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Title:      The Three Impostors (1895)
Author:     Arthur Machen
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Language:   English
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Title:      The Three Impostors (1895)
Author:     Arthur Machen




                         THE THREE IMPOSTORS
                            ARTHUR MACHEN

                        ---------------------

                              PROLOGUE

'And Mr Joseph Walters is going to stay the night?' said the smooth,
clean-shaven man to his companion, an individual not of the most
charming appearance, who had chosen to make his ginger-coloured
moustache merge into a pair of short chin-whiskers.

The two stood at the hall door, grinning evilly at each other; and
presently a girl ran quickly down the stairs and joined them. She was
quite young, with a quaint and piquant rather than a beautiful face,
and her eyes were of a shining hazel. She held a neat paper parcel in
one hand, and laughed with her friends.

'Leave the door open,' said the smooth man to the other, as they were
going out. 'Yes, by ------,' he went on with an ugly oath, 'we'll
leave the front door on the jar. He may like to see company, you
know.'

The other man looked doubtfully about him.

'Is it quite prudent, do you think, Davies?' he said, pausing with his
hand on the mouldering knocker. 'I don't think Lipsius would like it.
What do you say, Helen?'

'I agree with Davies. Davies is an artist, and you are commonplace,
Richmond, and a bit of a coward. Let the door stand open, of course.
But what a pity Lipsius had to go away! He would have enjoyed
himself.'

'Yes,' replied the smooth Mr Davies, 'that summons to the west was
very hard on the doctor.'

The three passed out, leaving the hall door, cracked and riven with
frost and wet, half open, and they stood silent for a moment under the
ruinous shelter of the porch.

'Well,' said the girl, 'it is done at last. We shall hurry no more on
the track of the young man with spectacles.'

'We owe a great deal to you,' said Mr Davies politely; 'the doctor
said so before he left. But having we not all three some farewells to
make? I, for my part propose to say good-bye here, before this
picturesque but mouldy residence, to my friend, Mr Burton, dealer in
the antique and curious,' and the man lifted his hat with an
exaggerated bow.

'And I,' said Richmond, 'bid adieu to Mr Wilkins the private
secretary, whose company has, I confess become a little tedious.'

'Farewell to Miss Lally, and to Miss Leicester also,' said the girl,
making as she spoke a delicious curtsy. 'Farewell to all occult
adventure; the farce is played.'

Mr Davies and the lady seemed full of grim enjoyment, but Richmond
tugged at his whiskers nervously.

'I feel a bit shaken up,' he said. 'I've seen rougher things in the
States, but that crying noise he made gave me a sickish feeling. And
then the smell; but then my stomach was never very strong.'

The three friends moved away from the door, and began to walk slowly
up and down what had been a gravel path, but now lay green and pulpy
with damp mosses. It was a fine autumn evening, and a faint sunlight
shone on the yellow walls of the old deserted house, and showed the
patches of gangrenous decay, the black drift of rain from the broken
pipes, the scabrous blots where the bare bricks were exposed, the
green weeping of a gaunt laburnum that stood beside the porch, and
ragged marks near the ground where the reeking clay was gaining on the
worn foundations. It was a queer, rambling old place, the centre
perhaps two hundred years old, with dormer windows sloping from the
tiled roof, and on each side there were Georgian wings; bow windows
had been carried up to the first floor, and two dome-like cupolas that
had once been painted a bright green were now grey and neutral. Broken
urns lay upon the path, and a heavy mist seemed to rise from the
unctuous clay; the neglected shrubberies, grown all tangled and
unshapen, smelt dank and evil, and there was an atmosphere all about
the deserted mansion that proposed thoughts of an opened grave. The
three friends looked dismally at the rough grasses and the nettles
that grew thick over lawn and flowerbeds; and at the sad water-pool in
the midst of the weeds. There, above green and oily scum instead of
lilies, stood a rusting Triton on the rocks, sounding a dirge through
a shattered horn; and beyond, beyond the sunk fence and the far
meadows, the sun slid down and shone red through the bars of the 
elm-trees.

Richmond shivered and stamped his foot.

'We had better be going soon,' he said; 'there is nothing else to be
done here.'

'No,' said Davies; 'it is finished at last. I thought for some time we
should never get hold of the gentleman with the spectacles. He was a
clever fellow, but, Lord! he broke up badly at last. I can tell you,
he looked white at me when I touched him on the arm in the bar. But
where could he have hidden the thing? We can all swear it was not on
him.'

The girl laughed, and they turned away, when Richmond gave a violent
start.

'Ah!' he cried, turning to the girl, 'what have you got there? Look,
Davies, look; it's all oozing and dripping.'

The young woman glanced down at the little parcel she was carrying,
and partially unfolded the paper.

'Yes, look, both of you,' she said; 'it's my own idea. Don't you think
it will do nicely for the doctor's museum? It comes from the right
hand, the hand that took the Gold Tiberius.'

Mr Davies nodded with a good deal of approbation, and Richmond lifted
his ugly high-crowned bowler, and wiped his forehead with a dingy
handkerchief.

'I'm going,' he said; 'you two can stay if you like.'

The three went round by the stable-path, past the withered wilderness
of the old kitchen-garden, and struck off by a hedge at the back,
making for a particular point in the road. About five minutes later
two gentlemen, whom idleness had led to explore these forgotten
outskirts of London, came sauntering up the shadowy carriage-drive.
They had spied the deserted house from the road, and as they observed
all the heavy desolation of the place, they began to moralize in the
great style, with considerable debts to Jeremy Taylor.

'Look, Dyson,' said the one, as they drew nearer; 'look at those upper
windows; the sun is setting, and, though the panes are dusty, yet --

 'The grimy sash an oriel burns.'

'Phillipps,' replied the elder and (it must be said) the more pompous
of the two, 'I yield to fantasy; I cannot withstand the influence of
the grotesque. Here, where all is falling into dimness and
dissolution, and we walk in cedarn gloom, and the very air of heaven
goes mouldering to the lungs, I cannot remain commonplace. I look at
that deep glow on the panes, and the house lies all enchanted; that
very room, I tell you, is within all blood and fire.'

                        ---------------------
                   ADVENTURE OF THE GOLD TIBERIUS

The acquaintance between Mr Dyson and Mr Charles Phillipps arose
from one of those myriad chances which are every day doing their work
in the streets of London. Mr Dyson was a man of letters, and an
unhappy instance of talents misapplied. With gifts that might have
placed him in the flower of his youth among the most favoured of
Bentley's favourite novelists, he had chosen to be perverse; he was,
it is true, familiar with scholastic logic, but he knew nothing of the
logic of life, and he flattered himself with the title of artist, when
he was in fact but an idle and curious spectator of other men's
endeavours. Amongst many delusions, he cherished one most fondly, that
he was a strenuous worker; and it was with a gesture of supreme
weariness that he would enter his favourite resort, a small
tobacco-shop in Great Queen Street, and proclaim to anyone who cared
to listen that he had seen the rising and setting of two successive
suns. The proprietor of the shop, a middle-aged man of singular
civility, tolerated Dyson partly out of good nature, and partly
because he was a regular customer. He was allowed to sit on an empty
cask, and to express his sentiments on literary and artistic matters
till he was tired, or the time for closing came; and if no fresh
customers were attracted, it is believed that none were turned away by
his eloquence. Dyson was addicted to wild experiments in tobacco; he
never wearied of trying new combinations; and one evening he had just
entered the shop, and given utterance to his last preposterous
formula, when a young fellow of about his own age, who had come in a
moment later, asked the shopman to duplicate the order on his account,
smiling politely, as he spoke, to Mr Dyson's address. Dyson felt
profoundly flattered, and after a few phrases the two entered into
conversation, and in an hour's time the tobacconist saw the new
friends sitting side by side on a couple of casks, deep in talk.

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'I will give you the task of the literary
man in a phrase. He has got to do simply this -- to invent a wonderful
story, and to tell it in a wonderful manner.'

'I will grant you that,' said Mr Phillipps, 'but you will allow me to
insist that in the hands of the true artist in words all stories are
marvellous and every circumstance has its peculiar wonder. The matter
is of little consequence; the manner is everything. Indeed, the
highest skill is shown in taking matter apparently commonplace and
transmuting it by the high alchemy of style into the pure gold of
art.'

'That is indeed a proof of great skill, but it is great skill exerted
foolishly, or at least unadvisedly. It is as if a great violinist were
to show us what marvellous harmonies he could draw from a child's
banjo.'

'No, no, you are really wrong. I see you take a radically mistaken
view of life. But we must thresh this out. Come to my rooms; I live
not far from here.'

It was thus that Mr Dyson became the associate of Mr Charles
Phillipps, who lived in a quiet square not far from Holborn.
Thenceforth they haunted each other's rooms at intervals, sometimes
regular, and occasionally the reverse, and made appointments to meet
at the shop in Queen Street, where their talk robbed the tobacconist's
profit of half its charm. There was a constant jarring of literary
formulas, Dyson exalting the claims of the pure imagination; while
Phillipps, who was a student of physical science and something of an
ethnologist, insisted that all literature ought to have a scientific
basis. By the mistaken benevolence of deceased relatives both young
men were placed out of reach of hunger, and so, meditating high
achievements, idled their time pleasantly away, and revelled in the
careless joys of a Bohemianism devoid of the sharp seasoning of
adversity.

One night in June Mr Phillipps was sitting in his room in the calm
retirement of Red Lion Square. He had opened the window, and was
smoking placidly, while he watched the movement of life below. The sky
was clear, and the afterglow of sunset had lingered long about it. The
flushing twilight of a summer evening vied with the gas-lamps in the
square, and fashioned a chiaroscuro that had in it something
unearthly; and the children, racing to and fro upon the pavement, the
lounging idlers by the public-house, and the casual passers-by rather
flickered and hovered in the play of lights than stood out substantial
things. By degrees in the houses opposite one window after another
leapt out a square of light; now and again a figure would shape itself
against a blind and vanish, and to all this semi-theatrical magic the
runs and flourishes of brave Italian opera played a little distance
off on a piano-organ seemed an appropriate accompaniment, while the
deep-muttered bass of the traffic of Holborn never ceased. Phillipps
enjoyed the scene and its effects; the light in the sky faded and
turned to darkness, and the square gradually grew silent, and still he
sat dreaming at the window, till the sharp peal of the house-bell
roused him, and looking at his watch, he found that it was past ten
o'clock. There was a knock at the door, and his friend Mr Dyson
entered, and, according to his custom, sat down in an arm-chair and
began to smoke in silence.

'You know, Phillipps,' he said at length, 'that I have always battled
for the marvellous. I remember your maintaining in that chair that one
has no business to make use of the wonderful, the improbable, the odd
coincidence in literature, and you took the ground that it was wrong
to do so, because as a matter of fact the wonderful and the improbable
don't happen, and men's lives are not really shaped by odd
coincidence. Now, mind you, if that were so, I would not grant your
conclusion, because I think the "criticism-of-life" theory is all
nonsense; but I deny your premiss. A most singular thing has happened
to me to-night.'

'Really, Dyson, I am very glad to hear it. Of course, I oppose your
argument, whatever it may be; but if you would be good enough to tell
me of your adventure, I should be delighted.'

'Well, it came about like this. I have had a very hard day's work;
indeed I have scarcely moved from my old bureau since seven o'clock
last night. I wanted to work out that idea we discussed last Tuesday,
you know, the notion of the fetish worshipper?'

'Yes, I remember. Have you been able to do anything with it?'

'Yes; it came out better than I expected; but there were great
difficulties, the usual agony between the conception and the
execution. Anyhow, I got it done about seven o'clock tonight, and I
thought I should like a little of the fresh air. I went out and
wandered rather aimlessly about the streets; my head was full of my
tale, and I didn't much notice where I was going. I got into those
quiet places to the north of Oxford Street as you go west, the genteel
residential neighbourhood of stucco and prosperity. I turned east
again without knowing it, and it was quite dark when I passed along a
sombre little by-street, ill-lighted and empty. I did not know at the
time in the least where I was, but I found out afterwards that it was
not very far from Tottenham Court Road. I strolled idly along,
enjoying the stillness; on one side there seemed to be the back
premises of some great shop; tier after tier of dusty windows lifted
up into the night, with gibbet-like contrivances for raising heavy
goods, and below large doors, fast closed and bolted, all dark and
desolate. Then there came a huge pantechnicon warehouse; and over the
way a grim blank wall, as forbidding as the wall of a gaol, and then
the headquarters of some volunteer regiment, and afterwards a passage
leading to a court where waggons were standing to be hired; it was,
one might almost say, a street devoid of inhabitants, and scarce a
window showed the glimmer of a light. I was wondering at the strange
peace and dimness there, where it must be close to some roaring main
artery of London life, when suddenly I heard the noise of dashing feet
tearing along the pavement at full speed, and from a narrow passage, a
mews or something of that kind, a man was discharged as from a
catapult under my very nose, and rushed past me, flinging something
from him as he ran. He was gone, and down another street in an
instant, almost before I knew what had happened; but I didn't much
bother about him, I was watching something else. I told you he had
thrown something away; well, I watched what seemed a line of flame
flash through the air and fly quivering over the pavement, and in
spite of myself I could not help tearing after it. The impetus
lessened, and I saw something like a bright halfpenny roll slower and
slower, and then deflect towards the gutter, hover for a moment on the
edge, and dance down into a drain. I believe I cried out in positive
despair, though I hadn't the least notion what I was hunting; and
then, to my joy, I saw that, instead of dropping into a sewer, it had
fallen flat across two bars. I stooped down and picked it up and
whipped it into my pocket, and I was just about to walk on when I
heard again that sound of dashing footsteps. I don't know why I did
it, but as a matter of fact I dived down into the mews, or whatever it
was, and stood as much in the shadow as possible. A man went by with a
rush a few paces from where I was standing, and I felt uncommonly
pleased that I was in hiding. I couldn't make out much feature, but I
saw his eyes gleaming and his teeth showing, and he had an
ugly-looking knife in one hand, and I thought things would be very
unpleasant for gentleman number one if the second robber or what you
like, caught him up. I can tell you, Phillipps, a fox-hunt is exciting
enough, when the horn blows clear on a winter morning, and the hounds
give tongue, and the red-coats charge away, but it's nothing to a
man-hunt, and that's what I had a slight glimpse of tonight. There was
murder in the fellow's eyes as he went by, and I don't think there was
much more than fifty seconds between the two. I only hope it was
enough.'

Dyson leant back in his arm-chair, relit his pipe, and puffed
thoughtfully. Phillipps began to walk up and down the room, musing
over the story of violent death fleeting in chase along the pavement,
the knife shining in the lamplight, the fury of the pursuer, and the
terror of the pursued.

'Well,' he said at last, 'and what was it, after all, that you rescued
from the gutter?'

Dyson jumped up, evidently quite startled. 'I really haven't a notion.
I didn't think of looking. But we shall see.'

He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, drew out a small and shining
object, and laid it on the table. It glowed there beneath the lamp
with the radiant glory of rare old gold; and the image and the letters
stood out in high relief, clear and sharp, as if it had but left the
mint a month before. The two men bent over it, and Phillipps took it
up and examined it closely.

'Imp. Tiberius Cæsar Augustus,' he read the legend, and then looking
at the reverse of the coin, he stared in amazement, and at last turned
to Dyson with a look of exultation.

'Do you know what you have found?' he said.

'Apparently a gold coin of some antiquity,' said Dyson coolly.

'Quite so, a gold Tiberius. No, that is wrong. You have found _the_
gold Tiberius. Look at the reverse.'

Dyson looked and saw the coin was stamped with the figure of a faun
standing amidst reeds and flowing water. The features, minute as they
were, stood out in delicate outline; it was a face lovely and yet
terrible, and yet Dyson thought of the well-known passage of the lad's
playmate, gradually growing with his growth and increasing with his
stature, till the air was filled with the rank fume of the goat.

'Yes,' he said; 'it is a curious coin. Do you know it?'

'I know about it. It is one of the comparatively few historical
objects in existence; it is all storied like those jewels we have read
of. A whole cycle of legend has gathered round the thing; the tale
goes that it formed part of an issue struck by Tiberius to commemorate
an infamous excess. You see the legend on the reverse: "Victoria". It
is said that by an extraordinary accident the whole issue was thrown
into the melting-pot, and that only this one coin escaped. It glints
through history and legend, appearing and disappearing, with intervals
of a hundred years in time, and continents in place. It was
"discovered" by an Italian humanist, and lost and rediscovered. It has
not been heard of since 1727, when Sir Joshua Byrde, a Turkey
merchant, brought it home from Aleppo, and vanished with it a month
after he had shown it to the virtuosi, no man knew or knows where. And
here it is!'

'Put it into your pocket, Dyson,' he said, after a pause. 'I would not
let anyone have a glimpse of the thing if I were you. I would not talk
about it. Did either of the men you saw see you?'

'Well, I think not. I don't think the first man, the man who was
vomited out of the dark passage, saw anything at all; and I am sure
that he could not have seen me.'

'And you didn't really see them. You couldn't recognize either the one
or the other if you met him in the street to-morrow?'

'No, I don't think I could. The street, as I said, was dimly lighted,
and they ran like madmen.'

The two men sat silent for some time, each weaving his own fancies of
the story; but lust of the marvellous was slowly overpowering Dyson's
more sober thoughts.

'It is all more strange than I fancied,' he said at last. 'It was
queer enough what I saw; a man is sauntering along a quiet, sober,
everyday London street, a street of grey houses and blank walls, and
there, for a moment, a veil seems drawn aside, and the very fume of
the pit steams up through the flagstones, the ground glows, red-hot,
beneath his feet, and he seems to hear the hiss of the infernal
caldron. A man flying in mad terror for his life, and furious hate
pressing hot on his steps with knife drawn ready; here, indeed, is
horror; but what is all that to what you have told me? I tell you,
Phillipps, I see the plot thicken; our steps will henceforth be dogged
with mystery, and the most ordinary incidents will teem with
significance. You may stand out against it, and shut your eyes, but
they will be forced open; mark my words, you will have to yield to the
inevitable. A clue, tangled if you like, has been placed by chance in
our hands; it will be our business to follow it up. As for the guilty
person or persons in this strange case, they will be unable to escape
us, our nets will be spread far and wide over this great city, and
suddenly, in the streets and places of public resort, we shall in some
way or other be made aware that we are in touch with the unknown
criminal. Indeed I almost fancy I see him slowly approaching this
quiet square of yours; he is loitering at street corners, wandering,
apparently without aim, down far-reaching thoroughfares, but all the
while coming nearer and nearer, drawn by an irresistible magnetism, as
ships were drawn to the Loadstone Rock in the Eastern tale.'

'I certainly think,' replied Phillipps, 'that if you pull out that
coin and flourish it under people's noses as you are doing at the
present moment, you will very probably find yourself in touch with the
criminal, or a criminal. You will undoubtedly be robbed with violence.
Otherwise, I see no reason why either of us should be troubled. No one
saw you secure the coin, and no one knows you have it. I, for my part,
shall sleep peacefully, and go about my business with a sense of
security and a firm dependence on the natural order of things. The
events of the evening, the adventure in the street, have been odd, I
grant you, but I resolutely decline to have any more to do with the
matter, and, if necessary, I shall consult the police. I will not be
enslaved by a gold Tiberius, even though it swims into my ken in a
manner which is somewhat melodramatic.'

'And I, for my part,' said Dyson, 'go forth like a knight-errant in
search of adventure. Not that I shall need to seek; rather adventure
will seek me; I shall be like a spider in the midst of his web,
responsive to every movement, and ever on the alert.'

Shortly afterwards Dyson took his leave, and Mr Phillipps spent the
rest of the night in examining some flint arrow-heads which he had
purchased. He had every reason to believe that they were the work of a
modern and not a palæolithic man; still he was far from gratified when
a close scrutiny showed him that his suspicions were well founded. In
his anger at the turpitude which would impose on an ethnologist, he
completely forgot Dyson and the gold Tiberius; and when he went to bed
at first sunlight, the whole tale had faded utterly from his thoughts.

                        ---------------------
                    THE ENCOUNTER OF THE PAVEMENT

Mr Dyson, walking leisurely along Oxford Street, and staring with
bland inquiry at whatever caught his attention, enjoyed in all its
rare flavours the sensation that he was really very hard at work. His
observation of mankind, the traffic, and the shop windows tickled his
faculties with an exquisite bouquet; he looked serious, as one looks
on whom charges of weight and moment are laid; and he was attentive in
his glances to right and left, for fear lest he should miss some
circumstance of more acute significance. He had narrowly escaped being
run over at a crossing by a charging van, for he hated to hurry his
steps, and indeed the afternoon was warm; and he had just halted by a
place of popular refreshment, when the astounding gestures of a
well-dressed individual on the opposite pavement held him enchanted
and gasping like a fish. A treble line of hansoms, carriages, vans,
cabs, and omnibuses was tearing east and west, and not the most daring
adventurer of the crossings would have cared to try his fortune; but
the person who had attracted Dyson's attention seemed to rage on the
very edge of the pavement, now and then darting forward at the hazard
of instant death, and at each repulse absolutely dancing with
excitement, to the rich amusement of the passers-by. At last a gap
that would have tried the courage of a street-boy appeared between the
serried lines of vehicles, and the man rushed across in a frenzy, and
escaping by a hair's-breadth, pounced upon Dyson as a tiger pounces on
her prey.

'I saw you looking about you,' he said, sputtering out his words in
his intense eagerness; 'would you mind telling me this! Was the man
who came out of the Aerated Bread Shop and jumped into the hansom
three minutes ago a youngish-looking man with dark whiskers and
spectacles? Can't you speak, man? For heaven's sake, can't you speak?
Answer me; it's a matter of life and death.'

The words bubbled and boiled out of the man's mouth in the fury of his
emotion, his face went from red to white, and the beads of sweat stood
out on his forehead; he stamped his feet as he spoke, and tore with
his hand at his coat, as if something swelled and choked him, stopping
the passage of his breath.

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'I always like to be accurate. Your
observation was perfectly correct. As you say, a youngish man -- a
man, I should say, of somewhat timid bearing -- ran rapidly out of the
shop here, and bounced into a hansom that must have been waiting for
him, as it went eastwards at once. Your friend also wore spectacles,
as you say. Perhaps you would like me to call a hansom for you to
follow the gentleman?'

'No, thank you; it would be a waste of time.' The man gulped down
something which appeared to rise in his throat, and Dyson was alarmed
to see him shaking with hysterical laughter; he clung hard to a
lamp-post, and swayed and staggered like a ship in a heavy gale.

'How shall I face the doctor?' he murmured to himself. 'It is too hard
to fail at the last moment.' Then he seemed to recollect himself; he
stood straight again, and looked quietly at Dyson.

'I owe you an apology for my violence,' he said at last. 'Many men
would not be so patient as you have been. Would you mind adding to
your kindness by walking with me a little way? I feel a little sick; I
think it's the sun.'

Dyson nodded assent, and devoted himself to a quiet scrutiny of this
strange personage as they moved on together. The man was dressed in
quiet taste, and the most scrupulous observer could find nothing amiss
with the fashion or make of his clothes; yet, from his hat to his
boots, everything seemed inappropriate. His silk hat, Dyson thought,
should have been a high bowler of odious pattern, worn with a baggy
morning-coat, and an instinct told him that the fellow did not
commonly carry a clean pocket-handkerchief. The face was not of the
most agreeable pattern, and was in no way improved by a pair of
bulbous chin-whiskers of a ginger hue, into which moustaches of like
colour merged imperceptibly. Yet, in spite of these signals hung out
by nature, Dyson felt that the individual beside him was something
more than compact of vulgarity. He was struggling himself, holding his
feelings in check; but now and again passion would mount black to his
face, and it was evidently by a supreme effort that he kept himself
from raging like a madman. Dyson found something curious and a little
terrible, in the spectacle of an occult emotion thus striving for the
mastery, and threatening to break out at every instant with violence;
and they had gone some distance before the person whom he had met by
so odd a hazard was able to speak quietly.

'You are really very good,' he said. 'I apologise again; my rudeness
was really most unjustifiable. I feel my conduct demands an
explanation, and I shall be happy to give it to you. Do you happen to
know of any place near here where one could sit down? I should really
be very glad.'

'My dear sir,' said Dyson solemnly, 'the only café in London is close
by. Pray do not consider yourself as bound to offer me any
explanation, but at the same time I should be most happy to listen to
you. Let us turn down here.'

They walked down a sober street and turned into what seemed a narrow
passage past an iron-barred gate thrown back. The passage was paved
with flagstones, and decorated with handsome shrubs in pots on either
side, and the shadow of the high walls made a coolness which was very
agreeable after the hot breath of the sunny street. Presently the
passage opened out into a tiny square, a charming place, a morsel of
France transplanted into the heart of London. High walls rose on
either side, covered with glossy creepers, flower-beds beneath were
gay with nasturtiums, and marigolds, and odorous mignonette, and in
the centre of the square a fountain, hidden by greenery, sent a cool
shower continually plashing into the basin beneath. Chairs and tables
were disposed at convenient intervals, and at the other end of the
court broad doors had been thrown back; beyond was a long, dark room,
and the turmoil of traffic had become a distant murmur. Within the
room one or two men were sitting at the tables, writing and sipping,
but the courtyard was empty.

'You see, we shall be quiet,' said Dyson. 'Pray sit down here,
Mr------?'

'Wilkins. My name is Henry Wilkins.'

'Sit here, Mr Wilkins. I think you will find that a comfortable seat.
I suppose you have not been here before? This is the quiet time; the
place will be like a hive at six o'clock, and the chairs and tables
will overflow into that little alley there.'

A waiter came in response to the bell; and after Dyson had politely
inquired after the health of M. Annibault, the proprietor, he ordered
a bottle of the wine of Champigny.

'The wine of Champigny,' he observed to Mr Wilkins, who was evidently
a good deal composed by the influence of the place, 'is a Tourainian
wine of great merit. Ah, here it is; let me fill your glass. How do
you find it?'

'Indeed,' said Mr Wilkins, 'I should have pronounced it fine
Burgundy. The bouquet is very exquisite. I am fortunate in lighting
upon such a good Samaritan as yourself: I wonder you did not think me
mad. But if you knew the terrors that assailed me, I am sure you would
no longer be surprised at conduct which was certainly most
unjustifiable.'

He sipped his wine, and leant back in his chair relishing the drip and
trickle of the fountain, and the cool greenness that hedged in this
little port of refuge.

'Yes,' he said at last, 'that is indeed an admirable wine. Thank you;
you will allow me to offer you another bottle?'

The waiter was summoned, and descended through a trap-door in the
floor of the dark apartment and brought up the wine. Mr Wilkins lit a
cigarette, and Dyson pulled out his pipe.

'Now,' said Mr Wilkins, 'I promised to give you an explanation of my
strange behaviour. It is rather a long story, but I see, sir, that you
are no mere cold observer of the ebb and flow of life. You take, I
think, a warm and an intelligent interest in the chances of your
fellow-creatures, and I believe you will find what I have to tell not
devoid of interest.'

Mr Dyson signified his assent to these propositions; and though he
thought Mr Wilkins's diction a little pompous, prepared to interest
himself in his tale. The other, who had so raged with passion half an
before, was now perfectly cool, and when he had smoked out his
cigarette, he began in an even voice to relate the


                      NOVEL OF THE DARK VALLEY


I am the son of a poor but learned clergyman in the west of England --
But I am forgetting, these details are not of special interest. I will
briefly state, then my father, who was, as I have said, a learned man
who never learnt the specious arts by which the great are flattered,
and would never condescend to the despicable pursuit of
self-advertisement. Though his fondness for ancient ceremonies and
quaint customs, combined with a kindness of heart that was unequalled
and a primitive and fervent piety, endeared him to his moorland
parishioners, such were not the steps by which clergy then rose in the
Church, and at sixty my father was still incumbent of the little
benefice he had accepted in his thirtieth year. The income of the
living was barely sufficient to support life in the decencies which
are expected of the Anglican parson; and when my father died a few
years ago, I, his only child, found myself thrown upon the world with
a slender capital of less than a hundred pounds, and all the problem
of existence before me. I felt that there was nothing for me to do in
the country, and as usually happens in such cases, London drew me like
a magnet. One day in August, in the early morning, while the dew still
glittered on the turf, and on the high green banks of the lane, a
neighbour drove me to the railway station, and I bade good-bye to the
land of the broad moors and unearthly battlements of the wild tors. It
was six o'clock as we neared London; the faint, sickly fume of the
brickfields about Acton came in puffs through the open window, and a
mist was rising from the ground. Presently the brief view of
successive streets, prim and uniform, struck me with a sense of
monotony; the hot air seemed to grow hotter; and when we had rolled
beneath the dismal and squalid houses, whose dirty and neglected
backyards border the line near Paddington, I felt as if I should be
stifled in this fainting breath of London. I got a hansom and drove
off, and every street increased my gloom; grey houses, with blinds
drawn down, whole thoroughfares almost desolate, and the
foot-passengers who seem to stagger wearily along rather than walk,
all made me feel a sinking at heart. I put up for the night at a hotel
in a street leading from the Strand, where my father had stayed on his
few brief visits to town; and when I went out after dinner, the real
gaiety and bustle of the Strand and Fleet Street could cheer me but
little for in all this great city there was no single human whom I
could claim even as an acquaintance. I will not weary you with the
history of the next year, for the adventures of a man who sinks are
too trite to be worth recalling. My money did not last me long; I
found that I must be neatly dressed, or no one to whom I applied would
so much as listen to me; and I must live in a street of decent
reputation if I wished to be treated with common civility. I applied
for various posts, for which, as I now see, I was completely devoid of
qualification; I tried to become a clerk without having the smallest
notion of business habits; and I found, to my cost, that a general
knowledge of literature and an execrable style of penmanship are far
from being looked upon with favour in commercial circles. I had read
one of the most charming of the works of a famous novelist of present
day, and I frequented the Fleet Street taverns the hope of making
literary friends, and so getting introductions which I understood were
indispensable in the career of letters. I was disappointed; I once or
twice ventured to address gentlemen who were sitting in adjoining
boxes, and I was answered, politely indeed, but in a manner that told
me my advances were unusual. Pound by pound, my small resources
melted; I could no longer think of appearances; I migrated to a shy
quarter, and my meals became mere observances. I went out at one and
returned to my room at two, but nothing but a mere milk-cake had
occurred in the interval. In short, I became acquainted with
misfortune; and as I sat amidst slush and ice on a seat in Hyde Park,
munching a piece of bread, I realized the bitterness of poverty, and
the feelings of a gentleman reduced to something far below the
condition of a vagrant. In spite of all discouragement I did not
desist in my efforts to earn a living. I consulted advertisement
columns, I kept my eyes open for a chance, I looked in at the windows
of stationers' shops, but all in vain. One evening I was sitting in a
Free Library, and I saw an advertisement in one of the papers. It was
something like this: 'Wanted by a gentleman a person of literary taste
and abilities as secretary and amanuensis. Must not object to travel.'
Of course I knew that such an advertisement would have answers by the
hundred, and I thought my own chances of securing the post extremely
small; however, I applied at the address given, and wrote to Mr
Smith, who was staying at a large hotel at the West End. I must
confess that my heart gave a jump when I received a note a couple of
days later, asking me to call at the Cosmopole at my earliest
convenience. I do not know, sir, what your experiences of life may
have been, and so I cannot tell whether you have known such moments. A
slight sickness, my heart beating rather more rapidly than usual, a
choking in the throat, and a difficulty of utterance; such were my
sensations as I walked to the Cosmopole; I had to mention the name
twice before the hall porter could understand me, and as I went
upstairs my hands were wet. I was a good deal struck by Mr Smith is
appearance; he looked younger than I did, and there was something mild
and hesitating about his expression. He was reading when I came in,
and he looked up when I gave my name. 'My dear sir,' he said, 'I am
really delighted to see you. I have read very carefully the letter you
were good enough to send me. Am I to understand that this document is
in your own handwriting?' He showed me the letter that I had written,
and I told him I was not so fortunate as to be able to keep a
secretary myself. 'Then sir,' he went on, 'the post I advertised is at
your service. You have no objection to travel, I presume?' As you may
imagine, I closed pretty eagerly with the offer he made, and thus I
entered the service of Mr Smith. The first few weeks I had no special
duties; I received a quarter's salary, and a handsome allowance was
made me in lieu of board and lodging. One morning, however, when I
called at the hotel according to instructions, my master informed me
that I must hold myself in readiness for a sea-voyage, and, to spare
necessary detail, in the course of a fortnight we landed at New York.
Mr Smith told me that he engaged on a work of a special nature, in
the compilation of which some peculiar researches had to be made; in
short, I was given to understand that we were to travel to the far
West.

After about a week had been spent in New York we took our seats in the
cars, and began a journey tedious beyond all conception. Day after
day, and night after night, the great train rolled on, threading its
way through cities the very names of which were strange to me, passing
at slow speed over perilous viaducts, skirting mountain ranges and
pine forests, and plunging into dense tracts of wood, where mile after
mile and hour after hour the same monotonous growth of brushwood met
the eye, and all along the continual clatter and rattle of the wheels
upon the ill-laid lines made it difficult to hear the voices of our
fellow-passengers. We were a heterogeneous and ever-changing company;
often I woke up in the dead of night with a sudden grinding jar of the
brakes, and looking out found that we had stopped in the shabby street
of some frame-built town, lighted chiefly by the flaring windows of
the saloon. A few rough-looking fellows would often come out to stare
at the cars, and sometimes passengers got down, and sometimes there
was a party of two or three waiting on the wooden sidewalk to get on
board. Many of the passengers were English; humble households torn up
from the moorings of a thousand years, and bound for some
problematical paradise in the alkali desert or the Rockies. I heard
the men talking to one another of the great profits to be made on the
virgin soil of America, and two or three, who were mechanics,
expatiated on the wonderful wages given to skilled labour on the
railways and in the factories of the States. This talk usually fell
dead after a few minutes, and I could see a sickness and dismay in the
faces of these men as they looked at the ugly brush or at the desolate
expanse of the prairie, dotted here and there with frame-houses,
devoid of garden or flowers or trees, standing all alone in what might
have been a great grey sea frozen into stillness. Day after day the
waving skyline, and the desolation of a land without form or colour or
variety, appalled the hearts of such of us as were Englishmen, and
once in the night as I lay awake I heard a woman, weeping and sobbing
and asking what she had done to come to such a place. Her husband
tried to comfort her in the broad speech of Gloucestershire, telling
her that the ground was so rich that one had only to plough it up and
it would grow sunflowers of itself, but she cried for her mother and
their old cottage and the beehives like a little child. The sadness
of it all overwhelmed me and I had no heart to think of other matters;
the question of what Mr Smith could have to do in such a country, and
of what manner of literary research he be carried on in the
wilderness, hardly troubled me. Now and again my situation struck me
as peculiar; I had been engaged as a literary assistant at a handsome
salary, and yet my master was still almost a stranger to me; sometimes
he would come to where I was sitting in the cars and make a few banal
remarks about the country, but for the most part of the journey he
kept to himself, not speaking to anyone, and so far as I could judge,
deep in his thoughts. It was, I think, the fifth day from New York when
I received the intimation that we should shortly leave the cars; I had
been watching some distant mountains which rose wild and savage before
us, and I was wondering if there were human beings so unhappy as to
speak of home in connection with those piles of lumbered rock, when
Mr Smith touched me lightly on the shoulder. 'You will be glad to be
done with the cars, I have no doubt, Mr Wilkins,' he said. 'You were
looking at the mountains, I think? Well, I hope we shall be there
tonight. The train stops at Reading, and I dare say we shall manage to
find our way.'

A few hours later the brakesman brought the train to a standstill at
the Reading depôt, and we got out. I noticed that the town, though of
course built almost entirely of frame-houses, was larger and busier
than any we had passed for the last two days. The depôt was crowded;
and as the bell and whistle sounded, I saw that a number of persons
were preparing to leave the cars, while an even greater number were
waiting to get on board. Besides the passengers, there was a pretty
dense crowd of people, some of whom had come to meet or to see off
their friends and relatives, while others were mere loafers. Several
of our English fellow-passengers got down at Reading, but the
confusion was so great that they were lost to my sight almost
immediately. Mr Smith beckoned to me to follow him, and we were soon
in the thick of the mass; and the continual ringing of bells, the
hubbub of voices, the shrieking of whistles, and the hiss of escaping
steam, confused my senses, and I wondered dimly, as I struggled after
my employer, where we were going, and how we should be able to find
our way through an unknown country. Mr Smith had put on a
wide-brimmed hat, which he had sloped over his eyes, and as all the
men wore hats of the same pattern, it was with some difficulty that I
distinguished him in the crowd. We got free at last, and he struck
down a side street, and made one or two sharp turns to right and left.
It was getting dusk, and we seemed to be passing through a shy portion
of the town; there were few people about in the ill-lighted streets,
and these few were men of the most unprepossessing pattern. Suddenly
we stopped before a corner house. A man was standing at the door,
apparently on the lookout for some one, and I noticed that he and
Smith gave glances one to the other.

'From New York City, I expect, mister?'

'From New York.'

'All right; they're ready, and you can have 'em when you choose. I
know my orders, you see, and I mean to run this business through.'

'Very well, Mr Evans, that is what we want. Our money is good, you
know. Bring them round.'

I had stood silent, listening to this dialogue and wondering what it
meant. Smith began to walk impatiently up and down the street, and the
man was still standing at his door. He had given a whistle, and I saw
him looking me over in a leisurely way, as if to make sure of my face
for another time. I was thinking what all this could mean when an
ugly, slouching lad came up a side passage, leading two raw-boned
horses.

'Get up, Mr Wilkins, and be quick about it,' said Smith; 'we ought to
be on our way.'

We rode off together into the gathering darkness and before long I
looked back and saw the far plain behind us, with the lights of the
town glimmering faintly; and in front rose the mountains. Smith guided
his horse on the rough track as surely as if he had been riding along
Piccadilly, and I followed him as well as I could. I was weary and
exhausted, and scarcely took note of anything; I felt that the track
was a gradual ascent, and here and there I saw great boulders by the
road. The ride made but little impression on me. I have a faint
recollection of passing through a dense black pine forest, where our
horses had to pick their way among the rocks, and I remember the
peculiar effect of the rarefied air as we kept still mounting higher
and higher. I think I must have been half asleep for the latter half
of the ride, and it was with a shock that I heard Smith saying --

'Here we are, Wilkins. This is Blue Rock Park. You will enjoy the view
tomorrow. Tonight we will have something to eat, and then go to bed.'

A man came out of a rough-looking house and took the horses, and we
found some fried steak and coarse whisky awaiting us inside. I had
come to a strange place. There were three rooms -- the room in which
we had supper, Smith's room, and my own. The deaf old man who did the
work slept in a sort of shed, and when I woke up the next morning and
walked out I found that the house stood in a sort of hollow amongst
the mountains; the clumps of pines and some enormous bluish-grey rocks
that stood here and there between the trees had given the place the
name of Blue Rock Park. On every side the snow-covered mountains
surrounded us, the breath of the air was as wine, and when I climbed
the slope and looked down, I could see that, so far as any human
fellowship was concerned, I might as well have been wrecked on some
small island in mid-Pacific. The only trace of man I could see was the
rough log-house where I had slept, and in my ignorance I did not know
that there were similar houses within comparatively easy distance, as
distance is reckoned in the Rockies. But at the moment, the utter,
dreadful loneliness rushed upon me, and the thought of the great plain
and the great sea that parted me from the world I knew caught me by
the throat, and I wondered if I should die there in mountain hollow.
It was a terrible instant, and I have not yet forgotten it. Of course,
I managed to conquer my horror; I said I should be all the stronger
for experience, and I made up my mind to make the best of everything.
It was a rough life enough, and rough enough board and lodging. I was
left entirely to myself. Smith I scarcely ever saw, nor did I know
when he was in the house. I have often thought he was far away, have been
surprised to see him walking out of his room locking the door behind
him, and putting the key in his pocket; and on several occasions, when
I fancied he was busy in his room, I have seen him come in with his
boots covered with dust and dirt. So far as work went I enjoyed a
complete sinecure; I had nothing to do but walk about the valley, to
eat, and to sleep. With one thing and another I grew accustomed to the
life, managed to make myself pretty comfortable, and by degrees I
began to venture farther away from the hollow and to explore the
country. One day I had contrived to get into a neighbouring valley,
and suddenly I came upon a group of men sawing timber. I went up to
them, hoping that perhaps some of them might be Englishmen; at all
events, they were human beings, and I should hear articulate speech;
for the old man I have mentioned, besides being half blind and stone
deaf, was wholly dumb so far as I was concerned. I was prepared to be
welcomed in a rough and ready fashion, without much of the forms of
politeness, but the grim glances and the short, gruff answers I
received astonished me. I saw the men glancing oddly at each other;
and one of them, who stopped work, began fingering a gun, and I was
obliged to return on my path uttering curses on the fate which had
brought me into a land where men were more brutish than the very
brutes. The solitude of the life began to oppress me as with a
nightmare, and a few days later I determined to walk to a kind of
station some miles distant, where a rough inn was kept for the
accommodation of hunters and tourists. English gentlemen occasionally
stopped there for the night, and I thought I might perhaps fall in
with some one of better manners than the inhabitants of the country. I
found, as I had expected, a group of men lounging about the door of
the log- house that served as a hotel, and as I came nearer I could
see that heads were put together and looks interchanged, and when I
walked up the six or seven trappers stared at me in stony ferocity,
and with something of the disgust that one eyes a loathsome and
venomous snake.

I felt that I could bear it no longer, and I called out --

'Is there such a thing as an Englishman here, or any one with a little
civilization?'

One of the men put his hand to his belt, but his neighbour checked
him, and answered me --

'You'll find we've got some of the resources of civilization before
very long, mister, and I expect you'll not fancy them extremely. But,
any way, there's an Englishman tarrying here, and I've no doubt he'll
be glad to see you. There you are; that's Mr D'Aubernoun.'

A young man, dressed like an English country squire, came and stood at
the door, and looked at me. One of the men pointed to me and said --

'That's the individual we were talking about last night. Thought you
might like to have a look at him, squire, and here he is.'

The young fellow's good-natured English face clouded over, and he
glanced sternly at me, and turned away with a gesture of contempt and
aversion.

'Sir,' I cried, 'I do not know what I have done to be treated in this
manner. You are my fellow-countryman and I expected some courtesy.'

He gave me a black look and made as if he would go in, but he changed
his mind and faced me.

'You are rather imprudent, I think, to behave in this manner. You must
be counting on a forbearance which cannot last very long, which may
last a very short time indeed. And let me tell you this, sir, you may
call yourself an Englishman, and drag the name of England through the
dirt, but you need not count on any English influence to help you. If
I were you, I would not stay here much longer.'

He went into the inn, and the men  watched my face as I stood
there, wondering whether I was going mad. The woman of the house came
out and stared at me as if I were a wild beast or a savage, and I
turned to her, and spoke quietly, 'I am very hungry and thirsty. I have
walked a long way. I have plenty of money. Will you give me something
to eat and drink?'

'No, I won't,' she said. 'You had better quit this.'

I crawled home like a wounded beast, and lay down on my bed. It was
all a hopeless puzzle to me; I knew nothing but rage, and shame, and
terror, and I suffered little more when I passed by a house in an
adjacent valley, and some children who were playing outside ran from
me shrieking, I was forced to walk to find some occupation; I should
have died if I had sat down quietly in Blue Rock Park and looked all
day at the mountains; but whenever I saw a human being I saw the same
glance of hatred and aversion, and once as I was crossing a thick
brake I heard a shot and the venomous hiss of a bullet close to my
ear.

One day I heard a conversation which astounded me; I was sitting
behind a rock resting, and two men came along the track and halted.
One of them had got his feet entangled in some wild vines, and swore
fiercely, but the other laughed, and said they were useful things
sometimes.

'What the hell do you mean?'

'Oh, nothing much. But they're uncommon tough, these here vines, and
sometimes rope is skerse and dear.' The man who had sworn chuckled at
this, and I heard them sit down and light their pipes.

'Have you seen him lately?' asked the humourist.

'I sighted him the other day, but the darned bullet went high. He's
got his master's luck I expect, sir, but it can't last much longer.
You heard about him going to Jinks's and trying his brass, but the
young Britisher downed him pretty considerable, I can tell you.'

'What the devil is the meaning of it?'

'I don't know, but I believe it'll have to be finished, and done in
the old style too. You know how they fix the niggers?'

'Yes, sir, I've seen a little of that. A couple of gallons of kerosene
'll cost a dollar at Brown's store, but I should say it's cheap
anyway.'

They moved off after this, and I lay still behind the rock, the sweat
pouring down my face. I was so sick that I could barely stand, and I
walked home as slowly as an old man, leaning on my stick. I knew that
the two men had been talking about me, and I knew that some terrible
death was in store for me. That night I could not sleep; I tossed on
the rough bed and tortured myself to find out the meaning of it all.
At last, in the very dead of night, I rose from the bed and put on my
clothes, and went out. I did not care where I went, but I felt that I
must walk till I had tired myself out. It was a clear moonlight night,
and in a couple of hours I found I was approaching a place of dismal
reputation in the mountains, a deep cleft in the rocks, known as Black
Gulf Cañon. Many years before an unfortunate party of Englishmen and
Englishwomen had camped here and had been surrounded by Indians. They
were captured, outraged, and put to death with almost inconceivable
tortures, and the roughest of the trappers or woodsmen gave the cañon
a wide berth even in the daytime. As I crushed through the dense
brushwood which grew above the cañon I heard voices; and wondering who
could be in such a place at such a time, I went on, walking more
carefully, and making as little noise as possible. There was a great
tree growing on the very edge of the rocks, and I lay down and looked
out from behind the trunk. Black Gulf Cañon was below me, the
moonlight shining bright into its very depths from mid-heaven, and
casting shadows as black as death from the pointed rock, and all the
sheer rock on the other side, overhanging the cañon, was in darkness.
At intervals a light veil obscured the moonlight, as a filmy cloud
fleeted across the moon, and a bitter wind blew shrill across the
gulf. I looked down, as I have said, and saw twenty men standing in a
semicircle round a rock; I counted them one by one, and knew most of
them. They were the very vilest of the vile, more vile than any den in
London could show, and there was murder, worse than murder, on the
heads of not a few. Facing them and me stood Mr Smith, with the rock
before him, and on the rock was a great pair of scales, such as are
used in the stores. I heard his voice ringing down the cañon as I lay
beside the tree, and my heart turned cold as I heard it.

'Life for gold,' he cried, 'a life for gold. The blood and the life of
an enemy for every pound of gold.'

A man stepped out and raised one hand, and with the other flung a
bright lump of something into the pan of the scales, which clanged
down, and Smith muttered something in his ear. Then he cried again --

'Blood for gold, for a pound of gold, the life of an enemy. For every
pound of gold upon the scales, a life.'

One by one the men came forward, each lifting up his right hand; and
the gold was weighed in the scales, and each time Smith leant forward
and spoke to each man in his ear. Then he cried again --

'Desire and lust for gold on the scales. For every pound of gold
enjoyment of desire.'

I saw the same thing happen as before; the uplifted hand and the metal
weighed, and the mouth whispering, and black passion on every face.

Then, one by one, I saw the men again step up to Smith. A muttered
conversation seemed to take place. I could see that Smith was
explaining and directing, and I noticed that he gesticulated a little
as one who points out the way, and once or twice he moved his hands
quickly as if he would show that the path was clear and could not be
missed. I kept my eyes so intently on his figure that I noted little
else, and at last it was with a start that I realized that the cañon
was empty. A moment before I thought I had seen the group of
villainous faces, and the two standing, a little apart, by the rock; I
had looked down a moment, and when I glanced again into the cañon
there was no one there. In dumb terror I made my way home, and I fell
asleep in an instant from exhaustion. No doubt I should have slept on
for many hours, but when I woke up the sun was only rising, and the
light shone in on my bed. I had started up from sleep with the
sensation of having received a violent shock; and as I looked in
confusion about me, I saw, to my amazement, that there were three men
in the room. One of them had his hand on my shoulder, and spoke to me
--

'Come, mister, wake up. Your time's up now, I reckon, and the boys are
waiting for you outside, and they're in a big hurry. Come on; you can
put on your clothes; it's kind of chilly this morning.'

I saw the other two men smiling sourly at each other, but I understood
nothing. I simply pulled on my clothes and said I was ready.

'All right; come on, then. You go first, Nichols, and Jim and I will
give the gentleman an arm.'

They took me out into the sunlight, and then I understood the meaning
of a dull murmur that had vaguely perplexed me while I was dressing.
There were about two hundred men waiting outside, and some women too,
and when they saw me there was a low muttering growl. I did not know
what I had done, but that noise made my heart beat and the sweat come
out on my face. I saw confusedly, as through a veil, the tumult and
tossing of the crowd, discordant voices were speaking, and amongst all
those faces there was not one glance of mercy, but a fury of lust that
I did not understand. I found myself presently walking in a sort of
procession up the slope of the valley, and on every side of me there
were men with revolvers in their hands. Now and then a voice struck
me, and I heard words and sentences of which I could form no connected
story. But I understood that there was one sentence of execration; I
heard scraps of stories that seemed strange and improbable. Some one
was talking of men, lured by cunning devices from their homes and
murdered with hideous tortures, found writhing like wounded snakes in
dark and lonely places, only crying for some one to stab them to the
heart, and so end their anguish; and I heard another voice speaking of
innocent girls who had vanished for a day or two, and then had come
back and died, blushing red with shame even in the agonies of death. I
wondered what it all meant, and what was to happen; but I was so weary
that I walked on in a dream, scarcely longing for anything but sleep.
At last we stopped. We had reached the summit of the hill overlooking
Blue Rock Valley, and I saw that I was standing beneath a clump of
trees where I had often sat. I was in the midst of a ring of armed
men, and I saw that two or three men were very busy with piles of
wood, while others were fingering a rope. Then there was a stir in the
crowd, and a man was pushed forward. His hands and feet were tightly
bound with cord; and though his face was unutterably villainous, I
pitied him for the agony that worked his features and twisted his
lips. I knew him; he was amongst those that had gathered round Smith
in Black Gulf Cañon. In an instant he was unbound and stripped naked,
borne beneath one of the trees, and his neck encircled by a noose that
went around the trunk. A hoarse voice gave some kind of order; there
was a rush of feet, and the rope tightened; and there before me I saw
the blackened face and the writhing limbs and the shameful agony of
death. One after another half a dozen men, all of whom I had seen in
the cañon the night before, were strangled before me, and their bodies
were flung forth on the ground. Then there was a pause, and the man
who had roused me a short while before came up to me, and said --

'Now, mister, it's your turn. We give you five minutes to cast up your
accounts, and when that's clocked, by the living God, we will burn you
alive at that tree.'

It was then I awoke and understood. I cried out --

'Why, what have I done? Why should you hurt me? I am a harmless man; I
never did you any wrong.' I covered my face with my hands; it seemed
so pitiful, and it was such a terrible death.

'What have I done?' I cried again. 'You must take me for some other
man. You cannot know me.'

'You black-hearted devil,' said the man at my side, 'we know you well
enough. There's not a man within thirty miles of this that won't curse
Jack Smith when you are burning in hell.'

'My name is not Smith,' I said, with some hope left in me. 'My name is
Wilkins. I was Mr Smith's secretary, but I knew nothing of him.'

'Hark at the black liar,' said the man. 'Secretary be damned! You were
clever enough, I dare say, to slink out at night and keep your face in
the dark, but we've tracked you out at last. But your time's up. Come
along.'

I was dragged to the tree and bound to it with chains; I saw the piles
of wood heaped all about me, and shut my eyes. Then I felt myself
drenched all over with some liquid, and looked again, and a woman
grinned at me. She had just emptied a great can of petroleum over me
and over the wood. A voice shouted, 'Fire away!' and I fainted, and
knew nothing more. When I opened my eyes I was lying on a bed in a
bare, comfortless room. A doctor was holding some strong salts to my
nostrils, and a gentleman standing by the bed, whom I afterwards found
to be the sheriff, addressed me.

'Say, mister,' he began, 'you've had an uncommon narrow squeak for it.
The boys were just about lighting up when I came along with the posse,
and I had as much as I could do to bring you off, I can tell you. And,
mind you, I don't blame them; they had made up their minds, you see,
that you were the head of the Black Gulf gang, and at first nothing I
could say would persuade them you weren't Jack Smith. Luckily, a man
from here named Evans, that came along with us, allowed he had seen
you with Jack Smith, and that you were yourself. So we brought you
along and gaoled you, but you can go if you like when you're through
with this faint turn.'

I got on the cars the next day, and in three weeks I was in London;
again almost penniless. But from that time my fortune seemed to
change; I made influential friends in all directions; bank directors
courted my company, and editors positively flung themselves into my
arms. I had only to choose my career, and after a while I determined
that I was meant by nature for a life of comparative leisure. With an
ease that seemed almost ridiculous, I obtained a well-paid position in
connection with a prosperous political club. I have charming chambers
in a central neighbourhood, close to the parks, the club chef exerts
himself when I lunch or dine, and the rarest vintages in the cellar
are always at my disposal. Yet, since my return to London, I have
never known a day's security or peace; I tremble when I awake lest
Smith should be standing at my bed, and every step I take seems to
bring me nearer to the edge of the precipice. Smith, I knew, had
escaped free from the raid of the Vigilantes, and I grew faint at the
thought that he would in all probability return to London, and that
suddenly and unprepared I should meet him face to face. Every morning
as I left my house I would peer up and down the street, expecting to
see that dreaded figure awaiting me; I have delayed at street-corners,
my heart in my mouth, sickening at the thought that a few quick steps
might bring us together; I could not bear to frequent the theatres or
music-halls, lest by some bizarre chance he should prove to be my
neighbour. Sometimes I have been forced, against my will, to walk out
at night, and then in silent squares the shadows have made me shudder,
and in the medley of meetings in the crowded thoroughfares I have said
to myself, 'It must come sooner or later; he will surely return to
London, and I shall see him when I feel most secure.' I scanned the
newspapers for hint or intimation of approaching danger, and no small
type nor report of trivial interest was allowed to pass unread.
Especially I read and re-read the advertisement columns, but without
result; months passed by, and I was undisturbed till, though I felt
far from safe, I no longer suffered from the intolerable oppression of
instant and ever-present terror. This afternoon, as I was walking
quietly along Oxford Street, I raised my eyes and looked across the
road, and then at last I saw the man who had so long haunted my
thoughts.


Mr Wilkins finished his wine, and leant back in his chair, looking
sadly at Dyson; and then, as if a thought struck him, fished out of an
inner pocket a leather lettercase, and handed a newspaper cutting
across the table. Dyson glanced closely at the slip, and saw that it
had been extracted from the columns of an evening paper. It ran as
follows:--

 WHOLESALE LYNCHING

 SHOCKING STORY

'A Dalziel telegram from Reading (Colorado) states that advices
received there from Blue Rock Park report a frightful instance of
popular vengeance. For some time the neighbourhood has been terrorized
by the crimes of a gang of desperadoes, who, under the cover of a
carefully planned organization, have perpetrated the most infamous
cruelties on men and women. A Vigilance Committee was formed, and it
was found that the leader of the gang was a person named Smith, living
in Blue Rock Park. Action was taken, and six of the worst in the band
were summarily strangled in the presence of two or three hundred men
and women. Smith is said to have escaped.'


'This is a terrible story,' said Dyson; 'I can well believe that your
days and nights are haunted by such fearful scenes as you have
described. But surely you have no need to fear Smith? He has much more
cause to fear you. Consider: you have only to lay your information
before the police, and a warrant would be immediately issued for his
arrest. Besides, you will, I am sure, excuse me for what I am going to
say.'

'My dear sir,' said Mr Wilkins,' I hope you will speak to me with
perfect freedom.'

'Well, then, I must confess that my impression was that you were
rather disappointed at not being able to stop the man before he drove
off. I thought you seemed annoyed that you could not get across the
street.'

'Sir, I did not know what I was about. I caught sight of the man, but
it was only for a moment, and the agony you witnessed was the agony of
suspense. I was not perfectly certain of the face, and the horrible
thought that Smith was again in London overwhelmed me. I shuddered at
the idea of this incarnate fiend, whose soul is black with shocking
crimes, mingling free and unobserved amongst the harmless crowds,
meditating perhaps a new and more fearful cycle of infamies. I tell
you, sir, that an awful being stalks through the streets, a being
before whom the sunlight itself should blacken, and the summer air
grow chill and dank. Such thoughts as these rushed upon me with the
force of a whirlwind; I lost my senses.'

'I see. I partly understand your feelings, but I would impress on you
that you have nothing really to fear. Depend upon it, Smith will not
molest you in any way. You must remember he himself has had a warning;
and indeed, from the brief glance I had of him, he seemed to me to be
a frightened-looking man. However, I see it is getting late, and if
you will excuse me, Mr Wilkins, I think I will be going. I dare say
we shall often meet here.'

Dyson walked off smartly, pondering the strange story chance had
brought him, and finding on cool reflection that there was something a
little strange in Mr Wilkins's manner, for which not even so weird a
catalogue of experiences could altogether account.

                        ---------------------
                  ADVENTURE OF THE MISSING BROTHER

Mr Charles Phillipps was, as has been hinted, a gentleman of
pronounced scientific tastes. In his early days he had devoted himself
with fond enthusiasm to the agreeable study of biology, and a brief
monograph on the Embryology of the Microscopic Holothuria had formed
his first contribution to the _belles lettres_. Later he had somewhat
relaxed the severity of his pursuits, and had dabbled in the more
frivolous subjects of palæontology and ethnology; he had a cabinet in
his sitting-room whose drawers were stuffed with rude flint
implements, and a charming fetish from the South Seas was the dominant
note in the decorative scheme of the apartment. Flattering himself
with the title of materialist, he was in truth one of the most
credulous of men, but he required a marvel to be neatly draped in the
robes of Science before he would give it any credit, and the wildest
dreams took solid shape to him if only the nomenclature were severe
and irreproachable. He laughed at the witch, but quailed before the
powers of the hypnotist, lifting his eyebrows when Christianity was
mentioned, but adoring protyle and the ether. For the rest, he prided
himself on a boundless scepticism; the average tale of wonder he heard
with nothing but contempt, and he would certainly not have credited a
word or syllable of Dyson's story of the pursuer and pursued, unless
the gold coin had been produced as visible and tangible evidence. As
it was, he half suspected that Dyson had imposed on him; he knew his
friend's disordered fancies, and his habit of conjuring up the
marvellous to account for the entirely commonplace; and, on the whole,
he was inclined to think that the so-called facts in the odd adventure
had been gravely distorted in the telling. Since the evening on which
he had listened to the tale he had paid Dyson a visit, and had
delivered himself of some serious talk on the necessity of accurate
observation, and the folly, as he put it, of using a kaleidoscope
instead of a telescope in the view of things, to which remarks his
friend had listened with a smile that was extremely sardonic. 'My dear
fellow,' Dyson had remarked at last, 'you will allow me to tell you
that I see your drift perfectly. However, you will be astonished to
hear that I consider you to be the visionary, while I am a sober and
serious spectator of human life. You have gone round the circle; and
while you fancy yourself far in the golden land of new philosophies,
you are in reality a dweller in a metaphorical Clapham; your
scepticism has defeated itself and become a monstrous credulity; you
are, in fact, in the position of the bat or owl, I forget which it
was, who denied the existence of the sun at noonday, and I shall be
astonished if you do not one day come to me full of contrition for
your manifold intellectual errors, with a humble resolution to see
things in their true light for the future.' This tirade had left Mr
Phillipps unimpressed; he considered Dyson as hopeless, and he went
home to gloat over some primitive stone implements that a friend had
sent him from India. He found that his landlady, seeing them displayed
in all their rude formlessness upon the table, had removed the
collection to the dustbin, and had replaced it by lunch; and the
afternoon was spent in malodorous research. Mrs Brown hearing these
stones spoken of as very valuable knives, had called him in his
hearing 'poor Mr Phillipps,' and between rage and evil odours he
spent a sorry afternoon. It was four o'clock before he had completed
his work of rescue; and, overpowered with the flavours of decaying
cabbage leaves, Phillipps felt that he must have a walk to gain an
appetite for the evening meal. Unlike Dyson he walked fast, with his
eyes on the pavement, absorbed in his thoughts, and oblivious of the
life around him; and he could not have told by what streets he had
passed, when he suddenly lifted up his eyes and found himself in
Leicester Square. The grass and flowers pleased him, and he welcomed
the opportunity of resting for a few minutes, and glancing round, he
saw a bench which had only one occupant, a lady, and as she was seated
at one end, Phillipps took up a position at the other extremity, and
began to pass in angry review the events of the afternoon. He had
noticed as he came up to the bench that the person already there was
neatly dressed, and to all appearance young; her face he could not
see, as it was turned away in apparent contemplation of the shrubs,
and, moreover, shielded with her hand; but it would be doing wrong to
Mr Phillipps to imagine that his choice of a seat was dictated by any
hopes of an affair of the heart, he had simply preferred the company
of one lady to that of five dirty children, and having seated himself,
was immersed directly in thoughts of his misfortunes. He had meditated
changing his lodgings; but now, on a judicial review of the case in
all its bearings, his calmer judgment told him that the race of
landladies is like to the race of the leaves, and that there was but
little to choose between them. He resolved, however, to talk to Mrs
Brown, the offender, very coolly and yet severely, to point out the
extreme indiscretion of her conduct, and to express a hope for better
things in the future. With this decision registered in his mind,
Phillipps was about to get up from the seat and move off, when he was
intensely annoyed to hear a stifled sob, evidently from the lady, who
still continued her contemplation of the shrubs and flower-beds. He
clutched his stick desperately, and in a moment would have been in
full retreat, when the lady turned her face towards him, and with a
mute entreaty bespoke his attention. She was a young girl with a
quaint and piquant rather than a beautiful face, and she was evidently
in the bitterest distress. Mr Phillipps sat down again, and cursed
his chances heartily. The young lady looked at him with a pair of
charming eyes of a shining hazel, which showed no trace of tears,
though a handkerchief was in her hand; she bit her lip, and seemed to
struggle with some overpowering grief, and her whole attitude was
all-beseeching and imploring. Phillipps sat on the edge of the bench
gazing awkwardly at her, and wondering what was to come next, and she
looked at him still without speaking.

'Well, madam,' he said at last, 'I understood from your gesture that
you wished to speak to me. Is there anything I can do for you? Though,
if you will pardon me, I cannot help saying that that seems highly
improbable.'

'Ah, sir,' she said in a low, murmuring voice, 'do not speak harshly
to me. I am in sore straits, and I thought from your face that I could
safely ask your sympathy, if not your help.'

'Would you kindly tell me what is the matter?' said Phillipps.
'Perhaps you would like some tea?'

'I knew I could not be mistaken,' the lady replied. 'That offer of
refreshment bespeaks a generous mind. But tea, alas! is powerless to
console me. If you will let me, I shall endeavour to explain my
trouble.'

'I should be glad if you would.'

'I shall do so, and I shall try to be brief, in spite of the numerous
complications which have made me, young as I am, tremble before what
seems the profound and terrible mystery of existence. Yet the grief
which now racks my very soul is but too simple; I have lost my
brother.'

'Lost your brother! How on earth can that be?'

'I see I must trouble you with a few particulars. My brother, then,
who is by some years my elder, is a tutor in a private school in the
extreme north of London. The want of means deprived him of the
advantages of a University education; and lacking the stamp of a
degree, he could not hope for that position which his scholarship and
his talents entitled him to claim. He was thus forced to accept the
post of classical master at Dr Saunderson's Highgate Academy for the
Sons of Gentlemen, and he has performed his duties with perfect
satisfaction to his principal for some years. My personal history need
not trouble you; it will be enough if I tell you that for the last
month I have been governess in a family residing at Tooting. My
brother and I have always cherished the warmest mutual affection; and
though circumstances into which I need not enter have I kept us apart
for some time, yet we have never lost I sight of one another. We made
up our minds that unless one of us was absolutely unable to rise from
a bed of sickness, we should never let a week pass by without meeting,
and some time ago we chose this square as our rendezvous on account of
its central position and its convenience of access. And indeed, after
a week of distasteful toil, my brother felt little inclination for
much walking, and we have often spent two or three hours on this
bench, speaking of our prospects and of happier days, when we were
children. In the early spring it was cold and chilly; still we enjoyed
the short respite, and I think that we were often taken for a pair of
lovers, as we sat close together, eagerly talking. Saturday after
Saturday we have met each other here; and though the doctor told him
it was madness, my brother would not allow the influenza to break the
appointment. That was some time ago; last Saturday we had a long and
happy afternoon, and separated more cheerfully than usual, feeling
that the coming week would be bearable, and resolving that our next
meeting should be if possible still more pleasant. I arrived here at
the time agreed upon, four o'clock, and sat down and watched for my
brother, expecting every moment to see him advancing towards me from
that gate at the north side of the square. Five minutes passed by, and
he had not arrived, I thought he must have missed his train, and the
idea that our interview would be cut short by twenty minutes, or
perhaps half an hour, saddened me; I had hoped we should be so happy
together today. Suddenly, moved by I know not what impulse, I turned
abruptly round, and how can I describe to you my astonishment when I
saw my brother advancing slowly towards me from the southern side of
the square, accompanied by another person? My first thought, I
remember, had in it something of resentment that this man, whoever he
was, should intrude himself into our meeting; I wondered who it could
possibly be, for my brother had, I may say, no intimate friends. Then
as I looked still at the advancing figures, another feeling took
possession of me; it was a sensation of bristling fear, the fear of
the child in the dark, unreasonable and unreasoning, but terrible,
clutching at my heart as with the cold grip of a dead man's hands. Yet
I overcame the feeling, and looked steadily at my brother, waiting for
him to speak, and more closely at his companion. Then I noticed that
this man was leading my brother rather than walking arm-in-arm with
him; he was a tall man, dressed in quite ordinary fashion. He wore a
high bowler hat, and, in spite of the warmth of the day, a plain black
overcoat, tightly buttoned, and I noticed his trousers, of a quiet
black and grey stripe. The face was commonplace too, and indeed I
cannot recall any special features, or any trick of expression; for
though I looked at him as he came near, curiously enough his face made
no impression on me -- it was as though I had seen a well-made mask.
They passed in front of me, and to my unutterable astonishment, I
heard my brother's voice speaking to me, though his lips did not move,
nor his eyes look into mine. It was a voice I cannot describe, though
I knew it, but the words came to my ears as if mingled with plashing
water and the sound of a shallow brook flowing amidst stones. I heard,
then, the words, "I cannot stay," and for a moment the heavens and the
earth seemed to rush together with the sound of thunder, and I was
thrust forth from the world into a black void without ing and
without end. For, as my brother passed me, I saw the hand that held
him by the arm, and seemed to guide him, and in one moment of horror I
realized that it was as a formless thing that has mouldered for many
years in the grave. The flesh was peeled in strips from the bones, and
hung apart dry and granulated, and the fingers that encircled my
brother's arm were all unshapen, claw-like things, and one was but a
stump from which the end had rotted off. When I recovered my senses I
saw the two passing out by that gate. I paused for a moment, and then
with a rush as of fire to my heart I knew that no horror could stay
me, but that I must follow my brother and save him, even though all
hell rose up against me. I ran out, and looked up the pavement, and
saw the two figures walking amidst the crowd. I ran across the road,
and saw them turn up that side street, and I reached the corner a
moment later. In vain I looked to right and left, for neither my
brother nor his strange guardian was in sight; two elderly men were
coming down arm-in-arm, and a telegraph boy was walking lustily along
whistling. I remained there a moment horror-struck, and then I bowed
my head and returned to this seat, where you found me. Now, sir, do
you wonder at my grief? Oh, tell me what has happened to my brother,
or I feel I shall go mad!'

Mr Phillipps, who had listened with exemplary patience to this tale,
hesitated a moment before he spoke.

'My dear madam,' he said at length, 'you have known how to engage me
in your service, not only as a man, but as a student of science. As a
fellow-creature I pity you most profoundly; you must have suffered
extremely from what you saw, or rather from what you fancied you saw.
For, as a scientific observer, it is my duty to tell you the plain
truth, which, indeed, besides being true, must also console you. Allow
me to ask you then to describe your brother.'

'Certainly,' said the lady eagerly; 'I can describe him accurately. My
brother is a somewhat young-looking man; he is pale, has small black
whiskers, and wears spectacles. He has rather a timid, almost a
frightened expression, and looks about him nervously from side to
side. Think, think! Surely you must have seen him. Perhaps you are an
_habitué_ of this engaging quarter; you may have met him on some
previous Saturday. I may have been mistaken in supposing that he
turned up that side street; he may have gone on, and you may have
passed each other. Oh, tell me, sir, whether you have not seen him?'

'I am afraid I do not keep a very sharp look-out when I am walking,'
said Phillipps, who would have passed his mother unnoticed; 'but I am
sure your description is admirable. And now will you describe the
person who, you say, held your brother by the arm?'

'I cannot do so. I told you his face seemed devoid of expression or
salient feature. It was like a mask.'

'Exactly; you cannot describe what you have never seen. I need hardly
point out to you the conclusion to be drawn; you have been the victim
of an hallucination. You expected to see your brother, you were
alarmed because you did not see him, and unconsciously, no doubt, your
brain went to work, and finally you saw a mere projection of your own
morbid thoughts -- a vision of your absent brother, and a mere
confusion of terrors incorporated in a figure which you can't
describe. Of course your brother has been in some way prevented from
coming to meet you as usual. I expect you will hear from him in a day
or two.'

The lady looked seriously at Mr Phillipps, and then for a second
there seemed almost a twinkling as of mirth about her eyes, but her
face clouded sadly at the dogmatic conclusions to which the scientist
was led so irresistibly.

'Ah!' she said, 'you do not know. I cannot doubt the evidence of my
waking senses. Besides, perhaps I have had experiences even more
terrible. I acknowledge the force of your arguments, but a woman has
intuitions which never deceive her. Believe me, I am not hysterical;
feel my pulse, it is quite regular.'

She stretched out her hand with a dainty gesture, and a glance that
enraptured Phillipps in spite of himself. The hand held out to him was
soft and white and warm, and as, in some confusion, he placed his
fingers on the purple vein, he felt profoundly touched by the
spectacle of love and grief before him.

'No,' he said, as he released her wrist, 'as you say, you are
evidently quite yourself. Still, you must be aware that living men do
not possess dead hands. That sort of thing doesn't happen. It is, of
course, barely possible that you did see your brother with another
gentleman, and that important business prevented him from stopping. As
for the wonderful hand, there may have been some deformity, a finger
shot off by accident, or something of that sort.'

The lady shook her head mournfully.

'I see you are a determined rationalist,' she said. 'Did you not hear
me say that I have had experiences even more terrible? I too was once
a sceptic, but after what I have known I can no longer affect to
doubt.'

'Madam,' replied Mr Phillipps, 'no one shall make me deny my faith. I
will never believe, nor will I pretend to believe, that two and two
make five, nor will I on any pretences admit the existence of
two-sided triangles.'

'You are a little hasty,' rejoined the lady. 'But may I ask you if you
ever heard the name of Professor Gregg, the authority on ethnology and
kindred subjects?'

'I have done much more than merely hear of Professor Gregg,' said
Phillipps. 'I always regarded him as one of our most acute and
clear-headed observers; and his last publication, the _Textbook of
Ethnology_, struck me as being quite admirable in its kind. Indeed,
the book had but come into my hands when I heard of the terrible
accident which cut short Gregg's career. He had, I think, taken a
country house in the West of England for the summer, and is supposed
to have fallen into a river. So far as I remember, his body was never
recovered.'

'Sir, I am sure that you are discreet. Your conversation seems to
declare as much, and the very title of that little work of yours which
you mentioned assures me that you are no empty trifler. In a word, I
feel that I may depend on you. You appear to be under the impression
that Professor Gregg is dead; I have no reason to believe that that is
the case.'

'What?' cried Phillipps, astonished and perturbed.

'You do not hint that there was anything disgraceful? I cannot believe
it. Gregg was a man of clearest character; his private life was one of
great benevolence; and though I myself am free from delusions, I
believe him to have been a sincere and devout Christian. Surely you
cannot mean to insinuate that some disreputable history forced him to
flee the country?'

'Again you are in a hurry,' replied the lady. 'I said nothing of all
this. Briefly, then, I must tell you that Professor Gregg left his
house one morning in full health both of mind and body. He never
returned, but his watch and chain, a purse containing three sovereigns
in gold, and some loose silver, with a ring that he wore habitually,
were found three days later on a wild and savage hillside, many miles
from the river. These articles were placed beside a limestone rock of
fantastic form; they had been wrapped into a parcel with a kind of
rough parchment which was secured with gut. The parcel was opened, and
the inner side of the parchment bore an inscription done with some red
substance in the characters were undecipherable, but seemed to be a
corrupt cuneiform.'

'You interest me intensely,' said Phillipps. 'Would you mind
continuing your story? The circumstance you have mentioned seems to me
of the most inexplicable character, and I thirst for an elucidation.'

The young lady seemed to meditate for a moment, and she then proceeded
to relate the


NOVEL OF THE BLACK SEAL


I must now give you some fuller particulars of my history. I am the
daughter of a civil engineer, Steven Lally by name, who was so
unfortunate as to die suddenly at the outset of his career, and before
he had accumulated sufficient means to support his wife and her two
children. My mother contrived to keep the small household going on
resources which must have been incredibly small; we lived in a remote
country village, because most of the necessaries of life were cheaper
than in a town, but even so we were brought up with the severest
economy. My father was a clever and well-read man, and left behind him
a small but select collection of books, containing the best Greek,
Latin, and English classics, and these books were the only amusement
we possessed. My brother, I remember, learnt Latin out of Descartes'
_Meditationes_, and I, in place of the little tales which children are
usually told to read, had nothing more charming than a translation of
the _Gesta Romanorum_. We grew up thus, quiet and studious children,
and in course of time my brother provided for himself in the manner I
have mentioned. I continued to live at home: my poor mother had become
an invalid, and demanded my continual care, and about two years ago
she died after many months of painful illness. My situation was a
terrible one; the shabby furniture barely sufficed to pay the debts I
had been forced to contract, and the books I dispatched to my brother,
knowing how he would value them. I was absolutely alone; I was aware
how poorly my brother was paid; and though I came up to London in the
hope of finding employment, with the understanding that he would
defray my expenses, I swore it should only be for a month, and that if
I could not in that time find some work I would starve rather than
deprive him of the few miserable pounds he had laid by for his day of
trouble. I took a little room in a distant suburb, the cheapest that I
could find; I lived on bread and tea, and I spent my time in vain
answering of advertisements, and vainer walks to addresses I had
noted. Day followed on day, and week on week, and still I was
unsuccessful, till at last the term I had appointed drew to a close,
and I saw before me the grim prospect of slowly dying of starvation.
My landlady was good-natured in her way; she knew the slenderness of
my means, and I am sure that she would not have turned me out of
doors; it remained for me then to go away, and to try to die in some
quiet place. It was winter then, and a thick white fog gathered in the
early part of the afternoon, becoming more dense as the day wore on;
it was a Sunday, I remember, and the people of the house were at
chapel. At about three o'clock I crept out and walked away as quickly
as I could, for I was weak from abstinence. The white mist wrapped all
the streets in silence, a hard frost had gathered thick upon the bare
branches of the trees, and frost crystals glittered on the wooden
fences, and on the cold, cruel ground beneath my feet. I walked on,
turning to right and left in utter haphazard, without caring to look
up at the names of the streets, and all that I remember of my walk on
that Sunday afternoon seems but the broken fragments of an evil dream.
In a confused vision I stumbled on through roads half town and half
country, grey fields melting into the cloudy world of mist on one side
of me, and on the other comfortable villas with a glow of firelight
flickering on the walls, but all unreal; red brick walls and lighted
windows, vague trees, and glimmering country, gas-lamps ing to
star the white shadows, the vanishing perspectives of the railway line
beneath high embankments. the green and red of the signal lamps -- all
these were but momentary pictures flashed on my tired brain and senses
numbed by hunger. Now and then I would hear a quick step ringing on
the iron road, and men would pass me well wrapped up, walking fast for
the sake of warmth, and no doubt eagerly foretasting the pleasures of
a glowing hearth, with curtains tightly drawn about the frosted panes,
and the welcomes of their friends, but as the early evening darkened
and night approached, foot-passengers got fewer and fewer, and I
passed through street after street alone. In the white silence I
stumbled on, as desolate as if I trod the streets of a buried city;
and as I grew more weak and exhausted, something of the horror of
death was folding thickly round my heart. Suddenly, as I turned a
corner, some one accosted me courteously beneath the lamp-post, and I
heard a voice asking if I could kindly point the way to Avon Road. At
the sudden shock of human accents I was prostrated, and my strength
gave way; I fell all huddled on the sidewalk, and wept and sobbed and
laughed in violent hysteria. I had gone out prepared to die, and as I
stepped across the threshold that had sheltered me, I consciously bade
adieu to all hopes and all remembrances; the door clanged behind me
with the noise of thunder, and I felt that an iron curtain had fallen
on the brief passage of my life, that henceforth I was to walk a
little way in a world of gloom and shadow; I entered on the stage of
the first act of death. Then came my wandering in the mist, the
whiteness wrapping all things, the void streets, and muffled silence,
till when that voice spoke to me it was as if I had died and life
returned to me. In a few minutes I was able to compose my feelings,
and as I rose I saw that I was confronted by a middle-aged gentleman
of pleasing appearance, neatly and correctly dressed. He looked at me
with an expression of great pity, but before I could stammer out my
ignorance of the neighbourhood, for indeed I had not the slightest
notion of where I had wandered, he spoke.

'My dear madam,' he said, 'you seem in some terrible distress. You
cannot think how you alarmed me. But may I inquire the nature of your
trouble? I assure you that you can safely confide in me.'

'You are very kind,' I replied. 'But I fear there is nothing to be
done. My condition seems a hopeless one.'

'Oh, nonsense, nonsense! You are too young to talk like that. Come,
let us walk down here and you must tell me your difficulty. Perhaps I
may be able to help you.'

There was something very soothing and persuasive in his manner, and as
we walked together I gave him an outline of my story, and told of the
despair that had oppressed me almost to death.

'You were wrong to give in so completely,' he said, when I was silent.
'A month is too short a time in which to feel one's way in London.
London, let me tell you, Miss Lally, does not lie open and undefended;
it is a fortified place, fossed and double-moated with curious
intricacies. As must always happen in large towns, the conditions of
life have become hugely artificial, no mere simple palisade is run up
to oppose the man or woman who would take the place by storm, but
serried lines of subtle contrivances, mines, and pitfalls which it
needs a strange skill to overcome. You, in your simplicity, fancied
you had only to shout for these walls to sink into nothingness, but
the time is gone for such startling victories as these. Take courage;
you will learn the secret of success before very long.'

'Alas! sir,' I replied, 'I have no doubt your conclusions are correct,
but at the present moment I seem to be in a fair way to die of
starvation. You spoke of a secret; for Heaven's sake tell it me, if
you have any pity for my distress.'

He laughed genially. 'There lies the strangeness of it all. Those who
know the secret cannot tell it if they would; it is positively as
ineffable as the central doctrine of freemasonry. But I may say this,
that you yourself have penetrated at least the outer husk of the
mystery,' and he laughed again.

'Pray do not jest with me,' I said. 'What have I done, _que sais-je_?
I am so far ignorant that I have not the slightest idea of how my next
meal is to be provided.'

'Excuse me. You ask what you have done. You have met me. Come, we will
fence no longer. I see you have self-education, the only education
which is not infinitely pernicious and I am in want of a governess
for my two children. I have been a widower for some years; my name is
Gregg. I offer you the post I have named, and shall we say a salary of
a hundred a year?'

I could only stutter out my thanks, and slipping a card with his
address, and a banknote by way of earnest, into my hand, Mr Gregg
bade me good-bye, asking me to call in a day or two.

Such was my introduction to Professor Gregg, and can you wonder that
the remembrance of despair and the cold blast that had blown from the
gates of death upon me made me regard him as a second father? Before
the close of the week I was installed in my new duties. The Professor
had leased an old brick manor-house in a western suburb of London, and
here, surrounded by pleasant lawns and orchards, and soothed with the
murmur of ancient elms that rocked their boughs above the roof, the
new chapter of my life began. Knowing as you do the nature of the
professor's occupation, you will not be surprised to hear that the
house teemed with books, and cabinets full of strange, and even
hideous, objects filled every available nook in the vast low rooms.
Gregg was a man whose one thought was for knowledge, and I too before
long caught something of his enthusiasm, and strove to enter into his
passion of research. In a few months I was perhaps more his secretary
than the governess of the two children, and many a night I have sat at
the desk in the glow of the shaded lamp while he, pacing up and down
in the rich gloom of the firelight, dictated to me the substance of
his _Textbook of Ethnology_. But amidst these more sober and accurate
studies I always detected a something hidden, a longing and desire for
some object to which he did not allude; and now and then he would
break short in what he was saying and lapse into reverie, entranced,
as it seemed to me, by some distant prospect of adventurous discovery.
The textbook was at last finished, and we began to receive proofs from
the printers, which were entrusted to me for a first reading, and then
underwent the final revision of the professor. All the while his
wariness of the actual business he was engaged on increased, and it
was with the joyous laugh of a schoolboy when term is over that he one
day handed me a copy of the book. 'There,' he said, 'I have kept my
word; I promised to write it, and it is done with. Now I shall be free
to live for stranger things; I confess it, Miss Lally, I covet the
renown of Columbus; you will, I hope, see me play the part of an
explorer.'

'Surely,' I said, 'there is little left to explore. You have been born
a few hundred years too late for that.'

'I think you, are wrong,' he replied; 'there are still, depend upon
it, quaint, undiscovered countries and continents of strange extent.
Ah, Miss Lally! believe me, we stand amidst sacraments and mysteries
full of awe, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. Life,
believe me, is no simple thing, no mass of grey matter and congeries
of veins and muscles to be laid naked by the surgeon's knife; man is
the secret which I am about to explore, and before I can discover him
I must cross over weltering seas indeed, and oceans and the mists of
many thousand years. You know the myth of the lost Atlantis; what if
it be true, and I am destined to be called the discoverer of that
wonderful land?'

I could see excitement boiling beneath his words, and in his face was
the heat of the hunter; before me stood a man who believed himself
summoned to tourney with the unknown. A pang of joy possessed me when
I reflected that I was to be in a way associated with him in the
adventure, and I, too, burned with the lust of the chase, not pausing
to consider that I knew not what we were to unshadow.

The next morning Professor Gregg took me into his inner study, where,
ranged against the wall, stood a nest of pigeonholes, every drawer
neatly labelled, and the results of years of toil classified in a few
feet of space.

'Here,' he said, 'is my life; here are all the facts which I have
gathered together with so much pains, and yet it is all nothing. No,
nothing to what I am about to attempt. Look at this;' and he took me
to an old bureau, a piece fantastic and faded, which stood in a corner
of the room. He unlocked the front and opened one of the drawers.

'A few scraps of paper,' he went on, pointing to the drawer, 'and a
lump of black stone, rudely annotated with queer marks and scratches
-- that is all that the drawer holds. Here you see is an old envelope
with the dark red stamp of twenty years ago, but I have pencilled a
few lines at the back; here is a sheet of manuscript, and here some
cuttings from obscure local journals. And if you ask me the
subject-matter of the collection, it will not seem extraordinary -- a
servant-girl at a farmhouse, who disappeared from her place and has
never been heard of, a child supposed to have slipped down some old
working on the mountains, some queer scribbling on a limestone rock, a
man murdered with a blow from a strange weapon; such is the scent I
have to go upon. Yes, as you say, there is a ready explanation for all
this; the girl may have run away to London, or Liverpool, or New York;
the child may be at the bottom of the disused shaft; and the letters
on the rock may be the idle whims of some vagrant. Yes, yes, I admit
all that; but I know I hold the true key. Look!' and he held out a
slip of yellow paper.

_Characters found inscribed on a limestone rock on the Grey Hills_, I
read, and then there was a word erased, presumably the name of a
county, and a date some fifteen years back. Beneath was traced a
number of uncouth characters, shaped somewhat like wedges or daggers,
as strange and outlandish as the Hebrew alphabet.

'Now the seal,' said Professor Gregg, and he handed me the black
stone, a thing about two inches long, and something like an
old-fashioned tobacco-stopper, much enlarged.

I held it up to the light, and saw to my surprise the characters on
the paper repeated on the seal.

'Yes,' said the professor, 'they are the same. And the marks on the
limestone rock were made fifteen years ago, with some red substance.
And the characters on the seal are four thousand years old at least.
Perhaps much more.'

'Is it a hoax?' I said.

'No, I anticipated that. I was not to be led to give my life to a
practical joke. I have tested the matter very carefully. Only one
person besides myself knows of the mere existence of that black seal.
Besides, there are other reasons which I cannot enter into now.'

'But what does it all mean?' I said. 'I cannot understand to what
conclusion all this leads.'

'My dear Miss Lally, that is a question that I would rather leave
unanswered for some little time. Perhaps I shall never be able to say
what secrets are held here in solution; a few vague hints, the
outlines of village tragedies, a few marks done with red earth upon a
rock, and an ancient seal. A queer set of data to go upon? Half a
dozen pieces of evidence, and twenty years before even so much could
be got together; and who knows what mirage or _terra incognita_ may be
beyond all this? I look across deep waters, Miss Lally, and the land
beyond may be but a haze after all. But still I believe it is not so,
and a few months will show whether I am right or wrong.'

He left me, and alone I endeavoured to fathom the mystery, wondering
to what goal such eccentric odds and ends of evidence could lead. I
myself am not wholly devoid of imagination, and I had reason to
respect the professor's solidity of intellect; yet I saw in the
contents of the drawers but the materials of fantasy, and vainly tried
to conceive what theory could be founded on the fragments that had
been placed before me. Indeed, I could discover in what I had heard
and seen but the first chapter of an extravagant romance; and yet deep
in my heart I burned with curiosity, and day after day I looked
eagerly in Professor Gregg's face for some hint of what was to happen.

It was one evening after dinner that the word came.

'I hope you can make your preparations without much trouble,' he said
suddenly to me. 'We shall be leaving here in a week's time.'

'Really!' I said in astonishment. 'Where are we going?'

'I have taken a country house in the west of England, not far from
Caermaen, a quiet little town, once a city, and the headquarters of a
Roman legion. It is very dull there, but the country is pretty, and
the air is wholesome.'

I detected a glint in his eyes, and guessed that this sudden move had
some relation to our conversation of a few days before.

'I shall just take a few books with me,' said Professor Gregg, 'that
is all. Everything else will remain here for our return. I have got a
holiday,' he went on, smiling at me, 'and I shan't be sorry to be quit
for a time of my old bones and stones and rubbish. Do you know,' he
went on, 'I have been grinding away at facts for thirty years; it is
time for fancies.'

The days passed quickly; I could see that the professor was all
quivering with suppressed excitement, and I could scarce credit the
eager appetence of his glance as we left the old manor-house behind us
and began our journey. We set out at midday, and it was in the dusk of
the evening that we arrived at a little country station. I was tired
and excited, and the drive through the lanes seems all a dream. First
the deserted streets of a forgotten village, while I heard Professor
Gregg's voice talking of the Augustan Legion and the clash of arms,
and all the tremendous pomp that followed the eagles; then the broad
river swimming to full tide with the last afterglow glimmering duskily
in the yellow water, the wide meadows, the cornfields whitening, and
the deep lane winding on the slope between the hills and the water. At
last we began to ascend, and the air grew rarer. I looked down and saw
the pure white mist tracking the outline of the river like a shroud,
and a vague and shadowy country; imaginations and fantasy of swelling
hills and hanging woods, and half-shaped outlines of hills beyond, and
in the distance the glare of the furnace fire on the mountain, glowing
by turns a pillar of shining flame and fading to a dull point of red.
We were slowly mounting a carriage drive, and then there came to me
the cool breath and the secret of the great wood that was above us; I
seemed to wander in its deepest depths, and there was the sound of
trickling water, the scent of the green leaves, and the breath of the
summer night. The carriage stopped at last, and I could scarcely
distinguish the form of the house, as I waited a moment at the
pillared porch. The rest of the evening seemed a dream of strange
things bounded by the great silence of the wood and the valley and the
river.

The next morning, when I awoke and looked out of the bow window of the
big, old-fashioned bedroom, I saw under a grey sky a country that was
still all mystery. The long, lovely valley, with the river winding in
and out below, crossed in mid-vision by a mediæval bridge of vaulted
and buttressed stone, the clear presence of the rising ground beyond,
and the woods that I had only seen in shadow the night before, seemed
tinged with enchantment, and the soft breath of air that sighed in at
the opened pane was like no other wind. I looked across the valley,
and beyond, hill followed on hill as wave on wave, and here a faint
blue pillar of smoke rose still in the morning air from the chimney of
an ancient grey farmhouse, there was a rugged height crowned with dark
firs, and in the distance I saw the white streak of a road that
climbed and vanished into some unimagined country. But the boundary of
all was a great wall of mountain, vast in the west, and ending like a
fortress with a steep ascent and a domed tumulus clear against the
sky.

I saw Professor Gregg walking up and down the terrace path below the
windows, and it was evident that he was revelling in the sense of
liberty, and the thought that he had for a while bidden good-bye to
task-work. When I joined him there was exultation in his voice as he
pointed out the sweep of valley and the river that wound beneath the
lovely hills.

'Yes,' he said, 'it is a strangely beautiful country; and to me, at
least, it seems full of mystery. You have not forgotten the drawer I
showed you, Miss Lally? No; and you have guessed that I have come here
not merely for the sake of the children and the fresh air?'

'I think I have guessed as much as that,' I replied; 'but you must
remember I do not know the mere nature of your investigations; and as
for the connection between the search and this wonderful valley, it is
past my guessing.'

He smiled queerly at me. 'You must not think I am making a mystery for
the sake of mystery,' he said. 'I do not speak out because, so far,
there is nothing to be spoken, nothing definite, I mean, nothing that
can be set down in hard black and white, as dull and sure and
irreproachable as any blue-book. And then I have another reason: Many
years ago a chance paragraph in a newspaper caught my attention, and
focussed in an instant the vagrant thoughts and half-formed fancies of
many idle and speculative hours into a certain hypothesis. I saw at
once that I was treading on a thin crust; my theory was wild and
fantastic in the extreme, and I would not for any consideration have
written a hint of it for publication. But I thought that in the
company of scientific men like myself, men who knew the course of
discovery, and were aware that the gas that blazes and flares in the
gin-palace was once a wild hypothesis -- I thought that with such men
as these I might hazard my dream -- let us say Atlantis, or the
philosopher's stone, or what you like -- without danger of ridicule. I
found I was grossly mistaken; my friends looked blankly at me and at
one another, and I could see something of pity, and something also of
insolent contempt, in the glances they exchanged. One of them called
on me next day, and hinted that I must be suffering from overwork and
brain exhaustion. "In plain terms," I said, "you think I am going mad.
I think not"; and I showed him out with some little appearance of
heat. Since that day I vowed that I would never whisper the nature of
my theory to any living soul; to no one but yourself have I ever shown
the contents of that drawer. After all, I may be following a rainbow;
I may have been misled by the play of coincidence; but as I stand here
in this mystic hush and silence, amidst the woods and wild hills, I am
more than ever sure that I am hot on the scent. Come, it is time we
went in.'

To me in all this there was something both of wonder and excitement; I
knew how in his ordinary work Professor Gregg moved step by step,
testing every inch of the way, and never venturing on assertion
without proof that was impregnable. Yet I divined, more from his
glance and the vehemence of his tone than from the spoken word, that
he had in his every thought the vision of the almost incredible
continually with him; and I, who was with some share of imagination no
little of a sceptic, offended at a hint of the marvellous, could not
help asking myself whether he were cherishing a monomania, and barring
out from this one subject all the scientific method of his other life.

Yet, with this image of mystery haunting my thoughts, I surrendered
wholly to the charm of the country. Above the faded house on the
hillside began the great forest -- a long, dark line seen from the
opposing hills, stretching above the river for many a mile from north
to south, and yielding in the north to even wilder country, barren and
savage hills, and ragged commonland, a territory all strange and
unvisited, and more unknown to Englishmen than the very heart of
Africa. The space of a couple of steep fields alone separated the
house from the woods, and the children were delighted to follow me up
the long alleys of undergrowth, between smooth pleached walls of
shining beech, to the highest point in the wood, whence one looked on
one side across the river and the rise and fall of the country to the
great western mountain wall, and on the other over the surge and dip
of the myriad trees of the forest, over level meadows and the shining
yellow sea to the faint coast beyond. I used to sit at this point on
the warm sunlit turf which marked the track of the Roman Road, while
the two children raced about hunting for the whinberries that grew
here and there on the banks. Here, beneath the deep blue sky and the
great clouds rolling, like olden galleons with sails full-bellied,
from the sea to the hills, as I listened to the whispered charm of the
great and ancient wood, I lived solely for delight, and only
remembered strange things when we would return to the house and find
Professor Gregg either shut up in the little room he had made his
study, or else pacing the terrace with the look, patient and
enthusiastic, of the determined seeker.

One morning, some eight or nine days after our arrival, I looked out
of my window and saw the whole landscape transmuted before me. The
clouds had dipped low and hidden the mountain in the west; a southern
wind was driving the rain in shifting pillars up the valley, and the
little brooklet that burst the hill below the house now raged, a red
torrent, down the river. We were perforce obliged to keep snug 
within-doors; and when I had attended to my pupils, I sat down in the
morning-room, where the ruins of a library still encumbered an
old-fashioned bookcase. I had inspected the shelves once or twice, but
their contents had failed to attract me; volumes of eighteenth-century
sermons, an old book on farriery, a collection of _Poems_ by 'persons
of quality,' Prideaus's _Connection_, and an odd volume of Pope, were
the boundaries of the library, and there seemed little doubt that
everything of interest or value had been removed. Now, however, in
desperation, I began to re-examine the musty sheepskin and calf
bindings, and found, much to my delight, a fine old quarto printed by
the Stephani, containing the three books of Pomponius Mela, _De Situ
Orbis_, and other of the ancient geographers. I knew enough of Latin
to steer my way through an ordinary sentence, and I soon became
absorbed in the odd mixture of fact and fancy -- light shining on a
little of the space of the world, and beyond, mist and shadow and
awful forms. Glancing over the clear-printed pages. my attention was
caught by the heading of a chapter in Solinus, and I read the words:

 MIRA DE INTIMIS GENTIBUS LIBYAE. DE LAPIDE HEXECONTALITHO.

-- 'The wonders of the people that inhabit the inner parts of Libya,
and of the stone called Sixtystone.'


The odd title attracted me, and I read on:- 'Gens ista avia er secreta
habitat, in montibus horrendis foeda mysteria celebrat. De hominibus
nihil aliud illi praeferunt quam figuram, ab humano ritu prorsus
exulant, oderunt deum lucis. Stridunt potius quam loquuntur; vox
absona nec sine horrore auditur. Lapide quodam gloriantur, quem
Hexecontalithon vocant; dicunt enim hunc lapidem sexaginta notas
ostendere. Cujus lapidis nomen secretum ineffabile colunt: quod
Ixaxar.'

'This folk,' I translated to myself, 'dwells in remote and secret
places, and celebrates foul mysteries on savage hills. Nothing have
they in common with men save the face, and the customs of humanity are
wholly strange to them; and they hate the sun. They hiss rather than
speak; their voices are harsh, and not to be heard without fear. They
boast of a certain stone, which they call Sixtystone; for they say
that it displays sixty characters. And this stone has a secret
unspeakable name; which is Ixaxar.'

I laughed at the queer inconsequence of all this, and thought it fit
for 'Sinbad the Sailor,' or other of the supplementary Nights. When I
saw Professor Gregg in the course of the day, I told him of my find in
the bookcase, and the fantastic rubbish I had been reading. To my
surprise he looked up at me with an expression of great interest.

'That is really very curious,' he said. 'I have never thought it worth
while to look into the old geographers, and I dare say I have missed a
good deal. Ah, that is the passage, is it? It seems a shame to rob you
of your entertainment, but I really think I must carry off the book.'

The next day the professor called me to come to the study. I found him
sitting at a table in the full light of the window, scrutinizing
something very attentively with a magnifying glass.

'Ah, Miss Lally,' he began, 'I want to use your eyes. This glass is
pretty good, but not like my old one that I left in town. Would you
mind examining the thing yourself, and telling me how many characters
are cut on it?'

He handed me the object in his hand. I saw that it was the black seal
he had shown me in London, and my heart began to beat with the thought
that I was presently to know something. I took the seal, and, holding
it up to the light, checked off the grotesque dagger-shaped characters
one by one.

'I make sixty-two,' I said at last.

'Sixty-two? Nonsense; it's impossible. Ah, I see what you have done,
you have counted that and that,' and he pointed to two marks which I
had certainly taken for letters with the rest.

'Yes, yes,' Professor Gregg went on, 'but those are obvious scratches,
done accidentally; I saw that at once. Yes, then that's quite right.
Thank you very much, Miss Lally.'

I was going away, rather disappointed at my having been called in
merely to count a number of marks on the black seal, when suddenly
there flashed into my mind what I had read in the morning.

'But, Professor Gregg,' I cried, breathless, 'the seal, the seal. Why,
it is the stone Hexecontalithos that Solinus writes of; it is Ixaxar.'

'Yes,' he said, 'I suppose it is. Or it may be a mere coincidence. It
never does to be too sure, you know, in these matters. Coincidence
killed the professor.'

I went away puzzled by what I had heard, and as much as ever at a loss
to find the ruling clue in this maze of strange evidence. For three
days the bad weather lasted, changing from driving rain to a dense
mist, fine and dripping, and we seemed to be shut up in a white cloud
that veiled all the world away from us. All the while Professor Gregg
was darkling in his room, unwilling, it appeared, to dispense
confidences or talk of any kind, and I heard him walking to and fro
with a quick, impatient step, as if he were in some way wearied of
inaction. The fourth morning was fine, and at breakfast the professor
said briskly:

'We want some extra help about the house; a boy of fifteen or sixteen,
you know. There are a lot of little odd jobs that take up the maids'
time which a boy could do much better.'

'The girls have not complained to me in any way,' I replied. 'Indeed,
Anne said there was much less work than in London, owing to there
being so little dust.'

'Ah, yes, they are very good girls. But I think we shall do much
better with a boy. In fact, that is what has been bothering me for the
last two days.'

'Bothering you?' I said in astonishment, for as a matter of fact the
professor never took the slightest interest in the affairs of the
house.

'Yes,' he said, 'the weather, you know. I really couldn't go out in
that Scotch mist; I don't know the country very well, and I should
have lost my way. But I am going to get the boy this morning.'

'But how do you know there is such a boy as you want anywhere about?'

'Oh, I have no doubt as to that. I may have to walk a mile or two at
the most, but I am sure to find just the boy I require.'

I thought the professor was joking, but, though his tone was airy
enough, there was something grim and set about his features that
puzzled me. He got his stick, and stood at the door looking
meditatively before him, and as I passed through the hall he called to
me.

'By the way, Miss Lally, there was one thing I wanted to say to you. I
dare say you may have heard that some of these country lads are not
over-bright; idiotic would be a harsh word to use, and they are
usually called "naturals", or something of the kind. I hope you won't
mind if the boy I am after should turn out not too keen-witted; he
will be perfectly harmless, of course, and blacking boots doesn't need
much mental effort.'

With that he was gone, striding up the road that led to the wood, and
I remained stupefied; and then for the first time my astonishment was
mingled with a sudden note of terror, arising I knew not whence, and
all unexplained even to myself, and yet I felt about my heart for an
instant something of the chill of death, and that shapeless, formless
dread of the unknown that is worse than death itself. I tried to find
courage in the sweet air that blew up from the sea, and in the
sunlight after rain, but the mystic woods seemed to darken around me;
and the vision of the river coiling between the reeds, and the silver
grey of the ancient bridge, fashioned in my mind symbols of vague
dread, as the mind of a child fashions terror from things harmless and
familiar.

Two hours later Professor Gregg returned. I met him as he came down
the road, and asked quietly if he had been able to find a boy.

'Oh, yes.' he answered; 'I found one easily enough. His name is
Jervase Cradock, and I expect he will make himself very useful. His
father has been dead for many years, and the mother, whom I saw,
seemed very glad at the prospect of a few shillings extra coming in on
Saturday nights. As I expected, he is not too sharp, has fits at
times, the mother said; but as he will not be trusted with the china,
that doesn't much matter, does it? And he is not in any way dangerous.
you know, merely a little weak.'

'When is he coming?'

'To-morrow morning at eight o'clock. Anne will show him what he has to
do, and how to do it. At first he will go home every night, but
perhaps it may ultimately turn out more convenient for him to sleep
here, and only go home for Sundays.'

I found nothing to say to all this; Professor Gregg spoke in a quiet
tone of matter-of-fact, as indeed was warranted by the circumstance;
and yet I could not quell my sensation of astonishment at the whole
affair. I knew that in reality no assistance was wanted in the
housework, and the professor's prediction that the boy he was to
engage might prove a little 'simple', followed by so exact a
fulfilment, struck me as bizarre in the extreme. The next morning I
heard from the housemaid that the boy Cradock had come at eight, and
that she had been trying to make him useful. 'He doesn't seem quite
all there, I don't think, miss,' was her comment, and later in the day
I saw him helping the old man who worked in the garden. He was a youth
of about fourteen, with black hair and black eyes and an olive skin,
and I saw at once from the curious vacancy of his expression that he
was mentally weak. He touched his forehead awkwardly as I went by, and
I heard him answering the gardener in a queer, harsh voice that caught
my attention; it gave me the impression of some one speaking deep
below under the earth, and there was a strange sibilance, like the
hissing of the phonograph as the pointer travels over the cylinder. I
heard that he seemed anxious to do what he could, and was quite docile
and obedient, and Morgan the gardener, who knew his mother, assured me
he was perfectly harmless. 'He's always been a bit queer,' he said,
'and no wonder, after what his mother went through before he was born.
I did know his father, Thomas Cradock, well, and a very fine workman
he was too, indeed. He got something wrong with his lungs owing to
working in the wet woods, and never got over it, and went off quite
sudden like. And they do say as how Mrs Cradock was quite off her
head: anyhow, she was found by Mr Hillyer, Ty Coch, all crouched up
on the Grey Hills, over there, crying and weeping like a lost soul.
And Jervase, he was born about eight months afterwards, and, as I was
saying, he was a bit queer always; and they do say when he could
scarcely walk he would frighten the other children into fits with the
noises he would make.'

A word in the story had stirred up some remembrance within me, and,
vaguely curious, I asked the old man where the Grey Hills were.

'Up there,' he said, with the same gesture he had used before; 'you go
past the Fox and Hounds, and through the forest, by the old ruins.
It's a good five mile from here, and a strange sort of a place. The
poorest soil between this and Monmouth, they do say, though it's good
feed for sheep. Yes, it was a sad thing for poor Mrs Cradock.'

The old man turned to his work, and I strolled on down the path
between the espaliers, gnarled and gouty with age, thinking of the
story I had heard, and groping for the point in it that had some key
to my memory. In an instant it came before me; I had seen the phrase
'Grey Hills' on the slip of yellowed paper that Professor Gregg had
taken from the drawer in his cabinet. Again I was seized with pangs of
mingled curiosity and fear; I remembered the strange characters copied
from the limestone rock, and then again their identity with the
inscription of the age-old seal, and the fantastic fables of the Latin
geographer. I saw beyond doubt that, unless coincidence had set all
the scene and disposed all these bizarre events with curious art, I
was to be a spectator of things far removed from the usual and
customary traffic and jostle of life. Professor Gregg I noted day by
day; he was hot on his trail, growing lean with eagerness; and in the
evenings, when the sun was swimming on the verge of the mountain, he
would pace the terrace to and fro with his eyes on the ground, while
the mist grew white in the valley, and the stillness of the evening
brought far voices near, and the blue smoke rose a straight column
from the diamond-shaped chimney of the grey farmhouse, just as I had
seen it on the first morning. I have told you I was of sceptical
habit; but though I understood little or nothing, I began to dread,
vainly proposing to myself the iterated dogmas of science that all
life is material, and that in the system of things there is no
undiscovered land, even beyond the remotest stars, where the
supernatural can find a footing. Yet there struck in on this the
thought that matter is as really awful and unknown as spirit, that
science itself but dallies on the threshold, scarcely gaining more
than a glimpse of the wonders of the inner place.

There is one day that stands up from amidst the others as a grim red
beacon, betokening evil to come. I was sitting on a bench in the
garden, watching the boy Cradock weeding, when I was suddenly alarmed
by a harsh and choking sound, like the cry of a wild beast in anguish,
and I was unspeakably shocked to see the unfortunate lad standing in
full view before me, his whole body quivering and shaking at short
intervals as though shocks of electricity were passing through him,
his teeth grinding, foam gathering on his lips, and his face all
swollen and blackened to a hideous mask of humanity. I shrieked with
terror, and Professor Gregg came running; and as I pointed to Cradock,
the boy with one convulsive shudder fell face forward, and lay on the
wet earth, his body writhing like a wounded blind-worm, and an
inconceivable babble of sounds bursting and rattling and hissing from
his lips. He seemed to pour forth an infamous jargon, with words, or
what seemed words, that might have belonged to a tongue dead since
untold ages and buried deep beneath Nilotic mud, or in the inmost
recesses of the Mexican forest. For a moment the thought passed
through my mind, as my ears were still revolted with that infernal
clamour, 'Surely this is the very speech of hell,' and then I cried
out again and again, and ran away shuddering to my inmost soul. I had
seen Professor Gregg's face as he stooped over the wretched boy and
raised him, and I was appalled by the glow of exultation that shone on
every lineament and feature. As I sat in my room with drawn blinds,
and my eyes hidden in my hands, I heard heavy steps beneath, and I was
told afterwards that Professor Gregg had carried Cradock to his study,
and had locked the door. I heard voices murmur indistinctly, and I
trembled to think of what might be passing within a few feet of where
I sat; I longed to escape to the woods and sunshine, and yet I dreaded
the sights that might confront me on the way; and at last, as I held
the handle of the door nervously, I heard Professor Gregg's voice
calling to me with a cheerful ring. 'It's all right now, Miss Lally,'
he said. 'The poor fellow has got over it, and I have been arranging
for him to sleep here after tomorrow. Perhaps I may be able to do
something for him.'

'Yes,' he said later, 'it was a very painful sight, and I don't wonder
you were alarmed. We may hope that good food will build him up a
little, but I am afraid he will never be really cured,' and he
affected the dismal and conventional air with which one speaks of
hopeless illness; and yet beneath it I detected the delight that leapt
up rampant within him, and fought and struggled to find utterance. It
was as if one glanced down on the even surface of the sea, clear and
immobile, and saw beneath raging depths and a storm of contending
billows. It was indeed to me a torturing and offensive problem that
this man, who had so bounteously rescued me from the sharpness of
death, and showed himself in all the relations of life full of
benevolence, and pity, and kindly forethought, should so manifestly be
for once on the side of the demons, and take a ghastly pleasure in the
torments of an afflicted fellow creature. Apart, I struggled with the
horned difficulty, and strove to find the solution; but without the
hint of a clue, beset by mystery and contradiction. I saw nothing that
might help me, and began to wonder whether, after all, I had not
escaped from the white mist of the suburb at too dear a rate. I hinted
something of my thought to the professor; I said enough to let him
know that I was in the most acute perplexity, but the moment after
regretted what I had done when I saw his face contort with a spasm of
pain.

'My dear Miss Lally,' he said, 'you surely do not wish to leave us?
No, no, you would not do it. You do not know how I rely on you; how
confidently I go forward, assured that you are here to watch over my
children. You, Miss Lally, are my rear-guard; for let me tell you the
business in which I am engaged is not wholly devoid of peril. You have
not forgotten what I said the first morning here; my lips are shut by
an old and firm resolve till they can open to utter no ingenious
hypothesis or vague surmise, but irrefragable fact, as certain as a
demonstration in mathematics. Think over it, Miss Lally; not for a
moment would I endeavour to keep you here against your own instincts,
and yet I tell you frankly that I am persuaded it is here, here amidst
the woods, that your duty lies.'

I was touched by the eloquence of his tone, and by the remembrance
that the man, after all, had been my salvation, and I gave him my hand
on a promise to serve him loyally and without question. A few days
later the rector of our church -- a little church, grey and severe and
quaint, that hovered on the very banks of the river and watched the
tides swim and return -- came to see us, and Professor Gregg easily
persuaded him to stay and share our dinner. Mr Meyrick was a member
of an antique family of squires, whose old manor-house stood amongst
the hills some seven miles away, and thus rooted in the soil, the
rector was a living store of all the old fading customs and lore of
the country. His manner, genial, with a deal of retired oddity, won on
Professor Gregg; and towards the cheese, when a curious Burgundy had
begun its incantations, the two men glowed like the wine, and talked
of philology with the enthusiasm of a burgess over the peerage. The
parson was expounding the pronunciation of the Welsh _ll_, and
producing sounds like the gurgle of his native brooks, when Professor
Gregg struck in.

'By the way,' he said, 'that was a very odd word I met with the other
day. You know my boy, poor Jervase Cradock? Well, he has got the bad
habit of talking to himself, and the day before yesterday I was
walking in the garden here and heard him; he was evidently quite
unconscious of my presence. A lot of what he said I couldn't make out,
but one word struck me distinctly. It was such an odd sound, half
sibilant, half guttural, and as quaint as those double _l_s you have
been demonstrating. I do not know whether I can give you an idea of
the sound; "Ishakshar" is perhaps as near as I can get. But the _k_
ought to be a Greek _chi_ or a Spanish _j_. Now what does it mean in
Welsh?'

'In Welsh?' said the parson. 'There is no such word in Welsh, nor any
word remotely resembling it. I know the book-Welsh, as they call it,
and the colloquial dialects as well as any man, but there's no word
like that from Anglesea to Usk. Besides, none of the Cradocks speak a
word of Welsh; it's dying out about here.'

'Really. You interest me extremely, Mr Meyrick. I confess the word
didn't strike me as having the Welsh ring. But I thought it might be
some local corruption.'

'No, I never heard such a word, or anything like it. Indeed,' he
added, smiling whimsically, 'if it belongs to any language, I should
say it must be that of the fairies -- the Tylwydd Têg, as we call
them.'

The talk went on to the discovery of a Roman villa in the
neighbourhood; and soon after I left the room, and sat down apart to
wonder at the drawing together of such strange clues of evidence. As
the professor had spoken of the curious word, I had caught the glint
in his eye upon me; and though the pronunciation he gave was grotesque
in the extreme, I recognized the name of the stone of sixty characters
mentioned by Solinus, the black seal shut up in some secret drawer of
the study, stamped for ever by a vanished race with signs that no man
could read, signs that might, for all I knew, be the veils of awful
things done long ago, and forgotten before the hills were moulded into
form.

When the next morning I came down, I found Professor Gregg pacing the
terrace in his eternal walk.

'Look at that bridge,' he said, when he saw me; 'observe the quaint
and Gothic design, the angles between the arches, and the silvery grey
of the stone in the awe of the morning light. I confess it seems to me
symbolic; it should illustrate a mystical allegory of the passage from
one world to another.'

'Professor Gregg,' I said quietly, 'it is time that I knew something
of what has happened, and of what is to happen.'

For the moment he put me off, but I returned again with the same
question in the evening, and then Professor Gregg flamed with
excitement. 'Don't you understand yet?' he cried. 'But I have told you
a good deal; yes, and shown you a good deal; you have heard pretty
nearly all that I have heard, and seen what I have seen; or at least,'
and his voice chilled as he spoke, 'enough to make a good deal clear
as noonday. The servants told you, I have no doubt, that the wretched
boy Cradock had another seizure the night before last; he awoke me
with cries in that voice you heard in the garden, and I went to him,
and God forbid you should see what I saw that night. But all this is
useless; my time here is drawing to a close; I must be back in town in
three weeks, as I have a course of lectures to prepare, and need all
my books about me. In a very few days it will be all over, and I shall
no longer hint, and no longer be liable to ridicule as a madman and a
quack. No, I shall speak plainly, and I shall be heard with such
emotions as perhaps no other man has ever drawn from the breasts of
his fellows.'

He paused, and seemed to grow radiant with the joy of great and
wonderful discovery.

'But all that is for the future, the near future certainly, but still
the future,' he went on at length. 'There is something to be done yet;
you will remember my telling you that my researches were not
altogether devoid of peril? Yes, there, is a certain amount of danger
to be faced; I did not know how much when I spoke on the subject
before, and to a certain extent I am still in the dark. But it will be
a strange adventure, the last of all, the last demonstration in the
chain.'

He was walking up and down the room as he spoke, and I could hear in
his voice the contending tones of exultation and despondence, or
perhaps I should say awe, the awe of a man who goes forth on unknown
waters, and I thought of his allusion to Columbus on the night he had
laid his book before me. The evening was a little chilly, and a fire
of logs had been lighted in the study where we were; the remittent
flame and the glow on the walls reminded me of the old days. I was
sitting silent in an armchair by the fire, wondering over all I had
heard, and still vainly speculating as to the secret springs concealed
from me under all the phantasmagoria I had witnessed, when I became
suddenly aware of a sensation that change of some sort had been at
work in the room, and that there was something unfamiliar in its
aspect. For some time I looked about me, trying in vain to localize
the alteration that I knew had been made; the table by the window, the
chairs, the faded settee were all as I had known them. Suddenly, as a
sought-for recollection flashes into the mind, I knew what was amiss.
I was facing the professor's desk, which stood on the other side of
the fire, and above the desk was a grimy-looking bust of Pitt, that I
had never seen there before. And then I remembered the true position
of this work of art; in the furthest corner by the door was an old
cupboard, projecting into the room, and on the top of the cupboard,
fifteen feet from the floor, the bust had been, and there, no doubt,
it had delayed, accumulating dirt, since the early days of the
century.

I was utterly amazed, and sat silent, still in a confusion of thought.
There was, so far as I knew, no such thing as a stepladder in the
house, for I had asked for one to make some alteration in the curtains
of my room, and a tall man standing on a chair would have found it
impossible to take down the bust. It had been placed, not on the edge
of the cupboard, but far back against the wall; and Professor Gregg
was, if anything, under the average height.

'How on earth did you manage to get down Pitt?' I said at last.

The professor looked curiously at me, and seemed to hesitate a little.

'They must have found you a step-ladder, or perhaps the gardener
brought in a short ladder from outside?'

'No, I have had no ladder of any kind. Now, Miss Lally,' he went on
with an awkward simulation of jest, 'there is a little puzzle for you;
a problem in the manner of the inimitable Holmes; there are the facts,
plain and patent: summon your acuteness to the solution of the puzzle.
For Heaven's sake,' he cried with a breaking voice, 'say no more about
it! I tell you, I never touched the thing,' and he went out of the
room with horror manifest on his face, and his hand shook and jarred
the door behind him.

I looked round the room in vague surprise, not at all realizing what
had happened, making vain and idle surmises by way of explanation, and
wondering at the stirring of black waters by an idle word and the
trivial change of an ornament. 'This is some petty business, some whim
on which I have jarred.' I reflected; 'the professor is perhaps
scrupulous and superstitious over trifles, and my question may have
outraged unacknowledged fears, as though one killed a spider or
spilled the salt before the very eyes of a practical Scotchwoman.' I
was immersed in these fond suspicions, and began to plume myself a
little on my immunity from such empty fears, when the truth fell
heavily as lead upon my heart, and I recognized with cold terror that
some awful influence had been at work. The bust was simply
inaccessible; without a ladder no one could have touched it.

I went out to the kitchen and spoke as quietly as I could to the
housemaid.

'Who moved that bust from the top of the cupboard, Anne?' I said to
her. 'Professor Gregg says he has not touched it. Did you find an old
step-ladder in one of the outhouses?'

The girl looked at me blankly.

'I never touched it,' she said. 'I found it where it is now the other
morning when I dusted the room. I remember now, it was Wednesday
morning, because it was the morning after Cradock was taken bad in the
night. My room is next to his, you know, miss,' the girl went on
piteously, 'and it was awful to hear how he cried and called out names
that I couldn't understand. It made me feel all afraid; and then
master came, and I heard him speak, and he took down Cradock to the
study and gave him something.'

'And you found that bust moved the next morning?'

'Yes, miss. There was a queer sort of smell in the study when I came
down and opened the windows; a bad smell it was, and I wondered what
it could be. Do you know, miss, I went a long time ago to the Zoo in
London with my cousin Thomas Barker, one afternoon that I had off,
when I was at Mrs Prince's in Stanhope Gate, and we went into the
snake-house to see the snakes, and it was just the same sort of smell;
very sick it made me feel, I remember, and I got Barker to take me
out. And it was just the same kind of smell in the study, as I was
saying, and I was wondering what it could be from, when I see that
bust with Pitt cut in it, standing on the master's desk, and I thought
to myself, 'Now who has done that, and how have they done it? And when
I came to dust the things, I looked at the bust, and I saw a great
mark on it where the dust was gone, for I don't think it can have been
touched with a duster for years and years, and it wasn't like
finger-marks, but a large patch like, broad and spread out. So I
passed my hand over it, without thinking what I was doing, and where
that patch was it was all sticky and slimy, as if a snail had crawled
over it. Very strange, isn't it, miss? and I wonder who can have done
it, and how that mess was made.'

The well-meant gabble of the servant touched me to the quick; I lay
down upon my bed, and bit my lip that I should not cry out loud in the
sharp anguish of my terror and bewilderment. Indeed, I was almost mad
with dread; I believe that if it had been daylight I should have fled
hot foot, forgetting all courage and all the debt of gratitude that
was due to Professor Gregg, not caring whether my fate were that I
must starve slowly, so long as I might escape from the net of blind
and panic fear that every day seemed to draw a little closer round me.
If I knew, I thought, if I knew what there was to dread, I could guard
against it; but here, in this lonely house, shut in on all sides by
the olden woods and the vaulted hills, terror seems to spring
inconsequent from every covert, and the flesh is aghast at the 
half-hearted murmurs of horrible things. All in vain I strove to 
summon scepticism to my aid, and endeavoured by cool common sense to 
buttress my belief in a world of natural order, for the air that blew
in at the open window was a mystic breath, and in the darkness I felt
the silence go heavy and sorrowful as a mass of requiem, and I 
conjured images of strange shapes gathering fast amidst the reeds, 
beside the wash of the river.

In the morning from the moment that I set foot in the breakfast-room,
I felt that the unknown plot was drawing to a crisis; the professor's
face was firm and set, and he seemed hardly to hear our voices when we
spoke.

'I am going out for a rather long walk,' he said, when the meal was
over. 'You mustn't be expecting me, now, or thinking anything has
happened if I don't turn up to dinner. I have been getting stupid
lately, and I dare say a miniature walking tour will do me good.
Perhaps I may even spend the night in some little inn, if I find any
place that looks clean and comfortable.'

I heard this, and knew by my experience of Professor Gregg's manner
that it was no ordinary business of pleasure that impelled him. I knew
not, nor even remotely guessed, where he was bound, nor had I the
vaguest notion of his errand, but all the fear of the night before
returned; and as he stood, smiling, on the terrace, ready to set out,
I implored him to stay, and to forget all his dreams of the
undiscovered continent.

'No, no, Miss Lally,' he replied, still smiling, 'it's too late now.
_Vestigia nulla retrorsum_, you know, is the device of all true
explorers, though I hope it won't be literally true in my case. But,
indeed, you are wrong to alarm yourself so; I look upon my little
expedition as quite commonplace; no more exciting than a day with the
geological hammers. There is a risk, of course, but so there is on the
commonest excursion. I can afford to be jaunty; I am doing nothing so
hazardous as 'Arry does a hundred times over in the course of every
Bank Holiday. Well, then, you must look more cheerfully; and so 
goodbye till tomorrow at latest.'

He walked briskly up the road, and I saw him open the gate that marks
the entrance of the wood, and then he vanished in the gloom of the
trees.

All the day passed heavily with a strange darkness in the air, and
again I felt as if imprisoned amidst the ancient woods, shut in an
olden land of mystery and dread, and as if all was long ago and
forgotten by the living outside. I hoped and dreaded; and when the
dinner-hour came I waited, expecting to hear the professor's step in
the hall, and his voice exulting at I knew not what triumph. I
composed my face to welcome him gladly, but the night descended dark,
and he did not come.

In the morning, when the maid knocked at my door, I called out to her,
and asked if her master had returned; and when she replied that his
bedroom door stood open and empty, I felt the cold clasp of despair.
Still, I fancied he might have discovered genial company, and would
return for luncheon, or perhaps in the afternoon, and I took the
children for a walk in the forest, and tried my best to play and laugh
with them, and to shout out the thoughts of mystery and veiled terror.
Hour after hour I waited, and my thoughts grew darker; again the night
came and found me watching, and at last, as I was making much ado to
finish my dinner, I heard steps outside and the sound of a man's
voice.

The maid came in and looked oddly at me. 'Please, miss,' she began,
'Mr Morgan, the gardener, wants to speak to you for a minute, if you
didn't mind.'

'Show him in, please,' I answered, and set my lips tight.

The old man came slowly into the room, and the servant shut the door
behind him.

'Sit down, Mr Morgan,' I said; 'what is it that you want to say to
me?'

'Well, miss, Mr Gregg he gave me something for you yesterday morning,
just before he went off, and he told me particular not to hand it up
before eight o'clock this evening exactly, if so be as he wasn't back
again home before, and if he should come home before I was just to
return it to him in his own hands. So, you see, as Mr Gregg isn't
here yet, I suppose I'd better give you the parcel directly.'

He pulled out something from his pocket, and gave it to me, half
rising. I took it silently, and seeing that Morgan seemed doubtful as
to what he was to do next. I thanked him and bade him good night, and
he went out. I was left alone in the room with the parcel in my hand
-- a paper parcel, neatly sealed and directed to me, with the
instructions Morgan had quoted, all written in the professor's large,
loose hand. I broke the seals with a choking at my heart, and found an
envelope inside, addressed also, but open, and I took the letter out.

'My dear Miss Lally,' it began -- 'To quote the old logic manual, the
case of your reading this note is a case of my having made a blunder
of some sort, and, I am afraid, a blunder that turns these lines into
a farewell. It is practically certain that neither you nor any one
else will ever see me again. I have made my will with provision for
this eventuality, and I hope you will consent to accept the small
remembrance addressed to you, and my sincere thanks for the way in
which you joined your fortunes to mine. The fate which has come upon
me is desperate and terrible beyond the remotest dreams of man; but
this fate you have a right to know -- if you please. If you look in
the left-hand drawer of my dressing-table, you will find the key of
the escritoire, properly labelled. In the well of the escritoire is a
large envelope sealed and addressed to your name. I advise you to
throw it forthwith into the fire; you will sleep better of nights if
you do so. But if you must know the history of what has happened, it
is all written down for you to read.'

The signature was firmly written below, and again I turned the page
and read out the words one by one, aghast and white to the lips, my
hands cold as ice, and sickness choking me. The dead silence of the
room, and the thought of the dark woods and hills closing me in on
every side, oppressed me, helpless and without capacity, and not
knowing where to turn for counsel. At last I resolved that though
knowledge should haunt my whole life and all the days to come, I must
know the meaning of the strange terrors that had so long tormented me,
rising grey, dim, and awful, like the shadows in the wood at dusk. I
carefully carried out Professor Gregg's directions, and not without
reluctance broke the seal of the envelope, and spread out his
manuscript before me. That manuscript I always carry with me, and I
see that I cannot deny your unspoken request to read it. This, then,
was what I read that night, sitting at the desk, with a shaded lamp
beside me.


 The young lady who called herself Miss Lally then proceeded to recite

    _The statement of William Gregg, F.R.S., etc._

    It is many years since the first glimmer of the theory which is
    now almost, if not quite, reduced to fact dawned on my mind. A
    somewhat extensive course of miscellaneous and obsolete reading
    had done a great deal to prepare the way, and, later, when I
    became somewhat of a specialist, and immersed myself in the
    studies known as ethnological, I was now and then startled by
    facts that would not square with orthodox scientific opinion, and
    by discoveries that seemed to hint at something still hidden for
    all our research. More particularly I became convinced that much
    of the folk-lore of the world is but an exaggerated account of
    events that really happened, and I was especially drawn to
    consider the stories of the fairies, the good folk of the Celtic
    races. Here, I thought I could detect the fringe of embroidery
    and exaggeration, the fantastic guise, the little people dressed
    in green and gold sporting in the flowers, and I thought I saw a
    distinct analogy between the name given to this race (supposed to
    be imaginary) and the description of their appearance and manners.
    Just as our remote ancestors called the dreaded beings 'fair' and
    'good' precisely because they dreaded them, so they had dressed
    them up in charming forms, knowing the truth to be the very
    reverse. Literature, too, had gone early to work, and had lent a
    powerful hand in the transformation, so that the playful elves of
    Shakespeare are already far removed from the true original, and
    the real horror is disguised in a form of prankish mischief. But
    in the older tales, the stories that used to make men cross
    themselves as they sat around the burning logs, we tread a
    different stage; I saw a widely opposed spirit in certain
    histories of children and of men and women who vanished strangely
    from the earth. They would be seen by a peasant in the fields
    walking towards some green and rounded hillock, and seen no more
    on earth; and there are stories of mothers who have left a child
    quietly sleeping, with the cottage door rudely barred with a piece
    of wood, and have returned, not to find the plump and rosy little
    Saxon, but a thin and wizened creature, with sallow skin and
    black, piercing eyes, the child of another race. Then, again,
    there were myths darker still; the dread of witch and wizard, the
    lurid evil of the Sabbath, and the hint of demons who mingled with
    the daughters of men. And just as we have turned the terrible
    'fair folk' into a company of benignant, if freakish elves, so we
    have hidden from us the black foulness of the witch and her
    companions under a popular _diablerie_ of old women and
    broomsticks, and a comic cat with tail on end. So the Greeks
    called the hideous furies benevolent ladies, and thus the northern
    nations have followed their example. I pursued my investigations,
    stealing odd hours from other and more imperative labours, and I
    asked myself the question: Supposing these traditions to be true,
    who were the demons who are reported to have attended the
    Sabbaths? I need not say that I laid aside what I may call the
    supernatural hypothesis of the Middle Ages, and came to the
    conclusion that fairies and devils were of one and the same race
    and origin; invention, no doubt, and the Gothic fancy of old days,
    had done much in the way of exaggeration and distortion; yet I
    firmly believe that beneath all this imagery there was a black
    background of truth. As for some of the alleged wonders, I
    hesitated. While I should be very loath to receive any one
    specific instance of modern spiritualism as containing even a
    grain of the genuine, yet I was not wholly prepared to deny that
    human flesh may now and then, once perhaps in ten millions cases,
    be the veil of powers which seem magical to us -- powers which, so
    far from proceeding from the heights and leading men thither, are
    in reality survivals from the depths of being. The amoeba and the
    snail have powers which we do not possess; and I thought it
    possible that the theory of reversion might explain many things
    which seem wholly inexplicable. Thus stood my position; I saw good
    reason to believe that much of the tradition, a vast deal of the
    earliest and uncorrupted tradition of the so-called fairies,
    represented solid fact, and I thought that the purely supernatural
    element in these traditions was to be accounted for on the
    hypothesis that a race which had fallen out of the grand march of
    evolution might have retained, as a survival, certain powers which
    would be to us wholly miraculous. Such was my theory as it stood
    conceived in my mind; and working with this in view, I seemed to
    gather confirmation from every side, from the spoils of a tumulus
    or a barrow, from a local paper reporting an antiquarian meeting
    in the country, and from general literature of all kinds. Amongst
    other instances, I remember being struck by the phrase
    'articulate-speaking men' in Homer, as if the writer knew or had
    heard of men whose speech was so rude that it could hardly be
    termed articulate; and on my hypothesis of a race who had lagged
    far behind the rest, I could easily conceive that such a folk
    would speak a jargon but little removed from the inarticulate
    noises of brute beasts.

    Thus I stood, satisfied that my conjecture was at all events not
    far removed from fact, when a chance paragraph in a small country
    print one day arrested my attention. It was a short account of
    what was to all appearance the usual sordid tragedy of the village
    -- a young girl unaccountably missing, and evil rumour blatant and
    busy with her reputation. Yet I could read between the lines that
    all this scandal was purely hypothetical, and in all probability
    invented to account for what was in any other manner
    unaccountable. A flight to London or Liverpool, or an undiscovered
    body lying with a weight about its neck in the foul depths of a
    woodland pool, or perhaps murder -- such were the theories of the
    wretched girl's neighbours. But as I idly scanned the paragraph, a
    flash of thought passed through me with the violence of an
    electric shock: what if the obscure and horrible race of the hills
    still survived, still remained haunting wild places and barren
    hills, and now and then repeating the evil of Gothic legend,
    unchanged and unchangeable as the Turanian Shelta, or the Basques
    of Spain? I have said that the thought came with violence; and
    indeed I drew in my breath sharply, and clung with both hands to
    my elbow-chair, in a strange confusion of horror and elation. It
    was as if one of my _confrères_ of physical science, roaming in a
    quiet English wood, had been suddenly stricken aghast by the
    presence of the slimy and loathsome terror of the ichthyosaurus,
    the original of the stories of the awful worms killed by valourous
    knights, or had seen the sun darkened by the pterodactyl, the
    dragon of tradition. Yet as a resolute explorer of knowledge, the
    thought of such a discovery threw me into a passion of joy, and I
    cut out the slip from the paper and put it in a drawer in my old
    bureau, resolved that it should be but the first piece in a
    collection of the strangest significance. I sat long that evening
    dreaming of the conclusions I should establish, nor did cooler
    reflection at first dash my confidence. Yet as I began to put the
    case fairly, I saw that I might be building on an unstable
    foundation; the facts might possibly be in accordance with local
    opinion, and I regarded the affair with a mood of some reserve.
    Yet I resolved to remain perched on the lookout, and I hugged to
    myself the thought that I alone was watching and wakeful, while
    the great crowd of thinkers and searchers stood heedless and
    indifferent, perhaps letting the most prerogative facts pass by
    unnoticed.

    Several years elapsed before I was enabled to add to the contents
    of the drawer; and the second find was in reality not a valuable
    one, for it was a mere repetition of the first, with only the
    variation of another and distant locality. Yet I gained something;
    for in the second case, as in the first, the tragedy took place in
    a desolate and lonely country, and so far my theory seemed
    justified. But the third piece was to me far more decisive. Again,
    amongst outland hills, far even from a main road of traffic, an
    old man was found done to death, and the instrument of execution
    was left beside him. Here, indeed, there were rumour and
    conjecture, for the deadly tool was a primitive stone axe, bound
    by gut to the wooden handle, and surmises the most extravagant and
    improbable were indulged in. Yet, as I thought with a kind of
    glee, the wildest conjectures went far astray; and I took the
    pains to enter into correspondence with the local doctor, who was
    called at the inquest. He, a man of some acuteness, was
    dumbfounded. 'It will not do to speak of these things in country
    places,' he wrote to me; 'but frankly, there is some hideous
    mystery here. I have obtained possession of the stone axe, and
    have been so curious as to test its powers. I took it into the
    back garden of my house one Sunday afternoon when my family and
    the servants were all out, and there, sheltered by the poplar
    hedges, I made my experiments. I found the thing utterly
    unmanageable; whether there is some peculiar balance, some nice
    adjustment of weights, which require incessant practice, or
    whether an effectual blow can be struck only by a certain trick of
    the muscles, I do not know; but I can assure you that I went into
    the house with but a sorry opinion of my athletic capacities. I
    was like an inexperienced man trying "putting the hammer"; the
    force exerted seemed to return on oneself, and I found myself
    hurled backwards with violence, while the axe fell harmless to the
    ground. On another occasion I tried the experiment with a clever
    woodman of the place; but this man, who had handled his axe for
    forty years, could do nothing with the stone implement, and missed
    every stroke most ludicrously. In short, if it were not so
    supremely absurd, I should say that for four thousand years no one
    on earth could have struck an effective blow with the tool that
    undoubtedly was used to murder the old man.' This, as may be
    imagined, was to me rare news; and afterwards, when I heard the
    whole story, and learned that the unfortunate old man had babbled
    tales of what might be seen at night on a certain wild hillside,
    hinting at unheard-of wonders, and that he had been found cold one
    morning on the very hill in question, my exultation was extreme,
    for I felt I was leaving conjecture far behind me. But the next
    step was of still greater importance. I had possessed for many
    years an extraordinary stone seal -- a piece of dull black stone,
    two inches long from the handle to the stamp, and the stamping end
    a rough hexagon an inch and a quarter in diameter. Altogether, it
    presented the appearance of an enlarged tobacco stopper of an
    old-fashioned make. It had been sent to me by an agent in the
    East, who informed me that it had been found near the site of the
    ancient Babylon. But the characters engraved on the seal were to
    me an intolerable puzzle. Somewhat of the cuneiform pattern, there
    were yet striking differences, which I detected at the first
    glance, and all efforts to read the inscription on the hypothesis
    that the rules for deciphering the arrow-headed writing would
    apply proved futile. A riddle such as this stung my pride, and at
    odd moments I would take the Black Seal out of the cabinet, and
    scrutinize it with so much idle perseverance that every letter was
    familiar to my mind, and I could have drawn the inscription from
    memory without the slightest error. Judge, then, of my surprise
    when I one day received from a correspondent in the west of
    England a letter and an enclosure that positively left me
    thunderstruck. I saw carefully traced on a large piece of paper
    the very characters of the Black Seal, without alteration of any
    kind, and above the inscription my friend had written:
    _Inscription found on a limestone rock on the Grey Hills,
    Monmouthshire. Done in some red earth, and quite recent._
    I turned to the letter. My friend wrote: 'I send you the enclosed
    inscription with all due reserve. A shepherd who passed by the
    stone a week ago swears that there was then no mark of any kind.
    The characters, as I have noted, are formed by drawing some red
    earth over the stone, and are of an average height of one inch.
    They look to me like a kind of cuneiform character, a good deal
    altered, but this, of course, is impossible. It may be either a
    hoax, or more probably some scribble of the gipsies, who are
    plentiful enough in this wild country. They have, as you are
    aware, many heiroglyphics which they use in communicating with one
    another. I happened to visit the stone in question two days ago in
    connection with a rather painful incident which has occurred
    here.'

    As it may be supposed, I wrote immediately to my friend, thanking
    him for the copy of the inscription, and asking him in a casual
    manner the history of the incident he mentioned. To be brief, I
    heard that a woman named Cradock, who had lost her husband a day
    before, had set out to communicate the sad news to a cousin who
    lived some five miles away. She took a short cut which led by the
    Grey Hills. Mrs Cradock, who was then quite a young woman, never
    arrived at her relative's house. Late that night a farmer, who had
    lost a couple of sheep, supposed to have wandered from the flock,
    was walking over the Grey Hills, with a lantern and his dog. His
    attention was attracted by a noise, which he described as a kind
    of wailing, mournful and pitiable to hear; and, guided by the
    sound, he found the unfortunate Mrs Cradock crouched on the
    ground by the limestone rock, swaying her body to and fro, and
    lamenting and crying in so heart-rending a manner that the farmer
    was, as he says, at first obliged to stop his ears, or he would
    have run away. The woman allowed herself to be taken home, and a
    neighbour came to see to her necessities. All the night she never
    ceased her crying, mixing her lament with words of some
    unintelligible jargon, and when the doctor arrived he pronounced
    her insane. She lay on her bed for a week, now wailing, as people
    said, like one lost and damned for eternity, and now sunk in a
    heavy coma; it was thought that grief at the loss of her husband
    had unsettled her mind, and the medical man did not at one time
    expect her to live. I need not say that I was deeply interested in
    this story, and I made my friend write to me at intervals with all
    the particulars of the case. I heard then that in the course of
    six weeks the woman gradually recovered the use of her faculties,
    and some months later she gave birth to a son, christened Jervase,
    who unhappily proved to be of weak intellect. Such were the facts
    known to the village; but to me, while I whitened at the suggested
    thought of the hideous enormities that had doubtless been
    committed, all this was nothing short of conviction, and I
    incautiously hazarded a hint of something like the truth to some
    scientific friends. The moment the words had left my lips I
    bitterly regretted having spoken, and thus given away the great
    secret of my life, but with a good deal of relief mixed with
    indignation I found my fears altogether misplaced, for my friends
    ridiculed me to my face, and I was regarded as a madman; and
    beneath a natural anger I chuckled to myself, feeling as secure
    amidst these blockheads as if I had confided what I knew to the
    desert sands.

    But now, knowing so much, I resolved I would know all, and I
    concentrated my efforts on the task of deciphering the inscription
    on the Black Seal. For many years I made this puzzle the sole
    object of my leisure moments, for the greater portion of my time
    was, of course, devoted to other duties, and it was only now and
    then that I could snatch a week of clear research. If I were to
    tell the full history of this curious investigation, this
    statement would be wearisome in the extreme, for it would contain
    simply the account of long and tedious failure. But what I knew
    already of ancient scripts I was well equipped for the chase, as I
    always termed it to myself. I had correspondents amongst all the
    scientific men in Europe, and, indeed, in the world, and I could
    not believe that in these days any character, however ancient and
    however perplexed, could long resist the search-light I should
    bring to bear upon it. Yet in point of fact, it was fully fourteen
    years before I succeeded. With every year my professional duties
    increased and my leisure became smaller. This no doubt retarded me
    a good deal; and yet, when I look back on those years, I am
    astonished at the vast scope of my investigation of the Black
    Seal. I made my bureau a centre, and from all the world and from
    all the ages I gathered transcripts of ancient writing. Nothing, I
    resolved, should pass me unawares, and the faintest hint should be
    welcomed and followed up. But as one covert after another was
    tried and proved empty of result, I began in the course of years
    to despair, and to wonder whether the Black Seal were the sole
    relic of some race that had vanished from the world, and left no
    other trace of its existence -- had perished, in fine, as Atlantis
    is said to have done, in some great cataclysm, its secrets perhaps
    drowned beneath the ocean or moulded into the heart of the hills.
    The thought chilled my warmth a little, and though I still
    persevered, it was no longer with the same certainty of faith. A
    chance came to the rescue. I was staying in a considerable town in
    the north of England, and took the opportunity of going over the
    very creditable museum that had for some time been established in
    the place. The curator was one of my correspondents; and, as we
    were looking through one of the mineral cases, my attention was
    struck by a specimen, a piece of black stone some four inches
    square, the appearance of which reminded me in a measure of the
    Black Seal. I took it up carelessly, and was turning it over in my
    hand, when I saw, to my astonishment, that the under side was
    inscribed. I said, quietly enough, to my friend the curator that
    the specimen interested me, and that I should be much obliged if
    he would allow me to take it with me to my hotel for a couple of
    days. He, of course, made no objection, and I hurried to my rooms
    and found that my first glance had not deceived me. There were two
    inscriptions; one in the regular cuneiform character, another in
    the character of the Black Seal, and I realized that my task was
    accomplished. I made an exact copy of the two inscriptions; and
    when I got to my London study, and had the seal before me, I was
    able seriously to grapple with the great problem. The interpreting
    inscription on the museum specimen, though in itself curious
    enough, did not bear on my quest, but the transliteration made me
    master of the secret of the Black Seal. Conjucture, of course, had
    to enter into my calculations; there was here and there
    uncertainty about a particular ideograph, and one sign recurring
    again and again on the seal baffled me for many successive nights.
    But at last the secret stood open before me in plain English, and
    I read the key of the awful transmutation of the hills. The last
    word was hardly written, when with fingers all trembling and
    unsteady I tore the scrap of paper into the minutest fragments,
    and saw them flame and blacken in the red hollow of the fire, and
    then I crushed the grey films that remained into finest powder.
    Never since then have I written those words; never will I write
    the phrases which tell how man can be reduced to the slime from
    which he came, and be forced to put on the flesh of the reptile
    and the snake. There was now but one thing remaining. I knew, but
    I desired to see, and I was after some time able to take a house
    in the neighbourhood of the Grey Hills, and not far from the
    cottage where Mrs Cradock and her son Jervase resided. I need not
    go into a full and detailed account of the apparently inexplicable
    events which have occurred here, where I am writing this. I knew
    that I should find in Jervase Cradock something of the blood of
    the 'Little People', and I found later that he had more than once
    encountered his kinsmen in lonely places in that lonely land. When
    I was summoned one day to the garden, and found him in a seizure
    speaking or hissing the ghastly jargon of the Black Seal, I am
    afraid that exultation prevailed over pity. I heard bursting from
    his lips the secrets of the underworld, and the word of dread,
    'Ishakshar', signification of which I must be excused from giving.

    But there is one incident I cannot pass over unnoticed. In the
    waste hollow of the night I awoke at the sound of those hissing
    syllables I knew so well; and on going to the wretched boy's room,
    I found him convulsed and foaming at the mouth, struggling on the
    bed as if he strove to escape the grasp of writhing demons. I took
    him down to my room and lit the lamp, while he lay twisting on the
    floor, calling on the power within his flesh to leave him. I saw
    his body swell and become distended as a bladder, while the face
    blackened before my eyes; and then at the crisis I did what was
    necessary according to the directions on the Seal, and putting all
    scruple on one side, I became a man of science, observant of what
    was passing. Yet the sight I had to witness was horrible, almost
    beyond the power of human conception and the most fearful fantasy.
    Something pushed out from the body there on the floor, and
    stretched forth a slimy, wavering tentacle, across the room,
    grasped the bust upon the cupboard, and laid it down on my desk.

    When it was over, and I was left to walk up and down all the rest
    of the night, white and shuddering, with sweat pouring from my
    flesh, I vainly tried to reason within myself: I said, truly
    enough, that I had seen nothing really supernatural, that a snail
    pushing out his horns and drawing them in was but an instance on a
    smaller scale of what I had witnessed; and yet horror broke
    through all such reasonings and left me shattered and loathing
    myself for the share I had taken in the night's work.

    There is little more to be said. I am going now to the final trial
    and encounter; for I have determined that there shall be nothing
    wanting, and I shall meet the 'Little People' face to face. I
    shall have the Black Seal and the knowledge of its secrets to help
    me, and if I unhappily do not return from my journey, there is no
    need to conjure up here a picture of the awfulness of my fate.

Pausing a little at the end of Professor Gregg's statement, Miss Lally
continued her tale in the following words: --

Such was the almost incredible story that the professor had left
behind him. When I had finished reading it, it was late at night, but
the next morning I took Morgan with me, and we proceeded to search the
Grey Hills for some trace of the lost professor. I will not weary you
with a description of the savage desolation of that tract of country,
a tract of utterest loneliness, of bare green hills dotted over with
grey limestone boulders, worn by the ravages of time into fantastic
semblances of men and beast. Finally, after many hours of weary
searching, we found what I told you -- the watch and chain, and purse,
and the ring -- wrapped in a piece of coarse ment. When Morgan
cut the gut that bound the parcel together, and I saw the professor's
property, I burst into tears, but the sight of the dreaded characters
of the Black Seal repeated on the ment froze me to silent horror,
and I think I understood for the first time the awful fate that had
come upon my late employer.

I have only to add that Professor Gregg's lawyer treated my account of
what had happened as a fairy tale, and refused even to glance at the
documents I laid before him. It was he who was responsible for the
statement that appeared in the public press, to the effect that
Professor Gregg had been drowned, and that his body must have been
swept into the open sea.

Miss Lally stopped speaking, and looked at Mr Phillipps, with a
glance of some inquiry. He, for his part, was sunken in a deep reverie
of thought; and when he looked up and saw the bustle of the evening
gathering in the square, men and women hurrying to partake of dinner,
and crowds already besetting the music-halls, all the hum and press of
actual life seemed unreal and visionary, a dream in the morning after
an awakening.

'I thank you,' he said at last, 'for your most interesting story;
interesting to me, because I feel fully convinced of its exact truth.'

'Sir,' said the lady, with some energy of indignation, 'you grieve and
offend me. Do you think I should waste my time and yours by concocting
fictions on a bench in Leicester Square?'

'Pardon me, Miss Lally, you have a little misunderstood me. Before you
began I knew that whatever you told would be told in good faith, but
your experiences have a far higher value than that of _bona fides_.
The most extraordinary circumstances in your account are in perfect
harmony with the very latest scientific theories. Professor Lodge
would, I am sure, value a communication from you extremely; I was
charmed from the first by his daring hypothesis in explanation of the
wonders of spiritualism (so called), but your narrative puts the whole
matter out of the range of mere hypothesis.'

'Alas! sir, all this will not help me. You forget, I have lost my
brother under the most startling and dreadful circumstances. Again, I
ask you, did you not see him as you came here? His black whiskers, his
spectacles, his timid glance to right and left; think, do not these
particulars recall his face to your memory?'

'I am sorry to say I have never seen anyone of the kind,' said
Phillipps, who had forgotten all about the missing brother. 'But let
me ask you a few questions. Did you notice whether Professor Gregg...'

'Pardon me, sir, I have stayed too long. My employers will be
expecting me. I thank you for your sympathy. Goodbye.'

Before Mr Phillipps had recovered from his amazement at this abrupt
departure Miss Lally had disappeared from his gaze, passing into the
crowd that now thronged the approaches to the Empire. He walked home
in a pensive frame of mind, and drank too much tea. At ten o'clock he
had made his third brew, and had sketched out the outlines of a little
work to be called _Protoplasmic Reversion_.


                     INCIDENT OF THE PRIVATE BAR


Mr Dyson often meditated at odd moments over the singular tale he had
listened to at the Café de la Touraine. In the first place, he
cherished a profound conviction that the words of truth were scattered
with a too niggardly and sparing hand over the agreeable history of
Mr Smith and the Black Gulf Cañon; and secondly, there was the
undeniable fact of the profound agitation of the narrator, and his
gestures on the pavement, too violent to be simulated. The idea of a
man going about London haunted by the fear of meeting a young man with
spectacles struck Dyson as supremely ridiculous; he searched his
memory for some precedent in romance, but without success; he paid
visits at odd times to the little café, hoping to find Mr Wilkins
there; and he kept a sharp watch on the great generation of the
spectacled men, without much doubt that he would remember the face of
the individual whom he had seen dart out of the aerated bread shop.
All his peregrinations and researches, however, seemed to lead to
nothing of value, and Dyson needed all his warm conviction of his
innate detective powers and his strong scent for mystery to sustain
him in his endeavours. In fact, he had two affairs on hand; and every
day, as he passed through streets crowded or deserted, lurked in the
obscure districts and watched at corners, he was more than surprised
to find that the affair of the gold coin persistently avoided him,
while the ingenious Wilkins, and the young man with spectacles whom he
dreaded, seemed to have vanished from the pavements.

He was pondering these problems one evening in a house of call in the
Strand, and the obstinacy with which the persons he so ardently
desired to meet hung back gave the modest tankard before him an
additional touch of bitter. As it happened, he was alone in his
compartment, and, without thinking, he uttered aloud the burden of his
meditations. 'How bizarre it all is!' he said, 'a man walking the
pavement with the dread of a timid-looking young man with spectacles
continually hovering before his eyes. And there was some tremendous
feeling at work, I could swear to that.' Quick as thought, before he
had finished the sentence, a head popped round the barrier, and was
withdrawn again; all while Dyson was wondering what this could mean,
the door of the compartment was swung open, and a smooth,
clean-shaven, and smiling gentleman entered.

'You will excuse me, sir,' he said politely, 'for intruding on your
thoughts, but you made a remark a minute ago.'

'I did,' said Dyson; 'I have been puzzling over a foolish matter, and
I thought aloud. As you heard what I said, and seem interested,
perhaps you may be able to relieve my perplexity?'

'Indeed, I scarcely know; it is an odd coincidence. One has to be
cautious. I suppose, sir, that you would be glad to assist the ends of
justice.'

'Justice,' replied Dyson, 'is a term of such wide meaning, that I too
feel doubtful about giving an answer. But this place is not altogether
fit for such a discussion; perhaps you would come to my rooms?'

'You are very kind; my name is Burton, but I am sorry to say I have
not a card with me. Do you live near here?'

'Within ten minutes' walk.'

Mr Burton took out his watch, and seemed to be making a rapid
calculation.

'I have a train to catch,' he said; 'but after all, it is a late one.
So if you don't mind, I think I will come with you. I am sure we
should have a little talk together. We turn up here?'

The theatres were filling as they crossed the Strand; the street
seemed alive with voices, and Dyson looked fondly about him. The
glittering lines of gas-lamps, with here and there the blinding
radiance of an electric light, the hansoms that flashed to and fro
with ringing bells, the laden 'buses, and the eager hurrying east and
west of the foot-passengers, made his most enchanting picture; and the
graceful spire of St. Mary le Strand on the one hand, and the last
flush of sunset on the other, were to him a cause of thanksgiving, as
the gorse blossom to Linnæus. Mr Burton caught his look of fondness
as they crossed the street.

'I see you can find the picturesque in London,' he said. 'To me this
great town is as I see it is to you -- the study and the love of life.
Yet how few there are that can pierce the veils of apparent monotony
and meanness! I have read in a paper, which is said to have the
largest circulation in the world, a comparison between the aspects of
London and Paris, a comparison which should be positively laureate as
the great masterpiece of fatuous stupidity. Conceive if you can a
human being of ordinary intelligence preferring the Boulevards to our
London streets; imagine a man calling for the wholesale destruction of
our most charming city, in order that the dull uniformity of that
whited sepulchre called Paris should be reproduced here in London. Is
it not positively incredible?'

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, regarding Burton with a good deal of
interest, 'I agree most heartily with your opinions, but I really
can't share your wonder. Have you heard how much George Eliot received
for _Romola_? Do you know what the circulation of _Robert Elsmere_
was? Do you read _Tit-Bits_, regularly? To me, on the contrary, it is
constant matter both for wonder and thanksgiving that London was not
boulevardized twenty years ago. I praise that exquisite jagged skyline
that stands up against the pale greens and fading blues and flushing
clouds of sunset, but I wonder even more than I praise. As for St.
Mary le Strand, its preservation is a miracle, nothing more or less. A
thing of exquisite beauty _versus_ four 'buses abreast! Really, the
conclusion is too obvious. Didn't you read the letter of the man who
proposed that the whole mysterious system, the immemorial plan of
computing Easter, should be abolished off-hand, because he doesn't
like his son having his holidays as early as March 25th? But shall we
be going on?'

They had lingered at the corner of a street on the north side of the
Strand, enjoying the contrasts and the glamour of the scene. Dyson
pointed the way with a gesture, and they strolled up the comparatively
deserted streets, slanting a little to the right, and thus arriving at
Dyson's lodging on the verge of Bloomsbury. Mr Burton took a
comfortable arm-chair by the open window, while Dyson lit the candles
and produced the whisky and soda and cigarettes.

'They tell me these cigarettes are very good,' he said; 'but I know
nothing about it myself. I hold at last that there is only one
tobacco, and that is shag. I suppose I could not tempt you to try a
pipeful?'

Mr Burton smilingly refused the offer, and picked out a cigarette
from the box. When he had smoked it half through, he said with some
hesitation --

'It is really kind of you to have me here, Mr Dyson; the fact is that
the interests at issue are far too serious to be discussed in a bar,
where, as you found for yourself, there may be listeners, voluntary or
involuntary, on each side. I think the remark I heard you make was
something about the oddity of an individual going about London in
deadly fear of a young man with spectacles?'

'Yes; that was it.'

'Well, would you mind confiding to me the circumstances that gave rise
to the reflection?'

'Not in the least. It was like this.' And he ran over in brief outline
the adventure in Oxford Street, dwelling on the violence of Mr
Wilkins's gestures, but wholly suppressing the tale told in the café.
'He told me he lived in constant terror of meeting this man; and I
left him when I thought he was cool enough to look after himself,'
said Dyson, ending his narrative.

'Really,' said Mr Burton. 'And you actually saw this mysterious
person?'

'Yes.'

'And could you describe him?'

'Well, he looked to me a youngish man, pale and nervous. He had small
black side-whiskers, and wore rather large spectacles.'

'But this is simply marvellous! You astonish me. For I must tell you
that my interest in the matter is this. I'm not in the least in terror
of meeting a dark young man with spectacles, but I shrewdly suspect a
person of that description would much rather not meet me. And yet the
account you give of the man tallies exactly. A nervous glance to right
and left -- is it not so? And, as you observed, he wears prominent
spectacles, and has small black whiskers. There cannot be, surely, two
people exactly identical -- one a cause of terror, and the other, I
should imagine, extremely anxious to get out of the way. But have you
seen this man since?'

'No, I have not; and I have been looking out for him pretty keenly.
But of course he may have left London, and England too, for the matter
of that.'

'Hardly, I think. Well, Mr Dyson, it is only fair that I should
explain my story, now that I have listened to yours. I must tell you,
then, that I am an agent for curiosities and precious things of all
kinds. An odd employment, isn't it? Of course, I wasn't brought up to
the business; I gradually fell into it. I have always been fond of
things queer and rare, and by the time I was twenty I had made half a
dozen collections. It is not generally known how often farm-labourers
come upon rarities; you would be astonished if I told you what I have
seen turned up by the plough. I lived in the country in those days,
and I used to buy anything the men on the farms brought me; and I had
the queerest set of rubbish, as my friends called my collection. But
that's how I got the scent of the business, which means everything;
and, later on, it struck me that I might very well turn my knowledge
to account and add to my income. Since those early days I have been in
most quarters of the world, and some very valuable things have passed
through my hands, and I have had to engage in difficult and delicate
negotiations. You have I possibly heard of the Khan opal -- called in
the East "The Stone of a Thousand and One Colours"? Well, perhaps the
conquest of that stone was my greatest achievement. I call it myself
the stone of the thousand and one lies, for I assure you that I had to
invent a cycle of folk-lore before the Rajah who owned it would
consent to sell the thing. I subsidized wandering storytellers, who
told tales in which the opal played a frightful part; I hired a holy
man -- a great ascetic -- to prophesy against the thing in the
language of Eastern symbolism; in short, I frightened the Rajah out of
his wits. So, you see, there is room for diplomacy in the traffic I am
engaged in. I have to be ever on my guard, and I have often been
sensible that unless I watched every step and weighed every word, my
life would not last me much longer. Last April I became aware of the
existence of a highly valuable antique gem; it was in southern Italy,
and in the possession of persons who were ignorant of its real value.
It has always been my experience that it is precisely the ignorant who
are most difficult to deal with. I have met farmers who were under the
impression that a shilling of George the First was a find of almost
incalculable value; and all the defeats I have sustained have been at
the hands of people of this description. Reflecting on these facts, I
saw that the acquisition of the gem I have mentioned would be an
affair demanding the nicest diplomacy; I might possibly have got it by
offering a sum approaching its real value, but I need not point out to
you that such a proceeding would be most unbusinesslike. Indeed, I
doubt whether it would have been successful; for the cupidity of such
persons is aroused by a sum which seems enormous, and the low cunning
which serves them in place of intelligence immediately suggests that
the object for which such an amount is offered must be worth at least
double. Of course, when it is a matter of an ordinary curiosity -- an
old jug, a carved chest, or a queer brass lantern -- one does not much
care; the cupidity of the owner defeats its object; the collector
laughs and goes away, for he is aware that such things are by no means
unique. But this gem I fervently desired to possess; and as I did not
see my way to giving more than a hundredth part of its value, I was
conscious that all my, let us say, imaginative and diplomatic powers
would have to be exerted. I am sorry to say that I came to the
conclusion that I could not undertake to carry the matter through
singlehanded, and I determined to confide in my assistant, a young man
named William Robbins, whom I judged to be by no means devoid of
capacity. My idea was that Robbins should get himself up as a
low-class dealer in precious stones; he could patter a little Italian,
and would go to the town in question and manage to see the gem we were
after, possibly by offering some trifling articles of jewellery for
sale, but that I left to be decided.

Then my work was to begin, but I will not trouble you with a tale told
twice over. In due course, then, Robbins went off to Italy with an
assortment of uncut stones and a few rings, and some jewellery I
bought in Birmingham on purpose for his expedition. A week later I
followed him, travelling leisurely, so that I was a fortnight later in
arriving at our common destination. There was a decent hotel in the
town, and on my inquiring of the landlord whether there were many
strangers in the place, he told me very few; he had heard there was an
Englishman staying in a small tavern, a pedlar, he said, who sold
beautiful trinkets very cheaply, and wanted to buy old rubbish. For
five or six days I took life leisurely, and I must say I enjoyed
myself. It was part of my plan to make the people think I was an
enormously rich man; and I knew that such items as the extravagance of
my meals, and the price of every bottle of wine I drank, would not be
suffered, as Sancho Panza puts it, to rot in the landlord's breast. At
the end of the week I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of
Signor Melini, the owner of the gem I coveted, at the café, and with
his ready hospitality, and my geniality, I was soon established as a
friend of the house. On my third or fourth visit I managed to make the
Italians talk about the English pedlar, who, they said, spoke a most
detestable Italian. "But that does not matter," said the Signora
Melini, "for he has beautiful things, which he sells very, very
cheap." "I hope you may not find he has cheated you," I said, "for I
must tell you that English people give these fellows a very wide
berth. They usually make a great parade of the cheapness of their
goods, which often turn out to be double the price of better articles
in the shops." They would not hear of this, and Signora Melini
insisted on showing me the three rings and the bracelet she had bought
of the pedlar. She told me the price she had paid; and after
scrutinizing the articles carefully, I had to confess that she had
made a bargain, and indeed Robbins had sold her the things at about
fifty per cent below market value. I admired the trinkets as I gave
them back to the lady, and I hinted that the pedlar must be a somewhat
foolish specimen of his class. Two days later, as I was taking my
vermouth at the cafe with Signor Melini, he led the conversation back
to the pedlar, and mentioned casually that he had shown the man a
little curiosity, for which he had made rather a handsome offer. "My
dear sir," I said, "I hope you will be careful. I told you that the
travelling tradesman does not bear a very high reputation in England;
and notwithstanding his apparent simplicity, this fellow may turn out
to be an arrant cheat. May I ask you what is the nature of the
curiosity you have shown him?" He told me it was a little thing, a
pretty little stone with some figures cut on it: people said it was
old. "I should like to examine it," I replied, "as it happens I have
seen a good deal of these gems. We have a fine collection of them in
our Museum at London." In due course I was shown the article, and I
held the gem I so coveted between my fingers. I looked at it coolly,
and put it down carelessly on the table. "Would you mind telling me,
Signor," I said, "how much my fellow-countryman offered you for this?"
"Well," he said, "my wife says the man must be mad; he said he would
give me twenty lire for it."

'I looked at him quietly, and took up the gem and pretended to examine
it in the light more carefully; I turned it over and over, and finally
pulled out a magnifying glass from my pocket, and seemed to search
every line in the cutting with minutest scrutiny. "My dear sir," I
said at last, "I am inclined to agree with Signora Melini. If this gem
were genuine, it would be worth some money; but as it happens to be a
rather bad forgery, it is not worth twenty centesimi. It was
sophisticated, I should imagine, some time in the last century, and by
a very unskilful hand." "Then we had better get rid of it," said
Melini. "I never thought it was worth anything myself. Of course, I am
sorry for the pedlar, but one must let a man know his own trade. I
shall tell him we will take the twenty lire." "Excuse me," I said,
"the man wants a lesson. It would be a charity to give him one. Tell
him that you will not take anything under eighty lire, and I shall be
much surprised if he does not close with you at once."

'A day or two later I heard that the English pedlar had gone away,
after debasing the minds of the country people with Birmingham art
jewellery; for I admit that the gold sleeve-links like kidney beans,
the silver chains made apparently after the pattern of a dog-chain,
and the initial brooches, have always been heavy on my conscience. I
cannot acquit myself of having indirectly contributed to debauch the
taste of a simple folk; but I hope that the end I had in view may
finally outbalance this heavy charge. Soon afterwards I paid a
farewell visit at the Melinis', and the signor informed me with an
oily chuckle that the plan I had suggested had been completely
successful. I congratulated him on his bargain, and went away after
expressing a wish that Heaven might send many such pedlars in his
path.

'Nothing of interest occurred on my return journey. I had arranged
that Robbins was to meet me at a certain place on a certain day, and I
went to the appointment full of the coolest confidence; the gem had
been conquered, and I had only to reap the fruits of victory. I am
sorry to shake that trust in our common human nature which I am sure
you possess, but I am compelled to tell you that up to the present
date I have never set eyes on my man Robbins, or on the antique gem in
his custody. I have found out that he actually arrived in London, for
he was seen three days before my arrival in England by a pawnbroker of
my acquaintance, consuming his favourite beverage -- four ale -- in
the tavern where we met tonight. Since then he has not been heard of.
I hope you will now pardon my curiosity as to the history and
adventures of dark young men with spectacles. You will, I am sure,
feel for me in my position; the savour of life has disappeared for me;
it is a bitter thought that I have rescued one of the most perfect and
exquisite specimens of antique art from the hands of ignorant, and
indeed unscrupulous persons, only to deliver it into the keeping of a
man who is evidently utterly devoid of the very elements of commercial
morality.'

'My dear sir,' said Dyson, 'you will allow me to compliment you on
your style; your adventures have interested me exceedingly. But,
forgive me, you just now used the word morality; would not some
persons take exception to your own methods of business? I can
conceive, myself, flaws of a moral kind being found in the very
original conception you have described to me; I can imagine the
Puritan shrinking in dismay from your scheme, pronouncing it
unscrupulous -- nay, dishonest.'

Mr Burton helped himself very frankly to some more whisky.

'Your scruples entertain me,' he said. 'Perhaps you have not gone very
deeply into these questions of ethics. I have been compelled to do so
myself, just as I was forced to master a simple system of
book-keeping. Without book-keeping, and still more without a system of
ethics, it is impossible to conduct a business such as mine. But I
assure you that I am often profoundly saddened, as I pass through the
crowded streets and watch the world at work, by the thought of how few
amongst all these hurrying individuals, black-hatted, well-dressed,
educated we may presume sufficiently, how few amongst them have any
reasoned system of morality. Even you have not weighed the question;
although you study life and affairs, and to a certain extent penetrate
the veils and masks of the comedy of man, even you judge by empty
conventions, and the false money which is allowed to pass current as
sterling coin. Allow me to play the part of Socrates; I shall teach
you nothing that you do not know. I shall merely lay aside the
wrappings of prejudice and bad logic, and show you the real image
which you possess in your soul. Come, then. Do you allow that
happiness is anything?'

'Certainly,' said Dyson.

'And happiness is desirable or undesirable?'

'Desirable, of course.'

'And what shall we call the man who gives happiness? Is he not a
philanthropist?'

'I think so.'

'And such a person is praiseworthy, and the more praiseworthy in the
proportion of the persons whom he makes happy? '

'By all means.'

'So that he who makes a whole nation happy is praiseworthy in the
extreme, and the action by which he gives happiness is the highest
virtue?'

'It appears so, O Burton,' said Dyson, who found something very
exquisite in the character of his visitor.

'Quite so; you find the several conclusions inevitable. Well, apply
them to the story I have told you. I conferred happiness on myself by
obtaining (as I thought) possession of the gem; I conferred happiness
on the Melinis by getting them eighty lire instead of an object for
which they had not the slightest value, and I intended to confer
happiness on the whole British nation by selling the thing to the
British Museum, to say nothing of the happiness a profit of about nine
thousand per cent would have conferred on me. I assure you, I regard
Robbins as an interferer with the cosmos and fair order of things. But
that is nothing; you perceive that I am an apostle of the very highest
morality; you have been forced to yield to argument.'

'There certainly seems a great deal in what you advance,' said Dyson.
'I admit that I am a mere amateur of ethics, while you, as you say,
have brought the most acute scrutiny to bear on these perplexed and
doubtful questions. I can well understand your anxiety to meet the
fallacious Robbins, and I congratulate myself on the chance which has
made us acquainted. But you will pardon my seeming inhospitality; I
see it is half-past eleven, and I think you mentioned a train.'

'A thousand thanks, Mr Dyson. I have just time, I see. I will look
you up some evening, if I may. Goodnight.'

                         -----------------
                     THE DECORATIVE IMAGINATION

In the course of a few weeks Dyson became accustomed to the constant
incursions of the ingenious Mr Burton, who showed himself ready to
drop in at all hours, not averse to refreshment, and a profound guide
in the complicated questions of life. His visits at once terrified and
delighted Dyson, who could no longer seat himself at his bureau secure
from interruption while he embarked on literary undertakings, each one
of which was to be a masterpiece. On the other hand, it was a vivid
pleasure to be confronted with views so highly original; and if here
and there Mr Burton's reasonings seemed tinged with fallacy, yet Dyson
freely yielded to the joy of strangeness, and never failed to give his
visitor a frank and hearty welcome. Mr Burton's first inquiry was
always after the unprincipled Robbins, and he seemed to feel the
stings of disappointment when Dyson told him that he had failed to
meet this outrage on all morality, as Burton styled him, vowing that
sooner or later he would take vengeance on such a shameless betrayal
of trust.

One evening they had sat together for some time discussing the
possibility of laying down for this present generation and our modern
and intensely complicated order of society some rules of social
diplomacy, such as Lord Bacon gave to the courtiers of King James I.
'It is a book to make,' said Mr Burton, 'but who is there capable of
making it? I tell you, people are longing for such a book; it would
bring fortune to its publisher. Bacon's Essays are exquisite, but they
have now no practical application; the modern strategist can find but
little use in a treatise _De Re Militari_, written by a Florentine in
the fifteenth century. Scarcely more dissimilar are the social
conditions of Bacon's time and our own; the rules that he lays down so
exquisitely for the courtier and diplomatist of James the First's age
will avail us little in the rough-and-tumble struggle of today. Life,
I am afraid, has deteriorated; it gives little play for fine strokes
such as formerly advanced men in the state. Except in such businesses
as mine, where a chance does occur now and then, it has all become, as
I said, an affair of rough and tumble; men still desire to attain, it
is true, but what is their _moyen de parvenir_? A mere imitation --
and not a gracious one -- of the arts of the soap vendor and the
proprietor of baking-powder. When I think of these things, my dear
Dyson, I confess that I am tempted to despair of my century.'

'You are too pessimistic, my dear fellow; you set up too high a
standard. Certainly, I agree with you, that the times are decadent in
many ways. I admit a general appearance of squalor; it needs much
philosophy to extract the wonderful and the beautiful from the
Cromwell Road or the Nonconformist conscience. Australian wines of
fine Burgundy character, the novels alike of the old women and the new
women, popular journalism, -- these things, indeed, make for
depression. Yet we have our advantages: before us is unfolded the
greatest spectacle the world has ever seen -- the mystery of the
innumerable, unending streets, the strange adventures that must
infallibly arise from so complicated a press of interests. Nay, I will
say that he who has stood in the ways of a suburb, and has seen them
stretch before him all shining, void, and desolate at noonday, has not
lived in vain. Such a sight is in reality more wonderful than any
perspective of Baghdad or Grand Cairo. And, to set on one side the
entertaining history of the gem which you told me, surely you must
have had many singular adventures in your own career?'

'Perhaps not so many as you would think; a good deal -- the larger
part of my business -- has been as commonplace as linen-drapery. But,
of course, things happen now and then. It is ten years since I
established my agency, and I suppose that a house-and-estate-agent who
had been in trade for an equal time could tell you some queer stories.
But I must give you a sample of my experiences some night.'

'Why not tonight?' said Dyson. 'This evening seems to me admirably
adapted for an odd chapter. Look out into the street; you can catch a
view of it if you crane your neck from that chair of yours. Is it not
charming? The double row of lamps growing closer in the distance, the
hazy outline of the plane-tree in the square, and the lights of the
hansoms swimming to and fro, gliding and vanishing; and above, the sky
all clear and blue and shining. Come, let us have one of your _cent
nouvelles_.'

'My dear Dyson, I am delighted to amuse you,' With these words Mr
Burton prefaced the


                       NOVEL OF THE IRON MAID


I think the most extraordinary event which I can recall took place
about five years ago. I was then still feeling my way; I had declared
for business, and attended regularly at my office; but I had not
succeeded in establishing a really profitable connection, and
consequently I had a good deal of leisure time on my hands. I have
never thought fit to trouble you with the details of my private life;
they would be entirely devoid of interest. I must briefly say,
however, that I had a numerous circle of acquaintance, and was never
at a loss as to how to spend my evenings. I was so fortunate as to
have friends in most of the ranks of the social order; there is
nothing so unfortunate, to my mind, as a specialised circle, wherein a
certain round of ideas is continually traversed and retraversed. I
have always tried to find out new types and persons whose brains
contained something fresh to me; one may chance to gain information
even from the conversation of city men on an omnibus. Amongst my
acquaintance I knew a young doctor, who lived in a far outlying
suburb, and I used often to brave the intolerably slow railway journey
to have the pleasure of listening to his talk. One night we conversed
so eagerly together over our pipes and whisky that the clock passed
unnoticed; and when I glanced up, I realised with a shock that I had
just five minutes in which to catch the last train. I made a dash for
my hat and stick, jumped out of the house and down the steps, and tore
at full speed up the street. It was no good, however; there was a
shriek of the engine-whistle, and I stood there at the station door
and saw far on the long, dark line of the embankment a red light shine
and vanish, and a porter came down and shut the door with a bang.

'How far to London?' I asked him.

'A good nine miles to Waterloo Bridge.' And with that he went off.

Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by
rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint, sickly
smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means,
and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as
those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take, so I set
out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective;
and as I walked, street after street branched off to right and left,
some far-reaching, to distances that seemed endless, communicating
with other systems of thoroughfare, and some mere protoplasmic
streets, ing in orderly fashion with serried two-storied houses,
and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish-heaps, and fields
whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of
thoroughfare, and I assure you that walking alone through these silent
places I felt fantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite.
There was here, I felt, an immensity as in the outer void of the
universe; I passed from unknown to unknown, my way marked by lamps
like stars, and on either hand was an unknown world where myriads of
men dwelt and slept, street leading into street, as it seemed to
world's end. At first the road by which I was travelling was lined
with houses of unutterable monotony, a wall of grey brick pierced by
two stories of windows, drawn close to the very pavement; but by
degrees I noticed an improvement, there were gardens, and these grew
larger; the suburban builder began to allow himself a wider scope; and
for a certain distance each flight of steps was guarded by twin lions
of plaster, and scents of flowers prevailed over the fume of heated
bricks. The road began to climb a hill, and looking up a side street I
saw the half moon rise over plane-trees, and there on the other side
was as if a white cloud had fallen, and the air around it was
sweetened as with incense; it was a may-tree in full bloom. I pressed
on stubbornly, listening for the wheels and the clatter of some
belated hansom; but into that land of men who go to the city in the
morning and return in the evening the hansom rarely enters, and I had
resigned myself once more to the walk, when I suddenly became aware
that someone was advancing to meet me along the sidewalk.

The man was strolling rather aimlessly; and though the time and the
place would have allowed an unconventional style of dress, he was
vested in the ordinary frockcoat, black tie, and silk hat of
civilisation. We met each other under the lamp, and, as often happens
in this great town, two casual passengers brought face to face found
each in the other an acquaintance.

'Mr Mathias, I think?' I said.

'Quite so. And you are Frank Burton. You know you are a man with a
Christian name, so I won't apologise for my familiarity. But may I ask
where you are going?'

I explained the situation to him, saying I had traversed a region as
unknown to me as the darkest recesses of Africa. 'I think I have only
about five miles further,' I concluded.

'Nonsense! you must come home with me. My house is close by; in fact,
I was just taking my evening walk when we met. Come along; I dare say
you will find a makeshift bed easier than a five-mile walk.'

I let him take my arm and lead me along, though I was a good deal
surprised at so much geniality from a man who was, after all, a mere
casual club acquaintance. I suppose I had not spoken to Mr Mathias
half a dozen times; he was a man who would sit silent in an armchair
for hours, neither reading nor smoking, but now and again moistening
his lips with his tongue and smiling queerly to himself. I confess he
had never attracted me, and on the whole I should have preferred to
continue my walk.

But he took my arm and led me up a side street, and stopped at a door
in a high wall. We passed through the still, moonlit garden, beneath
the black shadow of an old cedar, and into an old red-brick house with
many gables. I was tired enough, and I sighed with relief as I let
myself fall into a great leather armchair. You know the infernal grit
with which they strew the sidewalk in those suburban districts; it
makes walking a penance, and I felt my four-mile tramp had made me
more weary than ten miles on an honest country road. I looked about
the room with some curiosity; there was a shaded lamp, which threw a
circle of brilliant light on a heap of papers lying on an old 
brass-bound secretaire of the last century, but the room was all 
vague and shadowy, and I could only see that it was long and low, and
that it was filled with indistinct objects which might be furniture.
Mr Mathias sat down in a second armchair, and looked about him with 
that odd smile of his. He was a queer-looking man, clean shaven, and
white to the lips. I should think his age was something between 
fifty and sixty.

'Now I have got you here,' he began, 'I must inflict my hobby on you.
You knew I was a collector? Oh yes, I have devoted many years to
collecting curiosities, which I think are really curious. But we must
have a better light.'

He advanced into the middle of the room, and lit a lamp which hung
from the ceiling; and as the bright light flashed round the wick, from
every corner and space there seemed to start a horror. Great wooden
frames, with complicated apparatus of ropes and pulleys, stood against
the wall; a wheel of strange shape had a place beside a thing that
looked like a gigantic gridiron; little tables glittered with bright
steel instruments carelessly put down as if ready for use; a screw and
vice loomed out, casting ugly shadows, and in another nook was a saw
with cruel jagged teeth.

'Yes,' said Mr Mathias, 'they are, as you suggest, instruments of
torture -- of torture and death. Some -- many, I may say -- have been
used; a few are reproductions after ancient examples. Those knives
were used for flaying; that frame is a rack, and a very fine specimen.
Look at this; it comes from Venice. You see that sort of collar,
something like a big horseshoe? Well, the patient, let us call him,
sat down quite comfortably, and the horseshoe was neatly fitted round
his neck. Then the two ends were joined with a silken band, and the
executioner began to turn a handle connected with the band. The
horseshoe contracted very gradually as the band tightened, and the
turning continued till the man was strangled. It all took place
quietly, in one of those queer garrets under the leads. But these
things are all European; the Orientals are, of course, much more
ingenious. These are the Chinese contrivances; you have heard of the
"Heavy Death"? It is my hobby, this sort of thing. Do you know, I
often sit here, hour after hour, and meditate over the collection. I
fancy I see the faces of the men who have suffered, faces lean with
agony, and wet with sweats of death growing distinct out of the gloom,
and I hear the echoes of their cries for mercy. But I must show you my
latest acquisition. Come into the next room'

I followed Mr Mathias out. The weariness of the walk, the late hour,
and the strangeness of it all made me feel like a man in a dream;
nothing would have surprised me very much. The second room was as the
first, crowded with ghastly instruments; but beneath the lamp was a
wooden platform, and a figure stood on it. It was a large statue of a
naked woman, fashioned in green bronze, the arms were stretched out,
and there was a smile on the lips; it might well have been intended
for a Venus, and yet I there was about the thing an evil and a deadly
look.

Mr Mathias looked at it complacently. 'Quite a work of art, isn't it?'
he said. 'It's made of bronze, as you see, but it has long had the
name of the Iron Maid. I got it from Germany, and it was only unpacked
this afternoon; indeed, I have not yet had time to open the letter of
advice. You see that very small knob between the breasts? Well, the
victim was bound to the Maid, the knob was pressed, and the arms
slowly tightened round the neck. You can imagine the result.'

As Mr Mathias talked, he patted the figure affectionately. I had
turned away, for I sickened at the sight of the man and his loathsome
treasure. There was a slight click, of which I took no notice; it was
not much louder than the tick of a clock; and then I heard a sudden
whirr, the noise of machinery in motion, and I faced round. I have
never forgotten the hideous agony on Mathias's face as those
relentless arms tightened about his neck; there was a wild struggle as
of a beast in the toils, and then a shriek that ended in a choking
groan. The whirring noise had suddenly changed into a heavy droning. I
tore with all my might at the bronze arms, and strove to wrench them
apart, but I could do nothing. The head had slowly bent down, and the
green lips were on the lips of Mathias.

Of course, I had to attend at the inquest. The letter which had
accompanied the figure was found unopened on the study table. The
German firm of dealers cautioned their client to be most careful in
touching the Iron Maid, as the machinery had put in thorough working
order.


For many revolving weeks Mr Burton delighted Dyson by his agreeable
conversation, diversified by anecdote, and interspersed with the
narration of singular adventures. Finally, however, he vanished as
suddenly as he had appeared, and on the occasion of his last visit he
contrived to loot a copy of his namesake's Anatomy. Dyson, considering
this violent attack on the rights of property, and certain glaring
inconsistencies in the talk of his late friend, arrived at the
conclusion that his stories were fabulous, and that the Iron Maid only
existed in the sphere of a decorative imagination.

                       ---------------------
                      THE RECLUSE OF BAYSWATER

Amongst the many friends who were favoured with the occasional
pleasure of Mr Dyson's society was Mr Edgar Russell, realist and
obscure struggler, who occupied a small back room on the second floor
of a house in Abingdon Grove, Notting Hill. Turning off from the main
street, and walking a few paces onward, one was conscious of a certain
calm, a drowsy peace, which made the feet inclined to loiter, and this
was ever the atmosphere of Abingdon Grove. The houses stood a little
back, with gardens where the lilac, and laburnum, and blood-red may
blossomed gaily in their seasons, and there was a corner where an
older house in another street had managed to keep a back garden of
real extent, a walled-in garden, whence there came a pleasant scent of
greenness after the rains of early summer, where old elms held
memories of the open fields, where there was yet sweet grass to walk
on. The houses in Abingdon Grove belonged chiefly to the nondescript
stucco period of thirty-five years ago, tolerably built, with passable
accommodation for moderate incomes; they had largely passed into the
state of lodgings, and cards bearing the inscription 'Furnished
Apartments' were not infrequent over the doors. Here, then, in a house
of sufficiently good appearance, Mr Russell had established himself;
for he looked upon the traditional dirt and squalor of Grub Street as
a false and obsolete convention, and preferred, as he said, to live
within sight of green leaves. Indeed, from his room one had a
magnificent view of a long line of gardens, and a screen of poplars
shut out the melancholy back premises of Wilton Street during the
summer months. Mr Russell lived chiefly on bread and tea, for his
means were of the smallest; but when Dyson came to see him, he would
send out the slavey for six ale, and Dyson was always at liberty to
smoke as much of his own tobacco as he pleased. The landlady had been
so unfortunate as to have her drawing-room floor vacant for many
months; a card had long proclaimed the void within; and Dyson, when he
walked up the steps one evening in early autumn, had a sense that
something was missing, and, looking at the fanlight, saw the appealing
card had disappeared.

'You have let your first floor, have you?' he said, as he greeted Mr
Russell.

'Yes; it was taken about a fortnight ago by a lady.'

'Indeed,' said Dyson, always curious; 'a young lady?'

'Yes; I believe so. She is a widow, and wears a thick crape veil. I
have met her once or twice on the stairs and in the street; but I
should not know her face.'

'Well,' said Dyson, when the beer had arrived, and the pipes were in
full blast, 'and what have you been doing? Do you find the work
getting any easier?'

'Alas!' said the young man, with an expression of great gloom, 'the
life is a purgatory, and all but a hell. I write, picking out my
words, weighing and balancing the force of every syllable, calculating
the minutest effects that language can produce, erasing and rewriting
and spending a whole evening over a page of manuscript. And then, in
the morning, when I read what I have written -- Well, there is nothing
to be done but to throw it in the waste-paper basket, if the verso has
been already written on, or to put it in the drawer if the other side
happens to be clean. When I have written a phrase which undoubtedly
embodies a happy turn of thought, I find it dressed up in feeble
commonplace; and when the style is good, it serves only to conceal the
baldness of superannuated fancies. I sweat over my work, Dyson --
every finished line means so much agony. I envy the lot of the
carpenter in the side street who has a craft which he understands.
When he gets an order for a table he does not writhe with anguish; but
if I were so unlucky as to get an order for a book, I think I should
go mad.'

'My dear fellow, you take it all too seriously. You should let the ink
flow more readily. Above all, firmly believe, when you sit down to
write, that you are an artist, and that whatever you are about is a
masterpiece. Suppose ideas fail you, say, as I heard one of our most
exquisite artists say, "It's of no consequence; the ideas are all
there, at the bottom of that box of cigarettes!" You, indeed, smoke a
pipe, but the application is the same. Besides, you must have some
happy moments; and these should be ample consolation.'

'Perhaps you are right. But such moments are so few; and then there is
the torture of a glorious conception matched with execution beneath
the standard of the "Family Story Paper". For instance, I was happy
for two hours a night or two ago; I lay awake and saw visions. But
then the morning!'

'What was your idea?'

'It seemed to me a splendid one: I thought of Balzac and the _Comédie
Humaine_, of Zola and the Rougon-Macquart family. It dawned upon me
that I would write the history of a street. Every house should form a
volume. I fixed upon the street, I saw each house, and read as clearly
as in letters the physiology and psychology of each; the little byway
stretched before me in its actual shape -- a street that I know and
have passed down a hundred times, with some twenty houses, prosperous
and mean, and lilac bushes in purple blossom. And yet it was, at the
same time, a symbol, a _via dolorosa_ of hopes cherished and
disappointed, of years of monotonous existence without content or
discontent, of tragedies and obscure sorrows; and on the door of one
of those houses I saw the red stain of blood, and behind a window two
shadows, blackened and faded on the blind, as they swayed on tightened
cords -- the shadows of a man and a woman hanging in a vulgar gas lit
parlour. These were my fancies; but when pen touched paper they
shrivelled and vanished away.'

'Yes,' said Dyson, 'there is a lot in that. I envy you the pains of
transmuting vision into reality, and, still more, I envy you the day
when you will look at your bookshelf and see twenty goodly books upon
the shelves -- the series complete and done for ever. Let me entreat
you to have them bound in solid parchment with gold lettering. It is
the only real cover for a valiant book. When I look in at the windows
of some choice shop, and see the bindings of levant morocco, with
pretty tools and panellings, and your sweet contrasts of red and
green, I say to myself, "These are not books, but _bibelots_". A book
bound so -- a true book, mind you -- is like a Gothic statue draped in
brocade of Lyons.'

'Alas! ' said Russell, 'we need not discuss the binding -- the books
are not begun.'

The talk went on as usual till eleven o'clock, when Dyson bade his
friend good-night. He knew the way downstairs, and walked down by
himself; but, greatly to his surprise, as he crossed the first-floor
landing the door opened slightly, and a hand was stretched out,
beckoning.

Dyson was not the man to hesitate under such circumstances. In a
moment he saw himself involved in adventure; and, as he told himself,
the Dysons had never disobeyed a lady's summons. Softly, then, with
due regard for the lady's honour, he would have entered the room, when
a low but clear voice spoke to him 'Go downstairs and open the door
and shut it again rather loudly. Then come up to me; and for Heaven's
sake, walk softly.'

Dyson obeyed her commands, not without some hesitation, for he was
afraid of meeting the landlady or the maid on his return journey. But,
walking like a cat, and making each step he trod on crack loudly, he
flattered himself that he had escaped observation; and as he gained
the top of the stairs the door opened wide before him, and he found
himself in the lady's drawing-room, bowing awkwardly.

'Pray be seated, sir. Perhaps this chair will be the best; it was the
favoured chair of my landlady's deceased husband. I would ask you to
smoke, but the odour would betray me. I know my proceedings must seem
to you unconventional; but I saw you arrive this evening, and I do not
think you would refuse to help a woman who is so unfortunate as I am.'

Mr Dyson looked shyly at the young lady before him. She was dressed
in deep mourning, but the piquant smiling face and charming hazel eyes
ill accorded with the heavy garments and the mouldering surface of the
crape.

'Madam,' he said gallantly, 'your instinct has served you well. We
will not trouble, if you please, about the question of social
conventions; the chivalrous gentleman knows nothing of such matters. I
hope I may be privileged to serve you.'

'You are very kind to me, but I knew it would be so. Alas! sir, I have
had experience of life, and I am rarely mistaken. Yet man is too often
so vile and so misjudging that I trembled even as I resolved to take
this step, which, for all I knew, might prove to be both desperate and
ruinous.'

'With me you have nothing to fear,' said Dyson. I was nurtured in the
faith of chivalry, and I have always endeavoured to remember the proud
traditions of my race. Confide in me, then, and count upon my secrecy,
and if it prove possible, you may rely on my help.'

'Sir, I will not waste your time, which I am sure is valuable, by idle
parleyings. Learn, then, that I am a fugitive, and in hiding here; I
place myself in your power; you have but to describe my features, and
I fall into the hands of my relentless enemy.'

Mr Dyson wondered for a passing instant how this could be, but he
only renewed his promise of silence, repeating that he would be the
embodied spirit of dark concealment.

'Good,' said the lady, 'the Oriental fervour of your style is
delightful. In the first place, I must disabuse your mind of the
conviction that I am a widow. These gloomy vestments have been forced
on me by strange circumstance; in plain language, I have deemed it
expedient to go disguised. You have a friend, I think, in the house,
Mr Russell? He seems of a coy and retiring nature.'

'Excuse me, madam,' said Dyson, 'he is not coy, but he is a realist;
and perhaps you are aware that no Carthusian monk can emulate the
cloistral seclusion in which a realistic novelist loves to shroud
himself. It is his way of observing human nature.'

'Well, well,' said the lady; 'all this, though deeply interesting, is
not germane to our affair. I must tell you my history.'

With these words the young lady proceeded to relate the


                      NOVEL OF THE WHITE POWDER


My name is Leicester; my father, Major-General Wyn Leicester, a
distinguished officer of artillery, succumbed five years ago to a
complicated liver complaint acquired in the deadly climate of India. A
year later my only brother, Francis, came home after a exceptionally
brilliant career at the University, and settled down with the
resolution of a hermit to master what has been well called the great
legend of the law. He was a man who seemed to live in utter
indifference to everything that is called pleasure; and though he was
handsomer than most men, and could talk as merrily and wittily as if
he were a mere vagabond, he avoided society, and shut himself up in a
large room at the top of the house to make himself a lawyer. Ten hours
a day of hard reading was at first his allotted portion; from the
first light in the east to the late afternoon he remained shut up with
his books, taking a hasty half-hour's lunch with me as if he grudged
the wasting of the moments, and going out for a short walk when it
began to grow dusk. I thought that such relentless application must be
injurious, and tried to cajole him from the crabbed textbooks, but his
ardour seemed to grow rather than diminish, and his daily tale of
hours increased. I spoke to him seriously, suggesting some occasional
relaxation, if it were but an idle afternoon with a harmless novel;
but he laughed, and said that he read about feudal tenures when he
felt in need of amusement, and scoffed at the notions of theatres, or
a month's fresh air. I confessed that he looked well, and seemed not
to suffer from his labours, but I knew that such unnatural toil would
take revenge at last, and I was not mistaken. A look of anxiety began
to lurk about his eyes, and he seemed languid, and at last he avowed
that he was no longer in perfect health; he was troubled, he said,
with a sensation of dizziness, and awoke now and then of nights from
fearful dreams, terrified and cold with icy sweats. 'I am taking care
of myself,' he said, 'so you must not trouble; I passed the whole of
yesterday afternoon in idleness, leaning back in that comfortable
chair you gave me, and scribbling nonsense on a sheet of paper. No,
no; I will not overdo my work; I shall be well enough in a week or
two, depend upon it.'

Yet in spite of his assurances I could see that he grew no better, but
rather worse; he would enter the drawing-room with a face all
miserably wrinkled and despondent, and endeavour to look gaily when my
eyes fell on him, and I thought such symptoms of evil omen, and was
frightened sometimes at the nervous irritation of his movements, and
at glances which I could not decipher. Much against his will, I
prevailed on him to have medical advice, and with an ill grace he
called in our old doctor.

Dr Haberden cheered me after examination of his patient.

'There is nothing really much amiss,' he said to me. 'No doubt he
reads too hard and eats hastily, and then goes back again to his books
in too great a hurry, and the natural sequence is some digestive
trouble and a little mischief in the nervous system. But I think -- I
do indeed, Miss Leicester -- that we shall be able to set this all
right. I have written him a prescription which ought to do great
things. So you have no cause for anxiety.'

My brother insisted on having the prescription made up by a chemist in
the neighbourhood. It was an odd, old-fashioned shop, devoid of the
studied coquetry and calculated glitter that make so gay a show on the
counters and shelves of the modern apothecary; but Francis liked the
old chemist, and believed in the scrupulous purity of his drugs. The
medicine was sent in due course, and I saw that my brother took it
regularly after lunch and dinner. It was an innocent-looking white
powder, of which a little was dissolved in a glass of cold water; I
stirred it in, and it seemed to disappear, leaving the water clear and
colourless. At first Francis seemed to benefit greatly; the weariness
vanished from his face, and he became more cheerful than he had ever
been since the time when he left school; he talked gaily of reforming
himself, and avowed to me that he had wasted his time.

'I have given too many hours to law,' he said, laughing; 'I think you
have saved me in the nick of time. Come, I shall be Lord Chancellor
yet, but I must not forget life. You and I will have a holiday
together before long; we will go to Paris and enjoy ourselves, and
keep away from the Bibliothèque Nationale.'

I confessed myself delighted with the prospect.

'When shall we go?' I said. 'I can start the day after tomorrow if you
like.'

'Ah! that is perhaps a little too soon; after all, I do not know
London yet, and I suppose a man ought to give the pleasures of his own
country the first choice. But we will go off together in a week or
two, so try and furbish up your French. I only know law French myself,
and I am afraid that wouldn't do.'

We were just finishing dinner, and he quaffed off his medicine with a
parade of carousal as if it had been wine from some choicest bin.

'Has it any particular taste?' I said.

'No; I should not know I was not drinking water,' and he got up from
his chair and began to pace up and down the room as if he were
undecided as to what he should do next.

'Shall we have coffee in the drawing-room?' I said; 'or would you like
to smoke?'

'No, I think I will take a turn; it seems a pleasant evening. Look at
the afterglow; why, it is as if a great city were burning in flames,
and down there between the dark houses it is raining blood fast. Yes,
I will go out; I may be in soon, but I shall take my key; so
goodnight, dear, if I don't see you again.'

The door slammed behind him, and I saw him walk lightly down the
street, swinging his malacca cane, and I felt grateful to Dr Haberden
for such an improvement.

I believe my brother came home very late that night, but he was in a
merry mood the next morning.

'I walked on without thinking where I was going,' he said, 'enjoying
the freshness of the air, and livened by the crowds as I reached more
frequented quarters. And then I met an old college friend, Orford, in
the press of the pavement, and then -- well, we enjoyed ourselves, I
have felt what it is to be young and a man; I find I have blood in my
veins, as other men have. I made an appointment with Orford for
tonight; there will be a little party of us at the restaurant. Yes; I
shall enjoy myself for a week or two, and hear the chimes at midnight,
and then we will go for our little trip together.'

Such was the transmutation of my brother's character that in a few
days he became a lover of pleasure, a careless and merry idler of
western pavements, a hunter out of snug restaurants, and a fine critic
of fantastic dancing; he grew fat before my eyes, and said no more of
Paris, for he had clearly found his paradise in London. I rejoiced,
and yet wondered a little; for there was, I thought, something in his
gaiety that indefinitely displeased me, though I could not have
defined my feeling. But by degrees there came a change; he returned
still in the cold hours of the morning, but I heard no more about his
pleasures, and one morning as we sat at breakfast together I looked
suddenly into his eyes and saw a stranger before me.

'Oh, Francis!' I cried. 'Oh, Francis, Francis, what have you done?'
and rending sobs cut the words short. I went weeping out of the room;
for though I knew nothing, yet I knew all, and by some odd play of
thought I remembered the evening when he first went abroad, and the
picture of the sunset sky glowed before me; the clouds like a city in
burning flames, and the rain of blood. Yet I did battle with such
thoughts, resolving that perhaps, after all, no great harm had been
done, and in the evening at dinner I resolved to press him to fix a
day for our holiday in Paris. We had talked easily enough, and my
brother had just taken his medicine, which he continued all the while.
I was about to begin my topic when the words forming in my mind
vanished, and I wondered for a second what icy and intolerable weight
oppressed my heart and suffocated me as with the unutterable horror of
the coffin-lid nailed down on the living.

We had dined without candles; the room had slowly grown from twilight
to gloom, and the walls and corners were indistinct in the shadow. But
from where I sat I looked out into the street; and as I thought of
what I would say to Francis, the sky began to flush and shine, as it
had done on a well-remembered evening, and in the gap between two dark
masses that were houses an awful pageantry of flame appeared -- lurid
whorls of writhed cloud, and utter depths burning, grey masses like
the fume blown from a smoking city, and an evil glory blazing far
above shot with tongues of more ardent fire, and below as if there
were a deep pool of blood. I looked down to where my brother sat
facing me, and the words were shaped on my lips, when I saw his hand
resting on the table. Between the thumb and forefinger of the closed
hand there was a mark, a small patch about the size of a six-pence,
and somewhat of the colour of a bad bruise. Yet, by some sense I
cannot define, I knew that what I saw was no bruise at all; oh! if
human flesh could burn with flame, and if flame could be black as
pitch, such was that before me. Without thought or fashioning of words
grey horror shaped within me at the sight, and in an inner cell it was
known to be a brand. For the moment the stained sky became dark as
midnight, and when the light returned to me I was alone in the silent
room, and soon after I heard my brother go out.

Late as it was, I put on my hat and went to Dr Haberden, and in his
great consulting room, ill lighted by a candle which the doctor
brought in with him, with stammering lips, and a voice that would
break in spite of my resolve, I told him all, from the day on which my
brother began to take the medicine down to the dreadful thing I had
seen scarcely half an hour before.

When I had done, the doctor looked at me for a minute with an
expression of great pity on his face.

'My dear Miss Leicester,' he said, 'you have evidently been anxious
about your brother; you have been worrying over him, I am sure. Come,
now, is it not so?'

'I have certainly been anxious,' I said. 'For the last week or two I
have not felt at ease.'

'Quite so; you know, of course, what a queer thing the brain is?'

'I understand what you mean; but I was not deceived. I saw what I have
told you with my own eyes.'

'Yes, yes of course. But your eyes had been staring at that very
curious sunset we had tonight. That is the only explanation. You will
see it in the proper light tomorrow, I am sure. But, remember, I am
always ready to give any help that is in my power; do not scruple to
come to me, or to send for me if you are in any distress.'

I went away but little comforted, all confusion and terror and sorrow,
not knowing where to turn. When my brother and I met the next day, I
looked quickly at him, and noticed, with a sickening at heart, that
the right hand, the hand on which I had clearly seen the patch as of a
black fire, was wrapped up with a handkerchief.

'What is the matter with your hand, Francis?' I said in a steady
voice.

'Nothing of consequence. I cut a finger last night, and it bled rather
awkwardly. So I did it up roughly to the best of my ability.'

'I will do it neatly for you, if you like.'

'No, thank you, dear; this will answer very well. Suppose we have
breakfast; I am quite hungry.'

We sat down and I watched him. He scarcely ate or drank at all, but
tossed his meat to the dog when he thought my eyes were turned away;
there was a look in his eyes that I had never yet seen, and the
thought flashed across my mind that it was a look that was scarcely
human. I was firmly convinced that awful and incredible as was the
thing I had seen the night before, yet it was no illusion, no glamour
of bewildered sense, and in the course of the evening I went again to
the doctor's house.

He shook his head with an air puzzled and incredulous, and seemed to
reflect for a few minutes.

'And you say he still keeps up the medicine? But why? As I understand,
all the symptoms he complained of have disappeared long ago; why
should he go on taking the stuff when he is quite well? And by the by,
where did he get it made up? At Sayce's? I never send any one there;
the old man is getting careless. Suppose you come with me to the
chemist's; I should like to have some talk with him.'

We walked together to the shop; old Sayce knew Dr Haberden, and was
quite ready to give any information.

'You have been sending that in to Mr Leicester for some weeks, I
think, on my prescription,' said the doctor, giving the old man a
pencilled scrap of paper.

The chemist put on his great spectacles with trembling uncertainty,
and held up the paper with a shaking hand

'Oh, yes,' he said, 'I have very little of it left; it is rather an
uncommon drug, and I have had it in stock some time. I must get in
some more, if Mr Leicester goes on with it.'

'Kindly let me have a look at the stuff,' said Haberden, and the
chemist gave him a glass bottle. He took out the stopper and smelt the
contents, and looked strangely at the old man.

'Where did you get this?' he said, 'and what is it? For one thing, Mr
Sayce, it is not what I prescribed. Yes, yes, I see the label is right
enough, but I tell you this is not the drug.'

'I have had it a long time,' said the old man in feeble terror; 'I got
it from Burbage's in the usual way. It is not prescribed often, and I
have had it on the shelf for some years. You see there is very little
left.'

'You had better give it to me,' said Haberden. 'I am afraid something
wrong has happened.'

We went out of the shop in silence, the doctor carrying the bottle
neatly wrapped in paper under his arm.

'Dr Haberden,' I said, when we had walked a little way -- 'Dr
Haberden.'

'Yes,' he said, looking at me gloomily enough.

'I should like you to tell me what my brother has been taking twice a
day for the last month or so.'

'Frankly, Miss Leicester, I don't know. We will speak of this when we
get to my house.'

We walked on quickly without another word till we reached Dr
Haberden's. He asked me to sit down, and began pacing up and down the
room, his face clouded over, as I could see, with no common fears.

'Well,' he said at length, 'this is all very strange; it is only
natural that you should feel alarmed, and I must confess that my mind
is far from easy. We will put aside, if you please, what you told me
last night and this morning, but the fact remains that for the last
few weeks Mr Leicester has been impregnating his system with a drug
which is completely unknown to me. I tell you, it is not what I
ordered; and what the stuff in the bottle really is remains to be
seen.'

He undid the wrapper, and cautiously tilted a few grains of the white
powder on to a piece of paper, and peered curiously at it.

'Yes,' he said, 'it is like the sulphate of quinine, as you say; it is
flaky. But smell it.'

He held the bottle to me, and I bent over it. It was a strange, sickly
smell, vaporous and overpowering, like some strong anaesthetic.

'I shall have it analysed,' said Haberden; 'I have a friend who has
devoted his whole life to chemistry as a science. Then we shall have
something to go upon. No, no; say no more about that other matter; I
cannot listen to that; and take my advice and think no more about it
yourself.'

That evening my brother did not go out as usual after dinner.

'I have had my fling,' he said with a queer laugh, 'and I must go back
to my old ways. A little law will be quite a relaxation after so sharp
a dose of pleasure,' and he grinned to himself, and soon after went up
to his room. His hand was still all bandaged.

Dr Haberden called a few days later.

'I have no special news to give you,' he said. 'Chambers is out of
town, so I know no more about that stuff than you do. But I should
like to see Mr Leicester, if he is in.'

'He is in his room,' I said; 'I will tell him you are here.'

'No, no, I will go up to him; we will have a little quiet talk
together. I dare say that we have made a good deal of fuss about a
very little; for, after all, whatever the powder may be, it seems to
have done him good.'

The doctor went upstairs, and standing in the hall I heard his knock,
and the opening and shutting of the door; and then I waited in the
silent house for an hour, and the stillness grew more and more intense
as the hands of the clock crept round. Then there sounded from above
the noise of a door shut sharply, and the doctor was coming down the
stairs. His footsteps crossed the hall, and there was a pause at the
door; I drew a long, sick breath with difficulty, and saw my face
white in a little mirror, and he came in and stood at the door. There
was an unutterable horror shining in his eyes; he steadied himself by
holding the back of a chair with one hand, his lower lip trembled like
a horse's, and he gulped and stammered unintelligible sounds before he
spoke.

'I have seen that man,' he began in a dry whisper. 'I have been
sitting in his presence for the last hour. My God! And I am alive and
in my senses! I, who have dealt with death all my life, and have
dabbled with the melting ruins of the earthly tabernacle. But not
this, oh! not this,' and he covered his face with his hands as if to
shut out the sight of something before him.

'Do not send for me again, Miss Leicester,' he said with more
composure. 'I can do nothing in this house. Good-bye.'

As I watched him totter down the steps; and along the pavement towards
his house, it seemed to me that he had aged by ten years since the
morning.

My brother remained in his room. He called out to me in a voice I
hardly recognized that he was very busy, and would like his meals
brought to his door and left there, and I gave the order to the
servants. From that day it seemed as if the arbitrary conception we
call time had been annihilated for me; I lived in an ever-present
sense of horror, going through the routine of the house mechanically,
and only speaking a few necessary words to the servants. Now and then
I went out and paced the streets for an hour or two and came home
again; but whether I were without or within, my spirit delayed before
the closed door of the upper room, and, shuddering, waited for it to
open. I have said that I scarcely reckoned time; but I suppose it must
have been a fortnight after Dr Haberden's visit that I came home from
my stroll a little refreshed and lightened. The air was sweet and
pleasant, and the hazy form of green leaves, floating cloud-like in
the square, and the smell of blossoms, had charmed my senses, and I
felt happier and walked more briskly. As I delayed a moment at the
verge of the pavement, waiting for a van to pass by before crossing
over to the house, I happened to look up at the windows, and instantly
there was the rush and swirl of deep cold waters in my ears, my heart
leapt up and fell down, down as into a deep hollow, and I was amazed
with a dread and terror without form or shape. I stretched out a hand
blindly through the folds of thick darkness, from the black and
shadowy valley, and held myself from falling, while the stones beneath
my feet rocked and swayed and tilted, and the sense of solid things
seemed to sink away from under me. I had glanced up at the window of
my brother's study, and at that moment the blind was drawn aside, and
something that had life stared out into the world. Nay, I cannot say I
saw a face or any human likeness; a living thing, two eyes of burning
flame glared at me, and they were in the midst of something as
formless as my fear, the symbol and presence of all evil and all
hideous corruption. I stood shuddering and quaking as with the grip of
ague, sick with unspeakable agonies of fear and loathing, and for five
minutes I could not summon force or motion to my limbs. When I was
within the door, I ran up the stairs to my brother's room and knocked.

'Francis, Francis,' I cried, 'for Heaven's sake, answer me. What is
the horrible thing in your room? Cast it out, Francis; cast it from
you.'

I heard a noise as of feet shuffling slowly and awkwardly, and a
choking, gurgling sound, as if some one was struggling to find
utterance, and then the noise of a voice, broken and stifled, and
words that I could scarcely understand.

'There is nothing here,' the voice said. 'Pray do not disturb me. I am
not very well today.'

I turned away, horrified, and yet helpless. I could do nothing, and I
wondered why Francis had lied to me, for I had seen the appearance
beyond the glass too plainly to be deceived, though it was but the
sight of a moment. And I sat still, conscious that there had been
something else, something I had seen in the first flash of terror,
before those burning eyes had looked at me. Suddenly I remembered; as
I lifted my face the blind was being drawn back, and I had had an
instant's glance of the thing that was moving it, and in my
recollection I knew that a hideous image was engraved forever on my
brain. It was not a hand; there were no fingers that held the blind,
but a black stump pushed it aside, the mouldering outline and the
clumsy movement as of a beast's paw had glowed into my senses before
the darkling waves of terror had overwhelmed me as I went down quick
into the pit. My mind was aghast at the thought of this, and of the
awful presence that dwelt with my brother in his room; I went to his
door and cried to him again, but no answer came. That night one of the
servants came up to me and told me in a whisper that for three days
food had been regularly placed at the door and left untouched; the
maid had knocked but had received no answer; she had heard the noise
of shuffling feet that I had noticed. Day after day went by, and still
my brother's meals were brought to his door and left untouched; and
though I knocked and called again and again, I could get no answer.
The servants began to talk to me; it appeared they were as alarmed as
I; the cook said that when my brother first shut himself up in his
room she used to hear him come out at night and go about the house;
and once, she said, the hall door had opened and closed again, but for
several nights she had heard no sound. The climax came at last; it was
in the dusk of the evening, and I was sitting in the darkening dreary
room when a terrible shriek jarred and rang harshly out of the
silence, and I heard a frightened scurry of feet dashing down the
stairs. I waited, and the servant-maid staggered into the room and
faced me, white and trembling.

'Oh, Miss Helen!' she whispered; 'Oh! for the Lord's sake, Miss Helen,
what has happened? Look at my hand, Miss; look at that hand!'

I drew her to the window, and saw there was a black wet stain upon her
hand.

'I do not understand you,' I said. 'Will you explain to me?'

'I was doing your room just now,' she began. 'I was turning down the
bed-clothes, and all of a sudden there was something fell upon my
hand, wet, and I looked up, and the ceiling was black and dripping on
me.'

I looked hard at her and bit my lip.

'Come with me,' I said. 'Bring your candle with you.'

The room I slept in was beneath my brother's, and as I went in I felt
I was trembling. I looked up at the ceiling, and saw a patch, all
black and wet, and a dew of black drops upon it, and a pool of
horrible liquor soaking into the white bed-clothes.

I ran upstairs and knocked loudly.

'Oh, Francis, Francis, my dear brother,' I cried, 'what has happened
to you?'

And I listened. There was a sound of choking, and a noise like water
bubbling and regurgitating, but nothing else, and I called louder, but
no answer came.

In spite of what Dr Haberden had said, I went to him; with tears
streaming down my cheeks I told him all that had happened, and he
listened to me with a face set hard and grim.

'For your father's sake,' he said at last, 'I will go with you, though
I can do nothing.'

We went out together; the streets were dark and silent, and heavy with
heat and a drought of many weeks. I saw the doctor's face white under
the gas-lamps, and when we reached the house his hand was shaking.

We did not hesitate, but went upstairs directly. I held the lamp, and
he called out in a loud, determined voice --

'Mr Leicester, do you hear me? I insist on seeing you. Answer me at
once.'

There was no answer, but we both heard that choking noise I have
mentioned.

'Mr Leicester, I am waiting for you. Open the door this instant, or I
shall break it down.' And he called a third time in a voice that rang
and echoed from the walls -- 'Mr Leicester! For the last time I order
you to open the door.'

'Ah!' he said, after a pause of heavy silence, 'we are wasting time
here. Will you be so kind as to get me a poker, or something of the
kind?'

I ran into a little room at the back where odd articles were kept, and
found a heavy adze-like tool that I thought might serve the doctor's
purpose.

'Very good,' he said, 'that will do, I dare say. I give you notice,
Mr Leicester,' he cried loudly at the keyhole, 'that I am now about
to break into your room.'

Then I heard the wrench of the adze, and the woodwork split and
cracked under it; with a loud crash the door suddenly burst open, and
for a moment we started back aghast at a fearful screaming cry, no
human voice, but as the roar of a monster, that burst forth
inarticulate and struck at us out of the darkness.

'Hold the lamp,' said the doctor, and we went in and glanced quickly
round the room.

'There it is,' said Dr Haberden, drawing a quick breath; 'look, in
that corner.'

I looked, and a pang of horror seized my heart as with a white-hot
iron. There upon the floor was a dark and putrid mass, seething with
corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but
melting and changing before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily
bubbles like boiling pitch. And out of the midst of it shone two
burning points like eyes, and I saw a writhing and stirring as of
limbs, and something moved and lifted up what might have been an arm.
The doctor took a step forward, raised the iron bar and struck at the
burning points; he drove in the weapon, and struck again and again in
the fury of loathing. At last the thing was quiet.


A week or two later, when I had to some extent recovered from the
terrible shock, Dr Haberden came to see me.

'I have sold my practice,' he began, 'and tomorrow I am sailing on a
long voyage. I do not know whether I shall ever return to England; in
all probability I shall buy a little land in California, and settle
there for the remainder of my life. I have brought you this packet,
which you may open and read when you feel able to do so. It contains
the report of Dr Chambers on what I submitted to him. Goodbye, Miss
Leicester, goodbye.'

When he was gone I opened the envelope; I could not wait, and
proceeded to read the papers within. Here is the manuscript, and if
you will allow me, I will read you the astounding story it contains.

'My dear Haberden,' the letter began, 'I have delayed inexcusably in
answering your questions as to the white substance you sent me. To
tell you the truth, I have hesitated for some time as to what course I
should adopt, for there is a bigotry and orthodox standard in physical
science as in theology, and I knew that if I told you the truth I
should offend rooted prejudices which I once held dear myself.
However, I have determined to be plain with you, and first I must
enter into a short personal explanation.

'You have known me, Haberden, for many years as a scientific man; you
and I have often talked of our profession together, and discussed the
hopeless gulf that opens before the feet of those who think to attain
to truth by any means whatsoever except the beaten way of experiment
and observation in the sphere of material things. I remember the scorn
with which you have spoken to me of men of science who have dabbled a
little in the unseen, and have timidly hinted that perhaps the senses
are not, after all, the eternal, impenetrable bounds of all knowledge,
the everlasting walls beyond which no human being has ever passed. We
have laughed together heartily, and I think justly, at the "occult"
follies of the day, disguised under various names -- the mesmerisms,
spiritualisms, materializations, theosophies, all the rabble rout of
imposture, with their machinery of poor tricks and feeble conjuring,
the true back-parlour of shabby London streets. Yet, in spite of what
I have said, I must confess to you that I am no materialist, taking
the word of course in its usual signification. It is now many years
since I have convinced myself -- convinced myself, a sceptic, remember
-- that the old ironbound theory is utterly and entirely false.
Perhaps this confession will not wound you so sharply as it would have
done twenty years ago; for I think you cannot have failed to notice
that for some time hypotheses have been advanced by men of pure
science which are nothing less than transcendental, and I suspect that
most modern chemists and biologists of repute would not hesitate to
subscribe the _dictum_ of the old Schoolman, _Omnia exeunt in
mysterium_, which means, I take it, that every branch of human
knowledge if traced up to its source and final principles vanishes
into mystery. I need not trouble you now with a detailed account of
the painful steps which led me to my conclusions; a few simple
experiments suggested a doubt as to my then standpoint, and a train of
thought that rose from circumstances comparatively trifling brought me
far; my old conception of the universe has been swept away, and I
stand in a world that seems as strange and awful to me as the endless
waves of the ocean seen for the first time, shining, from a peak in
Darien. Now I know that the walls of sense that seemed so
impenetrable, that seemed to loom up above the heavens and to be
founded below the depths, and to shut us in for evermore, are no such
everlasting impassable barriers as we fancied, but thinnest and most
airy veils that melt away before the seeker, and dissolve as the early
mist of the morning about the brooks. I know that you never adopted
the extreme materialistic position; you did not go about trying to
prove a universal negative, for your logical sense withheld you from
that crowning absurdity; but I am sure that you will find all that I
am saying strange and repellent to your habits of thought. Yet,
Haberden, what I tell you is the truth, nay, to adopt our common
language, the sole and scientific truth, verified by experience; and
the universe is verily more splendid and more awful than we used to
dream. The whole universe, my friend, is a tremendous sacrament; a
mystic, ineffable force and energy, veiled by an outward form of
matter; and man, and the sun and the other stars, and the flower of
the grass, and the crystal in the test-tube, are each and every one as
spiritual, as material, and subject to an inner working.

'You will perhaps wonder, Haberden, whence all this tends; but I think
a little thought will make it clear. You will understand that from
such a standpoint the whole view of things is changed, and what we
thought incredible and absurd may be possible enough. In short, we
must look at legend and belief with other eyes, and be prepared to
accept tales that had become mere fables. Indeed this is no such great
demand. After all, modern science will concede as much, in a
hypocritical manner; you must not, it is true, believe in witchcraft,
but you may credit hypnotism; ghosts are out of date, but there is a
good deal to be said for the theory of telepathy. Give superstition a
Greek name, and believe in it, should almost be a proverb.

'So much for my personal explanation. You sent me, Haberden, a phial,
stoppered and sealed, containing a small quantity of flaky white
powder, obtained from a chemist who has been dispensing it to one of
your patients. I am not surprised to hear that this powder refused to
yield any results to your analysis. It is a substance which was known
to a few many hundred years ago, but which I never expected to have
submitted to me from the shop of a modern apothecary. There seems no
reason to doubt the truth of the man's tale; he no doubt got, as he
says, the rather uncommon salt you prescribed from the wholesale
chemist's, and it has probably remained on his shelf for twenty years,
or perhaps longer. Here what we call chance and coincidence begin to
work; during all these years the salt in the bottle was exposed to
certain recurring variations of temperature, variations probably
ranging from 40° to 80°. And, as it happens, such changes, recurring
year after year at irregular intervals, and with varying degrees of
intensity and duration, have constituted a process, and a process so
complicated and so delicate, that I question whether modern scientific
apparatus directed with the utmost precision could produce the same
result. The white powder you sent me is something very different from
the drug you prescribed; it is the powder from which the wine of the
Sabbath, the _Vinum Sabbati_, was prepared. No doubt you have read of
the Witches' Sabbath, and have laughed at the tales which terrified
our ancestors; the black cats, and the broomsticks, and dooms
pronounced against some old woman's cow. Since I have known the truth
I have often reflected that it is on the whole a happy thing that such
burlesque as this is believed, for it serves to conceal much that it
is better should not be known generally. However, if you care to read
the appendix to Payne Knight's monograph, you will find that the true
Sabbath was something very different, though the writer has very
nicely refrained from printing all he knew. The secrets of the true
Sabbath were the secrets of remote times surviving into the Middle
Ages, secrets of an evil science which existed long before Aryan man
entered Europe. Men and women, seduced from their homes on specious
pretences, were met by beings well qualified to assume, as they did
assume, the part of devils, and taken by their guides to some desolate
and lonely place, known to the initiate by long tradition, and unknown
to all else. Perhaps it was a cave in some bare and windswept hill,
perhaps some inmost recess of a great forest, and there the Sabbath
was held. There, in the blackest hour of night, the _Vinum Sabbati_
was prepared, and this evil gruel was poured forth and offered to the
neophytes, and they partook of an infernal sacrament; _sumentes
calicem principis inferorum_, as an old author well expresses it. And
suddenly, each one that had drunk found himself attended by a
companion, a share of glamour and unearthly allurement, beckoning him
apart, to share in joys more exquisite, more piercing than the thrill
of any dream, to the consummation of the marriage of the Sabbath. It
is hard to write of such things as these, and chiefly because that
shape that allured with loveliness was no hallucination, but, awful as
it is to express, the man himself. By the power of that Sabbath wine,
a few grains of white powder thrown into a glass of water, the house
of life was riven asunder and the human trinity dissolved, and the
worm which never dies, that which lies sleeping within us all, was
made tangible and an external thing, and clothed with a garment of
flesh. And then, in the hour of midnight, the primal fall was repeated
and re-presented, and the awful thing veiled in the mythos of the Tree
in the Garden was done anew. Such was the _nuptiæ Sabbati_.

'I prefer to say no more; you, Haberden, know as well as I do that the
most trivial laws of life are not to be broken with impunity; and for
so terrible an act as this, in which the very inmost place of the
temple was broken open and defiled, a terrible vengeance followed.
What began with corruption ended also with corruption.'


Underneath is the following in Dr Haberden's writing: --


'The whole of the above is unfortunately strictly and entirely true.
Your brother confessed all to me on that morning when I saw him in his
room. My attention was first attracted to the bandaged hand, and I
forced him to show it to me. What I saw made me, a medical man of many
years' standing, grow sick with loathing, and the story I was forced
to listen to was infinitely more frightful than I could have believed
possible. It has tempted me to doubt the Eternal Goodness which can
permit nature to offer such hideous possibilities; and if you had not
with your own eyes seen the end, I should have said to you --
disbelieve it all. I have not, I think, many more weeks to live, but
you are young, and may forget all this.' JOSEPH HABERDEN, M.D.


In the course of two or three months I heard that Dr Haberden had
died at sea shortly after the ship left England.


Miss Leicester ceased speaking, and looked pathetically at Dyson, who
could not refrain from exhibiting some symptoms of uneasiness.

He stuttered out some broken phrases expressive of his deep interest
in her extraordinary history, and then said with a better grace --

'But pardon me, Miss Leicester, I understood you were in some
difficulty. You were kind enough to ask me to assist you in some way.'

'Ah,' she said, 'I had forgotten that; my own present trouble seems of
such little consequence in comparison with what I have told you. But
as you are so good to me, I will go on. You will scarcely believe it,
but I found that certain persons suspected, or rather pretended to
suspect, that I had murdered my brother. These persons were relatives
of mine, and their motives were extremely sordid ones; but I actually
found myself subject to the shameful indignity of being watched. Yes,
sir, my steps were dogged when I went abroad, and at home I found
myself exposed to constant if artful observation. With my high spirit
this was more than I could brook, and I resolved to set my wits to
work and elude the persons who were shadowing me. I was so fortunate
as to succeed; I assumed this disguise, and for some time have lain
snug and unsuspected. But of late I have reason to believe that the
pursuer is on my track; unless I am greatly deceived, I saw yesterday
the detective who is charged with the odious duty of observing my
movements. You, sir, are watchful and keen-sighted; tell me, did you
see anyone lurking about this evening?'

'I hardly think so,' said Dyson, 'but perhaps you would give me some
description of the detective in question.'

'Certainly; he is a youngish man, dark, with dark whiskers. He has
adopted spectacles of large size in the hope of disguising himself
effectually, but he cannot disguise his uneasy manner, and the quick,
nervous glances he casts to right and left.'

This piece of description was the last straw for the unhappy Dyson,
who was foaming with impatience to get out of the house, and would
gladly have sworn eighteenth-century oaths, if propriety had not
frowned on such a course.

'Excuse me, Miss Leicester,' he said with cool politeness, 'I cannot
assist you.'

'Ah,' she said sadly, 'I have offended you in some way. Tell me what I
have done, and I will ask you to forgive me.'

'You are mistaken,' said Dyson, grabbing his hat, but speaking with
some difficulty; 'you have done nothing. But, as I say, I cannot help
you. Perhaps,' he added, with some tinge of sarcasm, 'my friend
Russell might be of service.'

'Thank you,' she replied; 'I will try him,' and the lady went off into
a shriek of laughter, which filled up Mr Dyson's cup of scandal and
confusion.

He left the house shortly afterwards, and had the peculiar delight of
a five-mile walk, through streets which slowly changed from black to
grey, and from grey to shining passages of glory for the sun to
brighten.

Here and there he met or overtook strayed revellers, but he reflected
that no one could have spent the night in a more futile fashion than
himself; and when he reached his home he had made resolves for
reformation. He decided that he would abjure all Milesian and Arabian
methods of entertainment, and subscribe to Mudie's for a regular
supply of mild and innocuous romance.

                        ---------------------
                  STRANGE OCCURRENCE IN CLERKENWELL

Mr Dyson had inhabited for some years a couple of rooms in a
moderately quiet street in Bloomsbury, where, as he somewhat pompously
expressed it, he held his finger on the pulse of life without being
deafened with the thousand rumours of the main arteries of London. It
was to him a source of peculiar, if esoteric, gratification that from
the adjacent comer of Tottenham Court Road a hundred lines of
omnibuses went to the four quarters of the town; he would dilate on
the facilities for visiting Dalston, and dwell on the admirable line
that knew extremest Ealing and the streets beyond Whitechapel. His
rooms, which had been originally 'furnished apartments', he had
gradually purged of their more peccant parts; and though one would not
find here the glowing splendours of his old chambers in the street off
the Strand, there was something of severe grace about the appointments
which did credit to his taste. The rugs were old, and of the true
faded beauty; the etchings, nearly all of them proofs printed by the
artist, made a good show with broad white margins and black frames,
and there was no spurious black oak. Indeed, there was but little
furniture of any kind: a plain and honest table, square and sturdy,
stood in one corner; a seventeenth-century settle fronted the hearth;
and two wooden elbow-chairs and a bookshelf of the Empire made up the
equipment, with an exception worthy of note. For Dyson cared for none
of these things; his place was at his own bureau, a quaint old piece
of lacquered-work, at which he would sit for hour after hour, with his
back to the room, engaged in the desperate pursuit of literature, or,
as he termed his profession, the chase of the phrase. The neat array
of pigeon-holes and drawers teemed and overflowed with manuscript and
notebooks, the experiments and efforts of many years; and the inner
well, a vast and cavernous receptacle, was stuffed with accumulated
ideas. Dyson was a craftsman who loved all the detail and the
technique of his work intensely; and if, as has been hinted, he
deluded himself a little with the name of artist, yet his amusements
were eminently harmless, and, so far as can be ascertained, he (or the
publishers) had chosen the good part of not tiring the world with
printed matter.

Here, then, Dyson would shut himself up with his fancies,
experimenting with words, and striving, as his friend the recluse of
Bayswater strove, with the almost invincible problem of style, but
always with a fine confidence, extremely different from the chronic
depression of the realist. He had been almost continuously at work on
some scheme that struck him as well-nigh magical in its possibilities
since the night of his adventure with the ingenious tenant of the
first floor in Abingdon Grove; and as he laid down the pen with a glow
of triumph, he reflected that he had not viewed the streets for five
days in succession. With all the enthusiasm of his accomplished labour
still working in his brain, he put away his papers and went out,
pacing the pavement at first in that rare mood of exultation which
finds in every stone upon the way the possibilities of a masterpiece.
It was growing late, and the autumn evening was drawing to a close
amidst veils of haze and mist, and in the stilled air the voices, and
the roaring traffic, and incessant feet seemed to Dyson like the noise
upon the stage when all the house is silent. In the square the leaves
rippled down as quick as summer rain, and the street beyond was
beginning to flare with the lights in the butchers' shops and the vivid
illumination of the greengrocer. It was a Saturday night, and the
swarming populations of the slums were turning out in force; the
battered women in rusty black had begun to paw the lumps of cagmag,
and others gloated over unwholesome cabbages, and there was a brisk
demand for four ale. Dyson passed through these night-fires with some
relief; he loved to meditate, but his thoughts were not as De
Quincey's after his dose; he cared not two straws whether onions were
dear or cheap, and would not have exulted if meat had fallen to
twopence a pound. Absorbed in the wilderness of the tale he had been
writing, weighing nicely the points of plot and construction,
relishing the recollection of this and that happy phrase, and dreading
failure here and there, he left the rush and whistle of the gas-flares
behind him, and began to touch upon pavements more deserted.

He had turned, without taking note, to the northward, and was passing
through an ancient fallen street, where now notices of floors and
offices to let hung out, but still about it lingered the grace and the
stiffness of the Age of Wigs -- a broad roadway, a broad pavement, and
on each side a grave line of houses with long and narrow windows flush
with the walls, all of mellowed brickwork. Dyson walked with quick
steps, as he resolved that short work must be made of a certain
episode; but he was in that happy humour of invention, and another
chapter rose in the inner chamber of his brain, and he dwelt on the
circumstances he was to write down with curious pleasure. It was
charming to have the quiet streets to walk in, and in his thought he
made a whole district the cabinet of his studies, and vowed he would
come again. Heedless of his course, he struck off to the east again,
and soon found himself involved in a squalid network of grey
two-storied houses, and then in the waste void and elements of
brickwork, the passages and unmade roads behind great factory walls,
encumbered with the refuse of the neighbourhood, forlorn, illlighted,
and desperate. A brief turn, and there rose before him the unexpected,
a hill suddenly lifted from the level ground, its steep ascent marked
by the lighted lamps, and eager as an explorer, Dyson found his way to
the place, wondering where his crooked paths had brought him. Here all
was again decorous, but hideous in the extreme. The builder, some one
lost in the deep gloom of the early 'twenties, had conceived the idea
of twin villas in grey brick, shaped in a manner to recall the
outlines of the Parthenon, each with its classic form broadly marked
with raised bands of stucco. The name of the street was all strange,
and for a further surprise the top of the hill was crowned with an
irregular plot of grass and fading trees, called a square, and here
again the Parthenon-motive had persisted. Beyond, the streets were
curious, wild in their irregularities, here a row of sordid, dingy
dwellings, dirty and disreputable in appearance, and there, without
warning, stood a house, genteel and prim, with wire blinds and brazen
knocker, as clean and trim as if it had been the doctor's house in
some benighted little country town. These surprises and discoveries
began to exhaust Dyson, and he hailed with delight the blazing windows
of a public-house, and went in with the intention of testing the
beverage provided for the dwellers in this region, as remote as Libya
and Pamphylia and the parts about Mesopotamia. The babble of voices
from within warned him that he was about to assist at the true
parliament of the London workman, and he looked about him for that
more retired entrance called private. When he had settled himself on
an exiguous bench, and had ordered some beer, he began to listen to
the jangling talk in the public bar beyond; it was a senseless
argument, alternately furious and maudlin, with appeals to Bill and
Tom, and mediæval survivals of speech, words that Chaucer wrote
belched out with zeal and relish, and the din of pots jerked down and
coppers rapped smartly on the zinc counter made a thorough bass for it
all. Dyson was calmly smoking his pipe between the sips of beer, when
an indefinite-looking figure slid rather than walked into the
compartment. The man started violently when he saw Dyson placidly
sitting in the corner, and glanced keenly about him. He seemed to be
on wires, controlled by some electric machine, for he almost bolted
out of the door when the barman asked with what he could serve him,
and his hand shivered as he took the glass. Dyson inspected him with a
little curiosity. He was muffled up almost to the lips, and a soft
felt hat was drawn down over his eyes; he looked as if he shrank from
every glance, and a more raucous voice suddenly uplifted in the public
bar seemed to find in him a sympathy that made him shake and quiver
like a jelly. It was pitiable to see anyone so thrilled with
nervousness, and Dyson was about to address some trivial remark of
casual inquiry to the man, when another person came into the
compartment, and, laying a hand on his arm, muttered something in an
undertone, and vanished as he came. But Dyson had recognized him as
the smooth-tongued and smoothshaven Burton; and yet he thought little
of it, for his whole faculty of observation was absorbed in the
lamentable and yet grotesque spectacle before him. At the first touch
of the hand on his arm the unfortunate man had wheeled round as if
spun on a pivot, and shrank back with a low, piteous cry, as if some
dumb beast were caught in the toils. The blood fled away from the
wretch's face, and the skin became grey as if a shadow of death had
passed in the air and fallen on it, and Dyson caught a choking
whisper, 'Mr Davies! For God's sake, have pity on me, Mr Davies! On
my oath, I say --' and his voice sank to silence as he heard the
message, and strove in vain to bite his lips, and summon up to his aid
some tinge of manhood. He stood there a moment, wavering as the leaves
of an aspen, and then he was gone out into the street, as Dyson
thought silently, with his doom upon his head. He had not been gone a
minute when it suddenly flashed into Dyson's mind that he knew the
man; it was undoubtedly the young man with spectacles for whom so many
ingenious persons were searching; the spectacles indeed were missing;
but the pale face, the dark whiskers, and the timid glances were
enough to identify him. Dyson saw at once that by a succession of
hazards he had unawares hit upon the scent of some desperate
conspiracy, wavering as the track of a loathsome snake in and out of
the highways and byways of the London cosmos; the truth was instantly
pictured before him, and he divined that all unconscious and unheeding
he had been privileged to see the shadows of hidden forms, chasing and
hurrying, and grasping and vanishing across the bright curtain of
common life, soundless and silent, or only babbling fables and
pretences. For him in an instant the jargoning of voices, the garish
splendour, and all the vulgar tumult of the public-house became part
of magic; for here before his eyes a scene in this grim mystery play
had been enacted, and he had seen human flesh grow grey with a palsy
of fear; the very hell of cowardice and terror had gaped wide within
an arm's-breadth. In the midst of these reflections the barman came up
and stared at him as if to hint that he had exhausted his right to
take his ease, and Dyson bought another lease of the seat by an order
for more beer. As he pondered the brief glimpse of tragedy, he
recollected that with his first start of haunted fear the young man
with whiskers had drawn his hand swiftly from his greatcoat pocket,
and that he had heard something fall to the ground; and pretending to
have dropped his pipe, Dyson began to grope in the corner, searching
with his fingers. He touched something and drew it gently to him, and
with one brief glance, as he put it quietly in his pocket, he saw it
was a little old-fashioned notebook, bound in faded green morocco.

He drank down his beer at a gulp, and left the place, overjoyed at his
fortunate discovery, and busy with conjecture as to the possible
importance of the find. By turns he dreaded to find perhaps mere blank
leaves, or the laboured follies of a betting-book, but the faded
morocco cover seemed to promise better things, and to hint at
mysteries. He piloted himself with no little difficulty out of the
sour and squalid quarter he had entered with a light heart, and
emerging at Gray's Inn Road, struck off down Guilford Street and
hastened home, only anxious for a lighted candle and solitude. Dyson
sat down at his bureau, and placed the little book before him; it was
an effort to open the leaves and dare disappointment. But in
desperation at last he laid his finger between the pages at haphazard,
and rejoiced to see a compact range of writing with a margin, and as
it chanced, three words caught his glance and stood out apart from the
mass. Dyson read

 'the Gold Tiberius,'

and his face flushed with fortune and the lust of the hunter.

He turned at once to the first leaf of the pocket-book, and proceeded
to read with rapt interest the


              HISTORY OF THE YOUNG MAN WITH SPECTACLES


From the filthy and obscure lodging, situated, I verily believe, in
one of the foulest slums of Clerkenwell, I indite this history of a
life which, daily threatened, cannot last for very much longer. Every
day -- nay, every hour, I know too well my enemies are drawing their
nets closer about me; even now I am condemned to be a close prisoner
in my squalid room, and I know that when I go out I shall go to my
destruction. This history, if it chance to fall into good hands, may,
perhaps, be of service in warning young men of the dangers and
pitfalls that most surely must accompany any deviation from the ways
of rectitude.

My name is Joseph Walters. When I came of age I found myself in
possession of a small but sufficient income, and I determined that I
would devote my life to scholarship. I do not mean the scholarship of
these days; I had no intention of associating myself with men whose
lives are spent in the unspeakably degrading occupation of 'editing'
classics, befouling the fair margins of the fairest books with idle
and superfluous annotation, and doing their utmost to give a lasting
disgust of all that is beautiful. An abbey church turned to the base
use of a stable or bakehouse is a sorry sight; but more pitiable
still is a masterpiece spluttered over with the commentator's pen, and
his hideous mark 'cf'.

For my part, I chose the glorious career of scholar in its ancient
sense; I longed to possess encyclopædic learning, to grow old amongst
books, to distil day by day, and year after year, the inmost sweetness
of all worthy writings. I was not rich enough to collect a library,
and I was therefore forced to betake myself to the Reading-Room of the
British Museum.

O dim, far-lifted, and mighty dome, Mecca of many minds, mausoleum of
many hopes, sad house where all desires fail! For there men enter in
with hearts uplifted, and dreaming minds, seeing in those exalted
stairs a ladder to fame, in that pompous portico the gate of
knowledge, and going in, find but vain vanity, and all but in vain.
There, when the long streets are ringing, is silence, there eternal
twilight, and the odour of heaviness. But there the blood flows thin
and cold, and the brain burns adust; there is the hunt of shadows, and
the chase of embattled phantoms; a striving against ghosts, and a war
that has no victory. O dome, tomb of the quick! surely in thy
galleries, where no reverberant voice can call, sighs whisper ever,
and mutterings of dead hopes; and there men's souls mount like moths
towards the flame, and fall scorched and blackened beneath thee, O
dim, far-lifted, and mighty dome!

Bitterly do I now regret the day when I took my place at a desk for
the first time, and began my studies. I had not been an _habitué_ of
the place for many months, when I became acquainted with a serene and
benevolent gentleman, a man somewhat past middle age, who nearly
always occupied a desk next to mine. In the Reading-Room it takes
little to make an acquaintance -- a casual offer of assistance, a hint
as to the search in the catalogue, and the ordinary politeness of men
who constantly sit near each other; it was thus I came to know the man
calling himself Dr Lipsius. By degrees I grew to look for his
presence, and to miss him when he was away, as was sometimes the case,
and so a friendship sprang up between us. His immense range of
learning was placed freely at my service; he would often astonish me
by the way in which he would sketch out in a few minutes the
bibliography of a given subject, and before long I had confided to him
my ambitions.

'Ah,' he said, 'you should have been a German. I was like that myself
when I was a boy. It is a wonderful resolve, an infinite career. I
will know all things; yes, it is a device indeed. But it means this --
a life of labour without end, and a desire unsatisfied at last. The
scholar has to die, and die saying, "I know very little!"'

Gradually, by speeches such as these, Lipsius seduced me: he would
praise the career, and at the same time hint that it was as hopeless
as the search for the philosopher's stone, and so by artful
suggestions, insinuated with infinite address, he by degrees succeeded
in undermining all my principles. 'After all,' he used to say, 'the
greatest of all sciences, the key to all knowledge, is the science and
art of pleasure. Rabelais was perhaps the greatest of all the
encyclopædic scholars; and he, as you know, wrote the most remarkable
book that has ever been written. And what does he teach men in this
book? Surely the joy of living. I need not remind you of the words,
suppressed in most of the editions, the key of all the Rabelaisian
mythology, of all the enigmas of his grand philosophy, _Vivez Joyeux_.
There you have all his learning; his work is the institutes of
pleasure as the fine art; the finest art there is; the art of all
arts. Rabelais had all science, but he had all I life too. And we have
gone a long way since his time. You are enlightened, I think; you do
not consider all the petty rules and by-laws that a corrupt society
has made for its own selfish convenience as the immutable decrees of
the Eternal.'

Such were the doctrines that he preached; and it was by such insidious
arguments, line upon line, here a little and there a little, that he
at last succeeded in making me a man at war with the whole social
system. I used to long for some opportunity to break the chains and to
live a free life, to be my own rule and measure. I viewed existence
with the eyes of a pagan, and Lipsius understood to perfection the art
of stimulating the natural inclinations of a young man hitherto a
hermit. As I gazed up at the great dome I saw it flushed with the
flames and colours of a world of enticement unknown to me, my
imagination played me a thousand wanton tricks, and the forbidden drew
me as surely as a loadstone draws on iron. At last my resolution was
taken, and I boldly asked Lipsius to be my guide.

He told me to leave the Museum at my usual hour, half-past four, to
walk slowly along the northern pavement of Great Russell Street, and
to wait at the corner of the street till I was addressed, and then to
obey in all things the instructions of the person who came up to me. I
carried out these directions, and stood at the corner looking about me
anxiously, my heart beating fast, and my breath coming in gasps. I
waited there for some time, and had begun to fear I had been made the
object of a joke, when I suddenly became conscious of a gentleman who
was looking at me with evident amusement from the opposite pavement of
Tottenham Court Road. He came over, and raising his hat, politely
begged me to follow him, and I did so without a word, wondering where
we were going, and what was to happen. I was taken to a house of quiet
and respectable aspect in a street lying to the north of Oxford
Street, and my guide rang the bell. A servant showed us into a large
room, quietly furnished, on the ground floor. We sat there in silence
for some time, and I noticed that the furniture, though unpretending,
was extremely valuable. There were large oak presses, two book-cases
of extreme elegance, and in one corner a carved chest which must have
been mediæval. Presently Dr Lipsius came in and welcomed me with his
usual manner, and after some desultory conversation my guide left the
room.

Then an elderly man dropped in and began talking to Lipsius, and from
their conversation I understood that my friend was a dealer in
antiques; they spoke of the Hittite seal, and of the prospects of
further discoveries, and later, when two or three more persons joined
us, there was an argument as to the possibility of a systematic
exploration of the pre-Celtic monuments in England. I was, in fact,
present at an archæological reception of an informal kind; and at nine
o'clock, when the antiquaries were gone, I stared at Lipsius in a
manner that showed I was puzzled, and sought an explanation.

'Now,' he said, 'we will go upstairs.'

As we passed up the stairs, Lipsius lighting the way with a hand-lamp,
I heard the sound of a jarring lock and bolts and bars shot on at the
front door. My guide drew back a baize door and we went down a
passage, and I began to hear odd sounds, a noise of curious mirth;
then he pushed me through a second door, and my initiation began. I
cannot write down what I witnessed that night; I cannot bear to recall
what went on in those secret rooms fast shuttered and curtained so
that no light should escape into the quiet street; they gave me red
wine to drink, and a woman told me as I sipped it that it was wine of
the Red Jar that Avallaunius had made. Another asked me how I liked
the wine of the Fauns, and I heard a dozen fantastic names, while the
stuff boiled in my veins, and stirred, I think, something that had
slept within me from the moment I was born. It seemed as if my
self-consciousness deserted me; I was no longer a thinking agent, but
at once subject and object; I mingled in the horrible sport, and
watched the mystery of the Greek groves and fountains enacted before
me, saw the reeling dance and heard the music calling as I sat beside
my mate, and yet I was outside it all, and viewed my own part an idle
spectator.

Thus with strange rites they made me drink the cup, and when I woke up
in the morning I was one of them, and had sworn to be faithful. At
first I was shown the enticing side of things; I was bidden to enjoy
myself and care for nothing but pleasure, and Lipsius himself
indicated to me as the acutest enjoyment the spectacle of the terrors
of the unfortunate persons who were from time to time decoyed into the
evil house. But after a time it was pointed out to me that I must take
my share in the work, and so I found myself compelled to be in my turn
a seducer; and thus it is on my conscience that I have led many to the
depths of the pit.

One day Lipsius summoned me to his private room, and told me that he
had a difficult task to give me. He unlocked a drawer and gave me a
sheet of type-written paper, and bade me read it.

It was without place, or date, or signature, and ran as follows: --

 Mr James Headley, F.S.A., will receive from his agent in Armenia, on
the 12th inst., a unique coin, the gold Tiberius. It bears on the
reverse a faun with the legend VICTORIA. It is believed that this coin
is of immense value. Mr Headley will come up to town to show the coin
to his friend, Professor Memys, of Chenies Street, Oxford Street, on
some date between the 13th and the 18th.

Dr Lipsius chuckled at my face of blank surprise when I laid down
this singular communication.

'You will have a good chance of showing your discretion,' he said.
'This is not a common case; it requires great management and infinite
tact. I am sure I wish I had a Panurge in my service, but we will see
what you can do.'

'But is it not a joke?' I asked him. 'How can you know -- or rather,
how can this correspondent of yours know -- that a coin has been
despatched from Armenia to Mr Headley? And how is it possible to fix
the period in which Mr Headley will take it into his head to come up
to town? It seems to me a lot of guesswork.'

'My dear Mr Walters,' he replied, 'we do not deal in guesswork here.
It would bore you if I went into all these little details, the cogs
and wheels, if I may say so, which move the machine. Don't you think
it is much more amusing to sit in front of the house and be astonished
than to be behind the scenes and see the mechanism? Better tremble at
the thunder, believe me, than see the man rolling the cannon-ball.
But, after all, you needn't bother about the how and why; you have
your share to do. Of course I shall give you full instructions, but a
great deal depends on the way the thing is carried out. I have often
heard very young men maintain that style is everything in literature,
and I can assure you that the same maxim holds good in our far more
delicate profession. With us style is absolutely everything, and that
is why we have friends like yourself.'

I went away in some perturbation: he had no doubt, designedly left
everything in mystery, and I did not know what part I should have to
play. Though I had assisted at scenes of hideous revelry, I was not
yet dead to all echo of human feeling, and I trembled lest I should
receive the order to be Mr Headley's executioner.

A week later, it was on the sixteenth of the month, Dr Lipsius made
me a sign to come into his room.

'It is for to-night,' he began. 'Please to attend carefully to what I
am going to say, Mr Walters, and on peril of your life, for it is a
dangerous matter, -- on peril of your life, I say, follow these
instructions to the letter. You understand? Well, tonight at about
halfpast seven, you will stroll quietly up the Hampstead Road till you
come to Vincent Street. Turn down here and walk along, taking the
third turning to your right, which is Lambert Terrace. Then follow the
terrace, cross the road, and go along Hertford Street, and so into
Lillington Square. The second turning you will come to in the square
is called Sheen Street; but in reality it is more a passage between
blank walls than a street. Whatever you do, take care to be at the
corner of this street at eight o'clock precisely. You will walk along
it, and just at the bend where you lose sight of the square you will
find an old gentleman with a white beard and whiskers. He will in all
probability be abusing a cabman for having brought him to Sheen Street
instead of Chenies Street. You will go up to him quietly and offer
your services; he will tell you where he wants to go, and you will be
so courteous as to offer to show him the way. I may say that Professor
Memys moved into Chenies Street a month ago; thus Mr Headley has
never been to see him there, and, moreover, he is very short-sighted,
and knows little of the topography of London. Indeed, he has quite
lived the life of a learned hermit at Audley Hall.

'Well, need I say more to a man of your intelligence? You will bring
him to this house, he will ring the bell, and a servant in quiet
livery will let him in. Then your work will be done, and I am sure
done well. You will leave Mr Headley at the door, and simply continue
your walk, and I shall hope to see you the next day. I really don't
think there is anything more I can tell you.'

These minute instructions I took care to carry out to the letter. I
confess that I walked up the Tottenham Court Road by no means blindly,
but with an uneasy sense that I was coming to a decisive point in my
life. The noise and rumour of the crowded pavements were to me but
dumb show; I revolved again and again in ceaseless iteration the task
that had been laid on me, and I questioned myself as to the possible
results. As I got near the point of turning, I asked myself whether
danger were not about my steps; the cold thought struck me that I was
suspected and observed, and every chance foot-passenger who gave me a
second glance seemed to me an officer of police. My time was running
out, the sky had darkened, and I hesitated, half resolved to go no
farther, but to abandon Lipsius and his friends for ever. I had almost
determined to take this course, when the conviction suddenly came to
me that the whole thing was a gigantic joke, a fabrication of rank
improbability. Who could have procured the information about the
Armenian agent? I asked myself. By what means could Lipsius have known
the particular day and the very train that Mr Headley was to take?
How to engage him to enter one special cab amongst the dozens waiting
at Paddington? I vowed it a mere Milesian tale, and went forward
merrily, turned down Vincent Street, and threaded out the route that
Lipsius had so carefully impressed upon me. The various streets he had
named were all places of silence and an oppressive cheap gentility; it
was dark, and I felt alone in the musty squares and crescents, where
people pattered by at intervals, and the shadows were growing blacker.
I entered Sheen Street, and found it as Lipsius had said, more a
passage than a street; it was a byway, on one side a low wall and
neglected gardens, and grim backs of a line of houses, and on the
other a timberyard. I turned the corner, and lost sight of the square,
and then, to my astonishment, I saw the scene of which I had been
told. A hansom cab had come to a stop beside the pavement, and an old
man, carrying a handbag, was fiercely abusing the cabman, who sat on
his perch the image of bewilderment.

'Yes, but I'm sure you said Sheen Street, and that's where I brought
you,' I heard him saying as I came up, and the old gentleman boiled in
a fury, and threatened police and suits at law.

The sight gave me a shock, and in an instant I resolved to go through
with it. I strolled on, and without noticing the cabman, lifted my hat
politely to old Mr Headley.

'Pardon me, sir,' I said, 'but is there any difficulty? I see you are
a traveller; perhaps the cabman has made a mistake. Can I direct you?'

The old fellow turned to me, and I noticed that he snarled and showed
his teeth like an ill-tempered cur as he spoke.

'This drunken fool has brought me here,' he said. 'I told him to drive
to Chenies Street, and he brings me to this infernal place. I won't
pay him a farthing, and I meant to have given him a handsome sum. I am
going to call for the police and give him in charge.'

At this threat the cabman seemed to take alarm; he glanced round, as
if to make sure that no policeman was in sight, and drove off
grumbling loudly, and Mr Headley grinned savagely with satisfaction
at having saved his fare, and put back one and sixpence into his
pocket, the 'handsome sum' the cabman had lost.

'My dear sir,' I said, 'I am afraid this piece of stupidity has
annoyed you a great deal. It is a long way to Chenies Street, and you
will have some difficulty in finding the place unless you know London
pretty well.'

'I know it very little,' he replied. 'I never come up except on
important business, and I've never been to Chenies Street in my life.'

'Really? I should be happy to show you the way. I have been for a
stroll, and it will not at all inconvenience me to take you to your
destination.'

'I want to go to Professor Memys, at Number 15. It's most annoying to
me; I'm short-sighted, and I can never make out the numbers on the
doors.'

'This way, if you please,' I said, and we set out. I did not find Mr
Headley an agreeable man; indeed, he grumbled the whole way. He
informed me of his name, and I took care to say, 'The well-known
antiquary?' and thenceforth I was compelled to listen to the history
of his complicated squabbles with publishers, who had treated him, as
he said, disgracefully; the man was a chapter in the Irritability of
Authors. He told me that he had been on the point of making the
fortune of several firms, but had been compelled to abandon the design
owing to their rank ingratitude. Besides these ancient histories of
wrong, and the more recent misadventure of the cabman, he had another
grievous complaint to make. As he came along in the train, he had been
sharpening a pencil, and the sudden jolt of the engine as it drew up
at a station had driven the penknife against his face, inflicting a
small triangular wound just on the cheek-bone, which he showed me. He
denounced the railway company, heaped imprecations on the head of the
driver, and talked of claiming damages. Thus he grumbled all the way,
not noticing in the least where he was going; and so unamiable did his
conduct appear to me, that I began to enjoy the trick I was playing on
him.

Nevertheless, my heart beat a little faster as we turned into the
street where Lipsius was waiting. A thousand accidents, I thought,
might happen; some chance might bring one of Headley's friends to meet
us; perhaps, though he knew not Chenies Street, he might know the
street where I was taking him; in spite of his short sight, he might
possibly make out the number; or, in a sudden fit of suspicion, he
might make an inquiry of the policeman at the corner. Thus every step
upon the pavement, as we drew nearer to the goal, was to me a pang and
a terror, and every approaching passenger carried a certain threat of
danger. I gulped down my excitement with an effort, and made shift to
say pretty quietly 'Number 15, I think you said? That is the third
house from this. If you will allow me, I will leave you now; I have
been delayed a little, and my way lies on the other side of Tottenham
Court Road.'

He snarled out some kind of thanks, and I turned my back and walked
swiftly in the opposite direction. A minute or two later I looked
round, and saw Mr Headley standing on the doorstep, and then the door
opened and he went in. For my part, I gave a sigh of relief; I
hastened to get away from the neighbourhood, and endeavoured to enjoy
myself in merry company. The whole of the next day I kept away from
Lipsius. I felt anxious, but I did not know what had happened, or what
was happening, and a reasonable regard for my own safety told me that
I should do well to remain quietly at home. My curiosity, however, to
learn the end of the odd drama in which I had played a part stung me
to the quick, and late in the evening I made up my mind to see how
events had turned out. Lipsius nodded when I came in, and asked me if
I could give him five minutes' talk. We went into his room, and he
began to walk up and down, while I sat waiting for him to speak.

'My dear Mr Walters,' he said at length, 'I congratulate you warmly;
your work was done in the most thorough and artistic manner. You will
go far. Look.'

He went to his escritoire and pressed a secret spring; a drawer flew
out, and he laid something on the table. It was a gold coin; I took it
up and examined it eagerly, and read the legend about the figure of
the faun.

'Victoria,' I said, smiling.

'Yes; it was a great capture, which we owe to you. I had great
difficulty in persuading Mr Headley that a little mistake had been
made; that was how I put it.

'He was very disagreeable, and indeed ungentlemanly, about it; didn't
he strike you as a very cross old man?'

I held the coin, admiring the choice and rare design, clear cut as if
from the mint; and I thought the fine gold glowed and burnt like a
lamp.

'And what finally became of Mr Headley?' I said at last.

Lipsius smiled, and shrugged his shoulders. 'What on earth does it
matter?' he said. 'He might be here, or there, or anywhere; but what
possible consequence could it be? Besides, your question rather
surprises me; you are an intelligent man, Mr Walters. Just think it
over, and I'm sure you won't repeat the question.'

'My dear sir,' I said, 'I hardly think you are treating me fairly. You
have paid me some handsome compliments on my share in the capture, and
I naturally wish to know how the matter ended. From what I saw of Mr
Headley, I should think you must have had some difficulty with him!'

He gave me no answer for the moment, but began again to walk up and
down the room, apparently absorbed in thought.

'Well,' he said at last, 'I suppose there is something in what you
say. We are certainly indebted to you. I have said that I have a high
opinion of your intelligence, Mr Walters. Just look here, will you?'

He opened a door communicating with another room, and pointed.

There was a great box lying on the floor, a queer, coffin-shaped
thing. I looked at it, and saw it was a mummy case, like those in the
British Museum, vividly painted in the brilliant Egyptian colours,
with I knew not what proclamation of dignity or hopes of life
immortal. The mummy swathed about in the robes of death was lying
within, and the face had been uncovered.

'You are going to send this away?' I said, forgetting the question I
had put.

'Yes; I have an order from a local museum. Look a little more closely,
Mr Walters.'

Puzzled by his manner, I peered into the face, while he held up the
lamp. The flesh was black with the passing of the centuries; but as I
looked I saw upon the right cheek bone a small triangular scar, and
the secret of the mummy flashed upon me: I was looking at the dead
body of the man whom I had decoyed into that house. There was no
thought or design of action in my mind. I held the accursed coin in my
hand, burning me with a foretaste of hell, and I fled as I would have
fled from pestilence and death, and dashed into the street in blind
horror, not knowing where I went. I felt the gold coin grasped in my
clenched fist, and throwing it away, I knew not where, I ran on and on
through by-streets and dark ways, till at last I issued out into a
crowded thoroughfare and checked myself. Then as consciousness
returned I realized my instant peril, and understood what would happen
if I fell into the hands of Lipsius. I knew that I had put forth my
finger to thwart a relentless mechanism rather than a man. My recent
adventure with the unfortunate Mr Headley had taught me that Lipsius
had agents in all quarters; and I foresaw that if I fell into his
hands, he would remain true to his doctrine of style, and cause me to
die a death of some horrible and ingenious torture. I bent my whole
mind to the task of outwitting him and his emissaries, three of whom I
knew to have proved their ability for tracking down persons who for
various reasons preferred to remain obscure. These servants of Lipsius
were two men and a woman, and the woman was incomparably the most
subtle and the most deadly. Yet I considered that I too had some
portion of craft, and I took my resolve. Since then I have matched
myself day by day and hour by hour against the ingenuity of Lipsius
and his myrmidons. For a time I was successful; though they beat
furiously after me in the covert of London, I remained _perdu_, and
watched with some amusement their frantic efforts to recover the scent
lost in two or three minutes. Every lure and wile was put forth to
entice me from my hiding-place; I was informed by the medium of the
public prints that what I had taken had been recovered, and meetings
were proposed in which I might hope to gain a great deal without the
slightest risk. I laughed at their endeavours, and began a little to
despise the organization I had so dreaded, and ventured more abroad.
Not once or twice, but several times, I recognized the two men who
were charged with my capture, and I succeeded in eluding them easily
at close quarters; and a little hastily I decided that I had nothing
to dread, and that my craft was greater than theirs. But in the
meanwhile, while I congratulated myself on my cunning, the third of
Lipsius's emissaries was weaving her nets; and in an evil hour I paid
a visit to an old friend, a literary man named Russell, who lived in a
quiet street in Bayswater. The woman, as I found out too late, a day
or two ago, occupied rooms in the same house, and I was followed and
tracked down. Too late, as I have said, I recognized that I had made a
fatal mistake, and that I was besieged. Sooner or later I shall find
myself in the power of an enemy without pity; and so surely as I leave
this house I shall go to receive doom. I hardly dare to guess how it
will at last fall upon me; my imagination, always a vivid one, paints
to me appalling pictures of the unspeakable torture which I shall
probably endure; and I know that I shall die with Lipsius standing
near and gloating over the refinements of my suffering and my shame.

Hours, nay minutes, have become very precious to me. I sometimes pause
in the midst of anticipating my tortures, to wonder whether even now I
cannot hit upon some supreme stroke, some design of infinite subtlety,
to free myself from the toils. But I find that the faculty of
combination has left me; I am as the scholar in the old myth, deserted
by the power which has helped me hitherto. I do not know when the
supreme moment will come, but sooner or later it is inevitable; before
long I shall receive sentence, and from the sentence to execution will
not be long.


I cannot remain here a prisoner any longer. I shall go out to-night
when the streets are full of crowds and clamours, and make a last
effort to escape.


It was with profound astonishment that Dyson closed the little book,
and thought of the strange series of incidents which had brought him
into touch with the plots and counterplots connected with the Gold
Tiberius. He had bestowed the coin carefully away, and he shuddered at
the bare possibility of its place of deposit becoming known to the
evil band who seemed to possess such extraordinary sources of
information.

It had grown late while he read, and he put the pocket-book away,
hoping with all his heart that the unhappy Walters might even at the
eleventh hour escape the doom he dreaded.

                        ---------------------
                 ADVENTURE OF THE DESERTED RESIDENCE

'A wonderful story, as you say, an extraordinary sequence and play of
coincidence. I confess that your expressions when you first showed me
the Gold Tiberius were not exaggerated. But do you think that Walters
has really some fearful fate to dread?'

'I cannot say. Who can presume to predict events when life itself puts
on the robe of coincidence and plays at drama? Perhaps we have not yet
reached the last chapter in the queer story. But, look, we are drawing
near to the verge of London; there are gaps, you see, in the serried
ranks of brick, and a vision of green fields beyond.'

Dyson had persuaded the ingenious Mr Phillipps to accompany him on
one of those aimless walks to which he was himself so addicted.
Starting from the very heart of London, they had made their way
westward through the stony avenues, and were now just emerging from
the red lines of an extreme suburb, and presently the half-finished
road ended, a quiet lane began, and they were beneath the shade of elm
trees. The yellow autumn sunlight that had lit up the bare distance of
the suburban street now filtered down through the boughs; of the trees
and shone on the glowing carpet of fallen leaves, and the pools of
rain glittered and shot back the gleam of light. Over all the broad
pastures there was peace and the happy rest of autumn before the great
winds begin, and afar off London lay all vague and immense amidst the
veiling mist; here and there a distant window catching the sun and
kindling with fire, and a spire gleaming high, and below the streets
in shadow, and the turmoil of life, Dyson and Phillipps walked on in
silence beneath the high hedges, till at a turn of the lane they saw a
mouldering and ancient gate standing open, and the prospect of a house
at the end of a moss-grown carriage drive.

'There is a survival for you,' said Dyson; 'it has come to its last
days, I imagine. Look how the laurels have grown gaunt and weedy, and
black and bare beneath; look at the house, covered with yellow wash,
and patched with green damp. Why, the very notice-board, which informs
all and singular that the place is to be let, has cracked and half
fallen,'

'Suppose we go in and see it,' said Phillipps; 'I don't think there is
anybody about.'

They turned up the drive, and walked slowly towards this remnant of
old days. It was a large, straggling house, with curved wings at
either end, and behind a series of irregular roofs and projections,
showing that the place had been added to at divers dates; the two
wings were roofed in cupola fashion, and at one side, as they came
nearer, they could see a stableyard, and a clock turret with a bell,
and the dark masses of gloomy cedars. Amidst all the lineaments of
dissolution there was but one note of contrast: the sun was setting
beyond the elm trees; and all the west and south were in flames; on
the upper windows of the house the glow shone reflected, and it seemed
as if blood and fire were mingled. Before the yellow front of the
mansion, stained, as Dyson had remarked, with gangrenous patches,
green and blackening, stretched what once had been, no doubt, a
well-kept lawn, but it was now rough and ragged, and nettles and great
docks, and all manner of coarse weeds, struggled in the places of the
flower-beds. The urns had fallen from their pillars beside the walk,
and lay broken in shards upon the ground, and everywhere from
grass-plot and path a fungoid growth had sprung up and multiplied, and
lay dank and slimy like a festering sore upon the earth. In the middle
of the rank grass of the lawn was a desolate fountain; the rim of the
basin was crumbling and pulverized with decay, and within the water
stood stagnant, with green scum for the lilies that had once bloomed
there; rust had eaten into the bronze flesh of the Triton that stood
in the middle, and the conch-shell he held was broken.

'Here,' said Dyson, 'one might moralize over decay and death. Here all
the stage is decked out with the symbols of dissolution; the cedarn
gloom and twilight hang heavy around us, and everywhere within the
pale dankness has found a harbour, and the very air is changed and
brought to accord with the scene. To me, I confess, this deserted
house is as moral as a graveyard, and I find something sublime in that
lonely Triton, deserted in the midst of his water-pool. He is the last
of the gods; they have left him, and he remembers the sound of water
falling on water, and the days that were sweet.'

'I like your reflections extremely,' said Phillipps; 'but I may
mention that the door of the house is open,'

'Let us go in, then,'

The door was just ajar, and they passed into the mouldy hall and
looked in at a room on one side. It was a large room, going far back,
and the rich, old, red flock paper was peeling from the walls in long
strips, and blackened with vague patches of rising damp; the ancient
clay, the dank reeking earth rising up again, and subduing all the
work of men's hands after the conquest of many years. The floor was
thick with the dust of decay, and the painted ceiling fading from all
gay colours and light fancies of cupids in a career, and disfigured
with sores of dampness, seemed transmuted into other work. No longer
the amorini chased one another pleasantly, with limbs that sought not
to advance, and hands that merely simulated the act of grasping at the
wreathed flowers; but it appeared some savage burlesque of the old
careless world and of its cherished conventions, and the dance of the
Loves had become a Dance of Death; black pustules and festering sores
swelled and clustered on fair limbs and smiling faces showed
corruption, and the fairy blood had boiled with the germs of foul
disease; it was a parable of the leaven working, and worms devouring
for a banquet the heart of the rose.

Strangely, under the painted ceiling, against the decaying walls, two
old chairs still stood alone, the sole furniture of the empty place.
High-backed, with curving arms and twisted legs, covered with faded
gold leaf, and upholstered in tattered damask, they too were a part of
the symbolism, and struck Dyson with surprise. 'What have we here?' he
said. 'Who has sat in these chairs? Who, clad in pMrsbloom satin,
with lace ruffles and diamond buckles, all golden, _à conté
fleurettes_ to his companion? Phillipps, we are in another age. I wish
I had some snuff to offer you, but failing that, I beg to offer you a
seat, and we will sit and smoke tobacco. A horrid practice, but I am
no pedant.'

They sat down on the queer old chairs, and looked out of the dim and
grimy panes to the ruined lawn, and the fallen urns, and the deserted
Triton. Presently Dyson ceased his imitation of eighteenth century
airs; he no longer pulled forward imaginary ruffles, or tapped a
ghostly snuff-box.

'It's a foolish fancy,' he said at last; 'but I keep thinking I hear a
noise like some one groaning. Listen; no, I can't hear it now. There
it is again! Did you notice it, Phillipps?'

'No, I can't say I heard anything. But I believe that old places like
this are like shells from the shore, ever echoing with noises. The old
beams, mouldering piecemeal, yield a little and groan; and such a
house as this I can fancy all resonant at night with voices, the
voices of matter so slowly and so surely transformed into other
shapes, the voice of the worm that gnaws at last the very heart of the
oak, the voice of stone grinding on stone, and the voice of the
conquest of Time.'

They sat still in the old arm-chairs, and grew graver in the musty
ancient air, the air of a hundred years ago.

'I don't like the place,' said Phillipps, after a long pause. 'To me
it seems as if there were a sickly, unwholesome smell about it, a
smell of something burning.'

'You are right; there is an evil odour here. I wonder what it is.
Hark! Did you hear that?'

A hollow sound, a noise of infinite sadness and infinite pain, broke
in upon the silence, and the two men looked fearfully at one another,
horror, and the sense of unknown things, glimmering in their eyes.

'Come,' said Dyson, 'we must see into this,' and they went into the
hall and listened in the silence.

'Do you know,' said Phillipps, 'it seems absurd, but I could almost
fancy that the smell is that of burning flesh.'

They went up the hollow-sounding stairs, and the odour became thick
and noisome, stifling the breath, and a vapour, sickening as the smell
of the chamber of death, choked them. A door was open, and they
entered the large upper room, and clung hard to one another,
shuddering at the sight they saw.

A naked man was lying on the floor, his arms and legs stretched wide
apart, and bound to pegs that had been hammered into the boards. The
body was torn and mutilated in the most hideous fashion, scarred with
the marks of red-hot irons, a shameful ruin of the human shape. But
upon the middle of the body a fire of coals was smouldering; the flesh
had been burnt through. The man was dead, but the smoke of his torment
mounted still, a black vapour.

'The young man with spectacles,' said Mr Dyson.


THE END





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