attempt to get back into harness.
Behave as if you were recovering from a severe operation--regular
life, no overstrain physical or mental, simply lie fallow and let
nature do its work.  You have a superb constitution which, given a
chance, will pick up its balance.  But don't forget that you're
passing through a crisis.  If you play the fool you may have
indifferent health for the rest of your days."

I was determined that at all events that mustn't happen, so I was
as docile as a good child.  As I say, I had mighty little to
complain of, when you consider the number of good men who, far
seedier than I, came back to struggle for their daily bread.  I had
made a bit of money, so I had a solid hump to live off.  There was
a dearth at the time of leaders at the Bar, and I could have
stepped at once into a bigger practice than I had ever dreamed of.
Also, I had a chance, if I wished, of becoming one of the law
officers of the Crown.  I was still a member of Parliament, and at
the December election, though I had never gone near the place, my
old constituency had returned me with a majority of more than ten
thousand.  A pretty gilded position for a demobbed soldier!  But
for the present I had to put all that aside and think only of
getting well.

There has been a good deal of nonsense talked about the horror of
war memories and the passionate desire to bury them.  The vocal
people were apt to be damaged sensitives, who were scarcely typical
of the average man.  There were horrors enough, God knows, but in
most people's recollections these were overlaid by the fierce
interest and excitement, even by the comedy of it.  At any rate
that was the case with most of my friends, and it was certainly the
case with me.  I found a positive pleasure in recalling the
incidents of the past four years.  The war had made me younger.
You see--apart from regular officers--I had met few of my own year
and standing.  I had consorted chiefly with youth, and had
recovered the standpoint of twenty years ago.  That was what made
my feeble body so offensive.  I could not regard myself as a man in
middle age, but as a sick undergraduate whose malady was likely to
keep him out of the Boat or the Eleven.

You would have laughed if you could have seen the way I spent my
time.  I was so angry with my ill-health that I liked to keep on
reminding myself of the days when I had been at the top of my form.
I remember I made out a complete record of my mountaineering
exploits, working them out with diagrams from maps and old diaries,
and telling myself furiously that what I had once done I could do
again. . . .  I got out my old Oxford texts and used to construe
bits of the classics, trying to recapture the mood when those
things meant a lot to me. . . .  I read again all the books which
used to be favourites, but which I hadn't opened for a score of
years.  I turned up the cram books for the Bar exams, and the notes
I had taken in my early days in chambers, and the reports of my
first cases.  It wasn't sentiment, but a deliberate attempt to put
back the clock, and, by recalling the feelings of twenty-five, to
convince myself that I had once been a strong man. . . .  I even
made risky experiments.  I went up to Oxford in vacation and
managed to get put up in my old diggings in the High.  That would
have been intolerable if they had recalled war tragedies, but they
didn't.  The men who had shared them with me were all alive--one a
Colonial bishop, one a stockbroker, another high up in the Indian
Civil Service.  It did me good to see the big shabby sitting-room
where, in my day, a barrel of beer had adorned one corner.  In
March, too, I spent three nights at a moorland inn on the Borders
which had once been the headquarters of a famous reading-party.
That was not quite so successful, for the weather and the food were
vile, and I was driven to reflect on the difference of outlook
between twenty and forty-three.

Still my childishness did me good, and I began slowly to gain
ground.  The spring helped me, which was early that year, you
remember, so that the blossom had begun on the fruit trees in the
first days of April.  I found that it was the time just before the
war that it comforted me most to recall, for then I had been
healthy enough and a creature more near my present state than the
undergraduate of twenty.  I think, too, it was because those years
were associated with Vernon.  He was never much out of my mind, and
the reports from him were cheering.  The headaches had gone, he had
recovered his power of sleep, and was slowly putting on weight.  He
had taken to sailing a small boat again, had bought a racing
cutter, and had come in third in one of the events at the Cannes
Regatta.

I had this last news in a letter which reached me while I was
staying at Minster Carteron, and it turned my mind back to the
yachting trip I had made with Vernon in 1914 in the Ĉgean.  It
revived the picture I had almost forgotten--the green island
flushed with spring, the twilight haunted with wild music, the
great white house hanging like a cliff over the sea.  I had felt
the place sinister--I remembered the two men with scared faces and
their charm against the evil eye--and even after five years a faint
aura of distaste lingered about the memory.  That was sufficient to
awake my interest, and one afternoon I rummaged in the library.
Plakos had been the island's name, and I searched for it in
gazetteers.

It was the day of the famous April snowstorm which wrought such
havoc among English orchards.  The windows of the great room were
blurred with falling snow, and the fires on the two hearths were
hissing and spluttering while I pursued my researches.  Folliot, I
remember, was dozing beside one of them in an arm-chair.  You know
old Folliot, with his mild cattish ways and his neat little Louis
Napoleon beard.  He wants to be the Horace Walpole of our time, and
publishes every few years a book of reminiscences, from which it
would appear that he has been the confidant of every great man in
Europe for the last half-century.  He has not much of a mind, but
he has a good memory, and after all there is a faint interest about
anybody who has dined out in good company for fifty years.

I woke the old fellow when I dropped by misadventure a big atlas on
the floor, and he asked testily what I was after.

"I'm trying to find a beastly Greek islet," I said.  "You haven't
by any chance in your travels visited a place called Plakos?"

The name roused him.  "No," he said, "but of course I have often
heard of it.  It belonged to Shelley Arabin."

"Now, who on earth was Shelley Arabin?"

"You young men!" old Folliot sighed.  "Your memories are so short
and your ignorance so vast.  Shelley Arabin died last year, and had
half a column in the Times, but he will have a chapter in my
memoirs.  He was one of the most remarkable men of his day.
Shelley Arabin--to think you never heard of him!  Why, I knew his
father."

I drew up an arm-chair to the hearth opposite him.  "It's a foul
afternoon," I said, "and there's nothing to do.  I want to hear
about Shelley Arabin.  I take it from his name that he was a
Levantine."

Folliot was flattered by my interest.  He had begun to bore people,
for the war had created a mood unfavourable to his antique gossip.
He still stayed a good deal in country houses, but spent most of
his time in the libraries and got rather snubbed when he started on
his reminiscences.

"Bless you, no!  A most ancient English house--the Arabins of
Irtling in Essex.  Gone out for good now, I fear.  As a boy I
remember old Tom Arabin--a shabby old bandit, who came to London
once in five years and insulted everybody and then went back again.
He used to dine with my family, and I remember watching him arrive,
for I had a boyish romance about the man who had been a friend of
Byron.  Yes, he was with Byron when he died at Missolonghi, and he
was an intimate of all the poets of that time--Byron, Shelley--he
called his son after Shelley--Keats too, I think--there's a mention
of him in the Letters I'm almost sure--and he lived with Landor in
Italy till they quarrelled.  A most picturesque figure, but too
farouche, for comfort.  With him a word was a blow, you understand.
He married--now, who did he marry?--one of the Manorwaters, I
fancy.  Anyhow, he led her the devil of a life.  He bought or stole
or acquired somehow the island of Plakos, and used it as a base
from which to descend periodically upon the civilized world.  Not a
pleasant old gentleman, but amazingly decorative.  You may have
seen his translation of Pindar.  I have heard Jebb say that it was
a marvellous piece of scholarship, but that his English style was
the exact opposite of everything that Pindar stood for.  Dear me!
How short the world's memory is!"

"I want to hear about his son," I said.

"You shall--you shall!  Poor Shelley, I fear he had not the kind of
upbringing which is commonly recommended for youth.  Tom disliked
his son, and left him to the care of the family priest--they were
Catholics of course.  All his boyhood he spent in that island among
the peasants and the kind of raffish company that his father
invited to the house.  What kind of company?  Well, I should say
all the varieties of humbug that Europe produces--soldiers of
fortune, and bad poets, and the gentry who have made their native
countries too hot for them.  Plakos was the refuge of every brand
of outlaw, social and political.  Ultimately the boy was packed off
to Cambridge, where he arrived speaking English a generation out of
date, and with the tastes of a Turkish pasha, but with the most
beautiful manners.  Tom, when he wasn't in a passion, had the
graciousness of a king, and Shelley was a young prince in air and
feature.  He was terribly good-looking in a way no man has a right
to be, and that prejudiced him in the eyes of his young
contemporaries.  Also there were other things against him."

"How long did Cambridge put up with him?" I asked.

"One year.  There was a scandal--rather a bad one, I fancy--and he
left under the blackest kind of cloud.  Tom would not have him at
home, but he gave him a good allowance, and the boy set up in
London.  Not in the best society, you understand, but he had a huge
success in the half-world.  Women raved about him, and even when
his reputation was at its worst, he would be seen at a few good
houses. . . .  I suppose a lawyer does not concern himself with
poetry, but I can assure you that Shelley Arabin made quite a name
for himself in the late eighties.  I believe bibliophiles still
collect his first editions.  There was his epic on the Fall of
Jerusalem--a very remarkable performance as a travesty of history.
And there were his love sonnets, beautiful languid things, quite
phosphorescent with decay.  He carried Swinburne and Beaudelaire a
stage further.  Well, that mood has gone from the world, and
Shelley Arabin's reputation with it, but at one time sober critics
felt obliged to praise him even when they detested him.  He was
a red-hot revolutionary, too, and used to write pamphlets
blackguarding British policy. . . .  I saw quite a lot of him in
those days, and I confess that I found him fascinating.  Partly it
was his beauty and his air, partly that he was like nobody I had
ever met.  He could talk wonderfully in his bitter, high-coloured
way.  But I never liked him.  Oh no, I never liked him.  There was
always a subtle cruelty about him.  Old Tom had been a blackguard,
but he had had a heart--Shelley, behind all his brilliance, was ice
and stone.  I think most people came to feel this, and he had
certainly outstayed his welcome before he left London."

"What made him leave?"

"His father's death.  Tom went out suddenly from old age just
before the war between Greece and Turkey.  Shelley left England
with a great gasconade of Greek patriotism--he was going to be a
second Byron and smite the infidel.  By all accounts he did very
little.  I doubt if he had old Tom's swashbuckling courage: indeed
I have heard ugly stories of the white feather. . . .  Anyhow
England knew him no more.  He married a girl he met in Rome--
Scotch--a Miss Hamilton, I think, but I never knew of what
Hamiltons.  He treated her shamefully after the Arabin tradition.
She did not live long, and there were no children, I believe, and
now Shelley is dead and the Arabins are extinct.  Not a pleasant
family, you will say, and small loss to the world.  But there was a
certain quality, too, which under happier circumstances might have
made them great.  And assuredly they had looks.  There was
something almost unholy about Shelley's beauty in his early days.
It made men instinctively dislike him.  If I had had a son I should
have liked him to be snub-nosed and bullet-headed, for ugliness in
the male is a security for virtue and a passport to popularity."

This was probably a sentence from one of Folliot's silly books of
reminiscences.  My curiosity about Plakos was not exhausted, and I
asked what kind of life had been lived there.  "The house is a
tremendous affair," I said, "with room for a regiment."

"I know," said Folliot, "and it was often full.  I had always a
great curiosity to go there, though I daresay I should have found
the atmosphere too tropical for my taste.  Shelley never invited
me, but if I had arrived he could scarcely have turned me away.  I
entertained the notion at one time, but I kept putting it off till
my taste for that kind of adventure declined. . . .  No, I have
never been nearer Plakos than Athens, where I once spent a
fortnight when Fanshawe was our Minister there.  I asked about
Shelley, of course, and Fanshawe gave me an ugly report.  Plakos,
you must know, is a remote and not over-civilized island where the
writ of the Greek Government scarcely runs, so it was very much a
patriarchal despotism.  I gathered that Shelley was not a popular
landlord.  There had been many complaints, and one or two really
horrid stories of his treatment of the peasantry.  It seemed that
he saw a good deal of company, and had made his house a resort for
the rascality of Europe.  The rascality--not merely the folly, as
in his father's time.  The place fairly stank in Fanshawe's
nostrils.  'The swine still calls himself an Englishman,' he told
me, 'still keeps his English domicile, so we get the blame of his
beastliness.  And all the while, too, he is sluicing out venom
about England.  He is clever enough to keep just inside the tinpot
Greek law.  I'd give a thousand pounds to see him clapped in
gaol.'"

I had heard all I wanted to know, and picked up a book, while
Folliot busied himself with the newspaper.  A little later he
interrupted me.

"I have just remembered something else.  You knew Wintergreen, the
archĉologist?  He was at the British school in Athens, and then
excavated Hittite remains in Asia Minor.  Poor fellow, he died of
dysentery as an intelligence officer in Mesopotamia.  Well,
Wintergreen once spoke to me of Plakos.  I suppose he had been
there, for he had been everywhere.  We were talking, I remember,
one night in the club about Gilles de Rais--the French Bluebeard,
you know, the friend of Joan of Arc--and I asked if anything
approaching that kind of miscreant still existed on the globe.
Somebody said that the type was fairly common in the East, and
mentioned some Indian potentate.  Wintergreen broke in.  'You don't
need to go to the East,' he said.  'You can find it in Europe,' and
he started to speak of Shelley Arabin.  I don't recollect what
exactly he said, but it was pretty bad, and of course strictly
libellous.  By his account Shelley had become a connoisseur and
high priest of the uttermost evil, and the cup of his iniquities
was nearly full.  It seemed that Wintergreen had been in the island
excavating some ancient remains and living among the peasants, and
had heard tales that sickened him.  He thought that some day soon
the great house would go flaming to heaven, set alight by an
outraged people.

"Well, it hasn't happened."  Folliot returned to his Times.
"Shelley has died in his bed, which is perhaps more than he
deserved.  Not agreeable people, I fear.  It is a good thing that
he left no posterity."

That evening I thought a good deal about Plakos.  I was glad to
have discovered the reason for the aversion which I had felt on our
visit, and was inclined to believe that I must be a more sensitive
person than my friends would admit.  After that the subject passed
from my mind.



By the end of April I was so much recovered that I went back to my
practice at the Bar, and was almost snowed under by the briefs
which descended on my shoulders as soon as there was a rumour of my
return.  It would have been a difficult job to select, and I
daresay I should have slipped into overwork, had I not been made a
Law Officer.  That, so to speak, canalized my duties, and since my
task was largely novel and, at the moment, of extraordinary
interest, the change completed my convalescence.  In May I was my
normal self, and when Vernon returned to England in June he found
me eating, sleeping, and working as in the old days--a fitter man,
indeed, than in 1914, for the war seemed to have drawn off the
grosser humours of middle life.

Vernon, too, was fit again.  If a young man starts with a fine
constitution and a strong character, and applies all the powers of
his mind to the task of getting well, he is almost certain to
succeed.  He came back to London a lean, sunburnt creature, with an
extraordinarily RARIFIED look about him.  He had lost nothing of
his youth, indeed he scarcely looked his twenty-five years; but he
had been fined down and tautened and tested, so that his face had a
new spirituality in it as if there was a light shining behind.  I
have noticed the same thing in other cases of head wounds.  You
remember how Jim Barraclough, who used to be a heavy red-haired
fellow, came out of hospital looking like a saint in an Italian
primitive.

Vernon was changed in other ways.  You see, he belonged to a
generation which was nearly cleaned out by the war, and he had
scarcely a friend of his own year left except my nephew Charles.
That should not have meant so much to him as to other people, for
he had never depended greatly on friends, but I think the thought
of all the boys who had been at school and college with him lying
under the sod gave him a feeling of desperate loneliness, and flung
him back more than ever on himself.  I could see that even I meant
less to him than before, though I still meant a good deal.

I was partly to blame for that, perhaps.  The war had altered
everybody's sense of values, and unconsciously I had come to take
his dream less seriously.  I had got into a mood of accepting
things as they came and living with short horizons, and the long
perspective which dominated his thoughts seemed to me a little out
of the picture.  I was conscious of this change in myself, and
strove not to show it, but he must have felt it, and the blinds
came down ever so little between us.  For it was clear that the
dream meant more than ever to him.  He was in the last lap now, had
rounded the turn and was coming up the straight, and every nerve
and sinew were on the stretch.  I couldn't quite live up to this
ardour, though I tried hard, and with that lightning instinct of
his he was aware of it, and was sparing of his confidences.  The
thing made me miserable, for it increased his loneliness, and I
longed for the next year to be over and the apocalyptic to be
driven out of his life.  The mere fact that I took for granted that
nothing would happen showed that I had lost my serious interest in
his dream.  Vernon had to outgrow a childish fancy, as one outgrows
a liability to chicken-pox--that was all.

He had become harder too, as a consequence of loneliness.  You
remember that curious summer of 1919 when everybody was feverishly
trying to forget the war.  They were crazy days, when nobody was
quite himself.  Politicians talked and writers wrote clotted
nonsense, statesmen chased their tails, the working man wanted to
double his wages and halve his working hours at a time when the
world was bankrupt, youth tried to make up for the four years of
natural pleasure of which it had been cheated, and there was a
general loosening of screws and a rise in temperature.  It was what
I had looked for, and I sympathized with a good deal of it, but,
Lord bless me!  Vernon was like an Israelitish prophet at a feast
of Baal.  I recalled what Charles had said about him in the war,
and I wondered if Charles had not been right.  Vernon seemed
destitute of common humour.

I took him to dine at the Thursday Club, which had just been
started.  There he behaved well enough, for he found people who
could talk his own language.  But I noticed how complete was his
apathy when politics were the subject of conversation.  He was as
uninterested in the setting to rights of the world as a hermit in a
cell.  He was oddly uncompanionable, too.  Burminster's rollicking
chaff got nothing out of him but a Monna Lisa smile.  "What has
happened to the boy?" that worthy asked me afterwards.  "Shell-
shock or what?  Has he left a bit of his mind out in France?  He's
the most buttoned-up thing I ever struck."

He was worse with the ordinary young man.  I gave a dinner or two
for him, and, as we had one club in common, we occasionally found
ourselves together in smoking-room gatherings.  I had an immense
pity for youth struggling to adjust its poise, and often I could
have found it in my heart to be annoyed with Vernon's uncanny
balance, which was not far from egotism.  These poor lads were
splashing about in life, trying to find their feet, and for their
innocent efforts he had only a calm contempt.  He sat like a
skeleton at the feast, when they chattered about their sporting and
amorous ventures, and discussed with abysmal ignorance how money
was to be made in a highly expensive world.  I have a vivid
recollection of his courteous, insulting aloofness.

"What rot to say that the war has done any good," he remarked to me
once as we walked back to the flat.  "It has killed off the men,
and left only the half-wits."

Charles, now endeavouring without much success to earn a living in
the City, was vehement on the subject, and he had a characteristic
explanation.  "Vernon has become a wonderful old fossil," he said.
"Not gone to seed, like some of the rest, but a fossil--dried up--
mummified.  It isn't healthy, and I'm pretty certain about the
cause.  He's got something on his mind, and I shouldn't be
surprised if he was preparing to come an everlasting cropper.  I
think it's a girl."

It certainly was not a girl.  I often wished it had been, for to a
fellow as lonely as Vernon the best cure, as I saw it, would have
been to fall in love.  People had taken furiously to dancing, and
that summer, though there were no big balls, every dinner-party
seemed to end in a dance, and every restaurant was full of rag-time
music and ugly transatlantic shuffling.  For youth it was a good
way of working off restlessness, and foolish middle age followed
the guiding of youth.  I had no fault to find with the fashion.
The poor girls, starved for four years of their rights, came from
dull war-work and shadowed schoolrooms determined to win back
something.  One could forgive a good deal of shrillness and bad
form in such a case.  My one regret was that they made such guys of
themselves.  Well-born young women seemed to have taken for their
models the cretinous little oddities of the film world.

One night Vernon and I had been dining at the house of a cousin of
mine and had stayed long enough to see the beginning of the dance
that followed.  As I looked on, I had a sharp impression of the
change which five years had brought.  This was not, like a pre-war
ball, part of the ceremonial of an assured and orderly world.
These people were dancing as savages danced--to get rid of or to
engender excitement.  Apollo had been ousted by Dionysos.  The
nigger in the band, who came forward now and then and sang some
gibberish, was the true master of ceremonies.  I said as much to
Vernon, and he nodded.  He was watching with a curious intensity
the faces that passed us.

"Everybody is leaner," I said, "and lighter on their feet.  That's
why they want to dance.  But the women have lost their looks."

"The women!" he murmured.  "Look at that, I beseech you!"

It was a tall girl, who was dancing with a handsome young Jew, and
dancing, as I thought, with a notable grace.  She was very slim,
and clearly very young, and I daresay would have been pretty, if
she had let herself alone.  I caught a glimpse of fine eyes, and
her head was set on her neck like a flower on its stalk.  But some
imp had inspired her to desecrate the gifts of the Almighty.  Her
hair was bobbed, she had too much paint and powder on her face, she
had some kind of barbaric jewels in her ears which put her head out
of drawing, and she wore a preposterous white gown.  Don't ask me
to describe it, for I am not an expert on dress; but it seemed to
me wrong by every canon of decency and art.  It had been made, no
doubt, with the intention of being provocative, and its audacious
lines certainly revealed a great deal of its wearer's body.  But
the impression was rather of an outrage perpetrated on something
beautiful, a foolish ill-bred joke.  There was an absurd innocence
about the raddled and half-clad girl--like a child who for an
escapade has slipped down to the drawing-room in her nightgown.

Vernon did not feel as I felt.  His eyes followed her for a little,
and then he turned to me with a face like stone.

"So much for our righteous war," he said grimly.  "It's to produce
THAT that so many good fellows died."



CHAPTER IV


Early in November I went down to Wirlesdon for the first big covert
shoot.  I am not a great performer with the gun, and you will not
find me often in the first flight in the hunting-field, but, busy
as I was, I made time now for an occasional day's shooting or
hunting, for I had fallen in love with the English country, and it
is sport that takes you close to the heart of it.  Is there
anything in the world like the corner of a great pasture hemmed in
with smoky brown woods in an autumn twilight: or the jogging home
after a good run when the moist air is quickening to frost and the
wet ruts are lemon-coloured in the sunset; or a morning in November
when, on some upland, the wind tosses the driven partridges like
leaves over tall hedges, through the gaps of which the steel-blue
horizons shine?  It is the English winter that intoxicates me more
even than the English May, for the noble bones of the land are
bare, and you get the essential savour of earth and wood and water.

It was a mild evening as we walked back from the last stand to the
house, and, though so late in the year, there was still a show in
the garden borders.  I like the rather languid scent of autumn
flowers when it is chastened by a touch of wood smoke from the
gardeners' bonfires; it wakes so many memories and sets me
thinking.  This time my thoughts were chiefly of Vernon, whom I had
not seen for several months.  We were certainly drawing apart, and
I didn't see how it could be avoided.  I was back in the ordinary
world again, with a mighty zest for it, and he was vowed and
consecrated to his extraordinary obsession.  I could not take it
seriously myself, but about one thing I was grave enough--its
effect on Vernon.  Nothing would happen when next April came--of
that I was convinced, but if nothing happened what would Vernon do?
The linch-pin would be out of his life.  At twenty-six, with a war
behind him, a man should have found his groove in life, but at
twenty-six Vernon would be derelict, like one who has trained
himself laboriously for an occupation which is gone.  I put aside
the notion that anything could happen, for in my new mood I was
incredulous of miracles.  But my scepticism did not dispel my
anxiety.

The hall at Wirlesdon is a big, comfortable, stone-flagged Georgian
place, and before one of the fireplaces, with two great Coromandel
screens for a shelter, there was the usual encampment for tea.  It
was a jolly sight--the autumn dusk in the tall windows, the blazing
logs, and the group of fresh-coloured young faces.  I had gone
straight to the covert-side that morning, so I had still to greet
my hostess, and I was not clear who were staying in the house.
Mollie Nantley, busied in making tea, muttered some indistinct
introductions, and I bowed to several unfamiliar young women in
riding-habits who were consuming poached eggs.  I remembered that
this was the Saturday country for the Mivern, and presently one of
the red backs turned towards me, and I saw that it was Vernon.

The Mivern cut-away became him uncommonly well, and his splashed
breeches and muddy boots corrected the over-precision which was apt
to be the fault of his appearance.  Once he would have made a bee-
line towards me, but now he contented himself with a smile and a
wave of his hand.  We were certainly drifting apart. . . .  He was
talking to one of the Nantley girls, a pretty shy creature, just
out of the schoolroom, and Tom Nantley, her father, made a third in
the conversation.  As I drank my tea I looked round the little
gathering.  There were Bill Harcus and Heneage Wotton and young
Cheviot who had been of the shooting party.  Lady Altrincham was
there with her wonderful pearls--she is one of those people whose
skin nourishes pearls, and she is believed to take them to bed with
her.  Young Mrs. Lamington, who had been walking with the guns, was
kicking the burning logs with her mannish shoes and discussing
politics with the son of the house, Hugo Brune, who was in
Parliament.  There were several girls, all with clear skins and
shorn curls, and slim, straight figures.  I found myself for the
first time approving the new fashion in clothes.  These children
looked alert and vital like pleasant boys, and I have always
preferred Artemis to Aphrodite.

But there was one girl who caught and held my eyes.  She had been
hunting, and her flat-brimmed hat was set deep on her small head
and rather tilted back, for her bobbed hair gave it no support.
Her figure, in a well-cut coat and habit, was graceful and
workmanlike, and there was a rakish elegance about her pose, as she
stood with one foot on the stone curb of the hearth, holding a tea-
cup as a Wise Virgin may have carried a lamp.  But there was little
of the Wise Virgin about her face.  Any colour the weather might
have whipped into it had disappeared under a recent powdering, and
my impression was of very red lips against a dead white background.
She had been talking over her left shoulder to her hostess, and now
her eyes were roaming about the place, with a kind of arrogant
nonchalance.  They met mine, and I saw that they were curiously
sullen and masterful.  Then they passed from me, for a middle-aged
lawyer did not interest them, dwelt for a moment on Cheviot and
Wotton, who were having an argument about woodcock, and finally
rested on Vernon.  She had the air of being bored with her company.

Vernon, talking idly to Tom Nantley, suddenly found himself
addressed.

"Your mare wants practice in jumping stone walls," she said.
"You'll cut her knees to ribbons.  Better try her in caps next
time."

You can cut into a conversation gracefully, and you can cut in
rudely.  This girl did it rudely.  I could see Vernon's face harden
as he replied that this bit of the Mivern country was strange to
him.

"It's the only decent going in the shire.  I'm sick of the rotten
pastures in the vale country.  What on earth does one hunt for
except for pace?"

"Some of us hunt to follow hounds," was Vernon's curt rejoinder.

She laughed--a rather ugly, hard little laugh.  "Follow your
grandmother!  If hounds are all you care about you may as well go
beagling!  Give me a cigarette, will you?"

"Sorry.  I haven't any," he replied.

Several men proffered cases.  "You'll find heaps, Corrie dear,"
Mollie Nantley said, "in the box behind you."  The girl reached
behind her for the box and offered it to Vernon.  When he declined
she demanded a match, and Vernon, with an ill grace, lit her
cigarette.  It was plain that he detested her manners.

So most certainly did I.  The little incident I had witnessed was
oddly ill-bred and brazen.  And yet "brazen" was not quite the
word, for it implies self-consciousness.  This masterful girl had
no shadow of doubt as to her behaviour.  She seemed to claim the
right to domineer, like a barbaric princess accustomed to an
obsequious court.  Yes, "barbaric" was the right epithet.  Mollie
had called her "Corrie," and the name fitted her.  No doubt she had
been baptized Cora or Corisande, names which for me recalled the
spangles and sawdust of a circus.

She had decided that Vernon was the most interesting of the lot of
us, and she promptly annexed him, moving to his side and swinging
on an arm of a tapestry chair.  But Vernon was a hard fellow to
drive against his will.  His air was a frigid courtesy, and
presently he went up to his hostess.  "We must be off, Lady
Nantley," he said, "for it's getting dark, and we are eight miles
from home."  He collected two of the men and three of the hunting
girls, like a chaperone at a ball, shook hands with Mollie and Tom,
nodded to me, and marched to the door.

The girl, who was apparently my fellow-guest, followed him with her
eyes, and her scarlet lips seemed to twitch in a flicker of
amusement.  If she had been rude, so had been Vernon, and, had she
known it, it was something of a triumph to have cracked his
adamantine good manners.  When the party had gone, she strolled to
the front of the hearth, stretched her arms above her head, and
yawned.

"Lord, how stiff I am!" she proclaimed.  "Heigho for a bath!  I
hope you've the right kind of bath salts, Mollie, or I'll be on
crutches to-morrow.  Come and talk to me, Dolly!"  She picked up
her crop, made a noose with the lash around the waist of one of the
daughters of the house and drew her with her.  The child, to my
surprise, went smilingly.

I, too, had a bath, and read papers till it was time to dress.  I
felt happier about Vernon, for the sight of his unmistakable ill-
temper seemed to bring him into the common human category.  I had
never seen him show dislike so markedly to any human being as to
that atrocious girl, and I considered that it would be a good thing
if his Olympian calm could be ruffled more often in the same way.
I wondered casually who she could be, and why the Nantleys should
have her to stay.  Probably she was some daughter of profiteers who
had bought her way into an unfamiliar world, though that would not
explain her presence at Wirlesdon.  But an ill-bred young woman did
not interest me enough for my thoughts to dwell long on her, and my
only prayer was that I might not be placed next her at dinner.

It was a very young party which I found assembled in Mollie's
sitting-room, and a hasty glance convinced me that I would be sent
in with Mrs. Lamington.  Old Folliot was there, and presently he
sidled up to me to tell me a new piece of gossip.  Having been out
all day in strong air I was ravenous, and impatient for the
announcement of dinner.

"Now, who are we waiting for?" Tom Nantley fussed around.  "Oh,
Corrie, of course.  Corrie is always late.  Confound that girl, she
has probably gone to sleep in her bath.  Pam, you go and dig her
out. . . .  Hullo, here she comes at last!"

In her hunting-kit she had looked handsome in an outlandish way,
but as she swept down--without any apology--on our hungry mob there
was no question of her beauty.  For one thing she walked superbly.
Few women can walk, and the trouble about the new fashion in
clothes is that it emphasizes ugly movement.  She wore a gown of a
shade of green which would have ruined most people's looks, but she
managed to carry it off, and something more.  For a young girl she
was far too heavily made up, but that, too, she forced one to
accept.  I suddenly had a new view of her, and realized that there
was quality here, a masterfulness which might charm, an arrogance
which perhaps was not blasé but virginal.

I realized, too, that I had seen her before.  This was the girl
whom Vernon and I had watched at my cousin's dance in July.  I
wondered if he had understood this in their encounter at the tea-
table.

I had barely recovered from this surprise, when I had another.
Folliot's hand was on my arm and he was purring in my ear:

"We talked once of Shelley Arabin, and I told you he left no
children.  My memory betrayed me, for that young lady is his
daughter.  She has the true Arabin eyes and all their unfathomable
conceit.  She is what in my day we would have called 'shocking bad
form.'  Rather common, I think."

From which I knew that she must have dealt hardly with old Folliot.

At dinner I sat between Mollie and Mrs. Lamington, and since my
hostess had the garrulous Cheviot on her right hand, I devoted
myself to my other neighbour.  That charming lady, who gives to
political intrigue what time she can spare from horseflesh, had so
much to tell me that I had no need to exert myself.  She was
eloquent on the immense importance of certain pending Imperial
appointments, especially on the need of selecting men with the
right kind of wives, the inference being that George Lamington's
obvious deficiencies might be atoned for by the merits of his lady.
I must have assented to everything that she said, for she told
Mollie afterwards that the war had improved me enormously and had
broadened my mind.  But as a matter of fact I was thinking of Miss
Arabin.

She sat nearly opposite to me, and I could watch her without
staring.  Her manner seemed to alternate between an almost hoydenish
vivacity and complete abstraction.  At one moment she would have
her young neighbours laughing and protesting volubly, and then she
would be apparently deaf to what they said, so that they either
talked across her or turned to their other partners. . . .  In
these latter moods her eyes seemed almost sightless, so wholly were
they lacking in focus or expression.  Sometimes they rested on
the table flowers, sometimes on the wall before her, sometimes on
Mrs. Lamington and myself--but they were always unseeing.  Instead
of their former sullenness, they seemed to have a brooding
innocence. . . .  I noticed, too, the quality of her voice when she
spoke.  It was singularly arresting--clear, high, and vital.  She
talked the usual staccato slang, but though she rarely finished a
sentence grammatically, the cadence and intonation were always
rounded off to a satisfying close.  Only her laugh was ugly, as if
it were a forced thing.  Every other sound that came from her had a
musical completeness.

She had the foreign trick of smoking before the close of dinner,
and, as if to preserve her beautiful fingers from contamination,
before lighting a cigarette she would draw on her right hand a silk
glove of the same colour as her gown.  The Nantley's seemed to be
accustomed to this habit, but it at last withdrew Mrs. Lamington
from her Imperial propaganda.

"What an extraordinary young woman!" she whispered to me.  "Who is
she?  Is she a little mad, or only foreign?"

I paraphrased old Folliot in my reply:  "Pure English, but lives
abroad."

The green glove somehow recalled that April evening at Plakos.
This outlandish creature was interesting, for God knew what strange
things were in her upbringing and her ancestry.  Folliot was an old
fool; she might be odious, but she was assuredly not "common."  As
it chanced the end of dinner found her in one of her fits of
absent-mindedness, and she trailed out of the room with the other
women like a sleep-walker.  The two youngsters who had been her
companions at table stared after her till the door closed.

Later in the drawing-room I returned to my first impression.  The
girl was detestable.  I would have liked a sleepy evening of
bridge, but the young harpy turned the sober halls of Wirlesdon
into a cabaret.  She behaved like a man-eating shark, and swept
every male, except Tom Nantley, Folliot, and myself, into her
retinue.  They danced in the library, because of its polished empty
floor, and when I looked in I saw that the kind of dances were not
what I should have chosen for youth, and was glad that Pam and
Dolly had been sent to bed.  I heard a clear voice declaring that
it was "devilish slow," and I knew to whom the voice belonged.  At
the door I passed old Folliot on his way to his room, and he shook
his head and murmured "Common."  This time I almost agreed with
him.

In the drawing-room I found my hostess skimming the weekly press,
and drew up a chair beside her.  Mollie Nantley and I count
cousinship, though the relation is slightly more remote, and she
has long been my very good friend.  She laid down her paper and
prepared to talk.

"I was so glad to see Colonel Milburne again.  He looks so well
too.  But, Ned dear, you ought to get him to go about more, for
he's really a little old-maidish.  He was scared to death by Corrie
Arabin."

"Well, isn't she rather--shall we say disconcerting?  More by
token, who is she?"

"Poor little Corrie!  She's the only child of a rather horrible man
who died last year--Shelley Arabin.  Did you never hear of him?  He
married a sort of cousin of mine and treated her shamefully.
Corrie had the most miserable upbringing--somewhere in Greece, you
know, and in Rome and Paris, and at the worst kind of girls' school
where they teach the children to be snobs and powder their noses
and go to confession.  The school wouldn't have mattered, for the
Arabins are Romans, and Corrie couldn't be a snob if she tried, but
her home life would have ruined St. Theresa.  She was in London
last summer with the Ertzbergers, and I was rather unhappy about
her living among cosmopolitan Jew rastaquouères, so I am trying to
do what I can for her this winter.  Fortunately she has taken madly
to hunting, and she goes most beautifully.  She has never had a
chance, poor child.  You must be kind to her, Ned."

I said that I was not in the habit of being brutal to young women,
but that she was not likely to want my kindness.  "She seems to be
a success in her way.  These boys follow her like sheep."

"Oh, she has had one kind of success, but not the best kind.  She
casts an extraordinary spell over young men, and does not care a
straw for one of them.  I might be nervous about Hugo, but I'm not
in the least, for she is utterly sexless--more like a wild boy.  It
is no good trying to improve her manners, for she is quite
unconscious of them.  I don't think there is an atom of harm in
her, and she has delightful things about her--she is charming to
Pam and Dolly, and they adore her, and she is simply the most
honest creature ever born.  She must get it from her mother, for
Shelley was an infamous liar."

Mollie's comely face, with her glorious golden-red hair slightly
greying at the temples, had a look of compassionate motherliness.
With all her vagueness, she is one of the shrewdest women of my
acquaintance, and I have a deep respect for her judgment.  If she
let her adored Pam and Dolly make friends of Miss Arabin, Miss
Arabin must be something more than the cabaret girl of my first
impression.

"But I'm not happy about her," Mollie went on.  "I can't see her
future.  She ought to marry, and the odds are terribly against her
marrying the right man.  Boys flock after her, but the really nice
men--like Colonel Milburne--fly from her like the plague.  They
don't understand that her bad form is not our bad form, but simply
foreignness. . . .  And she's so terribly strong-minded.  I know
that she hates everything connected with her early life, and yet
she insists on going back to that Greek place.  Her father left her
quite well off, I believe--Tom says so, and he has looked into her
affairs--and she ought to settle down here and acclimatize herself.
All her superficial oddities would soon drop off, for she is so
clever she could make herself whatever she wanted.  It is what she
wants, too, for she loves England and English ways.  But there is a
touch of 'daftness' about her, a kind of freakishness which I can
never understand.  I suppose it is the Arabin blood."

Mollie sighed.

"I try to be tolerant about youth," she added, "but I sometimes
long to box its ears.  Besides, there is the difficulty about the
others.  I am quite sure of Corrie up to a point, but I can't be
responsible for the young men.  George Cheviot shows every
inclination to make a fool of himself about her, and what am I to
say to his mother?  Really, having Corrie in the house is like
domesticating a destroying angel."

"You're the kindest of women," I said, "but I think you've taken on
a job too hard for you.  You can't mix oil and wine.  You'll never
fit Miss Arabin into your world.  She belongs to a different one."

"I wonder what it is?"

"A few hours ago I should have said it was the world of cabarets
and Riviera hotels and Ertzbergers.  After what you have told me
I'm not so sure.  But anyhow it's not our world."

As I went to bed I heard the jigging of dance music from the
library, and even in so large a house as Wirlesdon its echoes
seemed to pursue me as I dropped into sleep.  The result was that I
had remarkable dreams, in which Miss Arabin, dressed in the
spangles of a circus performer and riding a piebald horse, insisted
on my piloting her with the Mivern, while the Master and Vernon
looked on in stony disapproval.

The next morning was frosty and clear, and I came down to breakfast
to find my hostess alone in the dining-room.

"Corrie behaved disgracefully last night," I was informed.  "She
started some silly rag with George Cheviot, and made hay of Mr.
Harcus's bedroom.  Tom had to get up and read the Riot Act in the
small hours.  I have been to her room and found her asleep, but as
soon as she wakes I am going to talk to her very seriously.  It is
more than bad manners--it is an offence against hospitality."

I went to church with Tom and his daughters, and when we returned
we found Miss Arabin breakfasting before the hall fire on grapes
and coffee, with the usual young men in attendance.  If she had
been given a lecture by her hostess, there was no sign of it in her
face.  She looked amazingly brilliant--all in brown, with a jumper
of brown arabesque and long amber ear-rings.  A russet silk glove
clothed the hand in which she held her cigarette.

Vernon came over to luncheon and sat next to Mollie, while at the
other end of the table I was placed between Miss Arabin and Lady
Altrincham.  The girl scarcely threw a word to me, being occupied
in discussing, quite intelligently, with Hugo Brune the
international position of Turkey.  I could not avoid overhearing
some of their talk, and I realized that when she chose she could
behave like a civilized being.  It might be that Mollie's morning
discourse had borne fruit.  Her voice was delightful to listen to,
with its full, clear tones and delicate modulations.  And then,
after her habit, her attention wandered, and Hugo's platitudes fell
on unheeding ears.  She was staring at a picture of a Jacobean
Nantley on the wall, and presently her eyes moved up the table and
rested on Vernon.

She spoke to me at last.

"Who is the man next to Mollie--the man who came to tea last night?
You know him, don't you?"

I told her his name.

"A soldier?" she asked.

"Has been.  Does nothing at present.  He has a place in
Westmorland."

"You are friends?"

"The closest."  There was something about the girl's brusqueness
which made me want to answer in monosyllables.  Then she suddenly
took my breath away.

"He is unhappy," she said.  "He looks as if he had lost his way."

She turned to Hugo and, with an urbanity which I had thought
impossible, apologized for her inattention, and took up the
conversation at the point at which she had dropped it.

Her words made me keep my eyes on Vernon.  Unhappy!  There was
little sign of it in his lean smiling face, with the tanned cheeks
and steady eyes.  Mollie was clearly delighted with him; perhaps
her maternal heart had marked him down for Dolly.  Lost his way?
On the contrary he seemed at complete ease with the world.  Was
this strange girl a sorceress to discover what was hidden deep in
only two men's minds?  I had a sense that Vernon and Miss Arabin,
with nothing on earth in common, had yet a certain affinity.  Each
had a strain of romance in them--romance and the unpredictable.

Vernon had motored over to Wirlesdon and proposed to walk back, so
I accompanied him for part of the road.  I was glad of a chance for
a talk, for I was miserably conscious that we were slipping away
from each other.  I didn't see how I could help it, for I was
immersed in practical affairs, while he would persist in living for
a dream.  Before the war I had been half under the spell of that
dream, but four years' campaigning had given me a distaste for the
fantastic and set my feet very solidly on the rock of facts.  Our
two circles of comprehension, which used to intersect, had now
become self-contained.

I asked him what he was doing with himself, and he said hunting,
and shooting, and dabbling in books.  He was writing something--I
think about primitive Greek religion, in consequence of some
notions he had picked up during his service in the Ĉgean.

"Seriously, old fellow," I said, "isn't it time you settled down to
business?  You are twenty-five, you have first-class brains, and
you are quite fit now.  I can't have you turning into a flâneur."

"There is no fear of that," he replied rather coldly.  "I am eager
for work, but I haven't found it yet.  My training isn't finished.
I must wait till after next April."

"But what is going to happen after that?"

"I don't know.  I must see what happens THEN."

"Vernon," I cried, "we are old friends, and I am going to speak
bluntly.  You really must face up to facts.  What is going to
happen next April?  What CAN happen?  Put it at its highest.  You
may pass through some strange mental experience.  I can't conceive
what it may be, but suppose the last door does open and you see
something strange and beautiful or even terrible--I don't know
what.  It will all happen inside your mind.  It will round off the
recurring experiences you have had from childhood, but it can't do
anything more."

"It will do much more," he said.  "It will be the crisis of my
life. . . .  Why have you become so sceptical, Ned?  You used to
think as I do about it."

"It will only be a crisis if you make it so, and it's too risky.
Supposing, on the other hand, that nothing happens.  You will have
keyed your whole being up to an expectation which fails.  You will
be derelict, cut clean from your moorings.  It's too risky, I tell
you."

He shook his head.  "We have fallen out of understanding each
other.  Your second alternative is impossible.  I know it in my
bones.  Something will happen--must happen--and then I shall know
what I have to do with my life.  It will be the pistol-shot for the
start."

"But, my dear old man, think of the hazard.  You are staking
everything on a wild chance.  Heaven knows, I'm not unsympathetic.
I believe in you--I believe in a way in the reality of the dream.
But life is a prosaic thing, and if you are to have marvels in it
you should take them in your stride.  I want to see you with some
sort of policy for the future, and letting the last stage of your
dream drop in naturally into a strategic plan.  You can't, at
twenty-six, sit waiting on a revelation.  You must shape your own
course, and take the revelation when it comes.  If you don't,
you'll find yourself derelict.  Damn it, you're far too good to be
a waif."

He smiled a little sadly.  "We're pretty far apart now, I'm afraid.
Can't you see that the thing is too big a part of me to be treated
as a side-show?  It's what I've been sent into the world for.  I'm
waiting for my marching orders."

"Then you're waiting for a miracle," I said testily.

"True.  I am waiting for a miracle," he replied.  "We needn't argue
about it, Ned, for miracles are outside argument.  In less than six
months I will know.  Till then I am content to live by faith."

After leaving him, I walked back to the house in an uncomfortable
frame of mind.  I realized that the affection between us was as
deep as ever, but I had a guilty sense of having left him in the
lurch.  He was alone now, whereas once I had been with him, and I
hated to think of his loneliness.

As I crossed the bridge between the lakes I met Miss Arabin
sauntering bareheaded in the autumn sunlight.  I would have passed
on, with a curt greeting, for I was in no mood to talk trivialities
to a girl I disliked, but to my surprise she stopped and turned
with me up the long grassy aisle which led to the gardens.

"I came out to meet you," she said.  "I want to talk to you."

My response cannot have been encouraging, but she took no notice of
that.

"You're a lawyer, aren't you?" she went on.  "Mollie says you are
very clever.  You look clever."

I daresay I grinned.  I was being comprehensively patronized.

"Well, I want you to help me.  I have some tiresome legal
complications to disentangle, and my solicitor is a sheep.  I mean
to sack him."

I explained the etiquette of my profession.

"Oh, then you can tell him what to do.  You'll understand his silly
talk, which I don't.  You make him obey you."

"My dear young lady," I said, "I cannot undertake private business.
You see I'm in the employ of the Government."

"Don't be afraid, I can pay you all right."  The words were too
naïve to be insulting.

I said nothing, and she darted before me and looked me in the face.

"You mean that you won't help me?" she asked.

"I mean that I'm not allowed," I replied.  Without another word she
swung round and disappeared up a side glade.  As she vanished among
the beech trees, a figure as russet as the drift of leaves, I
thought I had never seen anything more quick and slender, and I
fervently hoped that I should never see her again.



CHAPTER V


In that hope I was mistaken.  A fortnight later the Treasury
Solicitor sent me the papers in one of those intricate international
cases which were the debris of the war.  It was a claim by a
resident abroad, who had not lost his British nationality, for
compensation for some oppressive act of one of the transient Greek
Governments.  I left the thing to my "devil," and just skimmed his
note before the necessary conference with the plaintiff's
solicitors.  To my surprise I saw that it had to do with the island
of Plakos and the name of Arabin.

Mr. Mower, of the reputable firm of Mower and Lidderdale, was not
unlike a sheep in appearance--a Leicester ewe for choice.  He had a
large pale high-boned face, rimless spectacles, a crop of nice
fleecy white hair, and the bedside manner of the good family
solicitor.  My hasty study of the papers showed me that the
oppressive acts were not denied, but that the title of the
plaintiff was questioned.

"This is a matter of domestic law," I said--"the lex loci rei sitĉ.
If the title to the land is disputed, it is a case for the Greek
courts."

"We have reason to believe that the defence is not seriously put
forward, for the title is beyond dispute, and we are at a loss to
understand the attitude of the Greek Government.  The documents are
all in our possession, and we took Mr. Blakeney's advice on them.
His opinion is among the papers left with you--and you will see
that he has no doubt on the matter."

Mr. Blakeney certainly had not, as I saw from his opinion, nor had
my "devil."  The latter characterized the defence as "monstrous."
It seemed to be based on an arbitrary act of the old Greek National
Assembly of 1830.  My note said that the title was complete in
every respect, and that the attempt to question it seemed to be a
species of insanity.  A name caught my attention.

"What is Koré?" I asked.

"It is Miss Arabin's Christian name.  Greek, I presume," said Mr.
Mower, very much in the tone in which Mr. Pecksniff observed,
"Pagan, I regret to say."

I read the note again, and Blakeney's opinion.  Blakeney was an
authority from whom I was not disposed to differ, and the facts
seemed too patent for argument.  As I turned over the papers I saw
the name of another solicitor on them.

"You have not always acted for the Arabin family?" I asked.

"Only within the last few months.  Derwents were the family
solicitors, but Miss Arabin was dissatisfied with them and withdrew
her business.  Curiously enough, they advised that the claim of the
Greek Government was good, and should not be opposed."

"What!" I exclaimed.  Derwents are one of the best firms in
England, and the senior partner, Sebastian Derwent, was my oldest
client.  He was not only a sound lawyer, but a good scholar and a
good fellow.  What on earth had induced him to give such
paradoxical advice?

I told Mr. Mower that the matter seemed plain enough, but that for
my own satisfaction I proposed to give further consideration to the
papers.  I took them home with me that evening, and the more I
studied them the less I could understand Derwent's action.  The
thing seemed a bluff so impudent as to be beyond argument.  The
abstract of title was explicit enough, and Blakeney, who had had
the original documents, was emphatic on the point.  But the firm of
Derwents was not in the habit of acting without good cause. . . .
I found myself becoming interested in the affair.  Plakos was still
a disquieting memory, and the outrageous girl at Wirlesdon was of a
piece with its strangeness.

A day or two later I was dining at the Athenĉum before going down
to the House, and I saw Sebastian Derwent eating a solitary meal at
an adjacent table.  I moved over beside him, and after some casual
conversation I ventured to sound him on the subject.  With another
man it might have been a delicate task, but we were old and
confidential friends.

I told him I had had the Plakos case before me.  "You used to act
for the Arabins?" I said.

He nodded, and a slight embarrassment entered his manner.  "My
father and grandfather, too, before me.  The firm had a difficult
time with old Tom Arabin.  He had a habit of coming down to the
office with a horsewhip, and on one occasion my grandfather was
compelled to wrest it from him, break it over his knee, and pitch
it into the fire."

"I can imagine easier clients.  But I am puzzled about that
preposterous Greek claim.  I can't think how it came to be raised,
for it is sheer bluff."

He reddened a little, and crumbled his bread.

"I advised Miss Arabin not to dispute it," he said.

"I know, and I can't imagine why.  You advised her to sit down
under a piece of infamous extortion."

"I advised her to settle it."

"But how can you settle a dispute when all the rights are on one
side?  Do you maintain that there was any law or equity in the
Greek case?"

He hesitated for a second.  "No," he said, "the claim was bad in
law.  But its acceptance would have had certain advantages for Miss
Arabin."

I suppose I looked dumbfounded.  "It's a long story," he said, "and
I'm not sure that I have the right to tell it to you."

"Let us leave it at that, then.  Of course it's no business of
mine."  I did not want to embarrass an old friend.

But he seemed disinclined to leave it.  "You think I have acted
unprofessionally?" he ventured.

"God forbid!  I know you too well, and I don't want to poke my nose
into private affairs."

"I can tell you this much.  Miss Arabin is in a position of extreme
difficulty.  She is alone in the world, without a near relation.
She is very young, and not quite the person to manage a troublesome
estate."

"But surely that is no reason why she should surrender her
patrimony to a bogus demand?"

"It would not have been exactly surrender.  I advised her not to
submit but to settle.  Full compensation would have been paid if
she had given up Plakos."

"Oh, come now," I cried.  "Who ever heard of voluntary compensation
being paid by a little stony-broke Government in Eastern Europe?"

"It would have been arranged," he said.  "Miss Arabin had friends--
a friend--who had great influence.  The compensation was privately
settled, and it was on a generous scale.  Miss Arabin has
fortunately other sources of income than Plakos: indeed, I do not
think she draws any serious revenue from the island.  She would
have received a sum of money in payment, the interest on which
would have added substantially to her income."

"But I still don't see the motive.  If the lady is not worried
about money, why should her friends be so anxious to increase her
income?"

Mr. Derwent shook his head.  "Money is not the motive.  The fact is
that Plakos is a troublesome property.  The Arabin family have
never been popular, and the inhabitants are turbulent and barely
civilized.  The thing is weighing on her mind.  It is not the sort
of possession for a young girl."

"I see.  In order to rid Miss Arabin of a damnosa hĉreditas you
entered into a friendly conspiracy.  I gather that she saw through
it."

He nodded.  "She is very quick-witted, and was furious at the
questioning of her title.  That was my mistake.  I underrated her
intelligence.  I should have had the thing more ingeniously framed.
I can assure you that my last interview with her was very painful.
I was forced to admit the thinness of the Greek claim, and after
that I had a taste of Tom Arabin's temper.  She is an extraordinary
child, but there is wonderful quality in her, wonderful courage.  I
confess I am thankful as a lawyer to be rid of her affairs, but as
a friend of the family I cannot help being anxious. . . .  She is
so terribly alone in the world."

"That is a queer story," I said.  "Of course you behaved as I
should have expected, but I fancy that paternal kindliness is
thrown away on that young woman.  I met her a few weeks ago in a
country house, and she struck me as peculiarly able to look after
herself.  One last question.  Who is the friend who is so all-
powerful at Athens?"

"That I fear I am not at liberty to tell you," was the answer.

This tale whetted my curiosity.  From old Folliot I had learned
something of the record of the Arabins, and I had my own impression
of Plakos as clear as a cameo.  Now I had further details in my
picture.  Koré Arabin (odd name!  I remembered from my distant
schooldays that Koré was Greek for a "maiden"--it had nothing to do
with Corisande of the circus) was the mistress of that sinister
island and that brooding house of a people who detested her race.
There was danger in the place, danger so great that some friend
unknown was prepared to pay a large price to get her out of it, and
had involved in the plot the most decorous solicitor in England.
Who was this friend?  I wanted to meet him and to hear more of
Plakos, for I realized that he and not Derwent was the authority.

Speculation as to his identity occupied a good deal of my leisure,
till suddenly I remembered what Lady Nantley had told me.  Miss
Arabin had been living in London with the Ertzbergers before she
came to Wirlesdon.  The friend could only be Theodore Ertzberger.
He had endless Greek connections, was one of the chief supporters
of Venizelos, and it was through his house that the new Greek loan
was to be issued.  I had met him, of course, and my recollection
was of a small bright-eyed man with a peaked grey beard and the
self-contained manner of the high financier.  I had liked him, and
found nothing of the rastaquouère in him to which Mollie objected.
His wife as another matter.  She was a large, flamboyant Belgian
Jewess, a determined social climber, and a great patron of art and
music, who ran a salon, and whose portraits were to be found in
every exhibition of the young school of painters.  It was borne in
on me that my curiosity would not be satisfied till I had had a
talk with Ertzberger.

Lady Amysfort arranged the meeting at a Sunday luncheon, when
Madame Ertzberger was mercifully stricken with influenza.

Except for the hostess, it was a man's party, and afterwards she
manoeuvred that Ertzberger and I should be left alone in a corner
of the big drawing-room.

I did not waste time beating about the bush, for I judged from his
face that this man would appreciate plain dealing.  There was
something simple and fine about his small regular features and the
steady regard of his dark eyes.

"I am glad to have this chance of a talk with you," I said.  "I
have lately been consulted about Plakos, and Miss Arabin's claim
against the Greek Government.  Also, a few weeks ago, I had the
pleasure of meeting Miss Arabin.  The whole business interests me
strongly--not as a lawyer but as a human being.  You see, just
before the war I happened to visit Plakos, and I can't quite get
the place out of my head.  You are a friend of hers, and I should
like to know something more about the island.  I gather that it's
not the most comfortable kind of estate."

He looked me straight in the face.  "I think you know Mr. Sebastian
Derwent," he said.

"I do.  And he gave me a hint of Miss Arabin's difficulties, and
the solution proposed.  His conduct may not have been strictly
professional, but it was extraordinarily kind.  But let me make it
quite clear that he never mentioned your name, or gave me any sort
of clue to it.  I guessed that you were the friend, because I knew
that Miss Arabin had been staying in your house."

"You guessed rightly.  It is not a thing that I naturally want made
public, but I am not in the least ashamed of the part I played.  I
welcome the opportunity of discussing it with you.  It is a curious
thing, but Miss Arabin has already spoken of you to me."

"She asked me to advise her, and I'm afraid was rather annoyed when
I told her that I couldn't take private practice."

"But she has not given up the notion.  She never gives up any
notion.  She has somehow acquired a strong belief in your wisdom."

"I am obliged to her, but I am not in a position to help."

He laid his hand on my arm.  "Do not refuse her," he said
earnestly.  "Believe me, no woman ever stood in more desperate need
of friends."

His seriousness impressed me.  "She has a loyal one in you, at any
rate.  And she seems to be popular, and to have a retinue of young
men."

He looked at me sharply.  "You think she is a light-headed girl,
devoted to pleasure--rather second-rate pleasure--a little ill-bred
perhaps.  But you are wrong, Sir Edward.  Here in England she is a
butterfly--dancing till all hours, a madcap in town and in the
hunting-field, a bewitcher of foolish boys.  Oh, bad form, I grant
you--the worst of bad form.  But that is because she comes here for
an anodyne.  She is feverishly gay because she is trying to forget--
trying not to remember that there is tragedy waiting behind her."

"Where?" I asked.

"In the island of Plakos."

Tragedy--that was the word he used.  It had an incongruous sound to
me, sitting in a warm London drawing-room after an excellent
luncheon, with the sound of chatter and light laughter coming from
the group around my hostess.  But he had meant it--his grave voice
and burdened face showed it--and the four walls seemed to fade into
another picture--a twilight by a spring sea, and under a shadowy
house two men with uplifted hands and hate and fear in their eyes.

"If you will do me the honour to listen," Ertzberger was speaking,
"I should like to tell you more about Miss Arabin's case."

"Have you known her long?" I asked.  A sudden disinclination had
come over me to go further in this affair.  I felt dimly that if I
became the recipient of confidences I might find myself involved in
some distasteful course of action.

"Since she was a child.  I had dealings with her father--business
dealings--he was no friend of mine--but there was a time when I
often visited Plakos.  I can claim that I have known Miss Arabin
for nearly fifteen years."

"Her father was a bit of a blackguard?"

"None of the words we use glibly to describe evil are quite
adequate to Shelley Arabin.  The man was rotten to the very core.
His father--I remember him too--was unscrupulous and violent, but
he had a heart.  And he had a kind of burning courage.  Shelley was
as hard and cold as a stone, and he was also a coward.  But he had
genius--a genius for wickedness.  He was beyond all comparison the
worst man I have ever known."

"What did he do?" I asked.  "I should have thought the
opportunities for wrong-doing in a remote island were limited."

"He was a student of evil.  He had excellent brains and much
learning, and he devoted it all to researches in devilry.  He had
his friends--people of his own tastes, who acknowledged him as
their master.  Some of the gatherings at Plakos would have made
Nero vomit.  Men and women both. . . .  The place stank of
corruption.  I have only heard the orgies hinted at--heathenish
remnants from the backstairs of the Middle Ages.  And on the
fringes of that hell the poor child grew up."

"Unsmirched?"

"Unsmirched!  I will stake my soul on that.  A Muse, a Grace, a
nymph among satyrs.  Her innocence kept her from understanding.
And then as she grew older and began to have an inkling of horrors,
she was in flaming revolt. . . .  I managed to get her sent away,
first to school, then to my wife's charge.  Otherwise I think there
would have been a tragedy."

"But surely with her father's death the danger is gone."

He shook his head.  "Plakos is a strange place, for the tides of
civilization and progress seem to have left it high and dry.  It is
a relic of old days, full of wild beliefs and pagan habits.  That
was why Shelley could work his will with it.  He did not confine
his evil-doing to his friends and the four walls of his house.  He
laid a spell of terror on the island.  There are horrid tales--I
won't trouble you with them--about his dealings with the peasants,
for he revelled in corrupting youth.  And terror grew soon into
hate, till in his last days the man's nerve broke.  He lived his
last months in gibbering fear.  There is something to be said after
all for mediĉval methods.  Shelley was the kind of scoundrel whom
an outraged people should have treated with boiling oil."

"Does the hatred pursue his daughter?" I asked.

"Most certainly.  It took years for Plakos to recognize Shelley's
enormities, and now the realization has become cumulative, growing
with every month.  I have had inquiries made--it is easy for me
since I have agents everywhere in the Ĉgean--and I can tell you the
thing has become a mania.  The war brought the island pretty near
starvation, for the fishing was crippled and a succession of bad
seasons spoiled the wretched crops.  Also there was a deadly
epidemic of influenza.  Well, the unsettlement of men's minds,
which is found all over the world to-day, has become in Plakos
sheer madness.  Remember, the people are primitive, and have
savagery in their blood and odd faiths in their hearts.  I do not
know much about these things, but scholars have told me that in the
islands the old gods are not altogether dead.  The people have
suffered, and they blame their sufferings on the Arabins, till they
have made a monstrous legend of it.  Shelley is in hell and beyond
their reach, but Shelley's daughter is there.  She is the witch who
has wronged them, and they are the kind of folk who are capable of
witch-burning."

"Good God!" I cried.  "Then the girl ought never to be allowed to
return."

"So I thought, and hence my little conspiracy which failed.  I may
tell you in confidence that it was I who prompted the action of the
Greek Government, and was prepared to find the compensation.  But I
was met by a stone wall.  She insists on holding on to the place.
Worse, she insists on going back.  She went there last spring, and
the spring is a perilous time, for the people have had the winter
to brood over their hatred.  I do not know whether she is fully
conscious of the risk, for sometimes I think she is still only a
child.  But last year she was in very real danger, and she must
have felt it.  Behind all her bravado I could see that she was
afraid."

It was an odd tale to hear in a commonplace drawing-room, and it
was odder to hear it from such a narrator.  There was nothing
romantic about Ertzberger.  I daresay he had the imaginative
quickness of his race, but the dominant impression was of solid
good sense.  He looked at the thing from a business man's point of
view, and the cold facts made him shudder.

"What on earth is her reason?" I asked.  "Has she any affection for
Plakos?"

"She hates it.  But there is some stubborn point of honour which
forbids her to let it go.  She has her grandfather's fierce
obstinacy.  Fate has dared her to defend her own, and she has
accepted the challenge. . . .  It is not merely the sense of
property.  I think she feels that she has a duty--that she cannot
run away from the consequences of her father's devilry.  Her
presence there at the mercy of the people is a kind of atonement."

"Has she any friends in the island?"

"An old steward is the only man in the house.  She may have her
well-wishers outside, but they cannot be many, for she has not
lived continuously there for years.  Last spring I tried to have
her guarded, but she saw through my plan and forbade it.  All I
could do was to have the place watched on my own account.  This
winter my information is that things are worse.  There is famine in
the hills, and the hillmen are looking with jealous eyes towards
the house by the sea.  The stories grow wilder, too."

"What kind?"

"Oh, witchcraft.  That the Arabins are sorcerers, and that she
herself is a witch.  Every misfortune in the island is laid to her
account.  God knows what may happen this spring, if she persists in
going back!  My hope was that she might find some lover who would
make her forget the obsession, but on the contrary the obsession
has made her blind to lovers.  Perhaps you have noticed it. . . .
She seems to flirt outrageously, but she keeps every man at a
distance. . . .  Now, do you understand Miss Arabin a little
better?"

I was beginning to.  A picture was growing up in my mind of
something infinitely pathetic, and terribly alone.  A child
terrified by a nightmare life which she did not understand--carried
off to a new environment from which she extracted what was most
feverish and vulgar, for she had no canons, yet keeping through it
all a pitiful innocence--returning to a half-comprehension which
revolted her soul--resolute to face the consequences of the past
with an illogical gallantry.  I did not know when I had heard a
tale that so moved me.

"You will not refuse her if she asks your help?" Ertzberger
pleaded.

"But what can I do?" I said.  "I'm a lawyer, and she doesn't want
legal advice, even if I were free to give it her."

"She has got the notion that you can help her.  Don't ask me why or
how.  Call it a girl's fancy and make the best of it.  I cannot
influence her, Derwent couldn't, but you may, because for some
reason or other she believes that you are wise. . . .  I think . . .
I think that she thinks that you can tell her what precisely she
has to fear in Plakos.  There is a mass of papers, you know."

"What to fear!" I exclaimed.  "Surely you have just made that
plain.  A famished and half-civilized peasantry with a long record
of ill treatment.  Isn't that enough?"

"There may be something more," Ertzberger said slowly.  "She has an
idea that there is something more . . . and she is terrified of
that something.  If you can get rid of her terrors you will be
doing a humane act, Sir Edward.  The trouble, as I have told you,
is that she will take so few into her confidence."

"Look here, Mr. Ertzberger," I said.  "I will be quite frank with
you.  Miss Arabin did not attract me--indeed I have not often been
more repelled by a young woman.  But what you have said puts a new
complexion on her behaviour.  Tell her I am willing to do my best
for her, to advise her, to help her in any way I can.  But if she
wouldn't listen to you, you may be certain she won't listen to me."

"That's very good of you," he said, rising.  "She proposes to go to
Plakos in March.  Pray God we can put some sanity into her in the
next three months."



CHAPTER VI


Two days later I had to go north by an early train from Euston, and
opposite my platform a special was waiting to take a hunting party
down to somewhere in the Shires.  Around the doors of the carriages
stood a number of expensive-looking young people, among whom I
recognized Miss Arabin.  She wore a long fur coat, and sniffed at a
bunch of violets, while in her high, clear voice she exchanged
badinage with two young men.  As she stood with one foot on the
carriage step, her small head tilted backward, her red lips parted
in laughter, it was hard to connect her with the stricken lady of
Ertzberger's story.  Just as the special was leaving, I saw Vernon
hurry up, also in hunting-kit.  He cast one glance at Miss Arabin,
and found a seat in another carriage.  I hoped the Pytchley would
have a fast day, for I did not see these two fraternizing during
waits at covert-side.

Curiously enough I saw the girl again the same week, also in a
railway train.  I was returning from Liverpool, and our trains
halted beside each other at Rugby.  She was alone in her carriage,
the winter dusk was falling, but the lights were not yet lit, and I
saw her only faintly, silhouetted against the farther window.  She
was not asleep, but her head was sunk as if in a dream.  In the few
seconds during which I watched I had a strong impression of
loneliness, almost of dejection.  She was alone with her thoughts,
and they were heavy.

That evening, on my return to my flat, I found a big parcel of
papers.  Characteristically there was no covering letter or
identification of any sort, but a glance showed me what they were.
My time after dinner that night was at my own disposal, and I
devoted it to reading them.  I believe I would have put aside work
of whatever urgency for that purpose, for Plakos had begun to
dominate my thoughts.

The papers were a curious jumble--no legal documents, but a mass of
family archives and notes on the island.  I observed that there was
nothing concerned with Shelley.  Most of the things had to do with
old Tom Arabin--correspondence, original and copied, which had
passed between him and his friends or enemies.  There were letters
from Byron and Shelley and Trelawny, one from no less a person than
Sir Walter Scott, many from John Cam Hobhouse, official dispatches
from the British Foreign Office, a formal note or two from
Castlereagh, and several long and interesting epistles from
Canning, who seemed to have had some friendship for the old fellow.
There was a quantity, too, of correspondence with Continental
statesmen, and I observed several famous names.  All this I put on
one side, for it did not concern my purpose.

Then there was old Tom Arabia's diary, which I skimmed.  It was a
very human and explosive document, but there was little about
Plakos in it.  Tom was more interested in the high politics of
Europe than in the little domain he had acquired.  Next I turned up
a manuscript history of the island in French, written apparently
about 1860 by a Greek of the name of Karapanos.  This was a dull
work, being merely a summary of the island's record under Venetian
and Turkish rule, and the doings of its people in the War of
Liberation.  Then came a bundle of early nineteenth-century maps
and charts, and some notes on olive culture.  There was a batch,
too, of verses in Greek and English, probably Tom's work and not
very good.  There was a pedigree of the Arabin family in the old
Irtling days, and a great deal more junk which had not even an
antiquarian interest.  I shoved away the papers with a sense of
failure.  There was nothing here to throw light on Plakos; if such
material existed it must have been in Shelley's papers, of which
his daughter had doubtless made a bonfire.

Then I noticed something among the notes on olive culture, and drew
out a thick, old-fashioned envelope heavily sealed with green wax,
which bore the Arabin device of a Turk's head.  I opened it and
extracted a sheet of yellowish parchment, covered closely with
Greek characters.  I was taught Greek at school, though I have
forgotten most of it, but I never professed to be able to read even
the printed Greek of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  This
document seemed to be of that date, and its insane ligatures and
contractions completely defeated me.  But there might be something
in these hieroglyphics, so I bundled up the rest of the papers and
locked the envelope in a dispatch box.

Next day I paid a visit to a Chancery barrister of my acquaintance
whose hobby was mediĉval Greek, and who had written a monograph on
Aldus Manutius.  He examined the thing with delight, pronounced the
calligraphy fifteenth century, and promised to write out the
contents for me in decent Greek script.

It was not till early in the New Year that I got the manuscript
back from him.  The task, he said, had been very difficult, and
though he was pretty certain that he had got the transliteration
correct, he did not profess to be able to construe it.  "I'm a
typographer," he wrote, "not a scholar.  The thing, too, is
obviously corrupt, and I should call it the work of an uneducated
man who copied what he did not understand.  But it is very curious.
It seems to be an account of a place called Kynĉtho.  Better show
it to--" and he mentioned several names.

I did not happen to know any of the people he cited, and it
occurred to me that I might consult Vernon.  He was, I knew, a fine
scholar, and he had kept up his interest in Greek literature.  So I
sent the original and the modern version to him, saying that the
document had come into my hands professionally and I should like to
know if he could make anything of it.

Next day I had Vernon on the telephone and he seemed to be excited.
"Where on earth did you pick up that thing?" he asked.  "I suppose
it isn't a fake?"

"Genuine enough," I replied, "but I can't tell you its story yet.
Can you make sense of it?"

"I wouldn't say exactly 'sense,' but I can translate it after a
fashion.  I worked at it last night till the small hours.  If I
knew the provenance of the manuscript, I might be able to
understand it better.  Come and dine to-night, and we'll talk about
it."

Vernon had taken a flat in Cleveland Row, and it was a proof of our
gradual estrangement that till that evening I had never been inside
its doors.  Indeed we had not met since that Sunday at Wirlesdon.

"I saw you at Euston one morning before Christmas," I said.  "Miss
Arabin was going to hunt in the same train."

"Miss Arabin?" he puzzled.  "I don't think I know--"

"The queer girl who was at Wirlesdon."

"Is that her name?  I didn't know it.  She rides well, but her
manners are atrocious.  Lord, how I dislike these déracinés!  Let's
get dinner over, for I've a lot to say to you about your jigsaw
puzzle.  It's extremely interesting, you know."

Later in the evening he put before me several sheets of foolscap on
which he had written the translation in his small beautiful hand.

"The thing is headed Ta Exotika," he said.  "That puzzled me at
first, till I remembered the phrase in Basil of Cĉsarea.  It was
the word used by the early Christians to describe the old
divinities.  Whoever wrote this--I don't mean the fifteenth-century
scribe, but the original author--was no doubt a Christian, and he
is describing a belief and a rite which existed in his time at a
place called Kynĉtho."

"Where is that?"

"I'm hanged if I know.  It's a fairly common place name in Greece.
There's one in Arcadia."

I read his translation and could not make much of it.  It reminded
me of a schoolboy's version of a bit of Herodotus.  "In Kynĉtho,"
said the writer, "there is a custom at the Spring Festival of
welcoming the Queen (Despoina was the word) with the rites of the
tympanon and the kestos, such as they use in the Mysteries.  There
is a certain sacred place, a well beside a white cypress, from
which all save the purified are excluded.  In Kynĉtho the Queen is
known as Fairborn (Kalligenia).  In winter the Queen is asleep, but
she wakes in Spring, wherefore the Spring month is called by her
name. . . ."  After this came a fuller description of the rites and
a lot of talk about "mantic birds."

"There's nothing much in the first part," said Vernon.  "It's the
ordinary ceremony of the rebirth of Demeter.  But notice that she
is called 'Lady of the Wild Things.'  There was a mighty unpleasant
side to Demeter as well as an idyllic one, and it didn't do to take
liberties with the Queen of the Shades.  But read on."

The writer went on to say that in time of great distress at Kynĉtho
there was a different ceremony.  It then became necessary to invite
not only the Mistress but the Master.  For this purpose a virgin
and a youth must be chosen and set apart in a hallowed place, and
fed upon sacred food.  The choosing was done by the victor in a
race, who was given the name of King.  Then on the appointed day,
after the purification, when the dithyramb had been sung, Bromios
would be born from Semele in the fire, and with him would come the
Mistress.  After that the place would be loved by the Gods, and
corn, and oil, and wine would be multiplied.

That was the gist of the story.  The manuscript must have been
imperfect, for there were gaps and some obvious nonsense, and there
were fragments of verse quoted which I took to be part of the
dithyramb.  One ran like this:


     "Io, Kouros most great.  I give thee hail.
      Come, O Dithyrambos, Bromios come, and bring with thee
      Holy hours of thy most holy Spring. . . .
      Then will be flung over earth immortal a garland of flowers,
      Voices of song will rise among the pipes,
      The Dancing Floor will be loud with the calling of crowned
         Semele."


I laid the paper down.  Vernon was watching me with bright eyes.

"Do you see what it is?  Some of those lines I recognize.  They
come from the Hymn of the Kouretes, which was discovered the other
day in Crete, and from the Pĉan to Dionysos found at Delphi, and
there is a fragment of Pindar in them too.  We know Koré, the
Maiden, and we know the Kouros, who might be any male god--Dionysos
or Zeus, or Apollo--but this is the only case I ever heard of where
both Koré and Kouros are found in the same ceremony.  Kynĉtho,
wherever it was, must have fairly gone on the bust. . . .  It's
amazingly interesting, and that's why I want to know the story of
the manuscript.  I tell you it's a find of the first importance to
scholarship.  Look at the other things too--the sacred race, and
the winner called the King, just like the Basileus at the Olympic
games.

"And there's more," he went on.  "Look at the passage about the
hallowing of the maiden and the youth.  How does it go?"  He picked
up the paper and read:  "'Then the Consecrator shall set aside a
youth and a virgin, who shall remain consecrate in a sanctity which
for all others shall be a place unapproachable.  For seven days
they shall be fed with pure food, eggs, and cheese, and barley-
cakes, and dried figs, and water from the well by the white
cypress.'  Do you see what that means?  It was a human sacrifice.
The fellow who wrote this skates lightly over the facts--I don't
believe he was a Christian after all, or he wouldn't have taken it
so calmly.  The boy and the girl had to die before the Gods could
be re-born.  You see, it was a last resource--not an annual rite,
but one reserved for a desperate need.  All the words are ritual
words--horkos, the sanctuary, and abatos, the tabu place, and
hosioter, the consecrator.  If we knew exactly what hosiotheis
meant we should know a good deal about Greek religion.  There were
ugly patches in it.  People try to gloss over the human sacrifice
side, and of course civilized Greeks, like the Athenians, soon got
rid of it; but I haven't a doubt the thing went on all through
classical times in Thessaly, and Epirus, and Arcadia, and some of
the islands.  Indeed, in the islands it survived till almost the
other day.  There was a case not so long ago in Santorini."

He pressed me to tell him the origin of the paper, but I felt
reluctant to mention Miss Arabin.  He was so deeply prejudiced
against the girl, that it seemed unfair to reveal to him even the
most trivial of her private affairs.  I put him off by saying it
was the property of a client, and that I would find out its history
and tell him later.

"I have made a copy of the Greek text," he said.  "May I keep it?"

I told him, certainly.  And that was all that happened during the
evening.  Formerly we would have sat up talking and smoking till
all hours, but now I felt that the curtain was too heavy between us
to allow of ordinary conversation.  We would get at once into
difficult topics.  Besides, I did not want to talk.  The fact was
that I was acquiring an obsession of my own--a tragic defiant girl
moving between mirthless gaiety and menaced solitude.  She might be
innocent of the witchcraft in which Plakos believed, but she had
cast some outlandish spell over me.

Before the end of the week Miss Arabin rang me up.

"You're Sir Edward Leithen?  I sent you some papers.  Have you
looked at them?"

I told her I had.

"Then you had better come and talk to me.  Come on Saturday and
I'll give you luncheon.  Half-past one."

There was no word of thanks for my trouble, but I obeyed the
summons as if it had been a royal command.  She had taken a flat
in a block off Berkeley Square, and I wondered what sort of
environment she had made for herself.  I think I expected a
slovenly place full of cushions and French novels and hot-house
flowers.  Instead I found a large room wholly without frippery--a
big bare writing-table, leather arm-chairs like a man's smoking-
room, and on the walls one or two hunting prints and some water-
colour sketches of English landscape.  There were few books, and
those I looked at were county history.  It was a mild frosty day,
and the windows were wide open.  The only decorations were some
dogwood branches and hedgerow berries--the spoil which townsfolk
bring back in winter from country week-ends.

She was in tweeds, for she was off to Wirlesdon that afternoon,
and--perhaps in my honour--she had forborne to powder her face.
Once again I was struck by the free vigour of her movements, and
the quick vitality of her eyes.  The cabaret atmosphere was clearly
no part of the real woman; rather, as I now saw her, she seemed to
carry with her a breath of the fields and hills.

At luncheon we talked stiltedly of the Nantleys and hunting, but no
sooner was coffee served than she came to business.

"Theodore has told you about me?  You see the kind of fence I'm up
against.  What I want to know is just exactly how high and thick it
is, and that no one can tell me.  I liked your looks the first time
I saw you, and every one says you are clever.  Now, understand one
thing about me, I'm not going to show the white feather.  Whatever
it is, I'm going to stick it out.  Have you that clear in your
head?"

As I looked at the firm little chin I believed her.

"Well, can you enlighten me about the fence?  You've heard all that
Theodore has to say, and you know the cheerful sort of family I
belong to.  Did you find anything in the papers?"

"You've read them yourself?" I asked.

"I tried to, but I'm not clever, you see.  I thought my grandfather's
journal great nonsense.  I had never heard of most of the names.
But you're good at these things.  Did you make nothing of them?"

"Nothing."  I ran over the items in the bundle, not mentioning the
Greek manuscript, which seemed to me to have nothing to do with the
subject.  "But there must be other papers."

She flushed slightly.  "There were many others, but I burned them.
Perhaps you can guess why."

"Miss Arabin," I said, "I want to help you, but I don't think we
need bother about the papers.  Let's go back to the beginning.  I
suppose it's no use my urging you to get out of Plakos, settle in
England, and wipe all the past out of your memory?"

"Not the slightest."

"I wonder why.  After all, it's only common sense."

"Common cowardice," she retorted, with a toss of her head.  "I have
known Theodore all my life, and I have forbidden him to raise that
question.  I have known you about a month, and I forbid YOU."

There was something so flat-footed and final about her that I
laughed.  She stared at me haughtily for a moment, and then laughed
also.

"Go on with what you were saying," she said.  "I stay at Plakos,
and you must make your book for that.  Now then."

"Your family was unpopular--I understand, justly unpopular.  All
sorts of wild beliefs grew up about them among the peasants, and
they have been transferred to you.  The people are half savages,
and half starved, and their mood is dangerous.  They are coming to
see in you the cause of their misfortunes.  You go there alone and
unprotected, and you have no friends in the island.  The danger is
that, after a winter of brooding, they may try in some horrible way
to wreak their vengeance on you.  That is what I learned from Mr.
Ertzberger."

The summary, as I made it, sounded unpleasant enough, but the girl
did not seem to feel it so.  She nodded briskly.  "That, at any
rate, is what Theodore says.  He thinks they may make me a
sacrifice.  Stuff and nonsense, _I_ say."

The word "sacrifice" disquieted me.  It reminded me of the Greek
which Vernon had translated.

"Some risk there must be," I went on, "but what I cannot tell is
the exact moment of it.  Even among a savage people unpopularity
need not involve tragedy.  You were in Plakos last spring.  Tell me
what happened."

She fitted a cigarette into a long amber holder, and blew a cloud
of smoke which she watched till it disappeared.

"Nothing much.  I was left entirely to myself.  There was only one
servant in the house, old Mitri the steward, and I had also my
maid.  The whole establishment was sent to Coventry.  We had to get
our food from the mainland, for we could buy nothing, except now
and then a little milk through Mitri's married daughter.  It wasn't
pleasant, I can tell you.  But the worst was when I went for a
walk.  If I met a man he would make the sign of the evil eye and
spit.  If I spoke to a child its mother would snatch it up and race
indoors with it.  The girls and women all wore blue beads as a
charm against me, and carried garlic.  I could smell it wherever I
went.  Sometimes I wanted to cry, and sometimes I wanted to swear,
but you can do nothing with a silent boycott.  I could have shaken
the fools."

"What had they against you?  Did you ever find out?"

"Oh, Mitri used to tell us gossip that he had heard through his
daughter, but Mitri isn't too popular himself, and he is old and
can go about very little.  It seemed they called me Basilissa.
That means Queen, and sounds friendly enough, but I think the word
they really used was diabolissa, which means a she-devil.  The
better disposed ones thought I was a Nereid--that's what they call
fairies--but some said I was a strigla--that's a horrible kind of
harpy, and some thought I was a vrykolakas, which is a vampire.
They used to light little fires in the graveyards to keep me away.
Oh, I got very sick of my reputation.  It was a hideous bore not to
be able to go anywhere without seeing scared people dodging up
byways, and making the sign of the cross, and screaming for their
children--simply damnable."

"It must have been damnable.  I should have thought it rather
terrifying too."

"Don't imagine that they frightened me.  I was really more sorry
than angry.  They were only foolish people scared half out of their
minds, and, after all, my family has done a good deal to scare
them.  It is folly--nothing but folly, and the only way to beat
folly is to live it down.  I don't blame the poor devils, but I'm
going to bring them to a better mind.  I refuse to run away because
of a pack of fairy tales."

"There were no hostile acts?" I asked.

She seemed to reflect.  "No," she answered.  "One morning we found
a splash of blood on the house door, which sent old Mitri to his
prayers.  But that was only a silly joke."

"Mr. Ertzberger hinted that there might be trouble this year from
the people in the hills?"

Her face hardened.

"I wish to Heaven I knew that for certain.  It would be the best
news I ever got.  Those hillmen are not my people, and if they
interfere I will have them whipped off the place.  I will not have
any protection against my own peasantry--Theodore is always
pressing me, but I won't have it--it would spoil everything--it
wouldn't be the game.  But if those filthy mountaineers come within
a mile of Plakos I will hire a regiment to shoot them down.  Pray
God they come.  We of the coast have always hated the mountains,
and I believe I could rally my people."

"But I thought you owned the whole island?"

"No one owns the hills.  My grandfather obtained the seigneury of
Plakos, but he never claimed more than the good land by the sea.
The hills have always been a no-man's-land full of bandits.  We
paid them dues--I still pay them--and we did not quarrel, but there
was no coming and going between us.  They are a different race from
our pure Greek stock--mongrels of Slav and Turk, I believe."

The spirit of the girl comforted me.  If Ertzberger's news was
true, it might save the situation, and bring the problem out of
the realm of groping mystery to a straightforward defence of
property. . . .  But, after all, the hills were distant, and the
scared tenants were at the house door.  We must face the nearer
peril.

"Is there no one in the village," I said, "whom you can have it out
with?  No big farmer?  What about the priests?"

She shook her head.  "No one.  The priests do not love my family,
for they call themselves Christians, while we are Catholics."

Twenty years spent in examining witnesses has given me an acute
instinct about candour.  There was that in the girl's eyes and
voice as she spoke which told me that she was keeping something
back, something which made her uneasy.

"Tell me everything," I said.  "Has no priest talked to you?"

"Yes, there was one.  I will tell you.  He is an old man, and very
timid.  He came to me at night, after swearing Mitri to tell no
one.  He urged me to go away for ever."

Her eyes were troubled now, and had that abstracted look which I
had noted before.

"What was his reason?"

"Oh, care for his precious church.  He was alarmed about what had
happened at Easter."

She stopped suddenly.

"Have you ever been in Greece at Easter--during the Great Week?
No?  Then you cannot imagine how queer it is.  The people have been
starved all Lent, living only on cuttle-fish soup and bread and
water.  Every one is pale and thin and ill-tempered.  It is like a
nightmare."

Then in rapid staccato sentences she sketched the ritual.  She
described the night of Good Friday, when the bier with the figure
of the crucified Christ on it stands below the chancel step, and
the priests chant their solemn hymn, and the women kiss the dead
face, and the body is borne out to burial.  With torches and
candles flickering in the night wind, it is carried through the
village streets, while dirges are sung, and the tense crowd breaks
now and then into a moan or a sigh.  Next day there is no work
done, but the people wander about miserably, waiting on something
which may be either death or deliverance.  That night the church is
again crowded, and at midnight the curtains which screen the
chancel are opened, and the bier is revealed--empty, but for a
shroud.  "Christ is risen," the priest cries, as a second curtain
is drawn back, and in the sanctuary, in an ineffable radiance,
stands the figure of the risen Lord.  The people go mad with joy,
they light their tapers at the priest's candle, and, like a
procession of Bacchanals, stream out, shouting "He is risen
indeed."  Then to the accompaniment of the firing of guns and the
waving of torches the famished peasants, maddened by the miracle
they have witnessed, feast till morning on wine and lamb's flesh in
the joy of their redemption.

She drew the picture for me so that I saw it as if with my own
eyes, and my imagination quickened under the spell of her emotion.
For here was no longer the cool, matter-of-fact young woman of the
world, with no more than tolerance for the folly of superstition.
It was some one who could enter into that very mood, and feel its
quivering nerves and alternate despair and exultation.

"What had the priest to complain of?" I asked.

"He said that the people were becoming careless of the Easter
holiness.  He said that last year the attendance at the rite was
poor.  He feared that they were beginning to think of something
else."

"Something else!"  Two of the most commonplace words in the
language.  She spoke them in an even voice in an ordinary London
dining-room, with outside the wholesome bustle of London and the
tonic freshness of an English winter day.  She was about to go off
to a conventional English week-end party at a prosaic country
house.  But the words affected me strangely, for they seemed to
suggest a peril far more deadly than any turbulence of wild men
from the hills--a peril, too, of which she was aware.

For she was conscious of it--that was now perfectly clear to me--
acutely conscious.  She had magnificent self-command, but fear
showed out from behind it, like light through the crack of a
shutter.  Her courage was assuredly not the valour of ignorance.
She was terrified, and still resolute to go on.

It was not my business to add to that terror.  Suddenly I had come
to feel an immense pity and reverence for this girl.  Ertzberger
was right.  Her hardness, her lack of delicacy and repose, her loud
frivolity, were only on the surface--a protective sheathing for a
tormented soul.  Out of a miserable childhood and a ramshackle
education she had made for herself a code of honour as fine and as
hard as steel.  It was wildly foolish, of course, but so perhaps to
our dull eyes the innocent and the heroic must always be.

Perhaps she guessed my thoughts.  For when she spoke again it was
gently, almost hesitatingly.

"I scarcely hoped that you could tell me anything about Plakos.
But I rather hoped you would say I am right in what I am doing.
Theodore has been so discouraging. . . .  I rather hoped from your
face that you would take a different view.  You wouldn't advise me
to run away from my job--?"

"God forbid that I should advise you at all," I said.  "I see your
argument, and, if you will let me say so, I profoundly respect it.
But I think you are trying yourself--and your friends also--too
high.  You must agree to some protection."

"Only if the hill folk give trouble.  Don't you see, protection
would ruin everything if I accepted it against my own people?  I
must trust myself to them--and--and stick it out myself.  It is a
sort of atonement."

Then she got up briskly and held out her hand.

"Thank you very much, Sir Edward.  It has done me good to talk to
you.  I must be off now or I'll miss my train.  I'll give your love
to Mollie and Tom."

"We shall meet again.  When do you leave England?"

"Not till March.  Of course we'll meet again.  Let me know if you
have any bright idea. . . .  Élise, Élise!  Where's that fool
woman?"

Her maid appeared.

"Get a taxi at once," she ordered.  "We haven't any time to waste,
for I promised to pick up Lord Cheviot at his flat."

I asked one question as I left.  "Have you ever heard of a place
called Kynĉtho?"

"Rather.  It's the big village in Plakos close to the house."



CHAPTER VII


I once read in some book about Cleopatra that that astonishing lady
owed her charm to the fact that she was the last of an ancient and
disreputable race.  The writer cited other cases--Mary of Scots, I
think, was one.  It seemed, he said, that the quality of high-
coloured ancestors flowered in the ultimate child of the race into
something like witchcraft.  Whether they were good or evil, they
laid a spell on men's hearts.  Their position, fragile and forlorn,
without the wardenship of male kinsfolk, set them on a romantic
pinnacle.  They were more feminine and capricious than other women,
but they seemed, like Viola, to be all the brothers as well as all
the daughters of their father's house, for their soft grace covered
steel and fire.  They were the true sorceresses of history, said my
author, and sober men, not knowing why, followed blindly in their
service.

Perhaps Koré Arabia was of this sisterhood.  At any rate one sober
man was beginning to admit her compelling power.  I could not get
the girl from my thoughts.  For one thing I had awakened to a
comprehension of her beauty.  Her face was rarely out of my mind,
with its arrogant innocence, its sudden brilliancies and its as
sudden languors.  Her movements delighted me, her darting grace,
the insolent assurance of her carriage, and then, without warning,
the relapse into the child or the hoyden.  Even her bad manners
soon ceased to annoy me, for in my eyes they had lost all
vulgarity.  They were the harshnesses of a creature staving off
tragedy.  Indeed it was her very extravagances that allured, for
they made me see her as a solitary little figure set in a patch of
light on a great stage among shadows, defying of her own choice the
terrors of the unknown.

What made my capture complete was the way she treated me.  She
seemed to have chosen me as her friend, and to find comfort and
security in being with me.  To others she might be rude and
petulant, but never to me.  Whenever she saw me she would make
straight for me, like a docile child waiting for orders.  She would
dance or sit out with me till her retinue of youth was goaded to
fury.  She seemed to guess at the points in her behaviour which I
did not like and to strive to amend them.  We had become the
closest friends, and friendship with Koré Arabin was a dangerous
pastime.

The result was that I was in a fair way of making a fool of myself.
No . . . I don't think I was in love with her.  I had never been in
love in my life, so I was not an expert on the subject, but I
fancied that love took people in a different way.  But I was within
measurable distance of asking her to be my wife.  My feeling was a
mixture of affection and pity and anxiety.  She had appealed to me,
and I had become her champion.  I wanted to protect her, but how
was a middle-aged lawyer to protect a determined girl from far-away
perils which he did not comprehend?  The desperate expedient of
marriage occurred to me, but I did not believe she would accept me,
and, if she did, would not the mating of age and youth be an
outrage and a folly?  Nevertheless I was in a mood to venture even
on that.

I must have presented a strange spectacle to my friends.  There
were other men of forty in London at the time who behaved as if
they were twenty-five--one buxom Cabinet Minister was to be seen at
every dance--but none, I am certain, cut an odder figure than I.
The dancing Cabinet Minister sought the ballroom for exercise,
because he preferred dancing to golf.  I had no such excuse, for I
danced comparatively little; my object was patently the society of
one particular lady.  In Koré's train I found myself in strange
haunts.  I followed her into the Bohemian coulisses to which
Shelley Arabin's daughter had an entrée--queer studio parties in
Chelsea where the women were shorn and the men left shaggy: the
feverish literary and artistic salons of the emancipated and rather
derelict middle-class: dances given at extravagant restaurants by
the English and foreign new-rich, where I did not know or wish to
know one single soul.  Also we appeared together at houses which I
had frequented all my life, and there my friends saw me.  Of course
they talked.  I fancy that for about two months I was the prime
subject of London gossip.  I didn't care a hang, for I was in a
queer, obstinate, excitable mood.  We hunted together, too, and
there is no such nursery of scandal as the hunting-field.  With a
great deal of work on hand I found this new life a considerable
strain, and I was perfectly conscious that I was playing the fool.
But, though I don't think I was in love with her, I simply could
not let the girl out of my sight.

Now and then my conscience awoke, and I realized with a shock that
the time was slipping past, and that the real problem was still
unsolved.  I knew that I could not shake Koré in her resolution,
and I suppose I hoped blindly that something would occur to prevent
her acting on it.  That something could only be a love affair.  I
was perfectly certain that she was not in love with me, but she
might accept me, and at the back of my head I had the intention of
putting it to the test.  Ertzberger had divined what was going on
and seemed to approve.  "A boy is no use to her," he said more than
once.  "Besides, she wouldn't look at one.  She must marry a grown
man."  He implied that I filled the bill, and the man's assumption
gave me an absurd pleasure.  If any one had told me that I would
one day go out of my way to cultivate a little Jew financier, I
would have given him the lie, yet the truth is that, when I was not
with Koré, I hungered for Ertzberger's company.  He alone
understood what was in my mind, and shared my anxieties.  "She must
not go back," he kept declaring; "at all costs she must be kept
away from Plakos--at any rate during this spring.  I get
disquieting reports.  There is mischief brewing in the hills, and
the people of the coast have had a bitter winter of famine.  There
has been a lot of sickness, too, and in the village at the house
gates the mortality among the children has been heavy."

"You mean Kynĉtho?" I asked,

"Kynĉtho."  He looked at me curiously.  "You seem to have been
getting up the subject. . . .  Well, I don't like it.  If she goes
there in April there may be a disaster.  Upon my soul, we should be
justified in having her kidnapped and shut up in some safe place
till the summer.  So far as I can learn, the danger is only in the
spring.  Once let the people see the crops springing and the
caiques bringing in fish, and they will forget their grievances."

Early in March I was dining with the Nantleys, and after dinner
Mollie took me aside for a talk.  As I have told you, she is one of
my oldest friends, for when I was a grubby little private schoolboy
and she was a girl of thirteen, we used to scamper about together.
I had had her son Hugo in my chambers, before he went into
Parliament, and Wirlesdon had always been a sort of home to me.
Mollie was entitled to say anything she liked, but when she spoke
it was rather timidly.

"I hear a good deal of talk about you," she said, "and I can't help
noticing too.  Do you think it is quite fair, Ned?"

"Fair to whom?" I asked.

"To Koré Arabin.  You're different from the boys who run after her.
You're a distinguished man with a great reputation.  Is it fair to
her to turn her head?"

"Is that very likely?  What if she has turned mine?"

"Do you really mean that?" she cried.  "I never thought of it in
that way.  Do you honestly want to marry her?"

"I don't know . . . I don't know what I want except that I must
stand by her.  She's in an appallingly difficult position, and
badly needs a friend."

"Yes.  But there's only one way in which a man can protect a young
woman.  Do you mean to marry her?"

"She wouldn't accept me."

"But you mean to ask her?"

"It may come to that," I said.

"But, Ned dear, can't you see it wouldn't do?  Koré is not the
right sort of wife for you.  She's--she's too--Well, you've a
career before you.  Is she the woman to share it with you?"

"It's not many months since, at Wirlesdon, you implored my charity
for Miss Arabin."

"Oh, I don't want to say a word against her, and if you were really
desperately in love I would say nothing and wish you luck.  But I
don't believe you are.  I believe it's what you say--charity, and
that's a most rotten foundation to build on."

Mollie, in such affairs, is an incurable romantic.

"I promise never to ask her to marry me unless I am in love," I
said.

"Well, that means you are not quite in love yet.  Hadn't you better
draw back before it is too late?  I can't bear to see you making a
bad blunder, and Koré, dear child, would be a bad blunder for you.
She's adorably pretty, and she has wonderful qualities, but she is
a little savage, and very young, and quite unformed.  Really,
really it wouldn't do."

"I admit the difficulties, my dear Mollie.  But never mind me, and
think of Miss Arabin.  You said yourself that she was English at
heart and would be very happy settled in England."

"But not with you."

"She wouldn't accept me, and I may never propose.  But if I did,
and she accepted me, why not with me?"

"Because you're you--because you're too good for a rash
experiment."

"I'm not good enough for her, for I'm too old, as you've just told
me.  But anyhow your argument thinks principally of me, not of Miss
Arabin.  It is she who matters."

Mollie rose with a gesture of impatience.  "You are hopeless, Ned.
I'm sick of you hard, unsusceptible, ambitious people.  You never
fall in love in your youth, but wait till after forty, and then
make idiots of yourselves."

I had a different kind of remonstrance from Vernon.  We saw little
of each other in these days beyond a chance word in the street or a
casual wave of the hand in the club smoking-room.  When I thought
of him it was with a sense of shame that I had let him slip so
hopelessly out of my life.  Time had been when he was my closest
friend, and when his problem was also my problem.  Now the whole
story of his dream seemed a childish fancy.

One night in March I found him waiting for me in my rooms.

"I came round to say good-bye," he said.  "I shall probably leave
London very soon."

It shows how completely I had forgotten his affairs that I did not
remember that his particular crisis was drawing near, that, as he
believed, the last door of his dream-world would soon be opened.

Then, before I could ask about his plans, he suddenly broke out:

"Look here, I hope there's no truth in what people tell me."

His tone had the roughness of one very little at his ease, and it
annoyed me.  I asked coldly what he meant.

"You know what I mean--that you're in love with Miss What's-her-
name--the girl I met at Wirlesdon."

"I don't know that you've any right to ask the question, and I'm
certainly not going to answer it."

"That means that you are in love," he cried.  "Good God, man, don't
tell me that you want to marry that--that tawdry girl!"

I must have reddened, for he saw that he had gone too far.

"I don't mean that--I apologize.  I have no reason to say anything
against her."

Then his tone changed.

"Ned, old man, we have been friends for a long time, and you must
forgive me if I take liberties.  We have never had any secrets from
each other.  My own affairs give me a good deal to think about just
now, but I can't go away with an easy mind till I know the truth
about you.  For God's sake, old fellow, don't do anything rash.
Promise me you won't propose to her till I come back in April."

His change of manner had softened me, and as I saw the trouble in
his honest eyes I felt a return of the old affection.

"Why are you anxious on my account?"

"Because," he said solemnly, "I know that if you married that girl
our friendship would be over.  I feel it in my bones.  She would
always come between us."

"I can't make any promises of that kind.  But one thing I can
promise--that no woman will ever break our friendship."

"You don't understand.  Some women wouldn't, but that girl--!
Well, I can say no more.  Good-bye, Ned.  I'll hunt you up when I
come back."

He left me with a feeling of mingled regret and irritation.  I
hated to go against Vernon's wishes, but his manner when he had
spoken of Koré, the look in his eyes, the inflection in his voice,
conveyed an utter distaste which made me angry.  I pictured him at
Severns nursing his unreasoning dislike of the poor child.  Vernon,
as my nephew Charles had said, was a prig, and his narrow world had
room only for blameless and vapid virginity.  The promise he had
asked of me was an outrage.

                              *****

Yet I kept a promise which I had never made.  For suddenly
Cinderella disappeared from the ball.  After a country-house dance
I drove her back to town in my car, and left her at the door of her
flat.  During the long drive she had talked more seriously than I
had ever known her to talk before, had spoken of herself and her
affairs with a kind of valiant simplicity.  The only sophisticated
thing about her was her complexion.  All day afterwards my
conviction was growing that she was the woman for me, that I could
make her not only secure but happy.  We were by way of dining with
the Lamanchas, and I think if we had met that night I should have
asked her to marry me. . . .  But we did not meet, for by the
evening she was gone.

I looked for her in vain in the Lamanchas' drawing-room, and my
hostess guessed what I sought.  "I'm so sorry about Koré Arabin,"
she whispered to me.  "She was coming to-night, but she telephoned
this afternoon that she was unexpectedly called out of town."  I
did not enjoy my dinner, and as soon as I could decently leave I
hurried off to her flat.  It was shut up, and from the porter on
the ground floor I learned that she and her maid had left with a
quantity of luggage to catch the night boat to France.  He was
positive that she had gone abroad, for he had seen the foreign
labels, and Miss Arabin had told him she would not be back for
months.  The keys of the flat had been sent to her solicitors.

With a very uneasy mind I drove to the Ertzbergers' house in
Belgrave Square.  Ertzberger had just come in from a City dinner,
and his wife seemed to be giving some kind of musical party, for
the hall was full of coats and hats and extra footmen, and the
jigging of fiddles drifted down the staircase.  He took me to his
study at the back of the house, and when he heard my news his face
grew as solemn as my own.  There was nothing to be done that night,
for the Continental mail had long since gone, so I went back to my
chambers with a pretty anxious mind.  I felt that I had let
something rare and precious slip out of my hand, but far more that
this preciousness was in instant danger.  Honestly I don't think
that I was much concerned about myself.  I wanted Koré Arabin
saved--for me--for every one--for the world.  If I was in love with
her it was with an affection more impersonal than usually goes by
that name.  It was as if an adored child had gone amissing.

Regardless of our many engagements, Ertzberger and I appeared on
the doorstep of Messrs. Mower and Lidderdale, the solicitors, at
the hour when, according to the information given me by telephone,
the senior partner usually arrived.  Mr. Mower confirmed our fears.
Miss Arabin had returned to Plakos; she had been preparing for some
weeks for the journey; he had not advised it--indeed he had not
been asked his advice nor would he have dared to volunteer it.  "A
very strong-minded young lady," he repeated--"I might almost say
strong-headed."  She had sold the lease of her flat, and had left
no instructions about her return.  Yes, she was well supplied with
money.  Miss Arabin was her own mistress absolutely, for her father
had created no trust.  He had nothing more to tell us, and
Ertzberger departed for the City and I for the Temple.

In the afternoon I was rung up by Ertzberger in my room in the
House of Commons.  He had been making inquiries, he said--he had
his own ways of doing that sort of thing--and he had discovered
that Koré had recently sold large parcels of stocks.  She had been
selling out steadily throughout the winter, and now had practically
no investments left.  The proceeds had been deposited on current
account in her bank.  There his information stopped, but he was
profoundly disquieted.  "That child has all her fortune in cash
under her hand," he said, "and God knows what she means to do with
it.  Any moment she may beggar herself, and no one can prevent
her."

That night I understood that my infatuation was over, if indeed it
had ever existed.  I wanted the girl safe, and I did not care who
saved her, but I wanted it so much that at the moment nothing in
heaven or earth seemed to matter in comparison.

It was now near the end of March, the Courts had just risen, and
Parliament was about to adjourn for the Easter vacation.  I had a
good deal of important work on hand, but I was entitled to a
holiday, and I thought I could arrange for at any rate a
fortnight's absence from town.  But whether I could arrange it or
not I meant to go, for I could no more settle to my tasks than a
boy can settle to Tacitus on the day he is playing for his school.
When Ertzberger, according to our arrangement, turned up at my
chambers that night after dinner, he found me busy with an atlas
and a Continental Bradshaw.

"I am going to Plakos," I said.

"That is good.  You are still a young man, and you have been a
soldier.  It is very good.  But if you had not gone, I had decided
to go myself."

"This is Wednesday.  Miss Arabin left last night.  She will get
there--when?"

He made some calculations.  "Not before Tuesday.  You might
overtake her, but I do not think that is necessary.  Easter is the
danger-point, and the Greek Easter is still a fortnight off.
Besides you must stop a day in Athens."

"I shall want help.  Can you get me half a dozen handy fellows I
can trust?"

"I had thought of that.  Indeed I telegraphed about it this
afternoon.  I can find you the men--and money, of course, if you
want it.  I will find you a lieutenant, too, and make all
arrangements about transport.  That at least I can do.  You
realize, Sir Edward, that there is a certain danger in this
enterprise?"

"I realize that Miss Arabin in a week's time will be in deadly
danger. . . .  I must have a day or two to wind up my work here.
I think I can leave on Saturday morning."

As a matter of fact I left London on the Friday night.




PART II



CHAPTER VIII


I came to Plakos in a blind sea-fog.  After a day and a night of
storm the wind died utterly, and we made the isle on a compass
course, feeling our way in by constant soundings.  A thick salt dew
hung on every stay and hawser, the deck and bulwarks swam with
moisture, and our coats were in an instant drenched as if we had
been out in a hurricane.  Sea and land alike were invisible.  The
air was thick and oppressive to the breath, and every muscle in the
body felt weak and flaccid.  Also there was a strange quiet--only
the ripple caused by our slow movement and the creak of sodden
cordage.  I might have been a shade looking on an island of the
dead.

I had reached Athens in record time, but there I found a weariful
delay.  In spite of Ertzberger's influence the wheels were clogged.
I was met at the Pirĉus by his agent, one Constantine Maris, whose
instructions were to hold himself at my disposal.  I took to Maris
at once--a young fellow of thirty, who had been in the Greek
regular army and had been the right-hand man of Zimbrakis when at
Salonika his troops declared for Venizelos.  He had been all
through the war till it ended in Bulgaria's submission, had been
twice wounded and once in prison, and had been chosen by Ertzberger
to represent him in Athens because of his truculent honesty and
tireless energy.  Both in character and appearance he was more like
a Frenchman than a Greek--a Norman, for choice, for he had reddish-
brown hair and a high-bridged northern nose.  He had the additional
merit of being well educated, having put in two years at the
Sorbonne: and he talked excellent French.  His family were of
Athens, but his mother, I think, was from one of the islands.  He
had the looks and manners of a soldier.

But Maris had found the task set him almost impossible.  Ertzberger
had bidden him get together a batch of reliable fellows who would
obey orders and ask no questions, but as we rumbled Athens-ward
from the Pirĉus in the little train he confessed that such men were
not to be found.  In the war it was otherwise, but the best had all
gone back to the country villages.  He had collected a dozen, but
he was not enthusiastic about them, except a certain Janni, who had
been a corporal in his old battalion.  When he paraded them for my
inspection I was inclined to agree with him.  They were an odd
mixture--every kind of clothes from the dirty blue jeans of the
stoker to the black coat and pointed yellow shoes of the clerk--
ages from nineteen to sixty--physique from prize-fighter to sneak-
thief.  All had served in the war, however, and the best of them,
Janni, had an empty left sleeve.  After much consultation we
dismissed two and were left with ten who at any rate looked honest.
Whether they would be efficient was another matter.  Maris proposed
to arm them with revolvers, but not till we got to Plakos, in case
they started shooting up the town.  They were told that they were
wanted as guards for an estate which was threatened by brigands,
but I doubt if they believed it.  The younger ones seemed to think
that our object was piracy.

Transport was another problem.  I had hoped to be able to hire a
small steam yacht, but such a thing was not to be had, and the best
we could do was to induce a dissolute-looking little Leghorn
freighter, named the Santa Lucia, to go out of its way and touch at
Plakos.  Maris told the captain a yarn about men being needed there
for making a new sea-wall.  The boat was bound for the Dodecanese,
and would pick us up on her return a fortnight later.

Before we rounded Cape Sunium we got into foul weather, a heavy
north-easter and violent scurries of rain.  Our ruffians were all
sea-sick and lay about like logs, getting well cursed by the
Italian sailors, while Maris and I, in the one frowsy little cabin,
tried to make a plan of campaign.  I found out at once that Maris
was well informed about the situation in Plakos, partly from
Ertzberger and partly from his own knowledge.  He knew about
Shelley Arabin's career, which seemed to be the common talk of the
Ĉgean.  Of Koré he had heard nothing save from Ertzberger, but he
had much to tell me of Plakos and its people.  They had a name for
backwardness and turbulence, and the Government seemed to leave
them very much to themselves.  There were gendarmes, of course, in
the island, but he fancied they didn't function.  But the place had
sent good soldiers to Venizelos, and its people were true Hellenes.
After an interval when he expatiated on that Hellenic empire of the
islands which was the dream of good Venizelists, he returned to
their superstition.  "That is the curse of my countrymen," he
cried.  "They are priest-ridden."  He was himself, he told me, a
free-thinker and despised all mumbo-jumbo.

I told him that the trouble was not with the priests, but he did
not seem to understand, and I did not attempt to explain.

Our task, as we saw it, was straightforward enough--to protect the
House during the Easter season when fear of the girl as a witch and
the memory of Shelley's misdeeds might induce some act of violence.
There was also the trouble with the hill folk, and this seemed to
him the greater danger.  The dwellers in the stony mountains which
filled the centre and south of the island had always been out of
hand, and, since the winter had been cruel and the war had
unsettled the whole earth, he thought it likely that they might
have a try at looting the House, which they no doubt held to be
full of treasure, since the Arabins had a name for wealth.  I could
see that he didn't quite believe in danger from the coast folk,
however beastly their superstitions might be.  He had the Greek
respect for a mountaineer and contempt for the ordinary peasant.

We studied the map--a very good one prepared for the British Navy--
and on Maris's advice I decided to begin by dividing our forces.
My first business was to get into the House and discover how things
were going.  But with danger threatening from the hills it would be
unwise for all of us to concentrate in a place from which egress
might be difficult.  Now the House stood at the northwest corner of
the island, and the hill country began about ten miles to the
south-east.  He proposed to send five of our men, under Corporal
Janni, to a little port called Vano on the west coast some miles
south of the House.  They would take supplies with them--we were
well provided with these--and reconnoitre towards the hills, giving
out that they were a Government survey party.  The rest of us would
land at the House, and, after satisfying ourselves about the
position, would get in touch with Janni by the overland route.  Our
first business was strictly reconnaissance; Janni could not hope to
prevent mischief from the hills if it were really on its way, but
he could satisfy himself as to its extent and character, and then
join us in the defence of the House, which was our main task.
Maris was confident about this.  He did not see how a dozen armed
men in a strong place could fail to hold off a mob of undisciplined
peasants.

For an extra payment the captain of the Santa Lucia was induced to
carry Janni and his men to Vano.  Weapons were served out to all,
and I gave Janni a map which he professed to be able to read.  Then
in the shrouding fog Maris and I and our five got into the ship's
one boat and were rowed ashore.  We had our supplies both of food
and ammunition in half a dozen wooden cases, and the wretched
cockle was pretty low in the water.  I knew from my former visit
that the landing-place was just below the House, and the fog seemed
to me a godsend, for it would enable us to get indoors unobserved.
My only doubt was the kind of reception we might get from Koré.

As it turned out, the mist was our undoing.  We were landed at a
stone jetty in a dead white blanket which made it difficult to see
a yard ahead.  Our baggage was put on shore, the boat started back,
and in a moment both sound and sight of it were swallowed up.  It
was an eerie business, and I felt the craziness of our errand as I
stood blinking on the wet cobbles.  There was no human being about,
but the dim shapes of several caiques and some kind of lugger
seemed to show below us as we started along the jetty.  Our five
ruffians had recovered from their sea-sickness, and, feeling solid
ground beneath them, were inclined to be jolly.  One of them
started a song, which I promptly checked.  Maris ordered them to
wait behind with the boxes, and to keep dead quiet, while he and I
prospected inland.

My recollection of that visit in 1914 was hazy, for I had only seen
the landing-place from the causeway above it, and at the time I had
been too preoccupied to observe accurately.  But I was pretty
certain that at the shore end of the jetty there were some rough
stone steps which led to the causeway.  I groped for them in the
mist but could not find them.  Instead I came on a broad track
which bore the mark of wheels and which led away to the left.  I
waited for the steep to begin, but found no sign of it.  The land
was dead flat for a long way, and then I came on a rough boundary
wall.

It was an orchard with blossoming trees--that much I could see
through the brume--and at the end was a cottage.  My first thought
was to retrace my steps and try a cast to the right, for I still
believed that we had found the proper landing-place, and had
somehow missed the causeway.  But, as I hesitated, there came one
of those sudden clearings in the air which happen in the densest
fogs, and I had a prospect of some hundreds of yards around me.  We
were on the edge of a village, the cottage we had reached was at
the extreme seaward end, a little detached from the rest; beyond
lay what seemed to be a shallow valley with no sign of the House
and its embattled hill.

It would have been well for us if, there and then, we had turned
and gone back to the jetty, even at the risk of relinquishing our
supplies and having to scramble for miles along a difficult shore.
For, of course, we had come in that infernal fog to the wrong
place.  The skipper had landed us at Kynĉtho instead of below the
House, and though I knew from the map that Kynĉtho was at the
House's gates, yet it was on the east side, distant at least two
miles by coast from the spot which Vernon and I had visited.

It was Maris who decided me.  The cottage seemed a solitary place
where discreet inquiries might be made without rousing attention.
He had little stomach for wandering around Plakos in fog, and we
had our five men and the baggage to think of.  I followed him into
the rough courtyard, paved with cobbles, and strewn with refuse.
The low walls were washed with red ochre and above the lintel a
great black pentacle was painted.  Also over the door was hung a
bunch of garlic.

There was a woman standing in the entry watching us.  Maris took
off his hat with a flourish, and poured out a torrent of soft-
sounding dialect.  She replied in a harsher accent, speaking with
the back of her throat.  She seemed to be inviting us to enter, but
her face was curiously without expression, though her eyebrows
worked nervously.  She was a middle-aged woman, terribly disfigured
by smallpox; her features were regular, and she had large,
prominent, vacant black eyes.  She was not in the least repulsive,
but somehow she was not reassuring.

As we entered the cottage she called out to some one at the back.
A second later I heard footsteps as of a child running.

Maris, as I learned afterwards, told her the story we had agreed
on--that we were a Government survey party sent from Athens to make
a map of the island.  Then he felt his way to more delicate
subjects.  This was Kynĉtho, he understood?  There was a large
house near which belonged to some foreigners?  English, weren't
they?  Where, exactly, did it lie from the village, for, if he
might venture to explain what madam no doubt knew, one must have a
starting-point for a survey, and the Government had chosen that
house?

The woman's eyebrows twitched, and she crossed herself.  She flung
a hand over her left shoulder.  "The place is there," she said.  "I
know nothing of it.  I do not speak of it."

All the time she was looking at us with her staring empty eyes, and
I realized that she was in an extreme fright.  There was certainly
nothing in our appearance to discompose her, and I had the uneasy
feeling which one has in the presence of a human being who is
suffering from an emotion that one cannot fathom.  Maris whispered
to me that he did not like the look of things.  "She has not
offered us food," he said.

Her ear must have caught some sound from out of doors, for her face
suddenly showed relief.  She walked to the window and cried to some
one outside.  Then she turned to us.  "There are men now to speak
with you."  She had found her tongue, for as she hustled us out she
kept muttering, with sidelong glances at us, what seemed to be an
invocation to Saint Nicolas.  Also she gripped Maris violently by
the shoulder and spat words into his ear.  He told me afterwards
that she was advising him not to be a fool and to go home.

The little courtyard had filled with people, most of them men, but
with two or three old crones in the forefront.  Their aspect was
not threatening, but rather puzzled and timid.  The men took off
their hats in response to Maris's bow, and politely waited for him
to speak.  I noticed that they were a well-made, upstanding lot,
but with the same flat expressionlessness as the woman of the
cottage, and I guessed that that was a mask to hide fear.

Maris told them the same story of our errand.  He said--I repeat
what he told me later--that our men and baggage were still down by
the beach, and that he wanted to be directed to the inn.  There was
dead silence.  The little crowd stared at us as if their lives
depended on it, but not a syllable came in reply.

This made Maris angry.  "Are you dumb mules," he asked, "not to
answer a simple question?  I have heard that you of the islands
boasted of your hospitality.  Is this the way to treat strangers?"

Still no answer.  His taunts were as futile as his exposition.
But, since I had nothing to do but to look on, I saw something
which made me uneasy.  The crowd was drawing together, and each was
covertly touching the other's sleeve.  There was a purpose in this
mob, a purpose of action, and I don't like that kind of purpose
when it is accompanied by fear.

"Since you will not speak," Maris cried, "I will go to your priest.
Where is his dwelling?  Or do you treat your church as you treat
your visitors?"

This time he got a reply.  A dozen voices spoke, and a dozen hands
pointed towards the village.

"It seems you are not dumb after all?  We will seek a lodging from
the priest, who doubtless has some regard for his country's
Government.  We have baggage with us--boxes of instruments and
food--and they are now at the jetty.  I want two able-bodied
fellows to help carry them, and I will pay them well.  Who offers?"

But no one offered.  Once again they were like gaping cattle.  And
then an old beldam in the foreground, who had been crossing herself
vigorously, cried out a monosyllable, and instantly it was taken up
in a shout.

Maris turned to me with an angry smile.  "They are advising us to
go home.  I can mention an island, my friend, in which there is
going to be trouble.  Let us go back to the shore.  Perhaps the
sight of our belongings will change their mind."

They did not obstruct us, but opened a lane for us to pass--opened
it with feverish haste, as if they were afraid of coming too near
us.  The fog had now thinned to a light haze, through which I
already felt the glow of the sun.  As we moved shorewards they
trailed after us, keeping always a respectful distance, and halted
fifty yards from the jetty.

Our five fellows were sitting smoking on the boxes, and since we
could get no help from the villagers, there was nothing for it but
to carry the baggage ourselves.  My first notion was to go straight
to the House, of which by this time I could judge the whereabouts,
and it would have been well for us perhaps if I had acted on that
impulse.  But, until I had prepared the way, I was shy of facing
Koré Arabia with a defence force which would make her furious, and
I had a notion, too, that if I marched in broad daylight to the
House gates there might be trouble with these scared and sullen
natives.  So I decided to go first to the inn, where we could leave
our stuff, and then to interview the priest.  After all, I knew
from Koré that the priest was alarmed about the local situation,
and from him I might get some counsel.  It seemed to me a case for
wary walking.

I could have laughed at that progress village-wards, if I hadn't
been so anxious.  The mob in front of us had doubled in size, and
retreated mechanically before us till we were in the village
street.  The sun was now bright in the sky, and I had a view of the
straggling houses, grouped thickly in the centre where there seemed
to be a kind of "place", and thinning out into farms and enclosures
on the slopes of the green hills.  It was a wide, shallow vale
bounded on the south by low ridges; but on the west rose a higher
tree-clad hill, and there were glimpses of white masonry which I
took to be the House.  Once we were in the village the crowd was
enlarged by women and children.  They kept a good distance,
retiring a pace for every step we took, and when we entered the
untidy square they huddled against the house doors as if they were
forming guard.  They were perfectly silent, even the children.  It
was an eerie business, I can assure you, promenading before that
speechless, staring gallery.  They were not an ill-looking race, as
I have said, for the men were mostly well-built and upstanding, and
though the old wives looked like the Witch of Endor, the young ones
were often comely.  But you could see that they were bitter poor,
for their cheeks were thin and their eyes hollow.  And beyond doubt
they were in the throes of some nervous terror.  I felt as if at
any moment something might snap and the air be filled with a wild
screaming.

The inn was easy enough to find.  A big plane tree grew before it,
and in the yard behind the low whitewashed walls grew a second,
beside a stone fountain which had not been erected within these
last five hundred years.  The place was only a wine-shop, with no
guest-rooms for travellers, but there were ample outbuildings where
our men could encamp.  But there was no sign of any landlord.
Maris and I pushed indoors and found no trace of life in the big
drinking-room with its sanded floor, or in the purlieus beyond.
The inn folk must have gone to swell the crowd in the street.  But
we found a reasonably clean barn at the back of the yard, and there
Maris bade our fellows make their quarters, get ready their
breakfast and await our return.  Then the two of us set out to find
the priest.

The villagers had not pressed nearer.  When we emerged into the
street they were standing as we had left them, patiently staring.
Maris cried out, asking to be shown the priest's house, and at that
the spell seemed to be broken, for there was a shout in reply.  A
visit to the priest seemed to be in the popular view the right
course for us to take.  We were directed to a house a hundred yards
on, next door to a squat church, and to my surprise we were not
followed.  Once they had seen us enter, the crowd remained to watch
the inn door.

The priest had evidently been apprised of our coming.  His dwelling
was only a bigger cottage, but in the furnishing of it there were a
few signs of a class above the peasantry--a shelf of books, one
or two gaudy religious pictures, a Swiss cuckoo clock, and,
incongruously enough, two of the cheap copies of Tanagra statuettes
which they sell in the Athens shops.  I daresay he imagined that
they were figures of saints.  He was an old man, nearer eighty than
seventy to my eye, and much bent in the shoulders.  An unkempt
beard fell over his chest, and his white hair was long and brushed
back from his forehead like a recent fashion among young men in
England.  The skin was waxen white, and the lines on his face were
like the grey shadows in a snowdrift.  His eyes were mild,
benevolent, and fanatical.  He looked stupid but kind and, like
everybody else in that mad place, horribly frightened.

With him Maris went straight to the point.

"We are a Government survey party, Pappa," he said.  "But that
story is for the peasants.  To you we open our hearts.  This
gentleman is a colonel in the army of Britain, and likewise a
member of the British Government.  He is also a friend of the lady
in the House of Plakos.  What gadfly has bitten the people of this
island?  Come!  We know much already, but we would hear your tale."

The priest--his venerable name was Hieronymos--was ready enough to
tell.  With a wealth of gesticulation remarkable in one so ancient,
but always with a lowered voice, he repeated crudely what we
already knew.  The people of Plakos had suffered much and long, and
were now resolved to make an end of their incubus.  The girl was a
witch, and they had determined that she must die.  They were only
waiting till the convenient season.  All this he said in the most
matter-of-fact tone, as if it were a natural sequence of cause and
effect.

"But you would not consent to such barbarity?" Maris asked.

"My consent is not asked," he replied.  "Beyond doubt the woman is
evil and comes of an evil stock.  But the Scriptures teach mercy,
and, though doubtless death is deserved, I would not counsel it.
For if she is evil she is also witless.  Why else did she return
here, when she knew that the whole island desired her death?  Did I
not go to her secretly, as Nicodemus went to our Lord, and besought
her never to return?  And she has given immense sums of money to
her enemies.  Me she gave gold for the Church and that I have
secure, but she has given it to others who have bought guns.  The
men from the hills, who are most bitter against her, carry rifles
bought with her money."

Now I knew why the foolish child had realized her investments.

The priest was gaining confidence.

"The death of a witch may be a righteous deed," he said, "but the
hearts of this people are not righteous.  They are dabbling in a
blacker magic than hers, for they are following the Outland Things.
And that is heresy and blasphemy, which in the eyes of Holy Church
are sins not less mortal than witchcraft."

Real anger, the jealous anger of a priest for his own prerogatives,
blazed in his old eyes.  He used for "outland things" the word
exotika, the very word which had puzzled Vernon in the manuscript I
gave him, till he found help from Basil of Cĉsarea.  The word
caught my ear, and I made Maris translate for me.  He had clearly
no compassion for poor Koré, but he was up in arms for his Church.
Maris tried to probe the trouble, but he got the vaguest answers.
The man seemed eager to unburden his soul, and yet terrified to
speak, and his eyes were always turning to the window and the
closed street door.

Last Eastertide there had been a lamentable neglect of sacred
rites.  This year the carelessness was complete.  Holy Week had
begun, but the minds of the people were not on its solemnities.
"They fast indeed," he said, "but they do not pray."  They had gone
a-whoring after other gods, and what those other gods were it did
not become a Christian man to consider.  They meditated a
sacrifice, but they had forgotten the sacrifice on which their
salvation hung.  "There is a madness which surges up at times in
these islands.  It happened so in my grandfather's day in
Santorini, and there is no quelling it till some black deed has
been done and the people come to their right minds in a bitter
repentance."  He, their priest, had become less regarded than a cur
dog.  Men stopped talking in the streets when he drew near, and
would not meet his eyes.  If he spoke, they moved off.  They were
conscious of a guilty purpose, and yet resolved on it, and he was
powerless to check them.  "They will come back, doubtless, and
bemoan their folly, but in the meantime they are breaking the
hearts of the saints and loading their miserable souls with sin."

Then he broke off, and his face took an expression of shrewdness.

"You have brought men with you.  How many?"

Maris told him ten stout fellows all armed.

"What foolishness!" he cried.  "The Government should have sent a
regiment--a regiment with cannons.  The madmen in Plakos are fifty
times your number, and they have the hill folk at their back, and
that is a thousand more."

"Nevertheless," said Maris, "we may be sufficient to garrison the
House, and protect the lady.  I have heard that it is a strong
place."

He looked at us queerly.  "No garrison is sufficient against fire.
They will burn the House and all that is in it. . . .  Listen to
me, sirs.  I do not think as you think.  I have no care for the
woman nor for any of her accursed race, but I have much care for
the souls of this wayward people, and would save them from mortal
sin.  There are no two ways about it--the woman must burn, or she
must depart.  Can you carry her off?"

Maris translated to me rapidly.  "Things look ugly," he said, "and
I rather think this old one talks sense.  But to carry off the lady
we must have a ship, and God knows where we shall find one.  At
Vano perhaps?  Maybe we did wrong to separate our forces.  It
strikes me that the sooner we get into touch with friend Janni the
better.  It is indicated that one of us must presently make his way
into the House, and that one had better be you.  Let us interrogate
the old one about the topography of this damned village."

"You must enter the House," said the priest, in reply to Maris's
question, "but it will be a task, I promise you, for Digenes the
Cyprian.  The place is guarded at all hours, and no one enters or
leaves it without the knowledge of the warders.  But it might be
achieved by bold men under cover of dark.  The moon is nearing its
full, and when it has set in the small hours there might be a
chance."

I got out the map of the island, and tried to get him to give me my
bearings.  But he was hopeless with a map, and instead on the white
hearthstone he drew a plan of his own.  The main road to the House
from Kynĉtho ran west from the village square, up a lane lined with
crofts and past a big olive grove, till it reached the wood of
chestnuts which was the beginning of the demesne.  All the ground
on this side rose steeply, and there were dwellings almost to the
gates, so that it would be hard to escape detection.  To the left
the slopes curved in a shallow vale, bounded on the east by the
main road to the hills and to Vano, and to south and west by a rim
of upland beyond which lay the rugged coastline and the sea.  This
vale was broad and flat, and tilted up gently towards the west, and
it bore the curious name of the Dancing Floor.  In the old days,
said the priest, the Panegyria were held in it, the island
festivals before poverty and madness came to Plakos.  The Dancing
Floor bordered on the demesne, and he thought that a way of entry
might be found there.

I made Maris ask about the shore road, but the priest was emphatic
against it.  There was no way into the House on that side except by
the staircases from the jetty, which Vernon and I had seen in 1914,
and there it was certain the watchers would be most vigilant.
Besides the staircases were disused, and he believed that the
postern doors had been walled up.  The cliffs could not be climbed,
and if the coast was followed towards the south the difficulties
increased.  From my recollection of the place, I thought he
exaggerated, but I was not prepared to bank on a dim memory.

"There is no time to lose," he said, with an earnestness which
convinced me that, though our motives might be different, our
purposes were alike.  "In two days it will be Good Friday, and the
night after comes the solemn hour when our Lord breaks the bonds of
death.  I grievously fear that that is the hour which my foolish
folk have fixed for this sacrilege.  If great sin is to be averted,
the woman must be gone by then and the House given to the flames.
The flames, I say, for whatever happens, there will be no peace in
Plakos till it is in ashes.  But let it be burned honestly and
religiously, and not made an altar to the outland devils whom Holy
Church has long ago cast into the darkness."

The problem seemed to me to be clarifying itself.  I was inclined
to think that the priest was too badly scared to take a balanced
view of things, and also too wrapped up in his religious anxieties.
I agreed that we must somehow induce Koré to come away, and that
for this purpose we must get all our ten men together and beg,
borrow, or steal some kind of boat.  It was also plain that the
sooner I got inside the House the better, for Koré would need some
persuading.  I was not able to view the black magic of the
villagers quite seriously.  It was obviously a real peril, but it
was so wholly outside the range of my mental conception that I took
it as a straightforward risk, like that from a wild animal or a
thunderstorm.

Maris and I had a short talk in French, and settled our plans.  He
would go back to the inn and see our fellows fixed up for the
night.  Then he would make his way on foot towards Vano and get
into touch with Janni.  We fixed a point on his map, on the edge of
the cliffs about two miles south of the House, where he was to
bring Janni and his posse, and where next morning I was to take out
the others to join him.  There seemed no risk in leaving the five
men in the inn for the night.  The villagers would scarcely
interfere with strangers who purported to be a Government survey
party and had no desire to move.  Nor was it likely that any
obstacle would be set in the way of Maris's own journey.  After all
he was moving towards Vano and away from the prohibited area.

My own case was more intricate.  If I went back to the inn, it
would be harder to make my way from it to the Dancing Floor, for I
should have the village street to go through.  We put this to the
priest, and he proved unexpectedly helpful.  Why should I not stay
on in his house till the evening?  The church was adjacent, and
behind the church lay the graveyard, by which a road could be found
to the Dancing Floor.  He would give me food, if I cared to share
his humble meal.  The old fellow might be a bigot, but he was
honest and friendly and patently on our side.  I beamed on him and
thanked him in dumb show, while Maris made ready to start.

"Get into the House somehow and fix up a plan with the lady," he
said.  "That is the first job.  You are quite clear about the
rendezvous on the cliffs?  You had better get back to the inn
somehow, and to-morrow morning bring the men to join me there.  The
village will think we've started on our surveying--and a long way
off the danger-point.  You will have to open the boxes and make
each man carry his own supplies.  You have your gun?"

I patted my pocket.  "Yes, but there isn't going to be any
shooting.  We haven't a dog's chance at that game, with Miss Arabin
arming the natives with Mauser rifles."



CHAPTER IX


Many times that day I wished that my education had included modern
Greek.  Through the hot afternoon and evening I remained in the
little room, bored and anxious and mystified, while the priest sat
opposite me, a storehouse of vital knowledge which I could not
unlock.  I raked up my recollection of classical Greek, and tried
him with a sentence or two, but he only shook his head.  Most of
the time he read in a little book, a breviary no doubt, and his
lips muttered.  An old woman came in and made ready a meal.  We
lunched off onion soup and black bread, and I was given a glass of
some wine which smacked of turpentine.  I smoked one of the two
cigarettes left in my case, and afterwards fell asleep.  When I
woke the old man was sitting just as I had left him, but he had
laid down his book and seemed to be praying.  There was no reserve
now in the old face; I saw the age of it, and the innocence, and
also the blind fear.  He seemed to be pleading fiercely with his
God, and his mouth worked like a child's in a passion of disquiet.

Of course I might have strolled out of doors, and gone back to the
inn, where I could have seen our five men and retrieved my pipe and
pouch.  It struck me that we were behaving like fools; we had come
to visit the House, and we ought to lose no time in getting there.
My nap had put our previous talk out of my head, and I found myself
on my feet in a sudden impulse.  Then I remembered how Maris had
enjoined the utmost caution, and I remembered, too, the look of
those queer people in the street.  The House was tabu, and if I was
seen going towards it I should be stopped, and I might even
precipitate some wild mischief without Maris to help me.  There in
the priest's homely kitchen, with a belt of golden light on the
floor and the hum of flies in the window, I had an acute sense of
being among shadows which might suddenly turn into monstrous forms
of life.  The whole island seemed to me like a snake still numb
from the winter cold, but thawing fast into a malignant activity.
And meantime Koré was all alone in that ill-omened House with the
circle of hate closing around her, and I, who had come there to
protect her, was still outside the cordon.  I cursed the infernal
fog which had brought us so fatally out of our course; and I
resolved that no power on earth would hinder me, when the dark
came, from piercing the barrier.

The presbytery opened into a narrow lane with outbuildings in front
of it, but from the window I could see a corner of the main street.
The sun poured into the lane, and I watched the little green
lizards on the wall beyond.  There was scarcely a sign of life in
the segment I saw of the main street; indeed there was a silence
strange in a village, so that every tiny natural noise--the
chirping of grasshoppers, the slow flight of a dove--came with a
startling clearness.  Once a woman with a shawl over her head
hurried past the opening.  There should have been children playing
at the corner, but there were no children nor any sound of them.
Never a cart rumbled by, nor mule nor horse crossed my line of
vision.  The village seemed to be keeping an eerie fast.

One man indeed I saw--a big fellow with a white blouse and long
boots of untanned leather.  He stood staring down the alley, and I
noticed that he carried a rifle.  I beckoned to the priest, and we
watched him together out of a corner of the window.  The old man
shook his head violently and muttered something which ended in
"bounos."  Then he added between his teeth a word which sounded
like "Callicantzari."  I had heard that word from Maris as a term
of abuse--he had said, I remember, that it meant men who become
beasts, like the ancient Centaurs.  I guessed that this fellow must
be one of the mountain men who were now in league with their old
enemies of the coast.  If they were among the besiegers, Koré could
no longer refuse our help.  "I will hire a regiment to shoot them
down," she had furiously told me.  But what good was OUR help
likely to be?

The sight of that fellow put an edge to my discomfort, and before
the shadows had begun to fall I was roaming about the little room
like a cat in a cage.  The priest left me, and presently I heard
the ringing of a bell.  In the quiet, now deepened by the hush of
twilight, the homely sound seemed a mockery--like the striking of
the bells of a naval battery I once heard on the Yser.  Then, in
the midst of mud and death, it had incongruously suggested tea on
the cool deck of a liner; now this tintinnabulation, with its call
to a meek worship, had the same grotesque note of parody.  Clearly
there were no worshippers.  I went to the back of the cottage, and
from the window of the bare little bedroom had a view of the church
in that amethyst gloaming.  It was a baroque edifice, probably five
centuries old, but renovated during the last fifty years, and in
part painted a violent red.  Beside it was a tiny bell-tower,
obviously far more ancient.  I could see a faint light in the
window, and beyond that a dark clump of ilex above which the
evening star was rising.

When the priest returned it was almost dark.  He lit a lamp and
carefully locked the door and shuttered the window.  His barren
service seemed to weigh heavily on him, for he moved wearily and
did not raise his long-lidded eyes.  It was borne in on me that at
any price I must find some means of communicating with him, for my
hour of action was approaching.

I tried him in French, but he never lifted his head.

Then it occurred to me that even a priest of the Greek Church must
know a little Latin.  I used the English pronunciation, and though
he did not understand me, he seemed to realize what tongue I was
talking, for he replied in a slow, broad Latin.  I could not follow
it, but at any rate we had found a common speech.  I tore a page
from my notebook and was about to write, when he snatched it and
the pencil from my hand.  There was something he badly wanted to
say to me.  He hesitated a good deal, and then in laborious
capitals he wrote:

"Si populus aliquid periculi tibi minatur, invenies refugium in
ecclesia."  Then he scored out "refugium" and wrote in "sanctuarium."

"Quid periculi?" I wrote.

He looked at me helplessly, and spread out his hands.  Danger, he
seemed to suggest, lay in every quarter of the compass.

We used up five pages in a conversation in the doggiest kind of
style.  My Latin was chiefly of the legal type, and I often used a
word that puzzled him, while he also set me guessing with phrases
which I suppose were ecclesiastical.  But the result was that he
repeated the instructions he had given me through Maris.  If I was
to enter the House, the only way was by the Dancing Floor--it took
me some time to identify "locus saltatorum"--and to climb the great
wall which separated it from the demesne.  But it would be guarded,
probably by the "incolĉ montium," and I must go warily, and not
attempt it till the moon was down.  Also I must be back before the
first light of dawn.

I showed him my pistol, but he shook his head violently and went
through a pantomime, the meaning of which was clear enough.  I was
not to shoot, because, though the guards were armed, there would be
no shooting.  But all the same I was in some deadly danger.  He
scribbled in abusive Latin that the people I had to fear were
"pagani, nefasti, mysteriorum abominabilium cultores."  If I were
seen and pursued my only hope was to reach the church.  Not his
house--that was no use--but the church.  Twice he printed in
emphatic capitals:  "Pete sanctuarium ecclesiĉ."

Then he took me into his little bedroom, and showed me the lie of
the land.  The moon was now up, the fog of the morning had gone out
of the air, and the outline of the church and the bell-tower and
the ilex grove beyond might have been cut in amber and jet.
Through the trees there appeared a faint reddish glow as if fires
were burning.  I asked what this might be, and after a good deal of
biting the stump of my pencil he wrote that there lay the
graveyard, and the lights were burning "ut vrykolakes absint."  He
seemed to doubt whether I could follow his meaning, but I did, for
I knew about this from Koré--how the peasants kept lamps at the
grave-heads to ward off vampires.

He was clear that I must traverse the valley of the Dancing Floor
while the moon was up, for otherwise I should miss my way.  He
looked at me appraisingly and wrote "You are a soldier," implying,
as I took it, that there was cover for a man accustomed to use
cover.  Then he drew a plan on which he marked my road.  If I
skirted the graveyard I should find myself on a hillside which
sloped towards the Dancing Floor.  I must keep this ridge, which
was the northern containing wall of the place, till I reached the
boundaries of the House.  On no account must I go down into the
valley, and when I asked why, he said that it was "nefasta."  That
could not mean merely that it was well-guarded, but that it was
held in dread by the people of Kynĉtho, a dread which their priest
shared.

I left the house just after eleven o'clock.  Our long, silent
sederunt had made the two of us good friends, for he wept at
parting, and insisted on blessing me and kissing me on the
forehead.  I was on his side, on the side of his Church, a crusader
going into peril in a strife with heathenish evil.

It was a marvellous night for scent and colour, but as silent as
the deeps of the sea.  I got with all speed into the shade of the
ilexes, and climbed up a rocky slope so that I looked down on the
village graveyard beyond the trees.  Dozens of little lights
twinkled in it like fireflies, those undying lamps which were lit
to preserve the inmates from outrage by the terrible demons that
enter into the bodies of the dead.  Suddenly I remembered with
horror that it was Koré against whom these precautions were taken--
Koré, now because of her crazy gallantry alone in a doomed House,
dreaming perhaps that she was winning back the hearts of her
people, and knowing little of the dark forces massing against her
out of the ancientry of time.  There was that in this mania of
superstition which both infuriated and awed me; it was a thing
against which a man could find no weapon.  And I had the ironic
recollection of how little more than a week earlier, in a case
before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I had been
defending the legalization of certain African rites, on the ground
that what to one man was superstition might to another be an honest
faith.  I had struck a belief which had the compelling power of a
fanatical religion, though it was born of the blackness of night.

The hillside was a mass of scrub and boulder, giving excellent
cover, and, since the ridge shut me off from the village, I could
move with reasonable speed and safety.  My spirits were rising with
the exercise, and the depression which had overwhelmed me in the
priest's house was lifting.  Then suddenly I topped a rise and
found myself looking down on the Dancing Floor.

It was not a valley so much as an upland meadow, for there was no
stream in it nor had there ever been one, and, though tilted up
gently towards the west, most of it was as flat as a cricket-field.
There it lay in the moonlight, yellow as corn in its cincture of
broken ridges, a place plainly hallowed and set apart.  All my life
I have cherished certain pictures of landscape, of which I have
caught glimpses in my travels, as broken hints of a beauty of which
I hoped some day to find the archetype.  One is a mountain stream
running in broad shallows and coming down through a flat stretch of
heather from a confusion of blue mountains.  Another is a green
meadow, cut off like a garden from neighbouring wildernesses,
secret and yet offering a wide horizon, a place at once a sanctuary
and a watch-tower.  This type I have found in the Scottish Borders,
in the Cotswolds, once in New Hampshire, and plentifully in the
Piedmont country of Virginia.  But in the Dancing Floor I had
stumbled upon its archetype.  The moonlight made the farther hills
look low and near, and doubtless lessened the size of the level
ground, but the constriction only served to increase its
preciousness.

I sat down and stared at the scene, and in that moment I underwent
a great lightening of spirit.  For this meadow was a happy place,
the home of gentle and kindly and honourable things.  Mildness and
peace brooded over it.  The priest had said that it was "nefasta,"
but he could only have meant that it was sacred.  Sacred indeed it
must be, what the Greeks of old called a temenos, for the dullest
could not be blind to the divinity that dwelt here.  I had a moment
of wonder why the Arabins, lords of the island, had not included a
spot so gracious in their demesne, until I saw that that could not
be.  The Dancing Floor must be open to the winds and the starry
influences and the spirits of earth; no human master could own or
enclose it.

You will call me fantastic, but, dull dog as I am, I felt a sort of
poet's rapture as I looked at those shining spaces, and at the sky
above, flooded with the amber moon except on the horizon's edge,
where a pale blue took the place of gold, and faint stars were
pricking.  The place was quivering with magic drawn out of all the
ages since the world was made, but it was good magic.  I had felt
the oppression of Kynĉtho, the furtive, frightened people, the
fiasco of Eastertide, the necromantic lamps beside the graves.
These all smacked evilly of panic and death.  But now I was looking
on the Valley of the Shadow of Life.  It was the shadow only, for
it was mute and still and elusive.  But the presage of life was in
it, the clean life of fruits and flocks, and children, and happy
winged things, and that spring purity of the earth which is the
purity of God.

The moon was declining, but it would be at least two hours before I
could safely approach the House.  The cover was good, I was
protected by the ridge from the side of the village, and no human
being was likely to be abroad on the Dancing Floor.  I decided that
I must get within sight of my destination before the light failed
and spy out the land.  It was rough going among the ribs of rock
and stone-falls and dense thickets of thorn and arbutus, but
sometimes I would come on a patch of turf drenched with dew and
scented with thyme.  All the myrrh of Arabia was in the place, for
every foot of sward I trod on and every patch of scrub I brushed
through was aromatic, and in the open places there was the clean
savour of night and the sea.  Also at my left hand and below lay
the Dancing Floor, lambent under the moon like the cool tides of a
river.

By-and-by I came to the end of the ridge, and had a view of the
crest where the House stood.  There was a blur of ebony which must
be the wood that surrounded it, and bounding it a ribbon of silver-
grey.  I puzzled at this, till I realized that it was the wall of
which the priest had spoken--a huge thing, it seemed, of an even
height, curving from the dip where the village lay and running to
what seemed to be the seaward scarp of the island.  I was now in
the danger zone, and it behoved me to go warily, so I found a
shelter where the cover of the ridge ended and studied the details
of the scene.  The wall could not be less that fifteen feet in
height, and it appeared to be regularly masoned and as smooth as
the side of a house.  In that landscape it was a startling
intrusion of something crude and human, a defiance of nature.
Shelley Arabin had built it for the sake of his sinister privacy,
but why had he built it so high?  And then I guessed the reason.
He wanted to shut out the Dancing Floor from his life.  That
blessed place would have been a mute protest against his infamies.

There was a black patch in the even sheen of the wall.  I wormed my
way a little nearer and saw that for perhaps a dozen yards the wall
had been broken down.  I could see the ragged edges and the inky
darkness of the shrubberies beyond.  This had been done recently,
perhaps within the last month.  And then I saw something more.
There were men--guards--stationed at the gap.  I made out their
figures, and they seemed to have the baggy white shirts of the
mountaineer I had seen in the village.  Also they were armed.  One
stood in the gap, and the two others patrolled the sides, and I
could see that they carried rifles at the trail.  It seemed absurd
that three men were needed for that tiny entrance, and I concluded
that they wanted each other's company.  There must be something in
the task which put a heavy strain on their courage.  I noticed,
too, that they kept their faces resolutely averted from the Dancing
Floor.  When one moved he walked with his head screwed round facing
the House.  The shining meadow might be nefastus, as the priest had
said, or it might be too sacred at this solemn hour of night for
the profane gaze.

When I had watched them for a little it seemed to me that, though
the moon had not set, these fellows were too preoccupied to be
dangerous, and that I might safely continue my reconnaissance.
There was not much cover, but the declining moon made an olive
shadow at the upper end of the Dancing Floor, and I proceeded to
crawl across it like a gillie after deer.  I went very cautiously,
stopping every now and then to prospect, but I found the wall now
beyond my range, and I had to chance the immobility of the
sentries.  My breeches were sopping with dew before I reached the
point which I judged to be out of sight of the gap.  The wall, as I
had observed, curved at the sea end, and once there--unless there
were further guards--I should be at liberty to test my climbing
powers.  The thing looked a most formidable barrier, but I was in
hopes that it might be turned where it abutted on the cliffs.

Before I realized it, I was looking down on the sea.

The coast bent inward in a little bight, and a hundred feet below
me the water lapped on a white beach.  It was such a revelation of
loveliness as comes to a man only once or twice in his lifetime.  I
fancy that the short commons on which I had subsisted all day and
the sense of dwelling among portents had keyed me up to a special
receptiveness.  Behind me was the Dancing Floor, and in front a
flood of translucent colour, the shimmer of gold, the rarest tints
of sapphire and amethyst, fading into the pale infinity of the sky.
I had come again into a world which spoke.  From below came the
sound of dreamily moving water, of sleepy pigeons in the rocks.
Recollections of poetry fleeted through my mind:


     "where Helicon breaks down
      In cliff to the sea. . . .


      Where the moon-silver'd inlets
      Send far their light voice--"


Yes, but something was wanting.  There should have been white
flocks on the sward, something to link up nature with the homely
uses of man, in order to produce the idyllic.  This place was not
idyllic, it was magical and unearthly.  Above me was a walled
mystery, within which evil had once been followed and a greater
evil might soon be done, and there were men with quaking hearts
bent upon ancient devilries.

I followed the edge of the scarp as it rose to the highest point
where the wall ended.  There I had a sharp disappointment.  The
wall ran sheer to the edge of the cliff, and a steep buttress
descended to the face of the limestone crag.  The stone was as
smooth as a water-worn pebble.  I have been a rock-climber since I
was an undergraduate, and have faced in my time some awkward
problems, but this was starkly impossible.  Even with a companion
and a rope I do not believe it could have been done, and to attempt
it alone meant the certainty of a broken neck.

I prospected eastward along the wall, and found no better hope
there.  The thing was simply not to be climbed except by a lizard.
If I had had Maris with me I might have stood on his shoulders and
made a jump for the coping; as it was it might have been a hundred
feet high instead of fifteen for all the good it was to me.  There
were no branches about to make a ladder, or loose stones to make a
cairn--nothing but the short downland turf.

The sight of this insuperable obstacle effectively put a stop to my
brief exhilaration of spirit.  I felt small, and feeble, and
futile.  It was imperative that I should get into the House without
further delay and see Koré, and yet the House was as impracticable
as the moon, now swiftly setting.  The rapid darkening of the world
pointed out the only road.  I must dodge the sentries and get
through the breach in the wall.  It was a wild notion, but my
growing ill-temper made me heedless of risks.  The men had no
pistols, only rifles, and were probably not too ready in the use of
them.  After all, I had played this game before with success.  In
the first winter of the war, when I was a subaltern, I used to be
rather good at wriggling across No-man's-land and eavesdropping
beside the German trenches.

I didn't give my resolution time to weaken, but in the shadow of
the wall made the best pace I could towards the gap.  It was now
really dark, with only a faint glow from the stars, and I moved in
what seemed to my eyes impenetrable shade after the brightness of
the moon.  I was wearing rubber-soled boots and cloth gaiters, my
garments were subfusc in colour, and I have always been pretty
light on my feet.  I halted many times to get my bearings, and
presently I heard the sound of a man's tread.  So far as I could
judge before, two of the sentries had their patrol well away from
the wall, and I might escape their notice if I hugged the stones.
But one had had his stand right in the breach, and with him I would
have difficulty.  My hope was to dart through into the shelter of
the thick shrubbery.  Even if they fired on me they would be likely
to miss, and I believed that they would not follow me into the
demesne.

I edged my way nearer, a foot at a time, till I guessed by the
sound that I was inside the beat of the patrols.  I had no white
about me, for my shirt and collar were drab, and I kept my face to
the wall.  Suddenly my hands felt the ragged edge of the gap and I
almost stumbled over a fallen stone.  Here it was very dark, and I
had the shadow of the trees inside to help me.  I held my breath
and listened, but I could not hear any noise from within the
breach.  Had the sentry there deserted his post?

I waited for a minute or so, trying to reckon up the chances.  The
tread of the man on my right was clear, and presently I could make
out also the movement of the man on my left.  Where was the third?
Suddenly I heard to the right the sound of human speech.  The third
must be there.  There was a sparkle of fire, too.  The third sentry
had gone to get a light for his cigarette.

Now was my opportunity, and I darted into the darkness of the gap.
I was brought up sharp and almost stunned by a blow on the
forehead.  There was a gate in the gap, a stout thing of wattles
with a pole across.  I strained at it with my hands, but it would
not move.

There was nothing for it but to bolt.  The sentries had been
alarmed--probably horribly alarmed--by the noise, and were drawing
together.  The only safety lay in violent action, for they had a
means of getting light and would find me if I tried to lurk in the
shadows.  I raised my arms in the orthodox ghostly fashion, howled
like a banshee, and broke for the open.

I was past them before they could stop me and plunging down the
slope towards the Dancing Floor.  I think that for the first
moments they were too scared to shoot, for they must have believed
that I had come out of the forbidden House, and when they recovered
their nerve I was beyond their range.  The upper slope was steep,
and I went down it as Pate-in-Peril in Redgauntlet went down
Errickstane-brae.  I rolled over and over, found my feet, lost them
again, and did not come to rest till I was in the flats of the
meadow.  I looked back and saw a light twinkling at the gap.  The
guards there must have been amazed to find the gate intact, and
were now doubtless at their prayers.

I did not think that, even if they believed me flesh and blood,
they would dare to follow me to the Dancing Floor.  So I made my
way down it at a reasonable pace, feeling rather tired, rather
empty, and very thirsty.  On the road up I had decided that there
was no stream in it, but almost at once I came to a spring.  It was
a yard across, bubbling up strongly, and sending forth a tiny rill
which presently disappeared in some fissure of the limestone.  The
water was deliciously cold, and I drank pints of it.  Then it
occurred to me that I must put my best foot forwards, for there was
that trembling in the eastern sky which is the presage of dawn.  My
intention was to join my fellows in the inn courtyard, and meet
Maris there in the morning.  After all, the inhabitants of Kynĉtho
had nothing as yet against me.  All they knew of me was that I was
a surveyor from the Government at Athens, whose presence no doubt
was unwelcome but who could hardly be treated as an enemy.

I reached the eastern bounds of the Dancing Floor, and scrambled up
on the ridge above the ilexes of the graveyard.  The lamps were
still twinkling like glow-worms among the graves.  From there it
was easy to get into the lane where stood the priest's house, and
in a few minutes I was in the main village street.  The chilly dawn
was very near, and I thought lovingly of the good food in our
boxes.  My first desire was a meal which should be both supper and
breakfast.

The door of the courtyard stood open, and I pushed through it to
the barn beyond.  The place was empty--not a sign of men or
baggage.  For a moment I thought they might have been given
quarters in the inn, till I remembered that the inn had no guest-
room.  I tried the other outbuildings--a stable, a very dirty byre,
a place which looked like a granary.  One and all were empty.

It was no use waking the landlord, for he probably would not
answer, and in any case I did not understand his tongue.  There was
nothing for it but to go back to the priest.  My temper was
thoroughly embittered, and I strode out of the courtyard as if I
were at home in my own village.

But my entrance had been observed, and the street was full of
people.  I doubt if Kynĉtho slept much these days, and now it
seemed that from every door men and women were emerging.  There was
something uncanny in that violent vigilance in the cold grey light
of dawn.  And the crowd was no longer inert.  In a second I saw
that it was actively hostile, that it wanted to do me a mischief,
or at any rate to lay hands on me.  It closed in on me from every
side, and yet made no sound.

It was now that I had my first real taste of fear.  Before I had
been troubled and mystified, but now I was downright afraid.
Automatically I broke into a run, for I remembered the priest's
advice about the church.

My action took them by surprise.  Shouts arose, meaningless shouts
to me, and I broke through the immediate circle with ease.  Two
fellows who moved to intercept me I handed off in the best Rugby
football style.  The street was empty before me and I sprinted up
it at a pace which I doubt if I ever equalled in my old running
days.

But I had one determined pursuer.  I caught a glimpse of him out of
a corner of my eye, one of the young men from the hills, a fellow
with a dark hawk-like face and a powerful raking stride.  In my
then form he would have beaten me easily if the course had been
longer, but it was too short to let him develop his speed.  Yet he
was not a yard behind me when I shot through the open door of the
church.

I flung myself gasping on the floor behind one of the squat
pillars.  As I recovered my breath I wondered why no shot had been
fired.  A man with a gun could have brought me down with the utmost
ease, for I had been running straight in the open.  My second
thought was that the priest had been right.  The peasant had
stopped in his tracks at the church door.  I had found safety for
the moment--a sanctuary or, it might be, a prison.



CHAPTER X


The morning light was filtering through the windows, and since the
glass was a dirty yellow, the place seemed still to be full of
moonshine.  As my eyes grew accustomed to it, I made out the
features of the interior.  A heavy curtain separated the sanctuary
from the chancel; the floor was of rough stone, worn with the feet
and knees of generations of worshippers; there were none of the
statues and images which one is accustomed to in a Roman church,
not even a crucifix, though there may have been one above the
hidden altar.  From a pillar hung an assortment of votive
offerings, crutches, oar-blades, rudders of ships, old-fashioned
horn spectacles.  The walls were studded with little ikons of
saints, each one with its guttering lamp before it.  The place
smelt dank and unused and mouldy, like a kirk in winter-time in
some Highland glen.  Behind me the open door showed an oval of pure
pale light.

I was in a mood of profound despondency which was very near
despair.  The men had gone and with them our stores of food and
ammunition.  God knew where Maris was or how I should find him
again.  The village was actively hostile, and I was shut up in the
church as in a penitentiary.  I was no nearer Koré than when we
landed--farther away indeed, for I had taken the wrong turning, and
she was shut off from me by mountainous barriers.  I could have
laughed bitterly when I thought of the futility of the help which I
had been so confident of giving her.  And her danger was far more
deadly than I had dreamed.  She was the mark of a wild hate which
had borrowed some wilder madness out of the deeps of the past.  She
had spoken of a "sacrifice."  That was the naked truth of it; any
moment tragedy might be done, some hideous rite consummated, and
youth and gallantry laid on a dark altar.

The thought drove me half crazy.  I fancy the lack of food and
sleep had made me rather lightheaded, for I sat in a stupor which
was as much anger as pity--anger at those blinded islanders, at my
own feebleness, at Koré's obstinacy.  This was succeeded by an
extreme restlessness.  I could not stay still, but roamed about
examining the ill-favoured ikons.  There was a little recess on the
right of the chancel which was evidently the treasury, for I found
a big chest full of dusty vestments and church plate.  Sacrilege
must have been an unknown crime in Kynĉtho, for the thing was
unlocked.

Then I noticed a strange object below the chancel step.  It seemed
to be a bier with a shrouded figure laid on it.  The sight gave me
a shock, for I thought it a dead body.  Reluctantly I approached it
and drew back the shroud, expecting to see the corpse of a peasant.

To my amazement it was a figure of Christ--a wooden image, rudely
carved but with a strange similitude of life.  It reminded me of a
John the Baptist by Donatello which I once saw in Venice.  The
emaciated body was naked but for the loin cloth, the eyes were
closed, the cheeks sunken.  It was garishly painted, and the
stigmata were done in a crude scarlet.  But there was power in it,
and dignity, and a terrible pitifulness.  I remembered Koré's
story.  This was the figure which on the night of Good Friday,
after the women had kissed and wailed over it, was borne in
procession among the village lanes and then restored to its
sepulchre.  This was the figure which at the Easter Resurrection
stood in a blaze of candles before the altar, the Crucified and
Risen Lord.

That sight worked a miracle with me.  I suddenly felt that I was
not alone, but had august allies.  The Faith was behind me, that
faith which was deep in the heart of Kynĉtho though for the moment
it was overlaid.  The shabby church, the mazed and ignorant priest
took on suddenly a tremendous significance. . . .  They were the
visible sign and warrant of that creed which we all hold dumbly,
even those who call themselves unbelievers--the belief in the
ultimate omnipotence of purity and meekness.

I reverently laid the shroud again over the figure, and must have
stood in a muse before it, till I found that the priest had joined
me.  He knelt beside the bier, and said his prayers, and never have
I heard such an agony of supplication in a man's voice.  I drew
back a little, and waited.  When he had finished he came to me and
his eyes asked a question.

I shook my head and got out my notebook.

He asked me if I had breakfasted, and when I wrote the most
emphatic negative which my Latin could compass, he hobbled off and
returned with some food under his cassock.  It was only walnuts and
black bread, but I ate it wolfishly and felt better for it.  I
looked on the old man now with a sincere liking, for he was my host
and my ally, and I think he had changed his attitude towards me.
Those minutes beside the bier had established a bond between us.

In the recess I have mentioned there was a door which I had not
hitherto noticed.  This opened into a kind of sacristy, where the
priest kept his odds and ends.  There was a well in the floor of
it, covered by an immense oaken lid, a well of cold water of which
I had a long drink.  The old man drew several buckets, and set
about cleaning the chancel, and I was glad to lend a hand.  I spent
the better part of the morning like a housemaid on my knees
scrubbing the floor and the chancel step, while he was occupied
inside the sanctuary.  The physical exertion was an anodyne to my
thoughts, which in any case were without purpose.  I could do
nothing till the night came again.

On one of my journeys to the sacristy to fetch water I saw a face
at the little window, which opened on the yard of the priest's
house.  To my immense relief it was Maris, very dirty and
dishevelled, but grinning cheerfully.  That window was a tight fit,
but he managed to wriggle half through, and a strong pull from me
did the rest.  He drank like a thirsty dog out of my bucket, and
then observed that a church had its drawbacks as a resort, since
one couldn't smoke.

"I have much to tell you, my friend," he said, "but first I must
interview his Holiness.  By God, but he has the mischievous flock."

I do not know what he said to the priest, but he got answers which
seemed to give him a melancholy satisfaction.  The old man spoke
without ever looking up, and his voice was flat with despair.
Often he shook his head, and sometimes he held up his hand as if
to avert a blasphemy.  Maris turned to me with a shrug of the
shoulders.  "This madness is beyond him, as it is beyond me.  It is
a general breaking down of wits.  What can you and I, soldiers
though we be, do against insanity?  Presently I must sleep, and you
too, my friend, to judge by your heavy eyes.  But first I make my
report."

"I suppose we are safe here?" I said.

"Safe enough, but impotent.  We can take our sleep confidently, but
it is hard to see that we can do much else.  We are in quarantine,
if you understand.  But to report--"

He had gone to the inn the night before, and found our five men
supping and playing cards like Christians.  They seemed to
understand what was required of them--to wait for me and then join
Janni and the others at the rendezvous on the western cliffs.  So
far as he could judge they had had no communication of any kind
with the people of the village.  Then he had set out with an easy
mind on the road to Vano.  No one had hindered him; the few
villagers he met had stared but had not attempted even to accost
him.  So over the moonlit downs he went, expecting to find Janni
and the other five in bivouac in the open country towards the
skirts of the hills.

He found Janni alone--on the roadside some miles east of Vano,
squatted imperturbably by a fire, in possession of five revolvers
and ample stores, but without a single follower.  From the one-
armed corporal he heard a strange tale.  The party had made Vano
before midday in the Santa Lucia, had landed, and marched inland
from the little port, without apparently attracting much attention.
He himself had explained to the harbour-master that they had been
sent to do survey work, and the wine shop, where they stopped for a
drink, heard the same story.  They had then tramped up the road
from Vano to the hills, stopping at the little farms to pass the
time of day and pick up news.  They heard nothing till nightfall,
when they encamped beside a village among the foothills.  There
Janni talked to sundry villagers and heard queer stories of
Kynĉtho.  There was a witch there who by her spells had blighted
the crops and sent strange diseases among the people, and the cup
of her abominations was now full.  So Dionysios had appeared to
many in a dream summoning them to Kynĉtho in the Great Week, and
the best of the young men had already gone thither.

That was all that Janni heard, for being the man in authority he
spoke only with the elders, and they were wary in their talk.  But
the others, gossiping with the women, heard a fuller version which
scared them to the bone.  Your Greek townsman is not a whit less
superstitious than the peasant, and he lacks the peasant's
stolidity, and is prone to more speedy excitement.  Janni did not
know exactly what the women had told his men, except that Kynĉtho
was the abode of vampires and harpies for whom a surprising
judgment was preparing, and that no stranger could enter the place
without dire misfortune.  There might be throat-cutting, it was
hinted, on the part of the young men now engaged in a holy war, and
there would for certain be disaster at the hand of the striglas and
vrykolakes in the House, for to them a stranger would be easy prey.

Whatever it was, it brought the men back to Janni gibbering with
terror and determined to return forthwith to Vano.  The island was
accursed and the abode of devils innumerable, and there was nothing
for honest men to do but to flee.  They would go back to Vano and
wait on a boat, the Santa Lucia or some other.  To do the rascals
justice, Janni thought that they might have faced the throat-
cutting, but the horrors of the unseen and the occult were more
than they could stomach.  Janni, who was a rigid disciplinarian,
had fortunately possessed himself of their pistols when they
encamped for the night, and he was now in two minds whether he
should attempt to detain them by force.  But the sight of their
scared eyes and twitching lips decided him that he could do nothing
in their present mood, and he resolved to let them go back to Vano
till he had seen Maris and received instructions.  They had already
had wages in advance, and could fend for themselves till he made a
plan.  So he doled out to each man a share of the supplies and
watched them scurry off in the direction of the coast, while he
smoked his pipe and considered the situation.  There, about two in
the morning, Maris found him.

The defection of these five men suggested to Maris that the same
kind of trouble might be expected with the batch in Kynĉtho.  So he
and Janni humped the stores and started off across the downs to the
rendezvous on the cliffs which he had settled with me.  That
occupied a couple of hours, and there Janni was left with orders
not to stir till he was summoned.  The place was a hollow on the
very edge of the sea, far removed from a road or a dwelling--a
lucky choice, for it had been made at haphazard from the map
without any local knowledge.  Then Maris set off at his best pace
for Kynĉtho, skirting the Dancing Floor on the south, and striking
the road to Vano a mile or so from the village.

There he met the rest of our posse, and a more dilapidated set of
mountebanks he declared he had never seen.  So far as he could
gather from their babble, they had been visited in the small hours
by a deputation of villagers, who had peremptorily ordered them to
depart.  The deputation backed its plea not by threats but by a
plain statement of facts.  Kynĉtho was labouring under a curse
which was about to be removed.  No doubt the villagers expounded
the nature of the curse with details which started goose-flesh on
their hearers.  What was about to be done was Kynĉtho's own affair,
and no stranger could meddle with it and live.  They may have
enforced their argument with a sight of their rifles, but probably
they did not need any mundane arguments to barb the terror which
their tale inspired.  For they succeeded in so putting a fear of
unknown horrors into these five Athens guttersnipes that they
decamped without a protest.  They did not even stay to collect some
provender, but fled for their lives along the Vano road.

When Maris met them they were padding along in abject panic.  One
man still carried unconsciously a tin from which he had been
feeding, another clutched a crumpled pack of cards.  They had their
pistols, but they had no thought of using them.  Pantingly they
told their story, irking to be gone, and when Maris seemed to be
about to detain them they splayed away from him like frightened
sheep.  Like Janni, he decided that it was no good to try to stop
them--indeed he was pretty clear by now that even if they stayed
they would be useless for the job we had in hand.  He cursed their
female relatives for several generations and speeded the hindmost
on his way with a kick.

His next business was to find me, and he concluded that I would
probably be still in the neighbourhood of the House.  So, as the
moon was down, he retraced his steps by the south side of the
Dancing Floor and reached the edge where the wall abutted on the
cliffs probably an hour after I had been there.  He shared my view
about the impracticality of an entrance to the demesne at that
point.  As it was now almost daylight he did not dare to follow the
wall, but returned to Janni on the cliffs, who gave him breakfast.
He was getting anxious about my doings, for he argued that if I
returned to the inn to look for the men there would probably be
trouble.  It seemed to him important that the village should still
believe him to have gone off, so he was determined not to show
himself.  But he must get in touch with me, and for that purpose he
decided first to draw the priest's house.  He had a difficult
journey in the broad daylight by way of the graveyard.  It would
have been impossible, he said, if the village had been living its
normal life, for he had to pass through a maze of little fields and
barns.  But all farm work seemed to have been relinquished, and not
a soul was to be seen at the lower end of the Dancing Floor.
Everybody, except the guards round the House, seemed to be huddling
in the village street.  In the end he got into the priest's house,
found it empty and followed on to the church.

I told him briefly my doings of the night.  I could see that he was
completely in the dark as to what was happening, except that
Kynĉtho, under the goad of some crazy superstition, intended very
resolute mischief to the House and its chatelaine.  You see he had
not talked to Koré--had indeed never seen her, nor had he read the
disquieting manuscript which Vernon had translated for me.  I did
not see how I could enlighten him, for on that side he was no
scholar, and was too rooted in his brand of minor rationalism to
take my tale seriously.  It was sufficient that we were both agreed
that the House must be entered, and Koré willy-nilly removed.

"But we have no ship," he cried.  "The lady would be no safer in
the open than in the House, for they mean most certainly that she
shall die.  I think it may come to putting our backs to the wall,
and the odds are unpleasant.  We cannot telegraph for help, for the
office is in the village and it has been destroyed.  I have
ascertained that there is no wire at Vano, or elsewhere in the
island."

Things looked pretty ugly, as I was bound to admit.  But there was
one clear and urgent duty, to get into the House and find Koré.
Before we lay down to snatch a little sleep, we made a rough plan.
Maris would try the coast to the north and see if an entrance could
be effected by a postern above the jetty where Vernon and I had
first landed.  He thought that he had better undertake this job,
for it meant skirting the village, and he believed he might pass in
the darkness as one of the men from the hills.  He could talk the
language, you see, and, if accosted, could put up some kind of
camouflage.  I was to make for Janni, and then the two of us would
try along the shore under the cliffs in the hope that some gully
might give us access to the demesne north of the point where the
wall ended.  We were to rendezvous about breakfast time at Janni's
camp, and from the results of the night frame a further programme.

I slept without a break till after eight o'clock in the evening,
when the priest woke us and gave us another ration of the eternal
bread and walnuts.  I felt frowsy and dingy, and would have given
much for a bath.  The priest reported that the day in the village
had passed without incident, except that there had been a great
gathering in the central square and some kind of debate.  He had
not been present, but the thing seemed to have deepened his
uneasiness.  "There is no time to lose," he told Maris, "for to-
morrow is Good Friday, and to-morrow I fear that unhallowed deeds
may be done."  Maris discussed his route with him very carefully,
and several more pages of my notebook were used up in plans.  It
was going to be a ticklish business to reach the jetty--
principally, I gathered, because of the guards who watched all the
sides of the demesne which were not bounded by the cliffs or the
great wall.  But the priest seemed to think it possible, and
Maris's Gascon soul had illimitable confidence.

My road was plain--up the ridge on the south side of the Dancing
Floor till it ended at the sea, a matter of not more than four
miles.  I skirted as before the little graveyard with its
flickering lamps, and then made a cautious traverse of a number of
small fields each with its straw-covered barn.  Presently I was out
on the downs, with the yellow levels of the Dancing Floor below me
on the right.  I was in a different mood from the previous night,
for I was now miserably conscious of the shortness of our time and
the bigness of our task.  Anxiety was putting me into a fever of
impatience and self-contempt.  Here was I, a man who was reckoned
pretty competent by the world, who had had a creditable record in
the war, who was considered an expert at getting other people out
of difficulties--and yet I was so far utterly foiled by a batch of
barbarian peasants.  I simply dared not allow my mind to dwell on
Koré and her perils, for that way lay madness.  I had to try to
think of the thing objectively as a problem to be solved, but
flashes of acute fear for the girl kept breaking through to set my
heart beating.

I found Janni cooking supper by his little fire in a nook of the
downs, and the homely sight for the moment comforted me.  The one-
armed corporal was, I daresay, by nature and upbringing as
superstitious as any other Greek peasant, but his military training
had canalized his imagination, and he would take no notice of a
legend till he was ordered to by his superior officer.  It reminded
me of the policeman Javert in Les Misérables: his whole soul was in
the ritual of his profession, and it must have been a black day for
Janni when the war stopped.  Maris, whom he worshipped blindly, had
bidden him take instructions from me, and he was ready to follow me
into the sea.  Mercifully his service at Salonika had taught him a
few English words and a certain amount of bad French, so we could
more or less communicate.

He had supplies with him, so I had a second supper--biscuits and
sardines and coffee, which after two days of starvation tasted like
nectar and ambrosia.  Also he had a quantity of caporal cigarettes
with which I filled my pockets.  Our first business was to get down
to the beach, and fortunately he had already discovered a route a
few hundred yards to the south, where a gully with a stone shoot
led to the water's edge.  Presently we stood on the pebbly shore
looking out to the luminous west over a sea as calm as a mill-pond.
I would have liked to bathe, but decided that I must first get the
immediate business over.

That shore was rough going, for it was a succession of limestone
reefs encumbered with great boulders which had come down from the
rocks during past winters.  The strip of beach was very narrow and
the overhang of the cliffs protected us from observation from
above, even had any peasant been daring enough to patrol the
Dancing Floor by night.  We kept close to the water, where the way
was easiest, but even there our progress was slow.  It took us the
better part of an hour to get abreast of the point where the wall
ended.  There the cliffs were at least two hundred feet high, and
smooth as the side of a cut loaf.  Crowning them we could see the
dark woodlands of the demesne.

My object was to find a route up them, and never in all my
mountaineering experience had I seen a more hopeless proposition.
The limestone seemed to have no fissures, and the faces had
weathered smooth.  In the Dolomites you can often climb a
perpendicular cliff by the countless little cracks in the hard
stone, but here there were no cracks, only a surface glassy like
marble.  At one point I took off my boots and managed to ascend
about twenty yards, when I was brought up sharp by an overhang,
could find no way to traverse, and had my work cut out getting down
again.  Janni was no cragsman, and in any case his one arm made him
useless.

Our outlook ahead was barred by a little cape, and I was in hopes
that on the other side of that the ground might become easier.  We
had a bad time turning it, for the beach stopped and the rock fell
sheer to the water.  Happily the water at the point was shallow,
and partly wading and partly scrambling, we managed to make the
passage.  In the moonlight everything was clear as day, and once
round we had a prospect of a narrow bay, backed by the same high
perpendicular cliffs and bounded to the north by a still higher
bluff, which ended to seaward in a sheer precipice.

I sat down on a boulder with a sinking heart to consider the
prospect.  It was more hopeless than the part we had already
prospected.  There was no gully or chimney in the whole glimmering
semicircle, nothing but a rim of unscalable stone crowned with a
sharp-cut fringe of trees.  Beyond the bluff lay the olive-yards
which I had seen six years before when I landed from the yacht, but
I was pretty certain that we would never get round the bluff.  For
the margin of shore had now disappeared, and the cliffs dropped
sheer into deep water.

Suddenly Janni by my side grunted and pointed to the middle of the
little bay.  There, riding at anchor, was a boat.

At first it was not easy to distinguish it from a rock, for there
was no riding light shown.  But, as I stared at it, I saw that it
was indeed a boat--a yawl-rigged craft of, I judged, about twenty
tons.  It lay there motionless in the moonlight, a beautiful thing
which had no part in that setting of stone and sea--a foreign
thing, an intruder.  I watched it for five minutes and nothing
moved aboard.

The sight filled me with both hope and mystification.  Here was the
"ship" which Maris had postulated.  But who owned it, and what was
it doing in this outlandish spot, where there was no landing?  It
could not belong to Kynĉtho, or it would have been lying at the
jetty below the House, or in the usual harbour.  Indeed it could
not belong to Plakos at all, for, though I knew little about boats,
I could see that the cut of this one spoke of Western Europe.  Was
any one on board?  It behoved me forthwith to find that out.

I spoke to Janni, and he whistled shrilly.  But there was no answer
from the sleeping bay.  He tried again several times without
result.  If we were to make inquiries, it could only be by swimming
out.  Janni, of course, was no swimmer, and besides, the
responsibility was on me.  I can't say I liked the prospect, but in
three minutes I had stripped and was striking out in the moon-
silvered water.

The fresh, cold, aromatic sea gave me new vigour of body and mind.
I realized that I must proceed warily.  Supposing there was some
one on board, some one hostile, I would be completely at his mercy.
So I swam very softly up to the stern and tried to read the name on
it.  There was a name, but that side was in shadow and I could not
make it out.  I swam to the bows, and there again saw a name of
which I could make nothing, except that the characters did not seem
to me to be Greek.

I trod water and took stock of the situation.  It was the kind of
craft of which you will see hundreds at Harwich and Southampton and
Plymouth--a pleasure boat, obviously meant for cruising, but with
something of the delicate lines of a racer.  I was beginning to
feel chilly, and felt that I must do something more than prospect
from the water.  I must get on board and chance the boat being
empty or the owner asleep.

There was a fender amidships hanging over the port side.  I
clutched this, got a grip of the gunwale, and was just about to
pull myself up, when a face suddenly appeared above me, a scared,
hairy face, surmounted by a sort of blue nightcap.  Its owner
objected to my appearance, for he swung a boathook and brought it
down heavily on the knuckles of my left hand.  That is to say, such
was his intention, but he missed his aim and only grazed my little
finger.

I dropped off and dived, for I was afraid that he might start
shooting.  When I came up a dozen yards off and shook the water out
of my eyes, I saw him staring at me as if I was a merman, with the
boathook still in his hand.

"What the devil do you mean by that?" I shouted, when I had
ascertained that he had no pistol.  "What boat is it?  Who are
you?"

My voice seemed to work some change in the situation, for he
dropped the boathook, and replied in what sounded like Greek.
I caught one word "Ingleez" several times repeated.

"I'm English," I cried, "English . . . philos . . . philhellene--
damn it, what's the Greek for a friend?"

"Friend," he repeated, "Ingleez," and I swam nearer.

He was a tough-looking fellow, dressed in a blue jersey and what
appeared to be old flannel bags, and he looked honest, though
puzzled.  I was now just under him, and smiling for all I was
worth.  I put a hand on the fender again, and repeated the word
"English."  I also said that my intentions were of the best, and I
only wanted to come aboard and have a chat.  If he was well
disposed towards England, I thought he might recognize the sound of
the language.

Evidently he did, for he made no protest when I got both hands on
the gunwale again.  He allowed me to get my knee up on it, so I
took my chance and swung myself over.  He retreated a step and
lifted the boathook, but he did not attempt to hit me as I arose,
like Proteus, out of the sea and stood dripping on his deck.

I held out my hand, and with a moment's hesitation he took it.
"English . . . friend," I said, grinning amicably at him, and to my
relief he grinned back.

I was aboard a small yacht, which was occidental in every line of
her, the clean decks, the general tidy, workmanlike air.  A man is
not at his most confident standing stark naked at midnight in a
strange boat, confronting somebody of whose speech he comprehends
not one word.  But I felt that I had stumbled upon a priceless
asset if I could only use it, and I was determined not to let the
chance slip.  He poured out a flow of Greek, at which I could only
shake my head and murmur "English."  Then I tried the language of
signs, and went through a vigorous pantomime to explain that,
though I could not speak his tongue, I had a friend on shore who
could.  The yacht had a dinghy.  Would he row me ashore and meet my
friend?

It took me the devil of a time to make this clear to him, and I had
to lead him to where the dinghy lay astern, point to it, point to
the shore, point to my dumb mouth, and generally behave like a
maniac.  But he got it at last.  He seemed to consider, then he
dived below and returned with a thing like an iron mace which he
brandished round his head as if to give me to understand that if I
misbehaved he could brain me.  I smiled and nodded and put my hand
on my heart, and he smiled back.

Then his whole manner changed.  He brought me a coat and an ancient
felt hat, and made signs that I should put them on.  He dived below
again and brought up a bowl of hot cocoa, which did me good, for my
teeth were beginning to chatter.  Finally he motioned me to get
into the dinghy and set his mace beside him, took the sculls and
pulled me in the direction I indicated.

Janni was sitting smoking on a stone, the image of innocent peace.
I cried out to him before we reached shore, and told him that this
was the skipper and that he must talk to him.  The two began their
conversation before we landed, and presently it seemed that Janni
had convinced my host that we were respectable.  As soon as we
landed I started to put on my clothes, but first I took the pistol
from my coat pocket and presented the butt-end to my new friend.
He saw my intention, bowed ceremoniously, and handed it back to me.
He also pitched the mace back into the dinghy, as if he regarded it
as no longer necessary.

He and Janni talked volubly and with many gesticulations, and the
latter now and then broke off to translate for my benefit.  I
noticed that as time went on the seaman's face, though it remained
friendly, grew also obstinate.

"He says he awaits his master here," said Janni, "but who his
master is and where he is gone he will not tell.  He says also that
this island is full of devils and bad men, and that on no account
will he stay on it."

I put suggestions to Janni, which he translated, but we could get
nothing out of the fellow, except the repeated opinion--with which
I agreed--that the island was full of devils, and that the only
place for an honest man was the water.  About his master he
remained stubbornly silent.  I wanted him to take me in his boat
round the farther bluff, so that we could land on the olive-yard
slopes and possibly get in touch with Maris, but he peremptorily
refused.  He would not leave the bay, which was the only safe
place.  Elsewhere were the men and women of Plakos, who were
devils.

After about an hour's fruitless talk I gave it up.  But one thing I
settled.  I told him through Janni that there were others besides
ourselves and himself who were in danger from the devils of the
island.  There was a lady--an English lady--who was even now in
dire peril.  If we could bring her to the spot would he be on the
watch and take her on board?

He considered this for a little, and then agreed.  He would not
leave the island without his master, but he would receive the lady
if necessary, and if the devils followed he would resist them.  He
was obviously a fighting man, and I concluded he would be as good
as his word.  Asked if in case of pursuit he would put to sea, he
said, "No, not till his master returned."  That was the best I
could make of him, but of that precious master he refused to speak
a syllable.  His own name he said was George--known at home as
Black George, to distinguish him from a cousin, George of the Hare-
lip.

We parted in obscure friendliness.  I presented him with my empty
cigarette-case, and he kissed me on both cheeks.  As I handed him
back the garments which he had lent me to cover my nakedness, I
noticed a curious thing.  The coat was an aquascutum so old that
the maker's tab had long since gone from it.  But inside the
disreputable felt hat I saw the name of a well-known shop in Jermyn
Street.



CHAPTER XI


Janni and I returned to the camp before dawn.  For some unknown
reason a heavy weariness overcame me on the way back, and I could
scarcely drag my limbs over the last half-mile of shore and up the
stone shoot to the edge of the downs.  I dropped on the ground
beside the ashes of the fire, and slept like a drugged man.

When I awoke it was high forenoon.  The sun was beating full on the
little hollow, and Janni was cooking breakfast.  My lethargy had
gone, and I woke to a violent, anxious energy.  Where was Maris?
He ought to have rejoined us, according to plan, before sunrise.
But Janni had seen no sign of him.  Had he got into the House?
Well, in that case he would find means to send us a message, and to
send it soon, for this was Good Friday, the day which the priest
feared.  I was in a fever of impatience, for I had found a boat, a
means of escape of which Maris did not know.  If he was in the
House, I must get that knowledge to him, and he in turn must get in
touch as soon as possible with me.  Our forces were divided with no
link of communication.

I did my best to possess my soul in that hot scented forenoon, but
it was a hard job, for the sense of shortening time had got on my
nerves.  The place was cooled by light winds from the sea, and for
Janni, who lay on his back and consumed cigarettes, it was
doubtless a pleasant habitation.  Rivers of narcissus and iris and
anemone flooded over the crest and spilled into the hollow.  The
ground was warm under the short herbage, and from it came the rich
clean savour of earth quickening after its winter sleep under the
spell of the sun.  The pigeons were cooing in the cliffs below me,
and the air was full of the soft tideless swaying of the sea.  But
for all the comfort it gave me I might have been stretched on
frozen bricks in a dungeon.  I was constantly getting up and
crawling to a high point which gave me a view of the rim of the
downs up to the wall, and eastwards towards the Vano road.  But
there was no sign of Maris in the wide landscape.

About one o'clock the thing became unbearable.  If Maris was in the
House I must find touch with him; if he had failed, I must make the
attempt myself.  It was a crazy thing to contemplate in broad
daylight, but my anxiety would not let me stay still.  I bade Janni
wait for me, and set off towards the Vano road, with the intention
of trying Maris's route of the previous night and making a circuit
by the east side of the village towards the jetty.

I had the sense to keep on the south side of the ridge out of sight
of the Dancing Floor and the high ground beyond it.  There was not
a soul to be seen in all that grassy place; the winding highway
showed no figure as far as the eye could reach; even the closes and
barns clustered about the foot of the Dancing Floor seemed
untenanted of man or beast.  I gave the village a wide berth, and
after crossing some patches of cultivation and scrambling through
several ragged thickets found myself due east of Kynĉtho and some
three hundred feet above it.

There I had the prospect of the church rising above a line of
hovels, a bit of the main street, the rear of the inn, and the
houses which straggled seaward toward the jetty.  The place had
undergone another transformation, for it seemed to be deserted.
Not one solitary figure appeared in the blinding white street.
Every one must be indoors engaged in some solemn preparation
against the coming night.  That gave me a hope that the northern
approaches to the House might be unguarded.  So great was my
anxiety that I set off at a run, and presently had reached the high
ground which overlooked the road from the village to the harbour.
Here I had to go circumspectly, for once I descended to the road I
would be in view of any one on the jetty, and probably, too, of the
northernmost houses in the village.

I scanned the foreground long and carefully with my glass, and
decided that no one was about, so I slipped down from the heights,
crossed the road a hundred yards above the harbour, and dived into
the scrub which bordered the beach on the farther side.  Here I was
completely sheltered, and made good going till I rounded a little
point and came into a scene which was familiar.  It was the place
where, six years before, Vernon and I had landed from Lamancha's
yacht.  There were the closes of fruit blossom, the thickets, the
long scrubby ravine where we had listened to the Spring Song.  I
had a sudden sense of things being predestined, of the ironical
fore-ordination of life.

I knew what to expect.  Round the horn of the little bay where I
stood lay the House with its jetty and the causeway and the steep
stairs to the postern gates.  My success thus far had made me
confident, and I covered the next half-mile as if I were walking on
my own estate.  But I had the wit to move cautiously before I
passed the containing ridge, and crept up to the skyline.

It was well that I did so, for this was what I saw.  On the jetty
there were guards, and there were posts along the causeway.  More,
some change had been wrought in the seaward wall of the House.  The
huge place rose, blank and white, in its cincture of greenery, but
at the points where the steps ended in postern doors there seemed
to be a great accumulation of brushwood which was not the work of
nature.  My glass told me what it was.  The entrance was piled high
with fagots.  The place had been transformed into a pyre.

But it was not that sight which sent my heart to my boots--I had
been prepared for that or any other devilry; it was the utter
impossibility of effecting an entrance.  The fabric rose stark and
silent like a prison, and round it stood the wardens.

I didn't wait long, for the spectacle made me mad.  I turned and
retraced my steps, as fast as I could drag my legs, for every ounce
of vigour had gone out of me.  It was a dull, listless automaton
that recrossed the harbour road, made the long circuit east of the
village, and regained the downs beyond the Dancing Floor.  When I
staggered into camp, where the placid Janni was playing dice, it
was close on five o'clock.

I made myself a cup of tea and tried to piece the situation
together.  Maris could not have entered the House--the thing was
flatly impossible, and what had happened to him I could only guess.
Where he had failed I certainly could not succeed, for the cliffs,
the wall, and the guards shut it off impenetrably from the world.
Inside was Koré alone--I wondered if the old servant whom she had
called Mitri was with her, or the French maid she had had in
London--and that night would see the beginning of the end.  The
remembrance of the fagots piled about the door sent a horrid chill
to my heart.  The situation had marched clean outside human power
to control it.  I thought with scorn of my self-confidence.  I had
grievously muddled every detail, and was of as little value as if I
had remained in my Temple chambers.  Pity and fear for the girl
made me clench my hands and gnaw my lips.  I could not stay still.
I decided once more to prospect the line of the cliffs.

One-armed Janni was no use, so I left him behind.  I slid down the
stone-shoot and in the first cool of evening scrambled along that
arduous shore.  When I had passed the abutment of the wall I
scanned with my glass every crack in the cliffs, but in daylight
they looked even more hopeless than under the moon.  At one place a
shallow gully permitted me to reach a shelf, but there I stuck
fast, for the rock above could only have been climbed by a hanging
rope.  The most desperate man--and by that time I was pretty
desperate--could not find a way where the Almighty had decided that
there should be none.  I think that if there had been the faintest
chance I would have taken it, in spite of the risks; I would have
ventured on a course which at Chamonix or Cortina would have been
pronounced suicidal; but here there was not even the rudiments of a
course--nothing but that maddening glassy wall.

By-and-by I reached the cape beyond which lay the hidden bay and
Black George with his boat.  It occurred to me that I had not
prospected very carefully the cliffs in this bay, and in any case I
wanted to look again at the boat, that single frail link we had
with the outer world.  But first I stripped and had a bathe, which
did something to cool the fret of my nerves.  Then I waded round
the point to the place where Janni and I had talked with the
seaman.

Black George had gone.  There was not a trace of him or the boat in
the shining inlet into which the westering sun was pouring its
yellow light.  What on earth had happened?  Had his mysterious
master returned?  Or had he been driven off by the islanders?  Or
had he simply grown bored and sailed away?  The last solution I
dismissed: Black George, I was convinced, was no quitter.

The loss of him was the last straw to my hopelessness.  I was faced
with a situation with which no ingenuity or fortitude could
grapple--only some inhuman skill in acrobatics or some Berserker
physical powers which I did not possess.  I turned my glass
listlessly on the cliffs which lined the bay.  There was nothing to
be done there.  They were as sheer as those I had already
prospected, and, although more rugged and broken, it was by means
of great noses of smooth rock on which only a fly could move.

I was sitting on the very boulder which Janni had occupied the
night before, and I saw on the shingle one or two of his cigarette
stumps.  And then I saw something else.

It was a cigarette end, but not one of Janni's caporals.  Moreover
it had been dropped there during the past day.  Janni's stumps,
having been exposed to the night dews, were crumpled and withered;
this was intact, the butt end of an Egyptian cigarette of a good
English brand.  Black George must have been here in the course of
the day.  But I remembered that Black George had smoked a
peculiarly evil type of Greek tobacco.  Perhaps he had been
pilfering his master's cigarettes?  Or perhaps his master had come
back?

I remembered that he had refused to utter one word about that
master of his.  Who could he be? was he an Englishman?  He might
well be, judging from Black George's reverence for the word
"English."  If so, what was he doing in Plakos, and how had he
reached this spot, unless he had the wings of a bird?  If he had
come along the downs and the shore Janni would have seen him. . . .
Anyhow, he was gone now, and our one bridge with a sane world was
broken.

I made my way back to Janni with a feeling that I had come to the
edge of things and would presently be required to go over the
brink.  I was now quite alone--as much alone as Koré--and fate
might soon link these lonelinesses.  I had had this feeling once or
twice in the war--that I was faced with something so insane that
insanity was the only course for me, but I had no notion what form
the insanity would take, for I still saw nothing before me but
helplessness.  I was determined somehow to break the barrier,
regardless of the issue.  Every scrap of manhood in me revolted
against my futility.  In that moment I became primitive man again.
Even if the woman were not my woman she was of my own totem, and
whatever her fate she should not meet it alone.

Janni had food ready for me, but I could not eat it.  I took out my
pistol, cleaned and reloaded it, and told Janni to look to his.  I
am not much of a pistol shot, but Janni, as I knew from Maris, was
an expert.  There would be something astir when the moon rose, and
I had an intuition that the scene would be the Dancing Floor.  The
seaward end of the House might be the vital point in the last stage
of the drama, but I was convinced that the Dancing Ground would see
the first act.  It was the holy ground, and I had gathered from the
priest that some dark ritual would take the place of the Good
Friday solemnity.

There was only one spot where Janni and I might safely lie hidden,
and at the same time look down on the Dancing Floor, and that was
in the shadow of the wall between the guarded breach and the
cliffs.  There were large trees there, and the progress of the moon
would not light it up, whereas everywhere else would be clear as
noonday.  Moreover it was the strategic point, for whatever
mischief was intended against the House would pass through the
breach and therefore under our eyes.  But it was necessary to get
there before the moon was fully risen, for otherwise to men coming
from the village we should be silhouetted against the cliff edge.
I cut Janni's supper short and we started out, using every crinkle
of the ground as cover, much as stalkers do when they are fetching
a circuit and know that the deer are alarmed and watchful.

We had not much more than a mile to go, and by the route we chose
we managed, as it happened, to keep wholly out of sight of the
Dancing Floor.  Janni--no mountaineer--grumbled at my pace, for I
had acquired an extraordinary lightness of limb so that I felt as
if I could have flown.  I was puzzled to explain this, after my
listlessness of the day, but I think it was due partly to tense
nerves and partly to the magic of the evening.  The air was cool
and exhilarating, and when the moon rose with a sudden glory above
the House it was as tonic as if one had plunged into water. . . .
Soon we were on the edge of the inky belt of shadow and moving
eastward to get nearer the breach.  But now I noticed something I
had forgotten.  The wall curved outward, and beyond that bulge--a
couple of hundred yards from the breach--the light flooded to the
very edge of the stone.  We came to a halt at the apex of the
curve, flat on our faces, and I turned to reconnoitre the Dancing
Floor.

I wish to Heaven that I had the gift of words.  It is too much to
ask a man whose life has been spent in drawing pleadings and in
writing dull legal opinions to describe a scene which needs the
tongue or pen of a poet.  For the Dancing Floor was transfigured.
Its lonely beauty had been decked and adorned, as an altar is
draped for high festival.  On both slopes people clustered, men,
women, and children, all so silent that I thought I could hear them
breathe.  I thought, too, that they mostly wore white--at any rate
the moonlight gave me the impression of an immense white multitude,
all Kynĉtho, and doubtless half the hills.  The valley was marked
out like a race-course.  There seemed to be posts at regular
intervals in a broad oval, and at each post was a red flicker which
meant torches.  The desert had become populous, and the solitary
places blossomed with roses of fire.

The people were clustered toward the upper end, making an
amphitheatre of which the arena was the Dancing Floor, and the
entrance to the stage the breach in the wall of the House.  I saw
that this entrance was guarded, not as before by three sentries,
but by a double line of men who kept an avenue open between them.
Beyond the spectators and round the arena was the circle of posts,
and between them lay the Dancing Floor, golden in the moon, and
flanked at its circumference by the angry crimson of the torches.
I noticed another thing.  Not quite in the centre but well within
the arena was a solitary figure waiting.  He was in white--gleaming
white, and, so far as I could judge, he was standing beside the
spring from which I had drunk the night before.

I have set out the details of what I saw, but they are only the
beggarly elements, for I cannot hope to reproduce the strangeness
which caught at the heart and laid a spell on the mind.  The place
was no more the Valley of the Shadow of Life, but Life itself--a
surge of dĉmonic energy out of the deeps of the past.  It was wild
and yet ordered, savage and yet sacramental, the home of an ancient
knowledge which shattered for me the modern world and left me
gasping like a cave-man before his mysteries.  The magic smote on
my brain, though I struggled against it.  The passionless moonlight
and the passionate torches--that, I think, was the final miracle--a
marrying of the eternal cycle of nature with the fantasies of man.

The effect on Janni was overwhelming.  He lay and gibbered prayers
with eyes as terrified as a deer's, and I realized that I need not
look for help in that quarter.  But I scarcely thought of him, for
my trouble was with myself.  Most people would call me a solid
fellow, with a hard head and a close-texture mind, but if they had
seen me then they would have changed their view.  I was struggling
with something which I had never known before, a mixture of fear,
abasement, and a crazy desire to worship.  Yes--to worship.  There
was that in the scene which wakened some ancient instinct, so that
I felt it in me to join the votaries.

It took me a little time to pull myself together.  I looked up at
the dome of the sky, where on the horizon pale stars were showing.
The whole world seemed hard and gem-like and unrelenting.  There
was no help there.  Nature approved this ritual.  And then a
picture flashed into my mind which enabled me to recover my wits.
It was the carven Christ lying in its shroud in the bier in the
deserted church.  I am not a religious man in the ordinary sense--
only a half-believer in the creed in which I was born.  But in that
moment I realized that there was that in me which was stronger than
the pagan, an instinct which had come down to me from believing
generations.  I understood then what were my gods.  I think I
prayed, I know that I clung to the memory of that rude image as a
Christian martyr may have clung to his crucifix.  It stood for all
the broken lights which were in me as against this ancient charméd
darkness.

I was steadier now, and with returning sanity came the power of
practical thought.  Something, some one, was to be brought from the
House.  Was there to be a trial in that arena?  Or a sacrifice?
No--I was clear that to-night was only the preparation, and that
the great day was the morrow.  There was no sound from the
gathering.  I could not see the faces, but I knew that every one,
down to the smallest child, was awed and rapt and expectant.  No
crowd, hushing its breath in the decisive moments of a great match,
was ever more rigidly on the stretch.  The very air quivered with
expectation.

Then a movement began.  Figures entered the arena at the end
farthest from me--men, young men, naked I thought at first, till my
glass showed me that each wore a sort of loin-cloth or it may have
been short drawers. . . .  They aligned themselves, like runners at
the start of a race, and still there was no sound.  The figure who
had been standing by the well was now beside them and seemed to be
speaking softly.  Each held himself tense, with clenched hands, and
his eyes on the ground.  Then came some kind of signal, and they
sprang forward.

It was a race--such a race as few men can have witnessed.  The slim
youths kept outside the torches, and circled the arena of the
Dancing Floor.  Over the moonlit sward they flew, glimmering like
ghosts--once round, a second time round.  And all the while the
crowd kept utter silence.

I ran the mile myself at school and college, and know something
about pace.  I could see that it was going to be a close finish.
One man I noted, I think the very fellow who had hunted me into the
church--he ran superbly, and won a lead at the start.  But the
second time round I fancied another, a taller and leaner man, who
had kept well back in the first round, and was slowly creeping
ahead.  I liked his style, which was oddly like the kind of thing
we cultivate at home, and he ran with judgment too.  Soon he was
abreast of the first man, and then he sprinted and took the lead.
I was wondering where the finish would be, when he snatched a torch
from one of the posts, ran strongly up the centre of the Dancing
Floor, and plunged the flame in the spring.

Still there was no sound from the crowd.  The winner stood with his
head bent, a noble figure of youth who might have stepped from a
Parthenon frieze.  The others had gone; he stood close beside the
well with the white-clad figure who had acted as master of
ceremonies--only now the victor in the race seemed to be the true
master, on whom all eyes waited.

The sight was so strange and beautiful that I watched it half in a
trance.  I seemed to have seen it all before, and to know the
stages that would follow. . . .  Yes, I was right.  There was a
movement from the crowd and a man was brought forward.  I knew the
man, though he wore nothing but pants and a torn shirt.  One could
not mistake the trim figure of Maris, or his alert, bird-like head.

He stood confronting the beautiful young barbarian beside the
spring, looking very much as if he would like to make a fight of
it.  And then the latter seemed to speak to him, and to lay a hand
on his head.  Maris submitted, and the next I saw was that the
runner had drawn a jar of water from the well and was pouring it
over him.  He held it high in his arms and the water wavered and
glittered in the moonshine; I could see Maris spluttering and
wringing out his wet shirt-sleeves.

With that recollection flooded in on me.  This was the ceremonial
of which Vernon had read to me from Koré's manuscript.  A virgin
and a youth were chosen and set apart in a hallowed place, and the
chooser was he who was victor in a race and was called the King.
The victims were hallowed with water from the well by the white
cypress.  I was looking at the well, though the cypress had long
since disappeared.  I was looking at the King, and at one of
those dedicated to the sacrifice.  The other was the girl in the
House. . . .  Vernon had said that if we knew what the word
hosiotheis meant we should know a good deal about Greek religion.
That awful knowledge was now mine.

It was as I expected.  The consecrator and the consecrated were
moving, still in the same hushed silence, towards the horkos--the
sanctuary.  The torches had been extinguished as soon as the victor
plunged his in the spring, and the pure light of the moon seemed to
have waxed to an unearthly brightness.  The two men walked up the
slope of the Dancing Floor to the line of guards which led to the
breach in the wall.  I could not hold my glass because of the
trembling of my hands, but I could see the figures plainly--the
tall runner, his figure poised like some young Apollo of the great
age of art, his face dark with the sun but the skin of his body
curiously white.  Some youth of the hills, doubtless--his crisp
hair seemed in the moonlight to be flaxen.  Beside him went the
shorter Maris, flushed and truculent.  He must have been captured
by the guards in his attempt on the House, and as a stranger and
also a Greek had been put forward as the male victim.

I was roused by the behaviour of Janni.  He had realized that his
beloved capitaine was a prisoner, towards whom some evil was
doubtless intended, and this understanding had driven out his fear
and revived his military instincts.  He was cursing fiercely, and
had got out his pistol.

"Sir," he whispered to me, "I can crawl within shot, for the shadow
is lengthening, and put a bullet into yon bandit.  Then in the
confusion my capitaine will escape and join us and break for the
cliffs.  These people are sheep and may not follow."

For a second it appeared to me the only thing to do.  This evil
Adonis was about to enter the House, and on the morrow Koré and
Maris would find death at his hands, for he was the sacrificer.  I
seemed to see in his arrogant beauty the cruelty of an elder world.
His death would at any rate shatter the ritual.

And then I hesitated and gripped Janni firmly by his one arm.  For,
as the two men passed out of my sight towards the breach in the
wall, I had caught a glimpse of Maris's face.  He was speaking to
his companion, and his expression was not of despair and terror,
but confident, almost cheerful.  For an instant the life of the
young runner hung on a thread, for I do not think that Janni would
have missed.  Then I decided against the shot, for I felt that it
was a counsel of despair.  There was something which I did not
comprehend, for Maris's face had given me a glimmer of hope.

I signed to Janni, and we started crawling back towards the cliffs.
In that hour the one thing that kept me sane was the image of the
dead Christ below the chancel step.  It was my only link with the
reasonable and kindly world I had lost.



CHAPTER XII


I had only one impulse at that moment--an overwhelming desire to
get back to the church and look again at the figure on the bier.
It seemed to me the sole anchor in the confusion of uncharted
tides, the solitary hope in a desert of perplexities.  I had seen
ancient magic revive and carry captive the hearts of a people.  I
had myself felt its compelling power.  A girl whom I loved and a
man who was my companion were imprisoned and at the mercy of a
maddened populace.  Maris was, like Ulysses, an old campaigner and
a fellow of many wiles, but what could Maris do in the face of
multitudes?  An unhallowed epiphany was looked for, but first must
come the sacrifice.  There was no help in the arm of flesh, and the
shallow sophistication of the modern world fell from me like a
useless cloak.  I was back in my childhood's faith, and wanted to
be at my childhood's prayers.

As for Janni, he had a single idea in his head, to follow his
captain into the House and strike a blow for him, and as he padded
along the seaward cliffs he doubtless thought we were bent on
attacking the place from another side.  We took pretty much the
road I had taken in the morning, skirting the Dancing Floor on its
southern edge.  One strange thing I saw.  The Dancing Floor was
still thronged, though a space was kept clear in the centre round
the well.  Clearly it was no longer tabu, but a place of holiday.
Moreover the people seemed to intend to remain there, for they had
lit fires and were squatting round them, while some had already
stretched themselves to sleep.  Kynĉtho had moved in a body to the
scene of the sacrament.

When we reached the fringe of the village I saw that I had guessed
correctly.  There was not a sign of life in the streets.  We walked
boldly into the central square, and it might have been a graveyard.
Moreover, in the graveyard itself the lamps by the graves had not
been lit.  Vampires were apparently no longer to be feared, and
that struck me as an ill omen.  Keats's lines came into my head
about the "little town by river or sea shore" which is "emptied of
its folk this pious morn."  Pious morn!

And then above us, from the squat campanile, a bell began to toll--
raggedly, feebly, like the plaint of a child.  Yet to me it was
also a challenge.

The church was bright with moonshine.  The curtains still shrouded
the sanctuary, and there were no candles lit, nothing but the
flickering lamps before the ikons.  Below the chancel step lay the
dark mass which contained the shrouded Christ.  Janni, like myself,
seemed to find comfort in being here.  He knelt at a respectful
distance from the bier, and began to mutter prayers.  I went
forward and lifted the shroud.  The moon coming through one of the
windows gave the carved wood a ghastly semblance of real flesh, and
I could not bear to look on it.  I followed Janni's example and
breathed incoherent prayers.  I was bred a Calvinist, but in that
moment I was not worshipping any graven image.  My prayer was to be
delivered from the idolatry of the heathen.

Suddenly the priest was beside me.  In one hand he held a lighted
candle, and the other carried a censer.  He seemed in no way
surprised to see us, but there was that about him which made me
catch my breath.  The man had suddenly become enlarged and
ennobled.  All the weakness had gone out of the old face, all the
languor and bewilderment out of the eyes, the shoulders had
straightened, his beard was no longer like a goat's, but like a
prophet's.  He was as one possessed, a fanatic, a martyr.

He had forgotten that I knew no Greek, for he spoke rapidly words
which sounded like a command.  But Janni understood, and went
forward obediently to the bier.  Then I saw what he meant us to do.
We were to take the place of the absent hierophants and carry the
image of the dead Christ through the bounds of the village.  The
bier was light enough even for one-armed Janni to manage his share.
The shroud was removed, he took the fore-end, and I the back, and
behind the priest we marched out into the night.

The streets were deathly still, the cool night air was unruffled by
wind, so that the candle burned steadily; the golden dome of the
sky was almost as bright as day.  Along the white beaten road we
went, and then into the rough cobbles of the main street.  I
noticed that though the houses were empty every house door was wide
open.  We passed the inn and came into the road to the harbour and
to the cottage among fruit trees where I had first made inquiries.
Then we turned up the hill where lay the main entrance to the
House, past little silent untenanted crofts and olive-yards, which
were all gleaming grey and silver.  The old man moved slowly,
swinging his censer, and intoning what I took to be a dirge in a
voice no longer tremulous, but masterful and strong, and behind him
Janni and I stumbled along bearing the symbol of man's salvation.

I had never been present at a Greek Good Friday celebration, but
Koré had described it to me--the following crowds tortured with
suspense, the awed, kneeling women, the torches, the tears, the
universal lamentation.  Then the people sorrowed, not without hope,
for their dead Saviour.  But the ordinary ceremonial can never have
been so marvellous as was our broken ritual that night.  We were
celebrating, but there were no votaries.  The torches had gone to
redden the Dancing Floor, sorrow had been exchanged for a guilty
ecstasy, the worshippers were seeking another Saviour.  Our rite
was more than a commemoration, it was a defiance, and I felt like a
man who carries a challenge to the enemy.

The moon had set and darkness had begun before we returned to the
church.  Both Janni and I were very weary before we laid down our
burden in the vault below the nave, a place hewn out of the dry
limestone rock.  By the last flickering light of the candle I saw
the priest standing at the head of the bier, his hands raised in
supplication, his eyes bright and rapt and unseeing.  He was
repeating a litany in which a phrase constantly recurred.  I could
guess its meaning.  It must have been "He will yet arise."

I slept till broad daylight in the priest's house, on the priest's
bed, while Janni snored on a pile of sheepskins.  Since Kynĉtho was
deserted, there was no reason now for secrecy, for the whole place,
and not the church only, had become a sanctuary.  The aged woman
who kept house for the priest gave us a breakfast of milk and
bread, but we saw no sign of him, and I did not wish to return to
the church and disturb his devotions.  I wondered if I should ever
see him again; it was a toss-up if I should ever see anybody again
after this day of destiny.  We had been partners in strange events,
and I could not leave him without some farewell, so I took the book
of his which seemed to be most in use, put two English five-pound
notes inside, and did my best in laboriously printed Latin to
explain that this was a gift for the Church and to thank him and
wish him well.

I did another thing, for I wrote out a short account of the
position, saying that further information might be obtained from
Ertzberger and Vernon Milburne.  Anything might happen to-day, and
I wanted to leave some record for my friends.  I addressed the
document under cover to the priest, and--again in Latin--begged
him, should anything happen to me, to see that it reached the
British Minister in Athens.  That was about all I could do in the
way of preparation, and I had a moment of grim amusement in
thinking how strangely I, who since the war had seemed to be so
secure and cosseted, had moved back to the razor-edge of life.

I have said that there was no need for secrecy, so we walked
straight through the village towards the harbour.  Janni had made a
preliminary survey beyond the graveyard in the early morning, and
had reported that the people of Kynĉtho were still encamped around
the Dancing Floor.  The trouble would not begin till we approached
the House, for it was certain that on that day of all days the
guards would be vigilant.  We were both of us wholly desperate.  We
simply had to get in, and to get in before the evening; for that
purpose anything, even wholesale homicide, was legitimate.  But at
the same time it would do no good to get caught, even if we
succeeded in killing several of our captors.

I think I had a faint, unreasonable hope that we should find the
situation at the causeway more promising than it had appeared on
the day before.  But when--after a walk where we had seen no trace
of man or beast--we came to the crest of the little cape beyond
which lay the jetty and the House, I had a sad disillusionment.
The place was thick with sentries.  I saw the line of them along
the causeway and at the head of the jetty; moreover there seemed to
be men working to the left of the House where there was a cluster
of outbuildings descending to the shallow vale up which ran the
road from the sea.  My glass showed me what they were doing.
They were piling more straw and brushwood, so that from the
outbuildings, which were probably of wood and would burn like
tinder, the flames might have easy access to the windows of the
House.  The altar was being duly prepared for the victim.

Long and carefully I prospected the ground.  There was cover enough
to take us down to within a few yards of the jetty.  If I tried to
cross it I should be within view of the people on the causeway, and
even if I got across unobserved there was the more or less open
beach between the causeway and the sea.  It was true that directly
under the wall I should be out of sight of the causeway guards, but
then again, though I could get shelter behind some of the boulders,
I could not move far without being noticed by whoever chose to
patrol the jetty.  Nevertheless that was the only road for me, for
my object was to get to the far end of the causeway, where before
the cliffs began there were olive-yards and orchards, through which
some route must be possible to the House.

I considered the left side of the picture, where the valley led
upwards past the outbuildings.  That way I could see no hope, for
if I succeeded in passing the fagot-stackers I would only reach the
confines of the main entrance to the demesne from Kynĉtho, which
was certain to be the best warded of all.

I had also to consider what to do with Janni.  He would be a useful
ally if it came to a scrap, but a scrap would be futile against
such numbers, and in stalking or climbing his lack of an arm would
be a serious handicap.  Besides, if our business was to escape
observation, one man would be better than two. . . .  But it was
possible that he might create a diversion.  Supposing he tried the
road on the left up the valley and made himself conspicuous, he
might draw off attention while I crossed the jetty and got under
the lee of the causeway wall.  That meant, of course, that one of
us would be put out of action, but unless we tried something of the
kind we should both fail.

I put the thing to him, as we lay among the scrubby arbutus, and
though he clearly did not like the proposal, since his notion was
to manhandle somebody on Maris's behalf, he was too good a soldier
not to see the sense of it.  He pointed out various difficulties,
and then shook his head like a dog and said that he agreed.  For
his own sake I forbade any shooting.  If he were merely hunted and
captured, it was unlikely that any harm would befall him.  He could
explain that he was one of the survey party who had lost the
others, and at the worst he would be shut up temporarily in some
barn.  He might even find the means to make himself useful later in
the day.

So it was settled that I should try to worm my way as near to the
jetty as the cover would allow.  He was to watch my movements, and
when he saw my hand raised three times he was to march boldly
towards the jetty.  I would not be able to see what was happening,
so when he was pursued and started up the little valley he was to
shout as if in alarm.  That would be the signal to me that the
sentry had left the jetty and that I might try to cross it.

I started out at once on my first stage.  As I have said, the cover
was good--boulders overgrown with heath and vines, and patches of
arbutus and a very prickly thorn.  I tried to behave as if I were
on a Scotch hill stalking alone, with deer where the sentries
stood.  It was not a very difficult passage, for my enemies had no
eyes for the ground on my side, their business being to prevent
egress from the House.  After about half an hour's careful
crawling, I found myself within six yards of the jetty looking
through the tangle to the rough masonry of it, with a sideway view
of the point where it joined the causeway.  I could see none of the
guards, but I heard distinctly the sound of their speech.  I had
marked the spot where I now lay before I started, and knew that it
was within sight of Janni.  So I straightened myself and thrice
raised my arms above the scrub.

For a minute or two nothing happened.  Janni must have started but
had not yet attracted attention.  I raised my body as far as I
dared, but I could only see the shoreward end of the jetty--neither
the jetty itself nor any part of the causeway.  I waited for a cry,
but there was no sound.  Was Janni being suffered to make his way
up the little valley unopposed?

Then suddenly a moving object flashed into my narrow orbit of
vision.  It must be one of the watchers from the causeway, and he
was in a furious hurry--I could hear the scruff of his heelless
boots on the dry stones as he turned a corner. . . .  He must be in
pursuit of Janni. . . .  There would no doubt be others too at the
job.  Their silence might be a ritual business.  Favete linguis,
perhaps?  If Janni shouted I never heard him.

I resolved to take the chance, and bolted out of cover to the
jetty.  In two bounds I was beyond it and among the gravel and weed
of the farther beach.  But in that short progress I saw enough of
the landscape to know that I was undiscovered, that there was
nobody on the causeway within sight, or at the mouth of the little
glen.  Janni had certainly been followed, and by this time was no
doubt in the hands of the Philistines out of my ken.

I ran close under the lee of the sea-wall, and at first I had a
wild hope of getting beyond the causeway into the region of the
olive groves before the sentries returned.  But some remnant of
prudence made me halt and consider before I attempted the last open
strip of beach.  There I had a view of the bit of the causeway
towards the jetty, and suddenly figures appeared on it, running
figures, like men returning to duty after a hasty interlude.  If I
had moved another foot I should have been within view.

There was nothing for it but to wait where I was.  I crouched in a
little nook between a fallen boulder and the wall, with the weedy
rim of the causeway six feet above me.  Unless a man stood on the
very edge and peered down I was safe from observation.  But that
was the sum of my blessings.  I heard soft feet above me as the men
returned to their posts, and I dared not move a yard.  It was now
about two in the afternoon; I had brought no food with me, though I
found a couple of dusty figs in my pocket; the sun blazed on the
white wall and the gravel of the shore till the place was like a
bakehouse; I was hot and thirsty, and I might have been in the
middle of the Sahara for all the chance of a drink.  But the
discomfort of my body was trivial compared with the disquiet of my
mind.

For I found myself in a perfect fever of vexation and fear.  The
time was slipping past and the crisis was nigh, and yet, though
this was now my fourth day on the island, I was not an inch farther
forward than the hour I landed.  My worst fears--nay, what had
seemed to me mere crazy imaginings--had been realized.  I was
tortured by the thought of Koré--her innocent audacities, her
great-hearted courage, her loneliness, her wild graces.  "Beauteous
vain endeavour"--that was the phrase of some poet that haunted me
and made me want to howl like a wolf.  I realized now the meaning
of a sacrifice and the horror of it.  The remembrance of the slim
victor in the race, beautiful and pitiless, made me half-crazy.
Movement in that place was nearly impossible, but it was utterly
impossible that I should stay still.  I began in short stages to
worm my way along the foot of the wall.

I do not suppose that the heat of that April afternoon was anything
much to complain of, but my fever of mind must have affected my
body, for I felt that I had never been so scorched and baked in my
life.  There was not a scrap of shade, the rocks almost blistered
the hand, the dust got into my throat and nose and made me
furiously thirsty, and my head ached as if I had a sunstroke. . . .
The trouble was with the jetty and the watchers on it, for I was
always in view of them.  Had they detected a movement below the
wall, a single glance would have revealed me.  So I had to make my
stages very short, and keep a wary outlook behind. . . .  There
seemed to be much astir on the jetty.  Not only the guards, but
other figures appeared on it, and I saw that they were carrying up
something from a boat at anchor.  That, I think, was what saved me.
Had the sentries had nothing to do but to stare about them I must
have been discovered, but the portage business kept them
distracted.

The minutes seemed hours to my distraught mind, but I did indeed
take an inconceivable time crawling along that grilling beach, with
the cool sea water lapping not a dozen yards off to give point to
my discomfort.  When I reached the place where the causeway ceased,
and long ribs of rock took the place of the boulders of the shore,
I found by my watch that it was nearly six o'clock.  The discovery
put quicksilver into my weary limbs.  Looking back I saw that I was
out of sight of the jetty, and that a few yards would put me out of
sight of the causeway.  I wriggled into the cover of a bush of
broom, lay on my back for a minute or two to rest, and then made
for the shade of the olive-yards.

The place was weedy and neglected--I don't know anything about
olive culture, but I could see that much.  There was a wilderness
of a white umbelliferous plant and masses of a thing like a
spineless thistle.  I pushed uphill among the trees, keeping well
in the shade, with the west front of the House glimmering through
the upper leaves at a much higher elevation.  Above me I saw a
deeper shadow which I took to be cypresses, and beyond them I
guessed must lie the demesne.  I hoped for a gate, and in any case
expected no more than a hedge and a palisade.

Instead I found a wall.  There was a door to be sure, but it was no
use for me, for it was massive and locked.  I might have known that
Shelley Arabin would leave no part of his cursed refuge
unbarricaded.  I sat and blinked up at this new obstacle, and could
have cried with exasperation.  It seemed to run direct from the
House to the edge of the cliffs which began about a quarter of a
mile to my right, and was an exact replica of the wall above the
Dancing Floor.

I decided that it was no good trying it at the House end, for there
I should certainly be in view of some of the guards.  The masonry
was comparatively new and very solid, and since none of the olive
trees grew within four yards of it, it was impossible to use them
as a ladder.  Already I felt the approach of night, for the sun was
well down in the west, and a great tide of sunset was flooding the
sky.  I do not think I have ever before felt so hopeless or so
obstinate.  I was determined to pass that wall by its abutment on
the cliffs or break my neck in the effort.

My memory of the next hour is not very clear.  All I know is that
in the failing daylight I came to the cliffs' edge and found an
abutment similar to the one at the Dancing Floor.  Similar, but not
the same.  For here some storm had torn the masonry, and it seemed
to me that it might be passed.  The rock fell steep and smooth to
the sea, but that part which was the handiwork of man was ragged.
I took off my boots and flung them over the wall, by way of a gage
of battle, and then I started to make the traverse.

It was a slow and abominable business, but I do not think it would
have been very difficult had the light been good, for the stone was
hard enough and the cracks were many.  But in that dim gloaming
with a purple void beneath me, with a heart which would not beat
steadily and a head which throbbed with pain, I found it very near
the limit of my powers.  I had to descend before I could traverse,
and the worst part was the ascent on the far side.  I knew that,
when I at last got a grip of a wind-twisted shrub and tried to draw
myself over the brink, it needed every ounce of strength left in
me.  I managed it, and lay gasping beside the roots of a great
pine--inside the demesne at last.

When I got my breath I found that I had a view into the narrow cove
where Janni and I had seen the boat.  Black George had returned,
and returned brazenly, for he was showing a riding light.  A
lantern swung from the mast, and, more, there was a glow from the
cabin skylight.  I wondered what was going on in the little craft,
and I think the sight gave me a grain of comfort, till I realized
that I was hopelessly cut off from Black George.  What was the good
of a link with the outer world when unscalable walls and cliffs
intervened--when at any moment murder might be the end of
everything?

Murder--that was the word which filled my head as I pushed inland.
I had never thought of it in that way, but of course I was out to
prevent murder.  To prevent it?  More likely to share in it. . . .
I had no plan of any kind, only a desire to be with Koré, so that
she should not be alone.  It was her loneliness that I could not
bear. . . .  And anyhow I had a pistol, and I would not miss the
runner.  "The priest who slew the slayer and shall himself be
slain"--the tag came unbidden to my lips.  I think I must have been
rather light-headed.

The last fires of the sunset did not penetrate far into the pine
wood, the moon had not yet risen, and as I ran I took many tosses,
for the place was very dark.  There were paths, but I neglected
them, making straight for where I believed the House to lie.  I was
not exact in my course, for I bore too much to the right in the
direction of the breach in the wall at the Dancing Floor.  Soon I
was among shrubberies in which rides had been cut, but there were
still many tall trees to make darkness.  I thought I saw to the
right, beyond where the wall lay, a reddish glow.  That would be
the torches on the Dancing Floor, where the people waited for the
epiphany.

Suddenly on my left front a great blaze shot up to heaven.  I knew
it was the signal that the hour had come.  The outbuildings had
been fired, and the House would soon be in flames.  The blaze
wavered and waned, and then waxed to a mighty conflagration as the
fire reached something specially inflammable.  In a minute that
wood was bright as with an obscene daylight.  The tree trunks stood
out black against a molten gold, which at times crimsoned and
purpled in a devilish ecstasy of destruction.

I knew now where the House lay.  I clutched my pistol, and ran down
a broad path, with a horrid fear that I was too late after all.  I
ran blindly, and had just time to step aside to let two figures
pass.

They were two of the guards--hillmen by their dress--and even in my
absorption I wondered what had happened to them.  For they were
like men demented, with white faces and open mouths.  One of them
stumbled and fell, and seemed to stay on his knees for a second,
praying, till his companion lugged him forward.  I might have faced
them with impunity, for their eyes were sightless.  Never have I
seen men suffering from an extremer terror.

The road twisted too much for my haste, so I cut across country.
The surge and crackle of the flames filled the air, but it seemed
as if I heard another sound, the sound of running feet, of bodies,
many bodies, brushing through the thicket.  I was close on the
House now, and close on the road which led to it from the broken
wall and the Dancing Floor.  As I jumped a patch of scrub and the
gloom lightened in the more open avenue, I bumped into another man
and saw that it was Maris.

He was waiting, pistol in hand, beside the road, and in a trice had
his gun at my head.  Then he recognized me and lowered it.  His
face was as crazy as the hillmen's who had passed me, and he still
wore nothing but breeches and a ragged shirt, but his wild eyes
seemed to hold also a dancing humour.

"Blessed Jesu!" he whispered, "you have come in time.  The fools
are about to receive their Gods.  You have your pistol?  But I do
not think there will be shooting."

He choked suddenly as if he had been struck dumb, and I too choked.
For I looked with him up the avenue towards the burning House.




PART III



CHAPTER XIII


This part of the story (said Leithen) I can only give at second-
hand.  I have pieced it together as well as I could from what
Vernon told me, but on many matters he was naturally not
communicative, and at these I have had to guess for myself. . . .



Vernon left England the day after the talk with me which I have
already recorded, sending his boat as deck cargo to Patras, while
he followed by way of Venice.  He had a notion that the great hour
which was coming had best be met at sea, where he would be far from
the distractions and littlenesses of life.  He took one man with
him from Wyvenhoe, a lean gipsy lad called Martell, but the boy
fell sick at Corfu and he was obliged to send him home.  In his
stead he found a Epirote with a string of names, who was strongly
recommended to him by one of his colleagues in the old Ĉgean Secret
Service.  From Patras they made good sailing up the Gulf of
Corinth, and, passing through the Canal, came in the last days of
March to the Pirĉus.  In that place of polyglot speech, whistling
engines, and the odour of gasworks, they delayed only for water and
supplies, and presently had rounded Sunium, and were beating up the
Euripus with the Attic hills rising sharp and clear in the spring
sunlight.

He had no plans.  It was a joy to him to be alone with the racing
seas and the dancing winds, to scud past the little headlands, pink
and white with blossom, or to lie of a night in some hidden bay
beneath the thymy crags.  He had discarded the clothes of
civilization.  In a blue jersey and old corduroy trousers,
bareheaded and barefooted, he steered his craft and waited on the
passing of the hours.  His mood, he has told me, was one of
complete happiness, unshadowed by nervousness or doubt.  The long
preparation was almost at an end.  Like an acolyte before a temple
gate, he believed himself to be on the threshold of a new life.  He
had that sense of unseen hands which comes to all men once or twice
in their lives, and both hope and fear were swallowed up in a calm
expectancy.

Trouble began under the snows of Pelion as they turned the north
end of Euboea.  On the morning of the first Monday in April the
light winds died away, and foul weather came out of the northwest.
By midday it was half a gale, and in those yeasty shallow seas,
with an iron coast to port and starboard, their position was
dangerous.  The nearest harbour was twenty miles distant, and
neither of the crew had ever been there before.  With the evening
the gale increased, and it was decided to get out of that maze of
rocky islands to the safer deeps of the Ĉgean.

It was a hard night for the two of them, and there was no chance of
sleep.  More by luck than skill they escaped the butt of Skiathos,
and the first light found them far to the south-east among the long
tides of the North Ĉgean.  They ran close-reefed before the gale,
and all morning with decks awash nosed and plunged in seas which
might have been the wintry Atlantic.  It was not till the afternoon
that the gale seemed to blow itself out and two soaked and chilly
mortals could relax their vigil.  Soon bacon was frizzling on the
cuddy-stove, and hot coffee and dry clothes restored them to
moderate comfort.

The sky cleared, and in bright sunlight, with the dregs of the gale
behind him, Vernon steered for the nearest land, an island of which
he did not trouble to read the name, but which the chart showed to
possess good anchorage.  Late in the evening, when the light was
growing dim, they came into a little bay carved from the side of a
hill.  They also came into fog.  The wind had dropped utterly, and
the land which they saw was only an outline in the haze.  When they
cast anchor the fog was rolling like a tide over the sea, and
muffling their yards.  They spent a busy hour or two, repairing the
damage of the storm, and then the two of them made such a meal as
befits those who have faced danger together.  Afterwards Vernon, as
his custom was, sat alone in the stern, smoking and thinking his
thoughts.  He wrote up his diary with a ship's lantern beside him,
while the mist hung about him low and soft as an awning.

He had leisure now for the thought which had all day been at the
back of his mind.  The night--the great night--had passed and there
had been no dream.  The adventure for which all his life he had
been preparing himself had vanished into the Ĉgean tides.  The hour
when the revelation should have come had been spent in battling
with the storm, when a man lives in the minute at grips with too
urgent realities.

His first mood was one of dismal relaxedness.  He felt as useless
as an unstrung bow.  I, the only man to whom he had ever confided
his secret, had been right, and the long vigil had ended in fiasco.
He tried to tell himself that it was a relief, that an old folly
was over, but he knew that deep down in his heart there was bitter
disappointment.  The fates had prepared the stage, and rung up the
curtain, and lo! there was no play.  He had been fooled, and
somehow the zest and savour of life had gone from him.  After all,
no man can be strung high and then find his preparations idle
without suffering a cruel recoil.

And then anger came to stiffen him--anger at himself.  What a God-
forsaken ass he had been, frittering away his best years in
following a phantom! . . .  In his revulsion he loathed the dream
which he had cherished so long.  He began to explain it away with
the common sense which on my lips he had accounted blasphemy. . . .
The regular seasonal occurrence was his own doing--he had expected
it and it had come--a mere case of subjective compulsion. . . .
The fact that each year the revelation had moved one room nearer
was also the result of his willing it to be so, for subconsciously
he must have desired to hasten the consummation. . . .  He went
through every detail, obstinately providing some rationalistic
explanation for each.  I do not think he can have satisfied
himself, but he was in the mood to deface his idols, and one
feeling surged above all others--that he was done with fancies now
and for ever.  He has told me that the thing he longed for chiefly
at that moment was to have me beside him that he might make formal
recantation.

By-and-by he argued himself into some philosophy.  He had dallied
certain years, but he was still young, and the world was before
him.  He had kept his body and mind in hard training, and that at
any rate was not wasted, though the primal purpose had gone.  He
was a normal man now among normal men, and it was his business to
prove himself.  He thought in his Calvinistic way that the bogus
vision might have been sent to him for a purpose--the thing might
be hallucination, but the askesis which it had entailed was solid
gain. . . .  He fetched from his locker the little book in which he
had chronicled his inner life, and wrote in it "Finis."  Then he
locked it and flung the key overboard.  The volume would be kept at
Severns to remind him of his folly, but it would never be opened by
him.

By this time he was his own master again.  He would sail for
England next morning and get hold of me and make a plan for his
life.

He was now conscious for the first time of his strange environment.
The boat was in a half-moon of bay in an island of which he had
omitted to notice the name but whose latitude and longitude he
roughly knew.  The night was close around him like a shell, for the
fog had grown thicker, though the moon behind it gave it an opaque
sheen.  It was an odd place in which to be facing a crisis. . . .

His thoughts ran fast ahead to the career which he must shape from
the ruins of his dream.  He was too late for the Bar.  Business
might be the best course--he had big interests in the north of
England which would secure him a footing, and he believed that he
had the kind of mind for administration. . . .  Or politics?  There
were many chances for a young man in the confused post-bellum
world. . . .

He was absorbed in his meditations and did not hear the sound of
oars or the grating of a boat alongside.  Suddenly he found a face
looking at him in the ring of lamplight--an old bearded face
curiously wrinkled.  The eyes, which were shrewd and troubled,
scanned him for a second or two, and then a voice spoke:

"Will the Signor come with me?" it said in French.

Vernon, amazed at this apparition, which had come out of the mist,
could only stare.

"Will the Signor come with me?" the voice spoke again.  "We have
grievous need of a man."

Vernon unconsciously spoke not in French but in Greek.

"Who the devil are you, and where do you come from?"

"I come from the House.  I saw you enter the bay before the fog
fell.  Had there been no fog, they would not have let me come to
you."

"Who are 'they'?" Vernon asked.

But the old man shook his head.  "Come with me and I will tell you.
It is a long story."

"But what do you want me to do?  Confound it, I'm not going off
with a man I never saw before who can't tell me what he wants."

The old man shrugged his shoulders despairingly.  "I have no
words," he said.  "But Mademoiselle Élise is waiting at the jetty.
Come to her at any rate and she will reason with you."

Vernon--as you will admit, if I have made his character at all
clear to you--had no instinct for melodrama.  He had nothing in him
of the knight-errant looking for adventure, and this interruption
out of the fog and the sea rather bored him than otherwise.  But he
was too young to be able to refuse such an appeal.  He went below
and fetched his revolver and an electric torch which he stuffed
into a trouser pocket.  He cried to the Epirote to expect him when
he saw him, for he was going ashore.

"All right," he said.  "I'll come and see what the trouble is."

He dropped over the yacht's side into the cockleshell of a boat,
and the old man took up the sculls.  The yacht must have anchored
nearer land than he had thought, for in five minutes they had
touched a shelving rock.  Somebody stood there with a lantern which
made a dull glow in the fog.

Vernon made out a middle-aged woman with the air and dress of a
lady's maid.  She held the lantern close to him for a moment, and
then turned wearily to the other.  "Fool, Mitri!" she cried.  "You
have brought a peasant."

"Nay," said the old man, "he is no peasant.  He is a Signor, I tell
you."

The woman again passed the light of her lantern over Vernon's face
and figure.  "His dress is a peasant's, but such clothes may be a
nobleman's whim.  I have heard it of the English."

"I am English," said Vernon in French.

She turned on him with a quick movement of relief.

"You are English . . . and a gentleman?  But I know nothing of
you . . . only that you have come out of the sea.  Up in the House
we women are alone, and my mistress has death to face, or worse
than death.  We have no claim on you, and if you give us your
service it means danger--oh, what danger!  See, the boat is there.
You can return in it and go away, and forget that you have been
near this accursed place.  But oh, Monsieur, if you hope for Heaven
and have pity on a defenceless angel, you will not leave us."

Vernon's blood was slow to stir, and as I have said, he had no
instinct for melodrama.  This gesticulating French maid was like
something out of an indifferent play.

"Who is your mistress?" he asked.  "Did she send you for me?"

The woman flung up her hands.

"I will speak the truth.  My mistress does not know you are here.
Only Mitri and I saw you.  She will not ask help, for she is
foolishly confident.  She is proud and fearless, and will not
believe the evidence of her eyes.  She must be saved in spite of
herself.  I fear for her and also for myself, for the whole House
is doomed."

"But, Mademoiselle, you cannot expect me to intrude uninvited on
your mistress.  What is her name?  What do you want me to do?"

She clutched his arm and spoke low and rapidly in his ear.

"She is the last of her line, you must know--a girl with a wild
estate and a father dead these many months.  She is good and
gracious, as I can bear witness, but she is young and cannot govern
the wolves who are the men of these parts.  They have a long hatred
of her house, and now they have it rumoured that she is a witch who
blights the crops and slays the children. . . .  Once, twice, they
have cursed our threshold and made the blood mark on the door.  We
are prisoners now, you figure.  They name her Basilissa, meaning
the Queen of Hell, and there is no babe but will faint with fright
if it casts eyes on her, and she as mild and innocent as Mother
Mary. . . .  The word has gone round to burn the witch out, for the
winter has been cruel and they blame their sorrows on her.  The
hour is near, and unless salvation comes she will go to God in the
fire."

There was something in the hoarse, excited voice which forbade
Vernon to dismiss lightly this extraordinary tale.  The woman was
patently terrified and sincere.  It might be a trap, but he had his
pistol, and from an old man and a woman he had nothing to fear.  On
the other hand, there might be some desperate need which he could
not disregard.  It seemed to him that he was bound to inquire
further.

"I am willing to go to your mistress," he said, and the woman,
murmuring "God's mercy," led the way up a steep causeway to some
rocky steps cut in a tamarisk thicket.

She stopped half-way to whisper an injunction to go quietly.  "They
cannot see us in this blessed fog," she whispered, "but they may
hear us."  Then to Vernon:  "They watch us like wild beasts,
Monsieur; their sentries do not permit us to leave the House, but
this night the kind God has fooled them.  But they cannot be far
off, and they have quick ears."

The three crept up the rock staircase made slippery by the heavy
mist.  Presently a great wall of masonry rose above them, and what
seemed the aperture of a door.  "Once," the woman whispered, "there
were three such posterns, but two were walled up by my lady's
father--walled up within, with the doors left standing.  This our
enemies do not know, and they watch all three, but this the least,
for it looks unused.  Behold their work!"

Vernon saw that tall bundles of brushwood had been laid around the
door, and that these had with difficulty been pushed back when it
was opened.

"But what . . . ?" he began.

"It means that they would burn us," she hissed.  "Now, Monsieur, do
you believe my tale, and, believing, does your courage fail you?"

To Vernon, shy, placid, a devotee of all the conventions, it was
beginning to seem a monstrous thing to enter this strange house at
the bidding of two servants, primed with a crazy tale, to meet an
owner who had given no sign of desiring his presence.  A woman,
too--apparently a young woman.  The thing was hideously
embarrassing, the more so as he suddenly realized that he was
barefooted, and clad in his old jersey and corduroys.  I think he
would have drawn back except for the sight of the fagots--that and
the woman's challenge to his courage.  He had been "dared" like a
schoolboy, and after twenty-four hours fighting with storms and the
shattering of the purpose of a lifetime he was in that half-
truculent, half-reckless mood which is prone to accept a challenge.
There was business afoot, it appeared, ugly business.

"Go on.  I will see your mistress," he said.

With a key the old man unlocked the door.  The lock must have been
recently oiled, for it moved easily.  The three now climbed a
staircase which seemed to follow the wall of a round tower.
Presently they came into a stone hall with ancient hangings like
the banners in a church.  From the open frame of the lantern a
second was kindled, and the two lights showed a huge desolate place
with crumbling mosaics on the floor and plaster dropping from the
walls and cornices.  There was no furniture of any kind, and the
place smelt damp and chilly like a vault.

"These are unused chambers," the woman said, and her voice was no
longer hushed but high-pitched with excitement.  "We live only on
the landward side."

Another heavy door was unlocked, and they entered a corridor where
the air blew warmer, and there was a hint of that indescribable
scent which comes from human habitation.  The woman stopped and
consulted in whispers with the old man.  Now that she had got
Vernon inside, her nervousness seemed to have increased.  She
turned to him at last:

"I must prepare my mistress.  If Monsieur will be so good he will
wait here till I fetch him."

She opened a door and almost pushed Vernon within.  He found
himself in black darkness, while the flicker of the lantern
vanished round a bend in the corridor.



CHAPTER XIV


From his pocket Vernon drew his electric torch and flashed it round
the room in which he found himself.  It was the extreme opposite of
the empty stone hall, for it was heavily decorated and crowded with
furniture.  Clearly no one had used it lately, for dust lay on
everything, and the shutters of the windows had not been unbarred
for months.  It had the air, indeed, of a lumber-room, into which
furniture had been casually shot.  The pieces were, for the most
part, fine and costly.  There were several Spanish cabinets, a
wonderful red-lacquer couch, quantities of Oriental rugs which
looked good, and a litter of Chinese vases and antique silver
lamps.

But it was not the junk which filled it that caught Vernon's eye.
It was the walls, which had been painted and frescoed in one
continuous picture.  At first he thought it was a Procession of the
Hours or the Seasons, but when he brought his torch to bear on it
he saw that it was something very different.  The background was a
mountain glade, and on the lawns and beside the pools of a stream
figures were engaged in wild dances.  Pan and his satyrs were
there, and a bevy of nymphs, and strange figures half animal, half
human.  The thing was done with immense skill--the slanted eyes of
the fauns, the leer in a contorted satyr face, the mingled lust and
terror of the nymphs, the horrid obscenity of the movements.  It
was a carnival of bestiality that stared from the four walls.  The
man who conceived it had worshipped darker gods even than Priapus.

There were other things which Vernon noted in the jumble of the
room.  A head of Aphrodite, for instance--Pandemos, not Urania.  A
broken statuette of a boy which made him sick.  A group of little
figures which were a miracle in the imaginative degradation of the
human form.  Not the worst relics from the lupanars of Pompeii
compared with these in sheer subtlety of filth.  And all this in a
shuttered room stifling with mould and disuse.

There was a door at the farther end which he found unlocked.  The
room beyond was like a mortuary--the walls painted black and
undecorated save for one small picture.  There was a crack in the
shutters here, and perhaps a broken window, for a breath of the
clean sea air met him.  There was no furniture except an oblong
piece of yellow marble which seemed from the rams' heads and
cornucopias to be an old altar.  He turned his torch on the
solitary picture.  It represented the stock scene of Salome with
the head of John the Baptist, a subject which bad artists have made
play with for the last five hundred years.  But this was none of
the customary daubs, but the work of a master--a perverted, perhaps
a crazy, genius.  The woman's gloating face, the passion of the
hands caressing the pale flesh, the stare of the dead eyes, were
wonderful and awful.  If the first room had been the shrine of
inhuman lust, this had been the chapel of inhuman cruelty.

He opened another door and found himself in a little closet, lined
to the ceiling with books.  He knew what he would find on the
shelves.  The volumes were finely bound, chiefly in vellum, and
among them were a certain number of reputable classics.  But most
belonged to the backstairs of literature--the obscenities of Greek
and of silver Latin, the diseased sidewalks of the Middle Ages, the
aberrations of the moderns.  It was not common pornography; the
collection had been made by some one who was a scholar in vice.

Vernon went back to the first room, nauseated and angry.  He must
get out of this damned place, which was, or had been, the
habitation of devils.  What kind of owner could such a house
possess?  The woman had said that it was a young girl, as virtuous
as the Virgin.  But, great God! how could virtue dwell in such an
environment?

He had opened the door to begin his retreat when a lantern appeared
in the corridor.  It was the woman, and with a finger on her lips
she motioned him back into the room.

"My mistress is asleep," she said, "and it would not be well to
wake her.  Monsieur will stay here to-night and speak with her in
the morning?"

"I will do nothing of the kind," said Vernon.  "I am going back to
my boat."

The woman caught his involuntary glance at the wall paintings, and
clutched his arm.  "But that is not her doing," she cried.  "That
was the work of her father, who was beyond belief wicked.  It is
his sins that the child is about to expiate.  The people have
condemned her, but you surely would not join in their unjust
judgment."

"I tell you I will have nothing to do with the place.  Will you
kindly show me the way back?"

Her face hardened.  "I cannot.  Mitri has the key."

"Well, where the devil is Mitri?"

"I will not tell. . . .  Oh, Monsieur, I beseech you, do not
forsake us.  There has been evil in this House enough to sink it to
hell, but my mistress is innocent.  I ask only that you speak with
her.  After that, if you so decide, you can go away."

The woman was plainly honest and in earnest, and Vernon was a just
man.  He suddenly felt that he was behaving badly.  There could be
no harm in sleeping a night in the house, and in the morning
interviewing its owner.  If it was a case of real necessity he
could take her and her maid off in his boat. . . .  After all,
there might be serious trouble afoot.  The sight of those hideous
rooms had given him a sharp realization of the ugly things in life.

He was taken to a clean, bare little attic at the top of the house
which had once no doubt been a servant's quarters.  Having been up
all the previous night, his head had scarcely touched the rough
pillow before he was asleep.  He slept for ten hours, till he was
awakened by Mitri, who brought him hot water and soap and a
venerable razor with which he made some attempt at a toilet.  He
noticed that the fog was still thick, and from the garret window he
looked into an opaque blanket.

He had wakened with a different attitude towards the adventure in
which he found himself.  The sense of a wasted youth and defrauded
hopes had left him; he felt more tightly strung, more vigorous,
younger; he also felt a certain curiosity about this Greek girl who
in an abominable house was defying the lightnings.

Mitri conducted him to the first floor, where he was taken charge
of by the Frenchwoman.

"Do not be afraid of her," she whispered.  "Deal with her as a man
with a woman, and make her do your bidding.  She is stiff-necked
towards me, but she may listen to a young man, especially if he be
English."

She ushered Vernon into a room which was very different from the
hideous chambers he had explored the night before.  It was poorly
and sparsely furnished, the chairs were chiefly wicker, the walls
had recently been distempered by an amateur hand, the floor was of
bare scrubbed boards.  But a bright fire burned on the hearth,
there was a big bunch of narcissus on a table set for breakfast,
and flowering branches had been stuck in the tall vases beside the
chimney.  Through the open window came a drift of fog which
intensified the comfort of the fire.

It was a woman's room, for on a table lay some knitting and a piece
of embroidery, and a small ivory housewife's case bearing the
initials "K. A."  There were one or two books also, and Vernon
looked at them curiously.  One was a book of poems which had been
published in London a month before.  This Greek girl must know
English; perhaps she had recently been in England. . . .  He took
up another volume, and to his amazement it was a reprint of Peter
Beckford's Thoughts on Hunting.  He could not have been more
surprised if he had found a copy of the Eton Chronicle.  What on
earth was the mistress of a lonely Ĉgean island doing with Peter
Beckford?

The fire crackled cheerfully, the raw morning air flowed through
the window, and Vernon cast longing eyes on the simple preparations
for breakfast.  He was ferociously hungry, and he wished he were
now in the boat, where the Epirote would be frying bacon. . . .

There was another door besides that by which he had entered, and
curiously enough it was in the same position as the door in the
room of his dream.  He angrily dismissed the memory of that
preposterous hallucination, but he kept his eye on the door.  By it
no doubt the mistress of the house would enter, and he wished she
would make haste.  He was beginning to be very curious about this
girl. . . .  Probably she would be indignant and send him about his
business, but she could scarcely refuse to give him breakfast
first.  In any case there was the yacht. . . .  There was a mirror
above the mantelpiece in which he caught a glimpse of himself.  The
glimpse was not reassuring.  His face was as dark as an Indian's,
his hair wanted cutting, and his blue jersey was bleached and
discoloured with salt water.  He looked like a deck-hand on a cargo
boat.  But perhaps a girl who read Beckford would not be pedantic
about appearances.  He put his trust in Peter--

The door had opened.  A voice, sharp-pitched and startled, was
speaking, and to his surprise it spoke in English.

"Who the devil are you?" it said.

He saw a slim girl, who stood in the entrance poised like a runner,
every line of her figure an expression of amazement.  He had seen
her before, but his memory was wretched for women's faces.  But the
odd thing was that, after the first second, there was recognition
in her face.

"Colonel Milburne!" said the voice.  "What in the name of goodness
are you doing here?"

She knew him, and he knew her, but where--when--had they met?  He
must have stared blankly, for the girl laughed.

"You have forgotten," she said.  "But I have seen you out with the
Mivern, and we met at luncheon at Wirlesdon in the winter."

He remembered now, and what he remembered chiefly were the last
words he had spoken to me on the subject of this girl.  The
adventure was becoming farcical.

"I beg your pardon," he stammered.  "You are Miss Arabin.  I didn't
know--"

"I am Miss Arabin.  But why the honour of an early morning call
from Colonel Milburne?"

"I came here last night in a yacht."  Vernon was making a lame
business of his explanation, for the startled angry eyes of his
hostess scattered his wits.  "I anchored below in the fog, and an
old man came out in a boat and asked me to come ashore.  There was
a woman on the beach--your maid--and she implored my help--told a
story I didn't quite follow--"

"The fog!" the girl repeated.  "That of course explains why you
were allowed to anchor.  In clear weather you would have been
driven away."

She spoke in so assured a tone that Vernon was piqued.

"The seas are free," he said.  "Who would have interfered with me?
Your servants?"

She laughed again, mirthlessly.  "My people.  Not my servants.
Continue.  You came ashore and listened to Élise's chatter.  After
that?"

"She said you were asleep and must not be wakened, but that I
should speak to you in the morning.  She put me up for the night."

"Where?" she asked sharply.

"In a little room on the top floor."

"I see.  'Where you sleeps you breakfasts.'  Well, we'd better have
some food."

She rang a little silver hand-bell, and the maid, who must have
been waiting close at hand, appeared with coffee and boiled eggs.
She cast an anxious glance at Vernon as if to inquire how he had
fared at her mistress's hands.

"Sit down," said the girl when Élise had gone.  "I can't give you
much to eat, for these days we are on short rations.  I'm sorry,
but there's no sugar.  I can recommend the honey.  It's the only
good thing in Plakos."

"Is this Plakos?  I came here once before--in 1914--in a steam
yacht.  I suppose I am in the big white house which looks down upon
the jetty.  I could see nothing last night in the fog.  I remember
a long causeway and steps cut in the rock.  That must have been the
road I came."

She nodded.  "What kind of sailor are you to be so ignorant of your
whereabouts?  Oh, I see, the storm!  What's the size of your boat?"

When he told her, she exclaimed.  "You must have had the devil of a
time, for it was a first-class gale.  And now on your arrival in
port you are plunged into melodrama.  You don't look as if you had
much taste for melodrama, Colonel Milburne."

"I haven't.  But is it really melodrama?  Your maid told me a
rather alarming tale."

Her eyes had the hard agate gleam which he remembered from
Wirlesdon.  Then he had detested her, but now, as he looked at her,
he saw that which made him alter his judgment.  The small face was
very pale, and there were dark lines under the eyes.  This girl was
undergoing some heavy strain, and her casual manner was in the
nature of a shield.

"Is it true?" he asked.

"So-so.  In parts, no doubt.  I am having trouble with my tenants,
which I am told is a thing that happens even in England.  But that
is my own concern, and I don't ask for help.  After breakfast I
would suggest that you go back to your yacht."

"I think you had better come with me.  You and your maid.  I take
it that the old man Mitri can fend for himself."

"How kind of you!" she cried in a falsetto, mimicking voice.  "How
extraordinarily kind!  But you see I haven't asked your help, and I
don't propose to accept it. . . .  You're sure you won't have any
more coffee!  I wonder if you could give me a cigarette?  I've been
out of them for three days."

She lay back in a wicker chair, rocking herself and lazily blowing
smoke clouds.  Vernon stood with his back to the fire and filled a
pipe.

"I don't see how I can go away," he said, "unless I can convince
myself that you're in no danger.  You're English, and a woman, and
I'm bound to help you whether you want it or not."  He spoke with
assurance now, perhaps with a certain priggishness.  The tone may
have offended the girl, for when she spoke it was with a touch of
the insolence which he remembered at Wirlesdon.

"I'm curious to know what Élise told you last night."

"Simply that you were imprisoned here by the people of Plakos--that
they thought you a witch, and might very likely treat you in the
savage way that people used to treat witches."

She nodded.  "That's about the size of it.  But what if I refuse to
let any one interfere in a fight between me and my own people?
Supposing this is something which I must stick out for the sake of
my own credit?  What then, Colonel Milburne?  You have been a
soldier.  You wouldn't advise me to run away?"

"That depends," said Vernon.  "There are fights where there can be
no victory--where the right course is to run away.  Your maid told
me something else.  She said that the evil reputation you had among
the peasants was not your own doing--that, of course, I guessed--
but a legacy from your family, who for very good reasons were
unpopular.  Does that make no difference?"

"How?"

"Why, there's surely no obligation in honour to make yourself a
vicarious sacrifice for other people's misdeeds!"

"I--don't--think I agree.  One must pay for one's race as well as
for oneself."

"Oh, nonsense!  Not the kind of thing your family seem to have
amused themselves with."

"What do you mean?"

"I was put into a room last night"--Vernon spoke hesitatingly--"and
I saw some books and paintings.  They were horrible.  I understood--
well, that the peasants might have a good deal of reason--
something to say for themselves, you know.  Why should you suffer
for that swinishness?"

The morning sun had broken through the fog and was shining full on
the girl's face.  She sprang to her feet, and Vernon saw that she
had blushed deeply.

"You entered those rooms!" she cried.  "That fool Élise!  I will
have her beaten.  Oh, I am shamed. . . .  Get off with you!  You
are only making me wretched.  Get off while there's time."

The sight of her crimson face and neck moved Vernon to a deep
compassion.

"I refuse to leave without you, Miss Arabin," he said.  "I do not
know much, but I know enough to see that you are in deadly danger.
I can no more leave you here than I could leave a drowning child in
the sea.  Quick!  Get your maid and pack some things and we'll be
gone."

She stood before him, an abashed, obstinate child.

"I won't go. . . .  I hate you. . . .  You have seen--oh, leave me,
if you have any pity."

"You come with me."

"I won't!"  Her lips were a thin line, and the shut jaws made a
square of the resolute little face.

"Then I shall carry you off.  I'm very sorry, Miss Arabin, but I'm
going to save you in spite of yourself."

Vernon had his hand stretched out to the silver handbell to summon
Élise, when he found himself looking at a small pistol.  He caught
her wrist, expecting it to go off, but nothing happened.  It
dropped into his hand, and he saw that it was unloaded.

He rang the bell.

"All the more reason why you should come with me if you are so
badly armed."

The girl stood stiff and silent, her eyes and cheeks burning, as
Élise entered.

"Pack for your mistress," he told the maid.  "Bring as little
baggage as possible, for there isn't much room."  The woman hurried
off gladly to do his bidding.

"Please don't make a scene," he said.  "You will have to come in
the end, and some day you will forgive me."

"I will not come," she said, "but I will show you something."

Life seemed to have been restored to her tense body, as she hurried
him out of the room, along a corridor, and up a flight of stairs to
a window which looked seaward.

The last wreath of fog had disappeared, and the half-moon of bay
lay blue and sparkling.  Down at the jetty were men and boats, but
out on the water there was no sign of the anchored yacht.

"What does that mean?" Vernon cried.

"It means that your boat has gone.  When the air cleared the people
saw it, and have driven your man away. . . .  It means that you,
like me, are a prisoner!"



CHAPTER XV


As Vernon looked at the flushed girl, whose voice as she spoke had
at least as much consternation in it as triumph, he experienced a
sudden dislocation of mind.  Something fell from him--the
elderliness, the preoccupation, the stiff dogma of his recent
years.  He recaptured the spirit which had open arms for novelty.
He felt an eagerness to be up and doing--what, he was not clear--
but something difficult and high-handed.  The vanishing of his
dream had left the chambers of his mind swept and garnished, and
youth does not tolerate empty rooms.

Also, though I do not think that he had yet begun to fall in love
with Koré, he understood the quality of one whom aforetimes he had
disliked both as individual and type.  This pale girl, dressed like
a young woman in a Scotch shooting lodge, was facing terror with a
stiff lip.  There was nothing raffish or second-rate about her now.
She might make light of her danger in her words, but her eyes
betrayed her.

It was about this danger that he was still undecided.  You see, he
had not, like me, seen the people of the island, felt the strain of
their expectancy, or looked on the secret spaces of the Dancing
Floor.  He had come out of the storm to hear a tale told in the fog
and darkness by an excited woman.  That was all--that and the
hideous rooms at which he had had a passing glance.  The atmosphere
of the place, which I had found so unnerving, had not yet begun to
affect him.

"My fellow will come back," he said, after scanning the empty seas.
"He has his faults, but he is plucky and faithful."

"You do not understand," the girl said.  "He would be one against a
thousand.  He may be as brave as a lion, but they won't let him
anchor, and if they did they would never let you and me join him.
I have told you we are prisoners--close prisoners."

"You must tell me a great deal more.  You see, you can't refuse my
help now, for we are in the same boat.  Do you mind if we go back
to where we breakfasted, for I left my pipe there."

She turned without a word and led him back to her sitting-room,
passing a woe-begone Élise who, with her arms full of clothes, was
told that her services were now needless.  The windows of the room
looked on a garden which had been suffered to run wild but which
still showed a wealth of spring blossom.  Beyond was a shallow
terrace and then the darkness of trees.  A man's head seemed to
move behind a cypress hedge.  The girl nodded towards it.  "One of
my gaolers," she said.

She stood looking out of the window with her eyes averted from
Vernon, and seemed to be forcing herself to speak.

"You have guessed right about my family," she said.  "And about
this house.  I am cleaning it slowly--I must do it myself, Élise
and I, for I do not want strangers to know. . . .  This room was as
bad as the other two till I whitewashed the walls.  The old
furniture I am storing till I have time to destroy it.  I think I
will burn it, for it has hideous associations for me.  I would have
had the whole house in order this spring if my foolish people had
not lost their heads."

A "tawdry girl," that was how Vernon had spoken of her to me.  He
withdrew the word now.  "Tawdry" was the last adjective he would
use about this strange child, fighting alone to get rid of a burden
of ancient evil.  He had thought her a modish, artificial being, a
moth hatched out of the latest freak of fashion.  Now she seemed to
him a thousand years removed from the feverish world which he had
thought her natural setting.  Her appeal was her extreme candour
and simplicity, her utter, savage, unconsidering courage.

"Let us take the family for granted," Vernon said gently.  "I can't
expect you to talk about that.  I assume that there was that in
your predecessor's doings which gave these islanders a legitimate
grievance.  What I want to know is what they are up to now.  Tell
me very carefully everything that has happened since you came here
a week ago."

She had little to tell him.  She had been allowed to enter the
House by the ordinary road from the village, and after that the
gates had been barred.  When she had attempted to go for a walk she
had been turned back by men with rifles--she did not tell Vernon
how the rifles had been procured.  The hillmen had joined with the
people of the coast--you could always tell a hillman by his dress--
though the two used to be hereditary enemies.  That made her angry
and also uneasy; so did the curious methodical ways of the siege.
They were not attempting to enter the House--she doubted if any one
of them would dare to cross the threshold--they were only there to
prevent her leaving it.  She herself, not the looting of the House,
must be their object.  Mitri was permitted to go to the village,
but he did not go often, for he came back terrified and could not
or would not explain his terrors.  No communication had been held
with the watchers, and no message had come from them.  She had
tried repeatedly to find out their intentions, but the sentinels
would not speak, and she could make nothing of Mitri.  No, she was
not allowed into the demesne.  There were sentries there right up
to the house wall--sentries night and day.

Vernon asked her about supplies.  She had brought a store with her
which was not yet exhausted, but the people sent up food every
morning.  Mitri found it laid on the threshold of the main door.
Curious food--barley cakes, and honey, and cheese, and eggs, and
dried figs.  She couldn't imagine where they got it from, for the
people had been starving in the winter.  Milk, too--plenty of milk,
which was another unexpected thing.

Water--that was the oddest business of all.  The House had a fine
well in the stableyard on the east side.  This had been sealed up
and its use forbidden to Mitri.  But morning and night buckets of
fresh water were brought to the door--whence, she did not know.
"It rather restricts our bathing arrangements," she said.

She told the story lightly, with a ready laugh, as if she were once
more mistress of herself.  Mistress of her voice she certainly was,
but she could not command her eyes.  It was these that counteracted
the debonair tones and kept tragedy in the atmosphere.

Vernon, as I have said, had not the reason which I had for feeling
the gravity of the business.  But he was a scholar, and there were
details in Koré's account which startled him.

"Tell me about the food again.  Cheese and honey and barley cakes,
dried figs and eggs--nothing more?"

"Nothing more.  And not a great deal of that.  Not more than enough
to feed one person for twenty-four hours.  We have to supplement it
from the stores we brought."

"I see. . . .  It is meant for you personally--not for your
household.  And the water?  You don't know what spring it comes
from?"

She shook her head.  "There are many springs in Plakos.  But why
does our commissariat interest you?"

"Because it reminds me of something I have read somewhere.  Cheese
and honey and barley cakes--that is ritual food.  Sacramental, if
you like.  And the water.  Probably brought from some sacred well.
I don't much like it.  Tell me about the people here, Miss Arabin.
Are they very backward and superstitious?"

"I suppose you might call them that.  They are a fine race to look
at, and claim to be pure Greek--at least the coast folk.  The
hillmen are said to be mongrels, but they are handsome mongrels and
fought bravely in the war.  But I don't know them well, for I left
when I was a child, and since my father died I have only seen the
people of Kynĉtho."

"Kynĉtho?" Vernon cried out sharply, for the word was like a bell
to ring up the curtain of memory.

"Yes, Kynĉtho.  That is the village at the gate."

Now he had the clue.  Kynĉtho was the place mentioned in the
manuscript fragment which he had translated for me.  It was at
Kynĉtho that the strange rite was performed of the Koré and the
Kouros.  The details were engraven on his memory, for they had
profoundly impressed him, and he had turned them over repeatedly in
his mind.  He had thought he had discovered the record of a new
ritual form; rather it appeared that he had stumbled upon the
living rite itself.

"I begin--to understand," he said slowly.  "I want you to let me
speak to Mitri.  Alone, if you please.  I have done this work
before in the war, and I can get more out of that kind of fellow if
I am alone with him.  Then I shall prospect the land."

He found Mitri in his lair in the ancient kitchen.  With the old
man there was no trouble, for when he found that his interlocutor
spoke Greek fluently he overflowed in confidences.

"They will burn this House," he said finally.  "They have piled
fagots on the north and east sides where the wind blows.  And the
time will be Easter eve."

"And your mistress?"

Mitri shrugged his shoulders.  "There is no hope for her, I tell
you.  She had a chance of flight and missed it, though I pled with
her.  She will burn with the House unless--"

He looked at Vernon timidly, as if he feared to reveal something.

"Unless--?" said Vernon.

"There is a rumour in Kynĉtho of something else.  In that accursed
village they have preserved tales of the old days, and they say
that on the night of Good Friday there will be panegyria on the
Dancing Floor.  There will be a race with torches, and he who wins
will be called King.  To him it will fall to slay my mistress in
order that the Ancient Ones may appear and bless the people."

"I see," said Vernon.  "Do you believe in that rubbish?"

Mitri crossed himself, and called the Panagia to witness that he
was a Christian and, after God and the Saints, loved his mistress.

"That is well.  I trust you, Mitri; and I will show you how you can
save her.  You are allowed to leave the House?"

"Every second day only.  I went yesterday, and cannot go again till
to-morrow.  I have a daughter married in the village, whom I am
permitted to visit."

"Very well.  We are still two days from Good Friday.  Go down to
the village to-morrow and find out all about the plans for Good
Friday evening.  Lie as much as you like.  Say you hate your
mistress and will desert her whenever you are bidden.  Pretend
you're on the other side.  Get their confidence. . . .  A madness
has afflicted this island, and you are the only sane Christian left
in it.  If these ruffians hurt your mistress, the Government--both
in Athens and in London--will send soldiers and hang many.  After
that there will be no more Kynĉtho.  We have got to prevent the
people making fools of themselves.  Your mistress is English and I
am English, and that is why I stay here.  You do exactly as I tell
you and we'll win through."

It was essential to encourage Mitri, for the old man was patently
torn between superstitious fear and fidelity to Koré, and only a
robust scepticism and a lively hope would enable him to keep his
tail up and do his part.  Vernon accordingly protested a confidence
which he was very far from feeling.  It was arranged that Mitri
should go to Kynĉtho next morning after breakfast and spend the day
there.

After that, guided by the old man, Vernon made a circuit of the
House.  From the top windows he was able to follow the lie of the
land--the postern gates to the shore, the nest of stables and
outbuildings on the east, with access to the shallow glen running
up from the jetty, the main entrance and the drive from Kynĉtho,
the wooded demesne ending at the cliffs, and the orchards and
olive-yards between the cliffs and the causeway.  The patrols came
right up to the House wall, and on various sides Vernon had a
glimpse of them.  But he failed to get what he specially sought, a
prospect of any part of the adjoining coast-line beyond the little
bay.  He believed that his yacht was somewhere hidden there, out of
sight of the peasants.  He was convinced that the Epirote would
obey orders and wait for him, and would not go one yard farther
away than was strictly necessary.  But he was at a loss to know how
to find him, if he were penned up in this shuttered mausoleum.

He returned to find Koré sewing by the window of the breakfast
room.  He entered quietly and had a momentary glimpse of her before
she was conscious of his presence.  She was looking straight before
her with vacant eyes, her face in profile against the window, a
figure of infinite appeal.  Vernon had a moment of acute
compunction.  What he had once thought and spoken of this poor
child seemed to him now to have been senseless brutality.  He had
called her tawdry and vulgar and shrill, he had thought her the
ugly product of the ugly after-the-war world.  But there she sat
like a muse of meditation, as fine and delicate as a sword-blade.
And she had a sword's steel, too, for had she not faced unknown
peril for a scruple?

"What does Mitri say?" she asked in a voice which had a forced
briskness in it.

"I shall know more to-morrow night, but I have learned something.
You are safe for the better part of three days--till some time on
Good Friday evening.  That is one thing.  The other is that your
scheme of wearing down the hostility of your people has failed.
Your islanders have gone stark mad.  The business is far too solemn
for me to speak smooth things.  They have resurrected an old pagan
rite of sacrifice.  SACRIFICE, do you understand?  This House will
be burned, and if they have their will you will die."

"I was beginning to guess as much.  I don't want to die, for it
means defeat.  But I don't think I am afraid to die.  You see--life
is rather difficult--and not very satisfactory.  But tell me more."

Vernon gave her a sketch of the ritual of Kynĉtho.  "It was your
mentioning the name that brought it back to me.  I have always been
interested in Greek religion, and by an amazing chance I came on
this only a month or so ago.  Leithen--the lawyer--you know him, I
think--gave me a bit of mediĉval Greek manuscript to translate, and
part of it had this rite."

"Leithen!" she cried.  "Sir Edward?  Then he found it among the
papers I lent him.  Why didn't he tell me about it?"

"I can't imagine."

"Perhaps he thought I wouldn't have believed it.  I wouldn't a
month ago.  Perhaps he thought he could prevent me coming here.  I
think he did his best.  I had to go off without saying goodbye to
him, and he was my greatest friend."

"He happens to be also my closest friend.  If you had known about
this--this crazy ritual, would you have come?"

She smiled.  "I don't know.  I'm very obstinate, and I can't bear
to be bullied.  These people are trying to bully me. . . .  But of
course I didn't know how bad it was. . . .  And I didn't know that
I was going to land you in this mess.  That is what weighs on my
mind."

"But you didn't invite me here.  You told me to clear out."

"My servants invited you, and therefore I am responsible. . . .
Oh, Colonel Milburne, you must understand what I feel.  I haven't
had an easy life, for I seem to have been always fighting, but I
didn't mind it as long as it was my own fight.  I felt I had to
stick it out, for it was the penalty I paid for being an Arabin.
But whatever paying was to be done I wanted to do it myself. . . .
Otherwise, don't you see, it makes the guilt of my family so much
heavier. . . .  And now I have let you in for it, and that is hell--
simply hell!"

Vernon had suddenly an emotion which he had never known before--the
exhilaration with which he had for years anticipated the
culmination of his dream, but different in kind, nobler, less self-
regarding.  He felt keyed up to any enterprise, and singularly
confident.  There was tenderness in his mood, too, which was a
thing he had rarely felt--tenderness towards this gallant child.

"Listen to me, Miss Arabin.  I have two things to say to you.  One
is that I glory in being here.  I wouldn't be elsewhere for the
world.  It is a delight and a privilege.  The other is that we are
going to win out."

"But how?"

"I don't know yet.  We will find a way.  I am as certain of it as
that I am standing here.  God doesn't mean a thing like this to be
a blind cul-de-sac."

"You believe in God?  I wish I did.  I think I only believe in the
Devil."

"Then you believe in God.  If evil is a living thing, good must be
living as well--more indeed, or the world would smash. . . .  Look
here, we've two days to put in together.  There is nothing we can
do for the present, so we must find some way to keep our nerves
quiet.  Let's pretend we're in an ordinary English country house
and kept indoors by rain."

So the two of them made plans to pass the time, while the clear
spring sunlight outside turned Vernon's pretence into foolishness.
They played piquet, and sometimes he read to her--chiefly Peter
Beckford.  The florid eighteenth-century prose, the tags of
Augustan poetry, the high stilts, the gusto, carried their thoughts
to the orderly world of home.  I have no wish to speculate about
the secrets of a friend, but I fancy that the slow hours spent
together brought understanding.  Koré must have told him things
which she had kept back from me, for the near prospect of death
breaks down many barriers.  I think, too, that he may have told her
the story of his boyish dream--he must have, for it bore directly
on the case.  With his sense of predestination he would draw from
it a special confidence, and she would be made to share it.  He had
undergone a long preparation for something which had ended in mist,
but the preparation might point to success in a great reality. . . .

Late the following afternoon old Mitri returned.  Vernon saw him
first alone, and got from him the details of the next evening's
ceremonial.  There was to be a race among the young men on the
Dancing Floor as soon as the moon rose, and the victor would be
called the King.  Some of the news which Mitri had gathered was
unexpected, some incomprehensible, but in the main it agreed with
his own version.  The victor would choose a victim--a male victim,
clearly, for the female victim was already chosen.  The two would
enter the House, and on the next night--the eve of this grim
Easter--the sacrifice would be accomplished.  Beyond that Mitri
could say nothing except that the people looked for a mighty
miracle; but the manuscript had told what the miracle would be.

"Who will be the runners?" Vernon asked.  "The fleetest among the
young men, both of the village and the hills."

It was characteristic of Vernon's fatalism that he had not troubled
to make even the rudiments of a plan till he had heard Mitri's
tidings.  Now the thing began to unfold itself.  The next step at
any rate was clearly ordained.

"Will everybody be known to each other?" he said.

"Faith, no.  Kynĉtho till now has had few dealings with the hill
folk, and the villages in the hills are generally at strife with
each other.  Tomorrow night there will be many strangers, and no
questions will be asked, for all will be allies in this devilry."

"Do I speak like a Greek?"

"You speak like a Greek, but like one from another island."

"And I look like an islander?"

Mitri grinned.  "There are few as well-looking.  But if your face
were darkened, you would pass.  There is a place, a little remote
place in the hills, Akte by name, where the folk are said to have
white skins like you, Signor."

"Well, attend, Mitri.  I am a man from Akte who has been at the
wars, and has just returned.  That will account for my foreign
speech."

"The Signor jests.  He has a stout heart that can jest--"

"I'm not jesting.  I'm going to compete in the race to-morrow
night.  What is more, I'm going to win.  I've been a bit of a
runner in my time, and I'm in hard training."

A faint spark appeared in the old man's eye.

"The Signor will no doubt win if he runs.  And if he ever reaches
the Dancing Floor he will not be troubled with questions.  But how
will he reach the Dancing Floor?"

"I intend to get out of the House early tomorrow morning.  There
are several things I want to do before the race.  Have you any rags
with which I can imitate the dress of a hillman?"

Mitri considered.  Shirt and breeches he had, but no boots.  A cap
might be improvised, but boots?

"Remember I have only just returned to Akte, and have brought the
fashion of the war with me.  So I can make shift with home-made
puttees.  Anything else?"

"The men around the House will not let you pass."

"They'll have to.  I'm one of themselves, and you've got to coach
me in local customs.  You have twelve hours before you in which to
turn me into a respectable citizen of Akte.  If any awkward
questions are asked I propose to be truculent.  A soldier is going
to stand no nonsense from civilians, you know."

Mitri considered again.  "It will be best to go by the main road to
Kynĉtho."

"No, I'm going by the causeway.  I want to see what lies beyond it
to the west."

"The cliffs are there, and there is no road."

"I will find one."

Mitri shook his head.  He had apparently little belief in the
scheme, but an hour later, after Vernon had given Koré a sketch of
his intentions, he arrived with an armful of strange garments.
Élise, at her mistress's request, had collected oddments of
fabrics, and brought part of the contents of the linen-cupboard.

"We are about," Vernon told a mystified Koré, "to prepare for
private theatricals.  Puttees are my most urgent need, and that
thin skirt of yours will be the very thing."

Since Koré still looked puzzled, he added:  "We're cast for parts
in a rather sensational drama.  I'm beginning to think that the
only way to prevent it being a tragedy is to turn it into a
costume-play."



CHAPTER XVI


Very early next morning, before the blue darkness had paled into
dawn, Vernon swung his legs out of an upper window of the House,
crawled along the broad parapet, and began to descend by a water-
pipe in an angle between the main building and the eastern wing.
This brought him to the roof of one of the outbuildings, from which
it was possible for an active man to reach the road which ran
upward from the jetty.  He had been carefully prepared by Mitri for
his part.  The loose white shirt and the short mountain tunic were
in order.  Mitri's breeches had proved too scanty, but Élise had
widened them, and the vacant space about his middle was filled with
a dirty red cummerbund, made of one of Mitri's sashes, in which
were stuck a long knife and his pistol.  A pair of Mitri's home-
made shoes of soft untanned hide were supplemented by home-made
puttees.  He had no hat; he had stained his face, hands and arms
beyond their natural brown with juice from Mitri's store of pickled
walnuts, and--under the critical eye of Koré--had rubbed dirt under
his eyes and into his finger-nails till he looked the image of a
handsome, swaggering, half-washed soldier.  More important, he had
been coached by Mitri in the speech of the hills, the gossip which
might have penetrated to the remote Akte, and the mannerisms of the
hillmen, which were unpleasingly familiar to the dwellers by the
sea.

All this care would have been useless had Vernon not been in the
mood to carry off any enterprise.  He felt the reckless audacity of
a boy, an exhilaration which was almost intoxication, and the
source of which he did not pause to consider.  Above all he felt
complete confidence.  Somehow, somewhere, he would break the malign
spell and set Koré beyond the reach of her enemies.

He reached ground fifty yards south of the jetty, and turned at
once in the direction of the sea.  At the beginning of the causeway
he met a man.

"Whither away, brother?" came the question, accompanied by the lift
of a rifle.

Vernon gave the hillman's greeting.  He loomed up tall and
formidable in the half-darkness.

"I go beyond the causeway to the olive-yards," he said carelessly,
as if he condescended in answering.  "By whose orders?"

"We of Akte do not take orders.  I go at the request of the
Elders."

"You are of Akte?" said the man curiously.  He was very willing to
talk, being bored with his long night-watch.  "There are none of
Akte among us, so far as I have seen.  The men of Akte live in the
moon, says the proverb.  But . . ." this after peering at Vernon's
garb--"these clothes were never made in the hills."

"I am new back from the war, and have not seen Akte these three
years.  But I cannot linger, friend."

"Nay, bide a little.  It is not yet day.  Let us talk of Akte.  My
father once went there for cattle. . . .  Or let us speak of the
war.  My uncle was in the old war, and my young nephew was . . .
If you will not bide, give me tobacco."

Vernon gave him a cigarette.  "These are what we smoked in Smyrna,"
he said.  "They are noble stuff."

Half-way along the causeway a second guard proved more truculent.
He questioned the orders of the Elders, till Vernon played the man
from Akte and the old soldier, and threatened to fling him into the
sea.  The last sentry was fortunately asleep.  Vernon scrambled
over the fence of the olive-yards, and as the sun rose above the
horizon was striding with long steps through the weedy undergrowth.

His object was not like mine when I travelled that road--to get
inside the demesne; he wanted to keep out of it, and to explore the
bit of coast under it, since it seemed from the map to be the
likeliest place to find his boat.  The Epirote, he was convinced,
would obey his instructions faithfully, and when driven away from
his old anchorage would not go a yard more than was necessary.  So,
after being stopped as I had been by the wall which ran to the
cliffs, he stuck to the shore.  He picked his way under the skirts
of the great headland till the rock sank sheer into deep water.
There was nothing for it now but to swim, so he made a bundle of
his shirt and jacket and bound them with the cummerbund on his
shoulders, took his pistol in his teeth and slipped into the cold
green sea.  Mitri's breeches were a nuisance, but he was a strong
swimmer, and in five minutes was at the point of the headland.

He found a ledge of rock which enabled him to pull up his shoulders
and reconnoitre the hidden bay.  There, to his joy, was the yacht,
snugly anchored half-way across.  There was no sign of life on
board, for doubtless the Epirote was below cooking his breakfast.
Vernon had no desire to make himself conspicuous by shouting, for
the demesne and the watchers were too near, so he dropped back into
the water and struck out for the boat.  Ten minutes later he was
standing dripping on the deck, and the Epirote was welcoming him
with maledictions on Plakos.

He stripped off his wet clothes, and put on his old aquascutum till
they should be dried.  Then he breakfasted heartily, while Black
George gave an account of his stewardship.  When Vernon did not
return he had not concerned himself greatly, for the affairs of his
master were no business of his.  But in the morning, when the fog
began to lift, men had put off from shore in a boat and had
demanded the reason of his presence.  The interview had been
stormy, for he had declined to explain, holding that if his master
chose to land secretly by night, and rude fellows appeared with the
daylight, it would be wise to tell the latter nothing.  His
interviewers had been more communicative.  They had been very
excited and had tried to alarm him with foolish tales of witches.
But it was clear that they had meant mischief, for all were armed,
and when at the point of several rifle barrels they had ordered him
to depart, it seemed to him the part of a wise man to obey.  He had
feigned fear and deep stupidity, and had upped sail and done their
bidding.  Then, looking for a refuge, he had seen the great curtain
of cliff and had found this little bay.  Here he hoped he was
secure, for there was no passage along the shore, and the people of
Plakos did not seem during these days to be sailing the seas.  He
could be observed, of course, from the cliff tops, but these were
shrouded in wood and looked unfrequented.

"Did I not well, Signor?" he asked anxiously.

"You did well.  Have you seen no one?"

"No islander.  Last night two men came about midnight.  One was a
crippled Greek and the other man, I judge, English."

Vernon woke to the liveliest interest, but Black George told a
halting tale.  "He swam out and wakened me, and at first, fearing
trouble, I would have brained him.  Since he could not speak my
tongue, I rowed ashore with him and saw the Greek. . . .  He was an
Englishman, beyond doubt, and a Signor, so I gave him food."

"What did he want with you?"

"Simply that I should stay here.  He had a story of some lady to
whom the devils of this island meant mischief, and he begged me to
wait in case the lady should seek to escape."

No cross-examination of Vernon's could make Black George amplify
the tale.  He had not understood clearly, he said, for the English
Signor could not speak his tongue, and the Greek who interpreted
was obviously a fool.  But he had promised to remain, which was
indeed his duty to his master.  No.  He had spoken no single word
of his master.  He had not said he was an Englishman.  He had said
nothing.

Vernon puzzled over the matter but could make nothing of it.  He
did not credit the story of an Englishman in Plakos who knew of
Koré's plight, and came to the conclusion that Black George had
misunderstood his visitor's talk.  He had the day before him, and
his first act was to row ashore to the other point of the bay--the
place from which Janni and I had first espied the yacht.  There he
sat for a little and smoked, and it was one of his cigarette ends
that I found the same afternoon.  A scramble round the headland
showed him the strip of beach below the Dancing Floor, but it
occurred to him that there was no need to go pioneering along the
coast--that he had a yacht and could be landed wherever he pleased.
So he returned to Black George, and the two hoisted sail and made
for open sea.

The day was spent running with the light northwest wind behind them
well to the south of Plakos, and then tacking back till about
sunset they stood off the north-east shore.  It was a day of
brilliant sun, tempered by cool airs, with the hills of the island
rising sharp and blue into the pale spring sky.  Vernon found to
his delight that he had no trepidation about the work of the coming
night.  He had brought with him the copy he had made of his
translation of Koré's manuscript, and studied it as a man studies a
map, without any sense of its strangeness.  The madmen of Plakos
were about to revive an ancient ritual, where the victor in a race
would be entrusted with certain barbarous duties.  He proposed to
be the victor, and so to defeat the folly.  The House would be
burnt, and in the confusion he would escape with Koré to the yacht,
and leave the unhallowed isle for ever.  The girl's honour would be
satisfied, for she would have stuck it out to the last.  Once he
had convinced himself that she would be safe, he let his mind lie
fallow.  He dreamed and smoked on the hot deck in the bright
weather, as much at his ease as if the evening were to bring no
more than supper and sleep.

In the early twilight the yacht's dinghy put him ashore on a lonely
bit of coast east of the village.  Black George was ordered to
return to his former anchorage and wait there; if on the following
night he saw a lantern raised three times on the cliff above, he
was to come round to the olive-yards at the far end of the
causeway.  At this stage Vernon's plan was for a simple escape in
the confusion of the fire.  He hoped that the postern gate at the
jetty would be practicable; if not he would find some way of
reaching the olive-yards from the demesne.  The whole affair was
viewed by him as a straightforward enterprise--provided he could
win the confounded race.

But with his landing on Plakos in the spring gloaming his mood
began to change.  I have failed in my portrayal of Vernon if I have
made you think of him as unimaginative and insensitive.  He had
unexpected blind patches in his vision and odd callosities in his
skin, but for all that he was highly strung and had an immense
capacity for emotion, though he chose mostly to sit on the safety
valve.  Above all he was a scholar.  All his life he had been
creating imaginative pictures of things, or living among the
creations of other men.  He had not walked a mile in that twilight
till he felt the solemnity of it oppressing his mind.

I think it was chiefly the sight of the multitude moving towards
the Dancing Floor, all silent, so that the only sound was the tread
of feet.  He had been in doubt before as to where exactly the place
was, but the road was blazed for him like the roads to Epsom on
Derby Day.  Men, women, children, babes-in-arms, they were
streaming past the closes at the foot of the glade, past the
graveyard, up the aisle of the Dancing Floor.  It was his first
sight of it--not as I had seen it solitary under the moon, but
surging with a stream of hushed humanity.  It had another kind of
magic, but one as potent as that which had laid its spell on me.  I
had seen the temple in its loneliness; he saw it thronged with
worshippers.

No one greeted him or even noticed him; he would probably have
passed unregarded if he had been wearing his ordinary clothes.  The
heavy preoccupation of the people made them utterly incurious.  He
saw men dressed as he was, and he noted that the multitude moved to
left and right as if by instinct, leaving the central arena vacant.
Dusk had fallen, and on the crown of the ridge on his right he saw
dimly what he knew to be the trees of the demesne.  He saw, too,
that a cluster seemed to be forming at the lower end of the arena,
apart from the others, and he guessed that these were the
competitors in the race.  He made his way towards them, and found
that he had guessed rightly.  It was a knot of young men, who were
now stripping their clothes, till they stood naked except for the
sashes twisted around their middle.  Most were barefoot, but one or
two had raw-hide brogues.  Vernon followed their example, till he
stood up in his short linen drawers.  He retained Mitri's shoes,
for he feared the flints of the hillside.  There were others in the
group, older men whom he took to be the Elders of whom Mitri had
spoken, and there was one man who seemed to be in special authority
and who wore a loose white cassock.

It was now nearly dark, and suddenly, like the marks delimiting a
course, torches broke into flame.  These points of angry light in
the crowded silence seemed to complete the spell.  Vernon's
assurance had fled and left behind it an unwilling awe and an acute
nervousness.  All his learning, all his laborious scholarship
quickened from mere mental furniture into heat and light.  His
imagination as well as his nerves were on fire.  I can only guess
at the thoughts which must have crowded his mind.  He saw the
ritual, which so far had been for him an antiquarian remnant, leap
into a living passion.  He saw what he had regarded coolly as a
barbaric survival, a matter for brutish peasants, become suddenly a
vital concern of his own.  Above all, he felt the formidableness of
the peril to Koré.  She had dared far more than she knew, far more
than he had guessed; she was facing the heavy menace of a thousand
ages, the devils not of a few thousand peasants, but of a whole
forgotten world. . . .  And in that moment he has told me that
another thing became clear to him--she had become for him something
altogether rare and precious.

The old man in the white ephod was speaking.  It was a tale which
had obviously been told before to the same audience, for he
reminded them of former instructions.  Vernon forced himself to
concentrate on it an attention which was half paralysed by that
mood of novel emotion which had come upon him.  Some of it he
failed to grasp, but the main points were clear--the race twice
round the arena outside the ring of torches, the duty of the victor
to take the last torch and plunge it in the sacred spring.  The man
spoke as if reciting a lesson, and Vernon heard it like a lesson
once known and forgotten.  Reminiscences of what he had found in
classical byways hammered on his mind, and with recollection came a
greater awe.  It was only the thought of Koré that enabled him to
keep his wits.  Without that, he told me, he would have sunk into
the lethargy of the worshippers, obedient, absorbed in expectancy.

Then came the start, and the race which Janni and I watched from
our hiding-place in the shadows under the wall.  He got off the
mark clumsily, and at first his limbs seemed heavy as lead.  But
the movement revived him and woke his old racing instinct.  Though
he had not run for years, he was in hard training, and towards the
close of the first round his skill had come back to him and he was
in the third place, going well within his powers.  In the second
round he felt that the thing was in his hands.  He lay close to the
first man, passed him before the final straight, and then forged
ahead so that in the last hundred yards he was gaining ground with
every stride.  He seized the torch at the winning-post and raced to
where in the centre of the upper glade a white figure stood alone.
With the tossing of the flame into the well he straightened his
body and looked round, a man restored to his old vigour and ready
for swift action.

His account of the next stage was confused, for his mind was on
Koré, and he was going through a violent transformation of outlook.
The old man was no longer repeating a rehearsed lesson, but
speaking violently like one in a moment of crisis.  He addressed
Vernon as "You of the hills," and told him that God had placed the
fate of Kynĉtho in his hands--which God he did not particularize.
But from his excited stammering something emerged that chilled
Vernon's blood. . . .  He was to wait in the House till moonrise of
the next night.  The signal was to be the firing of the place.
With the first flames he was to perform the deed to which he had
been called.  "Choose which way you please," said the old man,
"provided that they die."  Then he would leave the House by the
main door and join the young men without.  "They will be gathered
there till they come who will come."  The door would be closed
behind him till it was opened by the fire. . . .  "They who will
come are Immortals."

The man's voice was high-pitched with passion, and his figure,
solitary in the bright moonshine in that ring of silent folk, had
something in it of the awful and the sacramental.  But Vernon's
thoughts were not on it, but on the news which meant the downfall
of his plans.  His mind worked now normally and sanely; he was
again a man of the modern world.  The young men--of course they
would be there--the Kouretes to greet the Kouros.  He might have
known it, if he had only thought.  But how was Koré to escape from
those frenzied guardians?  He had imagined that with the fire the
vigilance of the watch would be relaxed and that it would be easy
to join Black George and the boat.  But with the fire there was to
be a thronging of the hierophants towards the House, and what was
inside would be kept inside till the place was a heap of ashes.

The man was speaking again.  He had made some signal, for three
figures had approached the well.  "The woman is within," he said,
"and it is for you to choose the man.  Your choice is free among
the people of Plakos, but we have one here, a young man, a Greek,
but a stranger.  He would doubtless be acceptable."

The half-clad Maris cut an odd figure as, in the grip of two
stalwart peasants, he was led forward for inspection.  His face was
white and set, and his eyes were furious.  "No willing victim
this," thought Vernon, "but so much the better, for he and I are in
the same boat, and I must make him an ally."  From the way he
carried himself he saw that Maris had been drilled, and he
considered that a soldier might be useful.  "I choose this man," he
said.

A jar was given him, and he filled it from the spring and emptied
it on Maris's head and shoulders.  His own clothes were also
brought, but he contented himself with Mitri's sash, of which he
made a girdle and into which he stuck his own pistol and Mitri's
knife.  "I have no need of the rest," he said, for he was beginning
to enter into the spirit of the part.  Then he knelt while the old
man laid a hand on his head and pronounced some consecration.
"Come," he said to Maris, and the two moved up the slope of the
Dancing Floor towards the breach in the wall.

He had almost forgotten his anxiety in the wonder of the scene.  He
seemed to be set on a stage in a great golden amphitheatre, and
Maris and the guards who accompanied him were no more than stage
properties.  All human life had for the moment gone, and he was
faced with primordial elements--the scented shell of earth, the
immense arch of the sky and the riding moon, and, as he climbed the
slope, an infinity of shining waters.  The magic weighed on him, a
new magic, for the ruthlessness of man was submerged in the deeper
ruthlessness of nature. . . .  And then, as he passed the fringe of
the spectators and caught a glimpse of pallid strained faces, he
got his bearings again.  It was man he had to cope with, crazy,
fallible, tormented man.  He felt the pity and innocence of it
behind the guilt, and in an instant he regained confidence. . . .
Maris was stumbling along, walking painfully like one unaccustomed
to going on bare feet, casting fierce, startled glances about him.
As they approached the breach in the wall Vernon managed to whisper
to him to cheer up, for no ill would befall him.  "I am your
friend," he said; "together we will make an end of this folly," and
the man's face lightened.

It was this look on Maris's face which I saw from my hiding-place
and which made me forbid Janni's pistol shot.



CHAPTER XVII


The great doors clanged behind them, and Vernon, who had been given
the key by the guards, turned it in the lock.  In spite of the
reassuring word he had spoken to Maris he thought that his
companion might attack him, so he steered wide of him and in the
inky darkness fell over a basket of logs.  The mishap wrung from
him a very English expletive.  Then he shouted on Mitri to bring a
light.

He heard Maris's excited voice.  "Who are you?  Who in God's name
are you?  Are you English?"

"Of course I am English.  Confound it, I believe I have cracked my
shin.  Mitri, you idiot, where are you?"

The old man appeared from a corridor with a lantern shaking in his
hand.  He had no words, but stared at the two as if he were looking
on men risen from the dead.

"Where's your mistress?  In her sitting-room?  For God's sake, get
me some clothes--my old ones, and bring something for this
gentleman to put on.  Any old thing will do.  Get us some food,
too, for we're starving.  Quick, man.  Leave the lantern here."

By the slender light, set on a table in the great stone hall, the
two men regarded each other.

"You want to know who I am," said Vernon.  "I'm an Englishman who
came here three nights ago in a yacht.  I happened to have met Miss
Arabin before.  I found out what the people of Plakos were up to,
and it seemed to me that the best thing I could do was to win the
race to-night.  I needn't tell you about that, for you saw it. . . .
Now for yourself.  I gather that you also are unpopular in this
island?"

Maris gave a short sketch of his career, and Vernon convinced
himself by a few questions that he spoke the truth, for the Greek
had served alongside the British at Salonika.

"I came here to protect the lady," Maris concluded.

"Who sent you?"

"Mr. Ertzberger.  I had a companion, an English colonel, who is
also in your Parliament, and a great milord.  Leithen is his name."

"God bless my soul!  Leithen!  Oh, impossible!  Quick!  Tell me
more.  Where is he now?"

"That I do not know.  Yesterday evening we separated, each seeking
to find some way of entering this House.  I blundered badly, and
was taken by the guards on the seaward front.  My friend must also
have failed, or he would be here, but I do not think he has been
taken."

The knowledge that I was somewhere in the island gave Vernon, as he
told me, a sudden acute sense of comfort.  I must have been the
visitor to the yacht.  He cross-examined Maris, who knew nothing of
the boat's existence, and Maris agreed that the stranger who had
gone aboard must have been myself.  "The Greek who was with him,"
he said, "was doubtless my corporal, Janni, the one man in my batch
of fools who kept his head."

Mitri returned with Vernon's clothes, and an ancient dressing-gown
for Maris.  He also brought a bowl of milk and some cakes and
cheese.  Questions trembled on his lips, but Vernon waved him off.
"Go and tell your mistress that we will come to her in a quarter of
an hour.  And have a bed made ready for this gentleman."

As Vernon dressed he had a look at his companion, now grotesquely
robed in a gown too large for him, and dirty and scratched from his
adventures.  It was the mercy of Providence that had given him such
a colleague, for he liked the man's bold, hard-bitten face and
honest eyes.  Here was a practical fellow, and he wanted something
exceedingly prosaic and practical to counteract the awe which still
hovered about his mind.  He fought to keep at a distance the memory
of the silence and the torches and the shining spaces of the
Dancing Floor.  This man did not look susceptible.

"I need not tell you that we are in the devil of a tight place,
Captain Maris.  Do you realize precisely the meaning of the
performance we have just witnessed?"

Maris nodded.  "Since yesterday.  It has been most pointedly
explained to me.  I am one victim for the sacrifice, and the lady
of this house is the other, and you are the priest."

"We have the better part of twenty-four hours' grace.  After that?"

"After that this House will be burned.  You may go forth, if you
have the nerve to play the part.  The lady and I--no.  We are
supposed to die when the fire begins, but if we do not die by your
hand we will die in the flames."

"There is no way of escape?"

"None," said Maris cheerfully.  "But with your help I think we will
do some mischief first.  God's curse on the swine!"

"And the lady?"

Maris shrugged his shoulders.

"Till this evening," said Vernon, "I thought I had a plan.  I was
pretty certain I could win the race, and I proposed to reason with
the male victim who came back with me, or club him on the head.  I
thought that when the fire began there would be confusion and that
the people would keep outside the wall.  My boat is lying below the
cliffs, and I hoped to carry the lady there.  But now I know that
that is impossible.  There will be a concourse of the young men
outside the door at the moment of the burning, and the House will
be watched more closely than ever.  Do you know what the people
expect?"

Maris spat contemptuously.  "I heard some talk of the coming of
Gods.  The devil take all priests and their lying tales."

"They await the coming of Gods.  You are not a classical scholar,
Captain Maris, so you cannot realize, perhaps, just what that
means.  We are dealing with stark madness.  These peasants are
keyed up to a tremendous expectation.  A belief has come to life, a
belief far older than Christianity.  They expect salvation from the
coming of two Gods, a youth and a maiden.  If their hope is
disappointed, they will be worse madmen than before.  To-morrow
night nothing will go out from this place, unless it be Gods."

"That is true.  The lady and I will without doubt die at the
threshold, and you also, my friend.  What arms have we?"

"I have this revolver with six cartridges.  The lady has a toy
pistol, but, I think, no ammunition.  The men without are armed
with rifles."

"Ugly odds.  It is infamous that honest folk and soldiers should
perish at the hands of the half-witted."

"What about Leithen?  He is outside and has come here expressly to
save the lady."

Maris shook his head.  "He can do nothing.  They have set up a
cordon, a barrage, which he cannot penetrate.  There is no hope in
the island, for every man and woman is under the Devil's spell.
Also the telegraph has been cut these three days."

"Do you see any chance?"

Maris cogitated.  "We have twenty-four hours.  Some way of escape
may be found by an active man at the risk of a bullet or two.  We
might reach your boat."

"But the lady?"

"Why, no.  Things look dark for the poor lady.  We came here to
protect her, and it seems as if we can do no more than die with
her. . . .  I would like to speak with that old man about clothes.
A soldier does not feel at his bravest when he is barefoot and
unclad save for pants and a ragged shirt.  I refuse to go to
Paradise in this dressing-gown."

Maris's cheerful fortitude was balm to Vernon's mind, for it seemed
to strip the aura of mystery from the situation, and leave it a
straight gamble of life and death.  If Koré was to be saved it must
be through Maris, for he himself was cast for another part.

"Come and let me present you to the lady," he said.  "We must have
some plan to sleep on."

Koré was in her sitting-room, and as she rose to meet them he saw
that her face was very white.

"I heard nothing," she said hoarsely, "though Mitri says that there
are thousands in the glade beyond the wall.  But I saw a red glow
from the upper windows."

"That was the torches which lined the stadium.  I have been running
a race, Miss Arabin, and have been lucky enough to win.  Therefore
we have still twenty-four hours of peace.  May I present Captain
Maris of the Greek Army?  He asks me to apologize for his clothes."

The Greek bowed gallantly and kissed her hand.

"Captain Maris came here to protect you.  He came with a friend of
ours, Sir Edward Leithen."

"Sir Edward Leithen?" the girl cried.  "He is here?"

"He is in the island, but he is unable to join us in the House.
Captain Maris tried, and was unfortunately captured.  He was handed
over to me as the victor of the race, and that is why he is here.
But Sir Edward must be still scouting around the outposts, and it
is pretty certain that he won't find a way in.  I'm afraid we must
leave him out of account. . . .  Now I want you to listen to me
very carefully, for I've a good deal to say to you.  I'm going to
be perfectly candid, for you're brave enough to hear the worst."

Vernon constructed three cigarettes out of his pipe tobacco and
tissue paper from the illustrations in Peter Beckford.  Koré did
not light hers, but sat waiting with her hands on her knees.

"They think you a witch, because of the habits of your family.
That you have long known.  In the past they have burned witches in
these islands, and Plakos remembers it.  But it remembers another
thing--the ancient ritual I told you of, and that memory which has
been sleeping for centuries has come to violent life.  Perhaps it
would not have mastered them if the mind of the people had not been
full of witch-burning.  That, you see, gave them one victim already
chosen, and in Captain Maris, who is of their own race and also a
stranger, they have found the other."

"I see all that," the girl said slowly.  "Of course I did not know
when I left London--I couldn't have guessed--I thought it was a
simple business which only needed a bold front, and I was too vain
to take advice. . . .  Oh, forgive me.  My vanity has brought two
innocent people into my miserable troubles. . . ."

"I told you yesterday that we were going to win.  You must trust
me, Miss Arabin.  And for Heaven's sake, don't imagine that I blame
you.  I think you are the bravest thing God ever made.  I wouldn't
be elsewhere for worlds."

Her eyes searched his face closely, and then turned to Maris, who
instantly adopted an air of bold insouciance.

"You are good men. . . .  But what can you do?  They will watch us
like rats till the fire begins, and then--if we are not dead--they
will kill us. . . .  They will let no one go from this House--
except their Gods."

These were the very words Vernon had used to Maris, and since they
so wholly expressed his own belief, he had to repudiate them with a
vehement confidence.

"No," he said, "you forget that there are two things on our side.
One is that, as the winner of the race, I am one of the people of
Plakos.  I can safely go out at the last moment and join their
young men.  I speak their tongue, and I understand this ritual
better than they do themselves.  Surely I can find some way of
driving them farther from the House so that in the confusion Maris
can get you and your maid off unobserved.  Mitri too--"

"Mitri," she broke in, "has permission from our enemies to go when
he pleases.  But he refuses to leave us."

"Well, Mitri also.  The second thing is that I have found my boat
and got in touch with my man.  He is lying in the bay below the
cliffs, and I have arranged that on a certain signal he will meet
you under the olive-yards.  There is a gate in the wall there of
which Mitri no doubt has the key.  Once aboard, you are as safe as
in London."

"And you?"

"Oh.  I will take my chance.  I am a hillman from Akte and can keep
up the part till I find some way of getting off."

"Impossible!" she cried.  "When they find that their Gods have
failed them they will certainly kill you.  Perhaps it is because I
was born here, but though I have only heard of this ritual from
you, I feel somehow as if I had always known it.  And I know that
if the one sacrifice fails, there will be another."

She rang the little silver bell for Mitri.  "Show this gentleman
his room," she looked towards Maris.  "You have already had food?
Goodnight, Captain Maris.  You must have had a wearing day, and I
order you to bed."

When they were alone she turned to Vernon.  "Your plan will not
work.  I can make a picture of what will happen to-morrow night--I
seem to see every detail clear, as if I had been through it all
before--and your plan is hopeless.  You cannot draw them away from
the House.  They will be watching like demented wolves. . . .  And
if you did and we escaped, what on earth would become of you?"

"I should be one of them--a sharer in their disappointment--
probably forgotten."

"Not you.  You are their high-priest, and an angry people always
turns on their priest."

"There might be a bit of a row, but I daresay I could hold my own."

"Against thousands--mad thousands?  You would be torn in pieces
even though they still believed you were a hillman from Akte."

"I'll take the risk.  It is no good making difficulties, Miss
Arabin.  I admit that the case is pretty desperate, but my plan has
at any rate a chance."

"The case is utterly desperate, and that is why your plan is no
good.  Desperate cases need more desperate remedies."

"Well, what do you suggest?"

She smiled.  "You are very tired, and so am I.  We have a day and a
night left us, and we can talk in the morning. . . .  I told you
when you first came here that I refused to run away.  Well, I--
don't--think--I have changed my mind. . . ."

                              *****

The difficulty of telling this part of the story (said Leithen) is
that it must be largely guess-work.  The main facts I know, but the
affair had become so strange and intimate that neither Koré nor
Vernon would speak of it, while Maris was only vaguely aware of
what was happening.  It must have been some time on the Friday
morning that the two met again.  I can picture Vernon racking his
brains to supplement his fragile plan, turning sleeplessly in his
bed, hunting out Maris in the early morn to go wearily over the
slender chances.  Koré, I imagine, slept dreamlessly.  She had
reached her decision, and to her strong and simple soul to be
resolved was to be at peace.  Vernon was a fine fellow--I have
known few finer--but there were lumpish elements in him, while the
girl was all pure spirit.

But I can reconstruct the meeting of the two in the bare little
sitting-room--without Maris--for that much Vernon has told me.  I
can see Vernon's anxious face, and the girl's eyes bright with that
innocent arrogance which once in my haste I had thought ill-
breeding.

"I am not going to run away from my people," she said.  "I am going
to meet them."

Vernon asked her meaning, and she replied:

"I said yesterday that no one would be permitted to leave the
House, unless in the eyes of the watchers they were Gods.  Well,
the Gods will not fail them. . . .  Listen to me.  I have tried to
purify this place, but there can be only one purification, and that
is by fire.  It had to come, and it seems to me right that it
should come from the hands of those who have suffered.  After that
I go out as a free woman--and to a free woman nothing is
impossible."

I think that for a little he may not have understood her.  His
mind, you see, had been busy among small particulars, and the
simplicity of her plan would not at once be comprehended.  Then
there came for him that moment of liberation, when the world
clarifies and what have been barrier mountains become only details
in a wide prospect.  The extreme of boldness is seen to be the true
discretion, and with that mood comes a sharp uplift of spirit.

"You are right," he cried.  "We will give them their Gods."

"Gods?"  She stopped him.  "But I must go alone.  You have no part
in this trial.  But if I win all this household will be safe.  Most
of these people have never seen me, and Kynĉtho knows me only as a
girl in old country clothes from whom they kept their eyes averted.
I can dress for a different part, and they will see some one who
will be as new to them as if the Panagia had come down from Heaven.
But you--"

"They will not be content with one divinity," he broke in.  "They
await a double epiphany, remember--the Koré and the Kouros.  That
is the point of the occasion.  We must be faithful to the letter
of the rite.  After all, they know less of me than of you.  They
saw me win a race, a figure very much like the others in the
moonlight. . . .  To those who may recognize me I am an unknown
hillman of Akte.  Why should not the Kouros have revealed himself
the day before, and be also the Basileus?"

She looked at him curiously as if seeing him for the first time as
a bodily presence.  I can fancy that for the first time she may
have recognized his beauty and strength.

"But you are not like me," she urged.  "You have not an old burden
to get rid of.  I am shaking off the incubus of my youth, and going
free, like the Gods.  What you call the epiphany is not only for
Plakos but for myself, and nothing matters, not even death.  I can
play the part, but can you?  To me it is going to be the beginning
of life, but to you it can only be an adventure.  Chivalry is not
enough."

"To me also it is the beginning of life," he answered.  Then he
returned to the tale of his boyhood's dream.  "When it vanished in
the storm a few nights ago I hated it, for I felt that it had
stolen years from my life.  But now I know that nothing is wasted.
The door of the last of the dream-rooms has opened, and you have
come in.  And we are going to begin life--together."

A strange pair of lovers, between whom no word of love had yet been
spoken!  By very different roads both had reached a complete
assurance, and with it came exhilaration and ease of mind.  Maris
during the long spring day might roam about restlessly, and Mitri
and Élise fall to their several prayers, but Vernon and Koré had no
doubts.  While I, outside the wall, was at the mercy of old magics,
a mere piece of driftwood tossed upon undreamed-of tides, the two
in the House had almost forgotten Plakos.  It had become to them no
more than a background for their own overmastering private
concerns.  The only problem was for their own hearts; for Koré to
shake off for good the burden of her past and vindicate her fiery
purity, that virginity of the spirit which could not be smirched by
man or matter; for Vernon to open the door at which he had waited
all his life and redeem the long preparation of his youth.  They
had followed each their own paths of destiny, and now these paths
had met and must run together.  That was the kind of thing that
could not be questioned, could not even be thought about; it had to
be accepted, like the rising sun.  I do not think that they
appreciated their danger, as I did, for they had not been, like me,
down in the shadows.  They were happy in their half-knowledge, and
in that blessed preoccupation which casts out fear.

But some time in the afternoon he drew for the girl a picture of
the ancient rite, and he must have been inspired, for, as she once
recounted it to me, he seems to have made his book learning like
the tale of an eye-witness.

"Why do you tell me this?" she asked.

"Because if we are to play our part we must understand that there
is beauty as well as terror in this worship."

"You speak as if you were a believer."

He laughed.  "There is truth in every religion that the heart of
man ever conceived.  It is because of that that we shall win."

But I think his confidence was less complete than hers.  I judge
from what Maris told me that, though Vernon was what the Scotch
call "fey" during those last hours, he retained something of his
old careful prevision.  As the twilight fell he took Maris aside
and gave him his pistol.  "Mitri has orders as soon as he gets out
of the House to take a lantern to the cliffs and make the signal
for my boat.  He has a key, and will open the door in the olive-
yard wall.  Miss Arabin and I are staking everything on a mighty
gamble.  If it succeeds, I think that the people will be in a
stupor and we shall have an opportunity to join you.  But if it
fails--well, they will tear us to pieces.  You must be close to us
and await events.  If the worst happens, one of these bullets is
for the lady.  Swear to me on your honour as a soldier."



CHAPTER XVIII


I take up the tale now (said Leithen) at the point where I fell in
with Maris in the avenue which led to the gap in the wall.  As I
have told you, I had stumbled through the undergrowth with the
blazing House making the place an inferno of blood-red aisles and
purple thickets.  Above the roar of the flames I heard the noise of
panic-driven feet, of men plunging in haste--two indeed I had met,
who seemed to be in the extremity of fear.  For myself I was pretty
nearly at the end of my tether.  I was doddering with fatigue, and
desperate with anxiety, and the only notion in my head was to use
the dregs of my strength to do something violent.  I was utterly in
the dark, too.  I did not know but that Koré might be already
beyond my help, for that crimson grove seemed to reek of death.

And then I blundered into Maris, saw something in his face which
gave me a surge of hope, and with his hand on my arm turned my eyes
up the avenue.

The back part of the House and the outbuildings were by this time
one roaring gust of flame, but the front was still untouched, and
the fan of fire behind it gave it the concave darkness of a shell--
a purple dark which might at any moment burst into light.  The glow
beyond the façade was reflected farther down the avenue, which was
as bright as day, but the House end was shadowed, and the two
figures which I saw seemed to be emerging from a belt of blackness
between two zones of raw gold.  I therefore saw them first as two
dim white forms, which, as they moved, caught tints of flame. . . .

Put it down to fatigue, if you like, or to natural stupidity, but I
did not recognize them.  Besides, you see, I knew nothing of
Vernon's presence there.  My breath stopped, and I felt my heart
leap to my throat.  What I saw seemed not of the earth--immortals,
whether from Heaven or Hell, coming out of the shadows and the fire
in white garments, beings that no elements could destroy.  In that
moment the most panicky of the guards now fleeing from the demesne
was no more abject believer than I.

And then another fugitive barged into me, and Maris caught him by
the arm and cuffed his ears.  I saw that it was Janni, but the
sight meant nothing to me.  The corporal seemed to be whimpering
with terror, and Maris talked fiercely to him, but I did not
listen.  He quieted him, and then he took us both by an arm and
hurried us with him towards the gap.  It was what I wanted to do.
I dared not look again on that burning pageant.

The next I knew I was beyond the wall on the edge of the Dancing
Floor.  I do not know how I got there, for my legs seemed to have
no power in them, and I fancy that Maris dragged us both.  The
scared guards must have preceded us, for behind was emptiness, save
for the presences in the avenue.  The thick trees partly blanketed
the fire, but the light from the burning roof fell beyond them and
lit up redly the scarp on which we stood.  A rival light, too, was
coming into being.  The rising moon had already flooded the far
hills, and its calm radiance was sweeping over the hollow packed
with the waiting multitude.

At first I saw only the near fringes of the people--upturned faces
in the uncanny light of the fire.  But as I looked, the unfeatured
darkness beyond changed also into faces--faces spectral in the soft
moonshine.  I seemed to be standing between two worlds, one crimson
with terror and the other golden with a stranger spell, but both
far removed from the kindly works of men.

Maris had pulled us aside out of the line of the breach in the
wall, where the avenue made a path for the glow of the fire.  We
were in full view of the people, but they had no eyes for us, for
their gaze was concentrated on the breach.  The fugitive guards had
by this time been absorbed, and their panic had not communicated
itself to the great multitude.  For a second I forgot my own fears
in the amazing sight before me. . . .  The crowded Dancing Floor
was silent; in face of that deep stillness the crackle and roar of
the fire seemed no more than the beating of waves on a far-away
coast.  Though the moon made the hills yellow as corn, it left the
upturned faces pale.  I was looking down on a sea of white faces--
featureless to me, masks of strained expectation.  I felt the
influence from them beat upon me like a wind.  The fierce
concentration of mingled hope and fear--wild hope, wilder fear--
surged up to me, and clutched at my nerves and fired my brain.  For
a second I was as exalted as the craziest of them.  Fragments of
the dithyramb which Vernon had translated came unbidden to my lips--
"Io, Kouros most great. . . .  Come, O come, and bring with thee--
holy hours of thy most holy Spring."

The spell of the waiting people made me turn, as they had turned,
to the gap in the wall.  Through it, to the point where the glow of
the conflagration mingled with the yellow moonlight, came the two
figures.

I think I would have dropped on my knees, but that Maris fetched me
a clout on the back, and his exultant voice cried in my ear.
"Bravo," he cried.  "By the Mother of God, they win!  That is a
great little lady!"

There was something in the familiarity, the friendly roughness of
the voice which broke the spell.  I suddenly looked with seeing
eyes, and I saw Koré.

She was dressed in white, the very gown which had roused Vernon's
ire at my cousin's dance the summer before.  A preposterous garment
I had thought it, the vagary of an indecent fashion.  But now--ah
now!  It seemed the fitting robe for youth and innocence--divine
youth, heavenly innocence--clothing but scarcely veiling the young
Grace who walked like Persephone among the spring meadows.  Vera
incessu patuit Dea.  It was not Koré I was looking at, but THE
Koré, the immortal maiden, who brings to the earth its annual
redemption.

I was a sane man once more, and filled with another kind of
exaltation.  I have never felt so sharp a sense of joy.  God had
not failed us.  I knew that Koré was now not only safe but
triumphant.

And then I recognized Vernon.

I did not trouble to think by what mad chance he had come there.
It seemed wholly right that he should be there.  He was dressed
like the runner of the day before, but at the moment I did not
connect the two.  What I was looking at was an incarnation of
something that mankind has always worshipped--youth rejoicing to
run its race, that youth which is the security of this world's
continuance and the earnest of Paradise.

I recognized my friends, and yet I did not recognize them, for they
were transfigured.  In a flash of insight I understood that it was
not the Koré and the Vernon that I had known, but new creations.
They were not acting a part, but living it.  They, too, were
believers; they had found their own epiphany, for they had found
themselves and each other.  Each other!  How I knew it I do not
know, but I realized that it was two lovers that stood on the brink
of the Dancing Floor.  And I felt a great glow of peace and
happiness.

With that I could face the multitude once more.  And then I saw the
supreme miracle.

People talk about the psychology of a crowd, how it is different in
kind from the moods of the men who compose it.  I daresay that is
true, but if you have each individual strained to the extreme of
tension with a single hope, the mood of the whole is the same as
that of the parts, only multiplied a thousandfold.  And if the
nerve of a crowd goes there is a vast cracking, just as the rending
of a tree-trunk is greater than the breaking of a twig.

For a second--not more--the two figures stood on the edge of the
Dancing Floor in the sight of the upturned eyes.  I do not think
that Koré and Vernon saw anything--they had their own inward
vision.  I do not know what the people saw in the presences that
moved out of the darkness above them.

But this I saw.  Over the multitude passed a tremor like a wind in
a field of wheat.  Instead of a shout of triumph there was a low
murmur as of a thousand sighs.  And then there came a surge, men
and women stumbling in terror.  First the fringes opened and
thinned, and in another second, as it seemed to me, the whole
mass was in precipitate movement.  And then it became panic--
naked, veritable panic.  The silence was broken by hoarse cries
of fear.  I saw men running like hares on the slopes of the Dancing
Floor.  I saw women dragging their children as if fleeing from a
pestilence. . . .  In a twinkling I was looking down on an empty
glade with the Spring of the White Cypress black and solitary in
the moonlight.

I did not doubt what had happened.  The people of Plakos had gone
after strange gods, but it was only for a short season that they
could shake themselves free from the bonds of a creed which they
had held for a thousand years.  The resurgence of ancient faiths
had obscured but had not destroyed the religion into which they had
been born.  Their spells had been too successful.  They had raised
the Devil and now fled from him in the blindest terror.  They had
sought the outlands, had felt their biting winds, and had a glimpse
of their awful denizens, and they longed with the passion of
children for their old homely shelters.  The priest of Kynĉtho
would presently have his fill of stricken penitents.

Maris was laughing.  I daresay it was only a relief from nervous
strain, but it seemed to me an impiety.  I turned on him angrily.
"There's a boat somewhere.  See that everybody is aboard--the whole
household.  And bring it round to the harbour where we first
landed."

"Not to the olive-yards?" he asked.

"No, you fool.  To the harbour.  Plakos is now as safe for us as
the streets of Athens."

Koré and Vernon stood hand in hand like people in a dream.  I think
they were already dimly aware of what had happened, and were slowly
coming back to the ordinary world.  The virtue was going out of
them, and with the ebbing of their exaltation came an immense
fatigue.  I never saw human faces so pale.

Vernon was the first to recover.  He put his arm round Koré's
waist, for without it she would have fallen, but he himself was
none too steady on his feet.  He recognized me.

"Ned," he said, in a stammering voice, like a sleep-walker's.  "I
heard you were here.  It was good of you, old man. . . .  What do
you think . . . now . . . the boat . . ."

"Come along," I cried, and I took an arm of each.  "The sooner you
are on board the better.  You want to sleep for a week."  I started
them off along the edge of the Dancing Floor.

"Not that way," he gasped.  "Too risky . . ."

"There is no danger anywhere in this blessed island.  Come along.
You want food and clothes.  It's getting on for midnight, and
you're both only half-dressed."

They were like two children pulled out of bed and too drowsy to
walk, and I had my work cut out getting them along the ridge.  The
Dancing Floor was empty, and when we entered the road which led
from Kynĉtho to the main gate of the House there was also solitude.
Indeed, we had to pass through a segment of the village itself, and
the place was silent as the grave.  I knew where the people were--
in and around the church, grovelling in the dust for their sins.

Our going was so slow that by the time we looked down on the
harbour the boat was already there.  I stopped for a moment and
glanced back, for far behind me I heard voices.  There was a glow
as from torches to the south where the church stood, and a murmur
which presently swelled into an excited clamour.  Suddenly a bell
began to ring, and it seemed as if the noise became antiphonal,
voices speaking and others replying.  At that distance I could make
out nothing, but I knew what the voices said.  It was "Christ is
risen--He is risen indeed."



The moon had set before we put to sea.  My last recollection of
Plakos is looking back and seeing the House flaming like a pharos
on its headland.  Then, as we beat outward with the wind, the fire
became a mere point of brightness seen at a great distance in the
vault of night.

I had no wish or power to sleep.  Koré and Vernon, wrapped each in
a heap of cloaks, lay in the bows.  It was the quietest place, but
there was no need of precautions, for they slept like the drugged.
Élise, whose nerves had broken down, was in Vernon's berth, Black
George had the helm, and old Mitri and Janni snored beside him.

I sat amidships and smoked.  When the moon went down a host of
stars came out, pale and very remote as they always seem in a
spring sky.  The wind was light and the water slid smoothly past; I
knew roughly our bearings, but I had a sense of being in another
world, and on seas never before sailed by man.  The last week had
been for me a time of acute anxiety and violent bodily exertion,
but a sponge seemed to have passed over the memory of it.
Something altogether different filled my mind.  I had with my own
eyes seen Fate take a hand in the game and move the pieces on the
board.  The two sleepers in the bows had trusted their destiny and
had not been betrayed.

I thought with contrition of my cynicism about Vernon's dream.  No
doubt it had been a will-o'-the-wisp, but it had been true in
purpose, for it had made him wait, alert and aware, on something
which had been prepared for him, and if that something was far
different from his forecast the long expectation had made him ready
to seize it.  How otherwise could he, with his decorous ancestry
and his prudent soul, have become an adventurer? . . .  And Koré?
She had stood grimly to the duty which she conceived Fate to have
laid upon her, and Fate, after piling the odds against her, had
relented.  Perhaps that is the meaning of courage.  It wrestles
with circumstance, like Jacob with the angel, till it compels its
antagonist to bless it.

I remembered a phrase which Vernon had once used about "the mailed
virgin."  It fitted this girl, and I began to realize the meaning
of virginity.  True purity, I thought, whether in woman or man, was
something far more than the narrow sex thing which was the common
notion of it.  It meant keeping oneself, as the Bible says,
altogether unspotted from the world, free from all tyranny and
stain, whether of flesh or spirit, defying the universe to touch
even the outworks of the sanctuary which is one's soul.  It must be
defiant, not the inert fragile crystal, but the supple shining
sword.  Virginity meant nothing unless it was mailed, and I
wondered whether we were not coming to a better understanding of
it.  The modern girl, with all her harshness, had the gallantry of
a free woman.  She was a crude Artemis, but her feet were on the
hills.  Was the blushing, sheltered maid of our grandmother's day
no more than an untempted Aphrodite?

These were queer reflections, I know, for a man like me, but they
gave me contentment, as if I had somehow made my peace with life.
For a long time I listened to the ripple of the water and watched
the sky lighten to dim grey, and the east flush with sunrise.  It
had become very cold and I was getting sleepy, so I hunted about
for a mattress to make myself a bed.  But a thought made me pause.
How would these two, who had come together out of the night, shake
down on the conventional roads of marriage?  To the end of time the
desire of a woman should be to her husband.  Would Koré's eyes,
accustomed to look so masterfully at life, ever turn to Vernon in
the surrender of wifely affection?  As I looked at the two in the
bows I wondered.

Then something happened which reassured me.  The girl stirred
uneasily as if in a bad dream, turned to where Vernon lay, and
flung out her hand.  Both were sound asleep, but in some secret way
the impulse must have been communicated to Vernon, for he moved on
his side, and brought an arm, which had been lying loosely on the
rug which covered him, athwart Koré's in a gesture of protection.

After that both seemed to be at peace, while the yawl ran towards
the mainland hills, now green as a fern in the spring dawn.



THE END




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