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Title:      The Runagates Club (1928)
Author:     John Buchan
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Runagates Club (1928)
Author:     John Buchan







TO LADY SALISBURY




CONTENTS


PREFACE

I.  THE GREEN WILDEBEEST: SIR RICHARD HANNAY's STORY

II.  THE FRYING-PAN AND THE FIRE: THE DUKE OF BURMINSTER'S STORY

  1.  THE FRYING-PAN

  2.  THE FIRE

III.  DR. LARTIUS: MR. PALLISER-YEATES'S STORY

IV.  THE WIND IN THE PORTICO: MR. HENRY NIGHTINGALE'S STORY

V.  "DIVUS" JOHNSTON: LORD LAMANCHA'S STORY

VI.  THE LOATHLY OPPOSITE: MAJOR OLIVER PUGH'S STORY

VII.  SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE: SIR EDWARD LEITHEN'S STORY

VIII.  SHIP TO TARSHISH: MR. RALPH COLLATT'S STORY

IX.  SKULE SKERRY: MR. ANTHONY HURRELL'S STORY

X.  "TENDEBANT MANUS": SIR ARTHUR WARCLIFF'S STORY

XI.  THE LAST CRUSADE: MR. FRANCIS MARTENDALE'S STORY

XII.  FULLCIRCLE: MR. MARTIN PECKWETHER'S STORY




PREFACE


A London dining-club is a curious organism, for it combines great
tenacity of life with a chameleon-like tendency to change its
colour.  A club which begins as a haunt of roysterers may end as a
blameless academic fraternity; another, which at the start is a
meeting-place of the intelligent, becomes in the progress of time a
select coterie of sportsmen.  So it has been with the institution
of which I am the chronicler.  It has changed its name and is now
the Thursday Club, and the number of permissible members has been
increased.  Its dinners are admirable; conversation at its board is
dignified and a little serious; it has enlarged its interests, and
would not now refuse a Lord Chancellor or a Bishop.

But in its infancy it was different.  Founded just after the close
of the War by a few people who had been leading queer lives and
wanted to keep together, it was a gathering of youngish men who met
only for reminiscences and relaxation.  It was officially limited
to fifteen members--fifteen, because a dozen was dull, thirteen was
unlucky, and fourteen had in those days an unpleasing flavour of
President Wilson and his points.  At first, until Burminster took
it in hand, the food and wine were execrable; hence the name of the
Runagates Club, given it by Lamancha from the verse in the 68th
Psalm:  "He letteth the runagates continue in scarceness."

But all defects in the fare were atoned for by the talk, which,
like that of Praed's Vicar,


       "slipped from politics to puns,
     And passed from Mahomet to Moses."


You could never tell what topic would engage the company, and no
topic was left unadorned, for I do not suppose there has ever been
a group with such varied experiences and attainments.  Each man
was in his own way an expert, but, while knowledge might be
specialised, the life of each had been preposterously varied.  The
War had flattened out grooves and set every man adventuring.  So
the lawyer and the financier were also soldiers; the Greek scholar
had captained a Bedawin tribe; the traveller had dabbled in secret
service; the journalist had commanded a battalion; the historian
had been mate on a novel kind of tramp; the ornithologist had
watched more perilous things than birds; the politician had handled
a rougher humanity than an English electorate.  Some of the
members, like Lord Lamancha, Sir Edward Leithen and Sir Arthur
Warcliff, were familiar to the public; others were known only to
narrow circles; but at the Runagates Club they were of one family
and totem, like old schoolfellows.

Good talk is not for reproduction in cold print.  But at those
early dinners there were reminiscences which may well be rescued
from oblivion, for all were story-tellers on occasion.  Indeed, it
became the fashion once a month for a member to entertain the
company with a more or less complete narrative.  From these I have
made a selection which I now set forth.



I


THE GREEN WILDEBEEST

SIR RICHARD HANNAY'S STORY


We carry with us the wonders we seek without us; there is all
Africa and her prodigies in us.

Sir Thomas Browne:  Religio Medici.


We were talking about the persistence of race qualities--how you
might bury a strain for generations under fresh graftings but the
aboriginal sap would some day stir.  The obvious instance was the
Jew, and Pugh had also something to say about the surprises of a
tincture of hill blood in the Behari.  Peckwether, the historian,
was inclined to doubt.  The old stock, he held, could disappear
absolutely as if by a chemical change, and the end be as remote
from the beginnings as--to use his phrase--a ripe Gorgonzola from a
bucket of new milk.

"I don't believe you're ever quite safe," said Sandy Arbuthnot.

"You mean that an eminent banker may get up one morning with a
strong wish to cut himself shaving in honour of Baal?"

"Maybe.  But the tradition is more likely to be negative.  There
are some things that for no particular reason he won't like, some
things that specially frighten him.  Take my own case.  I haven't a
scrap of real superstition in me, but I hate crossing a river at
night.  I fancy a lot of my blackguard ancestors got scuppered at
moonlight fords.  I believe we're all stuffed full of atavistic
fears, and you can't tell how or when a man will crack till you
know his breeding."

"I think that's about the truth of it," said Hannay, and after the
discussion had rambled on for a while he told us this tale.



Just after the Boer War (he said) I was on a prospecting job in the
north-eastern Transvaal.  I was a mining engineer, with copper as
my speciality, and I had always a notion that copper might be found
in big quantities in the Zoutpansberg foothills.  There was of
course Messina at the west end, but my thoughts turned rather to
the north-east corner, where the berg breaks down to the crook of
the Limpopo.  I was a young man then, fresh from two years'
campaigning with the Imperial Light Horse, and I was thirsty for
better jobs than trying to drive elusive burghers up against barbed
wire and blockhouses.  When I started out with my mules from
Pietersburg on the dusty road to the hills, I think I felt happier
than ever before in my life.

I had only one white companion, a boy of twenty-two called Andrew
Du Preez.  Andrew, not Andries, for he was named after the Reverend
Andrew Murray, who had been a great Pope among the devout
Afrikanders.  He came of a rich Free State farming family, but his
particular branch had been settled for two generations in the
Wakkerstroom region along the upper Pongola.  The father was a
splendid old fellow with a head like Moses, and he and all the
uncles had been on commando, and most of them had had a spell in
Bermuda or Ceylon.  The boy was a bit of a freak in that stock.  He
had been precociously intelligent, and had gone to a good school in
the Cape and afterwards to a technical college in Johannesburg.  He
was as modern a product as the others were survivals, with none of
the family religion or family politics, very keen on science,
determined to push his way on the Rand--which was the Mecca of all
enterprising Afrikanders--and not very sorry that the War should
have found him in a place from which it was manifestly impossible
to join the family banner.  In October '99 he was on his first job
in a new mining area in Rhodesia, and as he hadn't much health he
was wise enough to stick there till peace came.

I had known him before, and when I ran across him on the Rand I
asked him to come with me, and he jumped at the offer.  He had just
returned from the Wakkerstroom farm, to which the rest of his clan
had been repatriated, and didn't relish the prospect of living in a
tin-roofed shanty with a father who read the Bible most of the day
to find out why exactly he had merited such misfortunes.  Andrew
was a hard young sceptic, in whom the family piety produced acute
exasperation. . . .  He was a good-looking boy, always rather
smartly dressed, and at first sight you would have taken him for a
young American, because of his heavy hairless chin, his dull
complexion, and the way he peppered his ordinary speech with
technical and business phrases.  There was a touch of the Mongol in
his face, which was broad, with high cheek bones, eyes slightly
slanted, short thick nose and rather full lips.  I remembered that
I had seen the same thing before in young Boers, and I thought I
knew the reason.  The Du Preez family had lived for generations
close up to the Kaffir borders, and somewhere had got a dash of the
tar-brush.

We had a light wagon with a team of eight mules, and a Cape-cart
drawn by four others; five boys went with us, two of them
Shangaans, and three Basutos from Malietsie's location north of
Pietersburg.  Our road was over the Wood Bush, and then north-east
across the two Letabas to the Pufuri river.  The countryside was
amazingly empty.  Beyer's commandos had skirmished among the hills,
but the war had never reached the plains; at the same time it had
put a stop to all hunting and prospecting and had scattered most of
the native tribes.  The place had become in effect a sanctuary, and
I saw more varieties of game than I had ever seen before south of
the Zambesi, so that I wished I were on a hunting trip instead of
on a business job.  Lions were plentiful, and every night we had to
build a scherm for our mules and light great fires, beside which we
listened to their eerie serenades.

It was early December, and in the Wood Bush it was the weather of
an English June.  Even in the foothills, among the wormwood and
wild bananas, it was pleasant enough, but when we got out into the
plains it was as hot as Tophet.  As far as the eye could reach the
bushveld rolled its scrub like the scrawled foliage a child draws
on a slate, with here and there a baobab swimming unsteadily in the
glare.  For long stretches we were away from water, and ceased to
see big game--only Kaffir queens and tick-birds, and now and then a
wild ostrich.  Then on the sixth day out from Pietersburg we raised
a blue line of mountains on the north, which I knew to be the
eastern extension of the Zoutpansberg.  I had never travelled this
country before, and had never met a man who had, so we steered by
compass, and by one of the old bad maps of the Transvaal
Government.  That night we crossed the Pufuri, and next day the
landscape began to change.  The ground rose, so that we had a sight
of the distant Lebombo hills to the east, and mopani bushes began
to appear--a sure sign of a healthier country.

That afternoon we were only a mile or two from the hills.  They
were the usual type of berg which you find everywhere from Natal to
the Zambesi--cut sheer, with an overhang in many places, but much
broken up by kloofs and fissures.  What puzzled me was the absence
of streams.  The ground was as baked as the plains, all covered
with aloe and cactus and thorn, with never a sign of water.  But
for my purpose the place looked promising.  There was that
unpleasant metallic green that you find in a copper country, so
that everything seemed to have been steeped in a mineral dye--even
the brace of doves which I shot for luncheon.

We turned east along the foot of the cliffs, and presently saw a
curious feature.  A promontory ran out from the berg, connected by
a narrow isthmus with the main massif.  I suppose the superficial
area of the top might have been a square mile or so; the little
peninsula was deeply cut into by ravines, and in the ravines tall
timber was growing.  Also we came to well-grassed slopes, dotted
with mimosa and syringa bushes.  This must mean water at last, for
I had never found yellowwoods and stinkwoods growing far from a
stream.  Here was our outspan for the night, and when presently we
rounded a corner and looked down into a green cup I thought I had
rarely seen a more habitable place.  The sight of fresh green
herbage always intoxicated me, after the dust and heat and the ugly
greys and umbers of the bushveld.  There was a biggish kraal in the
bottom, and a lot of goats and leggy Kaffir sheep on the slopes.
Children were bringing in the cows for the milking, smoke was going
up from the cooking fires, and there was a cheerful evening hum in
the air.  I expected a stream, but could see no sign of one: the
cup seemed to be as dry as a hollow of the Sussex Downs.  Also,
though there were patches of mealies and Kaffir corn, I could see
no irrigated land.  But water must be there, and after we had fixed
a spot for our outspan beside a clump of olivewoods, I took Andrew
and one of our boys and strolled down to make inquiries.

I daresay many of the inhabitants of that kraal had never seen a
white man before, for our arrival made a bit of a sensation.  I
noticed that there were very few young men about the place, but an
inordinate number of old women.  The first sight of us scattered
them like plovers, and we had to wait for half an hour, smoking
patiently in the evening sun, before we could get into talk with
them.  Once the ice was broken, however, things went well.  They
were a decent peaceable folk, very shy and scared and hesitating,
but with no guile in them.  Our presents of brass and copper wire
and a few tins of preserved meat made a tremendous impression.  We
bought a sheep from them at a ridiculously small price, and they
threw in a basket of green mealies.  But when we raised the water
question we struck a snag.

There was water, good water, they said, but it was not in any pan
or stream.  They got it morning and evening from up there--and they
pointed to the fringe of a wood under the cliffs where I thought I
saw the roof of a biggish rondavel.  They got it from their Father;
they were Shangaans, and the word they used was not the ordinary
word for chief, but the name for a great priest and medicine-man.

I wanted my dinner, so I forbore to inquire further.  I produced
some more Kaffir truck, and begged them to present it with my
compliments to their Father, and to ask for water for two white
strangers, five of their own race, and twelve mules.  They seemed
to welcome the proposition, and a string of them promptly set off
uphill with their big calabashes.  As we walked back I said
something foolish to Andrew about having struck a Kaffir Moses who
could draw water from the rock.  The lad was in a bad temper.  "We
have struck an infernal rascal who has made a corner in the water
supply and bleeds these poor devils.  He's the kind of grafter I
would like to interview with a sjambok."

In an hour we had all the water we wanted.  It stood in a row of
calabashes, and beside it the presents I had sent to the provider.
The villagers had deposited it and then vanished, and our boys who
had helped them to carry it were curiously quiet and solemnised.  I
was informed that the Father sent the water as a gift to the
strangers without payment.  I tried to cross-examine one of our
Shangaans, but he would tell me nothing except that the water had
come from a sacred place into which no man could penetrate.  He
also muttered something about a wildebeest which I couldn't
understand.  Now the Kaffir is the most superstitious of God's
creatures.  All the way from Pietersburg we had been troubled by
the vivid imaginations of our outfit.  They wouldn't sleep in one
place because of a woman without a head who haunted it; they dared
not go a yard along a particular road after dark because of a spook
that travelled it in the shape of a rolling ball of fire.  Usually
their memories were as short as their fancies were quick, and five
minutes after their protest they would be laughing like baboons.
But that night they seemed to have been really impressed by
something.  They did not chatter or sing over their supper, but
gossiped in undertones, and slept as near Andrew and myself as they
dared.

Next morning the same array of gourds stood before our outspan, and
there was enough water for me to have a tub in my collapsible bath.
I don't think I ever felt anything colder.

I had decided to take a holiday and go shooting.  Andrew would stay
in camp and tinker up one of the wheels of the mule-wagon which had
suffered from the bush roads.  He announced his intention of taking
a walk later and interviewing the water-merchant.

"For Heaven's sake, be careful," I said.  "Most likely he's a
priest of sorts, and if you're not civil to him we'll have to quit
this country.  I make a point of respecting the gods of the
heathen."

"All you English do," he replied tartly.  "That's why you make such
a damned mess of handling Kaffirs. . . .  But this fellow is a
business man with a pretty notion of cornering public utilities.
I'm going to make his acquaintance."

I had a pleasant day in that hot scented wilderness.  First I tried
the low ground, but found nothing there but some old spoor of kudu,
and a paauw which I shot.  Then I tried the skirts of the berg to
the east of the village, and found that the kloofs, which from
below looked climbable, had all somewhere a confounded overhang
which checked me.  I saw no way of getting to the top of the
plateau, so I spent the afternoon in exploring the tumbled glacis.
There was no trace of copper here, for the rock was a reddish
granite, but it was a jolly flowery place, with green dells among
the crags, and an amazing variety of birds.  But I was glad that I
had brought a water-bottle, for I found no water; it was there all
right, but it was underground.  I stalked a bushbuck ram and missed
him, but I got one of the little buck like chamois which the Dutch
call klipspringer.  With it and the paauw strung round my neck I
sauntered back leisurely to supper.

As soon as I came in sight of the village I saw that something had
played the deuce with it.  There was a great hubbub going on, and
all the folk were collected at the end farthest away from our camp.
The camp itself looked very silent.  I could see the hobbled mules,
but I could see nothing of any of our outfit.  I thought it best in
these circumstances to make an inconspicuous arrival, so I bore
away to my left, crossed the hollow lower down where it was thick
with scrub, and came in on the outspan from the south.  It was very
silent.  The cooking fires had been allowed to go out, though the
boys should have been getting ready the evening meal, and there
seemed to be not a single black face on the premises.  Very uneasy,
I made for our sleeping tent, and found Andrew lying on his bed,
smoking.

"What on earth has happened?" I demanded.  "Where are Coos and
Klemboy and . . ."

"Quit," he said shortly.  "They've all quit."

He looked sulky and tired and rather white in the face, and there
seemed to be more the matter with him than ill temper.  He would
lay down his pipe, and press his hand on his forehead like a man
with a bad headache.  Also he never lifted his eyes to mine.  I
daresay I was a bit harsh, for I was hungry, and there were moments
when I thought he was going to cry.  However at last I got a sort
of story out of him.

He had finished his job on the wagon wheel in the morning, and
after luncheon had gone for a walk to the wood above the village at
the foot of the cliffs.  He wanted to see where the water came from
and to have a word with the man who controlled it.  Andrew, as I
have told you, was a hard young realist and, by way of reaction
from his family, a determined foe of superstition, and he disliked
the notion of this priest and his mumbo-jumbo.  Well, it seemed
that he reached the priest's headquarters--it was the big rondavel
we had seen from below, and there was a kind of stockade stretching
on both sides, very strongly fenced, so that the only entrance was
through the rondavel.  He had found the priest at home, and had,
according to his account, spoken to him civilly and had tried to
investigate the water problem.  But the old man would have nothing
to say to him, and peremptorily refused his request to be allowed
to enter the enclosure.  By and by Andrew lost his temper, and
forced his way in.  The priest resisted and there was a scuffle; I
daresay Andrew used his sjambok, for a backveld Dutchman can never
keep his hands off a Kaffir.

I didn't like the story, but it was no use being angry with a lad
who looked like a sick dog.

"What is inside?  Did you find the water?" I asked.

"I hadn't time.  It's a thick wood and full of beasts.  I tell you
I was scared out of my senses and had to run for my life."

"Leopards?" I asked.  I had heard of native chiefs keeping tame
leopards.

"Leopards be damned.  I'd have faced leopards.  I saw a wildebeest
as big as a house--an old brute, grey in the nozzle and the rest of
it green--green, I tell you.  I took a pot shot at it and ran. . . .
When I came out the whole blasted kraal was howling.  The old
devil must have roused them.  I legged it for home. . . .  No, they
didn't follow, but in half an hour all our outfit had cut their
stick . . . didn't wait to pick up their duds. . . .  Oh, hell, I
can't talk.  Leave me alone."

I had laughed in spite of myself.  A wildebeest is not ornamental
at the best, but a green one must be a good recipe for the horrors.
All the same I felt very little like laughing.  Andrew had offended
the village and its priest, played havoc with the brittle nerves of
our own boys, and generally made the place too hot to hold us.  He
had struck some kind of native magic, which had frightened him to
the bone for all his scepticism.  The best thing I could do seemed
to be to try and patch up a peace with the water merchant.  So I
made a fire and put on a kettle to boil, stayed my hunger with a
handful of biscuits, and started out for the rondavel.  But first I
saw that my revolver was loaded, for I fancied that there might be
trouble.  It was a calm bright evening, but up from the hollow
where the kraal lay there rose a buzz like angry wasps.

No one interfered with me; indeed, I met no one till I presented
myself at the rondavel door.  It was a big empty place, joined to
the stockades on both sides, and opposite the door was another
which opened on to a dull green shade.  I never saw a scherm so
stoutly built.  There was a palisade of tall pointed poles, and
between them a thick wall of wait-a-bit thorns interlaced with a
scarlet-flowered creeper.  It would have taken a man with an axe
half a day to cut a road through.  The only feasible entrance was
by the rondavel.

An old man was squatted on an earthen floor, which had been so
pounded and beaten that it looked like dark polished stone.  His
age might have been anything above seventy from the whiteness of
his beard, but there seemed a good deal of bodily strength left in
him, for the long arms which rested on his knees were muscular.
His face was not the squat face of the ordinary Kaffir, but high-
boned and regular, like some types of well-bred Zulu.  Now that I
think of it, there was probably Arab blood in him.  He lifted his
head at the sound of my steps, and by the way he looked at me I
knew that he was blind.

There he sat without a word, every line of his body full of
dejection and tragedy.  I had suddenly a horrible feeling of
sacrilege.  That that young fool Andrew should have lifted his hand
upon an old man and a blind man and outraged some harmless tabu
seemed to me an abominable thing.  I felt that some holiness had
been violated, something ancient and innocent cruelly insulted.  At
that moment there was nothing in the world I wanted so much as to
make restitution.

I spoke to him, using the Shangaan word which means both priest and
king.  I told him that I had been away hunting and had returned to
find that my companion had made bad mischief.  I said that Andrew
was very young, and that his error had been only the foolishness
and hot-headedness of youth.  I said--and my voice must have shown
him that I meant it--that I was cut to the heart by what had
happened, that I bowed my head in the dust in contrition, and that
I asked nothing better than to be allowed to make atonement. . . .
Of course I didn't offer money.  I would as soon have thought of
offering a tip to the Pope.

He never lifted his head, so I said it all over again, and the
second time it was genuine pleading.  I had never spoken like that
to a Kaffir before, but I could not think of that old figure as a
Kaffir, but as the keeper of some ancient mystery which a rude hand
had outraged.

He spoke at last.  "There can be no atonement," he said.  "Wrong
has been done, and on the wrong-doer must fall the penalty."

The words were wholly without menace; rather he spoke as if he were
an unwilling prophet of evil.  He was there to declare the law,
which he could not alter if he wanted.

I apologised, I protested, I pled, I fairly grovelled; I implored
him to tell me if there was no way in which the trouble could be
mended; but if I had offered him a million pounds I don't believe
that that old fellow would have changed his tone.  He seemed to
feel, and he made me feel it too, that a crime had been committed
against the law of nature, and that it was nature, not man, that
would avenge it.  He wasn't in the least unfriendly; indeed, I
think he rather liked the serious way I took the business and
realised how sorry I was; his slow sentences came out without a
trace of bitterness.  It was this that impressed me so horribly--he
was like an old stone oracle repeating the commands of the God he
served.

I could make nothing of him, though I kept at it till the shadows
had lengthened outside, and it was almost dark within the rondavel.
I wanted to ask him at least to help me to get back my boys, and to
make our peace with the village, but I simply could not get the
words out.  The atmosphere was too solemn to put a practical
question like that. . . .

I was turning to go away, when I looked at the door on the far
side.  Owing to the curious formation of the cliffs the sinking sun
had only now caught the high tree-tops, and some ricochet of light
made the enclosure brighter than when I first arrived.  I felt
suddenly an overwhelming desire to go inside.

"Is it permitted, Father," I said, "to pass through that door?"

To my surprise he waved me on.  "It is permitted," he said, "for
you have a clean heart."  Then he added a curious thing.  "What was
there is there no more.  It has gone to the fulfilling of the law."

It was with a good deal of trepidation that I entered that uncanny
enceinte.  I remembered Andrew's terror, and I kept my hand on my
revolver, for I had a notion that there might be some queer fauna
inside.  There was light in the upper air, but below it was a kind
of olive-green dusk.  I was afraid of snakes, also of tiger-cats,
and there was Andrew's green wildebeest!

The place was only a couple of acres in extent, and though I walked
very cautiously I soon had made the circuit of it.  The scherm
continued in a half-moon on each side till it met the sheer wall of
the cliffs.  The undergrowth was not very thick, and out of it grew
tall straight trees, so that the wood seemed like some old pagan
grove.  When one looked up the mulberry sunset sky showed in
patches between the feathery tops, but where I walked it was very
dark.

There was not a sign of life in it, not a bird or beast, not the
crack of a twig or a stir in the bushes; all was as quiet and dead
as a crypt.  Having made the circuit I struck diagonally across,
and presently came on what I had been looking for--a pool of water.
The spring was nearly circular, with a diameter of perhaps six
yards, and what amazed me was that it was surrounded by a parapet
of hewn stone.  In the centre of the grove there was a little more
light, and I could see that that stonework had never been made by
Kaffir hands.  Evening is the time when water comes to its own; it
sleeps in the day but it has its own strange life in the darkness.
I dipped my hand in it and it was as cold as ice.  There was no
bubbling in it, but there seemed to be a slow rhythmical movement,
as if fresh currents were always welling out of the deeps and
always returning.  I have no doubt that it would have been crystal
clear if there had been any light, but, as I saw it, it was a
surface of darkest jade, opaque, impenetrable, swaying to some
magic impulse from the heart of the earth.

It is difficult to explain just the effect it had on me.  I had
been solemnised before, but this grove and fountain gave me the
abject shapeless fear of a child.  I felt that somehow I had
strayed beyond the reasonable world.  The place was clean against
nature.  It was early summer, so these dark aisles should have been
alive with moths and flying ants and all the thousand noises of
night.  Instead it was utterly silent and lifeless, dead as a stone
except for the secret pulsing of the cold waters.

I had had quite enough.  It is an absurd thing to confess, but I
bolted--shuffled through the undergrowth and back into the
rondavel, where the old man still sat like Buddha on the floor.

"You have seen?" he asked.

"I have seen," I said--"but I do not know what I have seen.
Father, be merciful to foolish youth."

He repeated again the words that had chilled me before.  "What was
there has gone to fulfil the law."

I ran all the way back to our outspan, and took some unholy tosses
on the road, for I had got it into my head that Andrew was in
danger.  I don't think I ever believed in his green wildebeest, but
he had been positive that the place was full of animals, and I knew
for a fact that it was empty.  Had some fearsome brute been
unloosed on the world?

I found Andrew in our tent, and the kettle I had put on to boil
empty and the fire out.  The boy was sleeping heavily with a
flushed face, and I saw what had happened.  He was practically a
teetotaller, but he had chosen to swallow a good third of one of
our four bottles of whisky.  The compulsion must have been pretty
strong which drove him to drink.



After that our expedition went from bad to worse.  In the morning
there was no water to be had, and I didn't see myself shouldering a
calabash and going back to the grove.  Also our boys did not
return, and not a soul in the kraal would come near us.  Indeed,
all night they had kept up a most distressing racket, wailing and
beating little drums.  It was no use staying on, and, for myself, I
had a strong desire to get out of the neighbourhood.  The
experience of the night before had left an aftertaste of disquiet
in my mind, and I wanted to flee from I knew not what.  Andrew was
obviously a sick man.  We did not carry clinical thermometers in
those days, but he certainly had fever on him.

So we inspanned after breakfast, and a heavy job trekking is when
you have to do all the work yourself.  I drove the wagon and Andrew
the Cape-cart, and I wondered how long he would be able to sit on
his seat.  My notion was that by going east we might be able to
hire fresh boys, and start prospecting in the hill-country above
the bend of the Limpopo.

But the word had gone out against us.  You know the way in which
Kaffirs send news for a hundred miles as quick as the telegraph--by
drum-taps or telepathy--explain it any way you like.  Well, we
struck a big kraal that afternoon, but not a word would they say to
us.  Indeed, they were actually threatening, and I had to show my
revolver and speak pretty stiffly before we got off.  It was the
same next day, and I grew nervous about our provisions, for we
couldn't buy anything--not a chicken or an egg or a mealie-cob.
Andrew was a jolly companion.  He had relapsed into the primeval
lout, and his manners were those of a cave-man.  If he had not been
patently suffering, I would have found it hard to keep my temper.

Altogether it was a bright look-out, and to crown all on the third
morning Andrew went down like a log with the worst bout of malaria
I have ever seen.  That fairly put the lid on it.  I thought it was
going to be black-water, and all my irritation at the boy vanished
in my anxiety.  There was nothing for it but to give up the
expedition and make the best speed possible to the coast.  I made
for Portuguese territory, and that evening got to the Limpopo.
Happily we struck a more civil brand of native, who had not heard
of our performances, and I was able to make a bargain with the
headman of the village, who undertook to take charge of our outfit
till it was sent for, and sold us a big native boat.  I hired four
lusty fellows as rowers and next morning we started down the river.

We spent a giddy five days before I planted Andrew in hospital at
Lourenço Marques.  The sickness was not black-water, thank God, but
it was a good deal more than ordinary malaria; indeed, I think
there was a touch of brain fever in it.  Curiously enough I was
rather relieved when it came.  I had been scared by the boy's
behaviour the first two days.  I thought that the old priest had
actually laid some curse on him; I remembered how the glade and the
well had solemnised even me, and I considered that Andrew, with a
Kaffir strain somewhere in his ancestry, was probably susceptible
to something which left me cold.  I had knocked too much about
Africa to be a dogmatic sceptic about the mysteries of the heathen.
But this fever seemed to explain it.  He had been sickening for it;
that was why he had behaved so badly to the old man, and had come
back babbling about a green wildebeest.  I knew that the beginnings
of fever often make a man light-headed so that he loses all self-
control and gets odd fancies. . . .  All the same I didn't quite
convince myself.  I couldn't get out of my head the picture of the
old man and his ominous words, or that empty grove under the
sunset.

I did my best for the boy, and before we reached the coast the
worst had passed.  A bed was made for him in the stern, and I had
to watch him by night and day to prevent him going overboard among
the crocodiles.  He was apt to be violent, for in his madness he
thought he was being chased, and sometimes I had all I could do to
keep him in the boat.  He would scream like a thing demented, and
plead, and curse, and I noticed as a queer thing that his ravings
were never in Dutch but always in Kaffir--mostly the Sesutu which
he had learnt in his childhood.  I expected to hear him mention the
green wildebeest, but to my comfort he never uttered the name.  He
gave no clue to what frightened him, but it must have been a full-
sized terror, for every nerve in his body seemed to be quivering,
and I didn't care to look at his eyes.

The upshot was that I left him in bed in hospital, as weak as a
kitten, but with the fever gone and restored to his right mind.  He
was again the good fellow I had known, very apologetic and
grateful.  So with an easy conscience I arranged for the retrieving
of my outfit and returned to the Rand.



Well, for six months I lost sight of Andrew.  I had to go to
Namaqualand, and then up to the copper country of Barotseland,
which wasn't as easy a trek as it is to-day.  I had one letter from
him, written from Johannesburg--not a very satisfactory epistle,
for I gathered that the boy was very unsettled.  He had quarrelled
with his family, and he didn't seem to be contented with the job he
had got in the goldfields.  As I had known him he had been a sort
of school-book industrious apprentice, determined to get on in the
world, and not in the least afraid of a dull job and uncongenial
company.  But this letter was full of small grouses.  He wanted
badly to have a talk with me--thought of chucking his work and
making a trip north to see me; and he ended with an underlined
request that I should telegraph when I was coming down-country.  As
it happened I had no chance just then of sending a telegram, and
later I forgot about it.

By and by I finished my tour and was at the Falls, where I got a
local Rhodesian paper.  From it I had news of Andrew with a
vengeance.  There were columns about a murder in the bushveld--two
men had gone out to look for Kruger's treasure and one had shot the
other, and to my horror I found that the one who was now lying in
Pretoria gaol under sentence of death was my unhappy friend.

You remember the wild yarns after the Boer War about a treasure of
gold which Kruger in his flight to the coast had buried somewhere
in the Selati country.  That, of course, was all nonsense: the wily
ex-President had long before seen the main funds safe in a European
bank.  But I daresay some of the officials had got away with
Treasury balances, and there may have been bullion cached in the
bushveld.  Anyhow every scallywag south of the Zambesi was agog
about the business, and there were no end of expeditions which
never found a single Transvaal sovereign.  Well, it seemed that two
months before Andrew and a Dutchman called Smit had started out to
try their luck, and somewhere on the Olifants the two had gone out
one evening and only one had returned.  Smit was found by the
native boys with a hole in his head, and it was proved that the
bullet came from Andrew's rifle, which he had been carrying when
the two set out.  After that the story became obscure.  Andrew had
been very excited when he returned and declared that he had "done
it at last," but when Smit's body was found he denied that he had
shot him.  But it was clear that Smit had been killed by Andrew's
sporting .303, and the natives swore that the men had been
constantly quarrelling and that Andrew had always shown a very odd
temper.  The Crown prosecutor argued that the two believed they had
found treasure, and that Andrew had murdered Smit in cold blood to
prevent his sharing.  The defence seemed to be chiefly the
impossibility of a guilty man behaving as Andrew had behaved, and
the likelihood of his having fired at a beast in the dark and
killed his companion.  It sounded to me very thin, and the jury did
not believe it, for their verdict was wilful murder.

I knew that it was simply incredible that Andrew could have
committed the crime.  Men are queer cattle, and I wouldn't have put
even murder past certain fairly decent fellows I knew, but this boy
was emphatically not one of them.  Unless he had gone stark mad I
was positive that he could never have taken human life.  I knew him
intimately, in the way you know a fellow you have lived alone with
for months, and that was one of the things I could bank on.  All
the same it seemed clear that he had shot Smit. . . .  I sent the
longest telegram I ever sent in my life to a Scotch lawyer in
Johannesburg called Dalgleish whom I believed in, telling him to
move heaven and earth to get a reprieve.  He was to see Andrew and
wire me details about his state of mind.  I thought then that
temporary madness was probably our best line, and I believed myself
that that was the explanation.  I longed to take the train
forthwith to Pretoria, but I was tied by the heels till the rest of
my outfit came in.  I was tortured by the thought that the hanging
might have already taken place, for that wretched newspaper was a
week old.

In two days I got Dalgleish's reply.  He had seen the condemned
man, and had told him that he came from me.  He reported that
Andrew was curiously peaceful and apathetic, and not very willing
to talk about the business except to declare his innocence.
Dalgleish thought him not quite right in his mind, but he had been
already examined, and the court had rejected the plea of insanity.
He sent his love to me and told me not to worry.

I stirred up Dalgleish again, and got a further reply.  Andrew
admitted that he had fired the rifle, but not at Smit.  He had
killed something, but what it was he would not say.  He did not
seem to be in the least keen to save his neck.

When I reached Bulawayo, on my way south, I had a brain-wave, but
the thing seemed so preposterous that I could hardly take it
seriously.  Still I daren't neglect any chance, so I wired again to
Dalgleish to try to have the execution postponed, until he got hold
of the priest who lived in the berg above the Pufuri.  I gave him
full directions how to find him.  I said that the old man had laid
some curse on Andrew, and that that might explain his state of
mind.  After all demoniacal possession must be equivalent in law to
insanity.  But by this time I had become rather hopeless.  It
seemed a futile thing to be wiring this rigmarole when every hour
was bringing the gallows nearer.

I left the railroad at Mafeking, for I thought I could save the
long circuit by De Aar by trekking across country.  I would have
done better to stick to the train, for everything went wrong with
me.  I had a breakdown at the drift of the Selous river and had to
wait a day in Rustenburg, and I had trouble again at Commando Nek,
so that it was the evening of the third day before I reached
Pretoria. . . .  As I feared, it was all over.  They told me in the
hotel that Andrew had been hanged that morning.

I went back to Johannesburg to see Dalgleish with a cold horror at
my heart and complete mystification in my head.  The Devil had
taken an active hand in things and caused a hideous miscarriage of
justice.  If there had been anybody I could blame I would have felt
better, but the fault seemed to lie only with the crookedness of
fate. . . .  Dalgleish could tell me little.  Smit had been the
ordinary scallywag, not much of a fellow and no great loss to the
world; the puzzle was why Andrew wanted to go with him.  The boy in
his last days had been utterly apathetic--bore no grudge against
anybody--appeared at peace with the world, but didn't seem to want
to live.  The predikant who visited him daily could make nothing of
him.  He appeared to be sane enough, but, beyond declaring his
innocence, was not inclined to talk, and gave no assistance to
those who were trying to get a reprieve . . . scarcely took any
interest in it. . . .  He had asked repeatedly for me, and had
occupied his last days in writing me a long letter, which was to be
delivered unopened into my hand.  Dalgleish gave me the thing,
seven pages in Andrew's neat caligraphy, and in the evening on his
stoep I read it.

It was like a voice speaking to me out of the grave, but it was not
the voice I knew.  Gone was the enlightened commercially-minded
young man, who had shed all superstition, and had a dapper
explanation for everything in heaven and earth.  It was a crude boy
who had written those pages, a boy in whose soul old Calvinistic
terrors had been awakened, and terrors older still out of
primordial African shadows.

He had committed a great sin--that was the point he insisted upon,
and by this sin he had set free something awful to prey on the
world. . . .  At first it seemed sheer raving mania to me, but as I
mused on it I remembered my own feelings in that empty grove.  I
had been solemnised, and this boy, with that in his blood which was
not in mine, had suffered a cataclysmic spiritual experience.  He
did not dwell on it, but his few sentences were eloquent in their
harsh intensity.  He had struggled, he had tried to make light of
it, to forget it, to despise it; but it rode him like a nightmare.
He thought he was going mad.  I had been right about that touch of
brain fever.

As far as I could make it out, he believed that from that outraged
sanctuary something real and living had gone forth, something at
any rate of flesh and blood.  But this idea may not have come to
him till later, when his mind had been for several months in
torture, and he had lost the power of sleep.  At first, I think,
his trouble was only an indefinite haunting, a sense of sin and
impending retribution.  But in Johannesburg the malaise had taken
concrete form.  He believed that through his act something awful
was at large, with infinite power for evil--evil not only against
the wrongdoer himself but against the world.  And he believed that
it might still be stopped, that it was still in the eastern bush.
So crude a fancy showed how his normal intelligence had gone to
bits.  He had tumbled again into the backveld world of his
childhood.

He decided to go and look for it.  That was where the tough white
strain in him came out.  He might have a Kaffir's blind terrors,
but he had the frontier Boer's cast-iron courage.  If you think of
it, it needed a pretty stout heart to set out to find a thing the
thought of which set every nerve quivering.  I confess I didn't
like to contemplate that lonely, white-faced, tormented boy.  I
think he knew that tragedy must be the end of it, but he had to
face up to that and take the consequences.

He heard of Smit's expedition, and took a half share in it.
Perhaps the fact that Smit had a baddish reputation was part of the
attraction.  He didn't want as companion a man with whom he had
anything in common, for he had to think his own thoughts and follow
his own course.

Well, you know the end of it.  In his letter he said nothing about
the journey, except that he had found what he sought.  I can
readily believe that the two did not agree very well--the one
hungry for mythical treasure, the other with a problem which all
the gold in Africa could not solve. . . .  Somewhere, somehow, down
in the Selati bushveld his incubus took bodily form, and he met--or
thought he met--the thing which his impiety had released.  I
suppose we must call it madness.  He shot his comrade, and thought
he had killed an animal.  "If they had looked next morning they
would have found the spoor," he wrote.  Smit's death didn't seem to
trouble him at all--I don't think he quite realised it.  The thing
that mattered for him was that he had put an end to a terror and in
some way made atonement.  "Good-bye, and don't worry about me,"
were the last words, "I am quite content."

I sat a long time thinking, while the sun went down over the
Magaliesberg.  A gramophone was grinding away on an adjacent stoep,
and the noise of the stamps on the Rand came like far-away drums.
People at that time used to quote some Latin phrase about a new
thing always coming out of Africa.  I thought that it was not the
new things in Africa that mattered so much as the old things.



I proposed to revisit that berg above the Pufuri and have a word
with the priest, but I did not get a chance till the following
summer, when I trekked down the Limpopo from Main Drift.  I didn't
like the job, but I felt bound to have it out with that old man for
Andrew's sake.  You see, I wanted something more to convince the
Wakkerstroom household that the boy had not been guilty, as his
father thought, of the sin of Cain.

I came round the corner of the berg one January evening after a day
of blistering heat, and looked down on the cup of green pasture.
One glance showed me that there was not going to be any explanation
with the priest. . . .  A bit of the cliff had broken away, and the
rock fall had simply blotted out the grove and the rondavel.  A
huge mass of debris sloped down from half-way up the hill, and
buried under it were the tall trees through which I had peered up
at the sky.  Already it was feathered with thorn-bush and grasses.
There were no patches of crops on the sides of the cup, and
crumbling mud walls were all that remained of the kraal.  The
jungle had flowed over the village, and, when I entered it, great
moon flowers sprawled on the rubble, looking in the dusk like
ghosts of a vanished race.

There was one new feature in the place.  The landslip must have
released the underground water, for a stream now flowed down the
hollow.  Beside it, in a meadow full of agapanthus and arum lilies,
I found two Australian prospectors.  One of them--he had been a
Melbourne bank-clerk--had a poetic soul.  "Nice little place," he
said.  "Not littered up with black fellows.  If I were on a
homesteading job, I reckon I'd squat here."




II


THE FRYING-PAN AND THE FIRE

THE DUKE OF BURMINSTER'S STORY


From the Bath, in its most exotic form, degenerate patrician youth
passed to the coarse delights of the Circus, and thence to that
parody of public duties which it was still the fashion of their
class to patronise.

Von Letterbeck:  Imperial Rome.



PART I--THE FRYING-PAN


Lamancha had been staying for the week-end at some country house,
and had returned full of wrath at the way he had been made to spend
his evenings.  "I thought I hated bridge," he said, "but I almost
longed for it as a change from cracking my brain and my memory to
find lines from poets I had forgotten to describe people I didn't
know.  I don't like games that make me feel a congenital idiot.
But there was one that rather amused me.  You invented a
preposterous situation and the point was to explain naturally how
it came about.  Drink, lunacy and practical joking were barred as
explanations.  One problem given was the Bishop of London on a
camel, with a string of sea-trout round his neck, playing on a
penny whistle on the Hoe at Plymouth.  There was a fellow there, a
Chancery K.C., who provided a perfectly sensible explanation."

"I have heard of stranger things," said Sandy Arbuthnot, and he
winked at Burminster, who flushed and looked uncomfortable.  As the
rest of our eyes took the same direction the flush deepened on that
round cheerful face.

"It's no good, Mike," said Arbuthnot.  "We've been waiting months
for that story of yours, and this is the place and the hour for it.
We'll take no denial."

"Confound you, Sandy, I can't tell it.  It's too dashed silly."

"Not a bit of it.  It's full of profound philosophical lessons, and
it's sheer romance, as somebody has defined the thing--strangeness
flowering from the commonplace.  So pull up your socks and get
going."

"I don't know how to begin," said Burminster.

"Well, I'll start it for you. . . .  The scene is the railway-
station of Langshiels on the Scottish Borders on a certain day last
summer.  On the platform are various gentlemen in their best
clothes with rosettes in their buttonholes--all strictly sober, it
being but the third hour of the afternoon.  There are also the
rudiments of a brass band.  Clearly a distinguished visitor is
expected.  The train enters the station, and from a third-class
carriage descends our only Mike with a muddy face and a scratched
nose.  He is habited in dirty white cord breeches, shocking old
butcher boots, a purple knitted waistcoat, and what I believe is
called a morning coat; over all this splendour a ticky ulster--
clearly not his own since it does not meet--and on his head an
unspeakable bowler hat.  He is welcomed by the deputation and
departs, attended by the band, to a political meeting in the Town
Hall.  But first--I quote from the local paper--'the Duke, who had
arrived in sporting costume, proceeded to the Station Hotel, where
he rapidly changed.'  We want to know the reason of these
cantrips."

Burminster took a long pull at his tankard, and looked round the
company with more composure.

"It isn't much of a story, but it's true, and, like nearly every
scrape I ever got into, Archie Roylance was at the bottom of it.
It all started from a discussion I had with Archie.  He was staying
with me at Larristane, and we got talking about the old Border
raiders and the way the face of the countryside had changed and
that sort of thing.  Archie said that, now the land was as bare as
a marble-topped table and there was no cover on the hills to hide a
tomtit, a man couldn't ride five miles anywhere between the
Cheviots and the Clyde without being seen by a dozen people.  I
said that there was still plenty of cover if you knew how to use
it--that you could hide yourself as well on bent and heather as in
a thick wood if you studied the shadows and the lie of the land,
same as an aeroplane can hide itself in an empty sky.  Well, we
argued and argued, and the upshot was that I backed myself to ride
an agreed course, without Archie spotting me.  There wasn't much
money on it--only an even sovereign--but we both worked ourselves
up into considerable keenness.  That was where I fell down.  I
might have known that anything Archie was keen about would end in
the soup.

"The course we fixed was about fifteen miles long, from Gledfoot
bridge over the hills between Gled and Aller and the Blae Moor to
the Mains of Blae.  That was close to Kirk Aller, and we agreed, if
we didn't meet before, to foregather at the Cross Keys and have tea
and motor home.  Archie was to start from a point about four miles
north-east of Gledfoot and cut in on my road at a tangent.  I could
shape any course I liked, but I couldn't win unless I got to the
Mains of Blae before five o'clock without being spotted.  The rule
about that was that he must get within speaking distance of me--say
three hundred yards--before he held me up.  All the Larristane
horses were at grass, so we couldn't look for pace.  I chose an old
hunter of mine that was very leery about bogs; Archie picked a
young mare that I had hunted the season before and that he had
wanted to buy from me.  He said that by rights he ought to have the
speedier steed, since, if he spotted me, he had more or less to
ride me down.

"We thought it was only a pleasant summer day's diversion.  I
didn't want to give more than a day to it, for I had guests
arriving that evening, and on the Wednesday--this was a Monday--I
had to take the chair for Deloraine at a big Conservative meeting
at Langshiels, and I meant to give a lot of time to preparing a
speech.  I ought to say that neither of us knew the bit of country
beyond its general lines, and we were forbidden to carry maps.  The
horses were sent on, and at 9.30 a.m. I was at Gledfoot bridge
ready to start.  I was wearing khaki riding breeches, polo boots,
an old shooting coat and a pretty old felt hat.  I mention my
costume, for later it became important.

"I may as well finish with Archie, for he doesn't come any more
into this tale.  He hadn't been half an hour in the saddle when he
wandered into a bog, and it took him till three in the afternoon to
get his horse out.  Consequently he chucked in his hand, and went
back to Larristane.  So all the time I was riding cunning and
watching out of my right eye to see him on the skyline he was
sweating and blaspheming in a peat moss.

"I started from Gledfoot up the Rinks burn in very good spirits,
for I had been studying the big Ordnance map and I believed I had a
soft thing.  Beyond the Rinks Hope I would cross the ridge to the
top of the Skyre burn, which at its head is all split up into deep
grassy gullies.  I had guessed this from the map, and the people at
Gledfoot had confirmed it.  By one or other of these gullies I
could ride in good cover till I reached a big wood of firs that
stretched for a mile down the left bank of the burn.  Archie, to
cut in on me, had a pretty steep hill to cross, and I calculated
that by the time he got on the skyline I would be in the shelter of
one of the gullies or even behind the wood.  Not seeing me on the
upper Skyre, he would think that I had bustled a bit and would look
for me lower down the glen.  I would lie doggo and watch for him,
and when I saw him properly started I meant to slip up a side burn
and get into the parallel glen of the Hollin.  Once there I would
ride like blazes, and either get to the Blae Moor before him--in
which case I would simply canter at ease up to the Mains of Blae--
or, if I saw him ahead of me, fetch a circuit among the plantings
and come in on the farm from the other side.  That was the general
lay out, but I had other dodges in hand in case Archie tried to be
clever.

"So I tittuped along the hill turf beside the Rinks burn, feeling
happy and pretty certain I would win.  My horse, considering he was
fresh from the grass, behaved very well, and we travelled in good
style.  My head was full of what I was going to say at Langshiels,
and I thought of some rather fine things--'Our opponents would
wreck the old world in order to build a new, but you cannot found
any system on chaos, not even Communism'--I rather fancied that.
Well, to make a long story short, I got to the Rinks Hope in thirty
minutes, and there I found the herd gathering his black-faced
lambs.

"Curiously enough I knew the man--Prentice they called him--for he
had been one of the young shepherds at Larristane.  So I stopped to
have a word with him, and watched him at work.  He was short-handed
for the job, and he had a young collie only half-trained, so I
offered to give him a hand and show my form as a mounted stockman.
The top of that glen was splendid going, and I volunteered to round
up the west hirsel.  I considered that I had plenty of time and
could spare ten minutes to help a pal.

"It was a dashed difficult job, and it took me a good half-hour,
and it was a mercy my horse didn't get an over-reach among the
mossy wellheads.  However, I did it, and when I started off again
both I and my beast were in a lather of sweat.  That must have
confused me, and the way I had been making circles round the sheep,
for I struck the wrong feeder, and instead of following the one
that led to the top of the Skyre burn I kept too much to my left.
When I got to the watershed I looked down on a country utterly
different from what I had expected.  There was no delta of deep
gullies, but a broad green cup seamed with stone walls, and below
it a short glen which presently ran out into the broader vale of
the Aller.

"The visibility was none too good, so I could not make out the
further prospect.  I ought to have realised that this was not the
Skyre burn.  But I only concluded that I had misread the map, and
besides, there was a big wood lower down which I thought was the
one I had remarked.  There was no sign of Archie as yet on the high
hills to my right, so I decided I had better get off the skyline
and make my best speed across that bare green cup.

"It took me a long time, for I had a lot of trouble with the stone
dykes.  The few gates were all fastened up with wire, and I
couldn't manage to undo them.  So I had to scramble over the first
dyke, and half pull down the next, and what with one thing and
another I wasted a shocking amount of time.  When I got to the
bottom I found that the burn was the merest trickle, not the strong
stream of the Skyre, which is a famous water for trout.  But there,
just ahead of me, was the big wood, so I decided I must be right
after all.

"I had kept my eye lifting to the ridge on the right, and suddenly
I saw Archie.  I know now that it wasn't he, but it was a man on a
horse and it looked his living image.  He was well down the
hillside and he was moving fast.  He didn't appear to have seen me,
but I realised that he would in a minute, unless I found cover.

"I jogged my beast with the spur, and in three seconds was under
cover of the fir-wood.  But here I found a track, and it struck me
that it was this track which Archie was following, and that he
would soon be up with me.  The only thing to do seemed to be to get
inside the wood.  But this was easier said than done, for a great
wall with broken bottles on the top ran round that blessed place.
I had to do something pretty quick, for I could hear the sound of
hoofs behind me, and on the left there was nothing but the benty
side of a hill.

"Just then I saw a gate, a massive thing of close-set oak splints,
and for a mercy it was open.  I pushed through it and slammed it
behind me.  It shut with a sharp click as if it was a patent self-
locking arrangement.  A second later I heard the noise of a horse
outside and hands trying the gate.  Plainly they couldn't open it.
The man I thought was Archie said 'Damn' and moved away.

"I had found sanctuary, but the question now was how to get out of
it.  I dismounted and wrestled with the gate, but it was as firm as
a rock.  About this time I began to realise that something was
wrong, for I couldn't think why Archie should have wanted to get
through the gate if he hadn't seen me, and, if he had seen me, why
he hadn't shouted, according to our rules.  Besides, this wasn't a
wood, it was the grounds of some house, and the map had shown no
house in the Skyre glen. . . .  The only thing to do was to find
somebody to let me out.  I didn't like the notion of riding about
in a stranger's policies, so I knotted my bridle and let my beast
graze, while I proceeded on foot to prospect.

"The ground shelved steeply, and almost at once my feet went from
under me and I slithered down a bank of raw earth.  You see there
was no grip in the smooth soles of my polo boots.  The next I knew
I had banged hard into the back of a little wooden shelter which
stood on a sunny mantelpiece of turf above the stream.  I picked
myself up and limped round the erection, rubbing the dirt from my
eyes, and came face to face with a group of people.

"They were all women, except one man, who was reading aloud to
them, and they were all lying in long chairs.  Pretty girls they
seemed to be from the glimpse I had of them, but rather pale, and
they all wore bright-coloured cloaks.

"I daresay I looked a bit of a ruffian, for I was very warm and had
got rather dirty in slithering down, and had a rent in my breeches.
At the sight of me the women gave one collective bleat like a
snipe, and gathered up their skirts and ran.  I could see their
cloaks glimmering as they dodged like woodcock among the
rhododendrons.

"The man dropped his book and got up and faced me.  He was a young
fellow with a cadaverous face and side-whiskers, and he seemed to
be in a funk of something, for his lips twitched and his hands
shook as if he had fever.  I could see that he was struggling to
keep calm.

"'So you've come back, Mr. Brumby,' he said.  'I hope you had a g-
good time?'

"For a moment I had a horrid suspicion that he knew me, for they
used to call me 'Brummy' at school.  A second look convinced me
that we had never met, and I realised that the word he had used was
Brumby.  I hadn't a notion what he meant, but the only thing seemed
to be to brazen it out.  That was where I played the fool.  I ought
to have explained my mistake there and then, but I still had the
notion that Archie was hanging about, and I wanted to dodge him.  I
dropped into a long chair, and said that I had come back and that
it was a pleasant day.  Then I got out my pipe.

"'Here, you mustn't do that,' he said.  'It isn't allowed.'

"I put the pipe away, and wondered what lunatic asylum I had
wandered into.  I wasn't permitted to wonder long, for up the path
from the rhododendrons came two people in a mighty hurry.  One was
an anxious-faced oldish man dressed like a valet, and the other a
middle-aged woman in nurse's uniform.  Both seemed to be excited,
and both to be trying to preserve an air of coolness.

"'Ah, Schwester,' said the fellow with the whiskers.  'Here is Mr.
Brumby back again and none the worse.'

"The woman, who had kind eyes and a nice gurgling voice, looked at
me reproachfully.

"'I hope you haven't taken any harm, sir,' she said.  'We had
better go back to the house, and Mr. Grimpus will give you a nice
bath and a change, and you'll lie down a bit before luncheon.  You
must be very tired, sir.  You'd better take Mr. Grimpus's arm.'

"My head seemed to be spinning, but I thought it best to lie low
and do what I was told till I got some light.  Silly ass that I
was, I was still on the tack of dodging Archie.  I could easily
have floored Grimpus, and the man with the whiskers wouldn't have
troubled me much, but there was still the glass-topped wall to get
over, and there might be heftier people about, grooms and gardeners
and the like.  Above all, I didn't want to make any more scenes,
for I had already scared a lot of sick ladies into the rhododendrons.

"So I went off quite peaceably with Grimpus and the sister, and
presently we came to a house like a small hydropathic, hideously
ugly but beautifully placed, with a view south to the Aller valley.
There were more nurses in the hall and a porter with a jaw like a
prize-fighter.  Well, I went up in a lift to the second floor, and
there was a bedroom and a balcony, and several trunks, and brushes
on the dressing-table lettered H. B.  They made me strip and get
into a dressing-gown, and then a doctor arrived, a grim fellow with
gold spectacles and a soft, bedside manner.  He spoke to me
soothingly about the beauty of the weather and how the heather
would soon be in bloom on the hill; he also felt my pulse and took
my blood pressure, and talked for a long time in a corner with the
sister.  If he said there was anything wrong with me he lied, for I
had never felt fitter in my life except for the bewilderment of my
brain.

"Then I was taken down in a lift to the basement, and Grimpus
started out to give me a bath.  My hat!  That was a bath!  I lay in
six inches of scalding water, while a boiling cataract beat on my
stomach; then it changed to hot hail and then to gouts that hit
like a pickaxe; and then it all turned to ice.  But it made me feel
uncommonly frisky.  After that they took me back to my bedroom and
I had a gruelling massage, and what I believe they call violet
rays.  By this time I was fairly bursting with vim, but I thought
it best to be quite passive, and when they told me I must try to
sleep before luncheon, I only grinned and put my head on the pillow
like a child.  When they left me I badly wanted to smoke, but my
pipe had gone with my clothes, and I found laid out for me a
complete suit of the man Brumby's flannels.

"As I lay and reflected I began to get my bearings.  I knew where I
was.  It was a place called Craigiedean, about six miles from Kirk
Aller, which had been used as a shell-shock hospital during the War
and had been kept on as a home for nervous cases.  It wasn't a
private asylum, as I had thought at first; it called itself a
Kurhaus, and was supposed to be the last thing in science outside
Germany.  Now and then, however, it got some baddish cases, people
who were almost off their rocker, and I fancied that Brumby was
one.  He was apparently my double, but I didn't believe in exact
doubles, so I guessed that he had just arrived, and hadn't given
the staff time to know him well before he went off on the bend.
The horseman whom I had taken for Archie must have been out
scouring the hills for him.

"Well, I had dished Archie all right, but I had also dished myself.
At any moment the real Brumby might wander back, and then there
would be a nice show up.  The one thing that terrified me was that
my identity should be discovered, for this was more or less my own
countryside, and I should look a proper ass if it got about that I
had been breaking into a nerve-cure place, frightening women, and
getting myself treated like a gentle loony.  Then I remembered that
my horse was in the wood and might be trusted to keep on grazing
along the inside of the wall where nobody went.  My best plan
seemed to be to wait my chance, slip out of the house, recover my
beast and find some way out of the infernal park.  The wall
couldn't be everywhere, for after all the place wasn't an asylum.

"A gong sounded for luncheon, so I nipped up, and got into Brumby's
flannels.  They were all right for length, but a bit roomy.  My
money and the odds and ends from my own pockets were laid out on
the dressing-table, but not my pipe and pouch, which I judged had
been confiscated.

"I wandered downstairs to a big dining-room, full of little tables,
with the most melancholy outfit seated at them that you ever saw in
all your days.  The usual thing was to have a table to oneself, but
sometimes two people shared one--husband and wife, no doubt, or
mother and daughter.  There were eight males including me, and the
rest were females of every age from flappers to grandmothers.  Some
looked pretty sick, some quite blooming, but all had a watchful
air, as if they were holding themselves in and pursuing some strict
regime.  There was no conversation, and everybody had brought a
book or a magazine which they diligently studied.  In the centre of
each table, beside the salt and pepper, stood a little fleet of
medicine bottles.  The sister who led me to my place planted down
two beside me.

"I soon saw the reason of the literary absorption.  The food was
simply bestial.  I was hungry and thirsty enough to have eaten two
beefsteaks and drunk a quart of beer, and all I got was three
rusks, a plate of thin soup, a purée of vegetables and a milk
pudding in a teacup.  I envied the real Brumby, who at that moment,
if he had any sense, was doing himself well in a public-house.  I
didn't dare to ask for more in case of inviting awkward questions,
so I had plenty of leisure to observe the company.  Nobody looked
at anybody else, for it seemed to be the fashion to pretend you
were alone in a wilderness, and even the couples did not talk to
each other.  I made a cautious preliminary survey to see if there
was anyone I knew, but they were all strangers.  After a time I
felt so lonely that I wanted to howl.

"At last the company began to get up and straggle out.  The sister
whom I had seen first--the others called her Schwester and she
seemed to be rather a boss--appeared with a bright smile and gave
me my medicine.  I had to take two pills and some horrid drops out
of a brown bottle.  I pretended to be very docile, and I thought
that I'd take the chance to pave the way to getting to my horse.
So I said that I felt completely rested, and would like a walk that
afternoon.  She shook her head.

"'No, Mr. Brumby.  Dr. Miggle's orders are positive that you rest
to-day.'

"'But I'm feeling really very fit,' I protested.  'I'm the kind of
man who needs a lot of exercise.'

"'Not yet,' she said with a patient smile.  'At present your energy
is morbid.  It comes from an irregular nervous complex, and we must
first cure that before you can lead a normal life.  Soon you'll be
having nice long walks.  You promised your wife, you know, to do
everything that you were told, and it was very wrong of you to slip
out last night and make us all so anxious.  Dr. Miggle says that
must NEVER happen again.'  And she wagged a reproving finger.

"So I had a wife to add to my troubles.  I began now to be really
worried, for not only might Brumby turn up any moment, but his
precious spouse, and I didn't see how I was to explain to her what
I was doing in her husband's trousers.  Also the last sentence
disquieted me.  Dr. Miggle was determined that I should not bolt
again, and he looked a resolute lad.  That meant that I would be
always under observation, and that at night my bedroom door would
be locked.

"I made an errand to go up to my room, while Grimpus waited for me
in the hall, and had a look at the window.  There was a fine thick
Virginia creeper which would make it easy to get to the floor
beneath, but it was perfectly impossible to reach the ground, for
below was a great chasm of a basement.  There was nothing doing
that way, unless I went through the room beneath, and that meant
another outrage and probably an appalling row.

"I felt very dispirited as I descended the stairs, till I saw a
woman coming out of that identical room. . . .  Blessed if it
wasn't my Aunt Letitia!

"I needn't have been surprised, for she gave herself out as a
martyr to nerves, and was always racing about the world looking for
a cure.  She saw me, took me for Brumby, and hurried away.
Evidently Brumby's doings had got about, and there were suspicions
of his sanity.  The moment was not propitious for following her,
since Grimpus was looking at me.

"I was escorted to the terrace by Grimpus, tucked up in a long
chair, and told to stay there and bask in the sun.  I must not
read, but I could sleep if I liked.  I never felt less like
slumber, for I was getting to be a very good imitation of a mental
case.  I must get hold of Aunt Letitia.  I could see her in her
chair at the other end of the terrace, but if I got up and went to
her she would take me for that loony Brumby and have a fit.

"I lay cogitating and baking in the sun for about two hours.  Then
I observed that sisters were bringing out tea or medicines to some
of the patients and I thought I saw a chance of a move.  I called
one of them to me, and in a nice invalidish voice complained that
the sun was too hot for me and that I wanted to be moved to the
other end where there was more shade.  The sister went off to find
Grimpus and presently that sportsman appeared.

"'I've had enough of this sun-bath,' I told him, 'and I feel a
headache coming.  I want you to shift me to the shade of the
beeches over there.'

"'Very good, sir,' he said, and helped me to rise, while he picked
up chair and rugs.  I tottered delicately after him, and indicated
a vacant space next to Aunt Letitia.  She was dozing, and
mercifully did not see me.  The chair on my other side was occupied
by an old gentleman who was sound asleep.

"I waited for a few minutes and began to wriggle my chair a bit
nearer.  Then I made a pellet of earth from a crack in the paving
stones and jerked it neatly on to her face.

"'Hist!' I whispered.  'Wake up, Aunt Letty.'

"She opened one indignant eye, and turned it on me, and I thought
she was going to swoon.

"'Aunt Letty,' I said in an agonised voice.  'For Heaven's sake
don't shout.  I'm not Brumby.  I'm your nephew Michael.'

"Her nerves were better than I thought, for she managed to take a
pull on herself and listen to me while I muttered my tale.  I could
see that she hated the whole affair, and had some kind of grievance
against me for outraging the sanctity of her pet cure.  However,
after a bit of parleying, she behaved like a brick.

"'You are the head of our family, Michael,' she said, 'and I am
bound to help you out of the position in which your own rashness
has placed you.  I agree with you that it is essential to have no
disclosure of identity.  It is the custom here for patients to
retire to their rooms at eight-thirty.  At nine o'clock I shall
have my window open, and if you enter by it you can leave by the
door.  That is the most I can do for you.  Now please be silent,
for I am ordered to be very still for an hour before tea.'

"You can imagine that after that the time went slowly.  Grimpus
brought me a cup of tea and a rusk, and I fell asleep and only woke
when he came at half-past six to escort me indoors.  I would have
given pounds for a pipe.  Dinner was at seven, and I said that I
would not trouble to change, though Brumby's dress-clothes were
laid out on the bed.  I had the needle badly, for I had a horrid
fear that Brumby might turn up before I got away.

"Presently the doctor arrived, and after cooing over me a bit and
feeling my pulse, he started out to cross-examine me about my past
life.  I suppose that was to find out the subconscious complexes
which were upsetting my wits.  I decided to go jolly carefully, for
I suspected that he had either given Brumby the once-over or had
got some sort of report about his case.  I was right, for the first
thing he asked me was about striking my sister at the age of five.
Well, I haven't got a sister, but I had to admit to beating
Brumby's, and I said the horrible affair still came between me and
my sleep.  That seemed to puzzle him, for apparently I oughtn't to
have been thinking about it; it should have been buried deep in my
unconscious self, and worrying me like a thorn in your finger which
you can't find.  He asked me a lot about my nurse, and I said that
she had a brother who went to gaol for sheep stealing.  He liked
that, and said it was a fruitful line of inquiry.  Also he wanted
to know about my dreams, and said I should write them down.  I said
I had dreamed that a mare called Nursemaid won the Oaks, but found
there was no such animal running.  That cheered him up a bit, and
he said that he thought my nurse might be the clue.  At that I very
nearly gave the show away by laughing, for my nurse was old Alison
Hyslop, who is now the housekeeper at Larristane, and if anybody
called her a clue she'd have their blood.

"Dinner was no better than luncheon--the same soup and rusks and
vegetables, with a bit of ill-nourished chicken added.  This time I
had to take three kinds of medicine instead of two.  I told the
sister that I was very tired, and Grimpus took me upstairs at eight
o'clock.  He said that Dr. Miggle proposed to give me another go of
violet rays, but I protested so strongly that I was too sleepy for
his ministrations that Grimpus, after going off to consult him,
announced that for that evening the rays would be omitted.  You see
I was afraid that they would put me to bed and remove my clothes,
and I didn't see myself trapesing about the country in Brumby's
pyjamas.

"As Grimpus left me I heard the key turn in the lock.  It was as
well that I had made a plan with Aunt Letitia.

"At nine o'clock I got out of my window.  It was a fine night, with
the sun just setting and a young moon.  The Virginia creeper was
sound, and in less than a minute I was outside Aunt Letitia's
window.  She was waiting in a dressing-gown to let me in, and I
believe the old soul really enjoyed the escapade.  She wanted to
give me money for my travels, but I told her that I had plenty.  I
poked my nose out, saw that the staircase and hall were empty, and
quietly closed the door behind me.

"The big hall door was shut, and I could hear the prize-fighting
porter moving in his adjacent cubby hole.  There was no road that
way, so I turned to the drawing-room, which opened on the terrace.
But that was all in darkness, and I guessed that the windows were
shuttered.  There was nothing for it but to try downstairs.  I
judged that the servants would be at supper, so I went through a
green-baize swing-door and down a long flight of stone steps.

"Suddenly I blundered into a brightly lit kitchen.  There was no
one in it, and beyond was a door which looked as if it might lead
to the open air.  It actually led to a scullery, where a maid was
busy at a tap.  She was singing to herself a song called 'When the
kye come hame,' so I knew she belonged to the countryside.  So did
I, and I resolved to play the bold game.

"'Hey, lassie,' I said.  'Whaur's the road out o' this hoose?  I
maun be back in Kirk Aller afore ten.'

"The girl stopped her singing and stared at me.  Then in response
to my grin she laughed.

"'Are ye frae Kirk Aller?' she asked.

"'I've gotten a job there,' I said.  'I'm in the Cally station, and
I cam' up about a parcel for ane o' the leddies here.  But I come
frae further up the water, Larristane way.'

"'D'ye say sae?  I'm frae Gledside mysel'.  What gars ye be in sic
a hurry.  It's a fine nicht and there's a mune.'

"She was a flirtatious damsel, but I had no time for dalliance.

"'There's a lassie in Kirk Aller will take the heid off me if I
keep her waitin'.'

"She tossed her head and laughed.  'Haste ye then, my mannie.  Is
it Shanks' powny?'

"'Na, na, I've a bicycle ootbye.'

"'Well, through the wash-hoose and up the steps and roond by the
roddydendrums and ye're in the yaird.  Guid nicht to ye.'

"I went up the steps like a lamplighter and dived into the
rhododendrons, coming out on the main avenue.  It ran long and
straight to the lodge gates, and I didn't like the look of it.  My
first business was to find my horse, and I had thought out more or
less the direction.  The house stood on the right bank of the burn,
and if I kept to my left I would cross the said burn lower down and
could then walk up the other side.  I did this without trouble.  I
forded the burn in the meadow, and was soon climbing the pine-wood
which clothed the gorge.  In less than twenty minutes I had reached
the gate in the wall by which I had entered.

"There was no sign of my horse anywhere.  I followed the wall on my
left till it curved round and crossed the burn, but the beast was
not there, and it was too dark to look for hoof-marks.  I tried to
my right and got back to the level of the park, but had no better
luck.  If I had had any sense I would have given up the quest, and
trusted to getting as far as Gledfoot on my own feet.  The horse
might be trusted to turn up in his own time.  Instead I went
blundering on in the half-light of the park, and presently I
blundered into trouble.

"Grimpus must have paid another visit to my room, found me gone,
seen the open window, and started a hue-and-cry.  They would not
suspect my Aunt Letitia, and must have thought that I had dropped
like a cat into the basement.  The pursuit was coming down the
avenue, thinking I had made for the lodge gates, and as ill-luck
would have it, I had selected that moment to cross the drive, and
they spotted me.  I remember that out of a corner of one eye I saw
the lights of a fly coming up the drive, and I wondered if Brumby
had selected this inauspicious moment to return.

"I fled into the park with three fellows after me.  Providence
never meant me for a long-distance runner, and, besides, I was
feeling weak from lack of nourishment.  But I was so scared of what
would happen if I was caught that I legged it like a miler, and the
blighters certainly didn't gain on me.

"But what I came to was the same weary old wall with the bottle
glass on the top of it.  I was pretty desperate, and I thought I
saw a way.  A young horse-chestnut tree grew near the wall and one
bough overhung it.  I made a jump at the first branch, caught it,
and with a bit of trouble swung myself up into the crutch.  This
took time, and one of the fellows came up and made a grab at my
leg, but I let him have Brumby's rubber-soled heel in the jaw.

"I caught the bigger branch and wriggled along it till I was above
and beyond the wall.  Then the dashed thing broke with my twelve
stone, and I descended heavily on what looked like a highroad.

"There was no time to spare, though I was a bit shaken, for the
pursuit would not take long to follow me.  I started off down that
road looking for shelter, and I found it almost at once.  There was
a big covered horse-van moving ahead of me, with a light showing
from the interior.  I sprinted after it, mounted the step and stuck
my head inside.

"'Can I come in?' I panted.  'Hide me for ten minutes and I'll
explain.'

"I saw an old, spectacled, whiskered face.  It was portentously
solemn, but I thought I saw a twinkle in the eye.

"'Ay,' said a toothless mouth, 'ye can come in.'  A hand grabbed my
collar, and I was hauled inside.  That must have been just when the
first of my pursuers dropped over the wall."



PART II--THE FIRE


"I had got into a caravan which was a sort of bedroom, and behind
the driver's seat was a double curtain.  There I made myself
inconspicuous while the old man parleyed with the pursuit.

"'Hae ye seen a gentleman?' I could hear a panting voice.  'Him
that drappit ower the wa'?  He was rinnin' hard.'

"'What kind of a gentleman?'

"'He had on grey claithes--aboot the same height as mysel'.'  The
speaker was not Grimpus.

"'Naebody passed me,' was the strictly truthful answer.  'Ye'd
better seek the ither side o' the road among the bracken.  There's
plenty hidy-holes there.  Wha's the man?'

"'Ane o' the doctor's folk.'  I knew, though I could not see, that
the man had tapped his forehead significantly.  'Aweel, I'll try
back.  Guid nicht to ye.'

"I crept out of my refuge and found the old man regarding me
solemnly under the swinging lamp.

"'I'm one of the auld-fashioned Radicals,' he announced, 'and I'm
for the liberty o' the individual.  I dinna hold wi' lockin' folks
up because a pernicketty doctor says they're no wise.  But I'd be
glad to be assured, sir, that ye're no a dangerous lunattic.  If ye
are, Miggle has nae business to be workin' wi' lunattics.  His
hoose is no an asylum.'

"'I'm as sane as you are,' I said, and as shortly as I could I told
him my story.  I said I was a laird on Gledwater-side--which was
true, and that my name was Brown--which wasn't.  I told him about
my bet with Archie and my ride and its disastrous ending.  His face
never moved a muscle; probably he didn't believe me, but because of
his political principles he wasn't going to give me away.

"'Ye can bide the night with me,' he said.  'The morn we'll be busy
and ye can gang wherever ye like.  It's a free country in spite o'
our God-forsaken Government.'

"I blessed him, and asked to whom I was indebted for this
hospitality.

"'I'm the Great McGowan,' he said.  'The feck o' the pawraphernalia
is on ahead.  We open the morn in Kirk Aller.'

"He had spoken his name as if it were Mussolini or Dempsey, one
which all the world should know.  I knew it too, for it had been
familiar to me from childhood.  You could have seen it any time in
the last twenty years flaming upon hoardings up and down the
Lowlands--The Great McGowan's Marvellous Multitudinous Menagerie--
McGowan's Colossal Circassian Circus--The Only Original McGowan.

"We rumbled on for another half-mile, and then turned from the road
into a field.  As we bumped over the grass I looked out of the door
and saw about twenty big caravans and wagons at anchor.  There was
a strong smell of horses and of cooking food, and above it I seemed
to detect the odour of unclean beasts.  We took up our station
apart from the rest, and after the proprietor had satisfied himself
by a brief inspection that the whole outfit was there, he announced
that it was time to retire.  Mr. McGowan had apparently dined, and
he did not offer me food, which I would have welcomed, but he mixed
me a rummer of hot toddy.  I wondered if it would disagree with the
various medicines I had been compelled to take, and make me very
sick in the night.  Then he pointed out my bunk, undressed himself
as far as his shirt, pulled a nightcap over his venerable head, and
in five minutes was asleep.  I had had a wearing day, and in spite
of the stuffiness of the place it wasn't long before I dropped off
also.

"I awoke next morning to find myself alone in the caravan.  I
opened the window and saw that a fine old racket was going on.  The
show had started to move, and as the caravans bumped over the turf
various specimens inside were beginning to give tongue.  It was
going to be a gorgeous day and very hot.  I was a little bit
anxious about my next move, for Kirk Aller was unpleasantly near
Craigiedean and Dr. Miggle.  In the end I decided that my best plan
would be to take the train to Langshiels and there hire a car to
Larristane, after sending a telegram to say I was all right, in
case my riderless steed should turn up before me.  I hadn't any
headgear, but I thought I could buy something in Kirk Aller, and
trust to luck that nobody from the Kurhaus spotted me in the
street.  I wanted a bath and a shave and breakfast, but I concluded
I had better postpone them till I reached the hotel at Langshiels.

"Presently Mr. McGowan appeared, and I could see by his face that
something had upset him.  He was wearing an old check dressing-
gown, and he had been padding about in his bare feet on the dewy
grass.

"'Ye telled me a story last night, Mr. Brown,' he began solemnly,
'which I didna altogether believe.  I apologise for being a
doubting Thomas.  I believe every word o't, for I've just had
confirmation.'

"I mumbled something about being obliged to him, and he went on.

"'Ay, for the pollis were here this morning--seeking you.  Yon man
at Craigiedean is terrible ill-set against ye, Mr. Brown.  The
pollisman--his name's Tam Doig, I ken him fine--says they're
looking for a man that personated an inmate, and went off wi' some
o' the inmate's belongings.  I'm quotin' Tam Doig.  I gave Tam an
evasive answer, and he's off on his bicycle the other road, but--I
ask ye as a freend, Mr. Brown--what are precisely the facts o' the
case?'

"'Good God!' I said.  'It's perfectly true.  These clothes I'm
wearing belong to the man Brumby, though they've got my own duds in
exchange.  He must have come back after I left.  What an absolutely
infernal mess!  I suppose they could have me up for theft.'

"'Mair like obtaining goods on false pretences, though I think ye
have a sound answer.  But that's no the point, Mr. Brown.  The
doctor is set on payin' off scores.  Ye've entered his sawnatorium
and gone through a' the cantrips he provides, and ye've made a gowk
o' him.  He wants to make an example o' YOU.  Tam Doig was sayin'
that he's been bleezin' half the night on the telephone, an' he'll
no rest till ye're grippit.  Now ye tell me that ye're a laird and
a man o' some poseetion, and I believe ye.  It wad be an ill job
for you and your freends if ye was to appear before the Shirra.'

"I did some rapid thinking.  So far I was safe, for there was
nothing about the clothes I had left behind to identify me.  I was
pretty certain that my horse had long ago made a bee-line for the
Larristane stables.  If I could only get home without being
detected, I might regard the episode as closed.

"'Supposing I slip off now,' I said.  'I have a general notion of
the land, and I might get over the hills without anybody seeing
me.'

"He shook his head.  'Ye wouldn't travel a mile.  Your description
has been circulated and a' body's lookin' for ye--a man in a grey
flannel suit and soft shoes wi' a red face and nae hat.  Guid kens
what the doctor has said about ye, but the countryside is on the
look-out for a dangerous, and maybe lunattic, criminal.  There's a
reward offered of nae less than twenty pound.'

"'Can you not take me with you to Kirk Aller?' I asked
despairingly.

"'Ay, ye can stop wi' me.  But what better wad ye be in Kirk Aller?
That's where the Procurator Fiscal bides.'

"Then he put on his spectacles and looked at me solemnly.

"'I've taken a fancy to ye, Mr. Brown, and ye can tell the world
that.  I ask you, are ye acquaint wi' horses?'

"I answered that I had lived among them all my life, and had been
in the cavalry before I went into the Air Force.

"'I guessed it by your face.  Horses have a queer trick o' leavin'
their mark on a body.  Now, because I like ye, I'll make a
proposeetion to ye that I would make to no other man . . . I'm
without a ring-master.  Joseph Japp, who for ten years has had the
job with me, is lyin' wi' the influenzy at Berwick.  I could make
shift with Dublin Davie, but Davie has no more presence than a
messan dog, and forbye Joseph's clothes wouldna fit him.  When I
cast my eyes on ye this mornin' after hearin' Tam Doig's news, I
says to mysel', "Thou art the man."'

"Of course I jumped at the offer.  I was as safe in Kirk Aller, as
Joseph Japp's understudy, as I was in my own house.  Besides, I
liked the notion; it would be a good story to tell Archie.  But I
said it could only be for one night, and that I must leave to-
morrow, and he agreed.  'I want to make a good show for a start in
Kirk Aller--forbye, Joseph will be ready to join me at Langshiels,'

"I borrowed the old boy's razor and had a shave and a wash, while
he was cooking breakfast.  After we had fed he fetched my
predecessor's kit.  It fitted me well enough, but Lord! I looked a
proper blackguard.  The cord breeches had been recently cleaned,
but the boots were like a pair of dilapidated buckets, and the coat
would have made my tailor weep.  Mr. McGowan himself put on a
frock-coat and a high collar and spruced himself up till he looked
exactly like one of those high-up Irish dealers you see at the
Horse Show--a cross between a Cabinet Minister and a Methodist
parson.  He said the ring-master should ride beside the chief
exhibit, so we bustled out and I climbed up in front of a wagon
which bore a cage containing two very low-spirited lions.  I was
given a long whip, and told to make myself conspicuous.

"I didn't know Kirk Aller well, so I had no fear of being
recognised either as myself or as the pseudo-Brumby.  The last time
I had been there was when I had motored over from Larristane to
dine with the Aller Shooting Club.  My present entry was of a more
sensational kind.  I decided to enjoy myself and to attract all the
notice I could, and I certainly succeeded.  Indeed, you might say I
received an ovation.  As it happened it was a public holiday, and
the streets were pretty full.  We rumbled up the cobbled Westgate,
and down the long High Street, with the pavements on both sides
lined with people and an attendant mob of several hundred children.
The driver was a wizened little fellow in a jockey cap, but I was
the principal figure on the box.  I gave a fine exhibition with my
whip, and when we slowed down I picked out conspicuous figures in
the crowd and chaffed them.  I thought I had better use Cockney
patter, as being more in keeping with my job, and I made a happy
blend of the table-talk of my stud-groom and my old batman in the
regiment.  It was rather a high-class performance and you'd be
surprised how it went down.  There was one young chap with a
tremendous head of hair that I invited to join his friends in the
cage, and just then one of the dejected lions let out a growl, and
I said that Mamma was calling to her little Percy.  And there was
an old herd from the hills, who had been looking upon the wine-cup,
and who, in a voice like a fog-horn, wanted to know what we fed the
beasts on.  Him I could not refrain from answering in his own
tongue.  'Braxy, my man,' I cried, 'the yowes ye lost when we were
fou last Boswell's Fair.'  I must have got home somehow, for the
crowd roared, and his friends thumped the old chap on the back and
shouted:  'That's a guid ane!  He had you there, Tam.'

"My triumphant procession came to an end on the Aller Green, where
the show was to be held.  A canvas palisade had been set up round a
big stretch of ground, and the mob of children tailed off at the
gate.  Inside most of our truck had already arrived.  The stadium
for the circus had been marked off, and tiers of wooden seats were
being hammered together.  A big tent had been set up, which was to
house the menagerie, and several smaller tents were in process of
erection.  I noticed that the members of the troupe looked at me
curiously till Mr. McGowan arrived and introduced me.  'This is Mr.
Brown, a friend of mine,' he said, 'who will take on Joe Japp's job
for the night.'  And, aside to me, 'Man, I heard ye comin' down the
High Street.  Ye did fine.  Ye've a great natural talent for the
profession.'  After that we were all very friendly, and the whole
company had a snack together in one of the tents--bread and cheese
and bottled beer.

"The first thing I did was to make a bundle of Brumby's clothes,
which Mr. McGowan promised to send back to Craigiedean when the
coast was clear.  Then I bribed a small boy to take a telegram to
the Post Office--to Archie at Larristane, saying I had been
detained and hoped to return next day.  After that I took off my
coat and worked like a beaver.  It was nearly six o'clock before we
had everything straight, and the show opened at seven, so we were
all a bit the worse for wear when we sat down to high tea.  It's a
hard job an artiste's, as old McGowan observed.

"I never met a queerer, friendlier, more innocent company, for the
proprietor seemed to have set out to collect originals, and most of
them had been with him for years.  The boss of the menagerie was an
ex-sailor, who had a remarkable way with beasts; he rarely spoke a
word, but just grinned and whistled through broken teeth.  The
clown, who said his name was Sammle Dreep, came from Paisley, and
was fat enough not to need the conventional bolster.  Dublin Davie,
my second in command, was a small Irishman who had been an ostler,
and limped owing to having been with the Dublin Fusiliers at
Gallipoli.  The clown had a wife who ran the commissariat, when she
wasn't appearing in the ring as Zenobia, the Pride of the Sahara.
Then there were the Sisters Wido--a young married couple with two
children; and the wife of a man who played the clarionet--figured
in the bill as Elise the Equestrienne.  I had a look at the horses,
which were the ordinary skinny, broad-backed, circus ponies.  I
found out later that they were so well trained that I daresay they
could have done their turns in the dark.

"At a quarter to seven we lit the naphtha flares and our orchestra
started in.  McGowan told me to get inside Japp's dress clothes,
and rather unwillingly I obeyed him, for I had got rather to fancy
my morning's kit.  I found there was only a coat and waistcoat, for
I was allowed to retain the top-boots and cords.  Happily the shirt
was clean, but I had a solitaire with a sham diamond as big as a
shilling, and the cut of the coat would have been considered out-
of-date by a self-respecting waiter in Soho.  I had also a scarlet
silk handkerchief to stuff in my bosom, a pair of dirty white kid
gloves, and an immense coach whip.

"The menagerie was open, but that night the chief attraction was
the circus, and I don't mind saying that about the best bit of the
circus was myself.  In one of the intervals McGowan insisted on
shaking hands and telling me that I was wasted in any other
profession than a showman's.  The fact is I was rather above
myself, and entered into what you might call the spirit of the
thing.  We had the usual Dick Turpin's ride to York, and an escape
of Dakota Dan (one of the Sisters Wido) from Red Indians (the other
Wido, Zenobia and Elise, with about a ton of feathers on their
heads).  The Equestrienne equestered, and the Widos hopped through
hoops, and all the while I kept up my patter and spouted all the
rot I could remember.

"The clown was magnificent.  He had a Paisley accent you could have
cut like a knife, but he prided himself on talking aristocratic
English.  He had a lot of badinage with Zenobia about her life in
the desert.  One bit I remember.  She kept on referring to bulbuls,
and asked him if he had ever seen a bull-bull.  He said he had, for
he supposed it was a male coo-coo.  But he was happiest at my
expense.  I never heard a chap with such a flow of back-chat.  A
funny thing--but when he wasn't calling me 'Little Pansy-face,' he
addressed me as 'Your Grace' and 'Me Lord Dook,' and hoped that the
audience would forgive my négligé attire, seeing my coronet hadn't
come back from the wash.

"Altogether the thing went with a snap from beginning to end, and
when old McGowan, all dressed up with a white waistcoat, made a
speech at the end and explained about the next performances he got
a perfect hurricane of applause.  After that we had to tidy up.
There was the usual trouble with several procrastinating drunks,
who wanted to make a night of it.  One of them got into the ring
and tried to have a row with me.  He was a big loutish fellow with
small eyes and red hair, and had the look of a betting tout.  He
stuck his face close to mine and bellowed at me:

"'I ken ye fine, ye ----!  I seen ye at Lanerick last back-end. . . .
Ye ca'd yoursel' Gentleman Geordie, and ye went off wi' my siller.
By God, I'll get it out o' ye, ye ---- welsher.'

"I told him that he was barking up the wrong tree, and that I was
not a bookie and had never been near Lanerick, but he refused to be
convinced.  The upshot was that Davie and I had to chuck him out,
blaspheming like a navvy and swearing that he was coming back with
his pals to do me in.

"We were a very contented lot of mountebanks at supper that night.
The takings were good and the menagerie also had been popular, and
we all felt that we had been rather above our form.  McGowan, for
whom I was acquiring a profound affection, beamed on us, and
produced a couple of bottles of blackstrap to drink the health of
the Colossal Circassian Circus.  That old fellow was a nonesuch.
He kept me up late--for I stopped with him in his caravan--
expounding his philosophy of life.  It seemed he had been intended
for the kirk, but had had too much joie de vivre for the pulpit.
He was a born tramp, and liked waking up most days in a new place,
and he loved his queer outfit and saw the comedy of it.  'For three
and thirty years I've travelled the country,' he said, 'and I've
been a public benefactor, Mr. Brown.  I've put colour into many a
dowie life, and I've been a godsend to the bairns.  There's no
vulgarity in my performances--they're a' as halesome as spring
water.'  He quoted Burns a bit, and then he got on to politics, for
he was a great Radical, and maintained that Scotland was about the
only true democracy, because a man was valued precisely for what he
was and no more.  'Ye're a laird, Mr. Brown, but ye're a guid
fellow, and this night ye've shown yourself to be a man and a
brither.  What do you and me care for mawgnates?  We take no stock
in your Andra Carnegies and your Dukes o' Burminster.'  And as I
dropped off to sleep he was obliging with a verse of 'A man's a man
for a' that.'

"I woke in excellent spirits, thinking what a good story I should
have to tell when I returned to Larristane.  My plan was to get off
as soon as possible, take the train to Langshiels, and then hire.
I could see that McGowan was sorry to part with me, but he agreed
that it was too unhealthy a countryside for me to dally in.  There
was to be an afternoon performance, so everybody had to hustle, and
there was no reason for me to linger.  After breakfast I borrowed
an old ulster from him, for I had to cover up my finery, and a
still older brown bowler to replace the topper I had worn on the
preceding day.

"Suddenly we heard a fracas, and the drunk appeared who had worried
me the night before.  He had forced his way in and was pushing on
through an expostulating crowd.  When he saw me he made for me with
a trail of blasphemy.  He was perfectly sober now and looked very
ugly.

"'Gie me back my siller,' he roared.  'Gie me back the five-pund
note I won at Lanerick when I backed Kettle o' Fish.'  If I hadn't
warded him off he would have taken me by the throat.

"I protested again that he was mistaken, but I might as well have
appealed to a post.  He swore with every variety of oath that I was
Gentleman Geordie, and that I had levanted with his winnings.  As
he raved I began to see a possible explanation of his madness.
Some bookmaker, sporting my sort of kit, had swindled him.  I had
ridden several times in steeplechases at Lanerick and he had seen
me and got my face in his head, and mixed me up with the fraudulent
bookie.

"It was a confounded nuisance, and but for the principle of the
thing I would have been inclined to pay up.  As it was we had to
fling him out, and he went unwillingly, doing all the damage he
could.  His parting words were that he and his pals weren't done
with me, and that though he had to wait fifty years he would wring
my neck.

"After that I thought I had better waste no time, so I said good-
bye to McGowan and left the show-ground by the back entrance close
to the Aller.  I had a general notion of the place, and knew that
if I kept down the river I could turn up a lane called the Water
Wynd, and get to the station without traversing any of the main
streets.  I had ascertained that there was a train at 10.30 which
would get me to Langshiels at 11.15, so that I could be at
Larristane for luncheon.

"I had underrated the persistence of my enemy.  He and his pals had
picketed all the approaches to the show, and when I turned into the
Water Wynd I found a fellow there, who at the sight of me blew a
whistle.  In a second or two he was joined by three others, among
them my persecutor.

"'We've gotten ye noo,' he shouted, and made to collar me.

"'If you touch me,' I said, 'it's assault, and a case for the
police.'

"'That's your game, is it?' he cried.  'Na, na, we'll no trouble
the pollis.  They tell me the Law winna help me to recover a bet,
so I'll just trust to my nieves.  Will ye pay up, ye ----, or take
the bloodiest bashin' ye ever seen?'

"I was in an uncommon nasty predicament.  There was nobody in the
Wynd but some children playing, and the odds were four to one.  If
I fought I'd get licked.  The obvious course of safety was to run
up the Wynd towards the High Street, where I might find help.  But
that would mean a street row and the intervention of the police, a
case in court, and the disclosure of who I was.  If I broke through
and ran back to McGowan I would be no farther forward.  What was
perfectly clear was that I couldn't make the railway station
without landing myself in the worst kind of mess.

"There wasn't much time to think, for the four men were upon me.  I
hit out at the nearest, saw him go down, and then doubled up the
Wynd and into a side alley on the right.

"By the mercy of Providence this wasn't a cul-de-sac, but twisted
below the old walls of the burgh, and then became a lane between
gardens.  The pursuit was fairly hot, and my accursed boots kept
slipping on the cobbles and cramped my form.  They were almost upon
me before I reached the lane, but then I put on a spurt, and was
twenty yards ahead when it ended in a wall with a gate.  The gate
was locked, but the wall was low, and I scrambled over it, and
dropped into the rubbish heap of a garden.

"There was no going back, so I barged through some gooseberry
bushes, skirted a lawn, squattered over a big square of gravel, and
charged through the entrance gates of a suburban villa.  My enemies
plainly knew a better road, for when I passed the entrance they
were only a dozen yards off on my left.  That compelled me to turn
to the right, the direction away from Kirk Aller.  I was now on a
highway where I could stretch myself, and it was not long before I
shook off the pursuit.  They were whiskyfied ruffians and not much
good in a hunt.  It was a warm morning, but I did not slacken till
I had put a good quarter of a mile between us.  I saw them come
round a turn, lumbering along, cooked to the world, so I judged
that I could slow down to an easy trot.

"I was cut off from my lines of communication, and the only thing
to do was to rejoin them by a detour.  The Aller valley, which the
railway to Langshiels followed, gave me a general direction.  I
remembered that about six miles off there was a station called
Rubersdean, and that there was an afternoon train which got to
Langshiels about three o'clock.  I preferred to pick it up there,
for I didn't mean to risk showing my face inside Kirk Aller again.

"By this time I had got heartily sick of my adventures.  Being
chased like a fox is amusing enough for an hour or two, but it soon
palls.  I was becoming a regular outlaw--wanted by the police for
breaking into a nursing-home and stealing a suit, and very much
wanted by various private gentlemen on the charge of bilking.
Everybody's hand seemed to be against me, except old McGowan's, and
I had had quite enough of it.  I wanted nothing so much as to be
back at Larristane, and I didn't believe I would tell Archie the
story, for I was fed up with the whole business.

"I didn't dare go near a public-house, and the best I could do for
luncheon was a bottle of ginger-beer and some biscuits which I
bought at a sweetie-shop.  To make a long story short, I reached
Rubersdean in time, and as there were several people on the
platform I waited till the train arrived before showing myself.  I
got into a third-class carriage at the very end of it.

"The only occupants were a woman and a child, and my appearance
must have been pretty bad, for the woman looked as if she wanted to
get out when she saw me.  But I said it was a fine day and "guid
for the crops," and I suppose she was reassured by my Scotch
tongue, for she quieted down.  The child was very inquisitive, and
they discussed me in whispers.  'What's that man, Mamaw?' it asked.
'Never mind, Jimmie.'  'But I want to ken, Mamaw.'  'Wheesht,
dearie.  He's a crool man.  He kills the wee mawpies.'  At that the
child set up a howl, but I felt rather flattered, for a rabbit-
trapper was a respectable profession compared to those with which I
had recently been credited.

"At the station before Langshiels they collect the tickets.  I had
none, so when the man came round I could only offer a Bank of
England five-pound note.  He looked at it very suspiciously, asked
me rudely if I had nothing smaller, consulted the station-master,
and finally with a very ill grace got me change out of the latter's
office.  This hung up the train for a good five minutes, and you
could see by their looks that they thought I was a thief.  The
thing had got so badly on my nerves that I could have wept.  I
counted the minutes till we reached Langshiels, and I was not
cheered by the behaviour of my travelling companion.  She was
clearly convinced of the worst, and when we came out of a tunnel
she was jammed into the farthest corner, clutching her child and
her bag, and looking as if she had escaped from death.  I can tell
you it was a thankful man that shot out on to the platform at
Langshiels. . . .



"I found myself looking into the absolutely bewildered eyes of
Tommy Deloraine. . . .  I saw a lot of fellows behind him with
rosettes and scared faces, and I saw what looked like a band. . . .

"It took me about a hundredth part of a second to realise that I
had dropped out of the frying-pan into the fire.  You will scarcely
believe it, but since I had rehearsed my speech going up the Rinks
burn, the political meeting at Langshiels had gone clean out of my
head.  I suppose I had tumbled into such an utterly new world that
no link remained with the old one.  And as my foul luck would have
it, I had hit on the very train by which I had told Deloraine I
would travel.

"'For heaven's sake, Tommy, tell me where I can change,' I hissed.
'Lend me some clothes or I'll murder you.'

                             *****

"Well, that was the end of it.  I got into a suit of Tommy's at the
Station Hotel--luckily he was about my size--and we proceeded with
the brass band and the rosetted committee to the Town Hall.  I made
a dashed good speech, though I say it who shouldn't, simply because
I was past caring what I did.  Life had been rather too much for me
the last two days."



Burminster finished his tankard, and a light of reminiscence came
into his eye.

"Last week," he said, "I was passing Buckingham Palace.  One of the
mallards from St. James's Park had laid away, and had hatched out a
brood somewhere up Constitution Hill.  The time had come when she
wanted to get the ducklings back to the water.  There was a big
crowd, and through the midst of it marched two bobbies with the
mother-duck between them, while the young ones waddled behind.  I
caught the look in her eye, and, if you believe me, it was the
comicalest mixture of relief and embarrassment, shyness, self-
consciousness and desperation.

"I would like to have shaken hands with that bird.  I knew exactly
how she felt."



III


DR. LARTIUS

JOHN PALLISER-YEATES'S STORY


The idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and
have told false dreams; they comfort in vain; therefore they went
their way as a flock.--Zechariah x. 2.


In the early spring Palliser-Yeates had 'flu, and had it so badly
that he was sent to recruit for a fortnight on the Riviera.  There,
being profoundly bored, he wrote out and sent to us this story.  He
would not give the name of the chief figure, because he said he was
still a serving soldier, and his usefulness, he hoped, was not
exhausted.  The manuscript arrived opportunely, for some of us had
just been trying, without success, to extract from Sandy Arbuthnot
the truth of certain of his doings about which rumour had been
busy.


I


In the second week of January 1917, a modest brass plate appeared
on a certain door in Regent Street, among modistes and hat-makers
and vendors of cosmetics.  It bore the name of Dr. S. Lartius.  On
the third floor were the rooms to which the plate was the signpost,
a pleasant set, newly decorated with powder-blue wallpapers,
curtains of orange velveteen, and sham marqueterie.  The milliners'
girls who frequented that staircase might have observed, about
eleven in the morning, the figure of Dr. Lartius arriving.  They
did not see him leave, for they had flown to their suburban homes
long before the key turned of an evening in the doctor's door.

He was a slim young man of the middle height, who held himself
straighter than the usual run of sedentary folk.  His face was very
pale, and his mop of hair and fluffy beard were black as jet.  He
wore large tortoiseshell spectacles, and, when he removed them,
revealed slightly protuberant and very bright hazel eyes, which
contrasted oddly with his pallor.  Had such a figure appeared on
the stage, the gallery experts, familiar with stage villains, would
have unhesitatingly set him down as the anarchist from Moscow about
to assassinate the oppressive nobleman and thereby give the hero
his chance.  But his clothes were far too good for that part.  He
wore a shiny top-hat and an expensive fur coat, and his neat
morning coat, fine linen, unobtrusive black tie and pearl pin
suggested the high finance rather than the backstairs of
revolution.

It appeared that Dr. Lartius did a flourishing business.  Suddenly
London had begun to talk about him.  First there were the people
that matter, the people who are ever on the hunt for a new
sensation and must always be in the first flight of any fad.  Lady
A told the Duchess of B about a wonderful new man who really had
Power--no ordinary vulgar spiritualist, but a true Seeker and
Thinker.  Mr. D, that elderly gossip, carried the story through
many circles, and it grew with the telling.  The curious began to
cultivate Dr. Lartius, and soon the fame of him came to the ears of
those who were not curious, only anxious or broken-hearted; and
because the last were a great multitude, and were ready to give
their all for consolation, there was a busy coming and going all
day on Dr. Lartius's staircase.

His way with his clients was interesting.  He had no single method
of treatment, and varied his manner according to the motives of the
inquirer.  The merely inquisitive he entertained with toys.  "I am
no professor of an art," he told them laughingly.  "I am a student,
groping on the skirts of great mysteries."  And to the more
intelligent he would propound an illustration.  "Take the
mathematics of the Fourth Dimension," he would say.  "I can show
you a few simple mechanical puzzles, which cannot be explained
except by the aid of abstruse mathematics, and not always then.
But these puzzles tell you nothing about the Fourth Dimension,
except that there is a world about us inexplicable on the rule of
three dimensions.  It is the same with my toys--my crystal ball, my
pool of ink, my star-maps, even those superinduced moods of
abstraction in which we seem to hear the noise of wings and strange
voices.  They only tell me that there is more in earth and heaven
than is dreamed of in man's philosophy."

But his toys were wonderful.  The idle ladies who went there for a
thrill were not disappointed.  In the dusky room, among the strange
rosy lights, their hearts seemed to be always fluttering on the
brink of a revelation, and they came away excited and comforted,
for Dr. Lartius was an adept at delicate flattery.  Fortune-telling
in the ordinary sense there was none, but this young man seemed to
have an uncanny knowledge of private affairs, which he used so
discreetly that even those who had most reason to desire secrecy
were never disquieted.  For such entertainments he charged fees--
high fees, as the fur coat and the pearl pin required.  "You wish
to be amused," he would say, "and it is right that you should pay
me for it."

Even among the idle clients there was a sprinkling of the earnest.
With these he had the air of a master towards initiates; they were
fellow-pilgrims with him on the Great Road.  He would talk to them
by the hour, very beautifully, in a soft musical voice.  He would
warn them against charlatans, those who sought to prostitute a
solemn ritual to purposes of vulgar gain.  He would unroll for them
the history of the great mystics and tell of that secret science
known to the old adepts, which had been lost for ages, and was now
being recovered piecemeal.  These were the most thrilling hours of
all, and the fame of Dr. Lartius grew great in the drawing-rooms of
the Elect.  "And he's such a gentleman, my dear--so well-bred and
sympathetic and unworldly and absolutely honest!"

But from others he took no fees.  The sad-faced women, mostly in
black, who sat in his great velvet chair and asked broken
questions, found a very different Dr. Lartius.  He was no longer
fluent and silver-tongued; sometimes he seemed almost embarrassed.
He would repeat most earnestly that he was only a disciple, a
seeker, not a master of hidden things.  On such occasions the toys
were absent, and if some distracted mother sought knowledge that
way she was refused.  He rarely had anything definite to impart.
When Lady H.'s only son was about to exchange from the cavalry to
the Foot Guards and his mother wanted to know how the step would
affect his chances of survival, she got nothing beyond the obvious
remark that this was an infantry war and he would have a better
prospect of seeing fighting.  Very rarely, he spoke out.  Once to
Mrs. K., whose boy was a prisoner, he gave a very full account of
life in a German prison-camp, so that, in the absence of letters,
her imagination had henceforth something to bite on.  Usually his
visitors were too embarrassed to be observant, but one or two noted
that he was uncommonly well informed about the British Army.  He
never made a mistake about units, and seemed to know a man's
battalion before he was told it.  And when mothers poured out
details to him--for from the talk of soldiers on leave and
epistolary indiscretions a good deal of information circulated
about London--he now and then took notes.

Yet, though they got little from him that was explicit, these
visitors, as a rule, went away comforted.  Perhaps it was his
gentle soothing manner.  Perhaps, as poor Lady M. said, it was that
he seemed so assured of the spiritual life that they felt that
their anxieties were only tiny eddies on the edge of a great sea of
peace.  At any rate, it was the afflicted even more than the idly
curious who spoke well of Dr. Lartius.

Sometimes he had masculine clients--fathers of fighting sons, who
said they came on their wives' behalf, elderly retired Generals who
preferred spiritualism to golf, boys whose nerves were in tatters
and wanted the solace which in other ages and lands would have been
found in the confessional.  With these last Dr. Lartius became a
new man.  He would take off his spectacles and look them in the
face with his prominent lustrous eyes, and talk to them with a ring
in his pleasant voice.  It was not what he said so much, perhaps,
as his manner of saying it, but he seemed to have a singular power
over boys just a little bit loose from their moorings.  "Queer
thing," said one of these, "but one would almost think you had been
a soldier yourself."  Dr. Lartius had smiled and resumed his
spectacles.  "I am a soldier, but in a different war.  I fight with
the sword of the spirit against the hidden things of darkness."

Towards the end of March the brass plate suddenly disappeared.
There was a great fluttering in the dovecotes of the Elect when the
news went round that there had been trouble with the police.  It
had been over the toys, of course, and the taking of fees.  The
matter never came into court, but Dr. Lartius had been warned to
clear out, and he obeyed.  Many ladies wrote indignant letters to
the Home Secretary about persecution, letters which cited ominous
precedents from the early history of the Christian Church.

But in April came consolation.  The rumour spread that the Seekers
were not to lose their guide.  Mr. Greatheart would still be
available for the comforting of pilgrims.  A plate with the name of
Dr. S. Lartius reappeared in a quiet street in Mayfair.  But for
the future there would be no question of fees.  It was generally
assumed that a few devout women had provided a fund for the
sustenance of the prophet.

In May his fame was greater than ever.  One evening Lady Samplar,
the most ardent of his devotees, spoke of him to a certain General
who was a power in the land.  The General was popular among the
women of her set, but a notorious scoffer.  Perhaps this was the
secret of his popularity, for each hoped to convert him.

"I want you to see him yourself," she said.  "Only once.  I believe
in him so firmly that I am willing to stake everything on one
interview.  Promise me you will let me take you.  I only want you
to see him and talk to him for ten minutes.  I want you to realise
his unique personality, for if you once FEEL him you will scoff no
more."

The General laughed, shrugged his shoulders, but allowed himself to
be persuaded.  So it came about that one afternoon in early June he
accompanied Lady Samplar to the flat in Mayfair.  "You must go in
alone," she told him in the anteroom.  "I have spoken about you to
him, and he is expecting you.  I will wait for you here."

For half an hour the General was closeted with Dr. Lartius.  When
he returned to the lady his face was red and wrathful.

"That's the most dangerous fellow in London," he declared.  "Look
here, Mollie, you and your friends have been playing the fool about
that man.  He's a German spy, if there ever was one.  I caught him
out, for I trapped him into speaking German.  You say he's a Swiss,
but I swear no Swiss ever spoke German just as he speaks it.  The
man's a Bavarian.  I'll take my oath he is!"

It was a very depressed and rather frightened lady who gave him tea
a little later in her drawing-room.

"That kind of sweep is far too clever for you innocents," she was
told.  "There he has been for months pumping you all without your
guessing it.  You say he's a great comfort to the mourners.  I
daresay he is, but the poor devils tell him everything that's in
their heads.  That man has a unique chance of knowing the inside of
the British Army.  And how has he used his knowledge?  That's what
I want to know."

"What are you going to do about it?" she quavered.

"I'm going to have him laid by the heels," he said grimly, as he
took his departure.  "Interned--or put up against a wall, if we can
get the evidence.  I tell you he's a Boche pure and simple--not
that there's much purity and simplicity about him."

The General was as good as his word, but in one matter he was
wrong.  The credentials of the prophet's Swiss nationality were
good enough.  There was nothing for it but to deport him as an
undesirable, so one fine morning Dr. S. Lartius got his marching
orders.  He made no complaint, and took a dignified farewell of his
friends.  But the Faithful were not silent, and the friendship
between Lady Samplar and the General died a violent death.  The
thing got into the papers, Dr. Lartius figured in many unrecognisable
portraits in the press, and a bishop preached a sermon in a City
church about the worship of false gods.


II


As Dr. Lartius, closely supervised by the French police, pursued
his slow and comfortless journey to the Swiss frontier, he was
cheered by several proofs that his fame had gone abroad and that he
was not forgotten.  At Paris there were flowers in his dingy hotel
bedroom, the gift of an unknown admirer, and a little note of
encouragement in odd French.  At Dijon he received from a strange
lady another note telling him that his friends were awaiting him in
Berne.  When he crossed the border at Pontarlier there were more
flowers and letters.  The young man paid little attention to such
tributes.  He spent the journey in quiet reading and meditation,
and when he reached Berne did not seem to expect anyone to greet
him, but collected his luggage and drove off unobtrusively to an
hotel.

He had not been there an hour when a card was brought to him
bearing the name of Ernst Ulrici, Doctor of Philosophy in the
University of Bonn.

"Dr. Lartius," said the visitor, a middle-aged man with a peaked
grey beard and hair cut en brosse.  "It is an honour to make your
acquaintance.  We have heard of your fine work and your world-
moulding discoveries."

The young man bowed gravely.  "I am only a seeker," he said.  "I
make no claim to be a master--yet.  I am only a little way on the
road to enlightenment."

"We have also heard," said the other, "of how shamelessly the
British Government has persecuted learning in your person."

The reply was a smile and a shrug.  "I make no complaint.  It is
natural that my studies should seem foolishness to the children of
this world."

Dr. Ulrici pressed him further on the matter of Britain, but could
wake no bitterness.

"There is war to-day," he said at last.  "You are of German race.
Your sympathies are with us?"

"I have no nationality," was the answer.  "All men are my brothers.
But I would fain see this bloodshed at an end."

"How will it end?" came the question.

"I am no prophet," said Dr. Lartius.  "Yet I can tell that Germany
will win, but how I can tell I cannot tell."

The conversation lasted long and explored many subjects.  The
German led it cunningly to small matters, and showed a wide
acquaintance with the young man's science.  He learned that much of
his work had been done with soldiers and soldiers' kin, and that in
the process of it he had heard many things not published in the
newspapers.  But when he hinted, ever so delicately, that he would
be glad to buy the knowledge, a flush passed over the other's pale
face and his voice sharpened.

"I am no spy," he said.  "I do not prostitute my art for hire.  It
matters nothing to me which side wins, but it matters much that I
keep my soul clean."

So Dr. Ulrici tried another tack.  He spoke of the mysteries of the
craft, and lured the young man into the confession of hopes and
ideals.  There could be no communion with the dead, he was told,
until communion had first been perfected with the spirits of the
living.  "Let the time come," said Dr. Lartius, "when an unbroken
fellowship can be created between souls separated by great tracts
of space, and the key has been found.  Death is an irrelevant
accident.  The spirit is untouched by it.  Find the trait d'union
between spirits still in their fleshly envelope, and it can be
continued when that envelope is shed."

"And you have progressed in this affair?" asked Ulrici, with
scepticism in his tone.

"A few stages," said the other, and in the ardour of exposition he
gave proofs.  He had clients, he said, with whom he had established
the mystic catena.  He could read their thoughts even now, though
they were far away, share in their mental changes, absorb the
knowledge which they acquired.

"Soldiers?" asked the German.

"Some were soldiers.  All were the kin of soldiers."

But Ulrici was still cold.  "That is a great marvel," he said, "and
not easy to believe."

Dr. Lartius was fired.  "I will give you proofs," he said, with
unwonted passion in his voice.  "You can test them at your leisure.
I know things which have not yet come to pass, though no man has
spoken to me of them.  How do I know them?  Because they have come
within the cognisance of minds attuned to my own."

For a moment he seemed to hesitate.  Then he spoke of certain
matters--a little change in the method of artillery barrages, a
readjustment in the organisation of the British Air Force, an
alteration in certain British commands.

"These may be trivial things," he said.  "I do not know.  I have no
technical skill.  But they are still in the future.  I offer them
to you as proofs of my knowledge."

"So?" said the other.  "They are indeed small things, but they will
do for a test. . . ."

Then he spoke kindly, considerately, of Dr. Lartius's future.

"I think I will go to Munich," said the young man.  "Once I studied
at the University there, and I love the bright city.  They are a
sympathetic people and respect knowledge."

Dr. Ulrici rose to take his leave.  "It may be I am able to further
your plans, my friend," he said.

Late that night in a big sitting-room in another hotel, furnished
somewhat in the style of an official bureau, Ulrici talked
earnestly with another man, a heavy, bearded man, who wore the air
of a prosperous bagman, but who was addressed with every token of
respect.

"This Lartius fellow puzzles me.  He is a transparent fanatic, with
some odd power in him that sets him above others of his kidney.  I
fear he will not be as useful to us as we had hoped.  If only we
had known of him sooner and could have kept him in England."

"He can't go back, I suppose?"

"Impossible, sir.  But there is still a chance.  He has some wild
theory that he has established a link with various people, and so
acquires automatically whatever new knowledge they gain.  Some of
these people are soldiers.  He has told me things--little things--
that I may test this power of his.  I am no believer in the
spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, but I have lived long enough not to
reject a thing because it is new and strange.  About that we shall
see.  If there is anything in it there will be much.  Meantime I
keep closely in touch with him."

"What is he going to do?"

"He wants to go to Munich.  I am in favour of permitting it, sir.
Our good Bavarians are somewhat light in the head, and are always
seeking a new thing.  They want a little ghostly consolation at
present, and this man will give it them.  He believes most firmly
in our German victory."

The other yawned and flung away the end of his cigar.  "The
mountebank seems to have some glimmerings of sense," he said.


III


So it came about that in August of the year 1917 Dr. Lartius was
settled in comfortable rooms off the Garmischstrasse in the
Bavarian capital, and a new plate of gun-metal and oxidised silver,
lettered in the best style of art nouveau, advertised his name to
the citizens of Munich.

Fortune still attended the young man, for, as in London, he seemed
to spring at once into fame.  Within a week of his arrival people
were talking about him, and in a month his chambers were crowded.
Perhaps his friend Ulrici had spoken a word in the right place.  It
was the great season before Caporetto, and Dr. Lartius spoke
heartening things to his clients.  Victory was near and the days of
glory; but when asked about the date of peace he was coy.  Peace
would come, but not yet; for the world there was another winter of
war.

His methods were the same as those which had captured Lady Samplar
and her friends.  To the idly curious he showed toys; to the
emotional he spoke nobly of the life of the spirit and the locked
doors of hidden knowledge which were now almost ajar.  Rich ladies,
bored with the dullness of the opera season and the scarcity of
men, found in him a new interest in life.  To the sorrowful he gave
the comfort which he had given to his London circle--no more.  His
personality seemed to exhale hope and sympathy, and mourners,
remembering his pleasant voice and compelling eyes, departed with a
consolation which they could not define.

That was for the ordinary run of clients; but there were others--
fellow-students they professed themselves--to whom he gave stronger
meat.  He preached his doctrine of the mystic community of thought
and knowledge between souls far apart, and now and then he gave
proofs such as he had given to Ulrici.  It would appear that these
proofs stood the test, for his reputation grew prodigiously.  He
told them little things about forthcoming changes in the Allied
armies, and the event always proved him right.  They were not
things that mattered greatly, but if he could disclose trivialities
some day his method might enable him to reveal a mighty secret.  So
more than one Generalstabschef came to sit with him in his twilit
room.

About once a month he used to go back to Berne, and was invariably
met at the station by Ulrici.  He had been given a very special
passport, which took him easily and expeditiously over the
frontier, and he had no trouble with station commandants.  In these
visits he would be closeted with Ulrici for hours.  Occasionally he
would slip out of his hotel at night for a little, and when Ulrici
heard of it he shrugged his shoulders and laughed.  "He is young,"
he would say with a leer.  "Even a prophet must have his
amusements."  But he was wrong, for Dr. Lartius had not the foibles
he suspected.

The winter passed slowly, and the faces in the Munich streets grew
daily more pinched and wan, clothing more shabby and boots more
down at heel.  But there was always comfort for seekers in the room
in the Garmischstrasse.  Whoever lost faith it was not Dr. Lartius.
Peace was coming, and his hearers judged that he had forgotten his
scientific detachment from all patriotisms and was becoming a good
German.

Then in February of the New Year came the rumour of the great
advance preparing in the West.  The High Command had promised
speedy and final victory in return for a little more endurance.
Dr. Lartius seemed to have the first news of it.  "It is Peace," he
said, "Peace before winter"; and his phrase was repeated everywhere
and became a popular watchword.  So, when the news came at the end
of March of the retreat of the French and English to the gates of
Amiens, the hungry people smiled to each other and said, "He is
right, as always.  It is Peace."  Few now cared much about victory,
except the high officers and the very rich, but on Peace all were
determined.

April passed into May, and ere the month was out came glorious
tidings.  Ludendorff had reached the Marne, and was within range of
Paris.  About this time his closest disciples marked a change in
Dr. Lartius.  He seemed to retire into himself, and to be
struggling with some vast revelation.  His language was less
intelligible, but far more impressive.  Ulrici came up from Berne
to see him, for he had stopped for some months his visits to
Switzerland.  There were those who said his health was breaking,
others that he was now, in very truth, looking inside the veil.
This latter was the general view, and the fame of the young man
became a superstition.

"You tell us little now about our enemies," Ulrici complained.

"Mystica catena rupta est," Dr. Lartius quoted sadly.  "My friends
are your enemies, and they are suffering.  Their hearts and nerves
are breaking.  Therefore the link is thin and I cannot feel their
thoughts.  That is why I am so sad, for against my will the sorrow
of my friends clouds me."

Ulrici laughed in his gross way.  "Then the best omen for us is
that you fall into melancholia?  When you cut your throat we shall
know that we have won."

Yet Ulrici was not quite happy.  The young prophet was in danger of
becoming a Frankenstein's monster, which he could not control.  For
his popular fame was now a thing to marvel at.  It had gone abroad
through Germany, and to all the fighting fronts, and the phrase
linked to it was that of "Peace before winter."  Peace had become a
conviction, an obsession.  Ulrici and his friends would have
preferred the word to be "Victory."

In the early days of July a distinguished visitor came from Berlin
to the Garmischstrasse.  He was an Erster Generalstabsoffizier,
high in the confidence of the Supreme Command.  He sat in the
shaded room and asked an urgent question.

"I am not a Delphian oracle," said Dr. Lartius, "and I do not
prophesy.  But this much I can tell you.  The hearts of your
enemies have become like water, and they have few reserves left.  I
am not a soldier, so you can judge better than I.  You say you are
ready to strike with a crushing force.  If you leave your enemies
leisure they will increase and their hearts may recover."

"That is my view," said the soldier.  "You have done much for the
German people in the past, sir.  Have you no word now to encourage
them?"

"There will be peace before winter.  This much I can tell, but how
I know I cannot tell."

"But on what terms?"

"That depends upon your armies," was the oracular reply.

The staff officer had been gazing intently at the speaker.  Now he
rose and switched on the electric light.

"Will you oblige me by taking off your glasses, sir?" he asked, and
there was the sharpness of command in his voice.

Dr. Lartius removed his spectacles, and for some seconds the two
men looked at each other.

"I thank you," said the soldier at last.  "For a moment I thought
we had met before.  You reminded me of a man I knew long ago.  I
was mistaken."

After that it was noted by all that the melancholy of Dr. Lartius
increased.  His voice was saddened, and dejection wrapped him like
a cloud.  Those of the inner circle affected to see in this a good
omen.  "He is en rapport with his English friends," they said.  "He
cannot help himself, and their despair is revealed in him.  The
poor Lartius!  He is suffering for the sins of our enemies."  But
the great public saw only the depression, and as August matured,
and bad news filtered through the land, it gave their spirits an
extra push downhill.

In those weeks only one word came from the Garmischstrasse.  It was
"Peace--peace before winter."  The phrase became the universal
formula whispered wherever people spoke their minds.  It ran like
lightning through the camps and along the fronts, and in every
workshop and tavern.  It became a passion, a battle-cry.  The Wise
Doctor of Munich had said it.  Peace before winter--Peace at all
costs--only Peace.

In September Ulrici was in communication with a certain bureau in
Berlin.  "The man is honest enough, but he is mad.  He has served
his purpose.  It is time to suppress him."  Berlin agreed, and one
morning Ulrici departed from Berne.

But when he reached the Garmischstrasse he found the flamboyant
plate unscrewed from the door and the pleasant rooms deserted.

For a day or two before Dr. Lartius had been behaving oddly.  He
gave out that he was ill, and could not receive, but he was very
busy indoors with his papers.  Then late one evening, after a
conversation on the telephone with the railway people, he left his
rooms, with no luggage but a small dressing-case, and took the
night train for Innsbruck.  His admirable passport franked him
anywhere.  From Innsbruck he travelled to the Swiss frontier, and
when he crossed it, in the darkness of the September evening and in
an empty carriage, he made a toilet which included the shaving of
his silky black beard.  He was whistling softly and seemed to have
recovered his spirits.  At Berne he did not seek his usual hotel,
but went to an unfrequented place in a back street, where,
apparently, he was well known.  There he met during the course of
the day various people, and their conversation was not in the
German tongue.

That night he again took train, but it was westward to Lausanne and
the French border.


IV


In the early days of November, when the Allies were approaching
Maubeuge and Sedan, and the German plenipotentiaries were trying to
dodge the barrage and get speech with Foch, two British officers
were sitting in a little room at Versailles.  One was the General
we have already met, the quondam friend of Lady Samplar.  The other
was a slim young man who wore the badges of a lieutenant-colonel
and the gorget patches of the staff.  He had a pale face shaven
clean, black hair cut very short, and curious, bright, protuberant
hazel eyes.  He must have seen some service, for he had two rows of
medal ribbons on his breast.

"Unarm, Eros," quoted the General, looking at the last slip on a
pile of telegrams.  "'The long day's task is done.'  It has been a
grim business, and, Tommy, my lad, I think you had the most
difficult patch of the lot to hoe. . . .  It was largely due to you
that the Boche made his blunder on 15th July, and stretched his
neck far enough to let Foch hit him."

The young man grinned.  "I wouldn't like to go through it again,
sir.  But it didn't seem so bad when I was at it, though it is
horrible to look back on.  The worst part was the loneliness."

"You must have often had bad moments."

"Not so many.  I only remember two as particularly gruesome.  One
was when I heard you slanging me to Lady Samplar, and I suddenly
felt hopelessly cut off from my kind. . . .  The other was in July,
when von Mudra came down from Berlin to see me.  He dashed nearly
spotted me, for he was at the Embassy when I was in Constantinople."

The General lifted a flamboyant plate whereon the name of Dr. S.
Lartius was inscribed in letters of oxidised silver.  "You've
brought away your souvenir all right.  I suppose you'll have it
framed as a trophy for your ancestral hall.  By the way, what did
the letter S stand for?"

"When I was asked," said the young man, "I said 'Sigismund.'  But I
really meant it for 'Spurius'--the chap, you remember, who held the
bridge with Horatius."



IV


THE WIND IN THE PORTICO

HENRY NIGHTINGALE'S STORY


A dry wind of the high places . . . not to fan nor to cleanse, even
a full wind from those places shall come unto me.

Jeremiah iv. 11-12.


Nightingale was a hard man to draw.  His doings with the Bedawin
had become a legend, but he would as soon have talked about them as
claimed to have won the War.  He was a slim dark fellow about
thirty-five years of age, very short-sighted, and wearing such
high-powered double glasses that it was impossible to tell the
colour of his eyes.  This weakness made him stoop a little and
peer, so that he was the strangest figure to picture in a burnous
leading an army of desert tribesmen.  I fancy his power came partly
from his oddness, for his followers thought that the hand of Allah
had been laid on him, and partly from his quick imagination and his
flawless courage.  After the War he had gone back to his Cambridge
fellowship, declaring that, thank God, that chapter in his life was
over.

As I say, he never mentioned the deeds which had made him famous.
He knew his own business, and probably realised that to keep his
mental balance he had to drop the curtain on what must have been
the most nerve-racking four years ever spent by man.  We respected
his decision and kept off Arabia.  It was a remark of Hannay's that
drew from him the following story.  Hannay was talking about his
Cotswold house, which was on the Fosse Way, and saying that it
always puzzled him how so elaborate a civilisation as Roman Britain
could have been destroyed utterly and left no mark on the national
history beyond a few roads and ruins and place-names.  Peckwether,
the historian, demurred, and had a good deal to say about how much
the Roman tradition was woven into the Saxon culture.  "Rome only
sleeps," he said; "she never dies."

Nightingale nodded.  "Sometimes she dreams in her sleep and talks.
Once she scared me out of my senses."

After a good deal of pressing he produced this story.  He was not
much of a talker, so he wrote it out and read it to us.



There is a place in Shropshire which I do not propose to visit
again.  It lies between Ludlow and the hills, in a shallow valley
full of woods.  Its name is St. Sant, a village with a big house
and park adjoining, on a stream called the Vaun, about five miles
from the little town of Faxeter.  They have queer names in those
parts, and other things queerer than the names.

I was motoring from Wales to Cambridge at the close of the long
vacation.  All this happened before the War, when I had just got my
fellowship and was settling down to academic work.  It was a fine
night in early October, with a full moon, and I intended to push on
to Ludlow for supper and bed.  The time was about half-past eight,
the road was empty and good going, and I was trundling pleasantly
along when something went wrong with my headlights.  It was a small
thing, and I stopped to remedy it beyond a village and just at the
lodge-gates of a house.

On the opposite side of the road a carrier's cart had drawn up, and
two men, who looked like indoor servants, were lifting some
packages from it on to a big barrow.  The moon was up, so I didn't
need the feeble light of the carrier's lamp to see what they were
doing.  I suppose I wanted to stretch my legs for a moment, for
when I had finished my job I strolled over to them.  They did not
hear me coming, and the carrier on his perch seemed to be asleep.

The packages were the ordinary consignments from some big shop in
town.  But I noticed that the two men handled them very gingerly,
and that, as each was laid in the barrow, they clipped off the shop
label and affixed one of their own.  The new labels were odd
things, large and square, with some address written on them in very
black capital letters.  There was nothing in that, but the men's
faces puzzled me.  For they seemed to do their job in a fever,
longing to get it over and yet in a sweat lest they should make
some mistake.  Their commonplace task seemed to be for them a
matter of tremendous importance.  I moved so as to get a view of
their faces, and I saw that they were white and strained.  The two
were of the butler or valet class, both elderly, and I could have
sworn that they were labouring under something like fear.

I shuffled my feet to let them know of my presence and remarked
that it was a fine night.  They started as if they had been robbing
a corpse.  One of them mumbled something in reply, but the other
caught a package which was slipping, and in a tone of violent alarm
growled to his mate to be careful.  I had a notion that they were
handling explosives.

I had no time to waste, so I pushed on.  That night, in my room at
Ludlow, I had the curiosity to look up my map and identify the
place where I had seen the men.  The village was St. Sant, and it
appeared that the gate I had stopped at belonged to a considerable
demesne called Vauncastle.  That was my first visit.

At that time I was busy on a critical edition of Theocritus, for
which I was making a new collation of the manuscripts.  There was a
variant of the Medicean Codex in England, which nobody had seen
since Gaisford, and after a good deal of trouble I found that it
was in the library of a man called Dubellay.  I wrote to him at his
London club, and got a reply to my surprise from Vauncastle Hall,
Faxeter.  It was an odd letter, for you could see that he longed to
tell me to go to the devil, but couldn't quite reconcile it with
his conscience.  We exchanged several letters, and the upshot was
that he gave me permission to examine his manuscript.  He did not
ask me to stay, but mentioned that there was a comfortable little
inn in St. Sant.

My second visit began on the 27th of December, after I had been
home for Christmas.  We had had a week of severe frost, and then it
had thawed a little; but it remained bitterly cold, with leaden
skies that threatened snow.  I drove from Faxeter, and as we
ascended the valley I remember thinking that it was a curiously sad
country.  The hills were too low to be impressive, and their
outlines were mostly blurred with woods; but the tops showed clear,
funny little knolls of grey bent that suggested a volcanic origin.
It might have been one of those backgrounds you find in Italian
primitives, with all the light and colour left out.  When I got a
glimpse of the Vaun in the bleached meadows it looked like the "wan
water" of the Border ballads.  The woods, too, had not the friendly
bareness of English copses in wintertime.  They remained dark and
cloudy, as if they were hiding secrets.  Before I reached St. Sant,
I decided that the landscape was not only sad, but ominous.

I was fortunate in my inn.  In the single street of one-storied
cottages it rose like a lighthouse, with a cheery glow from behind
the red curtains of the bar parlour.  The inside proved as good as
the outside.  I found a bedroom with a bright fire, and I dined in
a wainscoted room full of preposterous old pictures of lanky hounds
and hollow-backed horses.  I had been rather depressed on my
journey, but my spirits were raised by this comfort, and when the
house produced a most respectable bottle of port I had the landlord
in to drink a glass.  He was an ancient man who had been a
gamekeeper, with a much younger wife, who was responsible for the
management.  I was curious to hear something about the owner of my
manuscript, but I got little from the landlord.  He had been with
the old squire, and had never served the present one.  I heard of
Dubellays in plenty--the landlord's master, who had hunted his own
hounds for forty years, the Major his brother, who had fallen at
Abu Klea; Parson Jack, who had had the living till he died, and of
all kinds of collaterals.  The "Deblays" had been a high-spirited,
open-handed stock, and much liked in the place.  But of the present
master of the Hall he could or would tell me nothing.  The Squire
was a "great scholard," but I gathered that he followed no sport
and was not a convivial soul like his predecessors.  He had spent a
mint of money on the house, but not many people went there.  He,
the landlord, had never been inside the grounds in the new master's
time, though in the old days there had been hunt breakfasts on the
lawn for the whole countryside, and mighty tenantry dinners.  I
went to bed with a clear picture in my mind of the man I was to
interview on the morrow.  A scholarly and autocratic recluse, who
collected treasures and beautified his dwelling and probably lived
in his library.  I rather looked forward to meeting him, for the
bonhomous sporting squire was not much in my line.

After breakfast next morning I made my way to the Hall.  It was the
same leaden weather, and when I entered the gates the air seemed to
grow bitterer and the skies darker.  The place was muffled in great
trees which even in their winter bareness made a pall about it.
There was a long avenue of ancient sycamores, through which one
caught only rare glimpses of the frozen park.  I took my bearings,
and realised that I was walking nearly due south, and was gradually
descending.  The house must be in a hollow.  Presently the trees
thinned, I passed through an iron gate, came out on a big untended
lawn, untidily studden with laurels and rhododendrons, and there
before me was the house front.

I had expected something beautiful--an old Tudor or Queen Anne
façade or a dignified Georgian portico.  I was disappointed, for
the front was simply mean.  It was low and irregular, more like the
back parts of a house, and I guessed that at some time or another
the building had been turned round, and the old kitchen door made
the chief entrance.  I was confirmed in my conclusion by observing
that the roofs rose in tiers, like one of those recessed New York
sky-scrapers, so that the present back parts of the building were
of an impressive height.

The oddity of the place interested me, and still more its
dilapidation.  What on earth could the owner have spent his money
on?  Everything--lawn, flower-beds, paths--was neglected.  There
was a new stone doorway, but the walls badly needed pointing, the
window woodwork had not been painted for ages, and there were
several broken panes.  The bell did not ring, so I was reduced to
hammering on the knocker, and it must have been ten minutes before
the door opened.  A pale butler, one of the men I had seen at the
carrier's cart the October before, stood blinking in the entrance.

He led me in without question, when I gave my name, so I was
evidently expected.  The hall was my second surprise.  What had
become of my picture of the collector?  The place was small and
poky, and furnished as barely as the lobby of a farm-house.  The
only thing I approved was its warmth.  Unlike most English country
houses there seemed to be excellent heating arrangements.

I was taken into a little dark room with one window that looked out
on a shrubbery, while the man went to fetch his master.  My chief
feeling was of gratitude that I had not been asked to stay, for the
inn was paradise compared with this sepulchre.  I was examining the
prints on the wall, when I heard my name spoken and turned round to
greet Mr. Dubellay.

He was my third surprise.  I had made a portrait in my mind of a
fastidious old scholar, with eye-glasses on a black cord, and a
finical weltkind-ish manner.  Instead I found a man still in early
middle age, a heavy fellow dressed in the roughest country tweeds.
He was as untidy as his demesne, for he had not shaved that
morning, his flannel collar was badly frayed, and his fingernails
would have been the better for a scrubbing brush.  His face was
hard to describe.  It was high-coloured, but the colour was not
healthy; it was friendly, but it was also wary; above all, it was
UNQUIET.  He gave me the impression of a man whose nerves were all
wrong, and who was perpetually on his guard.

He said a few civil words, and thrust a badly tied brown paper
parcel at me.

"That's your manuscript," he said jauntily.

I was staggered.  I had expected to be permitted to collate the
codex in his library, and in the last few minutes had realised that
the prospect was distasteful.  But here was this casual owner
offering me the priceless thing to take away.

I stammered my thanks, and added that it was very good of him to
trust a stranger with such a treasure.

"Only as far as the inn," he said.  "I wouldn't like to send it by
post.  But there's no harm in your working at it at the inn.  There
should be confidence among scholars."  And he gave an odd cackle of
a laugh.

"I greatly prefer your plan," I said.  "But I thought you would
insist on my working at it here."

"No, indeed," he said earnestly.  "I shouldn't think of such a
thing. . . .  Wouldn't do at all. . . .  An insult to our
freemasonry. . . .  That's how I should regard it."

We had a few minutes' further talk.  I learned that he had
inherited under the entail from a cousin, and had been just over
ten years at Vauncastle.  Before that he had been a London
solicitor.  He asked me a question or two about Cambridge--wished
he had been at the University--much hampered in his work by a
defective education.  I was a Greek scholar?--Latin, too, he
presumed.  Wonderful people the Romans. . . .  He spoke quite
freely, but all the time his queer restless eyes were darting
about, and I had a strong impression that he would have liked to
say something to me very different from these commonplaces--that he
was longing to broach some subject but was held back by shyness or
fear.  He had such an odd appraising way of looking at me.

I left without his having asked me to a meal, for which I was not
sorry, for I did not like the atmosphere of the place.  I took a
short cut over the ragged lawn, and turned at the top of the slope
to look back.  The house was in reality a huge pile, and I saw that
I had been right and that the main building was all at the back.
Was it, I wondered, like the Alhambra, which behind a front like a
factory concealed a treasure-house?  I saw, too, that the woodland
hollow was more spacious than I had fancied.  The house, as at
present arranged, faced due north, and behind the south front was
an open space in which I guessed that a lake might lie.  Far beyond
I could see in the December dimness the lift of high dark hills.

That evening the snow came in earnest, and fell continuously for
the better part of two days.  I banked up the fire in my bedroom
and spent a happy time with the codex.  I had brought only my
working books with me and the inn boasted no library, so when I
wanted to relax I went down to the tap-room, or gossiped with the
landlady in the bar parlour.  The yokels who congregated in the
former were pleasant fellows, but, like all the folk on the
Marches, they did not talk readily to a stranger and I heard little
from them of the Hall.  The old squire had reared every year three
thousand pheasants, but the present squire would not allow a gun to
be fired on his land and there were only a few wild birds left.
For the same reason the woods were thick with vermin.  This they
told me when I professed an interest in shooting.  But of Mr.
Dubellay they would not speak, declaring that they never saw him.
I daresay they gossiped wildly about him, and their public
reticence struck me as having in it a touch of fear.

The landlady, who came from a different part of the shire, was more
communicative.  She had not known the former Dubellays and so had
no standard of comparison, but she was inclined to regard the
present squire as not quite right in the head.  "They do say," she
would begin, but she, too, suffered from some inhibition, and what
promised to be sensational would tail off into the commonplace.
One thing apparently puzzled the neighbourhood above others, and
that was his rearrangement of the house.  "They do say," she said
in an awed voice, "that he have built a great church."  She had
never visited it--no one in the parish had, for Squire Dubellay did
not allow intruders--but from Lyne Hill you could see it through a
gap in the woods.  "He's no good Christian," she told me, "and him
and Vicar has quarrelled this many a day.  But they do say as he
worships summat there."  I learned that there were no women
servants in the house, only the men he had brought from London.
"Poor benighted souls, they must live in a sad hobble," and the
buxom lady shrugged her shoulders and giggled.

On the last day of December I decided that I needed exercise and
must go for a long stride.  The snow had ceased that morning, and
the dull skies had changed to a clear blue.  It was still very
cold, but the sun was shining, the snow was firm and crisp
underfoot, and I proposed to survey the country.  So after luncheon
I put on thick boots and gaiters, and made for Lyne Hill.  This
meant a considerable circuit, for the place lay south of the
Vauncastle park.  From it I hoped to get a view of the other side
of the house.

I was not disappointed.  There was a rift in the thick woodlands,
and below me, two miles off, I suddenly saw a strange building,
like a classical temple.  Only the entablature and the tops of the
pillars showed above the trees, but they stood out vivid and dark
against the background of snow.  The spectacle in that lonely place
was so startling that for a little I could only stare.  I remember
that I glanced behind me to the snowy line of the Welsh mountains,
and felt that I might have been looking at a winter view of the
Apennines two thousand years ago.

My curiosity was now alert, and I determined to get a nearer view
of this marvel.  I left the track and ploughed through the snowy
fields down to the skirts of the woods.  After that my troubles
began.  I found myself in a very good imitation of a primeval
forest, where the undergrowth had been unchecked and the rides
uncut for years.  I sank into deep pits, I was savagely torn by
briars and brambles, but I struggled on, keeping a line as best I
could.  At last the trees stopped.  Before me was a flat expanse
which I knew must be a lake, and beyond rose the temple.

It ran the whole length of the house, and from where I stood it was
hard to believe that there were buildings at its back where men
dwelt.  It was a fine piece of work--the first glance told me that--
admirably proportioned, classical, yet not following exactly any
of the classical models.  One could imagine a great echoing
interior dim with the smoke of sacrifice, and it was only by
reflecting that I realised that the peristyle could not be
continued down the two sides, that there was no interior, and that
what I was looking at was only a portico.

The thing was at once impressive and preposterous.  What madness
had been in Dubellay when he embellished his house with such a
grandiose garden front?  The sun was setting and the shadow of the
wooded hills darkened the interior, so I could not even make out
the back wall of the porch.  I wanted a nearer view, so I embarked
on the frozen lake.

Then I had an odd experience.  I was not tired, the snow lay level
and firm, but I was conscious of extreme weariness.  The biting air
had become warm and oppressive.  I had to drag boots that seemed to
weigh tons across that lake.  The place was utterly silent in the
stricture of the frost, and from the pile in front no sign of life
came.

I reached the other side at last and found myself in a frozen
shallow of bulrushes and skeleton willow-herbs.  They were taller
than my head, and to see the house I had to look upward through
their snowy traceries.  It was perhaps eighty feet above me and a
hundred yards distant, and, since I was below it, the delicate
pillars seemed to spring to a great height.  But it was still
dusky, and the only detail I could see was on the ceiling, which
seemed either to be carved or painted with deeply-shaded monochrome
figures.

Suddenly the dying sun came slanting through the gap in the hills,
and for an instant the whole portico to its farthest recesses was
washed in clear gold and scarlet.  That was wonderful enough, but
there was something more.  The air was utterly still with not the
faintest breath of wind--so still that when I had lit a cigarette
half an hour before the flame of the match had burned steadily
upward like a candle in a room.  As I stood among the sedges not a
single frost crystal stirred. . . .  But there was a wind blowing
in the portico.

I could see it lifting feathers of snow from the base of the
pillars and fluffing the cornices.  The floor had already been
swept clean, but tiny flakes drifted on to it from the exposed
edges.  The interior was filled with a furious movement, though a
yard from it was frozen peace.  I felt nothing of the action of the
wind, but I knew that it was hot, hot as the breath of a furnace.

I had only one thought, dread of being overtaken by night near that
place.  I turned and ran.  Ran with labouring steps across the
lake, panting and stifling with a deadly hot oppression, ran
blindly by a sort of instinct in the direction of the village.  I
did not stop till I had wrestled through the big wood, and come out
on some rough pasture above the highway.  Then I dropped on the
ground, and felt again the comforting chill of the December air.

The adventure left me in an uncomfortable mood.  I was ashamed of
myself for playing the fool, and at the same time hopelessly
puzzled, for the oftener I went over in my mind the incidents of
that afternoon the more I was at a loss for an explanation.  One
feeling was uppermost, that I did not like this place and wanted to
be out of it.  I had already broken the back of my task, and by
shutting myself up for two days I completed it; that is to say, I
made my collation as far as I had advanced myself in my commentary
on the text.  I did not want to go back to the Hall, so I wrote a
civil note to Dubellay, expressing my gratitude and saying that I
was sending up the manuscript by the landlord's son, as I scrupled
to trouble him with another visit.

I got a reply at once, saying that Mr. Dubellay would like to give
himself the pleasure of dining with me at the inn before I went,
and would receive the manuscript in person.

It was the last night of my stay in St. Sant, so I ordered the best
dinner the place could provide, and a magnum of claret, of which I
discovered a bin in the cellar.  Dubellay appeared promptly at
eight o'clock, arriving to my surprise in a car.  He had tidied
himself up and put on a dinner jacket, and he looked exactly like
the city solicitors you see dining in the Junior Carlton.

He was in excellent spirits, and his eyes had lost their air of
being on guard.  He seemed to have reached some conclusion about
me, or decided that I was harmless.  More, he seemed to be burning
to talk to me.  After my adventure I was prepared to find fear in
him, the fear I had seen in the faces of the men-servants.  But
there was none; instead there was excitement, overpowering
excitement.

He neglected the courses in his verbosity.  His coming to dinner
had considerably startled the inn, and instead of a maid the
landlady herself waited on us.  She seemed to want to get the meal
over, and hustled the biscuits and the port on to the table as soon
as she decently could.  Then Dubellay became confidential.

He was an enthusiast, it appeared, an enthusiast with a single
hobby.  All his life he had pottered among antiquities, and when he
succeeded to Vauncastle he had the leisure and money to indulge
himself.  The place, it seemed, had been famous in Roman Britain--
Vauni Castra--and Faxeter was a corruption of the same.  "Who was
Vaunus?" I asked.  He grinned, and told me to wait.

There had been an old temple up in the high woods.  There had
always been a local legend about it, and the place was supposed to
be haunted.  Well, he had had the site excavated and he had found--
Here he became the cautious solicitor, and explained to me the law
of treasure trove.  As long as the objects found were not
intrinsically valuable, not gold or jewels, the finder was entitled
to keep them.  He had done so--had not published the results of his
excavations in the proceedings of any learned society--did not want
to be bothered by tourists.  I was different, for I was a scholar.

What had he found?  It was really rather hard to follow his
babbling talk, but I gathered that he had found certain carvings
and sacrificial implements.  And--he sunk his voice--most important
of all, an altar, an altar of Vaunus, the tutelary deity of the
vale.  When he mentioned this word his face took on a new look--not
of fear but of secrecy, a kind of secret excitement.  I have seen
the same look on the face of a street-preaching Salvationist.

Vaunus had been a British god of the hills, whom the Romans in
their liberal way appear to have identified with Apollo.  He gave
me a long confused account of him, from which it appeared that Mr.
Dubellay was not an exact scholar.  Some of his derivations of
place-names were absurd--like St. Sant from Sancta Sanctorum--and
in quoting a line of Ausonius he made two false quantities.  He
seemed to hope that I could tell him something more about Vaunus,
but I said that my subject was Greek, and that I was deeply
ignorant about Roman Britain.  I mentioned several books, and found
that he had never heard of Haverfield.

One word he used, "hypocaust," which suddenly gave me a clue.  He
must have heated the temple, as he heated his house, by some very
efficient system of hot air.  I know little about science, but I
imagined that the artificial heat of the portico, as contrasted
with the cold outside, might create an air current.  At any rate
that explanation satisfied me, and my afternoon's adventure lost
its uncanniness.  The reaction made me feel friendly towards him,
and I listened to his talk with sympathy, but I decided not to
mention that I had visited his temple.

He told me about it himself in the most open way.  "I couldn't
leave the altar on the hillside," he said.  "I had to make a place
for it, so I turned the old front of the house into a sort of
temple.  I got the best advice, but architects are ignorant people,
and I often wished I had been a better scholar.  Still the place
satisfies me."

"I hope it satisfies Vaunus," I said jocularly.

"I think so," he replied quite seriously, and then his thoughts
seemed to go wandering, and for a minute or so he looked through me
with a queer abstraction in his eyes.

"What do you do with it now you've got it?" I asked.

He didn't reply, but smiled to himself.

"I don't know if you remember a passage in Sidonius Apollinaris," I
said, "a formula for consecrating pagan altars to Christian uses.
You begin by sacrificing a white cock or something suitable, and
tell Apollo with all friendliness that the old dedication is off
for the present.  Then you have a Christian invocation--"

He nearly jumped out of his chair.

"That wouldn't do--wouldn't do at all! . . .  Oh Lord, no! . . .
Couldn't think of it for one moment!"

It was as if I had offended his ears by some horrid blasphemy, and
the odd thing was that he never recovered his composure.  He tried,
for he had good manners, but his ease and friendliness had gone.
We talked stiffly for another half-hour about trifles, and then he
rose to leave.  I returned him his manuscript neatly parcelled up,
and expanded in thanks, but he scarcely seemed to heed me.  He
stuck the thing in his pocket, and departed with the same air of
shocked absorption.

After he had gone I sat before the fire and reviewed the situation.
I was satisfied with my hypocaust theory, and had no more
perturbation in my memory about my afternoon's adventure.  Yet a
slight flavour of unpleasantness hung about it, and I felt that I
did not quite like Dubellay.  I set him down as a crank who had
tangled himself up with a half-witted hobby, like an old maid with
her cats, and I was not sorry to be leaving the place.



My third and last visit to St. Sant was in the following June--the
midsummer of 1914.  I had all but finished my Theocritus, but I
needed another day or two with the Vauncastle manuscript, and, as I
wanted to clear the whole thing off before I went to Italy in July,
I wrote to Dubellay and asked if I might have another sight of it.
The thing was a bore, but it had to be faced, and I fancied that
the valley would be a pleasant place in that hot summer.

I got a reply at once, inviting, almost begging me to come, and
insisting that I should stay at the Hall.  I couldn't very well
refuse, though I would have preferred the inn.  He wired about my
train, and wired again saying he would meet me.  This time I seemed
to be a particularly welcome guest.

I reached Faxeter in the evening, and was met by a car from a
Faxeter garage.  The driver was a talkative young man, and, as the
car was a closed one, I sat beside him for the sake of fresh air.
The term had tired me, and I was glad to get out of stuffy
Cambridge, but I cannot say that I found it much cooler as we
ascended the Vaun valley.  The woods were in their summer
magnificence but a little dulled and tarnished by the heat, the
river was shrunk to a trickle, and the curious hill-tops were so
scorched by the sun that they seemed almost yellow above the green
of the trees.  Once again I had the feeling of a landscape
fantastically un-English.

"Squire Dubellay's been in a great way about your coming, sir," the
driver informed me.  "Sent down three times to the boss to make
sure it was all right.  He's got a car of his own, too, a nice
little Daimler, but he don't seem to use it much.  Haven't seen him
about in it for a month of Sundays."

As we turned in at the Hall gates he looked curiously about him.
"Never been here before, though I've been in most gentlemen's parks
for fifty miles round.  Rum old-fashioned spot, isn't it, sir?"

If it had seemed a shuttered sanctuary in midwinter, in that June
twilight it was more than ever a place enclosed and guarded.  There
was almost an autumn smell of decay, a dry decay like touchwood.
We seemed to be descending through layers of ever-thickening woods.
When at last we turned through the iron gate I saw that the lawns
had reached a further stage of neglect, for they were as shaggy as
a hayfield.

The white-faced butler let me in, and there, waiting at his back,
was Dubellay.  But he was not the man whom I had seen in December.
He was dressed in an old baggy suit of flannels, and his
unwholesome red face was painfully drawn and sunken.  There were
dark pouches under his eyes, and these eyes were no longer excited,
but dull and pained.  Yes, and there was more than pain in them--
there was fear.  I wondered if his hobby were becoming too much for
him.

He greeted me like a long-lost brother.  Considering that I
scarcely knew him, I was a little embarrassed by his warmth.
"Bless you for coming, my dear fellow," he cried.  "You want a wash
and then we'll have dinner.  Don't bother to change, unless you
want to.  I never do."  He led me to my bedroom, which was clean
enough but small and shabby like a servant's room.  I guessed that
he had gutted the house to build his absurd temple.

We dined in a fair-sized room which was a kind of library.  It was
lined with old books, but they did not look as if they had been
there long; rather it seemed like a lumber room in which a fine
collection had been stored.  Once no doubt they had lived in a
dignified Georgian chamber.  There was nothing else, none of the
antiques which I had expected.

"You have come just in time," he told me.  "I fairly jumped when I
got your letter, for I had been thinking of running up to Cambridge
to insist on your coming down here.  I hope you're in no hurry to
leave."

"As it happens," I said, "I AM rather pressed for time, for I hope
to go abroad next week.  I ought to finish my work here in a couple
of days.  I can't tell you how much I'm in your debt for your
kindness."

"Two days," he said.  "That will get us over midsummer.  That
should be enough."  I hadn't a notion what he meant.

I told him that I was looking forward to examining his collection.
He opened his eyes.  "Your discoveries, I mean," I said, "the altar
of Vaunus . . ."

As I spoke the words his face suddenly contorted in a spasm of what
looked like terror.  He choked and then recovered himself.  "Yes,
yes," he said rapidly.  "You shall see it--you shall see
everything--but not now--not to-night.  Tomorrow--in broad
daylight--that's the time."

After that the evening became a bad dream.  Small talk deserted
him, and he could only reply with an effort to my commonplaces.  I
caught him often looking at me furtively, as if he were sizing me
up and wondering how far he could go with me.  The thing fairly got
on my nerves, and to crown all it was abominably stuffy.  The
windows of the room gave on a little paved court with a background
of laurels, and I might have been in Seven Dials for all the air
there was.

When coffee was served I could stand it no longer.  "What about
smoking in the temple?" I said.  "It should be cool there with the
air from the lake."

I might have been proposing the assassination of his mother.  He
simply gibbered at me.  "No, no," he stammered.  "My God, no!"  It
was half an hour before he could properly collect himself.  A
servant lit two oil lamps, and we sat on in the frowsty room.

"You said something when we last met," he ventured at last, after
many a sidelong glance at me.  "Something about a ritual for re-
dedicating an altar."

I remembered my remark about Sidonius Apollinaris.

"Could you show me the passage?  There is a good classical library
here, collected by my great-grandfather.  Unfortunately my
scholarship is not equal to using it properly."

I got up and hunted along the shelves, and presently found a copy
of Sidonius, the Plantin edition of 1609.  I turned up the passage,
and roughly translated it for him.  He listened hungrily and made
me repeat it twice.

"He says a cock," he hesitated.  "Is that essential?"

"I don't think so.  I fancy any of the recognised ritual stuff
would do."

"I am glad," he said simply.  "I am afraid of blood."

"Good God, man," I cried out, "are you taking my nonsense
seriously?  I was only chaffing.  Let old Vaunus stick to his
altar!"

He looked at me like a puzzled and rather offended dog.

"Sidonius was in earnest . . ."

"Well, I'm not," I said rudely.  "We're in the twentieth century
and not in the third.  Isn't it about time we went to bed?"

He made no objection, and found me a candle in the hall.  As I
undressed I wondered into what kind of lunatic asylum I had
strayed.  I felt the strongest distaste for the place, and longed
to go straight off to the inn; only I couldn't make use of a man's
manuscripts and insult his hospitality.  It was fairly clear to me
that Dubellay was mad.  He had ridden his hobby to the death of his
wits and was now in its bondage.  Good Lord! he had talked of his
precious Vaunus as a votary talks of a god.  I believed he had come
to worship some figment of his half-educated fancy.

I think I must have slept for a couple of hours.  Then I woke
dripping with perspiration, for the place was simply an oven.  My
window was as wide open as it would go, and, though it was a warm
night, when I stuck my head out the air was fresh.  The heat came
from indoors.  The room was on the first floor near the entrance
and I was looking on to the overgrown lawns.  The night was very
dark and utterly still, but I could have sworn that I heard wind.
The trees were as motionless as marble, but somewhere close at hand
I heard a strong gust blowing.  Also, though there was no moon,
there was somewhere near me a steady glow of light; I could see the
reflection of it round the end of the house.  That meant that it
came from the temple.  What kind of saturnalia was Dubellay
conducting at such an hour?

When I drew in my head I felt that if I was to get any sleep
something must be done.  There could be no question about it; some
fool had turned on the steam heat, for the room was a furnace.  My
temper was rising.  There was no bell to be found, so I lit my
candle and set out to find a servant.

I tried a cast downstairs and discovered the room where we had
dined.  Then I explored a passage at right angles, which brought me
up against a great oak door.  The light showed me that it was a new
door, and that there was no apparent way of opening it.  I guessed
that it led into the temple, and, though it fitted close and there
seemed to be no key-hole, I could hear through it a sound like a
rushing wind. . . .  Next I opened a door on my right and found
myself in a big store cupboard.  It had a funny, exotic, spicy
smell, and, arranged very neatly on the floor and shelves, was a
number of small sacks and coffers.  Each bore a label, a square of
stout paper with very black lettering.  I read "Pro servitio
Vauni."

I had seen them before, for my memory betrayed me if they were not
the very labels that Dubellay's servants had been attaching to the
packages from the carrier's cart that evening in the past autumn.
The discovery made my suspicions an unpleasant certainty.  Dubellay
evidently meant the labels to read "For the service of Vaunus."  He
was no scholar, for it was an impossible use of the word
"servitium," but he was very patently a madman.

However, it was my immediate business to find some way to sleep, so
I continued my quest for a servant.  I followed another corridor,
and discovered a second staircase.  At the top of it I saw an open
door and looked in.  It must have been Dubellay's, for his flannels
were tumbled untidily on a chair, but Dubellay himself was not
there and the bed had not been slept in.

I suppose my irritation was greater than my alarm--though I must
say I was getting a little scared--for I still pursued the evasive
servant.  There was another stair which apparently led to attics,
and in going up it I slipped and made a great clatter.  When I
looked up the butler in his nightgown was staring down at me, and
if ever a mortal face held fear it was his.  When he saw who it was
he seemed to recover a little.

"Look here," I said, "for God's sake turn off that infernal hot
air.  I can't get a wink of sleep.  What idiot set it going?"

He looked at me owlishly, but he managed to find his tongue.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but there is no heating
apparatus in this house."

There was nothing more to be said.  I returned to my bedroom and it
seemed to me that it had grown cooler.  As I leaned out of the
window, too, the mysterious wind seemed to have died away, and the
glow no longer showed from beyond the corner of the house.  I got
into bed and slept heavily till I was roused by the appearance of
my shaving water about half-past nine.  There was no bathroom, so I
bathed in a tin pannikin.

It was a hazy morning which promised a day of blistering heat.
When I went down to breakfast I found Dubellay in the dining-room.
In the daylight he looked a very sick man, but he seemed to have
taken a pull on himself, for his manner was considerably less nervy
than the night before.  Indeed, he appeared almost normal, and I
might have reconsidered my view but for the look in his eyes.

I told him that I proposed to sit tight all day over the
manuscript, and get the thing finished.  He nodded.  "That's all
right.  I've a lot to do myself, and I won't disturb you."

"But first," I said, "you promised to show me your discoveries."

He looked at the window where the sun was shining on the laurels
and on a segment of the paved court.

"The light is good," he said--an odd remark.  "Let us go there now.
There are times and seasons for the temple."

He led me down the passage I had explored the previous night.  The
door opened not by a key but by some lever in the wall.  I found
myself looking suddenly at a bath of sunshine with the lake below
as blue as a turquoise.

It is not easy to describe my impressions of that place.  It was
unbelievably light and airy, as brilliant as an Italian colonnade
in midsummer.  The proportions must have been good, for the columns
soared and swam, and the roof (which looked like cedar) floated as
delicately as a flower on its stalk.  The stone was some local
limestone, which on the floor took a polish like marble.  All
around was a vista of sparkling water and summer woods and far blue
mountains.  It should have been as wholesome as the top of a hill.

And yet I had scarcely entered before I knew that it was a prison.
I am not an imaginative man, and I believe my nerves are fairly
good, but I could scarcely put one foot before the other, so strong
was my distaste.  I felt shut off from the world, as if I were in a
dungeon or on an ice-floe.  And I felt, too, that though far enough
from humanity, we were not alone.

On the inner wall there were three carvings.  Two were imperfect
friezes sculptured in low-relief, dealing apparently with the same
subject.  It was a ritual procession, priests bearing branches, the
ordinary dendrophori business.  The faces were only half-human, and
that was from no lack of skill, for the artist had been a master.
The striking thing was that the branches and the hair of the
hierophants were being tossed by a violent wind, and the expression
of each was of a being in the last stage of endurance, shaken to
the core by terror and pain.

Between the friezes was a great roundel of a Gorgon's head.  It was
not a female head, such as you commonly find, but a male head, with
the viperous hair sprouting from chin and lip.  It had once been
coloured, and fragments of a green pigment remained in the locks.
It was an awful thing, the ultimate horror of fear, the last
dementia of cruelty made manifest in stone.  I hurriedly averted my
eyes and looked at the altar.

That stood at the west end on a pediment with three steps.  It was
a beautiful piece of work, scarcely harmed by the centuries, with
two words inscribed on its face--APOLL.  VAUN.  It was made of some
foreign marble, and the hollow top was dark with ancient
sacrifices.  Not so ancient either, for I could have sworn that I
saw there the mark of recent flame.

I do not suppose I was more than five minutes in the place.  I
wanted to get out, and Dubellay wanted to get me out.  We did not
speak a word till we were back in the library.

"For God's sake give it up!" I said.  "You're playing with fire,
Mr. Dubellay.  You're driving yourself into Bedlam.  Send these
damned things to a museum and leave this place.  Now, now, I tell
you.  You have no time to lose.  Come down with me to the inn
straight off and shut up this house."

He looked at me with his lip quivering like a child about to cry.

"I will.  I promise you I will. . . .  But not yet. . . .  After
to-night. . . .  To-morrow I'll do whatever you tell me. . . .  You
won't leave me?"

"I won't leave you, but what earthly good am I to you if you won't
take my advice?"

"Sidonius . . ." he began.

"Oh, damn Sidonius!  I wish I had never mentioned him.  The whole
thing is arrant nonsense, but it's killing you.  You've got it on
the brain.  Don't you know you're a sick man?"

"I'm not feeling very grand.  It's so warm to-day.  I think I'll
lie down."

It was no good arguing with him, for he had the appalling obstinacy
of very weak things.  I went off to my work in a shocking bad
temper.

The day was what it had promised to be, blisteringly hot.  Before
midday the sun was hidden by a coppery haze, and there was not the
faintest stirring of wind.  Dubellay did not appear at luncheon--it
was not a meal he ever ate, the butler told me.  I slogged away all
the afternoon, and had pretty well finished my job by six o'clock.
That would enable me to leave next morning, and I hoped to be able
to persuade my host to come with me.

The conclusion of my task put me into a better humour, and I went
for a walk before dinner.  It was a very close evening, for the
heat haze had not lifted; the woods were as silent as a grave, not
a bird spoke, and when I came out of the cover to the burnt
pastures the sheep seemed too languid to graze.  During my walk I
prospected the environs of the house, and saw that it would be very
hard to get access to the temple except by a long circuit.  On one
side was a mass of outbuildings, and then a high wall, and on the
other the very closest and highest quickset hedge I have ever seen,
which ended in a wood with savage spikes on its containing wall.  I
returned to my room, had a cold bath in the exiguous tub, and
changed.

Dubellay was not at dinner.  The butler said that his master was
feeling unwell and had gone to bed.  The news pleased me, for bed
was the best place for him.  After that I settled myself down to a
lonely evening in the library.  I browsed among the shelves and
found a number of rare editions which served to pass the time.  I
noticed that the copy of Sidonius was absent from its place.

I think it was about ten o'clock when I went to bed, for I was
unaccountably tired.  I remember wondering whether I oughtn't to go
and visit Dubellay, but decided that it was better to leave him
alone.  I still reproach myself for that decision.  I know now I
ought to have taken him by force and haled him to the inn.

Suddenly I came out of heavy sleep with a start.  A human cry
seemed to be ringing in the corridors of my brain.  I held my
breath and listened.  It came again, a horrid scream of panic and
torture.

I was out of bed in a second, and only stopped to get my feet into
slippers.  The cry must have come from the temple.  I tore
downstairs expecting to hear the noise of an alarmed household.
But there was no sound, and the awful cry was not repeated.

The door in the corridor was shut, as I expected.  Behind it
pandemonium seemed to be loose, for there was a howling like a
tempest--and something more, a crackling like fire.  I made for the
front door, slipped off the chain, and found myself in the still,
moonless night.  Still, except for the rending gale that seemed to
be raging in the house I had left.

From what I had seen on my evening's walk I knew that my one chance
to get to the temple was by way of the quickset hedge.  I thought I
might manage to force a way between the end of it and the wall.  I
did it, at the cost of much of my raiment and my skin.  Beyond was
another rough lawn set with tangled shrubberies, and then a
precipitous slope to the level of the lake.  I scrambled along the
sedgy margin, not daring to lift my eyes till I was on the temple
steps.

The place was brighter than day with a roaring blast of fire.  The
very air seemed to be incandescent and to have become a flaming
ether.  And yet there were no flames--only a burning brightness.  I
could not enter, for the waft from it struck my face like a
scorching hand and I felt my hair singe. . . .

I am short-sighted, as you know, and I may have been mistaken, but
this is what I think I saw.  From the altar a great tongue of flame
seemed to shoot upwards and lick the roof, and from its pediment
ran flaming streams.  In front of it lay a body--Dubellay's--a
naked body, already charred and black.  There was nothing else,
except that the Gorgon's head in the wall seemed to glow like a sun
in hell.

I suppose I must have tried to enter.  All I know is that I found
myself staggering back, rather badly burned.  I covered my eyes,
and as I looked through my fingers I seemed to see the flames
flowing under the wall, where there may have been lockers, or
possibly another entrance.  Then the great oak door suddenly
shrivelled like gauze, and with a roar the fiery river poured into
the house.

I ducked myself in the lake to ease the pain, and then ran back as
hard as I could by the way I had come.  Dubellay, poor devil, was
beyond my aid.  After that I am not very clear what happened.  I
know that the house burned like a haystack.  I found one of the
men-servants on the lawn, and I think I helped to get the other
down from his room by one of the rain-pipes.  By the time the
neighbours arrived the house was ashes, and I was pretty well
mother-naked.  They took me to the inn and put me to bed, and I
remained there till after the inquest.  The coroner's jury were
puzzled, but they found it simply death by misadventure; a lot of
country houses were burned that summer.  There was nothing found of
Dubellay; nothing remained of the house except a few blackened
pillars; the altar and the sculptures were so cracked and scarred
that no museum wanted them.  The place has not been rebuilt, and
for all I know they are there to-day.  I am not going back to look
for them.



Nightingale finished his story and looked round his audience.

"Don't ask me for an explanation," he said, "for I haven't any.
You may believe if you like that the god Vaunus inhabited the
temple which Dubellay built for him, and, when his votary grew
scared and tried Sidonius's receipt for shifting the dedication,
became angry and slew him with his flaming wind.  That wind seems
to have been a perquisite of Vaunus.  We know more about him now,
for last year they dug up a temple of his in Wales."

"Lightning," some one suggested.

"It was a quiet night, with no thunderstorm," said Nightingale.

"Isn't the countryside volcanic?" Peckwether asked.  "What about
pockets of natural gas or something of the kind?"

"Possibly.  You may please yourself in your explanation.  I'm
afraid I can't help you.  All I know is that I don't propose to
visit that valley again!"

"What became of your Theocritus?"

"Burned, like everything else.  However, that didn't worry me much.
Six weeks later came the War, and I had other things to think
about."



V


"DIVUS" JOHNSTON

LORD LAMANCHA'S STORY


In deorum numerum relatus est non ore modo decernentium sed et
persuasione vulgi.

Suetonius.


We were discussing the vagaries of ambition, and decided that most
of the old prizes that humanity contended for had had their gilt
rubbed off.  Kingdoms, for example, which younger sons used to set
out to conquer.  It was agreed that nowadays there was a great deal
of drudgery and very little fun in being a king.

"Besides, it can't be done," Leithen put in.  "The Sarawak case.
Sovereignty over territory can only be acquired by a British
subject on behalf of His Majesty."

There was far more real power, someone argued, in the profession of
prophet.  Mass-persuasion was never such a force as to-day.  Sandy
Arbuthnot, who had known Gandhi and admired him, gave us a picture
of that strange popular leader--ascetic, genius, dreamer, child.
"For a little," he said, "Gandhi had more absolute sway over a
bigger lump of humanity than anybody except Lenin."

"I once knew Lenin," said Fulleylove, the traveller, and we all
turned to him.

"It must have been more than twenty years ago," he explained.  "I
was working at the British Museum and lived in lodgings in
Bloomsbury, and he had a room at the top of the house.  Ilyitch was
the name we knew him by.  He was a little, beetle-browed chap, with
a pale face and the most amazing sleepy black eyes, which would
suddenly twinkle and blaze as some thought passed through his mind.
He was very pleasant and good-humoured, and would spend hours
playing with the landlady's children.  I remember I once took him
down with me for a day into the country, and he was the merriest
little grig. . . .  Did I realise how big he was?  No, I cannot say
I did.  He was the ordinary Marxist, and he wanted to resurrect
Russia by hydraulics and electrification.  He seemed to be a funny
compound of visionary and terre-à-terre scientist.  But I realised
that he could lay a spell on his countrymen.  I have been to
Russian meetings with him--I talk Russian, you know--and it was
astounding the way he could make his audience look at him like
hungry sheep.  He gave me the impression of utter courage and
candour, and a kind of demoniac simplicity. . . .  No, I never met
him again, but oddly enough I was in Moscow during his funeral.
Russian geographers were interesting themselves in the line of the
old silk-route to Cathay, and I was there by request to advise
them.  I had not a very comfortable time, but everybody was very
civil to me.  So I saw Lenin's funeral, and unless you saw that you
can have no notion of his power.  A great black bier like an altar,
and hundreds and thousands of people weeping and worshipping--yes,
worshipping."

"The successful prophet becomes a kind of god," said Lamancha.
"Have you ever known a god, Sandy? . . .  No more have I.  But
there is one living to-day somewhere in Scotland.  Johnston is his
name.  I once met a very particular friend of his.  I will tell you
the story, and you can believe it or not as you like."



I had this narrative--he said--from my friend Mr. Peter Thomson of
"Jessieville," Maxwell Avenue, Strathbungo, whom I believe to be a
man incapable of mendacity, or, indeed, of imagination.  He is a
prosperous and retired ship's captain, dwelling in the suburbs of
Glasgow, who plays two rounds of golf every day of the week, and
goes twice every Sunday to a pink, new church.  You may often see
his ample figure, splendidly habited in broadcloth and finished off
with one of those square felt hats which are the Scottish emblem of
respectability, moving sedately by Mrs. Thomson's side down the
avenue of "Balmorals" and "Bellevues" where dwell the aristocracy
of Strathbungo.  It was not there that I met him, however, but in a
Clyde steamboat going round the Mull, where I spent a comfortless
night on my way to a Highland fishing.  It was blowing what he
called "a wee bit o' wind," and I could not face the odorous bunks
which opened on the dining-room.  Seated abaft the funnel, in an
atmosphere of ham-and-eggs, bilge and fresh western breezes, he
revealed his heart to me, and this I found in it.



"About the age of forty"--said Mr. Thomson--"I was captain of the
steamer Archibald McKelvie, 1,700 tons burthen, belonging to Brock,
Rattray, and Linklater, of Greenock.  We were principally engaged
in the China trade, but made odd trips into the Malay Archipelago
and once or twice to Australia.  She was a handy bit boat, and I'll
not deny that I had many mercies vouchsafed to me when I was her
skipper.  I raked in a bit of salvage now and then, and my trading
commission, paid regularly into the British Linen Bank at Maryhill,
was mounting up to a fairish sum.  I had no objection to Eastern
parts, for I had a good constitution and had outgrown the
daftnesses of youth.  The berth suited me well, I had a decent lot
for ship's company, and I would gladly have looked forward to
spending the rest of my days by the Archibald McKelvie.

"Providence, however, thought otherwise, for He was preparing a
judgment against that ship like the kind you read about in books.
We were five days out from Singapore, shaping our course for the
Philippines, where the Americans were then fighting, when we ran
into a queer lown sea.  Not a breath of air came out of the sky; if
you kindled a match the flame wouldna leap, but smouldered like
touchwood; and every man's body ran with sweat like a mill-lade.  I
kenned fine we were in for the terrors of hell, but I hadna any
kind of notion how terrible hell could be.  First came a wind that
whipped away my funnel, like a potato-peeling.  We ran before it,
and it was like the swee-gee we used to play at when we were
laddies.  One moment the muckle sea would get up on its hinder end
and look at you, and the next you were looking at it as if you were
on the top of Ben Lomond looking down on Luss.  Presently I saw
land in a gap of the waters, a land with great blood-red mountains,
and, thinks I to myself, if we keep up the pace this boat of mine
will not be hindered from ending two or three miles inland in
somebody's kailyard.  I was just wondering how we would get the
Archibald McKelvie back to her native element when she saved me the
trouble; for she ran dunt on some kind of a rock, and went straight
to the bottom.

"I was the only man saved alive, and if you ask me how it happened
I don't know.  I felt myself choking in a whirlpool; then I was
flung through the air and brought down with a smack into deep
waters; then I was in the air again, and this time I landed amongst
sand and tree-trunks and got a bash on the head which dozened my
senses.

"When I came to it was morning, and the storm had abated.  I was
lying about half-way up a beach of fine white sand, for the wave
that had carried me landwards in its flow had brought me some of
the road back in its ebb.  All round me was a sort of free-coup--
trees knocked to matchwood, dead fish, and birds and beasts, and
some boards which I jaloused came from the Archibald McKelvie.  I
had a big bump on my head, but otherwise I was well and clear in my
wits, though empty in the stomach and very dowie in the heart.  For
I knew something about the islands, of which I supposed this to be
one.  They were either barren wastes, with neither food nor water,
or else they were inhabited by the bloodiest cannibals of the
archipelago.  It looked as if my choice lay between having nothing
to eat and being eaten myself.

"I got up, and, after returning thanks to my Maker, went for a walk
in the woods.  They were full of queer painted birds, and it was an
awful job climbing in and out of the fallen trees.  By and by I
came into an open bit with a burn where I slockened my thirst.  It
cheered me up, and I was just beginning to think that this was not
such a bad island, and looking to see if I could find anything in
the nature of cocoanuts, when I heard a whistle like a steam-siren.
It was some sort of signal, for the next I knew I was in the grip
of a dozen savages, my arms and feet were lashed together, and I
was being carried swiftly through the forest.

"It was a rough journey, and the discomfort of that heathen
handling kept me from reflecting upon my desperate position.  After
nearly three hours we stopped, and I saw that we had come to a
city.  The streets were not much to look at, and the houses were
mud and thatch, but on a hillock in the middle stood a muckle
temple not unlike a Chinese pagoda.  There was a man blowing a
horn, and a lot of folk shouting, but I paid no attention, for I
was sore troubled with the cramp in my left leg.  They took me into
one of the huts and made signs that I was to have it for my
lodging.  They brought me water to wash, and a very respectable
dinner, which included a hen and a vegetable not unlike greens.
Then they left me to myself, and I lay down and slept for a round
of the clock.

"I was three days in that hut.  I had plenty to eat and the folk
were very civil, but they wouldna let me outbye and there was no
window to look out of.  I couldna make up my mind what they wanted
with me.  I was a prisoner, but they did not behave as if they bore
any malice, and I might have thought I was an honoured guest, but
for the guards at the door.  Time hung heavy on my hands, for I had
nothing to read and no light to read by.  I said over all the
chapters of the Bible and all the Scots songs I could remember, and
I tried to make a poem about my adventures, but I stuck at the
fifth line, for I couldna find a rhyme to McKelvie.

"On the fourth morning I was awakened by the most deafening din.  I
saw through the door that the streets were full of folk in holiday
clothes, most of them with flowers in their hair and carrying palm
branches in their hands.  It was like something out of a Bible
picture book.  After I had my breakfast four lads in long white
gowns arrived, and in spite of all my protests they made a bonny
spectacle of me.  They took off my clothes, me blushing with shame,
and rubbed me with a kind of oil that smelt of cinnamon.  Then they
shaved my chin, and painted on my forehead a mark like a
freemason's.  Then they put on me a kind of white nightgown with a
red sash round the middle, and they wouldna be hindered from
clapping on my head a great wreath of hothouse flowers, as if I was
a funeral.

"And then like a thunder-clap I realised my horrible position.  I
WAS A FUNERAL.  I was to be offered up as a sacrifice to some
heathen god--an awful fate for a Free-kirk elder in the prime of
life.

"I was so paralytic with terror that I never tried to resist.
Indeed, it would have done me little good, for outside there were,
maybe, two hundred savages, armed and drilled like soldiers.  I was
put into a sort of palanquin, and my bearers started at a trot with
me up the hill to the temple, the whole population of the city
running alongside, and singing songs about their god.  I was sick
with fear, and I durstna look up, for I did not know what awesome
sight awaited me.

"At last I got my courage back.  'Peter,' I says to myself, 'be a
man.  Remember your sainted Covenanting forefathers.  You have been
chosen to testify for your religion, though it's no likely that yon
savages will understand what you say.'  So I shut my jaw and
resolved before I died to make a declaration of my religious
principles, and to loosen some of the heathens' teeth with my
fists.

"We stopped at the temple door and I was led through a court and
into a muckle great place like a barn, with bats flying about the
ceiling.  Here there were nearly three thousand heathens sitting on
their hunkers.  They sang a hymn when they saw me, and I was just
getting ready for action when my bearers carried me into another
place, which I took to be the Holy of Holies.  It was about half
the size of the first, and at the end of it was a great curtain of
leopards' skins hanging from roof to floor.  My bearers set me in
the middle of the room, and then rolled about on their stomachs in
adoration before the curtain.  After a bit they finished their
prayers and crawled out backwards, and I was left alone in that
fearsome place.

"It was the worst experience of my life.  I believed that behind
the skins there was a horrible idol, and that at any moment a
priest with a knife would slip in to cut my throat.  You may crack
about courage, but I tell you that a man who can wait without a
quiver on his murderers in the middle of a gloomy kirk is more than
human.  I am not ashamed to confess that the sweat ran over my
brow, and my teeth were knocking in my head.

"But nothing happened.  Nothing, except that as I sat there I began
to notice a most remarkable smell.  At first I thought the place
was on fire.  Then I thought it was the kind of stink called
incense that they make in Popish kirks, for I once wandered into a
cathedral in Santiago.  But neither guess was right, and then I put
my thumb on the proper description.  It was nothing but the smell
of the third-class carriages on the Coatbridge train on a Saturday
night after a football match--the smell of plug tobacco smoked in
clay pipes that were no just very clean.  My eyes were getting
accustomed to the light, and I found the place no that dark; and as
I looked round to see what caused the smell, I spied something like
smoke coming from beyond the top of the curtain.

"I noticed another thing.  There was a hole in the curtain, about
six feet from the floor, and at that hole as I watched I saw an
eye.  My heart stood still, for, thinks I, that'll be the priest of
Baal who presently will stick a knife into me.  It was long ere I
could screw up courage to look again, but I did it.  And then I saw
that the eye was not that of a savage, which would be black and
blood-shot.  It was a blue eye, and, as I looked, it winked at me.

"And then a voice spoke out from behind the curtain, and this was
what it said.  It said, 'God-sake, Peter, is that you?  And how did
ye leave them a' at Maryhill?'

"And from behind the curtain walked a muckle man, dressed in a pink
blanket, a great red-headed man, with a clay pipe in his mouth.  It
was the god of the savages, and who do ye think it was?  A man
Johnston, who used to bide in the same close as me in Glasgow. . . ."

Mr. Thomson's emotion overcame him, and he accepted a stiff drink
from my flask.  Wiping away a tear, which may have been of
sentiment or of mirth, he continued:

"You may imagine that I was joyful and surprised to see him, and
he, so to speak, fell on my neck like the father of the Prodigal
Son.  He hadna seen a Scotch face for four years.  He raked up one
or two high priests and gave instructions, and soon I was
comfortably lodged in a part of the temple close to his own rooms.
Eh, man, it was a noble sight to see Johnston and the priests.  He
was a big, red-haired fellow, six feet four, and as strong as a
stot, with a voice like a north-easter, and yon natives fair
crawled like caterpillars in his presence.  I never saw a man with
such a natural talent for being a god.  You would have thought he
had been bred to the job all his days, and yet I minded him keeping
a grocer's shop in the Dalmarnock Road.

"That night he told me his story.  It seemed that he had got a post
at Shanghai in a trading house, and was coming out to it in one of
those God-forgotten German tramps that defile the China seas.  Like
me, he fell in with a hurricane, and, like me, his ship was doomed.
He was a powerful swimmer, and managed to keep afloat until he
found some drifting wreckage, and after the wind had gone down he
paddled ashore.  There he was captured by the savages, and taken,
like me, to their city.  They were going to sacrifice him, but one
chief, wiser than the rest, called attention to his size and
strength, and pointed out that they were at war with their
neighbours, and that a big man would be of more use in the fighting
line than on an altar in the temple.

"So off went Johnston to the wars.  He was a bonny fighter, and
very soon they made him captain of the royal bodyguard, and a
fortnight later the general commanding-in-chief over the whole
army.  He said he had never enjoyed himself so much in his life,
and when he got back from his battles the whole population of the
city used to meet him with songs and flowers.  Then an old priest
found an ancient prophecy about a Red God who would come out of the
sea and lead the people to victory.  Very soon there was a strong
party for making Johnston a god, and when, with the help of a few
sticks of trade dynamite, he had blown up the capital of the other
side and brought back his army in triumph with a prisoner apiece,
popular feeling could not be restrained.  Johnston was hailed as
divine.  He hadna much grip of the language, and couldna explain
the situation, so he thought it best to submit.

"'Mind you,' he said to me, 'I've been a good god to these poor
blind ignorant folk.'  He had stopped the worst of their habits and
put down human sacrifices, and got a sort of town council appointed
to keep the city clean, and he had made the army the most efficient
thing ever heard of in the islands.  And now he was preparing to
leave.  This was what they expected, for the prophecy had said that
the Red God, after being the saviour of his people, would depart as
he had come across the sea.  So, under his directions, they had
built him a kind of boat with which he hoped to reach Singapore.
He had got together a considerable fortune, too, chiefly in rubies,
for as a god he had plenty of opportunities of acquiring wealth
honestly.  He said there was a sort of greengrocer's and butcher's
shop before his altar every morning, and he got one of the priests,
who had some business notions, to sell off the goods for him.

"There was just one thing that bothered Mr. Johnston.  He was a
good Christian man and had been an elder in a kirk in the
Cowcaddens, and he was much in doubt whether he had not committed a
mortal sin in accepting the worship of these heathen islanders.
Often I argued it out with him, but I did not seem able to comfort
him rightly.  'Ye see,' he used to say to me, 'if I have broken
anything, it's the spirit and no the letter of the commandment.  I
havena set up a graven image, for ye canna call me a graven image.'

"I mind that I quoted to him the conduct of Naaman, who was allowed
to bow in the house of Rimmon, but he would not have it.  'No, no,'
he cried, 'that has nothing to do with the point.  It's no a
question of my bowing in the house of Rimmon.  I'm auld Rimmon
himself."



"That's a strange story, Mr. Thomson," I said.  "Is it true?"

"True as death.  But you havena heard the end of it.  We got away,
and by-and-by we reached Singapore, and in course of time our
native land.  Johnston, he was a very rich man now, and I didna go
without my portion; so the loss of the Archibald McKelvie turned
out the best piece of luck in my life.  I bought a share in Brock's
Line, but nothing would content Johnston but that he must be a
gentleman.  He got a big estate in Annandale, where all the
Johnstons came from long ago, and one way and another he has spent
an awful siller on it.  Land will swallow up money quicker than the
sea."

"And what about his conscience?" I asked.

"It's keeping quieter," said Mr. Thomson.  "He takes a great
interest in Foreign Missions, to which he subscribes largely, and
they tell me that he has given the funds to build several new
kirks.  Oh yes, and he's just been adopted as a prospective Liberal
candidate.  I had a letter from him no further back than yesterday.
It's about his political career, as he calls it.  He told me, what
didna need telling, that I must never mention a word about his
past.  'If discretion was necessary before,' he says, 'it's far
more necessary now, for how could the Party of Progress have any
confidence in a man if they heard he had once been a god?'"



VI


THE LOATHLY OPPOSITE

OLIVER PUGH'S STORY


How loathly opposite I stood
To his unnatural purpose.

King Lear.


Burminster had been to a Guildhall dinner the night before, which
had been attended by many--to him--unfamiliar celebrities.  He had
seen for the first time in the flesh people whom he had long known
by reputation, and he declared that in every case the picture he
had formed of them had been cruelly shattered.  An eminent poet, he
said, had looked like a starting-price bookmaker, and a financier
of world-wide fame had been exactly like the music-master at his
preparatory school.  Wherefore Burminster made the profound
deduction that things were never what they seemed.

"That's only because you have a feeble imagination," said Sandy
Arbuthnot.  "If you had really understood Timson's poetry you would
have realised that it went with close-cropped red hair and a fat
body, and you should have known that Macintyre (this was the
financier) had the music-and-metaphysics type of mind.  That's why
he puzzles the City so.  If you understand a man's work well enough
you can guess pretty accurately what he'll look like.  I don't mean
the colour of his eyes and his hair, but the general atmosphere of
him."

It was Sandy's agreeable habit to fling an occasional paradox at
the table with the view of starting an argument.  This time he
stirred up Pugh, who had come to the War Office from the Indian
Staff Corps.  Pugh had been a great figure in Secret Service work
in the East, but he did not look the part, for he had the air of a
polo-playing cavalry subaltern.  The skin was stretched as tight
over his cheek-bones as over the knuckles of a clenched fist, and
was so dark that it had the appearance of beaten bronze.  He had
black hair, rather beady black eyes, and the hooky nose which in
the Celt often goes with that colouring.  He was himself a very
good refutation of Sandy's theory.

"I don't agree," Pugh said.  "At least not as a general principle.
One piece of humanity whose work I studied with the microscope for
two aching years upset all my notions when I came to meet it."

Then he told us this story.



"When I was brought to England in November '17 and given a 'hush'
department on three floors of an eighteenth-century house in a back
street, I had a good deal to learn about my business.  That I
learned it in reasonable time was due to the extraordinarily fine
staff that I found provided for me.  Not one of them was a regular
soldier.  They were all educated men--they had to be in that job--
but they came out of every sort of environment.  One of the best
was a Shetland laird, another was an Admiralty Court K.C., and I
had besides a metallurgical chemist, a golf champion, a leader-
writer, a popular dramatist, several actuaries, and an East-end
curate.  None of them thought of anything but his job, and at the
end of the War, when some ass proposed to make them O.B.E.'s, there
was a very fair imitation of a riot.  A more loyal crowd never
existed, and they accepted me as their chief as unquestioningly as
if I had been with them since 1914.

"To the War in the ordinary sense they scarcely gave a thought.
You found the same thing in a lot of other behind-the-lines
departments, and I daresay it was a good thing--it kept their
nerves quiet and their minds concentrated.  After all our business
was only to decode and decypher German messages; we had nothing to
do with the use which was made of them.  It was a curious little
nest, and when the Armistice came my people were flabbergasted--
they hadn't realised that their job was bound up with the War.

"The one who most interested me was my second-in-command, Philip
Channell.  He was a man of forty-three, about five-foot-four in
height, weighing, I fancy, under nine stone, and almost as blind as
an owl.  He was good enough at papers with his double glasses, but
he could hardly recognise you three yards off.  He had been a
professor at some Midland college--mathematics or physics, I
think--and as soon as the War began he had tried to enlist.  Of
course they wouldn't have him--he was about E5 in any physical
classification, besides being well over age--but he would take no
refusal, and presently he worried his way into the Government
service.  Fortunately he found a job which he could do superlatively
well, for I do not believe there was a man alive with more natural
genius for cryptography.

"I don't know if any of you have ever given your mind to that
heart-breaking subject.  Anyhow you know that secret writing falls
under two heads--codes and cyphers, and that codes are combinations
of words and cyphers of numerals.  I remember how one used to be
told that no code or cypher which was practically useful was really
undiscoverable, and in a sense that is true, especially of codes.
A system of communication which is in constant use must obviously
not be too intricate, and a working code, if you get long enough
for the job, can generally be read.  That is why a code is
periodically changed by the users.  There are rules in worrying out
the permutations and combinations of letters in most codes, for
human ingenuity seems to run in certain channels, and a man who has
been a long time at the business gets surprisingly clever at it.
You begin by finding out a little bit, and then empirically
building up the rules of decoding, till in a week or two you get
the whole thing.  Then, when you are happily engaged in reading
enemy messages, the code is changed suddenly, and you have to start
again from the beginning. . . .  You can make a code, of course,
that it is simply impossible to read except by accident--the key to
which is a page of some book, for example--but fortunately that
kind is not of much general use.

"Well, we got on pretty well with the codes, and read the
intercepted enemy messages, cables and wireless, with considerable
ease and precision.  It was mostly diplomatic stuff, and not very
important.  The more valuable stuff was in cypher, and that was
another pair of shoes.  With a code you can build up the
interpretation by degrees, but with a cypher you either know it or
you don't--there are no half-way houses.  A cypher, since it deals
with numbers, is a horrible field for mathematical ingenuity.  Once
you have written out the letters of a message in numerals there are
many means by which you can lock it and double-lock it.  The two
main devices, as you know, are transposition and substitution, and
there is no limit to the ways one or other or both can be used.
There is nothing to prevent a cypher having a double meaning,
produced by two different methods, and, as a practical question,
you have to decide which meaning is intended.  By way of an extra
complication, too, the message, when decyphered, may turn out to be
itself in a difficult code.  I can tell you our job wasn't exactly
a rest cure."

Burminster, looking puzzled, inquired as to the locking of cyphers.

"It would take too long to explain.  Roughly, you write out a
message horizontally in numerals; then you pour it into vertical
columns, the number and order of which are determined by a keyword;
then you write out the contents of the columns horizontally,
following the lines across.  To unlock it you have to have the key
word, so as to put it back into the vertical columns, and then into
the original horizontal form."

Burminster cried out like one in pain.  "It can't be done.  Don't
tell me that any human brain could solve such an acrostic."

"It was frequently done," said Pugh.

"By you?"

"Lord bless you, not by me.  I can't do a simple cross-word puzzle.
By my people."

"Give me the trenches," said Burminster in a hollow voice.  "Give
me the trenches any day.  Do you seriously mean to tell me that you
could sit down before a muddle of numbers and travel back the way
they had been muddled to an original that made sense?"

"I couldn't, but Channell could--in most cases.  You see, we didn't
begin entirely in the dark.  We already knew the kind of
intricacies that the enemy favoured, and the way we worked was by
trying a variety of clues till we lit on the right one."

"Well, I'm blessed!  Go on about your man Channell."

"This isn't Channell's story," said Pugh.  "He only comes into it
accidentally. . . .  There was one cypher which always defeated us,
a cypher used between the German General Staff and their forces in
the East.  It was a locked cypher, and Channell had given more time
to it than to any dozen of the others, for it put him on his
mettle.  But he confessed himself absolutely beaten.  He wouldn't
admit that it was insoluble, but he declared that he would need a
bit of real luck to solve it.  I asked him what kind of luck, and
he said a mistake and a repetition.  That, he said, might give him
a chance of establishing equations.

"We called this particular cypher 'P.Y.,' and we hated it
poisonously.  We felt like pygmies battering at the base of a high
stone tower.  Dislike of the thing soon became dislike of the man
who had conceived it.  Channell and I used to--I won't say amuse,
for it was too dashed serious--but torment ourselves by trying to
picture the fellow who owned the brain that was responsible for
P.Y.  We had a pretty complete dossier of the German Intelligence
Staff, but of course we couldn't know who was responsible for this
particular cypher.  We knew no more than his code name, Reinmar,
with which he signed the simpler messages to the East, and
Channell, who was a romantic little chap for all his science, had
got it into his head that it was a woman.  He used to describe her
to me as if he had seen her--a she-devil, young, beautiful, with a
much-painted white face, and eyes like a cobra's.  I fancy he read
a rather low class of novel in his off-time.

"My picture was different.  At first I thought of the histrionic
type of scientist, the 'ruthless brain' type, with a high
forehead and a jaw puckered like a chimpanzee.  But that didn't
seem to work, and I settled on a picture of a first-class
Generalstaboffizier, as handsome as Falkenhayn, trained to the last
decimal, absolutely passionless, with a mind that worked with the
relentless precision of a fine machine.  We all of us at the time
suffered from the bogy of this kind of German, and, when things
were going badly, as in March '18, I couldn't sleep for hating him.
The infernal fellow was so water-tight and armour-plated, a Goliath
who scorned the pebbles from our feeble slings.

"Well, to make a long story short, there came a moment in September
'18 when P.Y. was about the most important thing in the world.  It
mattered enormously what Germany was doing in Syria, and we knew
that it was all in P.Y.  Every morning a pile of the intercepted
German wireless messages lay on Channell's table, which were as
meaningless to him as a child's scrawl.  I was prodded by my chiefs
and in turn I prodded Channell.  We had a week to find the key to
the cypher, after which things must go on without us, and if we had
failed to make anything of it in eighteen months of quiet work, it
didn't seem likely that we would succeed in seven feverish days.
Channell nearly went off his head with overwork and anxiety.  I
used to visit his dingy little room and find him fairly grizzled
and shrunken with fatigue.

"This isn't a story about him, though there is a good story which I
may tell you another time.  As a matter of fact we won on the post.
P.Y. made a mistake.  One morning we got a long message dated en
clair, then a very short message, and then a third message almost
the same as the first.  The second must mean 'Your message of to-
day's date unintelligible, please repeat,' the regular formula.
This gave us a translation of a bit of the cypher.  Even that would
not have brought it out, and for twelve hours Channell was on the
verge of lunacy, till it occurred to him that Reinmar might have
signed the long message with his name, as we used to do sometimes
in cases of extreme urgency.  He was right, and, within three hours
of the last moment Operations could give us, we had the whole thing
pat.  As I have said, that is a story worth telling, but it is not
this one.

"We both finished the War too tired to think of much except that
the darned thing was over.  But Reinmar had been so long our unseen
but constantly pictured opponent that we kept up a certain interest
in him.  We would like to have seen how he took the licking, for he
must have known that we had licked him.  Mostly when you lick a man
at a game you rather like him, but I didn't like Reinmar.  In fact
I made him a sort of compost of everything I had ever disliked in a
German.  Channell stuck to his she-devil theory, but I was pretty
certain that he was a youngish man with an intellectual arrogance
which his country's débâcle would in no way lessen.  He would never
acknowledge defeat.  It was highly improbable that I should ever
find out who he was, but I felt that if I did, and met him face to
face, my dislike would be abundantly justified.

"As you know, for a year or two after the Armistice I was a pretty
sick man.  Most of us were.  We hadn't the fillip of getting back
to civilised comforts, like the men in the trenches.  We had always
been comfortable enough in body, but our minds were fagged out, and
there is no easy cure for that.  My digestion went nobly to pieces,
and I endured a miserable space of lying in bed and living on milk
and olive-oil.  After that I went back to work, but the darned
thing always returned, and every leech had a different regime to
advise.  I tried them all--dry meals, a snack every two hours,
lemon juice, sour milk, starvation, knocking off tobacco--but
nothing got me more than half-way out of the trough.  I was a
burden to myself and a nuisance to others, dragging my wing through
life, with a constant pain in my tummy.

"More than one doctor advised an operation, but I was chary about
that, for I had seen several of my friends operated on for the same
mischief and left as sick as before.  Then a man told me about a
German fellow called Christoph, who was said to be very good at
handling my trouble.  The best hand at diagnosis in the world, my
informant said--no fads--treated every case on its merits--a really
original mind.  Dr. Christoph had a modest kurhaus at a place
called Rosensee in the Sächischen Sweitz.  By this time I was
getting pretty desperate, so I packed a bag and set off for
Rosensee.

"It was a quiet little town at the mouth of a narrow valley, tucked
in under wooded hills, a clean fresh place with open channels of
running water in the streets.  There was a big church with an onion
spire, a Catholic seminary, and a small tanning industry.  The
kurhaus was halfway up a hill, and I felt better as soon as I saw
my bedroom, with its bare scrubbed floors and its wide verandah
looking up into a forest glade.  I felt still better when I saw Dr.
Christoph.  He was a small man with a grizzled beard, a high
forehead, and a limp, rather like what I imagine the Apostle Paul
must have been.  He looked wise, as wise as an old owl.  His
English was atrocious, but even when he found that I talked German
fairly well he didn't expand in speech.  He would deliver no
opinion of any kind until he had had me at least a week under
observation; but somehow I felt comforted, for I concluded that a
first-class brain had got to work on me.

"The other patients were mostly Germans with a sprinkling of
Spaniards, but to my delight I found Channell.  He also had been
having a thin time since we parted.  Nerves were his trouble--
general nervous debility and perpetual insomnia, and his college
had given him six months' leave of absence to try to get well.  The
poor chap was as lean as a sparrow, and he had the large dull eyes
and the dry lips of the sleepless.  He had arrived a week before
me, and like me was under observation.  But his vetting was
different from mine, for he was a mental case, and Dr. Christoph
used to devote hours to trying to unriddle his nervous tangles.
'He is a good man for a German,' said Channell, 'but he is on the
wrong tack.  There's nothing wrong with my mind.  I wish he'd stick
to violet rays and massage, instead of asking me silly questions
about my great-grandmother.'

"Channell and I used to go for invalidish walks in the woods, and
we naturally talked about the years we had worked together.  He was
living mainly in the past, for the War had been the great thing in
his life, and his professorial duties seemed trivial by comparison.
As we tramped among the withered bracken and heather his mind was
always harking back to the dingy little room where he had smoked
cheap cigarettes and worked fourteen hours out of the twenty-four.
In particular he was as eagerly curious about our old antagonist,
Reinmar, as he had been in 1918.  He was more positive than ever
that she was a woman, and I believe that one of the reasons that
had induced him to try a cure in Germany was a vague hope that he
might get on her track.  I had almost forgotten about the thing,
and I was amused by Channell in the part of the untiring sleuth-
hound.

"'You won't find her in the Kurhaus,' I said.  'Perhaps she is in
some old schloss in the neighbourhood, waiting for you like the
Sleeping Beauty.'

"'I'm serious,' he said plaintively.  'It is purely a matter of
intellectual curiosity, but I confess I would give a great deal to
see her face to face.  After I leave here, I thought of going to
Berlin to make some inquiries.  But I'm handicapped, for I know
nobody and I have no credentials.  Why don't you, who have a large
acquaintance and far more authority, take the thing up?'

"I told him that my interest in the matter had flagged and that I
wasn't keen on digging into the past, but I promised to give him a
line to our Military Attaché if he thought of going to Berlin.  I
rather discouraged him from letting his mind dwell too much on
events in the War.  I said that he ought to try to bolt the door on
all that had contributed to his present breakdown.

"'That is not Dr. Christoph's opinion,' he said emphatically.  'He
encourages me to talk about it.  You see, with me it is a purely
intellectual interest.  I have no emotion in the matter.  I feel
quite friendly towards Reinmar, whoever she may be.  It is, if you
like, a piece of romance.  I haven't had so many romantic events in
my life that I want to forget this.'

"'Have you told Dr. Christoph about Reinmar?' I asked.

"'Yes,' he said, 'and he was mildly interested.  You know the way
he looks at you with his solemn grey eyes.  I doubt if he quite
understood what I meant, for a little provincial doctor, even
though he is a genius in his own line, is not likely to know much
about the ways of the Great General Staff. . . .  I had to tell
him, for I have to tell him all my dreams, and lately I have taken
to dreaming about Reinmar.'

"'What's she like?' I asked.

"'Oh, a most remarkable figure.  Very beautiful, but uncanny.  She
has long fair hair down to her knees.'

"Of course I laughed.  'You're mixing her up with the Valkyries,' I
said.  'Lord, it would be an awkward business if you met that she-
dragon in the flesh.'

"But he was quite solemn about it, and declared that his waking
picture of her was not in the least like his dreams.  He rather
agreed with my nonsense about the old schloss.  He thought that she
was probably some penniless grandee, living solitary in a moated
grange, with nothing now to exercise her marvellous brain on, and
eating her heart out with regret and shame.  He drew so attractive
a character of her that I began to think that Channell was in love
with a being of his own creation, till he ended with, 'But all the
same she's utterly damnable.  She must be, you know.'

"After a fortnight I began to feel a different man.  Dr. Christoph
thought that he had got on the track of the mischief, and
certainly, with his deep massage and a few simple drugs, I had more
internal comfort than I had known for three years.  He was so
pleased with my progress that he refused to treat me as an invalid.
He encouraged me to take long walks into the hills, and presently
he arranged for me to go out roebuck-shooting with some of the
local junkers.

"I used to start before daybreak on the chilly November mornings
and drive to the top of one of the ridges, where I would meet a
collection of sportsmen and beaters, shepherded by a fellow in a
green uniform.  We lined out along the ridge, and the beaters,
assisted by a marvellous collection of dogs, including the sporting
dachshund, drove the roe towards us.  It wasn't very cleverly
managed, for the deer generally broke back, and it was chilly
waiting in the first hours with a powdering of snow on the ground
and the fir boughs heavy with frost crystals.  But later, when the
sun grew stronger, it was a very pleasant mode of spending a day.
There was not much of a bag, but whenever a roe or a capercailzie
fell all the guns would assemble and drink little glasses of
kirschwasser.  I had been lent a rifle, one of those appalling
contraptions which are double-barrelled shot-guns and rifles in
one, and to transpose from one form to the other requires a
mathematical calculation.  The rifle had a hair trigger too, and
when I first used it I was nearly the death of a respectable Saxon
peasant.

"We all ate our midday meal together and in the evening, before
going home, we had coffee and cakes in one or other of the farms.
The party was an odd mixture, big farmers and small squires, an
hotel-keeper or two, a local doctor, and a couple of lawyers from
the town.  At first they were a little shy of me, but presently
they thawed, and after the first day we were good friends.  They
spoke quite frankly about the War, in which every one of them had
had a share, and with a great deal of dignity and good sense.

"I learned to walk in Sikkim, and the little Saxon hills seemed to
me inconsiderable.  But they were too much for most of the guns,
and instead of going straight up or down a slope they always chose
a circuit, which gave them an easy gradient.  One evening, when we
were separating as usual, the beaters taking a short cut and the
guns a circuit, I felt that I wanted exercise, so I raced the
beaters downhill, beat them soundly, and had the better part of an
hour to wait for my companions, before we adjourned to the farm for
refreshment.  The beaters must have talked about my pace, for as we
walked away one of the guns, a lawyer called Meissen, asked me why
I was visiting Rosensee at a time of year when few foreigners came.
I said I was staying with Dr. Christoph.

"'Is he then a private friend of yours?' he asked.

"I told him No, that I had come to his kurhaus for treatment, being
sick.  His eyes expressed polite scepticism.  He was not prepared
to regard as an invalid a man who went down a hill like an
avalanche.

"But, as we walked in the frosty dusk, he was led to speak of Dr.
Christoph, of whom he had no personal knowledge, and I learned how
little honour a prophet may have in his own country.  Rosensee
scarcely knew him, except as a doctor who had an inexplicable
attraction for foreign patients.  Meissen was curious about his
methods and the exact diseases in which he specialised.  'Perhaps
he may yet save me a journey to Homburg?' he laughed.  'It is well
to have a skilled physician at one's doorstep.  The doctor is
something of a hermit, and except for his patients does not appear
to welcome his kind.  Yet he is a good man, beyond doubt, and there
are those who say that in the War he was a hero.'

"This surprised me, for I could not imagine Dr. Christoph in any
fighting capacity, apart from the fact that he must have been too
old.  I thought that Meissen might refer to work in the base
hospitals.  But he was positive; Dr. Christoph had been in the
trenches; the limping leg was a war wound.

"I had had very little talk with the doctor, owing to my case being
free from nervous complications.  He would say a word to me morning
and evening about my diet, and pass the time of day when we met,
but it was not till the very eve of my departure that we had
anything like a real conversation.  He sent a message that he
wanted to see me for not less than one hour, and he arrived with a
batch of notes from which he delivered a kind of lecture on my
case.  Then I realised what an immense amount of care and solid
thought he had expended on me.  He had decided that his diagnosis
was right--my rapid improvement suggested that--but it was
necessary for some time to observe a simple regime, and to keep an
eye on certain symptoms.  So he took a sheet of note-paper from the
table and in his small precise hand wrote down for me a few plain
commandments.

"There was something about him, the honest eyes, the mouth which
looked as if it had been often compressed in suffering, the air of
grave good-will, which I found curiously attractive.  I wished that
I had been a mental case like Channell, and had had more of his
society.  I detained him in talk, and he seemed not unwilling.  By
and by we drifted to the War and it turned out that Meissen was
right.

"Dr. Christoph had gone as medical officer in November '14 to the
Ypres Salient with a Saxon regiment, and had spent the winter
there.  In '15 he had been in Champagne, and in the early months of
'16 at Verdun, till he was invalided with rheumatic fever.  That is
to say, he had had about seventeen months of consecutive fighting
in the worst areas with scarcely a holiday.  A pretty good record
for a frail little middle-aged man!

"His family was then at Stuttgart, his wife and one little boy.  He
took a long time to recover from the fever, and after that was put
on home duty.  'Till the War was almost over,' he said, 'almost
over, but not quite.  There was just time for me to go back to the
front and get my foolish leg hurt.'  I must tell you that whenever
he mentioned his war experience it was with a comical deprecating
smile, as if he agreed with anyone who might think that gravity
like his should have remained in bed.

"I assumed that this home duty was medical, until he said something
about getting rusty in his professional work.  Then it appeared
that it had been some job connected with Intelligence.  'I am
reputed to have a little talent for mathematics,' he said.  'No.  I
am no mathematical scholar, but, if you understand me, I have a
certain mathematical aptitude.  My mind has always moved happily
among numbers.  Therefore I was set to construct and to interpret
cyphers, a strange interlude in the noise of war.  I sat in a
little room and excluded the world, and for a little I was happy.'

"He went on to speak of the enclave of peace in which he had found
himself, and as I listened to his gentle monotonous voice, I had a
sudden inspiration.

"I took a sheet of note-paper from the stand, scribbled the word
Reinmar on it, and shoved it towards him.  I had a notion, you see,
that I might surprise him into helping Channell's researches.

"But it was I who got the big surprise.  He stopped thunderstruck,
as soon as his eye caught the word, blushed scarlet over every inch
of face and bald forehead, seemed to have difficulty in swallowing,
and then gasped.  'How did you know?'

"I hadn't known, and now that I did, the knowledge left me
speechless.  This was the loathly opposite for which Channell and I
had nursed our hatred.  When I came out of my stupefaction I found
that he had recovered his balance and was speaking slowly and
distinctly, as if he were making a formal confession.

"'You were among my opponents . . . that interests me deeply. . . .
I often wondered. . . .  You beat me in the end.  You are aware of
that?'

"I nodded.  'Only because you made a slip,' I said.

"'Yes, I made a slip.  I was to blame--very gravely to blame, for I
let my private grief cloud my mind.'

"He seemed to hesitate, as if he were loath to stir something very
tragic in his memory.

"'I think I will tell you,' he said at last.  'I have often wished--
it is a childish wish--to justify my failure to those who profited
by it.  My chiefs understood, of course, but my opponents could
not.  In that month when I failed I was in deep sorrow.  I had a
little son--his name was Reinmar--you remember that I took that
name for my code signature?'

"His eyes were looking beyond me into some vision of the past.

"'He was, as you say, my mascot.  He was all my family, and I
adored him.  But in those days food was not plentiful.  We were no
worse off than many million Germans, but the child was frail.  In
the last summer of the War he developed phthisis due to
malnutrition, and in September he died.  Then I failed my country,
for with him some virtue seemed to depart from my mind.  You see,
my work was, so to speak, his also, as my name was his, and when he
left me he took my power with him. . . .  So I stumbled.  The rest
is known to you.'

"He sat staring beyond me, so small and lonely, that I could have
howled.  I remember putting my hand on his shoulder, and stammering
some platitude about being sorry.  We sat quite still for a minute
or two, and then I remembered Channell.  Channell must have poured
his views of Reinmar into Dr. Christoph's ear.  I asked him if
Channell knew.

"A flicker of a smile crossed his face.

"'Indeed no.  And I will exact from you a promise never to breathe
to him what I have told you.  He is my patient, and I must first
consider his case.  At present he thinks that Reinmar is a wicked
and beautiful lady whom he may some day meet.  That is romance, and
it is good for him to think so. . . .  If he were told the truth,
he would be pitiful, and in Herr Channell's condition it is
important that he should not be vexed with such emotions as pity.'"



VII


SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE

SIR EDWARD LEITHEN'S STORY


The effect of night, of any flowing water, of lighted cities, of
the peep of day, of ships, of the open ocean, calls up in the mind
an army of anonymous desires and pleasures.  Something, we feel,
should happen; we know not what, yet we proceed in quest of it.--R.
L. Stevenson.


Leithen's face had that sharp chiselling of the jaw and that
compression of the lips which seem to follow upon high legal
success.  Also an overdose of German gas in 1918 had given his skin
a habitual pallor, so that he looked not unhealthy, but notably
urban.  As a matter of fact he was one of the hardest men I have
ever known, but a chance observer might have guessed from his
complexion that he rarely left the pavements.

Burminster, who had come back from a month in the grass countries
with a face like a deep-sea mariner's, commented on this one
evening.

"How do you manage always to look the complete Cit, Ned?" he asked.
"You're as much a Londoner as a Parisian is a Parisian, if you know
what I mean."

Leithen said that he was not ashamed of it, and he embarked on a
eulogy of the metropolis.  In London you met sooner or later
everybody you had ever known; you could lay your hand on any
knowledge you wanted; you could pull strings that controlled the
innermost Sahara and the topmost Pamirs.  Romance lay in wait for
you at every street corner.  It was the true City of the Caliphs.

"That is what they say," said Sandy Arbuthnot sadly, "but I never
found it so.  I yawn my head off in London.  Nothing amusing ever
finds me out--I have to go and search for it, and it usually costs
the deuce of a lot."

"I once stumbled upon a pretty generous allowance of romance," said
Leithen, "and it cost me precisely sixpence."

Then he told us this story.



It happened a good many years ago, just when I was beginning to get
on at the Bar.  I spent busy days in court and chambers, but I was
young and had a young man's appetite for society, so I used to dine
out most nights and go to more balls than were good for me.  It was
pleasant after a heavy day to dive into a different kind of life.
My rooms at the time were in Down Street, the same house as my
present one, only two floors higher up.

On a certain night in February I was dining in Bryanston Square
with the Nantleys.  Mollie Nantley was an old friend, and used to
fit me as an unattached bachelor into her big dinners.  She was a
young hostess and full of ambition, and one met an odd assortment
of people at her house.  Mostly political, of course, but a
sprinkling of art and letters, and any visiting lion that happened
to be passing through.  Mollie was a very innocent lion-hunter, but
she had a partiality for the breed.

I don't remember much about the dinner, except that the principal
guest had failed her.  Mollie was loud in her lamentations.  He was
a South American President who had engineered a very pretty coup
d'état the year before, and was now in England on some business
concerning the finances of his state.  You may remember his name--
Ramon Pelem--he made rather a stir in the world for a year or two.
I had read about him in the papers, and had looked forward to
meeting him, for he had won his way to power by extraordinary
boldness and courage, and he was quite young.  There was a story
that he was partly English and that his grandfather's name had been
Pelham.  I don't know what truth there was in that, but he knew
England well and Englishmen liked him.

Well, he had cried off on the telephone an hour before, and Mollie
was grievously disappointed.  Her other guests bore the loss with
more fortitude, for I expect they thought he was a brand of cigar.

In those days dinners began earlier and dances later than they do
to-day.  I meant to leave soon, go back to my rooms and read
briefs, and then look in at Lady Samplar's dance between eleven and
twelve.  So at nine-thirty I took my leave.

Jervis, the old butler, who had been my ally from boyhood, was
standing on the threshold, and in the square there was a
considerable crowd now thinning away.  I asked what the trouble
was.

"There's been an arrest, Mr. Edward," he said in an awestruck
voice.  "It 'appened when I was serving coffee in the dining-room,
but our Albert saw it all.  Two foreigners, he said--proper rascals
by their look--were took away by the police just outside this very
door.  The constables was very nippy and collared them before they
could use their pistols--but they 'ad pistols on them and no
mistake.  Albert says he saw the weapons."

"Did they propose to burgle you?" I asked.

"I cannot say, Mr. Edward.  But I shall give instructions for a
very careful lock-up to-night."

There were no cabs about, so I decided to walk on and pick one up.
When I got into Great Cumberland Place it began to rain sharply,
and I was just about to call a prowling hansom, when I put my hand
into my pocket.  I found that I had no more than one solitary
sixpence.

I could of course have paid when I got to my flat.  But as the rain
seemed to be slacking off, I preferred to walk.  Mollie's dining-
room had been stuffy, I had been in court all day, and I wanted
some fresh air.

You know how in little things, when you have decided on a course,
you are curiously reluctant to change it.  Before I got to the
Marble Arch it had begun to pour in downright earnest.  But I still
stumped on.  Only I entered the Park, for even in February there is
a certain amount of cover from the trees.

I passed one or two hurried pedestrians, but the place was almost
empty.  The occasional lamps made only spots of light in a dripping
darkness, and it struck me that this was a curious patch of gloom
and loneliness to be so near to crowded streets, for with the rain
had come a fine mist.  I pitied the poor devils to whom it was the
only home.  There was one of them on a seat which I passed.  The
collar of his thin shabby overcoat was turned up, and his shameful
old felt hat was turned down, so that only a few square inches of
pale face were visible.  His toes stuck out of his boots, and he
seemed sunk in a sodden misery.

I passed him and then turned back.  Casual charity is an easy dope
for the conscience, and I indulge in it too often.  When I
approached him he seemed to stiffen, and his hands moved in his
pockets.

"A rotten night," I said.  "Is sixpence any good to you?"  And I
held out my solitary coin.  He lifted his face, and I started.  For
the eyes that looked at me were not those of a waster.  They were
bright, penetrating, authoritative--and they were young.  I was
conscious that they took in more of me than mine did of him.

"Thank you very much," he said, as he took the coin, and the voice
was that of a cultivated man.  "But I'm afraid I need rather more
than sixpence."

"How much?" I asked.  This was clearly an original.

"To be accurate, five million pounds."

He was certainly mad, but I was fascinated by this wisp of
humanity.  I wished that he would show more of his face.

"Till your ship comes home," I said, "you want a bed, and you'd be
the better of a change.  Sixpence is all I have on me.  But if you
come to my rooms I'll give you the price of a night's lodging, and
I think I might find you some old clothes."

"Where do you live?" he asked.

"Close by--in Down Street."  I gave the number.

He seemed to reflect, and then he shot a glance on either side into
the gloom behind the road.  It may have been fancy, but I thought
that I saw something stir in the darkness.

"What are you?" he asked.

I was getting abominably wet, and yet I submitted to be cross-
examined by this waif.

"I am a lawyer," I said.

He looked at me again, very intently.

"Have you a telephone?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Right," he said.  "You seem a good fellow and I'll take you at
your word.  I'll follow you. . . .  Don't look back, please.  It's
important. . . .  I'll be in Down Street as soon as you. . . .
Marchons."

It sounds preposterous, but I did exactly as I was bid.  I never
looked back, but I kept my ears open for the sound of following
footsteps.  I thought I heard them, and then they seemed to die
away.  I turned out of the Park at Grosvenor Gate and went down
Park Lane.  When I reached the house which contained my flat, I
looked up and down the street, but it was empty except for a
waiting four-wheeler.  But just as I turned in I caught a glimpse
of someone running at the Hertford Street end.  The runner came to
a sudden halt, and I saw that it was not the man I had left.

To my surprise I found the waif on the landing outside my flat.  I
was about to tell him to stop outside, but as soon as I unlocked
the door he brushed past me and entered.  My man, who did not sleep
on the premises, had left the light burning in the little hall.

"Lock the door," he said in a tone of authority.  "Forgive me
taking charge, but I assure you it is important."

Then to my amazement he peeled off the sopping overcoat, and kicked
off his disreputable shoes.  They were odd shoes, for what looked
like his toes sticking out was really part of the make-up.  He
stood up before me in underclothes and socks, and I noticed that
his underclothing seemed to be of the finest material.

"Now for your telephone," he said.

I was getting angry at these liberties.

"Who the devil are you?" I demanded.

"I am President Pelem," he said, with all the dignity in the world.
"And you?"

"I?--oh, I am the German Emperor."

He laughed.  "You know you invited me here," he said.  "You've
brought this on yourself."  Then he stared at me.  "Hullo, I've
seen you before.  You're Leithen.  I saw you play at Lord's.  I was
twelfth man for Harrow that year. . . .  Now for the telephone."

There was something about the fellow, something defiant and
debonair and young, that stopped all further protest on my part.
He might or might not be President Pelem, but he was certainly not
a wastrel.  Besides he seemed curiously keyed up, as if the
occasion were desperately important, and he infected me with the
same feeling.  I said no more, but led the way into my sitting-
room.  He flung himself on the telephone, gave a number, was
instantly connected, and began a conversation in monosyllables.

It was a queer jumble that I overheard.  Bryanston Square was
mentioned, and the Park, and the number of my house was given--to
somebody.  There was a string of foreign names--Pedro and Alejandro
and Manuel and Alcaza--and short breathless inquiries.  Then I
heard--"a good fellow--looks as if he might be useful in a row,"
and I wondered if he was referring to me.  Some rapid Spanish
followed, and then, "Come round at once--they will be here before
you.  Have policemen below, but don't let them come up.  We should
be able to manage alone.  Oh, and tell Burton to ring up here as
soon as he has news."  And he gave my telephone number.

I put some coals on the fire, changed into a tweed jacket, and lit
a pipe.  I fetched a dressing-gown from my bedroom and flung it on
the sofa.  "You'd better put that on," I said when he had finished.

He shook his head.

"I would rather be unencumbered," he said.  "But I should dearly
love a cigarette . . . and a liqueur brandy, if you have such a
thing.  That Park of yours is infernally chilly."

I supplied his needs, and he stretched himself in an arm-chair,
with his stockinged feet to the fire.

"You have been very good-humoured, Leithen," he said.  "Valdez--
that's my aide-de-camp--will be here presently, and he will
probably be preceded by other guests.  But I think I have time for
the short explanation which is your due.  You believe what I told
you?"

I nodded.

"Good.  Well, I came to London three weeks ago to raise a loan.
That was a matter of life or death for my big stupid country.  I
have succeeded.  This afternoon the agreement was signed.  I think
I mentioned the amount to you--five million sterling."

He smiled happily and blew a smoke-ring into the air.

"I must tell you that I have enemies.  Among my happy people there
are many rascals, and I had to deal harshly with them.  'So foul a
sky clears not without a storm'--that's Shakespeare, isn't it?  I
learned it at school.  You see, I had Holy Church behind me, and
therefore I had against me all the gentry who call themselves
liberators.  Red Masons, anarchists, communists, that sort of crew.
A good many are now reposing beneath the sod, but some of the
worst remain.  In particular, six followed me to England with
instructions that I must not return.

"I don't mind telling you, Leithen, that I have had a peculiarly
rotten time the last three weeks.  It was most important that
nothing should happen to me till the loan was settled, so I had to
lead the sheltered life.  It went against the grain, I assure you,
for I prefer the offensive to the defensive.  The English police
were very amiable, and I never stirred without a cordon, your
people and my own.  The Six wanted to kill me, and as it is pretty
easy to kill anybody if you don't mind being killed yourself, we
had to take rather elaborate precautions.  As it was, I was twice
nearly done in.  Once my carriage broke down mysteriously, and a
crowd collected, and if I hadn't had the luck to board a passing
cab, I should have had a knife in my ribs.  The second was at a
public dinner--something not quite right about the cayenne pepper
served with the oysters.  One of my staff is still seriously ill."

He stretched his arms.

"Well, that first stage is over.  They can't wreck the loan,
whatever happens to me.  Now I am free to adopt different tactics
and take the offensive.  I have no fear of the Six in my own
country.  There I can take precautions, and they will find it
difficult to cross the frontier or to live for six hours thereafter
if they succeed.  But here you are a free people, and protection is
not so easy.  I do not wish to leave England just yet--I have done
my work and have earned a little play.  I know your land and love
it, and I look forward to seeing something of my friends.  Also I
want to attend the Grand National.  Therefore, it is necessary that
my enemies should be confined for a little, while I take my
holiday.  So for this evening I made a plan.  I took the offensive.
I deliberately put myself in their danger."

He turned his dancing eyes towards me, and I have rarely had such
an impression of wild and mirthful audacity.

"We have an excellent intelligence system," he went on, "and the
Six have been assiduously shadowed.  But as I have told you, no
precautions avail against the fanatic, and I do not wish to be
killed on my little holiday.  So I resolved to draw their fire--to
expose myself as ground bait, so to speak, that I might have the
chance of netting them.  The Six usually hunt in couples, so it was
necessary to have three separate acts in the play, if all were to
be gathered in.  The first--"

"Was in Bryanston Square," I put in, "outside Lady Nantley's
house?"

"True.  How did you know?"

"I have just been dining there, and heard that you were expected.
I saw the crowd in the square as I came away."

"It seems to have gone off quite nicely.  We took pains to let it
be known where I was dining.  The Six, who mistrust me, delegated
only two of their number for the job.  They never put all their
eggs in one basket.  The two gentlemen were induced to make a
scene, and, since they proved to be heavily armed, were taken into
custody and may get a six months' sentence.  Very prettily managed,
but unfortunately it was the two that matter least--the ones we
call Little Pedro and Alejandro the Scholar.  Impatient, blundering
children, both of them.  That leaves four."

The telephone bell rang, and he made a long arm for the receiver.
The news he got seemed to be good, for he turned a smiling face to
me.

"I should have said two.  My little enterprise in the Park has
proved a brilliant success. . . .  But I must explain.  I was to be
the bait for my enemies, so I showed myself to the remaining four.
That was really rather a clever piece of business.  They lost me at
the Marble Arch and they did not recognise me as the scarecrow
sitting on the seat in the rain.  But they knew I had gone to earth
there, and they stuck to the scent like terriers.  Presently they
would have found me, and there would have been shooting.  Some of
my own people were in the shadow between the road and the
railings."

"When I saw you, were your enemies near?" I asked.

"Two were on the opposite side of the road.  One was standing under
the lamp-post at the gate.  I don't know where the fourth was at
that moment.  But all had passed me more than once. . . .  By the
way, you very nearly got yourself shot, you know.  When you asked
me if sixpence was any good to me. . . .  That happens to be their
password.  I take great credit to myself for seeing instantly that
you were harmless."

"Why did you leave the Park if you had your trap so well laid?" I
asked.

"Because it meant dealing with all four together at once, and I do
them the honour of being rather nervous about them.  They are very
quick with their guns.  I wanted a chance to break up the covey,
and your arrival gave it me.  When I went off two followed, as I
thought they would.  My car was in Park Lane, and gave me a lift;
and one of them saw me in it.  I puzzled them a little, but by now
they must be certain.  You see, my car has been waiting for some
minutes outside this house."

"What about the other two?" I asked.

"Burton has just telephoned that they have been gathered in.  Quite
an exciting little scrap.  To your police it must have seemed a bad
case of highway robbery--two ruffianly looking fellows hold up a
peaceful elderly gentleman returning from dinner.  The odds were
not quite like that, but the men I had on the job are old soldiers
of the Indian wars and can move softly. . . .  I only wish I knew
which two they have got.  Burton was not sure.  Alcaza is one, but
I can't be certain about the other.  I hope it is not the
Irishman."

My bell rang very loud and steadily.

"In a few seconds I shall have solved that problem," he said gaily.
"I am afraid I must trouble you to open the door, Leithen."

"Is it your aide-de-camp?"

"No.  I instructed Valdez to knock.  It is the residuum of the Six.
Now, listen to me, my friend.  These two, whoever they are, have
come here to kill me, and I don't mean to be killed. . . .  My
first plan was to have Valdez here--and others--so that my two
enemies should walk into a trap.  But I changed my mind before I
telephoned.  They are very clever men and by this time they will be
very wary.  So I have thought of something else."

The bell rang again and a third time insistently.

"Take these," and he held out a pair of cruel little bluish
revolvers.  "When you open the door, you will say that the
President is at home and, in token of his confidence, offers them
these.  'Une espèce d'Irlandais, Messieurs.  Vous commences trop
tard, et vous finisses trop tôt.'  Then bring them here.  Quick
now.  I hope Corbally is one of them."

I did exactly as I was told.  I cannot say that I had any liking
for the task, but I was a good deal under the spell of that calm
young man, and I was resigned to my flat being made a rendezvous
for desperadoes.  I had locked and chained and bolted the door, so
it took me a few moments to open it.

I found myself looking at emptiness.

"Who is it?" I called.  "Who rang?"

I was answered from behind me.  It was the quickest thing I have
ever seen, for they must have slipped through in the moment when my
eyes were dazzled by the change from the dim light of the hall to
the glare of the landing.  That gave me some notion of the men we
had to deal with.

"Here," said the voice.  I turned and saw two men in waterproofs
and felt hats, who kept their hands in their pockets and had a
fraction of an eye on the two pistols I swung by the muzzles.

"M. le President will be glad to see you, gentlemen," I said.  I
held out the revolvers, which they seemed to grasp and flick into
their pockets with a single movement.  Then I repeated slowly the
piece of rudeness in French.

One of the men laughed.  "Ramon does not forget," he said.  He was
a young man with sandy hair and hot blue eyes and an odd break in
his long drooping nose.  The other was a wiry little fellow, with a
grizzled beard and what looked like a stiff leg.

I had no guess at my friend's plan, and was concerned to do
precisely as I was told.  I opened the door of my sitting-room, and
noticed that the President was stretched on my sofa facing the
door.  He was smoking and was still in his underclothes.  When the
two men behind me saw that he was patently unarmed they slipped
into the room with a quick cat-like movement, and took their stand
with their backs against the door.

"Hullo, Corbally," said the President pleasantly.  "And you,
Manuel.  You're looking younger than when I saw you last.  Have a
cigarette?" and he nodded towards my box on the table behind him.
Both shook their heads.

"I'm glad you have come.  You have probably seen the news of the
loan in the evening papers.  That should give you a holiday, as it
gives me one.  No further need for the hectic oversight of each
other, which is so wearing and takes up so much time."

"No," said the man called Manuel, and there was something very grim
about his quiet tones.  "We shall take steps to prevent any need
for that in the future."

"Tut, tut--that is your old self, Manuel.  You are too fond of
melodrama to be an artist.  You are a priest at heart."

The man snarled.  "There will be no priest at your death-bed."
Then to his companion.  "Let us get this farce over."

The President paid not the slightest attention but looked steadily
at the Irishman.  "You used to be a sportsman, Mike.  Have you come
to share Manuel's taste for potting the sitting rabbit?"

"We are not sportsmen, we are executioners of justice," said
Manuel.

The President laughed merrily.  "Superb!  The best Roman manner."
He still kept his eyes on Corbally.

"Damn you, what's your game, Ramon?" the Irishman asked.  His
freckled face had become very red.

"Simply to propose a short armistice.  I want a holiday.  If you
must know, I want to go to the National."

"So do I."

"Well, let's call a truce.  Say for two months or till I leave
England--whichever period shall be the shorter.  After that you can
get busy again."

The one he had named Manuel broke into a spluttering torrent of
Spanish, and for a little they all talked that language.  It
sounded like a commination service on the President, to which he
good-humouredly replied.  I had never seen this class of ruffian
before, to whom murder was as simple as shooting a partridge, and I
noted curiously the lean hands, the restless wary eyes, and the
ugly lips of the type.  So far as I could make out, the President
seemed to be getting on well with the Irishman but to be having
trouble with Manuel.

"Have ye really and truly nothing on ye?" Corbally asked.

The President stretched his arms and revealed his slim figure in
its close-fitting pants and vest.

"Nor him there?" and he nodded towards me.

"He is a lawyer; he doesn't use guns."

"Then I'm damned if I touch ye.  Two months it is.  What's your
fancy for Liverpool?"

This was too much for Manuel.  I saw in what seemed to be one
movement his hand slip from his pocket, Corbally's arm swing in a
circle, and a plaster bust of Julius Cæsar tumble off the top of my
bookcase.  Then I heard the report.

"Ye nasty little man," said Corbally as he pressed him to his bosom
in a bear's hug.

"You are a traitor," Manuel shouted.  "How will we face the others?
What will Alejandro say and Alcaza--?"

"I think I can explain," said the President pleasantly.  "They
won't know for quite a time, and then only if you tell them.  You
two gentlemen are all that remain for the moment of your patriotic
company.  The other four have been the victims of the English
police--two in Bryanston Square, and two in the Park close to the
Marble Arch."

"Ye don't say!" said Corbally with admiration in his voice.
"Faith, that's smart work!"

"They too will have a little holiday.  A few months to meditate on
politics, while you and I go to the Grand National."

Suddenly there was a sharp rat-tat at my door.  It was like the
knocking in Macbeth for dramatic effect.  Corbally had one pistol
at my ear in an instant, while a second covered the President.

"It's all right," said the latter, never moving a muscle.  "It's
General Valdez, whom I think you know.  That was another argument
which I was coming to if I hadn't had the good fortune to appeal to
Mr. Corbally's higher nature.  I know you have sworn to kill me,
but I take it that the killer wants to have a sporting chance of
escape.  Well, there wouldn't have been the faintest shadow of a
chance here.  Valdez is at the door, and the English police are
below.  You are brave men, I know, but even brave men dislike the
cold gallows."

The knocker fell again.  "Let him in, Leithen," I was told, "or he
will be damaging your valuable door.  He has not the northern
phlegm of you and me and Mr. Corbally."

A tall man in an ulster, which looked as if it covered a uniform,
stood on the threshold.  Someone had obscured the lights on the
landing so that the staircase was dark, but I could see in the
gloom other figures.  "President Pelem," he began . . .

"The President is here," I said.  "Quite well and in great form.
He is entertaining two other guests."

The General marched to my sitting-room.  I was behind him and did
not see his face, but I can believe that it showed surprise when he
recognised the guests.  Manuel stood sulkily defiant, his hands in
his waterproof pockets, but Corbally's light eyes were laughing.

"I think you know each other," said the President graciously.

"My God!" Valdez seemed to choke at the sight.  "These swine! . . .
Excellency, I have--"

"You have nothing of the kind.  These are friends of mine for the
next two months, and Mr. Corbally and I are going to the Grand
National together.  Will you have the goodness to conduct them
downstairs and explain to the inspector of police below that all
has gone well and that I am perfectly satisfied, and that he will
hear from me in the morning? . . .  One moment.  What about a
stirrup-cup?  Leithen, does your establishment run to a whisky and
soda all round?"

It did.  We all had a drink, and I believe I clinked glasses with
Manuel.

                             *****

I looked in at Lady Samplar's dance as I had meant to.  Presently I
saw a resplendent figure arrive--the President, with the ribbon of
the Gold Star of Bolivar across his chest.  He was no more the
larky undergraduate, but the responsible statesman, the father of
his country.  There was a considerable crowd in his vicinity when I
got near him and he was making his apologies to Mollie Nantley.
She saw me and insisted on introducing me.  "I so much wanted you
two to meet.  I had hoped it would be at my dinner--but anyhow I
have managed it."  I think she was a little surprised when the
President took my hand in both of his.  "I saw Mr. Leithen play at
Lord's in '97," he said.  "I was twelfth man for Harrow that year.
It is delightful to make his acquaintance, I shall never forget
this meeting."

"How English he is!" Mollie whispered to me as we made our way out
of the crowd.

They got him next year.  They were bound to, for in that kind of
business you can have no real protection.  But he managed to set
his country on its feet before he went down. . . .  No, it was
neither Manuel nor Corbally.  I think it was Alejandro the Scholar.



VIII


SHIP TO TARSHISH

RALPH COLLATT'S STORY


Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai,
saying, Arise, go to Nineveh. . . .  But Jonah . . . found a ship
going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into
it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.--
Jonah i. 1-3.


The talk one evening turned on the metaphysics of courage.  It is a
subject which most men are a little shy of discussing.  They will
heartily applaud a friend's pluck, but it is curious how rarely
they will label a man a coward.  Perhaps the reason is that we are
all odd mixtures of strength and weakness, brave in certain things,
timid in others; and since each is apt to remember his private
funks more vividly than the things about which he is bold, we are
chary about dogmatising.

Lamancha propounded the thesis that everybody had a yellow streak
in them.  We all, he said, at times shirk unpleasant duties, and
invent an honourable explanation, which we know to be a lie.

Sandy Arbuthnot observed that the most temerarious deeds were often
done by people who had begun by funking, and then, in the shame of
the rebound, did a good deal more than those who had no qualms.
"The man who says I go not, and afterwards repents and goes,
generally travels the devil of a long way."

"Like Jonah," said Lamancha, "who didn't like the job allotted him,
and took ship to Tarshish to get away from it, and then repented
and went like a raging lion to Nineveh."

Collatt, who had been a sailor and one of the Q-boat heroes in the
War, demurred.  "I wonder if Nineveh was as unpleasant as the
whale's belly," he said.  Then he told us a story in illustration,
not as one would have expected, out of his wild sea memories, but
from his experience in the City, where he was now a bill-broker.



I got to know Jim Hallward first when he had just come down from
the University.  He was a tall, slim, fair-haired lad, with a soft
voice and the kind of manners which make the ordinary man feel a
lout.  Eton and Christ Church had polished him till he fairly
glistened.  His clothes were sober works of art, and he was the
cleanest thing you ever saw--always seemed to have just shaved and
bathed after a couple of hours' hard exercise.  We all liked him,
for he was a companionable soul and had no frills, but in the City
he was about as useless as a lily in a quickset hedge.  Somebody
called him an "apolaustic epicene," which sounded accurate, though
I don't know what the words mean.  He used to come down to business
about eleven o'clock and leave at four--earlier in summer, when he
played polo at Hurlingham.

This lotus-eating existence lasted for two years.  His father was
the head of Hallwards, the merchant-bankers who had been in
existence since before the Napoleonic wars.  It was an old-
fashioned private firm with a tremendous reputation, but for some
years it had been dropping a little out of the front rank.  It had
very few of the big issues, and, though reckoned as solid as the
Bank of England, it had hardly kept pace with new developments.
But just about the time Jim came down from Oxford his father seemed
to get a new lease of life.  Hallwards suddenly became ultra-
progressive, took in a new manager from one of the big joint-stock
banks, and launched out into business which before it would not
have touched with the end of a barge-pole.  I fancy the old man
wanted to pull up the firm before he died, so as to leave a good
thing to his only child.

In this new activity Jim can't have been of much use.  His other
engagements did not leave him a great deal of time to master the
complicated affairs of a house like Hallwards.  He spoke of his
City connection with a certain distaste.  The set he had got into
were mostly eldest sons with political ambitions, and if Jim had
any serious inclination it was towards Parliament, which he
proposed to enter in a year or two.  For the rest he played polo,
and hunted, and did a little steeple-chasing, and danced
assiduously.  Dancing was about the only thing he did really well,
for he was only a moderate horseman and his politics were not to be
taken seriously.  So he was the complete flâneur, agreeable,
popular, beautifully mannered, highly ornamental, and the most
useless creature on earth.  You see, he had slacked at school, and
had just scraped through college, and had never done a real piece
of work in his life.

In the autumn of 192-, whispers began to circulate about
Hallwards.  It seemed that they were doing a very risky class of
business, and people shrugged their shoulders.  But no one was
prepared for the almighty crash which came at the beginning of the
New Year.  The firm had been trying to get control of a colonial
railway, and for this purpose was quietly buying up the ordinary
stock.  But an American group, with unlimited capital, was out on
the same tack, and the result was that the price was forced up, and
Hallwards were foolish enough to go on buying.  They borrowed up to
the limit of their capacity, and called a halt too late.  If the
thing had been known in time the City might have made an effort to
keep the famous old firm on its legs, but it all came like a
thunderclap.  Hallwards went down, the American group got their
railway stock at a knock-out price, and old Mr. Hallward, who had
been ailing for some months, had a stroke of paralysis and died.

I was desperately sorry for Jim.  The foundations of his world were
upset, and he hadn't a notion what to do about it.  You see, he
didn't know the rudiments of the business, and couldn't be made to
understand it.  He went about in a dream, with staring, unseeing
eyes, like a puzzled child.  At first he screwed himself up to a
sort of effort.  He had many friends who would help, he thought,
and he made various suggestions, all of a bottomless futility.
Very soon he found that his Mayfair popularity was no sort of asset
to him.  He must have realised that people were beginning to turn a
colder eye on a pauper than on an eligible young man, and his
overtures were probably met with curt refusals.  Anyhow, in a week
he had given up hope.  He felt himself a criminal and behaved as
such.  He saw nobody but his solicitors, and when he met a friend
in the street he turned and ran.  A perfectly unreasonable sense of
disgrace took possession of him, and there was a moment when I was
afraid he might put an end to himself.

This went on for the better part of a month, while I and one or two
others were trying to save something from the smash.  We put up a
fund and bought some of the wreckage, with the idea of getting
together a little company to nurse it.  It was important to do
something, for though Jim was an only child and his mother was
dead, there were various elderly female relatives who had their
incomes from Hallwards.  The firm had been much respected and old
Hallward had been popular, and Jim had no enemies.  There is a good
deal of camaraderie in the City, and a lot of us were willing to
combine and keep Jim going.  We were all ready to help him, if he
would only sit down and put his back into the job.

But that was just what Jim would not do.  He had got a horror of
the City, and felt a pariah whenever he met anybody who knew about
the crash.  He had eyes like a hunted hare's, and one couldn't get
any sense out of him.  I don't think he minded the change in his
comforts--the end of polo and hunting and politics, and the
prospect of cheap lodgings and long office hours.  I believe he
welcomed all that as a kind of atonement.  It was the disgrace of
the thing that came between him and his sleep.  He knew only enough
of the City to have picked up a wrong notion of its standards, and
imagined that everybody was pointing a finger at him as a fool, and
possibly a crook.

It was very little use reasoning with him.  I pointed out that the
right thing for him to do was to shoulder the burden and retrieve
his father's credit.  He laughed bitterly.

"Much good I'd be at that," he said.  "You know I'm a baby in
business, though you're too polite to tell me so."

"You can have a try," I said.  "We'll all lend you a hand."

It was no use.  References to his father and the firm's ancient
prestige and his old great-aunts only made him shiver.  You could
see that his misery made him blind to argument.  Then I began to
lose my temper.  I told him that it was his duty as a man to face
the music.  I asked him what else he proposed to do.

He said he meant to go to Canada and start life anew.  He would
probably change his name.  I got out of patience with his
silliness.

"You're offered a chance here to make good," I told him.  "In
Canada you'll have to find your chance, and how in God's name are
you going to do it?  You haven't been bred the right way to succeed
in the Dominions.  You'll probably starve."

"Quite likely," was his dismal answer.  "I'll make my book for
that.  I don't mind anything so long as I'm in a place where nobody
knows me."

"Remember, you are running away," I said, "running away from what I
consider your plain duty.  You can't expect to win out if you begin
by funking."

"I know--I know," he wailed.  "I am a coward."

I said no more, for when a man is willing to admit that he is a
coward his nerves have got the better of his reason.

Well, the upshot was that Jim sailed for Canada with a little short
of two hundred pounds in his pocket--what was left of his last
allowance.  He could have had plenty of introductions, but he
wouldn't take them.  He seemed to be determined to bury himself,
and I daresay, too, he got a morbid satisfaction out of discomfort.
He had still the absurd notion of disgrace, and felt that any
handicap he laid on himself was a kind of atonement.

He reached Montreal in the filthy weeks when the spring thaw
begins--the worst sample of weather to be found on the globe.  Jim
had not procured any special outfit, and he landed with a kit
consisting of two smart tweed suits, a suit of flannels, riding
breeches and knickerbockers--the remnants of his London wardrobe.
It wasn't quite the rig for a poor man to go looking for a job in.
He had travelled steerage, and, as might have been expected from
one in his condition, had not made friends, but he had struck up a
tepid acquaintanceship with an Irishman who was employed in a
lumber business.  The fellow was friendly, and was struck by Jim's
obvious air of education and good-breeding, so, when he heard that
he wanted work, he suggested that a clerkship might be got in his
firm.

Jim applied, and was taken on as the clerk in charge of timber-
cutting rights in Eastern Quebec.  The work was purely mechanical,
and simply meant keeping a record of numbered lots, checking them
off on the map, and filling in the details in the register as they
came to hand.  But it required accuracy and strict attention, and
Jim had little of either.  Besides, he wrote the vile fist which is
the special privilege of our public schools.  He held down the job
for a fortnight and then was fired.

He had found cheap lodgings in a boarding-house down east, and
trudged the two miles in the slush to his office.  His fellow-
lodgers were willing enough to be friendly--clerks and shop-boys
and typists and newspaper reporters most of them.  Jim wasn't a
snob, but he was rapidly becoming a hermit, for all his nerves were
exposed and he shrank from his fellows.  His shyness was considered
English swank, and the others invented nicknames for him and
sniggered when he appeared.  Luckily he was too miserable to pay
much attention.  He had no interest in their games, their visits to
the movies and to cheap dance-halls, and their precocious
sweethearting.  He could not get the hang of their knowing
commercial jargon.  They set him down as a snob, and he shrank from
them as barbarians.

But there was one lodger, a sub-editor on a paper which I shall
call the Evening Hawk, who saw a little farther than the rest.  He
realised that Jim was an educated man--a "scholar" he called it,
and he managed to get part of his confidence.  So when Jim lost his
lumber job he was offered a billet on the Hawk.  There was no
superfluity of men of his type in local journalism, and the editor
thought it might give tone to his paper to have someone on the
staff who could write decent English and keep them from making
howlers about Europe.  The Hawk was a lively, up-to-date
production, very much Americanised in its traditions and its
literary style, but it had just acquired some political influence
and it hankered after more.

But Jim was no sort of success in journalism.  He was tried out in
a variety of jobs--as reporter, special correspondent, sub-editor--
but he failed to give satisfaction in any.  To begin with he had no
news-sense.  Not many things interested him in his present frame of
mind, and he had no notion what would interest the Hawk's readers.
He couldn't compose snappy headlines, and it made him sick to try.
His writing was no doubt a great deal more correct than that of his
colleagues, but it was dull as ditch-water.  To add to everything
else he was desperately casual.  It was not that he meant to be
slack, but that he had no stimulus to make him concentrate his
attention, and he was about the worst sub-editor, I fancy, in the
history of the press.

Summer came, and sleet and icy winds gave place to dust and heat.
Jim tramped the grilling streets, one vast ache of home-sickness.
He had to stick to his tweeds, for his flannel suit had got lost in
his journeys between boarding-houses, and, as he mopped his brow in
the airless newspaper rooms smelling of printers' ink and shaken by
the great presses, he thought of green lawns at Hurlingham, and
cool backwaters of the Isis, and clipped yew hedges in old gardens,
and a pleasant club window overlooking St. James's Street.  He
hungered for fresh air, but when on a Sunday morning he went for a
long walk, he found no pleasure in the adjacent countryside.  It
all seemed dusty and tousled and unhomely.  He wasn't complaining,
for it seemed to him part of a rightful expiation, but he was very
lonely and miserable.

I have said that he had landed with a couple of hundred pounds, and
this he had managed to keep pretty well intact.  One day at a
quick-luncheon counter he got into talk with a man called McNee, a
Manitoban who had fought in the War, and knew something about
horses.  McNee, like Jim, did not take happily to town life, and
was very sick of his job with an automobile company, and looking
about for a better.  There was not much in common between the two
men, except a dislike of Montreal, for I picture McNee as a rough
diamond, an active enterprising fellow meant by Providence for a
backwoodsman.  He had heard of a big dam somewhere down in the
Gaspé district, which was being constructed in connection with a
pulp scheme.  He knew one of the foremen, and believed that money
might be made by anyone who could put up a little capital and run a
store in the construction camp.  He told Jim that it was a fine
wild country with plenty of game in the woods, and that, besides
making money easily, a storekeeper could have a white man's life.
But every bit of a thousand dollars capital would be needed, and he
could only lay his hands on a couple of hundred.  To Jim in his
stuffy lodging-house the scheme offered a blessed escape.  He
wanted to make money, he wanted fresh air and trees and running
water, for your Englishman, though town-bred, always hankers after
the country.  So he gave up his job on the Hawk, just when it was
about to give him up, and started out with McNee.

The place was his first disappointment.  It was an ugly clearing in
an interminable forest of dull spruces, which ran without a break
to New Brunswick.  However far you walked there was nothing to see
except the low muffled hills and the monotonous green of the firs.
The partners were given a big shack for their store, and made their
sleeping quarters in one end of it.  For stock they had laid in a
quantity of tinned goods, tobacco, shirts and socks and boots, and
a variety of musical instruments.  But they found that most of
their stuff was unmarketable, since the men were well fed and
clothed by the company, and after a week their store had become a
rough kind of café, selling hot-dogs and ice-cream and soft drinks.
McNee was immensely proud of it and ornamented the walls with
"ideal faces" from the American magazines.  He was a born
restaurant keeper, if he had got his chance, but unfortunately
there was not much profit in coco-cola and gingerade.

In about a fortnight the place became half eating-house, half club,
where the workmen gathered of an evening to play cards.  McNee was
in his element, but Jim was no more use than a sick pup.  He didn't
understand the lingo, and his shyness and absorption made him as
unpopular as in the Montreal boarding-houses.  He saw his little
capital slipping away, and there was no compensation in the way of
a pleasant life.  He tried to imitate McNee's air of hearty
bonhomie, and miserably failed.  His partner was a good fellow, and
stood up for him when an irate navvy consigned him to perdition as
a "God-darned London dude," and Jim's own good temper and sense of
only getting what he deserved did something to protect him.  But he
soon realised that he was a ghastly failure, and this knowledge
prevented him expostulating with the other for his obvious
shortcomings.  For McNee soon became too much of a social success.
Gaspé was not "dry," and there was more than soft drinks consumed
in the store, especially by the joint-proprietor and his friend the
foreman.  Also McNee was a bit of a gambler and was perpetually
borrowing small sums from capital to meet his losses.

Now and then Jim took a holiday, and tramped all of a long summer
day.  The country around being only partially surveyed, there was
no map to be had, and he repeatedly lost himself.  Once he struck a
lumber camp and was given pork and beans by cheerful French-
Canadians whose patois he could not follow.  Once he had almost a
happy day, when he saw his first moose.  But generally he came back
from stifling encounters with cedar swamps and bois brulé, weary
but unrefreshed.  He was not in the frame of mind to get much
comfort out of the Canadian wilds, for he was always sore with
longing for a different kind of landscape.

The river on which the camp lay was the famous Maouchi, and twelve
miles down on the St. Lawrence shore was a big fishing-lodge owned
by a rich New Yorker.  Jim used to see members of the party--young
men in marvellous knickerbockers and young women in jumpers like
Joseph's coat, and he hid himself at the sight of them.
Occasionally a big roadster would pass the store, conveying
fishermen to some of the upper lakes.  Once, when he was feeling
specially dispirited after a long hot day, a car stopped at the
door, and two people descended.  They came into the store, and the
young man asked for lemonade, declaring that their tongues were
hanging out of their mouths.  Happily McNee was there to serve
them, while Jim sheltered behind the curtain of the sleeping-room.
He knew them both.  One was a subaltern in the cavalry with whom he
had played bridge in the club, the other was a girl whom he had
danced with.  Their workmanlike English clothes, their quiet clear
English voices gave him a bad dose of homesickness.  They were
returning, he reflected, to hot baths and cool clean clothes and
delicate food and civilised talk. . . .  For a moment he sickened
at the sour stale effluvia of the eating-house, and the rank smell
of the pork which McNee had been frying.  Then he cursed himself
for a fool and a child.

In the fall the work on the dam was shut down, and the store was
closed.  The partners couldn't remove their unsaleable goods, so
the whole stock was sold at junk prices among the nearest villages.
Jim found himself with about three hundred dollars in the world,
and the long Canadian winter to get through.  The fall on the other
side of the Atlantic is the pick of the year, and the beauty of the
flaming hillsides did a little to revive his spirits.  McNee wanted
to get back to Manitoba, where he had heard of a job, and Jim
decided that he would try Toronto, which was supposed to be rather
more healthy for Englishmen than the other cities.  So the two
travelled west together, and Jim insisted on paying McNee's fare to
Winnipeg, thereby leaving himself a hundred and fifty dollars or so
on which to face the world.

Toronto is the friendliest place on earth for the man who knows how
to make himself at home there.  There were plenty to help him if he
had looked for them, for nowhere will you find more warm-hearted
people to the square mile.  But Jim's shyness and prickliness put
him outside the pale.  He made no effort to advertise the few
assets he had, he was desperately uncommunicative, and his self-
absorption was not unnaturally taken for "side."  Also he made the
mistake of letting himself get a little too far down in the social
scale.  His clothes had become very shabby, and his boots were bad;
when the first snows came in November he bought himself a thick
overcoat, and that left him no money to supplement the rest of his
wardrobe, so that by Christmas he was a very good imitation of a
tramp.

He tried journalism first, but as he gave no information about
himself except that he had been for a few weeks on the Montreal
Hawk, he had some difficulty in getting a job.  At last he got work
on a weekly rag simply because he had some notion of grammar.  It
lasted exactly a fortnight.  Then he tried tutoring, and spent some
of his last dollars on advertising; he had several nibbles, but
always fell down at the interviews.  One kind of parent jibbed at
his superior manners, another at his inferior clothes.  After that
he jolted from one temporary job to another--a book-canvasser, an
extra hand in a dry-goods-store in the Christmas week, where the
counter hid the deficiencies of his raiment, a temporary clerk
during a municipal election, a packer in a fancy-stationery
business, and finally a porter in a third-class hotel.  His
employment was not continuous, and between jobs he must have nearly
starved.  He had begun in the ordinary cheap boarding-house, but,
before he found quarters in the attic of the hotel he worked at, he
had sunk to a pretty squalid kind of doss-house.

The physical discomfort was bad enough.  He tramped the streets
ill-clad and half-fed, and saw prosperous people in furs, and
cheerful young parties, and fire-lit, book-lined rooms.  But the
spiritual trouble was worse.  Sometimes, when things were very bad,
he was fortunate enough to have his thoughts narrowed down to the
obtaining of food and warmth.  But at other times he would be
tormented by a feeling that his misfortunes were deserved, and that
Fate with a heavy hand was belabouring him because he was a coward.
His trouble was no longer the idiotic sense of guilt about his
father's bankruptcy; it was a much more rational penitence, for he
was beginning to realise that I had been right, and that he had
behaved badly in running away from a plain duty.  At first he
choked down the thought, but all that miserable winter it grew upon
him.  His disasters were a direct visitation of the Almighty on one
who had shown the white feather.  He came to have an almost
mystical feeling about it.  He felt that he was branded like Cain,
so that everybody knew that he had funked, and yet he realised that
a rotten morbid pride ironly prevented him from retracing his
steps.

The second spring found him thin from bad feeding and with a nasty
cough.  He had the sense to see that a summer in that hotel would
be the end of him, so, although he was in the depths of
hopelessness, the instinct of self-preservation drove him to make a
move.  He wanted to get into the country, but it was impossible to
get work on a farm from Toronto, and he had no money to pay for
railway fares.  In the end he was taken on as a navvy on a bit of
railway construction work in the wilds of northern Ontario.  He was
given the price of his ticket and ten dollars advance on his wages
to get an outfit, and one day late in April he found himself dumped
at a railhead on a blue lake, with firs, firs, as far as the eye
could reach.  But it was spring-time, the mating wildfowl were
calling, the land was greening, and Jim drew long breaths of sweet
air and felt that he was not going to die just yet.

But the camp was a roughish place, and he had no McNee to protect
him.  There was every kind of roughneck and deadbeat there, and Jim
was a bad mixer.  He was an obvious softy and new chum and a
natural butt, and, since he was being tortured all the time by his
conscience, his good nature and humble-mindedness were not so proof
as they had been in Gaspé.  His poor physical condition made him a
bad workman, and he came in for a good deal of abuse as a slacker
from the huskies who wrought beside him.  The section boss was an
Irishman called Malone with a tongue like a whip-lash, and he found
plenty of opportunities for practising his gift on Jim.  But he was
a just man, and after a bit of rough-tonguing he saw that Jim was
very white about the gills and told him to show his hands.  Not
being accustomed to the pick, these were one mass of sores.  Malone
cross-examined him, found that he had been at college, and took him
off construction and put him in charge of stores.

There he had an easier life, but he was more than ever the butt of
the mess shack and the sleeping quarters.  His crime was not only
speaking with an English accent and looking like Little Willie, but
being supposed to be a favourite of the boss.  By and by the
ragging became unbearable, and after his mug of coffee had been
three times struck out of his hand at one meal, Jim lost his temper
and hit out.  In the fight which followed he was ridiculously out-
classed.  He had been fairly good at games, but he had never boxed
since his private school, and it is well for Jim's kind of man to
think twice before he takes on a fellow who has all his life earned
his living by his muscles.  But he stood up pluckily, and took a
good deal of punishment before he was knocked out, and he showed no
ill-will afterwards.  The incident considerably improved his
position.  Malone, who heard of it, asked him where in God's name
he had been brought up that he couldn't use his hands better, but
didn't appear ill-pleased.  The fight had another consequence.  It
gave him just a suspicion of self-confidence, and helped him on his
way to the decision to which he was slowly being compelled.

A week later he was sent a hundred miles into the forest to take
supplies to an advance survey party.  It was something of a
compliment that Malone should have picked him for the job, but Jim
did not realise that.  His brain was beating like a pendulum on his
private trouble--that he had run away, that all his misfortunes
were the punishment for his cowardice, and that, though he
confessed his fault, he could not make his shrinking flesh go back.
He saw England as an Eden indeed, but with angels and flaming
swords at every gate.  He pictured the lifted eyebrows and the
shrugged shoulders as he crept into a clerk's job, with not only
his father's shame on his head, but the added disgrace of his own
flight.  It had seemed impossible a year ago to stay on in London,
but now it was a thousandfold more impossible to go home.

Yet the thought gave him no peace by day or night.  He had six men
in his outfit, two of them half-breeds, and the journey was partly
by canoe--with heavy portages--and partly on foot with the stores
in pack loads.  It rained in torrents, the river was in flood, and
the first day they made a bare twenty miles.  The half-breeds were
tough old customers, but the other four were not much to bank on,
and on the third day, when they had to hump their packs and foot it
on a bad trail through swampy woods in a cloud of flies, they
decided that they had had enough.  There was a new gold area just
opened not so far away, and they announced that they intended to
help themselves to what they wanted from the stores and then make a
bee-line for the mines.  They were an ugly type of tough, and had
physically the upper hand of Jim and his half-breeds.

It was a nasty situation, and it shook Jim out of his private
vexations.  He spoke them fair, and proposed to make camp and rest
for a day to talk it out.  Privately he sent one of the half-breeds
ahead to the survey-party for help, while he kept his ruffians in
play.  Happily he had some whisky with him and he had them drinking
and playing cards, which took him well into the afternoon.  Then
they discovered the half-breed's absence, and wouldn't believe
Jim's yarn that he had gone off to find fresh meat.  His only
chance was to bluff high, and, since he didn't much care what
happened to him, he succeeded.  He went to bed that night with a
tough beside him who had announced his intention of putting a
bullet through his head if there was any dirty work.  Sometime
after midnight his messenger arrived with help, and fortunately his
bedside-companion's bullet went wide.  The stores, a bit depleted,
were safely delivered, and when Jim got back to his base he received
a solid cursing from his boss for his defective stewardship.  But
Malone concluded with one of his rare compliments.  "You'll train
on, sonny," he said.  "There's guts in you for all your goo-goo
face."

That episode put an end to Jim's indecision.  His time in Canada
had been one long chapter of black disasters, and he was confident
that they were sent to him as a punishment.  His last adventure had
somehow screwed up his manhood.  He hated Canada like poison, but
the thought of going back to England made him green with
apprehension.  Yet he was clear that he must do it or never have a
moment's peace.  So he wrote to me and told me that for a year he
had been considering things, and had come to the conclusion that he
had behaved like a cad.  He was coming back to get into any kind of
harness I directed, and would I advance him thirty pounds for his
journey?

Now the little company we had put together to nurse the wreckage of
Hallwards had been doing rather well.  One or two things had
unexpectedly turned up trumps.  There was enough money to keep the
maiden aunts going, and it looked as if there would be a good deal
presently for Jim.  He had gone off leaving no address, so I had
had no means of communicating with him.  I cabled him a hundred
pounds, and told him to come along.

One afternoon near the end of June he turned up in my office.  He
had crossed the Atlantic steerage, and his clothes were those of a
docker who has been months out of work.  The first thing he did was
to plank eighty pounds on my desk.  "You sent me too much," he
said.  "I don't want to owe more than is necessary.  You can stop
the twenty quid out of my wages."

At first sight I thought him very little changed in face.  He was
incredibly lean and tanned and his hair wanted cutting, but he had
the same shy, hunted eyes as the boy who had bolted a year before.
He did not seem to have won any self-confidence, except that the
set of his mouth was a little firmer.

"I want to start work at once," he said.  "I've come home to make
atonement."

It took me a long time to make him understand the position of
affairs--that he could count even now on a respectable income, and
that, if he put his back into it, Hallwards might once again become
a power in the City.  "I was only waiting for you to come back," I
said, "to revive the old name.  Hallwards has a better sound than
the Anglo-Orient Company."

"But I can't touch a penny," he said.  "What about the people who
suffered through the bankruptcy?"

"There were very few," I told him.  "None of the widow-and-orphan
business.  The banks were amply secured.  The chief sufferers were
your aunts and yourself, and that's going to be all right now."

He listened with wide eyes, and slowly bewilderment gave place to
relief, and relief to rapture.  "The first thing you've got to do,"
I said, "is to go to your tailor and get some clothes.  You'd
better put up at an hotel till you can find a flat.  I'll see about
your club membership.  If you want to play polo I'll lend you a
couple of ponies.  Come and dine with me to-night and tell me your
story."

"My God!" he murmured.  "Do you realise that for a year I've been
on my uppers?  That's my story."

The rest of that summer Jim walked about in a happy mystification.
Once he was decently dressed, I could see that Canada had improved
him.  He was better-looking, tougher, manlier; his shyness was now
wariness and he had got a new and sounder code of values.  He
worked like a beaver in the office, and, though he was curiously
slow and obtuse about some things, I began to see that he had his
father's brains, and something, too, that old Hallward had never
had, a sensitive, subtle imagination.  For the rest he enjoyed
himself.  He came in for the end of the polo season, and he was
welcomed back to his old set as if nothing had happened.

Then I ceased to see much of him.  I had been overworking badly and
needed a long holiday, so I went off to a Scotch deer-forest in the
middle of August and did not return till the beginning of October.
Jim stuck tight to the office; he said that he had had all the
holidays he wanted for a year or two.

On the second day after my return he came into my room and said
that he wanted to speak to me privately.  He wished, he said, that
nothing should be done about the restoring the name of Hallwards.
He would like the Anglo-Orient to go on just as it was before he
returned, and he did not want the directorship which had been
arranged.

"Why in the world?" I asked in amazement.

"Because I am going away.  And I may be away for quite a time."

When I found words, and that took some time, I asked if he had
grown tired of England.

"Bless you, no!  I love it better than any place on earth.  The
autumn scents are beginning, and London is snugging down for its
blessed cosy winter, and the hunting will soon be starting, and
last Sunday I heard the old cock pheasants shouting--"

"Where are you going?  Canada?"

He nodded.

"Have you fallen in love with it?"

"I hate it worse than hell," he said solemnly, and proceeded to say
things which in the interest of Imperial good feeling I refrain
from repeating.

"Then you must be mad!"

"No," he said, "I'm quite sane.  It's very simple, and I've
thought it all out.  You know I ran away from my duty eighteen
months ago.  Well, I was punished for it.  I was a howling failure
in Canada. . . .  I haven't told you half . . . I pretty well
starved . . . I couldn't hold down any job . . .  I was simply a
waif and a laughing stock.  And I loathed it--my God, how I loathed
it! But I couldn't come back--the very thought of facing London
gave me a sick pain.  It took me a year to screw up my courage to
do what I knew was my manifest duty.  Well, I turned up, as you
know."

"Then that's all right, isn't it?" I observed obtusely.  "You find
London better than you thought?"

"I find it Paradise," and he smiled sadly.  "But it's a Paradise I
haven't deserved.  You see, I made a failure in Canada and I can't
let it go at that.  I hate the very name of the place and most of
the people in it. . . .  Oh, I daresay there is nothing wrong with
it, but one always hates a place where one has been a fool . . . I
have got to go back and make good.  I shall take two hundred
pounds, just what I had when I first started out."

I only stared, and he went on:

"I funked once, and that may be forgiven.  But a man who funks
twice is a coward.  I funk Canada like the devil, and that is why I
am going back.  There was a man there--only one man--who said I had
guts.  I'm going to prove to that whole damned Dominion that I have
guts, but principally I've got to prove it to myself. . . .  After
that I'll come back to you, and we'll talk business."

I could say nothing: indeed I didn't want to say anything.  Jim was
showing a kind of courage several grades ahead of old Jonah's.  He
had returned to Nineveh and found that it had no terrors, and was
now going back to Tarshish, whales and all.



IX


SKULE SKERRY

ANTHONY HURRELL'S STORY


Who's there, besides foul weather?

King Lear.


Mr. Anthony Hurrell was a small man, thin to the point of
emaciation, but erect as a ramrod and wiry as a cairn terrier.
There was no grey in his hair, and his pale far-sighted eyes had
the alertness of youth, but his lean face was so wrinkled by
weather that in certain lights it looked almost venerable, and
young men, who at first sight had imagined him their contemporary,
presently dropped into the "sir" reserved for indisputable seniors.
His actual age was, I believe, somewhere in the forties.  He had
inherited a small property in Northumberland, where he had
accumulated a collection of the rarer wildfowl, but much of his
life had been spent in places so remote that his friends could with
difficulty find them on the map.  He had written a dozen
ornithological monographs, was joint editor of the chief modern
treatise on British birds, and had been the first man to visit the
tundras of the Yenisei.  He spoke little and that with an agreeable
hesitation, but his ready smile, his quick interest, and the
impression he gave of having a fathomless knowledge of strange
modes of life, made him a popular and intriguing figure among his
friends.  Of his doings in the War he told us nothing; what we knew
of them--and they were sensational enough in all conscience--we
learned elsewhere.  It was Nightingale's story which drew him from
his customary silence.  At the dinner following that event he made
certain comments on current explanations of the supernormal.  "I
remember once," he began, and before we knew he had surprised us by
embarking on a tale.

He had scarcely begun before he stopped.  "I'm boring you," he said
deprecatingly.  "There's nothing much in the story. . . .  You see,
it all happened, so to speak, inside my head. . . .  I don't want
to seem an egotist. . . ."

"Don't be an ass, Tony," said Lamancha.  "Every adventure takes
place chiefly inside the head of somebody.  Go on.  We're all
attention."

"It happened a good many years ago," Hurrell continued, "when I was
quite a young man.  I wasn't the cold scientist then that I fancy I
am to-day.  I took up birds in the first instance chiefly because
they fired what imagination I possess.  They fascinated me, for
they seemed of all created things the nearest to pure spirit--those
little beings with a normal temperature of 125º.  Think of it.  The
goldcrest, with a stomach no bigger than a bean, flies across the
North Sea!  The curlew sandpiper, which breeds so far north that
only about three people have ever seen its nest, goes to Tasmania
for its holidays!  So I always went bird-hunting with a queer sense
of expectation and a bit of a tremor, as if I was walking very near
the boundaries of the things we are not allowed to know.  I felt
this especially in the migration season.  The small atoms, coming
God knows whence and going God knows whither, were sheer mystery--
they belonged to a world built in different dimensions from ours.
I don't know what I expected, but I was always waiting for
something, as much in a flutter as a girl at her first ball.  You
must realise that mood of mine to understand what follows.

"One year I went to the Norland Islands for the spring migration.
Plenty of people do the same, but I had the notion to do something
a little different.  I had a theory that migrants go north and
south on a fairly narrow road.  They have their corridors in the
air as clearly defined as a highway, and keep an inherited memory
of these corridors, like the stout conservatives they are.  So I
didn't go to the Blue Banks or to Noop or to Hermaness or any of
the obvious places, where birds might be expected to make their
first landfall.

"At that time I was pretty well read in the sagas, and had taught
myself Icelandic for the purpose.  Now it is written in the Saga of
Earl Skuli, which is part of the Jarla Saga or Saga of the Earls,
that Skuli, when he was carving out his earldom in the Scots
islands, had much to do with a place called the Isle of the Birds.
It is mentioned repeatedly, and the saga-man has a lot to say about
the amazing multitude of birds there.  It couldn't have been an
ordinary gullery, for the Northmen saw too many of these to think
them worth mentioning.  I got it into my head that it must have
been one of the alighting places of the migrants, and was probably
as busy a spot to-day as in the eleventh century.  The saga said it
was near Halmarsness, and that is on the west side of the island of
Una, so to Una I decided to go.  I fairly got that Isle of Birds on
the brain.  From the map it might be any one of a dozen skerries
under the shadow of Halmarsness.

"I remember that I spent a good many hours in the British Museum
before I started, hunting up the scanty records of those parts.  I
found--I think it was in Adam of Bremen--that a succession of holy
men had lived on the isle, and that a chapel had been built there
and endowed by Earl Rognvald, which came to an end in the time of
Malise of Strathearn.  There was a bare mention of the place, but
the chronicler had one curious note.  'Insula Avium,' ran the text,
'quæ est ultima insula et proximo, Abysso.'  I wondered what on
earth he meant.  The place was not ultimate in any geographical
sense, neither the farthest north nor the farthest west of the
Norlands.  And what was the 'abyss'?  In monkish Latin the word
generally means Hell--Bunyan's Bottomless Pit--and sometimes the
grave; but neither meaning seemed to have much to do with an
ordinary sea skerry.

"I arrived at Una about eight o'clock in a May evening, having been
put across from Voss in a flit-boat.  It was a quiet evening, the
sky without clouds but so pale as to be almost grey, the sea grey
also but with a certain iridescence in it, and the low lines of the
land a combination of hard greys and umbers, cut into by the harder
white of the lighthouse.  I can never find words to describe that
curious quality of light that you get up in the North.  Sometimes
it is like looking at the world out of deep water--Farquharson used
to call it 'milky,' and one saw what he meant.  Generally it is a
sort of essence of light, cold and pure and distilled, as if it
were reflected from snow.  There is no colour in it, and it makes
thin shadows.  Some people find it horribly depressing--Farquharson
said it reminded him of a churchyard in the early morning where all
his friends were buried--but personally I found it tonic and
comforting.  But it made me feel very near the edge of the world.

"There was no inn, so I put up at the post-office, which was on a
causeway between a freshwater loch and a sea voe, so that from the
doorstep you could catch brown trout on one side and sea-trout on
the other.  Next morning I set off for Halmarsness, which lay five
miles to the west over a flat moorland all puddled with tiny
lochans.  There seemed to be nearly as much water as land.
Presently I came to a bigger loch under the lift of ground which
was Halmarsness.  There was a gap in the ridge through which I
looked straight out to the Atlantic, and there in the middle
distance was what I knew instinctively to be my island.

"It was perhaps a quarter of a mile long, low for the most part,
but rising in the north to a grassy knoll beyond the reach of any
tides.  In parts it narrowed to a few yards' width, and the lower
levels must often have been awash.  But it was an island, not a
reef, and I thought I could make out the remains of the monkish
cell.  I climbed Halmarsness, and there, with nesting skuas
swooping angrily about my head, I got a better view.  It was
certainly my island, for the rest of the archipelago were
inconsiderable skerries, and I realised that it might well be a
resting-place for migrants, for the mainland cliffs were too
thronged with piratical skuas and other jealous fowl to be
comfortable for weary travellers.

"I sat for a long time on the headland looking down from the three
hundred feet of basalt to the island half a mile off--the last bit
of solid earth between me and Greenland.  The sea was calm for
Norland waters, but there was a snowy edging of surf to the
skerries which told of a tide rip.  Two miles farther south I could
see the entrance to the famous Roost of Una, where, when tide and
wind collide, there is a wall like a house, so that a small steamer
cannot pass it.  The only sign of human habitation was a little
grey farm in the lowlands toward the Roost, but the place was full
of the evidence of man--a herd of Norland ponies, each tagged with
its owner's name--grazing sheep of the piebald Norland breed--a
broken barbed-wire fence that drooped over the edge of the cliff.
I was only an hour's walk from a telegraph office, and a village
which got its newspapers not more than three days late.  It was a
fine spring noon, and in the empty bright land there was scarcely a
shadow. . . .  All the same, as I looked down at the island I did
not wonder that it had been selected for attention by the saga-man
and had been reputed holy.  For it had an air of concealing
something, though it was as bare as a billiard-table.  It was an
intruder, an irrelevance in the picture, planted there by some
celestial caprice.  I decided forthwith to make my camp on it, and
the decision, inconsequently enough, seemed to me to be something
of a venture.

"That was the view taken by John Ronaldson, when I talked to him
after dinner.  John was the post-mistress's son, more fisherman
than crofter, like all Norlanders, a skilful sailor and an adept at
the dipping lug, and noted for his knowledge of the western coast.
He had difficulty in understanding my plan, and when he identified
my island he protested.

"'Not Skule Skerry!' he cried.  'What would take ye there, man?
Ye'll get a' the birds ye want on Halmarsness and a far better
bield.  Ye'll be blawn away on the skerry, if the wund rises.'

"I explained to him my reasons as well as I could, and I answered
his fears about a gale by pointing out that the island was
sheltered by the cliffs from the prevailing winds, and could be
scourged only from the south, south-west, or west, quarters from
which the wind rarely blew in May.  'It'll be cauld,' he said, 'and
wat.'  I pointed out that I had a tent and was accustomed to
camping.  'Ye'll starve'--I expounded my proposed methods of
commissariat.  'It'll be an ill job getting ye on and off'--but
after cross-examination he admitted that ordinarily the tides were
not difficult, and that I could get a row-boat to a beach below the
farm I had seen--its name was Sgurravoe.  Yet when I had said all
this he still raised objections, till I asked him flatly what was
the matter with Skule Skerry.

"'Naebody gangs there,' he said gruffly.

"'Why should they?' I asked.  'I'm only going to watch the birds.'

"But the fact that it was never visited seemed to stick in his
throat and he grumbled out something that surprised me.  'It has an
ill name,' he said.  But when I pressed him he admitted that there
was no record of shipwreck or disaster to account for the ill name.
He repeated the words 'Skule Skerry' as if they displeased him.
'Folk dinna gang near it.  It has aye had an ill name.  My
grandfather used to say that the place wasna canny.'

"Now your Norlander has nothing of the Celt in him, and is as
different from the Hebridean as a Northumbrian from a Cornishman.
They are a fine, upstanding, hard-headed race, almost pure
Scandinavian in blood, but they have as little poetry in them as a
Manchester radical.  I should have put them down as utterly free
from superstition, and, in all my many visits to the islands I have
never yet come across a folk-tale--hardly even a historical legend.
Yet here was John Ronaldson, with his weather-beaten face and stiff
chin and shrewd blue eyes, declaring that an innocent-looking
island 'wasna canny,' and showing the most remarkable disinclination
to go near it.

"Of course all this only made me keener.  Besides, it was called
Skule Skerry, and the name could only come from Earl Skuli; so it
was linked up authentically with the oddments of information I had
collected in the British Museum--the Jarla Saga and Adam of Bremen
and all the rest of it.  John finally agreed to take me over next
morning in his boat, and I spent the rest of the day in collecting
my kit.  I had a small E.P. tent, and a Wolseley valise and half a
dozen rugs, and, since I had brought a big box of tinned stuffs
from the Stores, all I needed was flour and meal and some simple
groceries.  I learned that there was a well on the island, and that
I could count on sufficient driftwood for my fire, but to make
certain I took a sack of coals and another of peats.  So I set off
next day in John's boat, ran with the wind through the Roost of Una
when the tide was right, tacked up the coast, and came to the
skerry early in the afternoon.

"You could see that John hated the place.  We ran into a cove on
the east side, and he splashed ashore as if he expected to have his
landing opposed, looking all the time sharply about him.  When he
carried my stuff to a hollow under the knoll which gave a certain
amount of shelter, his head was always twisting round.  To me the
place seemed to be the last word in forgotten peace.  The swell
lipped gently on the reefs and the little pebbled beaches, and only
the babble of gulls from Halmarsness broke the stillness.

"John was clearly anxious to get away, but he did his duty by me.
He helped me to get the tent up, found a convenient place for my
boxes, pointed out the well and filled my water bucket, and made a
zareba of stones to protect my camp on the Atlantic side.  We had
brought a small dinghy along with us, and this was to be left with
me, so that when I wanted I could row across to the beach at
Sgurravoe.  As his last service he fixed an old pail between two
boulders on the summit of the knoll, and filled it with oily waste,
so that it could be turned into a beacon.

"'Ye'll maybe want to come off,' he said, 'and the boat will maybe
no be there.  Kindle your flare, and they'll see it at Sgurravoe
and get the word to me, and I'll come for ye though the Muckle
Black Silkie himsel' was hunkerin' on the skerry.'

"Then he looked up and sniffed the air.  'I dinna like the set of
the sky,' he declared.  'It's a bad weatherhead.  There'll be mair
wund than I like in the next four and twenty hours.'

"So saying, he hoisted his sail and presently was a speck on the
water towards the Roost.  There was no need for him to hurry, for
the tide was now wrong, and before he could pass the Roost he would
have three hours to wait on this side of the Mull.  But the man,
usually so deliberate and imperturbable, had been in a fever to be
gone.

"His departure left me in a curious mood of happy loneliness and
pleasurable expectation.  I was left solitary with the seas and the
birds.  I laughed to think that I had found a streak of
superstition in the granite John.  He and his Muckle Black Silkie!
I knew the old legend of the North which tells how the Finns, the
ghouls that live in the deeps of the ocean, can on occasion don a
seal's skin and come to land to play havoc with mortals.  But
diablerie and this isle of mine were worlds apart.  I looked at it
as the sun dropped, drowsing in the opal-coloured tides, under a
sky in which pale clouds made streamers like a spectral aurora
borealis, and I thought that I had stumbled upon one of those
places where Nature seems to invite one to her secrets.  As the
light died the sky was flecked as with the roots and branches of
some great nebular tree.  That would be the 'weatherhead' of which
John Ronaldson had spoken.

"I set my fire going, cooked my supper, and made everything snug
for the night.  I had been right in my guess about the migrants.
It must have been about ten o'clock when they began to arrive--
after my fire had died out and I was smoking my last pipe before
getting into my sleeping-bag.  A host of fieldfares settled gently
on the south part of the skerry.  A faint light lingered till after
midnight, but it was not easy to distinguish the little creatures,
for they were aware of my presence and did not alight within a
dozen yards of me.  But I made out bramblings and buntings and what
I thought was the Greenland wheatear; also jack snipe and
sanderling; and I believed from their cries that the curlew
sandpiper and the whimbrel were there.  I went to sleep in a state
of high excitement, promising myself a fruitful time on the morrow.

"I slept badly, as one often does one's first night in the open.
Several times I woke with a start under the impression that I was
in a boat rowing swiftly with the tide.  And every time I woke I
heard the flutter of myriad birds, as if a velvet curtain was being
slowly switched along an oak floor.  At last I fell into deeper
sleep, and when I opened my eyes it was full day.

"The first thing that struck me was that it had got suddenly
colder.  The sky was stormily red in the east, and masses of woolly
clouds were banking in the north.  I lit my fire with numbed
fingers and hastily made tea.  I could see the nimbus of seafowl
over Halmarsness, but there was only one bird left on my skerry.  I
was certain from its forked tail that it was a Sabine's gull, but
before I got my glass out it was disappearing into the haze towards
the north.  The sight cheered and excited me, and I cooked my
breakfast in pretty good spirits.

"That was literally the last bird that came near me, barring the
ordinary shearwaters and gulls and cormorants that nested round
about Halmarsness.  (There was not one single nest of any sort on
the island.  I had heard of that happening before in places which
were regular halting grounds for migrants.)  The travellers must
have had an inkling of the coming weather and were waiting
somewhere well to the south.  For about 9 o'clock it began to blow.
Great God, how it blew!  You must go to the Norlands if you want to
know what wind can be.  It is like being on a mountain-top, for
there is no high ground to act as a wind-break.  There was no rain,
but the surf broke in showers and every foot of the skerry was
drenched with it.  In a trice Halmarsness was hidden, and I seemed
to be in the centre of a maelstrom, choked with scud and buffeted
on every side by swirling waters.

"Down came my tent at once.  I wrestled with the crazy canvas and
got a black eye from a pole, but I managed to drag the ruins into
the shelter of the zareba which John had built, and tumble some of
the bigger boulders on it.  There it lay, flapping like a sick
albatross.  The water got into my food boxes, and soaked my fuel,
as well as every inch of my clothing. . . .  I had looked forward
to a peaceful day of watching and meditation, when I could write up
my notes; and instead I spent a morning like a Rugger scrum.  I
might have enjoyed it, if I hadn't been so wet and cold, and could
have got a better lunch than some clammy mouthfuls out of a tin.
One talks glibly about being 'blown off' a place, generally an idle
exaggeration--but that day I came very near the reality.  There
were times when I had to hang on for dear life to one of the bigger
stones to avoid being trundled into the yeasty seas.

"About two o'clock the volume of the storm began to decline, and
then for the first time I thought about the boat.  With a horrid
sinking of the heart I scrambled to the cove where we had beached
it.  It had been drawn up high and dry, and its painter secured to
a substantial boulder.  But now there was not a sign of it except a
ragged rope-end round the stone.  The tide had mounted to its
level, and tide and wind had smashed the rotten painter.  By this
time what was left of it would be tossing in the Roost.

"This was a pretty state of affairs.  John was due to visit me next
day, but I had a cold twenty-four hours ahead of me.  There was of
course the flare he had left me, but I was not inclined to use
this.  It looked like throwing up the sponge and confessing that my
expedition had been a farce.  I felt miserable, but obstinate, and,
since the weather was clearly mending, I determined to put the best
face on the business, so I went back to the wreckage of my camp,
and tried to tidy up.  There was still far too much wind to do
anything with the tent, but the worst of the spindrift had ceased,
and I was able to put out my bedding and some of my provender to
dry.  I got a dry jersey out of my pack, and, as I was wearing
fisherman's boots and oilskins, I managed to get some slight return
of comfort.  Also at last I succeeded in lighting a pipe.  I found
a corner under the knoll which gave me a modicum of shelter, and I
settled myself to pass the time with tobacco and my own thoughts.

"About three o'clock the wind died away completely.  That I did not
like, for a dead lull in the Norlands is often the precursor of a
new gale.  Indeed, I never remembered a time when some wind did not
blow, and I had heard that when such a thing happened people came
out of their houses to ask what the matter was.  But now we had the
deadest sort of calm.  The sea was still wild and broken, the tides
raced by like a mill-stream, and a brume was gathering which shut
out Halmarsness--shut out every prospect except a narrow circuit of
grey water.  The cessation of the racket of the gale made the place
seem uncannily quiet.  The present tumult of the sea, in comparison
with the noise of the morning, seemed no more than a mutter and an
echo.

"As I sat there I became conscious of an odd sensation.  I seemed
to be more alone, more cut off, not only from my fellows but from
the habitable earth, than I had ever been before.  It was like
being in a small boat in mid-Atlantic--but worse, if you understand
me, for that would have been loneliness in the midst of a waste
which was nevertheless surrounded and traversed by the works of
man, whereas now I felt that I was clean outside man's ken.  I had
come somehow to the edge of that world where life is, and was very
close to the world which has only death in it.

"At first I do not think there was much fear in the sensation--
chiefly strangeness, but the kind of strangeness which awes without
exciting.  I tried to shake off the mood, and got up to stretch
myself.  There was not much room for exercise, and as I moved with
stiff legs along the reefs I slipped into the water, so that I got
my arms wet.  It was cold beyond belief--the very quintessence of
deathly Arctic ice, so cold that it seemed to sear and bleach the
skin.

"From that moment I date the most unpleasant experience of my life.
I became suddenly the prey of a black depression, shot with the red
lights of terror.  But it was not a numb terror, for my brain was
acutely alive. . . .  I had the sense to try to make tea, but my
fuel was still too damp, and the best I could do was to pour half
the contents of my brandy flask into a cup and swallow the stuff.
That did not properly warm my chilled body, but--since I am a very
temperate man--it speeded up my thoughts instead of calming them.
I felt myself on the brink of a childish panic.

"One thing I thought I saw clearly--the meaning of Skule Skerry.
By some alchemy of nature, at which I could only guess, it was on
the track by which the North exercised its spell, a cableway for
the magnetism of that cruel frozen Uttermost, which man might
penetrate but could never subdue or understand.  Though the
latitude was only 61°, there were folds of tucks in space, and this
isle was the edge of the world.  Birds knew it, and the old
Northmen, who were primitive beings like the birds, knew it.  That
was why an inconsiderable skerry had been given the name of a
conquering Jarl.  The old Church knew it, and had planted a chapel
to exorcise the demons of darkness.  I wondered what sights the
hermit, whose cell had been on the very spot where I was cowering,
had seen in the winter dusks.

"It may have been partly the brandy acting on an empty stomach, and
partly the extreme cold, but my brain, in spite of my efforts to
think rationally, began to run like a dynamo.  It is difficult to
explain my mood, but I seemed to be two persons--one a reasonable
modern man trying to keep sane and scornfully rejecting the fancies
which the other, a cast-back to something elemental, was furiously
spinning.  But it was the second that had the upper hand. . . .  I
felt myself loosed from my moorings, a mere waif on uncharted seas.
What is the German phrase?  Urdummheit--Primal Idiocy?  That is
what was the matter with me.  I had fallen out of civilisation into
the Outlands and was feeling their spell. . . .  I could not think,
but I could remember, and what I had read of the Norse voyagers
came back to me with horrid persistence.  They had known the
outland terrors--the Sea Walls at the world's end, the Curdled
Ocean with its strange beasts.  Those men did not sail north as we
did, in steamers, with modern food and modern instruments, huddled
into crews and expeditions.  They had gone out almost alone, in
brittle galleys, and they had known what we could never know.

"And then, I had a shattering revelation.  I had been groping for a
word and I suddenly got it.  It was Adam of Bremen's 'proxima
Abysso.'  This island was next door to the Abyss, and the Abyss was
that blanched world of the North which was the negation of life.

"That unfortunate recollection was the last straw.  I remember that
I forced myself to get up and try again to kindle a fire.  But the
wood was still too damp, and I realised with consternation that I
had very few matches left, several boxes having been ruined that
morning.  As I staggered about I saw the flare which John had left
for me, and had almost lit it.  But some dregs of manhood prevented
me--I could not own defeat in that babyish way--I must wait till
John Ronaldson came for me next morning.  Instead I had another
mouthful of brandy, and tried to eat some of my sodden biscuits.
But I could scarcely swallow; this infernal cold, instead of
rousing hunger, had given me only a raging thirst.

"I forced myself to sit down again with my face to the land.  You
see, every moment I was becoming more childish.  I had the notion--
I cannot call it a thought--that down the avenue from the North
something terrible and strange might come.  My nervous state must
have been pretty bad, for though I was cold and empty and weary I
was scarcely conscious of physical discomfort.  My heart was
fluttering like a scared boy's; and all the time the other part of
me was standing aside and telling me not to be a damned fool. . . .
I think that if I had heard the rustle of a flock of migrants I
might have pulled myself together, but not a blessed bird had come
near me all day.  I had fallen into a world that killed life, a
sort of Valley of the Shadow of Death.

"The brume spoiled the long northern twilight, and presently it was
almost dark.  At first I thought that this was going to help me,
and I got hold of several of my half-dry rugs, and made a sleeping-
place.  But I could not sleep, even if my teeth had stopped
chattering, for a new and perfectly idiotic idea possessed me.  It
came from a recollection of John Ronaldson's parting words.  What
had he said about the Black Silkie--the Finn who came out of the
deep and hunkered on this skerry?  Raving mania!  But on this lost
island in the darkening night, with icy tides lapping about me, was
any horror beyond belief?

"Still, the sheer idiocy of the idea compelled a reaction.  I took
hold of my wits with both hands and cursed myself for a fool.  I
could even reason about my folly.  I knew what was wrong with me.
I was suffering from PANIC--a physical affection produced by
natural causes, explicable, though as yet not fully explained.  Two
friends of mine had once been afflicted with it; one in a lonely
glen in the Jotunheim, so that he ran for ten miles over stony
hills till he found a saeter and human companionship: the other in
a Bavarian forest, where both he and his guide tore for hours
through the thicket till they dropped like logs beside a highroad.
This reflection enabled me to take a pull on myself and to think a
little ahead.  If my troubles were physical then there would be no
shame in looking for the speediest cure.  Without further delay I
must leave this God-forgotten place.

"The flare was all right, for it had been set on the highest point
of the island, and John had covered it with a peat.  With one of my
few remaining matches I lit the oily waste, and a great smoky flame
leapt to heaven.

"If the half-dark had been eery, this sudden brightness was eerier.
For a moment the glare gave me confidence, but as I looked at the
circle of moving water evilly lit up all my terrors returned. . . .
How long would it take John to reach me?  They would see it at once
at Sgurravoe--they would be on the look-out for it--John would not
waste time, for he had tried to dissuade me from coming--an hour--
two hours at the most. . . .

"I found I could not take my eyes from the waters.  They seemed
to flow from the north in a strong stream, black as the heart of
the elder ice, irresistible as fate, cruel as hell.  There seemed
to be uncouth shapes swimming in them, which were more than the
flickering shadows from the flare. . . .  Something portentous
might at any moment come down that river of death. . . .
Someone. . . .

"And then my knees gave under me and my heart shrank like a pea,
for I saw that the someone had come.

"He drew himself heavily out of the sea, wallowed for a second, and
then raised his head and, from a distance of five yards, looked me
blindly in the face.  The flare was fast dying down, but even so at
that short range it cast a strong light, and the eyes of the awful
being seemed to be dazed by it.  I saw a great dark head like a
bull's--an old face wrinkled as if in pain--a gleam of enormous
broken teeth--a dripping beard--all formed on other lines than God
has made mortal creatures.  And on the right of the throat was a
huge scarlet gash.  The thing seemed to be moaning, and then from
it came a sound--whether of anguish or wrath I cannot tell--but it
seemed to be the cry of a tortured fiend.

"That was enough for me.  I pitched forward in a swoon, hitting my
head on a stone, and in that condition three hours later John
Ronaldson found me.



"They put me to bed at Sgurravoe with hot earthenware bottles, and
the doctor from Voss next day patched up my head and gave me a
sleeping draught.  He declared that there was little the matter
with me except shock from exposure, and promised to set me on my
feet in a week.

"For three days I was as miserable as a man could be, and did my
best to work myself into a fever.  I had said not a word about my
experience, and left my rescuers to believe that my only troubles
were cold and hunger, and that I had lit the flare because I had
lost the boat.  But during these days I was in a critical state.  I
knew that there was nothing wrong with my body, but I was gravely
concerned about my mind.

"For this was my difficulty.  If that awful thing was a mere
figment of my brain then I had better be certified at once as a
lunatic.  No sane man could get into such a state as to see such
portents with the certainty with which I had seen that creature
come out of the night.  If, on the other hand, the thing was a real
presence, then I had looked on something outside natural law, and
my intellectual world was broken in pieces.  I was a scientist, and
a scientist cannot admit the supernatural.  If with my eyes I had
beheld the monster in which Adam of Bremen believed, which holy men
had exorcised, which even the shrewd Norlanders shuddered at as the
Black Silkie, then I must burn my books and revise my creed.  I
might take to poetry or theosophy, but I would never be much good
again at science.

"On the third afternoon I was trying to doze, and with shut eyes
fighting off the pictures which tormented my brain.  John Ronaldson
and the farmer of Sgurravoe were talking at the kitchen door.  The
latter asked some question, and John replied--

"'Aye, it was a wall-ross and nae mistake.  It cam ashore at Gloop
Ness and Sandy Fraser hae gotten the skin of it.  It was deid when
he found it, but no long deid.  The puir beast would drift south on
some floe, and it was sair hurt, for Sandy said it had a hole in
its throat ye could put your nieve in.  There hasna been a wall-
ross come to Una since my grandfather's day.'

"I turned my face to the wall and composed myself to sleep.  For
now I knew that I was sane, and need not forswear science."



X


TENDEBANT MANUS

SIR ARTHUR WARCLIFF'S STORY


Send not on your soul before
To dive from that beguiling shore,
And let not yet the swimmer leave
His clothes upon the sands of eve.

A. E. Housman.


One night we were discussing Souldern, who had died a week before
and whose memorial service had been held that morning in St.
Margaret's.  He had come on amazingly in Parliament, one of those
sudden rises which were common in the immediate post-war years,
when the older reputations were being questioned and the younger
men were too busy making a livelihood to have time for hobbies.
His speeches, his membership of a commission where he had shown
both originality and courage, and his reputed refusal, on very
honourable grounds, of a place in the Cabinet, had given him in the
popular mind a flavour of mystery and distinction.  The papers had
devoted a good deal of space to him, and there was a general
feeling that his death--the result of a motor smash--was a bigger
loss to the country than his actual achievement warranted.

"I never met him," Palliser-Yeates said.  "But I was at school with
his minor.  You remember Reggie Souldern, Charles?  An uncommon
good fellow--makings of a fine soldier, too--disappeared with most
of his battalion in March '18, and was never heard of again.  Body
committed to the pleasant land of France but exact spot unknown--
rather like a burial at sea."

"I knew George Souldern well enough," said Lamancha, whom he
addressed.  "I sat in the House with him for two years before the
War.  That is to say, I knew as much of him as anybody did, but
there was very little you could lay hold of.  He used to be a
fussy, ineffective chap, very fertile in ideas which he never
thought out, and always starting hares that he wouldn't hunt.  But
just lately he seems to have had a call, and he looked as if he
might have a career.  Rotten luck that a sharp corner and a lout of
a motor-cyclist should have put an end to it."

He turned to his neighbour.  "Wasn't he a relation of yours, Sir
Arthur?"

The man addressed was the oldest member of the Club and by far the
most distinguished.  Sir Arthur Warcliff had been a figure of note
when most of us were in our cradles.  He began life in the Sappers,
and before he was thirty had been in command of a troublesome
little Somaliland expedition; then he had governed a variety of
places with such success that he was seriously spoken of for India.
In the War he would have liked to have returned back to soldiering,
but they used him as the Cabinet handy-man, and he had all the
worst diplomatic and administrative jobs to tackle.  You see, he
was a master of detail and had to translate the generalities of
policy into action.  He had never, as the jargon goes, got his
personality over the footlights, so he was only a name to the
public--but a tremendous name, of which every party spoke
respectfully.  He had retired now, and lived alone with his
motherless boy.  Usually, for all his sixty-five years, he seemed a
contemporary, for he was curiously young at heart, but every now
and then we looked at his wise, worn face, realised what he had
been and was, and sat at his feet.

"Yes," he said in reply to Lamancha.  "George Souldern was my
wife's cousin, and I knew him well for the last twenty years.
Since the War I knew him better, and in the past eighteen months I
was, I think, his only intimate friend."

"Was he a really big man?" Sandy Arbuthnot asked.  "I don't take
much stock in his profession--but I thought--just for a moment--in
that Irish row--that I got a glimpse of something rather out of the
ordinary."

"He had first-class brains."

Sandy laughed.  "That doesn't get you very far," he said.  The
phrase 'first-class brains' had acquired at the time a flavour of
comedy.

"No.  It doesn't.  If you had asked me the question six years ago I
should have said that George was a brilliant failure.  Immensely
clever in his way, really well educated--which very few of us are--
laborious as a beaver, but futile.  The hare that is always being
passed by every kind of tortoise.  He had everything in his favour,
but nothing ever came out as he wanted it.  I only knew him after
he came down from Oxford, but I believe that at the University he
was a nonpareil."

"I was up with him," said Peckwether, the historian.  "Oh, yes, he
was a big enough figure there.  He was head of Winchester, and
senior scholar of Balliol, and took two Firsts and several
University prizes in his stride.  He must have sat up all night,
for he never appeared to work--you see, it was his pose to do
things easily--a variety of the Grand Manner.  He was a most
disquieting undergraduate.  In his political speeches he had the
air of having just left a Cabinet meeting."

"Was he popular?" someone asked.

"Not a bit," said Peckwether.  "And for all his successes we didn't
believe in him.  He was too worldly-wise--what we used to call
'banausic'--too bent on getting on.  We felt that he had all his
goods in the shop window, and that there was no margin to him."

Sir Arthur smiled.  "A young man's contemporaries are pretty shrewd
judges.  When I met him first I felt the same thing.  He wasn't a
prig, and he had a sense of humour, and he had plenty of ordinary
decent feeling.  But he was the kind of man who could never forget
himself and throw his cap over the moon.  One couldn't warm to
him. . . .  But, unlike you, I thought he would succeed.  The one
thing lacking was money, and within two years he had remedied that.
He married a rich wife; the lady died, but the fortune remained.
I believe it was an honest love match, and for a long time he was
heartbroken, and when he recovered he buried himself in work.  You
would have said that something was bound to happen.  Young, rich,
healthy, incredibly industrious, able, presentable--you would have
said that any constituency would have welcomed him, that his party
would have jumped at him, that he would have been a prodigious
success.

"But he wasn't.  He made a bad candidate, and had to stand three
times before he got into the House.  And there he made no kind of
impression, though he spoke conscientiously and always on matters
he knew about.  He wrote a book on the meaning of colonial
nationalism--fluent, well expressed, sensible, even in parts
eloquent, but somehow it wasn't read.  He was always making
speeches at public dinners and at the annual meetings of different
kinds of associations, but it didn't seem to signify what he said,
and he was scarcely reported.  There was no conspiracy of silence
to keep him down, for people rather liked him.  He simply seemed to
have no clear boundary lines and to be imperfectly detached from
the surrounding atmosphere.  I could never understand why."

"Lack of personality," said Lamancha.  "I remember feeling that."

"Yes, but what is personality?  He had the things that make it--
brains and purpose.  One liked him--was impressed by his
attainments, but, if you understand me, one wasn't impressed by the
man. . . .  It wasn't ordinary lack of confidence, for on occasion
he could be aggressive.  It was the lack of a continuity of
confidence--in himself and in other things.  He didn't BELIEVE
enough.  That was why, as you said, he was always starting hares
that he wouldn't hunt.  Some excellent and unanswerable reason
would occur to him why he should slack off.  He was what I believe
you call a good party man and always voted orthodoxly, but, after
four years in the House, instead of being a leader he was rapidly
becoming a mere cog in the machine.  He didn't seem to be able to
make himself count.

"That was his position eight years ago, and it was not far from a
tragedy.  He was as able as any man in the Cabinet, but he lacked
the dæmonic force which even stupid people sometimes possess.  I
can only describe him in paradoxes.  He was at once conceited and
shy, inordinately ambitious and miserably conscious that he never
got the value of his abilities out of life. . . .  Then came the
War."

"He served, didn't he?" Leithen asked.  "I remember running across
him at G.H.Q."

"You may call it serving, if you mean that he was never out of
uniform for four years.  But he didn't fight.  I wanted him to.  I
thought a line battalion might make a man of him, but he shrank
from the notion.  It wasn't lack of courage--I satisfied myself of
that.  But he hadn't the nerve to sink himself into the ranks of
ordinary men.  You understand why?  It would have meant the
realisation of what was the inmost fear of his heart.  He had to
keep up the delusion that he was some sort of a swell--had to have
authority to buttress his tottering vanity.

"So he had a selection of footling staff jobs--liaison with this
and that, deputy-assistant to Tom, Dick and Harry, quite futile,
but able to command special passes and staff cars.  He ranked, I
think, as a full colonel, but an Army Service Corps private was
more useful than ten of him.  And he was as miserable as a man
could be.  He liked people to think that his trouble was the strain
of the War, but the real strain was that there was no strain.  He
knew that he simply didn't matter.  At least he was candid with
himself, and he was sometimes candid with me.  He rather hoped, I
think, that I would inspan him into something worth doing, but in
common honesty I couldn't, for you see I too had come to disbelieve
in him utterly.

"Well, that went on till March 1918, when his brother Reggie was
killed in the German push.  Ninth Division, wasn't it?"

Palliser-Yeates nodded.  "Ninth.  South African Brigade.  He went
down at Marrières Wood, but he and his lot stuck up the enemy for
the best part of a Sunday, and, I solemnly believe, saved our whole
front.  They were at the critical point, you see, the junction of
Gough and Byng.  His body was never found."

"I know," said Sir Arthur, "and that is just the point of my
story."

He stopped.  "I suppose I'm right to tell you this.  He left
instructions that if anything happened to him I was to have his
diary.  He can't have meant me to keep it secret. . . .  No, I
think he would have liked one or two people to know."

He looked towards Palliser-Yeates.  "You knew Reggie Souldern?  How
would you describe him?"

"The very best stamp of British regimental officer," was the
emphatic reply.

"Clever?"

"Not a bit.  Only average brains, but every ounce of them useful.
Always cheery and competent, and a born leader of men.  He was due
for a brigade when he fell, and if the War had lasted another
couple of years he might have had a corps.  I never met the other
Souldern, but from what you say he must have been the plumb
opposite of Reggie."

"Just so.  George had a great opinion of his brother--in addition
to the ordinary brotherly love, for there were only the two of
them.  I thought the news of his death would break him altogether.
But it didn't.  He took it with extraordinary calm, and presently
it looked as if he were actually more cheerful. . . .  You see,
they never found the body.  He never saw him lying dead, or even
the grave where he was buried, and he never met anybody who had.
Reggie had been translated mysteriously out of the world, but the
melancholy indisputable signs of death were lacking."

"You mean he thought he was only missing and might turn up some
day?"

"No.  He KNEW he was dead--the proof was too strong, the
presumption was too heavy. . . .  But while there was enough to
convince his reason, there was too little for his imagination--no
white face and stiff body, no wooden cross in the cemetery.  He
could PICTURE him as still alive, and George had a queer sensitive
imagination about which most people knew nothing."

Sir Arthur looked round the table and saw that we were puzzled.

"It is a little difficult to explain. . . .  Do you remember a
story of the French at Verdun making an attack over ground they had
been fighting on for months?  They shouted 'En avant, les morts,'
and they believed that the spirits of the dead responded and
redressed the balance.  I think it was the last action at Vaux. . . .
I don't suppose the poilu thought the dead came back to help him,
but he pretended they were still combatants, and got a moral
support from the fancy. . . .  That was something like George
Souldern's case.  If you had asked him, you would have found that
he had no doubt that what was left of Reggie was somewhere in the
churned-up wilderness north of Péronne.  And there was never any
nonsense about visitations or messages from the dead. . . .  But
the lack of VISIBLE proofs enabled his imagination to picture
Reggie as still alive, and going from strength to strength.  He
nursed the fancy till it became as real to him as anything in his
ordinary life. . . .  Reggie was becoming a great man and would
soon be the most famous man in the world, and something of Reggie
went into him and he shared in Reggie's glory.  In March '18 a
partnership began for George Souldern with his dead brother, and
the dead, who in his imagination was alive and triumphant, lifted
him out of the sticky furrow which he had been ploughing since he
left Oxford."

We were all silent except Pugh, who said that he had come across
the same thing in the East--some Rajput prince, I think.

"How did you know this?" Lamancha asked.

"From the diary.  George set down very fully every stage of his new
career.  But I very nearly guessed the truth for myself.  You see,
knowing him as I did, I had to admit a sudden and staggering
change."

"How soon?"

"The week after the news came.  I had been in Paris, and on my
return ran across George in the Travellers' and said the ordinary
banal words of sympathy.  He looked at me queerly, as he thanked
me, and if I had not known how deeply attached the brothers were, I
would have said that he was exhilarated by his loss.  It was almost
as if he had been given a drug to strengthen his arteries.  He
seemed to me suddenly a more substantial fellow, calmer, more at
peace with himself.  He said an odd thing too.  'Old Reggie has got
his chance,' he said, and then, as if pulling himself up, 'I mean,
he had the chance he wanted.'

"In June it was clear that something had happened to George
Souldern.  Do you remember how about that time a wave of dejection
passed over all the Allied countries?  It was partly the mess in
Russia, partly in this country a slight loss of confidence in the
Government, which seemed to have got to loggerheads with the
soldiers, but mainly the 'drag' that comes in all wars.  It was the
same in the American Civil War before Gettysburg.  Foch was marking
time, but he was doing it by retreating pretty fast on the Aisne.
Well, our people needed a little cheering up, and our politicians
tried their hand at it.  There was a debate in Parliament, and far
the best speech was George's.  The rest were mere platitude and
rhetoric, but he came down on the point like a steam-hammer."

"I know," said Lamancha.  "I read it in the Times in a field
hospital in Palestine."

"In his old days nobody would have paid much attention.  He would
have been clever and epigrammatic--sound enough, but 'precious.'
His speech would have read well, if it had been reported, but it
wouldn't have mattered a penn'orth to anybody. . . .  Instead he
said just the wise, simple, stalwart thing that every honest man
had at the back of his head, and he said it with an air which made
everybody sit up.  For the first time in his life he spoke as one
having authority.  The press reported him nearly verbatim, for the
journalists in the Gallery have a very acute sense of popular
values.

"The speech put George, as the phrase goes, on the political map.
The Prime Minister spoke to me about him, and there was some talk
of employing him on a mission which never materialised.  I met him
one day in the street and congratulated him, and I remember that I
was struck by the new vigour in his personality.  He made me come
home with him to tea, and to talk to him was like breathing ozone.
He asked me one or two questions about numbers, and then he gave me
his views on the War.  At the time it was fashionable to think that
no decision would be reached till the next summer, but George
maintained that, if we played our cards right, victory was a
mathematical certainty before Christmas.  He showed a knowledge of
the military situation which would have done credit to any soldier,
and he could express himself, which few soldiers can do.  His
arguments stuck in my head, and I believe I used them in the War
Cabinet.  I left with a very real respect for one whom I had
written off as a failure.

"Well, then came the last battle of the Marne, and Haig's great
advance, and all the drama and confusion of the autumn months.  I
lost sight of George, for I was busy with the peace overtures, and
I don't think I even heard of him again till the new year. . . .
But the diary tells all about those months.  I am giving you the
bones of the story, but I am going to burn the diary, for it is too
intimate for other eyes. . . .  According to it Reggie finished the
War as a blazing hero.  It was all worked out in detail with maps
and diagrams.  He had become a corps commander by August, and in
October he was the chief fighting figure on the British front, the
conduit pipe of Foch's ideas, for he could work out in practice
what the great man saw as a vision.  It sounds crazy, but it was so
convincingly done that I had to rub my eyes and make myself
remember that Reggie was lying in a nameless grave on the Somme and
not a household word in two hemispheres. . . .  George, too, shared
in his glory, but just how was not very clear.  Anyway, the
brothers were in the front of the stage, Reggie the bigger man and
George his civilian adviser and opposite number.  I can see now how
he got his confidence.  He was no longer a struggler, but a made
man; he had arrived, he was proved, the world required him.
Whatever he said or did must be attended to, and, because he
believed this, it was."

Lamancha whistled long and low.  "But how could his mind work, if
he lived among fairy tales?" he asked.

"He didn't," said Sir Arthur.  "He lived very much in the real
world.  But he had all the time his private imaginative preserve,
into which his normal mind did not penetrate.  He drew his
confidence from this preserve, and, having once got it, could carry
it also into the real world."

"Wasn't he intolerably conceited?" someone asked.

"No, for the great man was Reggie and he was only a satellite.  He
was Reggie's prophet, and assured enough on that side, but there
was no personal arrogance.  His dead brother had become, so to
speak, his familiar spirit, his dæmon.  The fact is that George was
less of an egotist than he had ever been before.  His vanity was
burned up in a passion of service.

"I saw him frequently during the first half of '19, and had many
talks with him.  He had been returned to Parliament by a big
majority, but he wasn't much in the public eye.  He didn't like the
way things were going, but at the same time as a good citizen he
declined to make things more difficult for the Government.  The
diary gives his thoughts at that time.  He considered that the
soldiers should have had the chief share in the settlement of the
world--Foch and Haig and Hindenburg--and Reggie.  He held that they
would have made a cleaner and fairer job of it than the kind of
circus that appeared at Versailles.  Perhaps he was right--I can't
be dogmatic, for I was a performer in the circus.

"That, of course, I didn't know till the other day.  But the change
in George Souldern was soon manifest to the whole world.  There was
the Irish business, when he went down to the worst parts of the
South and West, and seemed to be simply asking for a bullet in his
head.  He was half Irish, you know.  He wrote and said quite
frankly that he didn't care a straw whether Ireland was inside or
outside the British Empire, that the only thing which mattered was
that she should find a soul, and that she had a long road to travel
before she got one.  He told her that at present she was one vast
perambulating humbug, and that till she got a little discipline and
sense of realities she would remain on the level of Hayti.  Why
some gunman didn't have a shot at him I can't imagine, except that
such naked candour and courage was a new thing and had to be
respected. . . .  Then there was the Unemployment Commission.  You
remember the majority report--pious generalities and futile
compromises, George's dissenting report made him for a month the
best abused man in Britain, for he was impartially contemptuous of
all sides.  To-day--well, I fancy most of us would agree with
George, and I observe that he is frequently quoted by the Labour
people.

"What struck me about his line of country was that it was like that
of a good soldier's.  He had the same power of seeing simple facts
and of making simple syllogisms, which the clever intellectual--
such as George used to be--invariably misses.  And there was the
soldier's fidelity and sense of service.  George plainly had no axe
to grind.  He had intellectual courage and would back his views as
a general backs his strategy, but he kept always a curious personal
modesty.  I tell you it seemed nothing short of a miracle to one
who had known him in the old days.

"I accepted it as the act of God and didn't look for any further
explanation.  I think that what first set me questioning was his
behaviour about Reggie's memorial.  The family wanted a stone put
up in the churchyard of the family place in Gloucestershire.
George absolutely declined.  He stuck his toes into the ground and
gave nothing but a flat refusal.  One might have thought that the
brothers had been estranged, but it was common knowledge that they
had been like twins and had written to each other every day.

"Then there was the business about a memoir of Reggie.  The
regiment wanted one, and his Staff College contemporaries.
Tollett--you remember him, the man on the Third Army Staff--
volunteered to write it, of course with George's assistance.
George refused bluntly and said that he felt the strongest distaste
for the proposal.  Tollett came to me about it, and I had George to
luncheon and thrashed it out with him.  I found his reasons very
difficult to follow, for he objected even to a regimental history
being compiled.  He admitted that Tollett was as good a man as
could be found for the job, but he said he hated the idea.  Nobody
understood Reggie but himself.  Someday, he suggested, he might try
to do justice to him in print--but not yet.  I put forward all the
arguments I could think of, but George was adamant.

"Walking home, I puzzled a good deal about the affair.  It couldn't
be merely the jealousy of a writer who wanted to reserve a good
subject for himself--that wasn't George's character, and he had no
literary vanity.  Besides, that wouldn't explain his aversion to a
prosaic regimental chronicle, and still less his objection to the
cenotaph in the Gloucestershire churchyard.  I wondered if there
was not some quirk in George, some odd obsession about his brother.
For a moment I thought that he might have been dabbling in
spiritualism and have got some message from Reggie, till I
remembered that I had heard him a week before declare his unbridled
contempt for such mumbo-jumbo.

"I thought a good deal about it, and the guess I made was that
George was living a double life--that in his subconsciousness
Reggie was still alive for him.  It was only a guess, but it was
fairly near the truth, and last year I had it from his own lips.

"We were duck-shooting together on Croftsmoor, the big marsh near
his home.  That had been Reggie's pet game; he used to be out at
all hours in the winter dawns and dusks stalking wildfowl.  George
never cared for it, or indeed for any field sport.  He would take
his place at a covert shoot or a grouse drive and was useful enough
with a gun, but he would have been the first to disclaim the title
of sportsman.  But now he was as keen and tireless as Reggie.  He
kept me out for eight hours in a filthy day of rain wading in
trench boots in Gloucestershire mud.

"We did fairly well, and just before sunset the weather improved.
The wind had gone into the north, and promised frost, and as we sat
on an old broken-backed stone bridge over one of the dykes, waiting
for the birds to be collected from the different stands, the
western sky was one broad band of palest gold.  We were both tired,
and the sudden change from blustering rain to a cold stillness, and
from grey mist to colour and light, had a strange effect upon my
spirits.  I felt peaceful and solemnised.  I lit a pipe, but let it
go out, for my attention was held by the shoreless ocean in the
west, against which the scarp of the Welsh hills showed in a dim
silhouette.  The sharp air, the wild marsh scents, the faint odour
of tobacco awoke in me a thousand half-sad and half-sweet
recollections.

"I couldn't help it.  I said something about Reggie.

"George was sitting on the bridge with his eyes fixed on the sky.
I thought he hadn't heard me, till suddenly he repeated 'Reggie.
Yes, old Reggie.'

"'This was what he loved,' I said.

"'He still loves it,' was the answer, spoken very low.  And then he
repeated--to himself as it were:


     "'Fight on, fight on,' said Sir Andrew Barton.
      'Though I be wounded I am not slain.
       I'll lay me down and bleed awhile
       And then I'll rise and fight again.'"


"He turned his fine-drawn face to me.

"'You think Reggie is dead?'

"I didn't know what to say.  'Yes,' I stammered, 'I suppose--'

"'What do you mean by death?'  His voice was almost shrill.  'We
know nothing about it.  What does it matter if the body is buried
in a shell-hole--?'

"He stopped suddenly, as a lamp goes out when you press the switch.
I had the impression that those queer shrill words came not from
George but from some other who had joined us.

"'I believe that the spirit is immortal,' I began.

"'The spirit--' again the shrill impersonal voice--'I tell you the
whole man lives. . . .  He is nearer to me than he ever was . . .
we are never parted. . . .'

"Again the light went out.  He seemed to gulp, and when he spoke it
was in his natural tones.

"'I apologise,' he said, 'I must seem to you to be talking
nonsense. . . .  You don't understand.  YOU would understand, if
anyone could, but I can't explain--yet--someday. . . .'

"The head-keeper, the beaters and the dogs came out of the reed
beds, and at the same time the uncanny glow in the west was
shrouded with the film of the coming night.  It was almost dark
when we turned to walk home, and I was glad of it, for neither of
us wished to look at the other's face.

"I felt at once embarrassed and enlightened.  I had been given a
glimpse into the cloudy places of a man's soul, and had surprised
his secret.  My guess had been right.  In George's subconscious
mind Reggie was still alive--nay more, was progressing in
achievement as if he had never disappeared in the March battle.  It
was no question of a disembodied spirit establishing communication
with the living--that was a business I knew nothing about, nor
George either.  It was a question of life, complete life, in a
peculiar world, companionship in some spiritual fourth dimension,
and from that companionship he was drawing sustenance.  He had
learned Reggie's forthrightness and his happy simplicity. . . .  I
wondered and I trembled.  There is a story of an early Victorian
statesman who in his leisure moments played at being Emperor of
Byzantium.  The old Whig kept the two things strictly separate--he
was a pious humanitarian in his English life, though he was a
ruthless conqueror in the other.  But in George's case the two were
mingling.  He was going about his daily duties with the power
acquired from his secret world; that secret world, in which, with
Reggie, he had become a master, was giving him a mastery over our
common life. . . .  I did not believe it would last.  It was
against nature that a man could continue to live as a parasite on
the dead.

"I am almost at the end of my story.  Two months later, George
became a figure of national importance.  It was he who chiefly
broke up the Coalition at the Grafton House meeting, and thereby, I
suppose, saved his party.  His speech, you remember, clove through
subtleties and irrelevances with the simple declaration that he
could not work with what he could not trust, and, unless things
changed, must go out of public life.  That was Reggie's manner, you
know--pure Reggie.  Then came the general election and the new
Government, and George, very much to people's surprise, refused
Cabinet office.  The reason he gave was that on grounds of
principle he had taken a chief part in wrecking the late Ministry,
and he felt he could not allow himself to benefit personally by his
action.  We all thought him high-minded, if finical and quixotic,
but the ordinary man liked it--it was a welcome change from the old
gang of arrivistes.  But it was not the real reason.  I found that
in the diary."

Sir Arthur stopped, and there was a silence while he seemed to be
fumbling for words.

"Here we are walking on the edge of great mysteries," he continued.
"The reason why he refused the Prime Minister's offer was
Reggie. . . .  Somehow the vital force in that subconscious world
of his was ebbing. . . .  I cannot explain how, but Reggie was
moving away from what we call realities and was beckoning him to
follow. . . .  The Grafton House speech was George's last public
utterance.  Few people saw him after that, for he rarely attended
the House.  I saw him several times in Gloucestershire. . . .  Was
he happy?  Yes, I should say utterly happy, but too detached, too
peaceful, as if he had done with the cares of this world. . . .  I
think I guessed what was happening, when he told me that he had
consented to the cenotaph in the churchyard.  He took a good deal
of pains about it, too, and chose an inscription, which his maiden
aunts thought irreligious.  It was Virgil's 'Tendebant manus ripæ
ulterioris amore.' . . .  He withdrew his objection to the memoir,
too, and Tollett got to work, but he gave him no help--it was as if
he had lost interest. . . .  It is an odd thing to say, but I have
been waiting for the news which was in last week's paper."

"You don't mean that he engineered the motor smash?" Lamancha
asked.

"Oh no," said Sir Arthur gently.  "As I said, we are treading on
the brink of great mysteries.  Say that it was predestined, fore-
ordained, decreed by the Master of Assembly. . . .  I know that it
had to be.  If you join hands with the dead they will pull you over
the stream."



XI


THE LAST CRUSADE

FRANCIS MARTENDALE'S STORY


It is often impossible, in these political inquiries, to find any
proportion between the apparent force of any moral causes we may
assign, and their known operation.  We are therefore obliged to
deliver up that operation to mere chance; or, more piously (perhaps
more rationally), to the occasional interposition and the
irresistible hand of the Great Disposer.

Burke.


One evening the talk at dinner turned on the Press.  Lamancha was
of opinion that the performances of certain popular newspapers in
recent years had killed the old power of the anonymous printed
word.  "They bluffed too high," he said, "and they had their bluff
called.  All the Delphic oracle business has gone from them.  You
haven't to-day what you used to have--papers from which the
ordinary man docilely imbibes all his views.  There may be one or
two still, but not more."

Sandy Arbuthnot, who disliked journalism as much as he liked
journalists, agreed, but there was a good deal of difference of
opinion among the others.  Pallister-Yeates thought that the Press
had more influence than ever, though it might not be much liked; a
man, he said, no longer felt the kind of loyalty towards his
newspaper that he felt towards his club and his special brand of
cigar, but he was mightily influenced by it all the same.  He might
read it only for its news, but in the selection of news a paper
could wield an uncanny power.

Francis Martendale was the only journalist among us, and he
listened with half-closed sleepy eyes.  He had been a war
correspondent as far back as the days of the South African War, and
since then had seen every serious row on the face of the globe.  In
France he had risen to command a territorial battalion, and that
seemed to have satisfied his military interest, for since 1919 he
had turned his mind to business.  He was part-owner of several
provincial papers, and was connected in some way with the great
Ladas news agency.  He had several characters which he kept rigidly
separate.  One was a philosopher, for he had translated Henri
Poincaré, and published an acute little study of Bergson; another
was a yachtsman, and he used to race regularly in the twelve-metre
class at Cowes.  But these were his relaxations, and five days in
the week he spent in an office in the Fleet Street neighbourhood.
He was an enthusiast about his hobbies and a cynic about his
profession, a not uncommon mixture; so we were surprised when he
differed from Lamancha and Sandy and agreed with Palliser-Yeates.

"No doubt the power of the leader-writer has waned," he said.  "A
paper cannot set a Cabinet trembling because it doesn't like its
policy.  But it can colour the public mind most damnably by a
steady drip of tendencious news."

"Lies?" Sandy asked.

"Not lies--truths judiciously selected--half-truths with no
context.  Facts--facts all the time.  In these days the Press is
obliged to stick to facts.  But it can make facts into NEWS, which
is a very different class of goods.  And it can interpret facts--
don't forget that.  It can report that Burminster fell asleep at a
public dinner--which he did--in such a way as to make everybody
think that he was drunk--which he wasn't."

"Rather a dirty game?" someone put in.

"Sometimes--often perhaps.  But now and then it works out on the
side of the angels.  Do any of you know Roper Willinck?"

There was a general confession of ignorance.

"Pity.  He would scarcely fit in here, but he is rather a great man
and superbly good company.  There was a little thing that Willinck
once did--or rather helped to do, with about a million other people
who hadn't a notion what was happening.  That's the fun of
journalism.  You light a match and fling it away, and the fire goes
smouldering round the globe, and ten thousand miles off burns down
a city.  I'll tell you about it if you like, for it rather proves
my point."



It all began--said Martendale--with an old Wesleyan parson of the
name of Tubb, who lived at a place called Rhenosterspruit on the
east side of the Karroo.  He had been a missionary, but the place
had grown from a small native reserve to an ordinary up-country
dorp; the natives were all Christians now, and he had a
congregation of store-keepers, and one or two English farmers, and
the landlady of the hotel, and the workmen from an adjacent
irrigation dam.  Mr. Tubb was a man of over seventy, a devoted
pastor with a gift of revivalist eloquence, but not generally
considered very strong in the head.  He was also a bachelor.  He
had caught a chill and had been a week in bed, but he rose on the
Sunday morning to conduct service as usual.

Now about that time the Russian Government had been rather
distinguishing themselves.  They had had a great function at
Easter, run by what they called the Living Church, which had taken
the shape of a blasphemous parody of the Christian rites and a
procession of howling dervishes who proclaimed that God was dead
and Heaven and Hell wound up.  Also they had got hold of a
Patriarch, a most respected Patriarch, put him on trial for high
treason, and condemned him to death.  They had postponed the
execution, partly by way of a refinement of cruelty, and partly, I
suppose, to see just how the world would react; but there seemed
not the slightest reason to doubt that they meant to have the old
man's blood.  There was a great outcry, and the Archbishop of
Canterbury and the Pope had something to say, and various
Governments made official representations, but the Bolshies didn't
give a hoot.  They felt that they needed to indulge in some little
bit of extra blackguardism just to show what stout fellows they
were.

Well, all this was in the cables from Riga and Warsaw and
Helsingfors, and it got into the weekly edition of the Cape Times.
There Mr. Tubb read it, as he lay sick in bed, and, having nothing
else to worry about, it fretted him terribly.  He could not bear to
think of those obscene orgies in Moscow, and the story of the
Patriarch made him frantic.  This, it seemed to him, was a worse
persecution than Nero's or Diocletian's, and the Patriarch was a
nobler figure than any martyr of the Roman amphitheatre; and all
the while the Christian peoples of the world were doing nothing.
So Mr. Tubb got out of bed on that Sunday morning, and, having had
no time to prepare a sermon, delivered his soul from the pulpit
about the Bolshies and their doings.  He said that what was needed
was a new crusade, and he called on every Christian man and woman
to devote their prayers, their money, and, if necessary, their
blood to this supreme cause.  Old as he was, he said, he would
gladly set off for Moscow that instant and die beside the
Patriarch, and count his life well lost in such a testimony of his
faith.

I am sure that Mr. Tubb meant every word he said, but he had an
unsympathetic audience, who were not interested in Patriarchs; and
the hotel-lady slumbered, and the store-keepers fidgeted and the
girls giggled and whispered just as usual.  There the matter would
have dropped, had not a young journalist from Cape Town been
spending his holidays at Rhenosterspruit and out of some caprice
been present at the service.  He was an ambitious lad, and next
morning despatched to his paper a brightly written account of Mr.
Tubb's challenge.  He wrote it with his tongue in his cheek, and
headed it, "Peter the Hermit at Rhenosterspruit" with, as a sub-
title, "The Last Crusade."  His editor cut it savagely, and left
out all his satirical touches, so that it read rather bald and
crude.  Still it got about a quarter of a column.

That week the Ladas representative at Cape Town was rather short of
material, and just to fill up his budget of outgoing news put in a
short message about Rhenosterspruit.  It ran:  "On Sunday Tubb
Wesleyan Minister Rhenosterspruit summoned congregation in name
Christianity release Patriarch and announced intention personally
lead crusade Moscow."  That was the result of the cutting of the
bright young correspondent's article.  What he had meant as fantasy
and farce was so summarised as to appear naked fact.  Ladas in
London were none too well pleased with the message.  They did not
issue it to the British Press, and they cabled to their Cape Town
people that, while they welcomed "human interest" stories, they
drew the line at that sort of thing.  What could it matter to the
world what a Wesleyan parson in the Karroo thought about Zinovieff?
They wanted news, not nonsense.

Now behold the mysterious workings of the Comic Spirit.  Ladas,
besides their general service to the Canadian Press, made special
services to several Canadian papers.  One of these was called,
shall we say? the Toronto Watchman.  The member of the Ladas staff
who had the compiling of the Watchman budget was often hard-
pressed, for he had to send news which was not included in the
general service.  That week he was peculiarly up against it, so he
went through the files of the messages that had come in lately and
had not already been transmitted to Canada, and in the Cape Town
section he found the Rhenosterspruit yarn.  He seized on it
joyfully, for he did not know of the disfavour with which his chief
had regarded it, and he dressed it up nicely for Toronto.  The
Watchman he knew was a family paper, with a strong religious
connection, and this would be meat and drink to it.  So he made the
story still more matter-of-fact.  Mr. Tubb had sounded a call to
the Christian Church, and was himself on the eve of setting out
against Trotsky like David against Goliath.  He left the captions
to the Toronto sub-editors, but of his own initiative he mentioned
John Knox.  That, he reflected comfortably, as he closed up and
went off to play golf, would fetch the Presbyterian-minded
Watchman.

It did.  The Editor of the Watchman, who was an elder of the
Kirk and a Liberal Member of Parliament, had been getting very
anxious about the ongoings in Russia.  He was not very clear
what a Patriarch was, but he remembered that various Anglican
ecclesiastics had wanted to affiliate the English and Greek
Churches, so he concluded that he was some kind of Protestant.  He
had, like most people, an intense dislike of Moscow and its ways,
and he had been deeply shocked by the Easter sacrilege.  So he went
large on the Ladas message.  It was displayed on his chief page,
side by side with all the news he could collect about the
Patriarch, and he had no less than two leaders on the subject.  The
first, which he wrote himself, was headed "The Weak Things of the
World and the Strong."  He said that Mr. Tubb's clarion-call, "the
voice of a simple man of God echoing from the lonely veld," might
yet prove a turning-point in history, and he quoted Burke about a
child and a girl at an inn changing the fate of nations.  It might--
it should--arouse the conscience of the Christian world, and
inaugurate a new crusade, which would lift mankind out of the rut
of materialism and open its eyes to the eternal verities.
Christianity had been challenged by the miscreants in Russia, and
the challenge must be met.  I don't think he had any very clear
idea what he meant, for he was strongly opposed to anything that
suggested war, but it was a fine chance for "uplift" writing.  The
second leader was called "The Deeper Obligations of Empire," and,
with a side glance at Mr. Tubb, declared that unless the British
Empire was a spiritual and moral unity it was not worth talking
about.

The rest of the Canadian Press did not touch the subject.  They had
not had the Rhenosterspruit message, and were not going to lift it.
But the Watchman had a big circulation, and Mr. Tubb began to have
a high, if strictly local, repute.  Several prominent clergymen
preached sermons on him, and a weekly paper printed a poem in which
he was compared to St. Theresa and Joan of Arc.

The thing would have been forgotten in a fortnight, if McGurks had
not chosen to take a hand.  McGurks, as you probably know, is the
biggest newspaper property in the world directed by a single hand.
It owns outright well over a hundred papers, and has a controlling
interest in perhaps a thousand.  Its tone is strictly national, not
to say chauvinistic; its young men in Europe at that time were all
hundred-per-cent. Americans, and returned to the States a hundred
and twenty per cent., to allow for the difference in the exchange.
McGurks does not love England, for it began with strong Irish
connections, and it has done good work in pointing out to its
immense public the predatory character of British Imperialism and
the atrocities that fill the shining hours in India and Egypt.  As
a matter of fact, however, its politics are not very serious.  What
it likes is a story that can be told in thick black headlines, so
that the stupidest of its free-born readers, glancing in his shirt-
sleeves at the first page of his Sunday paper, can extract
nourishment.  Murders, rapes, fires and drownings are its daily
bread, and it fairly revels in details--measurements and plans,
names and addresses of witnesses, and appalling half-tone blocks.
Most unfairly it is called sensational, for the stuff is as dull as
a directory.

With regard to Russia, McGurks had steered a wavy course.  It had
begun in 1917 by flaunting the banner of freedom, for it disliked
all monarchies on principle.  In 1919 it wanted America to
recognise the Russian Government, and take hold of Russian trade.
But a series of rebuffs to its special correspondents changed its
view, and by 1922 it had made a speciality of Bolshevik horrors.
The year 1923 saw it again on the fence, from which in six months
it had tumbled off in a state of anti-Bolshevik hysteria.  It was
out now to save God's country from foreign microbes, and it ran a
good special line of experts who proved that what America needed
was a cordon sanitaire to protect her purity from a diseased world.
At the time of which I speak it had worked itself up into a fine
religious enthusiasm, and had pretty well captured the "hick"
public.  McGurks was first and foremost a business proposition, and
it had decided that crime and piety were the horses to back.  I
should add that, besides its papers, it ran a news agency, the
P.U., which stood for Press Union, but which was commonly and
affectionately known as Punk.

McGurks seized upon the story in the Toronto Watchman as a gift
from the gods, and its headlines were a joy for ever.  All over the
States men read "Aged Saint Defies Demoniacs--Says That In God's
Name He Will Move Mountains"--"Vengeance From The Veld"--"The First
Trumpet Blast"--"Who Is On The Lord's Side--WHO?"  I daresay that
in the East and beyond the Rockies people were only mildly
interested, but in the Middle West and in the South the thing
caught like measles.  McGurks did not leave its stunts to perish of
inanition.  As soon as it saw that the public was intrigued it
started out to organise that interest.  It circularised every
parson over big areas, it arranged meetings of protest and
sympathy, it opened subscription lists, and, though it refrained
from suggesting Government action, it made it clear that it wanted
to create such a popular feeling that the Government would be bound
to bestir itself.  The home towns caught fire, the Bible Belt was
moved to its foundations, every Methodist minister rallied to his
co-religionist of Rhenosterspruit, the Sunday Schools uplifted
their voice, and even the red-blooded he-men of the Rotary Clubs
got going.  The Holiness Tabernacle of Sarcophagus, Neb., produced
twenty volunteers who were ready to join Mr. Tubb in Moscow, and
the women started knitting socks for them, just as they did in the
War.  The First Consecration Church of Jumpersville, Tenn.,
followed suit, and McGurks made the most of the doings of every
chapel in every one-horse township.  Punk, too, was busy, and
cabled wonderful stories of the new crusade up and down the earth.
Old-established papers did not as a rule take the Punk service, so
only a part of it was printed, but it all helped to create an
atmosphere.

Presently Concord had to take notice.  This, as you know, is the
foremost American press agency--we call it the C.C.--and it had no
more dealings with Punk than the Jews with the Samaritans.  It was
in close alliance with Ladas, so it cabled testily wanting to know
why it had not received the Rhenosterspruit message.  Ladas replied
that they had considered the story too absurd to waste tolls on,
but, since the C.C. was now carrying a lot of stuff about the new
crusade, they felt obliged to cable to Cape Town to clear things
up.  Punk had already got on to that job, and was asking its
correspondents for pictures of Rhenosterspruit, interviews with the
Reverend Tubb, details about what he wore and ate and drank, news
of his mother and his childhood, and his premonitions of future
greatness.  Half a dozen anxious journalists converged upon
Rhenosterspruit.

But they were too late.  For Mr. Tubb was dead--choked on a
chicken-bone at his last Sunday dinner.  They were only in time to
attend the funeral in the little, dusty, sun-baked cemetery.  Very
little was to be had from his congregation, which, as I have said,
had been mostly asleep during the famous sermon; but a store-keeper
remembered that the minister had not been quite like himself on
that occasion and that he had judged from his eyes that he had
still a bad cold.  McGurks made a great fuss with this scrap of
news.  The death of Mr. Tubb was featured like the demise of a
President or a film star, and there was a moving picture of the old
man, conscious that he was near his end (the chicken-bone was never
mentioned), summoning his failing strength to one supreme appeal--
"his eyes," said McGurks, "now wet with tears for the world's sins,
now shining with the reflected radiance of the Better Country."

I fancy that the thing would have suddenly died away, for there was
a big prize-fight coming on, and there seemed to be a risk of the
acquittal of a nigger who had knifed a bootlegger in Chicago, and
an Anti-Kink Queen was on the point of engaging herself to a
Dentifrice King, and similar stirring public events were in the
offing.  But the death of Mr. Tubb kept up the excitement, for it
brought in the big guns of the Fundamentalists.  It seemed to them
that the old man had not died but had been miraculously translated,
just like Elijah or William Jennings Bryan after the Dayton trial.
It was a Sign, and they were bound to consider what it signified.

This was much heavier metal than the faithful of Sarcophagus and
Jumpersville.  The agitation was now of national importance; it had
attained "normalcy," as you might say, the "normalcy" of the
periodic American movement.  Conventions were summoned and
addressed by divines whose names were known even in New York.
Senators and congressmen took a hand, and J. Constantine Buttrick,
the silver trumpet of Wisconsin, gave tongue, and was heard by
several million wireless outfits.  Articles even appeared about it
in the intellectual weeklies.  Congress wasn't in session, which
was fortunate, but Washington began to be uneasy, for volunteers
for the crusade were enrolling fast.  The C.C. was compelled to
carry long despatches, and Ladas had to issue them to the English
Press, which usually printed them in obscure corners with the names
misspelt.  England is always apathetic about American news, and,
besides, she had a big strike on her hands at the time.  Those of
us who get American press-clippings realised that quite a drive was
starting to do something to make Moscow respectful to religion, but
we believed that it would be dropped before any serious action
could be taken.  Meanwhile Zinovieff and Trotsky carried on as
usual, and we expected any day to hear that the Patriarch had been
shot and buried in the prison yard.

Suddenly Fate sent Roper Willinck mooning round to my office.  I
suppose Willinck is the least known of our great men, for you
fellows have never even heard his name.  But he IS a great man in
his queer way, and I believe his voice carries farther than any
living journalist's, though most people do not know who is
speaking.  He doesn't write much in the Press here, only now and
then a paper in the heavy monthlies, but he is the prince of
special correspondents, and his "London Letters" in every known
tongue are printed from Auckland to Seattle.  He seems to have
found the common denominator of style which is calculated to
interest the whole human family.  On the Continent he is the only
English journalist whose name is known to the ordinary reader--
rather like Maximilian Harden before the War.  In America they
reckon him a sort of Pope, and his stuff is syndicated in all the
country papers.  His enthusiasms make a funny hotch-potch--the
League of Nations and the British Empire, racial purism and a
sentimental socialism; but he is a devout Catholic, and Russia had
become altogether too much for him.  That was why I thought he
would be interested in McGurks' stunt, of which he had scarcely
heard; so he sat down in an armchair and, during the consumption of
five caporal cigarettes, studied my clippings.

I have never seen a man so roused.  "I see light," he cried,
pushing his double glasses up on his forehead.  "Martendale, this
is a revelation.  Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. . . .
Master Ridley, Master Ridley, we shall this day kindle a fire which
will never be extinguished. . . ."

"Nonsense," I said.  "The thing will fizzle out in a solemn protest
from Washington to Moscow with which old Trotsky will light his
pipe.  It has got into the hands of the highbrows, and in a week
will be clothed in the jargon of the State Department, and the home
towns will wonder what has been biting them."

"We must retrieve it," he said softly.  "Get it back to the village
green and the prayer-meeting.  It was the prayer-meeting, remember,
which brought America into the War."

"But how?  McGurks has worked that beat to death."

"McGurks!" he cried contemptuously.  "The time is past for slobber,
my son.  What they want is the prophetic, the apocalyptic, and by
the bones of Habbakuk they shall have it.  I am going to solemnise
the remotest parts of the great Republic, and then," he smiled
serenely, "I shall interpret that solemnity to the world.  First
the fact and then the moral--that's the lay-out."

He stuffed my clippings into his pocket and took himself off, and
there was that in his eye which foreboded trouble.  Someone was
going to have to sit up when Willinck looked like that.  My hope
was that it would be Moscow, but the time was getting terribly
short.  Any day might bring the news that the Patriarch had gone to
his reward.

I heard nothing for several weeks, and then Punk suddenly became
active, and carried some extraordinary stuff.  It was mostly
extracts from respectable papers in the Middle West and the South,
reports of meetings which seemed to have worked themselves into
hysteria, and rumours of secret gatherings of young men which
suggested the Klu-Klux-Klan.  Moscow had a Press agency of its own
in London, and it began to worry Ladas for more American news.
Ladas in turn worried the C.C., but the C.C. was reticent.  There
was a Movement, we were told, but the Government had it well in
hand, and we might disregard the scare-stuff Punk was sending;
everything that was important and reliable would be in its own
service.  I thought I detected Willinck somewhere behind the
scenes, and tried to get hold of him, but learned that he was out
of town.

One afternoon, however, he dropped in, and I noticed that his high-
boned face was leaner than ever, but that his cavernous eyes were
happy.  "'The good work goes cannily on,'" he said--he was always
quoting--and he flung at me a bundle of green clippings.

They were articles of his own in the American Press, chiefly the
Sunday editions, and I noticed that he had selected the really
influential country papers--one in Tennessee, one in Kentucky, and
a batch from the Corn States.

I was staggered by the power of his stuff--Willinck had never to my
knowledge written like this before.  He didn't rave about Bolshevik
crimes--people were sick of that--and he didn't bang the religious
drum or thump the harmonium.  McGurks had already done that to
satiety.  He quietly took it for granted that the crusade had
begun, and that plain men all over the earth, who weren't looking
for trouble, felt obliged to start out and abolish an infamy or
never sleep peacefully in their beds again.  He assumed that
presently from all corners of the Christian world there would be an
invading army moving towards Moscow, a thing that Governments could
not check, a people's rising as irresistible as the change of the
seasons.  Assuming this, he told them just exactly what they would
see.

I can't do justice to Willinck by merely describing these articles;
I ought to have them here to read to you.  Noble English they were,
and as simple as the Psalms. . . .  He pictured the constitution of
the army, every kind of tongue and dialect and class, with the same
kind of discipline as Cromwell's New Model--Ironsides every one of
them, rational, moderate-minded fanatics, the most dangerous kind.
It was like Paradise Lost--Michael going out against Belial. . . .
And then the description of Russia--a wide grey world, all pale
colours and watery lights, broken villages, tattered little towns
ruled by a few miscreants with rifles, railway tracks red with
rust, ruinous great palaces plastered over with obscene posters,
starving hopeless people, children with old vicious faces. . . .
God knows where he got the stuff from--mainly his macabre
imagination, but I daresay there was a lot of truth in the details,
for he had his own ways of acquiring knowledge.

But the end was the masterpiece.  He said that the true rulers were
not those whose names appeared in the papers, but one or two secret
madmen who sat behind the screen and spun their bloody webs.  He
described the crusaders breaking through shell after shell, like
one of those Chinese boxes which you open only to find another
inside till you end with a thing like a pea.  There were layers of
Jew officials and Lett mercenaries and camouflaging journalists,
and always as you went deeper the thing became more inhuman and the
air more fetid.  At the end you had the demented Mongol--that was a
good touch for the Middle West--the incarnation of the back-world
of the Orient.  Willinck only hinted at this ultimate camarilla,
but his hints were gruesome.  To one of them he gave the name of
Uriel--a kind of worm-eaten archangel of the Pit, but the worst he
called Glubet.  He must have got the word out of a passage in
Catullus which is not read in schools, and he made a shuddering
thing of it--the rancid toad-man, living among half-lights and
blood, adroit and sleepless as sin, but cracking now and then into
idiot laughter.

You may imagine how this took hold of the Bible Belt.  I never made
out what exactly happened, but I have no doubt that there were the
rudiments of one of those mass movements, before which Governments
and newspapers, combines and Press agencies, Wall Street and
Lombard Street and common prudence are helpless.  You could see it
in the messages C.C. sent and its agitated service cables to its
people.  The Moscow Agency sat on our doorstep and bleated for more
news, and all the while Punk was ladling out firewater to every
paper that would take it.

"So much for the facts," Willinck said calmly.  "Now I proceed to
point the moral in the proper quarters!"

If he was good at kindling a fire he was better at explaining just
how hot it was and how fast it would spread.  I have told you that
he was about the only English journalist with a Continental
reputation.  Well, he proceeded to exploit that reputation in
selected papers which he knew would cross the Russian frontier.  He
was busy in the Finnish and Latvian and Lithuanian Press, he
appeared in the chief Polish daily, and in Germany his stuff was
printed in one big Berlin paper and--curiously enough--in the whole
financial chain.  Willinck knew just how and where to strike.  The
line he took was very simple.  He quietly explained what was
happening in America and the British Dominions--that the outraged
conscience of Christendom had awakened among simple folk, and that
nothing on earth could hold it.  It was a Puritan crusade, the most
deadly kind.  From every corner of the globe believers were about
to assemble, ready to sacrifice themselves to root out an infamy.
This was none of your Denikins and Koltchaks and Czarist emigré
affairs; it was the world's Christian democracy, and a business
democracy.  No flag-waving or shouting, just a cold steady
determination to get the job done, with ample money and men and an
utter carelessness of what they spent on both.  Cautious
Governments might try to obstruct, but the people would compel them
to toe the line.  It was a militant League of Nations, with the
Bible in one hand and the latest brand of munition in the other.

We had a feverish time at Ladas in those days.  The British Press
was too much occupied with the strike to pay full attention, but
the Press of every other country was on its hind legs.  Presently
things began to happen.  The extracts from Pravda and Izvestia,
which we got from Riga and Warsaw, became every day more like the
howling of epileptic wolves.  Then came the news that Moscow had
ordered a very substantial addition to the Red Army.  I telephoned
this item to Willinck, and he came round to see me.

"The wind is rising," he said.  "The fear of the Lord is descending
on the tribes, and that we know is the beginning of wisdom."

I observed that Moscow had certainly got the wind up, but that I
didn't see why.  "You don't mean to say that you have got them to
believe in your precious crusade."

He nodded cheerfully.  "Why not?  My dear Martendale, you haven't
studied the mentality of these gentry as I have.  Do you realise
that the favourite reading of the Russian peasant used to be
Milton?  Before the War you could buy a translation of Paradise
Lost at every book kiosk in every country fair.  These rootless
intellectuals have cast off all they could, but at the back of
their heads the peasant superstition remains.  They are afraid in
their bones of a spirit that they think is in Puritanism.  That's
why this American business worries them so.  They think they are a
match for Rome, and they wouldn't have minded if the racket had
been started by the Knights of Columbus or that kind of show.  But
they think it comes from the meeting-house, and that scares them
cold."

"Hang it all," I said, "they must know the soft thing modern
Puritanism is--all slushy hymns and inspirational advertising."

"Happily they don't.  And I'm not sure that their ignorance is not
wiser than your knowledge, my emancipated friend.  I'm inclined to
think that something may yet come out of the Bible Christian that
will surprise the world. . . .  But not this time.  I fancy the
trick has been done.  You might let me know as soon as you hear
anything."  And he moved off, whistling contentedly through his
teeth.



He was right.  Three days later we got the news from Warsaw, and
the Moscow Agency confirmed it.  The Patriarch had been released
and sent across the frontier, and was now being coddled and fêted
in Poland.  I rang up Willinck, and listened to his modest Nunc
dimittis over the telephone.

He said he was going to take a holiday and go into the country to
sleep.  He pointed out for my edification that the weak things of
the world--meaning himself--could still confound the strong, and he
advised me to reconsider the foundations of my creed in the light
of this surprising miracle.



Well, that is my story.  We heard no more of the crusade in
America, except that the Fundamentalists seemed to have got a
second wind from it and started a large-scale heresy hunt.  Several
English bishops said that the release of the Patriarch was an
answer to prayer; our Press pointed out how civilisation, if it
spoke with one voice, would be listened to even in Russia; and
Labour papers took occasion to enlarge on the fundamental
reasonableness and urbanity of the Moscow Government.

Personally I think that Willinck drew the right moral.  But the
main credit really belonged to something a great deal weaker than
he--the aged Tubb, now sleeping under a painted cast-iron
gravestone among the dust-devils and meerkats of Rhenosterspruit.



XII


FULLCIRCLE

MARTIN PECKWETHER'S STORY


Between the Windrush and the Colne
I found a little house of stone--
A little wicked house of stone.


Peckwether, the historian, whose turn for story-telling came at our
last dinner before the summer interregnum, apologised for reading
his narrative.  He was not good, he said, at impromptu composition.
He also congratulated himself on Leithen's absence.  "He comes into
the story, and I should feel rather embarrassed talking about him
to his face.  But he has read my manuscripts and approved it, so
you have two reliable witnesses to a queerish tale."

In his precise academic voice he read what follows.



The October day was brightening towards late afternoon when Leithen
and I climbed the hill above the stream and came in sight of the
house.  All morning a haze with the sheen of pearl in it had lain
on the folds of downland, and the vision of far horizons, which is
the glory of Cotswold, had been veiled, so that every valley seemed
a place enclosed and set apart.  But now a glow had come into the
air, and for a little the autumn lawns had the tints of summer.
The gold of sunshine was warm on the grasses, and only the riot of
colour in the berry-laden edges of the fields and the slender
woodlands told of the failing year.

We were looking into a green cup of the hills, and it was all a
garden.  A little place, bounded by slopes that defined its
graciousness with no hint of barrier, so that a dweller there,
though his view was but half a mile on any side, would yet have the
sense of dwelling on uplands and commanding the world.  Round the
top edge ran an old wall of stones, beyond which the October
bracken flamed to the skyline.  Inside were folds of ancient
pasture with here and there a thorn-bush, falling to rose gardens,
and, on one side, to the smooth sward of a terrace above a tiny
lake.  At the heart of it stood the house, like a jewel well set.
It was a miniature, but by the hand of a master.  The style was
late seventeenth-century, when an agreeable classic convention had
opened up to sunlight and comfort the dark magnificence of the
Tudor fashion.  The place had the spacious air of a great mansion,
and was finished in every detail with a fine scrupulousness.  Only
when the eye measured its proportions with the woods and the
hillside did the mind perceive that it was a small dwelling.  The
stone of Cotswold takes curiously the colour of the weather.  Under
thunder-clouds it will be as dark as basalt; on a grey day it is
grey like lava; but in sunshine it absorbs the sun.  At the moment
the little house was pale gold, like honey.

Leithen swung a long leg across the stile.

"Pretty good, isn't it?" he said.  "It's pure authentic Sir
Christopher Wren.  The name is worthy of it, too.  It is called
Fullcircle."

He told me its story.  It had been built after the Restoration by
the Carteron family, whose wide domains ran into these hills.  The
Lord Carteron of the day was a friend of the Merry Monarch, but it
was not as a sanctuary for orgies that he built the house.  Perhaps
he was tired of the gloomy splendour of Minster Carteron, and
wanted a home of his own and not of his ancestors' choosing.  He
had an elegant taste in letters, as we can learn from his neat
imitations of Martial, his pretty Bucolics, and the more than
respectable Latin hexameters of his Ars Vivendi.  Being a great
nobleman, he had the best skill of the day to construct his
hermitage, and here he would retire for months at a time with like-
minded friends to a world of books and gardens.  He seems to have
had no ill-wishers; contemporary memoirs speak of him charitably,
and Dryden spared him four lines of encomium.  "A selfish old dog,"
Leithen called him.  "He had the good sense to eschew politics and
enjoy life.  His soul is in that little house.  He only did one
rash thing in his career--he anticipated the King, his master, by
some years in turning Papist."

I asked about its later history.

"After his death it passed to a younger branch of the Carterons.
It left them in the eighteenth century, and the Applebys got it.
They were a jovial lot of hunting squires, and let the library go
to the dogs.  Old Colonel Appleby was still alive when I came to
Borrowby.  Something went wrong in his inside when he was nearly
seventy, and the doctors knocked him off liquor.  Not that he drank
too much, though he did himself well.  That finished the poor old
boy.  He told me that it revealed to him the amazing truth that
during a long and, as he hoped, publicly useful life he had never
been quite sober.  He was a good fellow, and I missed him when he
died. . . .  The place went to a remote cousin called Giffen."

Leithen's eyes, as they scanned the prospect, seemed amused.

"Julian and Ursula Giffen. . . .  I daresay you know the names.
They always hunt in couples, and write books about sociology and
advanced ethics and psychics--books called either 'The New This or
That,' or 'Towards Something or Other.'  You know the sort of
thing.  They're deep in all the pseudo-sciences. . . .  Decent
souls, but you can guess the type.  I came across them in a case I
had at the Old Bailey--defending a ruffian who was charged with
murder.  I hadn't a doubt he deserved hanging on twenty counts,
but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him on this one.
Dodderidge was at his worst--it was just before they induced him
to retire--and his handling of the jury was a masterpiece of
misdirection.  Of course there was a shindy.  The thing was a
scandal, and it stirred up all the humanitarians, till the murderer
was almost forgotten in the iniquities of old Dodderidge.  You must
remember the case.  It filled the papers for weeks.  Well, it was
in that connection that I fell in with the Giffens.  I got rather
to like them, and I've been to see them at their house in
Hampstead.  Golly, what a place!  Not a chair fit to sit down on,
and colours that made you want to weep.  I never met people with
heads so full of feathers."

I said something about that being an odd milieu for him.

"Oh, I like human beings--all kinds.  It's my profession to study
them, for without that the practice of the law would be a lean
affair.  There are hordes of people like the Giffens--only not so
good, for they really have hearts of gold.  They are the rootless
stuff in the world to-day--in revolt against everything and
everybody with any ancestry.  A kind of innocent self-righteousness--
wanting to be the people with whom wisdom begins and ends.  They
are mostly sensitive and tender-hearted, but they wear themselves
out in an eternal dissidence.  Can't build, you know, for they
object to all tools, but very ready to crab.  They scorn any form
of Christianity, but they'll walk miles to patronise some wretched
sect that has the merit of being brand-new.  'Pioneers' they call
themselves--funny little unclad people adventuring into the cold
desert with no maps.  Giffen once described himself and his friends
to me as 'forward-looking,' but that, of course, is just what they
are not.  To tackle the future you must have a firm grip of the
past, and for them the past is only a pathological curiosity.
They're up to their necks in the mud of the present. . . .  But
good, after a fashion; and innocent--sordidly innocent.  Fate was
in an ironical mood when she saddled them with that wicked little
house."

"Wicked" did not seem to me to be a fair word.  It sat honey-
coloured among its gardens with the meekness of a dove.  The sound
of a bicycle on the road behind made us turn round, and Leithen
advanced to meet a dismounting rider.

He was a tallish fellow, some forty years old perhaps, with one of
those fluffy blond beards that have never been shaved.  Short-
sighted, of course, and wore glasses.  Biscuit-coloured
knickerbockers and stockings clad his lean limbs.

Leithen introduced me.  "We are walking to Borrowby, and stopped to
admire your house.  Could we have just a glimpse inside?  I want
Peckwether to see the staircase."

Mr. Giffen was very willing.  "I've been over to Clyston to send a
telegram.  We have some friends for the week-end who might interest
you.  Won't you stay to tea?"

There was a gentle formal courtesy about him, and his voice had the
facile intonations of one who loves to talk.  He led us through a
little gate, and along a shorn green walk among the bracken to a
postern which gave entrance to the garden.  Here, though it was
October, there was still a bright show of roses, and the jet of
water from the leaden Cupid dripped noiselessly among fallen
petals.  And then we stood before the doorway, above which the old
Carteron had inscribed a line of Horace.

I have never seen anything quite like the little hall.  There were
two, indeed, separated by a staircase of a wood that looked like
olive.  Both were paved with black and white marble, and the inner
was oval in shape, with a gallery supported on slender walnut
pillars.  It was all in miniature, but it had a spaciousness which
no mere size could give.  Also it seemed to be permeated by the
quintessence of sunlight.  Its air was of long-descended,
confident, equable happiness.

There were voices on the terrace beyond the hall.  Giffen led us
into a room on the left.  "You remember the house in Colonel
Appleby's time, Leithen.  This was the chapel.  It had always been
the chapel.  You see the change we have made. . . .  I beg your
pardon, Mr. Peckwether.  You're not by any chance a Roman
Catholic?"

The room had a white panelling, and on two sides deep windows.  At
one end was a fine Italian shrine of marble, and the floor was
mosaic, blue and white, in a quaint Byzantine pattern.  There was
the same air of sunny cheerfulness as in the rest of the house.  No
mystery could find a lodgment here.  It might have been a chapel
for three centuries, but the place was pagan.  The Giffens' changes
were no sort of desecration.  A green-baize table filled most of
the floor, surrounded by chairs like a committee room.  On new raw-
wood shelves were files of papers and stacks of blue-books and
those desiccated works into which reformers of society torture the
English tongue.  Two typewriters stood on a side-table.

"It is our workroom," Giffen explained, "where we hold our Sunday
moots.  Ursula thinks that a week-end is wasted unless it produces
some piece of real work.  Often a quite valuable committee has its
beginning here.  We try to make our home a refuge for busy workers,
where they need not idle but can work under happy conditions."

"'A college situate in a clearer air,'" Leithen quoted.  But Giffen
did not respond except with a smile; he had probably never heard of
Lord Falkland.

A woman entered the room, a woman who might have been pretty if she
had taken a little pains.  Her reddish hair was drawn tightly back
and dressed in a hard knot, and her clothes were horribly
incongruous in a remote manor-house.  She had bright eager eyes,
like a bird, and hands that fluttered nervously.  She greeted
Leithen with warmth.

"We have settled down marvellously," she told him.  "Julian and I
feel as if we had always lived here, and our life has arranged
itself so perfectly.  My Mothers' Cottages in the village will soon
be ready, and the Club is to be opened next week.  Julian and I
will carry on the classes ourselves for the first winter.  Next
year we hope to have a really fine programme. . . .  And then it is
so pleasant to be able to entertain one's friends. . . .  Won't you
stay to tea?  Dr. Swope is here, and Mary Elliston, and Mr. Percy
Blaker--you know, the Member of Parliament.  Must you hurry off?
I'm so sorry. . . .  What do you think of our workroom?  It was
utterly terrible when we first came here--a sort of decayed chapel,
like a withered tuberose.  We have let the air of heaven into it."

I observed that I had never seen a house so full of space and
light.

"Ah, you notice that?  It is a curiously happy place to live in.
Sometimes I'm almost afraid to feel so light-hearted.  But we look
on ourselves as only trustees.  It is a trust we have to administer
for the common good.  You know, it's a house on which you can lay
your own impress.  I can imagine places which dominate the
dwellers, but Fullcircle is plastic, and we can make it our own
just as much as if we had planned and built it.  That's our chief
piece of good fortune."

We took our leave, for we had no desire for the company of Dr.
Swope and Mr. Percy Blaker.  When we reached the highway we halted
and looked back on the little jewel.  Shafts of the westering sun
now caught the stone and turned the honey to ripe gold.  Thin
spires of amethyst smoke rose into the still air.  I thought of the
well-meaning restless couple inside its walls, and somehow they
seemed out of the picture.  They simply did not matter.  The house
was the thing, for I had never met in inanimate stone such an air
of gentle masterfulness.  It had a personality of its own, clean-
cut and secure, like a high-born old dame among the females of
profiteers.  And Mrs. Giffen claimed to have given it her impress!

That night in the library at Borrowby, Leithen discoursed of the
Restoration.  Borrowby, of which, by the expenditure of much care
and a good deal of money, he had made a civilised dwelling, is a
Tudor manor of the Cotswold type, with high-pitched narrow roofs
and tall stone chimneys, rising sheer from the meadows with
something of the massiveness of a Border keep.  He nodded towards
the linen-fold panelling and the great carven chimney-piece.

"In this kind of house you have the mystery of the elder
England.  What was Raleigh's phrase?  'High thoughts and divine
contemplations.'  The people who built this sort of thing lived
close to another world, and they thought bravely of death.  It
doesn't matter who they were--Crusaders or Elizabethans or
Puritans--they had all poetry in them, and the heroic, and a great
unworldliness.  They had marvellous spirits, and plenty of joys and
triumphs; but they had also their hours of black gloom.  Their
lives were like our weather--storm and sun.  One thing they never
feared--death.  He walked too near them all their days to be a
bogy.

"But the Restoration was a sharp break.  It brought paganism into
England--paganism and the art of life.  No people have ever known
better the secret of a bland happiness.  Look at Fullcircle.  There
are no dark corners there.  The man that built it knew all there
was to be known about how to live. . . .  The trouble was that they
did not know how to die.  That was the one shadow on the glass.  So
they provided for it in the pagan way.  They tried magic.  They
never became true Catholics--they were always pagan to the end, but
they smuggled a priest into their lives.  He was a kind of
insurance premium against unwelcome mystery."



It was not till nearly two years later that I saw the Giffens
again.  The May-fly season was near its close, and I had snatched a
day on a certain limpid Cotswold river.  There was another man on
the same beat, fishing from the opposite bank, and I watched him
with some anxiety, for a duffer would have spoilt my day.  To my
relief I recognised Giffen.  With him it was easy to come to terms,
and presently the water was parcelled out between us.

We foregathered for luncheon, and I stood watching while he neatly
stalked, rose and landed a trout.  I confessed to some surprise--
first that Giffen should be a fisherman at all, for it was not in
keeping with my old notion of him; and second, that he should cast
such a workman-like line.  As we lunched together, I observed
several changes.  He had shaved his fluffy beard, and his face was
notably less lean, and had the clear even sunburn of the
countryman.  His clothes, too, were different.  They also were
workman-like, and looked as if they belonged to him--no more the
uneasy knickerbockers of the Sunday golfer.

"I'm desperately keen," he told me.  "You see it's only my second
May-fly season, and last year I was no better than a beginner.  I
wish I had known long ago what good fun fishing was.  Isn't this a
blessed place?"  And he looked up through the canopy of flowering
chestnuts to the June sky.

"I'm glad you've taken to sport," I said.  "Even if you only come
here for the week-ends, sport lets you into the secrets of the
countryside."

"Oh, we don't go much to London now," was his answer.  "We sold our
Hampstead house a year ago.  I can't think how I ever could stick
that place.  Ursula takes the same view. . . .  I wouldn't leave
Oxfordshire just now for a thousand pounds.  Do you smell the
hawthorn?  Last week this meadow was scented like Paradise.  D'you
know, Leithen's a queer fellow?"

I asked why.

"He once told me that this countryside in June made him sad.  He
said it was too perfect a thing for fallen humanity.  I call that
morbid.  Do you see any sense in it?"

I knew what Leithen meant, but it would have taken too long to
explain.

"I feel warm and good and happy here," he went on.  "I used to talk
about living close to nature.  Rot!  I didn't know what nature
meant.  Now--"  He broke off.  "By Jove, there's a kingfisher.
That is only the second I've seen this year.  They're getting
uncommon with us."

"With us"--I liked the phrase.  He was becoming a true countryman.

We had a good day--not extravagantly successful, but satisfactory,
and he persuaded me to come home with him to Fullcircle for the
night, explaining that I could catch an early train next morning at
the junction.  So we extricated a little two-seater from a thicket
of lilacs, and he drove me through four miles of sweet-scented
dusk, with nightingales shouting in every thicket.  I changed into
a suit of his flannels in a bedroom looking out on the little lake
where trout were rising, and I remember that I whistled from pure
light-heartedness.  In that adorable house one seemed to be still
breathing the air of the spring meadows.

Dinner was my first big surprise.  It was admirable--plain but
perfectly cooked, and with that excellence of basic material which
is the glory of a well-appointed country house.  There was wine
too, which, I am certain, was a new thing.  Giffen gave me a bottle
of sound claret, and afterwards some more than decent port.  My
second surprise was my hostess.  Her clothes, like her husband's,
must have changed, for I did not notice what she was wearing, and I
had noticed it only too clearly the last time we met.  More
remarkable still was the difference in her face.  For the first
time I realised that she was a pretty woman.  The contours had
softened and rounded, and there was a charming well-being in her
eyes very different from the old restlessness.  She looked content--
infinitely content.

I asked about her Mothers' Cottages.  She laughed cheerfully.

"I gave them up after the first year.  They didn't mix well with
the village people.  I'm quite ready to admit my mistake, and it
was the wrong kind of charity.  The Londoners didn't like it--felt
lonesome and sighed for the fried-fish shop; and the village women
were shy of them--afraid of infectious complaints, you know.
Julian and I have decided that our business is to look after our
own people."

It may have been malicious, but I said something about the
wonderful scheme of village education.

"Another relic of Cockneyism," laughed the lady; but Giffen looked
a trifle shy.

"I gave it up because it didn't seem worth while.  What is the use
of spoiling a perfectly wholesome scheme of life by introducing
unnecessary complications?  Medicine is no good unless a man is
sick, and these people are not sick.  Education is the only cure
for certain diseases the modern world has engendered, but if you
don't find the disease the remedy is superfluous.  The fact is, I
hadn't the face to go on with the thing.  I wanted to be taught
rather than to teach.  There's a whole world round me of which I
know very little, and my first business is to get to understand it.
Any village poacher can teach me more of the things that matter
than I have to tell him."

"Besides, we have so much to do," his wife added.  "There's the
house and the garden, and the home-farm and the property.  It isn't
large, but it takes a lot of looking after."

The dining-room was long and low-ceilinged, and had a white
panelling in bold relief.  Through the windows came odours of the
garden and a faint tinkle of water.  The dusk was deepening, and
the engravings in their rosewood frames were dim, but sufficient
light remained to reveal the picture above the fire-place.  It
showed a middle-aged man in the clothes of the later Carolines.
The plump tapering fingers of one hand held a book, the other was
hidden in the folds of a flowered waistcoat.  The long, curled wig
framed a delicate face, with something of the grace of youth left
to it.  There were quizzical lines about the mouth, and the eyes
smiled pleasantly yet very wisely.  It was the face of a man I
should have liked to dine with.  He must have been the best of
company.

Giffen answered my question.

"That's the Lord Carteron who built the house.  No.  No relation.
Our people were the Applebys, who came in 1753.  We've both fallen
so deep in love with Fullcircle that we wanted to see the man who
conceived it.  I had some trouble getting it.  It came out of the
Minster Carteron sale, and I had to give a Jew dealer twice what he
paid for it.  It's a jolly thing to live with."

It was indeed a curiously charming picture.  I found my eyes
straying to it till the dusk obscured the features.  It was the
face of one wholly at home in a suave world, learned in all the
urbanities.  A good friend, I thought, the old lord must have been,
and a superlative companion.  I could imagine neat Horatian tags
coming ripely from his lips.  Not a strong face, but somehow a
dominating one.  The portrait of the long-dead gentleman had still
the atmosphere of life.  Giffen raised his glass of port to him as
we rose from the table, as if to salute a comrade.

We moved to the room across the hall, which had once been the
Giffens' workroom, the cradle of earnest committees and weighty
memoranda.  This was my third surprise.  Baize-covered table and
raw-wood shelves had disappeared.  The place was now half smoking-
room, half library.  On the walls hung a fine collection of
coloured sporting prints, and below them were ranged low
Hepplewhite bookcases.  The lamplight glowed on the ivory walls,
and the room, like everything else in the house, was radiant.
Above the mantelpiece was a stag's head--a fair eleven-pointer.

Giffen nodded proudly towards it.  "I got that last year at
Machray.  My first stag."

There was a little table with an array of magazines and weekly
papers.  Some amusement must have been visible in my face as I
caught sight of various light-hearted sporting journals, for he
laughed apologetically.  "You mustn't think that Ursula and I take
in that stuff for ourselves.  It amuses our guests, you know."

I dared say it did, but I was convinced that the guests were no
longer Dr. Swope and Mr. Percy Blaker.

One of my many failings is that I can never enter a room containing
books without scanning the titles.  Giffen's collection won my
hearty approval.  There were the very few novelists I can read
myself--Miss Austen and Sir Walter and the admirable Marryat; there
was a shelf full of memoirs, and a good deal of 17th- and 18th-
century poetry; there was a set of the classics in fine editions,
Bodonis and Baskervilles and suchlike; there was much county
history, and one or two valuable old herbals and itineraries.  I
was certain that two years before Giffen would have had no use for
literature except some muddy Russian oddments, and I am positive
that he would not have known the name of Surtees.  Yet there stood
the tall octavos recording the unedifying careers of Mr. Jorrocks,
Mr. Facey Romford, and Mr. Soapy Sponge.

I was a little bewildered as I stretched my legs in a very deep
arm-chair.  Suddenly I had a strong impression of looking on at a
play.  My hosts seemed to be automata, moving docilely at the
orders of a masterful stage-manager, and yet with no sense of
bondage.  And as I looked on they faded off the scene, and there
was only one personality--that house so serene and secure, smiling
at our modern antics, but weaving all the while an iron spell round
its lovers.  For a second I felt an oppression as of something to
be resisted.

But no.  There was no oppression.  The house was too well-bred and
disdainful to seek to captivate.  Only those who fell in love with
it could know its mastery, for all love exacts a price.  It was far
more than a thing of stone and lime; it was a creed, an art, a
scheme of life--older than any Carteron, older than England.
Somewhere far back in time--in Rome, in Attica, or in an Ægean
island--there must have been such places; but then they called them
temples, and gods dwelt in them.

I was roused by Giffen's voice discoursing of his books.  "I've
been rubbing up my classics again," he was saying.  "Queer thing,
but ever since I left Cambridge I have been out of the mood for
them.  And I'm shockingly ill-read in English literature.  I wish I
had more time for reading, for it means a lot to me."

"There is such an embarrassment of riches here," said his wife.
"The days are far too short for all there is to do.  Even when
there is nobody staying in the house I find every hour occupied.
It's delicious to be busy over things one really cares for."

"All the same I wish I could do more reading," said Giffen.  "I've
never wanted to so much before."

"But you come in tired from shooting and sleep sound till dinner,"
said the lady, laying an affectionate hand on his shoulder.

They were happy people, and I like happiness.  Self-absorbed
perhaps, but I prefer selfishness in the ordinary way of things.
We are most of us selfish dogs, and altruism makes us uncomfortable.
But I had somewhere in my mind a shade of uneasiness, for I was the
witness of a transformation too swift and violent to be wholly
natural.  Years, no doubt, turn our eyes inward and abate our
heroics, but not a trifle of two or three. Some agency had been at
work here, some agency other and more potent than the process of
time.  The thing fascinated and partly frightened me.  For the
Giffens--though I scarcely dared to admit it--had deteriorated.
They were far pleasanter people.  I liked them infinitely better.
I hoped to see them often again.  I detested the type they used to
represent, and shunned it like the plague.  They were wise now, and
mellow, and most agreeable human beings.  But some virtue had gone
out of them.  An uncomfortable virtue, no doubt, but a virtue,
something generous and adventurous.  Before their faces had had a
sort of wistful kindness.  Now they had geniality--which is not the
same thing.

What was the agency of this miracle?  It was all around me: the
ivory panelling, the olive-wood staircase, the lovely pillared
hall.  I got up to go to bed with a kind of awe on me.  As Mrs.
Giffen lit my candle, she saw my eyes wandering among the gracious
shadows.

"Isn't it wonderful," she said, "to have found a house which fits
us like a glove?  No!  Closer.  Fits us as a bearskin fits the
bear.  It has taken our impress like wax."

Somehow I didn't think that the impress had come from the Giffens'
side.



A November afternoon found Leithen and myself jogging homewards
from a run with the Heythrop.  It had been a wretched day.  Twice
we had found and lost, and then a deluge had set in which scattered
the field.  I had taken a hearty toss into a swamp, and got as wet
as a man may be, but the steady downpour soon reduced everyone to a
like condition.  When we turned towards Borrowby the rain ceased,
and an icy wind blew out of the east which partially dried our
sopping clothes.  All the grace had faded from the Cotswold
valleys.  The streams were brown torrents, the meadows lagoons, the
ridges bleak and grey, and a sky of scurrying clouds cast leaden
shadows.  It was a matter of ten miles to Borrowby: we had long ago
emptied our flasks, and I longed for something hot to take the
chill out of my bones.

"Let's look in at Fullcircle," said Leithen, as we emerged on the
highroad from a muddy lane.  "We'll make the Giffens give us tea.
You'll find changes there."

I asked what changes, but he only smiled and told me to wait and
see.

My mind was busy with surmises as we rode up the avenue.  I thought
of drink or drugs, and promptly discarded the notion.  Fullcircle
was above all things decorous and wholesome.  Leithen could not
mean the change in the Giffens' ways which had so impressed me a
year before, for he and I had long ago discussed that.  I was still
puzzling over his words when we found ourselves in the inner hall,
with the Giffens making a hospitable fuss over us.  The place was
more delectable than ever.  Outside was a dark November day, yet
the little house seemed to be transfused with sunshine.  I do not
know by what art the old builders had planned it, but the airy
pilasters, the perfect lines of the ceiling, the soft colouring of
the wood seemed to lay open the house to a clear sky.  Logs burned
brightly on the massive steel andirons, and the scent and the fine
blue smoke of them strengthened the illusion of summer.

Mrs. Giffen would have had us change into dry things, but Leithen
pleaded a waiting dinner at Borrowby.  The two of us stood by the
fireplace, drinking tea, the warmth drawing out a cloud of vapour
from our clothes to mingle with the wood-smoke.  Giffen lounged in
an armchair, and his wife sat by the tea-table.  I was looking for
the changes of which Leithen had spoken.

I did not find them in Giffen.  He was much as I remembered him on
the June night when I had slept here, a trifle fuller in the face
perhaps, a little more placid about the mouth and eyes.  He looked
a man completely content with life.  His smile came readily and his
easy laugh.  Was it my fancy, or had he acquired a look of the
picture in the dining-room?  I nearly made an errand to go and see
it.  It seemed to me that his mouth had now something of the
portrait's delicate complacence.  Lely would have found him a fit
subject, though he might have boggled at his lean hands.

But his wife!  Ah, there the changes were unmistakable.  She was
comely now rather than pretty, and the contours of her face had
grown heavier.  The eagerness had gone from her eyes and left only
comfort and good-humour.  There was a suspicion, ever so slight, of
rouge and powder.  She had a string of good pearls--the first time
I had seen her wear jewels.  The hand that poured out the tea was
plump, shapely, and well cared for.  I was looking at a most
satisfactory mistress of a country house, who would see that
nothing was lacking to the part.

She talked more and laughed oftener.  Her voice had an airy
lightness which would have made the silliest prattle charming.

"We are going to fill the house with young people and give a ball
at Christmas," she announced.  "This hall is simply clamouring to
be danced in.  You must come both of you.  Promise me.  And, Mr.
Leithen, it would be very nice if you brought a party from
Borrowby.  Young men, please.  We are overstocked with girls in
these parts. . . .  We must do something to make the country
cheerful in winter-time."

I observed that no season could make Fullcircle other than
cheerful.

"How nice of you!" she cried.  "To praise a house is to praise the
householders, for a dwelling is just what its inmates make it.
Borrowby is you, Mr. Leithen, and Fullcircle us."

"Shall we exchange?" Leithen asked.

She made a mouth.  "Borrowby would crush me, but it suits a Gothic
survival like you.  Do you think you would be happy here?"

"Happy," said Leithen thoughtfully.  "Happy?  Yes, undoubtedly.
But it might be bad for my soul. . . .  There's just time for a
pipe, Giffen, and then we must be off."

I was filling my pipe as we crossed the outer hall, and was about
to enter the smoking-room I so well remembered when Giffen laid a
hand on my arm.

"We don't smoke there now," he said hastily.

He opened the door and I looked in. . . .  The place had suffered
its third metamorphosis.  The marble shrine which I had noticed on
my first visit had been brought back, and the blue mosaic pavement
and the ivory walls were bare.  At the eastern end stood a little
altar, with above it a copy of a Correggio Madonna.

A faint smell of incense hung in the air and the fragrance of
hothouse flowers.  It was a chapel, but, I swear, a more pagan
place than when it had been workroom or smoking-room.

Giffen gently shut the door.  "Perhaps you didn't know, but some
months ago my wife became a Catholic.  It is a good thing for
women, I think.  It gives them a regular ritual for their lives.
So we restored the chapel.  It had always been there in the days of
the Carterons and the Applebys."

"And you?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.  "I don't bother much about these
things.  But I propose to follow suit.  It will please Ursula and
do no harm to anybody."

                             *****

We halted on the brow of the hill and looked back on the garden
valley.  Leithen's laugh, as he gazed, had more awe than mirth in
it.

"That little wicked house!  I'm going to hunt up every scrap I can
find about old Tom Carteron.  He must have been an uncommon clever
fellow.  He's still alive down there and making people do as he
did. . . .  In that kind of place you may expel the priest and
sweep it and garnish it.  But he always returns."

The wrack was lifting before the wind and a shaft of late watery
sun fell on the grey walls.  It seemed to me that the little house
wore an air of gentle triumph.



THE END




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