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Title:      Above the Dark Tumult: An Adventure
Author:     Hugh Walpole
eBook No.:  0400521.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2004
Date most recently updated: June 2004

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Production notes: Also published as Above the Dark Circus

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Title:      Above the Dark Tumult: An Adventure (1931)
Author:     Hugh Walpole





FOR MY FRIEND WALTER BRISCOE

CITY LIBRARIAN OF NOTTINGHAM




MY DEAR WALTER,

I hope that you will not take this Tale too seriously.  Once before
I had a holiday and wrote a story about a Red-Haired Man and have
been distressed ever since at the scientific remarks made about
that gentleman!

Now again, in the middle of investigation into the Herries family,
I have taken a holiday and enjoyed myself over something that is a
tale and nothing but a tale.  The second volume of the "Herries"
chronicles will be published in the autumn.

Meanwhile, a momentary vision that I had of a room high above the
leaping lights of Piccadilly has betrayed me into sheer
storytelling.  I know that you are a regular schoolboy for stories
and therefore I have great pleasure in giving this one to you.

Affectionately,

HUGH WALPOLE




"This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened lips parted, the hope, the new ships."

T. S. Eliot




CONTENTS

Book I

I.  The Barber

II.  Spindle-Shanks in a Dark Garden

III.  Osmund

IV.  The Tea Shop

V.  Pengelly on Earth

VI.  Pengelly in Heaven

VII.  Extraordinary Adventures of a Corpse


Book II

VIII.  Shadow Pursuing

IX.  Helen

X.  The Curate

XI.  The Sandwich Bar

XII.  Affirmers; Deniers

XIII.  The Party

XIV.  From the Stars Down




BOOK I



CHAPTER I

The Barber


I am aware, I fancy, of most of the dangers of narrative in the
first person, but it appears to me that there is no other possible
method for this particular story.

Swiftly following though the incidents of it were, and involving a
number of persons besides myself in very definite dangers, it is
not the incidents that seem to me now, after nearly five years'
interval, to be of importance, but rather the implications that lay
behind them, and especially the implications in Osmund's purpose.

The chief peril, I suppose, that lurks behind narrative in the
first person is that of incredulity.  How can anyone remember so
clearly and repeat so accurately these conversations?  Yes, but one
doesn't either remember clearly or repeat accurately.  One gives
the gist of the thing, the spirit of it rather than the letter.
Then, further, as to the scenes that one did not oneself witness.
Well, in this present adventure, there is, as will afterwards be
clear, only one scene at which I was not myself present, and here
my informant is so close to myself that it makes no matter.

For the rest I, and I alone, can give you, as I think, the POINT of
it all, for I, and I alone, should see it from every angle--yes,
from that dizzy catastrophe (for it WAS a catastrophe) under the
guttering candles, from that bizarre procession with the loathsome
Pengelly, his hat over his eyes, held up under each arm, to that
last scene up among the chimney-pots.

This is a pretty portentous beginning.  I hadn't intended to start
seriously at all, but quite simply with my name and address, so to
speak.

My name is Richard Gunn.  I was born in the town of Totnes, April
4, 1884.  When this adventure began I was standing, naked to the
world, save for one half-crown, about five o'clock on a December
afternoon, in Piccadilly Circus, wondering what would happen next.

And here I hope you will excuse me for vagueness in the matter of
the year.  Indeed, I will ask your permission to change the names,
not only of persons, but of buildings and addresses in general.
Not that it matters very much.  There is no one left who can object
very strongly, but I like to allow myself that amount of licence.
You can trace the places for yourself, if you like.  They are all,
as you will see, within a stone's throw from one another.  The
Circus dominated us first and last and all the time, played perhaps
a bigger part in the adventure than did any of us individually.  I
don't know.  That's for you afterwards to decide.

As to the year, it was after the war and after Eros was removed
from its pedestal.  Where Eros HAD been, I remember, was the point
at which I was especially staring as I stood on the edge of the
kerb, wondering what would happen next.

I had several alternatives in my mind--one was suicide, another
robbery, another something not very far from murder.  And yet I was
not in myself in any way a desperate character--not, probably,
desperate enough.  I never have been.  I was only very cold, very
hungry and very hopeless.

My position was in no ways a peculiar one at that time.  Many
another soldier shared it.  Before the war I had held for many
years a job as land agent in my own county of Devon.  Joining up in
1914 I had trusted to a six months' conflict and the resumption of
my job again, but Harry Carden, my employer and close personal
friend, was dead, and his estate sold, long before the fighting was
over.  I had saved during the war a sufficiency, and in 1918 had
invested it, with a brother-officer, in a pair of charabancs.  The
charabancs failed--we had not perhaps precisely the right talent
for charabancs.  I was, after that, secretary to an impatient
peeress, secretary to a night club, companion to a deaf and dumb
gentleman, assistant in Mr. Swell-in-the-head's Stores and seller-
in-ordinary for Fletcher's Patent Fountain Pens.  Whatever I
touched failed; whatever touched me crumbled to ruin--so here I was
on this December afternoon in the year such-and-such, with exactly
one half-crown in my pocket, no food in my belly and the bitterest
cold in my entrails.

I had, I fancy, no grudge against anybody or anything, not even
myself.  I did not find that any of this was my own fault or anyone
else's.  I blamed neither God nor my fellow-men.

I only wondered what I would do with my last half-crown.  Anyone
who has been acutely hungry knows how odd a state of fantasy that
condition provides.  I was not quite sane, nor did I see the rest
of the world quite sanely as I stood at that particular moment,
staring at the scaffolding that, guarding the fine new Tube-To-Be,
pierced upwards into the London pea-soup sky and the shadowy casual
flakes of falling snow.

I was a little cracked, to be honest.  I had had nothing to eat
since yesterday midday.  I had left my lodging very early that
morning, without waiting for my breakfast, and that because I knew
that I should be unable to pay Mrs. Greene for it.  On the
preceding evening I had settled my weekly bill, smiled into Mrs.
Greene's kindly, bulging countenance (she had a face just like a
large bath-bun), and then, in the sinister silence of my room,
examining my resources, found that I had exactly half a crown.

I had been, I must tell you, for the last month, searching every
nook and cranny of London for a job.  I am aware that it is a
commonplace of comfortable and easily circumstanced people to say
that any man who really wants a job can find one.  I assure them
that this is not so.  It was not so nearly five years ago, and
still less is it so to-day.  I had submitted during that month to
every sort of indignity.  I had approached (hating myself and them)
certain old friends, and I do not know which was the more horrible,
their consciousness of their unhappy discomfort at being asked or
my consciousness of THEIR consciousness.

I was determined that I would neither borrow nor receive the gift
of money without some sort of work offered in return.  But the
trouble was that nobody wanted my work--I was ready to do anything,
yes, anything at all, clean the steps, clean the floors, black the
shoes, but there was already a multitude of eager persons
performing these offices.  I was not alone in asking the question
at this time--how was it that a war which slaughtered millions of
human beings left the world a great deal fuller than it had found
it?

What I was not in the least prepared for was the vile and greasy,
patronizing, indifferent complacency of Mr. Bilgewater, the founder-
and-head of the great Bilgewater Stores in Mannequin Street.  He
had announced that he was anxious to assist officers who were out
of a job, and I secured an interview with him.  I can see him
still, sitting, a bloated, gray-haired, swollen-with-self-
satisfaction spider, inside his fine money-coining web, looking
across his shiny desk at me and asking me how a man of my age dared
to come and waste his precious time by expecting a job from him.  I
gently hinted . . . but I won't go on.  Even after this passage of
time my hand trembles when I think of him.  I can only hope that
one day Saint Peter, who must be on the whole a just soul and quite
free of snobbery, gives him, before he admits him through the
Golden Gates, a piece of his mind.

This little incident cured me of supplicating.  I swore that I
would beg no more.  Suicide, robbery or murder, they seemed to my
starving belly and hot, fiery head, that was bursting with
fantastic visions, no impossible alternatives.  I had been walking
about all day, and yet I was not weary.  I was sustained by a sort
of glow, a fire fanned and decorated by hunger, a sense of
injustice, a sort of exultation, because now, at this desperate
moment, I really felt myself to be touching the very heart of life,--
and a lot of indignant self-pride.

I had no possessions in the world save some clothes in a drawer at
Mrs. Greene's, the garments I was wearing, and Lockhart's edition
of Motteux's Don Quixote, four volumes of which were at Mrs.
Greene's and one, the first, in my hand.  That book I possessed
owing to an act of mad extravagance four days earlier.  I had seen
the volumes in a second-hand bookshop, moderately priced, and had
incontinently gone in and purchased them, thereby ridding myself of
twenty-one shillings out of twenty-five, the most unreasonable act
possibly of all my life.

It was no excuse that Don Quixote was my favourite book in the
world and Lockhart's my favourite edition.  It was a piece of
fantastic extravagance, and how could I tell at the time that it
was to play so important a part in the wildest sequence of events
so shortly afterwards?

In any case, I was holding this, the first volume of the five, in
my hand, as I stood there staring at the scaffolding, and I
remember quite clearly putting the volume, with its handsome old
rose-red cover and crimson leather label, under my overcoat that it
might not have damage from the falling snow.

For the rest my clothes were decent; and as I was myself broadly
made, ruddy in colour, short and sturdy of build, none of the many
who jostled by and around me had, I am sure, the slightest notion
of the especial straits that I was in.

The point that I was at this moment debating was the destination of
my final half-crown.

When you have only one half-crown left in the world it is
astonishing the number of things you can do with it, but on this
particular occasion it was quite definitely a choice between two--
should it be spent on a meal or a hair-cut?  For nearly a month I
had not had my hair cut, and this, I imagine, from some sense of
its extravagance.  It would, in fact, have been cheap at almost any
price, for if there is a thing in this world that makes me feel
myself a dirty degenerate swine, it is the creeping of long hair
about my neck.

The great question was--would half a crown do it, for a shampoo
must be included?  Was a shampoo enough?  You may say that such a
hesitation between a meal and a hair-cut was, for a starving man,
an impossibility.  I can only tell you that I did so hesitate, and
that this same hesitation altered not my own life only, but the
lives of many others.

I considered the meal.  Could I have enough for half a crown?  Or
would I not, once I had started, be driven by my appetite into a
whale of a meal and then be arrested for nonpayment?

On the other hand, would not the cool and cleanliness about my
neck, the freshness of the shampoo . . . ?  My whole body trembled
as I felt the firm hands of the barber pressing into my scalp, the
soft foamy luxury of the soap, the touch of the cold water after
the hot. . . .  Two rival sensuousnesses--my last, perhaps.  Or my
first--which way was I to go?

I have said that hunger had made me a little fantastic.  It was not
the real world that I saw when I looked up and around me.  Or was
it?  Who knows?

I looked up and across the Circus, and the first things that I saw
were the green and red lights dancing on walls of the buildings
opposite me.  These stars of green and red flashed and twinkled,
vanished, returned, flashed and twinkled again.  There was still in
the air a dim gray shadow of departing day, so that these recurrent
stars had a particular unreality about them that gave them, in a
queer way, an especial urgency for myself.  They seemed to be
inviting me to something.

High on the wall on the farther side of the avenue was a goblet of
gold that rose slowly, tilted itself awkwardly, and then ejected
some liquid with an air of quite ridiculous self-satisfaction.

The reflection of its gold and crimson shone dully in the dead
windows behind me--the reflection was sulky and vengeful, as though
the windows were angry and sullen at the use to which they were
being put.  Not only did these lights seem to have some especial
personal meaning for me, but also for the people who were passing
on every side of me.  The Circus was only moderately crowded, but I
noticed that everyone was clinging to the pavement as though a step
forward meant ruin.

In my own excited state this did not seem at all unnatural.
Because the day had not quite departed the centre of the Circus was
sinking into a dusk that resembled to my heated gaze the gray
waters of a pool, and I had the fancy that the omnibuses charging
up the hill from the Mall, circling round from Piccadilly, were
uncouth and barbarous monsters plunging to the pool for a savage
drink.

'Well for us all,' something said, 'that we cling to this pavement.
There's danger at every step.'

So the monsters panted to the pool and, under the twinkling and
derisive lights that flashed so meaninglessly now against empty
space as the evening darkened, drank their fill.

Then, looking about me, I noticed people.  I noticed first the fat
shapeless beggar of the especially blind eyes who, with his shiny
tin cup and the board across his chest, had just this moment
arrived and stationed himself quite close to me against the wall.
He, too, seemed to have a peculiar meaning for me.  (What an empty
stomach can do to your imagination if you only give it rope
enough!)

I had seen him arrive, led by a little shabby woman in a black hat
and with black cotton gloves on her hands.  The moment she had
stationed him against the wall she gave his board a twitch and
without a word left him, shuffling off into the crowd.  There he
stood, gazing with piercing blind intentness at the twinkling stars
of red and green.

A thin clergyman, with an eager countenance, hesitated beside me,
looked as though he would speak, and moved away.  Two women, very
gay and hustling, ranged at my side.  'Well,' said one over my head
to the other, 'cheerio.'

'Cheerio,' said the other.  The first one waited a moment, then
said again:

'Cheerio, dear.'

'Cheerio,' said the other.  The first one vanished, the second one
looked right through me as though I were not there.  I felt
suddenly dead, dead and buried.  No, I was not dead.  I was
conscious of my beastly hair, hot and uncomfortable against my
neck.

'It shall be a hair-cut,' I decided.  Then my belly called out,
'Steak and kidney.'  The golden bottle cocked itself up against the
dark, scorned me, and ejected its liquid.  Something inside me
said:  'See what the book says!'  So I took Quixote out from under
my coat and opened it.

I read:

'The knight was yet asleep, when the curate came attended by the
barber, and desired his niece to let him have the key of the room
where her uncle kept his books, the author of his woes. . . .'

The barber!  There was an omen for you!  The fates had decided.  I
moved forward to my destiny.

These details must seem to you of excessive unimportance, and I can
well understand your disbelief in my memory of them, but it is
precisely these things that one does remember forever and ever
amen, even to the rather worn, semi-shiny buttons on the eager
clergyman's coat.

After a moment's hesitation I pushed forward across the waters of
the Circus, escaped narrowly two charging monsters that seemed to
snort fire and smoke at me as they passed, and arrived on dry land
on the spot where Eros once was.  Here I drew breath.  My legs were
trembling under me.  I felt faint with a gripping pain like a harsh-
taloned hand laid at my entrails.  Once more (and, as it happened,
for the last time) I hesitated.  Did I yield to the temptation of
the hair-cut I must, afterwards, either finish things once and for
all or commit crime for a meal.  I faced, I think, in that bitter
instant the ultimate degradation.  I was ready to do anything for a
meal, sell my soul, my body (one often enough involving the other)
to anybody for anything.  A moral world?  It had ceased to exist
for me, and in its room there was this strangely beautiful evil
place, shot with coloured lights that broke and flashed and
trembled across the sky above my head, while at my feet there were
these strange sluggish waters, iridescent, cleft by monsters,
bordered by walls of grim gray stone.  Out of them there stepped to
my side a slim horrible creature in a shining top-hat, a black
overcoat, with a white camellia in its buttonhole.

'Good-evening,' it said.

'Good-evening,' I replied.

'There's more snow coming,' it continued.

'Probably,' I answered.

'Going my way?' it asked.  I nearly answered that I was if it would
provide me with a meal.  Its face was very white under its shiny
hat.  It had long hands in white gloves.  I hesitated and was
saved, for, looking up, I saw the golden goblet raise itself and
illuminate with its light the neighbouring windows.  On these were
inscribed in big black letters, 'Gentlemen's and Ladies'
Hairdressers--Manicure--Massage.'

'Coming my way?' it said again.  It had dead eyes and wide hungry
nostrils to its nose.

'I think not,' I answered, and pushed out into the stream again.

And even now the guiding finger had not finished with me.  I had
landed, panting a little, as though I had run a long way, at the
corner of Shaftesbury Avenue.  There was now but a short step
across to the other side of the street; facing me was the corner of
the Trafalgar Theatre, and above it on the second floor the high
windows of the big hairdresser's establishment.  I was about to
take that step when someone jogged my elbow.  I heard a thick,
rather drunken voice say:  'A fat lot of use God would be in this
place,' and, turning, saw above me, swinging over the heads of the
crowd, a long pole and on the end of it a placard with the words:
'Thou God seest Me.'

This pole was carried by an old gaunt man with a long straggling
gray beard and a shabby coat that fell to his heels.  He was
shuffling along bearing his banner on high, and as he jostled me I
noticed that he was feeling with his spare hand in his pocket for
food.

There were some crumbs on his beard.  So above the crowd the
message floated.  Very few gazed up to it, but it passed on
serenely, confidently secure in its terrible truth.  Its effect
upon me was that, looking up to it, I saw above my head and over
the sweetshop behind me a small window with 'Hairdresser--Shaving--
Massage' upon it.  The window was surrounded with fantasy.  Not far
away from it were three timepieces which, with bland naked faces,
warned the crowd beneath them of its swift passage towards
remorseless eternity, and all around the timepieces and the
barber's window were the dancing stars of red and green that I had
seen from the farther bank of the pool.

Why should I cross the road when there was a barber's shop here at
my elbow?  Moreover, there was something in the window of the
sweetshop that tore at my guts with a frightful agony.

It was not sugar that my hunger really needed, but nevertheless the
sight of those piled-up heaps, the marzipan, the crystallized
fruit, the huge cake with a pagoda in pink and red icing, the
chocolates, the slabs of cocoanut cream. . . .  One clutch of the
hand, one sweep of the arm, down those heaps would come, I would
tear the pagoda. . . .  I had sense enough left me to pass swiftly
by the shop and climb the few dark twisting stairs to the glass
door with 'W. Jacoby, Hairdresser' inscribed upon it.  A little
more temptation, a very little more. . . .  I pushed that door back
as though I were fleeing from the devil.

So dark and grubby a little room was it that, after a glance at it,
I almost retired.  After all, if this hair-cut were to be the last
grand and independent action of my life I might as well have a good
one.  But the sense that if I passed by that sweet-shop again I
might yield, at this second time, to my craving temptations held
me.  No, I dared not risk it.  So I walked forward.

It was a bizarre enough room.  The blinds were not down, and I was
still pursued by the golden goblet, which was now, from the
opposite side of the street, almost on a level with me, and as the
flash of its shining liquid came and went the lights struck the
room where I was, vanished, and struck again as though they were
fingers of some illuminated hand hunting on this dusty floor for
some treasure.  For dusty it was.  I have seldom seen a more
neglected place, and the scrubby little barber was as neglected as
his den.  There were three basins with their mirrors stuck against
the wall.  On the other side of the room were some chairs, and here
two men were waiting.

The barber himself was misshapen, his dusty head sunk between his
shoulders, and on his countenance as surly an expression as I had
ever seen on any human face.  He had a large walrus moustache, and
the ends of this he was frequently snapping at.

He said nothing to me when I came in, and I sat down on one of two
empty chairs.

I was now quite light-headed with hunger, weariness and a sense of
rebellion against all human beings.  What had I ever done that I
should have been brought to this pass?  I was no worse than my
fellows, better indeed than a great many of them.  I turned round
on the little amiable apple-faced man who was sitting next to me
and chuckling over the innocuous pages of Punch.  For twopence I
could have caught him by the neck and swung him to and fro,
demanding of him why he and his fellows had treated me so unjustly.

But he took my gaze for amiability.

'That's a good one,' he said, grinning and handing me the Punch.
It was at this point, I think, that my past began to mingle
inextricably with my present--as though, if you like, my past knew
that in another quarter of an hour it was going to concern me very
actively and that it might as well prepare me for that.  Never mind
the scenes that I saw--a door half opened, a mirror framing a face
of rage and vengeance, a mean, spindle-shanked little man stealing
down a garden path, eyes, the most beautiful in the world to me,
telling me of a trust and affection for which I had never dared to
hope . . . sad, wasted, ironical pictures, crowding into the room
on the recurring, reflected impulses of that golden flashing light.

The door opened, and a sailor came in.  He was a big, red-faced
fellow in sailor's kit, a somewhat rare sight in the West End, and
he carried a sailor's bundle.  It was at once evident that he was
pleasantly drunk.  He rolled a little in his walk and greeted us
all with the most cheerful of smiles.  He lumbered to the chair
next to mine and sat down heavily upon it.

The barber glanced at him with exceeding disfavour.  He looked
about him with beaming interest, whistled loudly, snapped his
fingers, smacked his bulging thighs.

At last, looking at the three of us who were waiting, he said
huskily:

'Wonder if you gents would mind.  I know you're first . . . don't
want to presume, but it's only a shave I want and I'm going to
Newcastle.  First time 'ome for three years, 'aven't seen the kids
for three years, gentlemen, and if I miss the six-thirty . . .  'E
can give me a quick shave and if 'e don't I'll wring 'is bleeding
neck.'

The barber turned and gave him a look of saturnine murder but said
no word.  We all at once meekly agreed that the sailor should have
the next turn.  This elated him greatly.  He walked about the room
whistling and lumbering from article to article, examining
everything, the almanac, with a pink-cheeked girl holding a bunch
of roses, the advertisements of hair restorer and shaving soap.  He
stopped before the pink-cheeked girl and said, lurching:

'She's my fancy!'

The young man upon whom the barber had been operating, his job
concluded, rose and went for his hat and coat.  The sailor
immediately plopped into his place and stared very gravely into the
mirror, feeling his cheek for pimples.  Then, suddenly remembering,
rose heavily, crossed the floor, and with the greatest care and
reverence placed his bundle on the chair where he had been waiting,
then returned to the seat of ceremony.

The barber approached him with looks of surly disgust.  I thought
he would refuse to shave him, but he said nothing, only stropped
his razor furiously.  Then he lathered half the sailor's face,
paused, and, shaving-brush in one hand, with the other took the
sailor's bundle from the chair and dropped it on the floor.  The
sailor said nothing to this but, when his face was completely
lathered, gave the barber a wave of the hand as though to say 'Just
wait a moment,' got up, crossed the floor and lifted his bundle on
to the seat again.  No one uttered a word, but we three spectators
sat in our seats watching this drama with absorbed attention.

The barber shaved with great care half the sailor's face, then
gently moved back and placed the bundle on the floor, the sailor
watching his action with grave intensity in the mirror.  When the
razor had passed once completely over his countenance he again
motioned politely to the barber with his hand, rose and replaced
his bundle on the chair.  The barber lathered his face again, then
once more crossed to the bundle, but on this occasion threw it
violently onto the floor.  Still no word was spoken.  Yet again the
sailor replaced it.  Yet again the barber threw it down.

The air was now breathless with suspense.  The sailor rose, seeming
now to be twice his former bulk.

''Ow much?' he asked gravely, feeling in his deep, wide pocket.

'Threepence,' said the barber.  The sailor, after some fumbling,
found his pennies and delivered them, then, with a husky, 'Take
that for your bloody cheek,' drove his fist full into the barber's
face.  The barber crumpled and fell.

Instantly there was pandemonium.  The little apple-faced man who
had been reading his Punch so amiably was changed into a demon of
fury and rage.  He flung himself onto the sailor.  The other
observer, a long thin fellow, rushed shouting to the door.  The
barber, surprisingly alive, raised himself onto his knees and bit
the sailor's thigh.  The sailor himself rolled about, shouting and
waving his arms; chairs tumbled over, bottles fell with a crash,
two men came in and joined the fray.

The door was open; my eyes were upon it.  Someone peered in, looked
about him, and cautiously stepped into the room.

One glance was enough for me.  My heart thundered in my ears, the
room swam before me.  The sight of that mean-faced, spindle-
shanked, narrow-eyed little man was the ghost of all my past, the
link with everything that should have been my future, the link
that, for more than fourteen years, I had been seeking.

Mr. Leroy Pattison Pengelly.



CHAPTER II

Spindle-Shanks in a Dark Garden


It will be remembered that when Sancho Panza told his master the
story of the beautiful shepherdess Toralva, Don Quixote could not
count the number of goats carried by the fisherman across the
stream in his boat.

Quoth Sancho:  'How many goats are got over already?'

'Nay, how the devil can I tell?' replied Don Quixote.

'There it is!' quoth Sancho, 'did not I bid you keep count?  On my
word, the tale is at an end, and now you may go whistle for the
rest.'

'Ridiculous,' cried Don Quixote.  'Pray thee, is there no going on
with the story unless I know exactly how many goats are wafted
over?'

'No, marry is there not,' quoth Sancho, 'for as soon as you
answered that you could not tell, the rest of the story quite and
clean slipped out of my head; and in troth it is a thousand pities,
for it was a special one.'

'So then,' cried Don Quixote, 'the story's ended?'

'Ay, marry is it,' quoth Sancho.  'It is no more to be fetched to
life than my dead mother.'

The time has come for me too, before my story can move a step
forward, to number my goats.  The trouble is not so much in my
numbering them as in selecting the best ones for my purpose.  There
are so many, and they all seem to be conveyed over in the
fisherman's boat together.

The period that I must recover is a short one--only six weeks--and
the place is definite enough.  I will call it Howlett Hall--a name
sufficiently near to the reality--and closing my eyes can see again
those dark, squat buildings, the beautiful Park running to the
sea's very edge, the Devon sea with the red cliffs, the mild lisp
of the waves on the shingle in that summer weather, the cooing of
the doves in the trees that were scattered on the edge of the
shaven lawn, old red-faced Harry Carden calling to his dogs, all
the easy, lazy social life of that wealthy carefree world before
the war.

And into that easy, normal world stepped, one summer afternoon, the
three figures of my drama.  Looking back, it seems queer enough,
although at the time it was nothing, that these three should have
all come into my life on the same day, almost at the same moment--
John Osmund, Leroy Pengelly--and Helen Cameron. . . .

Pengelly was the first.  I was Harry Carden's land agent, and we
were, had been for several years, the greatest friends.  Had he
lived it would have been another story for me.  Of course he was
years older than I; our relationship was almost that of father and
son--dear Harry with his oaths and tempers and stubbornness and
charity and secret shy kindnesses and love of women, dogs and every
earthly kind of sport!

Simple!  It seems impossible that there should be anyone alive in
this complicated world of to-day so guileless.

Well, at about three o'clock of that hot, shimmering afternoon we
walked down to the beach to see about some nets that Carden had
ordered from a fisherman, saw two nets, watched for a little the
sea swell lazily in over the hot dry pebbles, breaking, like the
outstretching paw of a sleepy cat, across the rising ridge; then
turned back through the little village.

Outside the one and only pub there was standing a man.  I noticed
him because I knew every soul in the village, and this was a new
face to me.  When we had struck up through the Park gates Harry
said:

'So Pengelly's back again.'  He said it, I remember, in a tone that
roused my interest, for he disliked so few of his fellow-beings
that the grating displeasure in his voice was sufficiently
remarkable.

I asked who Pengelly might be.  Now here I perceive the danger of
melodrama.  Pengelly is, I suppose, the villain of this piece, if
any villain there be, although it is possibly one of the small
values of this story that it contains neither villain nor hero.  I
should like to be fair to Pengelly, especially in consideration of
later events, but, however fair one may try to be, one cannot
escape his nastiness.  It exuded from him always and everywhere.
Harry was the most generous-minded of men, but at once, when he
spoke of Pengelly, a sort of disgusting atmosphere crept about us,
the air seemed to darken, the warmth of the sun to grow less
kindly.

There are one or two people in the world who darken the air, not so
much by anything they do as by what simply, of themselves, and
possibly quite without their own fault, they are.  Not that
Pengelly stopped at mere existence, he was quite an active
personality until--but what happened to him comes later.

Carden did not say much about Pengelly just then--only that he was
the nastiest, meanest, most abject little scoundrel born of woman,
that he had come to the village some five years ago, agent, HE
declared, for some kind of photographic firm, that he had a wife
whom he bullied, that he was never seen by anyone to do any work,
but simply slouched around the place.  Many things were suspected
of him, very little proved.  Then a girl in the village had a baby
of which he was supposed to be the father, his wife died suddenly,
and he vanished--to the great relief of everyone.  And yet the
unexpected thing was, Carden added, that he had a kind of
fascination for some people.  Even Carden himself had felt it.  He
was very glib in his talk, had plenty of stories to tell, had
travelled, apparently, and his conceit and self-confidence were
boundless.

'I hope he's not come back to stay,' said Carden, and a kind of
depression fell between us.  I am even fanciful enough to imagine
that life was never quite the same careless, happy thing for either
of us after the moment when we saw Pengelly leaning his scarecrow
of a body up against the wall of the Farmer's Boy, his hands in his
pockets, and his bony, ugly head thrust forward in that snake-like,
piercing way that was so characteristic of him.

That was to be, however, an eventful afternoon for me, and the
second new encounter that it brought me quickly knocked the first
out of my head.

When we reached the house and stretched ourselves out in chairs on
the lawn with a good cool drink at our elbow, Harry told me that
people were coming to tea.  Borlass and his stout lady and imbecile
daughter, for three--and two others.

'John Osmund,' said Harry, 'and the lady who is to marry him.'

'And who may John Osmund be?' I asked him.

Carden told me.  John Osmund was a remarkable fellow.  One of those
men who could do anything if he liked.  But he didn't like.  And
yet you couldn't call him a slacker.  He was always doing something
and doing it well, but they were odd, unnecessary jobs, jobs that
no one else thought of doing.

Where did he come from?  Nobody knew.  He said that he belonged to
some Glebeshire family.  Oh, yes, he was a gentleman all right.
Extraordinarily handsome fellow and a giant.  Must be six foot six
at least, and carried himself firmly, as though he had been
commanding people all his life.

Funny-tempered chap, though.  You never knew what was likely to
upset him--went off the rocker at the slightest thing, and when he
did lose his temper it was something to see.  For the rest he was
as sweet as a nut, and his laugh was worth going a mile to hear.
But he had odd bees in his bonnet.  Couldn't bear this democratic
twaddle and yet was always palling up with the fellows out of his
own class, not just talking to them, but made real friends of them
and didn't mind who saw him with them.  It was CROWDS that he said
he hated and the way that everyone cheapened everything.  He called
it a HALF-BAKED age, and hated it for being that, said he would
like to drop bombs on half humanity and leave room for the rest to
grow properly.  And yet he was the kindest-hearted of men, no
crank, you understand, only talked of these things when he was
roused.

I asked some more questions and discovered that he had been staying
for a long time at the Trout Inn at Amberthwaite, a village some
five miles in the Exmouth direction.  He kept a horse and looked
mighty fine riding it.

And the lady?  Helen Cameron?  She used to come down here often
with the Fosters when they rented Onsett.  She was an Edinburgh
girl.  I must have seen her.  Three years ago she was down here,
but was only a bit over sixteen, had her hair down.  She was nearly
twenty now.  An orphan, very independent, a delightful girl and
fascinated by Osmund.

She had arrived on her own about a month ago, met Osmund and became
at once engaged to him.  The odd thing, Carden said, was that he
didn't think that she was really in love with him.  There was no
doubt of Osmund's feeling for her, he was simply mad about her, but
his will seemed to have overpowered hers, which was saying
something, because she was one of the strongest-willed and most
independent women in the world.  But they were a striking pair,
both so good-looking, so unlike other people, so individual and
alone.  I'd be interested in both of them when I saw them.  I felt
that I would.

I had no questions to ask about Sir Nevil Borlass and his wife.  I
knew him well enough--common-place, greedy, self-satisfied, vulgar.
He had inherited a fortune from his father and owned a huge place,
Pecking, some ten miles distant from Howlett.  He wasn't a bad
fellow, I suppose, but arrogant, greedy and stupid.

'As a matter of fact,' said Carden, 'I'm sorry I've asked them at
the same time as Osmund.  Osmund hates them both like poison, and
he's no swell at hiding his feelings.  You may have the luck to see
him in one of his tempers.  It's worth seeing.'

I did, as it happened, have that luck, and I'm never likely to
forget it.

Osmund and his lady walked over from Amberthwaite.

When I saw them standing together on the sun-drenched lawn it was
all I could do to restrain an exclamation.  There are some people
in the world--a few--like that, made, it seems, of different clay
from the rest of us.

Osmund would have excited attention anywhere.  His height did not
seem excessive because he carried himself so magnificently.  When I
knew him better it was always a trick he had of throwing his head
back, a gesture of freedom, of strength, of independence, quite
impossible to give any real sense of, that seemed especially his.
He was dark and with just that amount of foreignness in his colour
that our Celts often have.  You would have known him for an
Englishman anywhere, though.  His smile was delightful, boyish and
discerning.  His anger--well, I shall have an opportunity of
describing that in a moment.

And Helen?  If this story has neither hero nor villain, at least it
has a heroine.  How shall I describe her as she was on that first
day?  I can remember very little of that first impression.  She was
slim, tall, dark-haired like Osmund, and I fancy that on that first
afternoon I thought her sullen, conceited, fond of her own opinion,
a little arrogant.

To tell the truth, I was, I think, on that day so deeply struck by
Osmund that I paid little attention to Helen.  She certainly paid
none at all to me.  She had, as I was to learn afterwards, other
things just then to think about.

We all sat down together and were very happy.  How charming Osmund
could be when he liked!  He was the most perfectly natural being I
have ever known.  When he was at his ease and trusted his company
he was like a cheery happy-go-lucky boy who hadn't a bother in the
world.

At any rate that was what he was on this first meeting--before all
his trouble came.

I don't think that any of us heard Fate mutter in our ears as the
Borlass family appeared on the horizon, 'Here's the end of your
happiness.'  No, we didn't hear, but if we had we should have heard
the truth.

A more commonplace trio you couldn't have found in all England:
Borlass with his thick neck and swelling stomach, and stout calves
ridiculous in their rough pinky-brown stockings; Lady Borlass, a
stout little woman who walked like a chicken looking for seed.  She
was always overdressed and, for so small a woman, wore an
astonishing amount of jewels.  She was famous for her jewels.  Her
daughter was a large lumpy girl with spectacles and a deep bass
voice.  She laughed like a man too, and seemed to take the deepest
interest in everything that you said.  Only her eyes betrayed her,
for they stared through their glasses with a blank vacancy which
showed that she never listened to a word that anyone uttered.  It
was her obsession (and also the obsession of her parents) that
every male and every mother of every male pursued her for her
money.

As a matter of fact, it's my opinion that no one pursued her at all
and that she was cross and lonely, poor thing.

In any case, here they were, Lady Borlass picking her way between
her two large companions, who marched one on either side of her as
though they were protecting her from rape and battery.  She carried
in her hand a lorgnette, and every once and again she would stop
for a moment and examine the ground exactly like a hen looking for
seed.

I have taken some while in describing this family because of its
importance in what happened afterwards.  The important event on
this particular afternoon will take no time at all to describe.

I remember, as though it were yesterday, the immediate change in
Osmund as the Borlasses appeared.

To say that it was childish inadequately describes it.  His face
that had a second before been open, jolly and most handsomely
engaging was suddenly rebellious, ill-tempered and petulant.  We
all know people who are simply unable to behave decently in company
that is uncongenial to them, and, however charming they may be, we
do on the whole avoid them because of the awkward situations that
crop up in their society--so it was now with Osmund.  Harry, Helen
Cameron and myself were at once uncomfortable.  It was as though we
had taken out into grown-up company a child who might at any moment
behave indecently.  Only the Borlasses noticed nothing.  They
patronized us all, ate their cucumber sandwiches with complete
satisfaction, behaved as though they had bought all the world for a
song.

The crash came, as unexpectedly for them as though a naked Pan had
broken suddenly through the thicket.  The affair had upon Lady
Borlass just that effect.  She had been speaking of her maid-
servants; she had a high-pitched, immensely superior voice, cold,
like a lump of ice falling into a drink, cultivated, I've no doubt,
in the early days when her own family was not quite so 'county' as
it might have been.  She talked of her servants as though they were
a party of savages that had been brought over to England for her
from Central Africa.  'After all,' she said, 'one expects
stupidity, but SUCH idiocy . . .'

Osmund jumped to his feet.  The whole of his six foot six hung over
us.

'Idiocy!  Idiocy!' he cried.  'If that isn't just characteristic of
all of you!  Because you've got money to spend you think that
you're better than the men and women worth a thousand of you.  I
bet you're as useless a woman as exists.  You and your husband just
cumber the ground, and it would be better for everyone if you were
under it.  I haven't been here for months without knowing something
about you--with your conceit and laziness and ignorance. . . .  Oh,
damn!  I beg your pardon, Carden.  I've behaved like a swine.
Sorry.  I'll be going. . . .'

It was that or something like that.  I only know that after all
these years the anger and impatience and lack of control of that
outbreak have for me still the effect as though the sky had cracked
asunder and a bolt, black and thunderous, crashed to our feet!

Anyway, Osmund went there and then, without another word to any of
us, strode furiously across the lawn and was gone.  The tea-party,
needless to say, was ended.  I can see yet the look of staggered
surprise in the Borlass countenances, as though a damp rag had been
pressed there and wiped all the modelling away.  Helen Cameron said
not a word.

Next day I met Osmund by the seashore.  Shamefaced, he confessed
his sins.  He had behaved, he supposed, like a perfect cad?  I said
that he had.  Was Carden furious?  Yes, Carden was furious.  He'd
better go up, he supposed, and take his licking.  He liked Carden.
He'd take any beating he wanted to give him.  I suggested that he
should write a note of apology to Lady Borlass.  But that he
wouldn't hear of.  He had, he considered, committed no crime at all
so far as the Borlasses were concerned.  He'd been wanting to say
something to them ages back; it was only saying it in Harry
Carden's garden that was wrong, under old Harry's roof, so to
speak, and in front of myself and Miss Cameron.

But there it was.  He had the devil of a temper; he had always had
one and never learnt to control it as a kid.  People like the
Borlasses made him feel sick.  But he apologized to me, and would
perfectly understand if I never wanted to speak to him again.

I liked him.  I couldn't help but like him.  You'd have liked him
had you known him at that time.

He took then a surprising fancy to myself, and in a short while we
were seeing one another very often.  Three things I noticed about
him.  One was that, charming, kindly, humorous as he mostly was,
these sudden winds of passion were at any time liable to ruffle his
spirit.  Secondly, that he was a poet with a real worship of beauty
in every possible form--nature, art, music, letters, character,
everything--and that, just now, this love of beauty was all
directed into the channel of his worship for Helen Cameron.
Thirdly, that, as Carden said, he made the oddest intimacies with
men quite outside his own class and education.

Not many days passed before I met such a friend, Charlie Buller by
name.  Buller was short, sturdy, with a certain air of hostler
about him.  He was a jolly little man, with pleasant wrinkles about
his eyes and an apple-brown complexion.  He had no especial purpose
in life that I could see except to joke about everything.  I
wouldn't have been at all surprised at his having done time.  He
was as reticent about his past as his present--altogether not at
all the sort of friend for Osmund.  But then Osmund, gentleman as
he was, was most certainly adventurous also.  No one knew anything
at all about HIS past.  Helen Cameron herself had no idea whether
he had relations, whether he had been in the Army, whether he had
any means.

She was hypnotized by him as, to a certain degree, I was myself.

Then an awful thing happened.  I fell in love with Helen Cameron.
How often in the years that followed I looked back and asked myself
whether I could have done anything, anything at all, to have
prevented this.  Now I know that I could not.  It was one of the
strands--and not the least important one either--in the strange
plot in which we were all at last to figure.

At the time it was madness and worse.  I was Osmund's friend, for
one thing; for another, I didn't want just then to fall in love
with anyone; for a third, I had no reason to think that she had any
interest in me: if she thought of me at all, she seemed to dislike
me.  But it happened--as inevitably and, it seemed, as hopelessly
as all the rest of this incredible business.

And, what is more, I knew the exact moment WHEN it happened.

I had walked with Osmund and Helen to the Park gate.  As we reached
it the rain began.  All the trees above our heads trembled; there
were the secret urgent whispers of a coming storm.  He drew her
under the cover of his waterproof, but just before they turned down
the windy road, meeting the rain, she looked back and smiled.

I stood there looking after her, looking beyond her into an angry
tear of yellow sky that slashed the thick gray.  I knew in that
moment that I loved her.  I hoped at first that it was a passing
fever, caught from the quietness and remoteness of our life in this
little place.  I left next morning for London.  I returned a week
later, knowing that this was something far different from any love
affair of my life.  Yes, and by God, so it has been!

I returned to find one or two odd things.  One was that Osmund's
friend, Charlie Buller, had someone lodging with him, a big flabby
balloon-like man with a remarkably small head.  His name was Hench.
He had a funny squeaky voice like a woman's, but he seemed not a
bad fellow, from Osmund's account of him, kindly, ready to do
anything for anyone.  All the same, they were, both of them,
strange friends for Osmund to have.  And then I discovered a
queerer thing yet.  They were both of them, Buller and Hench, hand
in glove with the horrible Pengelly.  I saw the three of them
constantly together, and, stranger yet, Osmund, it seemed, on
passable terms with Pengelly.  I spoke to Carden about this.  He
only shrugged his shoulders.  Since that scandalous outburst he had
seen very little of Osmund.  A fellow who behaved like that to your
guests--well, it made a chap uncomfortable. . . .

Then things moved quickly.  Looking back now, I feel that I was in
a kind of dream during those weeks, and not a very pleasant dream
either.  Now that I had fallen in love with Helen, I perceived in
her every kind of sweetness, nobility and charm.  But I had to
behave decently.  I avoided her persistently.  Everyone thought
that I disliked her--Carden, Osmund, and Helen herself.  I think
that it was this sense of my dislike of her that first stirred her
interest in me.  And she wasn't--although at the time I had no idea
of this--at all happy: frightened, uneasy, desperately apprehensive.
The more she knew of Osmund the more apprehensive she became.

Even I could see, during those weeks, what a queer fellow he was.
Madness does not cover it, neither then nor later.  I shall not
attempt any analysis of him.  At the moment I am concerned only
with events; but at least from the very first I realized that
Osmund was, so to speak, 'out-size'--not only in physical things,
but especially in spiritual.  He had--he must always have had--a
sort of wild impatience with life.  Things that he read in the
paper--little casual wayside things--made him mad with irritation.
He wanted to 'get at' people and punish or praise or comfort or
expose.  He hated injustice and cruelty and meanness with a
ferocity that I've never seen equalled in any other human being,
but he was himself, in that very hatred, unjust and cruel--mean
never.

He really believed, I think, that, were he given a free, omnipotent
hand, he would by wholesale executions and wholesale rewards set
all the world right.  And yet he was not conceited, did not believe
in his own powers.  I think that it was partly his sense of his own
weakness and ignorance that exasperated him.

And beside Osmund and Helen stood Pengelly.  Even at that time,
before anything had happened, I realized by a kind of spiritual
sniffing of the air that Pengelly was mixed up with all of this.  I
cannot possibly describe the way in which he was forever turning
up.  He wore a thin, gray Aquascutum that flapped about his bony
legs and, cocked sideways, a bowler too large for him that badly
needed brushing.  He had a thin cane, with which he used to tap his
teeth.

He had nothing to do with any of us, and yet he was always
appearing round the corner.  He would grin, touch his shabby
bowler, look at us as though he had something very important to say
and slouch away.

I remember saying to Osmund that I wondered that Charlie Buller
made a friend of him.  Buller seemed a decent little chap.

'Oh, it isn't Charlie that's Pengelly's friend,' said Osmund, 'it's
Hench.'

And Hench?  What was he doing here?  Like Buller and Pengelly,
nothing at all apparently, slouching about like a bladder that
needed pricking, a really comic figure, with that little mild face
staring above the big wobbly body.  And his voice, whenever I heard
it, made me want to giggle like a schoolgirl.

What were they doing?  We very soon knew.  The climax crashed in
upon us as though a gray muddy sky had swamped down and choked us.

I heard it from Carden.

One remembers the most ridiculous details of sudden catastrophic
scenes that, with a swing and a push, hammer one's life into a new
direction.  So, on that sunny morning in Carden's library, I was
hammered.

I was, I remember, at that moment trying to write.  I have all my
life been trying to write in the odd moments between what is, I
believe, of vastly more importance, trying to live.  Just then I
was fancying that I could produce a pretty combination of nature
and fiction: you know the sort of thing--beavers and otters, cranky
heroes who think they should redeem the world, and beautiful
trusting young girls.  The happy combination has never been brought
off yet, and I am most certainly not clever enough to manage it.

I had just written a most moving little description of the Otter's
life as, pursued by cruel hunters, he was nosing for his three
wives everywhere, when Carden came in, his round childish eyes
simply popping in his face.

He gasped.  He sat down, stuttered as though he would have a fit,
then told me.  Last night, half an hour after midnight, Osmund,
with Buller and Hench in attendance, was arrested in the hall of
the Borlass mansion on the charge of attempted burglary.

'Oh, rot!' I shouted, jumping up.  'Osmund . . .  Burglary . . .
Absurd, impossible!'--and so on.

But it was true, deadly true.  Buller and Hench had had masks and
lanterns, all the regular paraphernalia.

Osmund had not uttered one word when arrested, simply shrugged his
shoulders.

In due time more of the mystery was declared.  They had been given
away, the three of them.  Everything was known to the police long
before the attempt.  The police, gathered in from Exmouth, were
simply waiting for them.

Further than that, it appeared that their betrayer was Pengelly.

Charlie Buller had been, it appeared, the originator of the plan.
He had heard of Lady Borlass's jewels, had persuaded an old friend
of his, Hench, to come in with him, and there they were.  How
Pengelly wormed himself into their confidence nobody knew.  Why he
played the part he did nobody knew either.

He betrayed them from the very first.

But, mystery of mysteries, what had Osmund to do in this galère?
Osmund, the aristocrat, to be mixed in this degraded crowd, and
involved in a burglary as common and vulgar as any in the cheapest
novelette!

Not at his arrest, nor at his trial nor afterwards, did he utter a
single word.  He went to jail as quietly as he went fishing.

As you may suppose, my first and my last thought was of Helen.
What she must be suffering in her love, her pride, her affronted
privacy, her sudden loneliness!  But was it not human nature that
behind this sorrow for her I should, in spite of myself, wonder
whether there was not now a chance for me?  I might have known her
better.

I saw her indeed only once.  On a wild stormy afternoon I was
battling my way home across the beach, and I almost ran into her.
We stepped back into some shelter of a rock.

I asked her:  'Is there a thing I can do?'

'Nothing,' she answered me.

Then, holding out her hand to me and smiling, she said:  'He won't
tell me why he did it.  He'll tell me nothing.  I think it was a
prank of his at the last minute, to play a game on the Borlasses.
I don't know.  We shall marry as soon as he comes out.'

Then, looking at me as I'd never seen her look at me, she said:  'I
want you to promise one thing.'

'I'll promise anything,' I answered.

'Don't try to see me again.  Forget us both.  I like life to be
difficult, but I don't want it to be TOO difficult.  If you really
wish to help me, promise me that.'  And she was gone.

She left me in a state of exaltation, defiance, exasperation.  Did
she care for me after all?  And if she did, wouldn't I fight heaven
and earth to have her?

I argued basely with myself that Osmund was my friend no longer,
that in any case he could now only make her miserable, that for her
sake I must prevent her from what could only be a wretched
marriage.  I wrote her, again and again, mad, passionate, pleading
letters.  I received no answer.  I could get no news of her.  With
1914 came the war and the end of every story.

I had one more glimpse, however, of the villain of this little
piece.

In 1915 I was home on leave and, the loneliest soul in the world,
sought out the only friend I had.  I sent a wire to Carden and
followed it down to find the house shut up and Carden in France.
I wandered, on a wet, dreary evening, about the gardens already
growing wild with neglect, hating the blind, hostile, shuttered
windows and the sough of the wind in the trees.

A stormy shivering moon broke out from the clouds and palely lit
the lawn, that very lawn upon which, under a blazing sun, Osmund
and Helen and I had first met.

As I stood there someone stepped crunchingly on the gravel path
before the shuttered windows.  I turned, and there was Pengelly.
Oh, but unmistakable, his dusty bowler cocked sideways, his
Aquascutum flapping at his heels.

He stood there, staring, as though he, too, had seen a ghost.  I
called his name, 'Pengelly, you dirty swine!'  He turned and ran, I
followed, but the moon was veiled, the rain came beating down,
hammering on the shuttered boards, there was no other sound in the
world.

He became, after that, an obsession with me.  I was always looking
for him.  When I saw him I would discover where the Osmunds were
and then wring his dirty neck.

But the world is a large place.  As I have already told you, I went
from one miserable job to another, always the image of Helen
haunting me, loving only her, not knowing whether she were alive or
dead--wanting her . . . wanting her. . . .

And now you know why the sight of Pengelly's hatchet face in that
barber's shop was the most momentous vision in the world!



CHAPTER III

Osmund


I had no more thought for barber or barber's shop.  My final vision
of the place was of the barber and the sailor grappling together in
a muttering, gasping embrace among the tumbled chairs and china.  I
had picked up my hat and coat and was out of the door into the
passage.

There was no Pengelly.  Indeed, there was nothing in the dreary
little box of a passage but a dim light and a musty smell of
oranges.  Then I heard voices.  Two people came round the corner of
the stairs, and I stood aside that they might go by.  A stout woman
and a little man.  The stout woman was breathing heavily and
complaining bitterly.

As they passed me I heard the little man say:  'But how was I to
know?  You always liked liver and bacon before this.  I don't know
what's come to you with all these new fancies. . . .'

I waited until they had gone.  Everything was as silent as an ice-
box.  From inside the barber's shop there came no sound.  Very
cautiously I moved up the stairs, turned the corner, and there, on
the next landing, looking up the farther staircase, his head cocked
as though he were listening, stood Pengelly.

I drew back in the corner of the staircase, restraining every
breath in my body, restraining, yet more, my eager desire to catch
his dirty bony neck between my fingers and wring it until his eyes
stared over the back of his body!

I didn't move, and Pengelly didn't move either.  What it was to me
to see him again after all these years!  He hadn't changed an iota!
His cheek bones were as prominent, his nostrils as wide and hungry,
his eyes as gray and narrow, his mouth as cruel and mean, and his
whole air as shabby and dusty as of old.  He was an immemorial
figure, standing for spite and meanness like a carved figure in a
Cathedral choir stall.  But, as I looked at him, it was not of
himself that my heart was full, but of Osmund and Helen.  At last I
should have news of them, at last know whether they were alive,
whether they were married, yes, even though I had to push his mean
eyes into his dirty little face to discover it.

But what, after all, was he doing there?  He was engaged, it was
plain, on some game of his own, some game that was of great
importance to himself.  His whole body was strung together in its
absorption of eagerness and curiosity.  There was something or
somebody on the floor above that concerned him very nearly, and I
knew enough about him to be aware that it was something that boded
ill.

A noise startled him.  He turned and, looking back down the
staircase, seemed to be staring right into me.  You must remember
that here there was only a half-light.  A window threw a glow upon
his evil countenance, but I was myself in obscurity.  I looked into
the white frosted door of some offices that had upon the glass
names printed in deep black letters.

When he stared at me there was something uncanny about our
encounter.  For more than fourteen years I had again and again
imagined our reunion.  With any one of them, Osmund, Helen,
Pengelly, Buller, Hench, the meeting would have been enough to
provide a link for me with the others, but, for some reason, it had
been Pengelly whom I had first envisaged.  How often I had planned
just what I would say and do, forcing him onto his knees wherever
our meeting might be, and then, having had my will with him,
throwing him aside like a dirty rag.  But I had never imagined it
like this.

He stared at me as though he must see and recognize me, but I
realized that he was staring beyond me, down into the dark recesses
of the staircase, listening with all his protruding ears for a
voice, a footstep, an opening door.

Suddenly he nodded his head, as though he had come to a decision,
turned and very cautiously climbed the staircase.  For a moment I
hesitated.  Should I follow him or wait for his return?  I didn't
want to climb to the next floor and then confront him, when perhaps
he had already rung a bell and so could escape into some flat.  If
I waited where I was he would in all probability return--or would
he?  He might be swallowed up by some apartment and not emerge
again that night.  The thought decided me.  I mounted the stairs
after him.  I went cautiously, and the turn of the stairs was dark
enough to make a slip very easy.  I remember that I clutched the
volume of Quixote to me as though it were a talisman.  I emerged
onto the next landing, and--there was no Pengelly!  He had vanished
as though he had never been.

I was caught by a beat of bitter disappointment.  I had missed him,
then!  I looked around me.  Above me the stairs, thinning now as
they reached the heights of the building; in front of me the door
of a flat with bell and letter box but no name, to my right a ledge
with a small window.

I went to this last and looked out.  The snow had ceased; roofs ran
parallel with my vision, roofs and, above and beyond them, some
crooked chimneys that, in this half-light, resembled human beings.
One chimney near to me, peering over shelving tiles, seemed like a
swollen and doubly malevolent Pengelly.  The large ears were
cocked; the face, thickened and roughened, was corrugated and lined
with sneering laughter.  But especially it wore exactly that look
of evil listening attention that Pengelly had just now worn.

All this was in the air, but through a division between walls, I
could look down, as one looks over a hilly ridge, into the lights
of the Circus.  The air was thickened and darkened, and so I peered
over as it were into a river of light that twinkled and flashed and
seemed sometimes to bubble as though, at any moment, it would burst
into flame.  I was not, in actual fact, so high here above the
ground, but I SEEMED to be high, in a thick gray world with the
light flowing like a lava stream between the clefts.

Suddenly, and from the floor below, someone switched on the light
and, turning, I saw my little rabbit hutch of a passage all ablaze.
If Pengelly came down now or emerged from that door, nothing could
prevent our meeting.

Someone was coming up from the floor below.  I waited.  A head
appeared, then a body.  It seemed to me not to be odd at all that
in another moment I was face to face with Charlie Buller.  I had
always told myself that if I ever were lucky enough to encounter
one of them he would carry the others with him.  I don't know why I
had been sure of this.  After all, nothing was more unlikely.  And
yet it turned out to be true in a much wider, deeper sense than I
had ever suspected.  Yes, it turned out to be very true indeed!
But at the actual sight of Charlie Buller I must confess that my
heart leapt with joy, for Buller meant Osmund and Helen more than
Pengelly did.  I was sure then, with a glorious triumphant
certainty, that my contact with Helen had at last begun again!

Nevertheless, if Charlie was no surprise to me I was like a ghost
or miracle to Charlie!  He had come up the stairs, his head down,
lost in his own thoughts (and, as I was to find out afterwards, he
had plenty to think about just then).  He almost ran straight into
me.  He pulled himself up and then stood there, staring as though,
in spite of the light, he must be deceived.

'Well, Charlie,' I said, smiling and holding out my hand.  At first
glance he looked to me just as he used to look--a little rounder, a
little tubbier, clothed in just the same sort of rather loud brown
tweeds that he used to wear, his round face of the same ruddy brown
colour, his eyes bordered by the same good-humoured wrinkles.  I
had changed, of course, and, I am afraid, not for the better.

At first he really did not know me.

'Dick Gunn,' I said.

'My God!' he answered, taking me in.  He stood looking me over,
shook me warmly by the hand, then dropped it as though he had
suddenly remembered something.

'Have you come to see . . . ?'  He stopped abruptly.

'I haven't come to see anyone,' I answered, dropping my voice
because I was conscious of Pengelly, as though his nasty spying
presence were everywhere around us.  'I'm here entirely by chance.
I'm jolly glad to see you, though.  I've been hoping for years that
I should run against you.'

I remember that he made then the movement that I recollected so
well, sucking in his cheeks as though he were pulling at a straw,
and his eyes narrowed as though he were suddenly suspicious of
something.

'Glad to meet you too,' he said, also dropping his voice.  'Long
time since we met, isn't it?  Plenty happened since . . .'  He
broke off, listening.

'Look here,' I went on, 'I don't want to stop you now if you're
busy, but I must have a talk with you, and to-night if it's
possible.'

'Why, yes,' he said.  He was looking around him, staring up the
stairs and then at the flat-door.

'Course we'll have a talk--after all this time.  Things are
pressing a bit at the moment.  Where are you staying?'

'Can't we eat together somewhere?'  I remember saying that with a
grand confidence, although my precious half-crown was all that I
had.  You must remember too that all this time I was ravenous with
hunger.

'Fact is--afraid I'm booked.  Let's know where to ring you.'  I
interrupted him.  It seemed to me possible that Pengelly might
appear at any moment.

'Wait a minute,' I said, 'I must tell you something.  Why I'm here
at all is that I followed Pengelly.  I saw him downstairs, I
followed him up.  I kept sight of him as far as this landing and
then I lost him.'

'Pengelly!'  He stiffened like a terrier sighting a rat.
'Pengelly!  Already--he's before his time.  Did he see you?' he
asked, coming nearer to me and dropping his voice yet lower, as
though we'd become two conspirators.

'No,' I answered.  'What's he doing here?  He wasn't up to any
good.'

'He never is,' Charlie answered.

I noticed then that he was very different indeed from the man of
earlier days.  There was something in the glance of his eye, in his
bodily posture, that set him apart not only from myself, but from
all the rest of humanity.  In the old days he hadn't given a
thought to anything at all save the game or rascality of the
moment; now he was neither furtive nor secretive--those are not the
words--but suspicious of everybody and everything, as though at any
moment someone would spring on him from a dark corner and collar
him.  Then in a flash I realized.  It was prison that had made this
difference, set him apart, like some member of a monastic order,
given him a secret life that no one who had not suffered that
experience could understand.

I might not understand, but I sympathized.

He seemed to have made up his mind.  'Well--so long,' he said,
holding out his hand.  'We'll meet soon and have a crack.'  I saw
that my news about Pengelly had made him impatient.  He had moved
instinctively towards the door of the flat close to us.  Someone
was inside there to whom he must give information.  But I couldn't
lose sight of him without a clue to the others.

'Look here,' I said.  'Where are we going to meet and when?'

'What's your telephone number?' he answered, his eyes both on the
staircase and the flat-door.

'I haven't got one. . . .  I'm passing through London.  But I could
meet you anywhere.'

'All right.'  I could see how urgent he was to be rid of me.  'Ring
me up at the Regent Palace any time before eleven.'

I nodded, and then, without any warning, the roar of an angry sea
was in my ears, a long cold serpent coiling tightly round my
stomach, and Charlie Buller turned into a scarecrow.  Also the
electric light danced gaily about the floor.  I tottered.  He
caught me in his arms.

'Hullo . . . what's up?'  With all the strength that I had I tried
to stiffen my spine, to beat down the lights, to stifle the roar.
Through it all I could smell the rough tweed of Charlie's clothes.

'I can't--no food--' I muttered, and sank into a black well of
infinite depth.

The first sight after that I had was of a magnificent old
secretaire.  This thing towered above me.  Looking up I could take
in all the details: its ancient black wood, the beautiful carving
of the old brass handles, but especially the lovely little pictures
in white and red ivory with which every one of its multitudinous
little doors was faced.  These pictures danced before my eyes, but
with all the seriousness of semi-consciousness I was gravely
tracing them out--there were scenes of hunts, men chasing the deer,
of ladies in towering headdresses leaning over high balconies, of
armoured knights jousting in tournament, of winding rivers and
delicately shaped hills, and all toned to a lovely old richness
that harmonized perfectly with the deep ebony of the wooden panels.

Then I looked further, half-raising myself, and stared straight
into the eyes of Osmund.

He was standing high above me, watching me very gravely, in his
hand a glass.

'Here, drink some more of this,' he said, giving me the glass; and
the sound of his voice--deep, gentle, exceedingly harmonious--
brought back the old days, the old events, until they seemed to be
gathered crowding about me.  Oh! but I was glad to see him!

I drank the brandy.  My head cleared.  My one thought then was that
he shouldn't think that I had planned this faint as a ruse.  'I
couldn't help it,' I said, sitting up; 'I didn't mean to.  I've
been so busy, I haven't eaten anything.  Overtaxed myself.'  I
remember so well that ridiculous excuse, the poor effort of the
remnants of my pride.

He put his hand on my shoulder.

'That's all right, Dick,' he said.  'We're very glad to see you.
There's some food here at your side.  Have some grub before you
talk.'

With that I am free to confess that I forgot everything save the
food.  I can taste it still--the cold ham, the bread and butter,
cold chicken, Gruyère. . . .  They say that a starving man must eat
penuriously.  There wasn't, I fear, much caution about myself that
evening.  I swallowed the food like a wolf.

All the time Osmund stood watching me, not saying a word.  I
finished: I lay back on the sofa, my hands above my head, with a
sigh of content.  Then I looked up at him, smiling; then, at last,
in full control of my faculties, I sat up, facing him.

'Thanks,' I said.  'Now I'll go.  You're busy.  But let me see you
later on.  I've been wanting to tumble against you for donkey's
years.'

'Have you, Dick?'  He stood there, still staring at me in that same
odd, grave, contemplative way.  'Well, now you've found me, what's
been happening to you?'

'Oh, I don't know,' I answered.  'One thing and another.  It isn't
too easy these days for a man of my age. . . .'  But I wasn't going
to expose my poverty.  I remember feeling that I'd rather lose
sight of Osmund and Helen at once and forever than that they should
spy out my nakedness.  I climbed to my feet.  'I'll be off,' I
said.  'Thanks for the meal.  We'll have dinner one night, shall
we?  Come and dine with me somewhere.  We'll talk over old times.'

'Yes,' he said, still staring at me.  'I've had two years in jail,
you know.  That gives a man something to talk about. . . .'  Then,
as though he had just made up his mind to something, he put both
his hands on my shoulders and pushed me down onto the sofa again.
'You stay here for a bit.  I need your company.'

He gave me a cigarette and sat down on the sofa near to me.  Then
we looked at one another.  He was vast as he lounged back sprawling
on that sofa, his great legs stuck forward, his head up with that
gesture that I remembered so well, his eyes half closed, staring at
me from under the lids.  His dark hair was flecked now with gray;
his eyes were as beautiful, as large and clear, as audacious and
courageous as ever they had been.  At first I thought that there
was nothing very much altered about him save his mouth.  The change
in that I noticed at once.  It had been in the old days careless,
casual and friendly.  Now it was hard and would have been
relentless and almost cruel had not the lips, even as I watched,
moved a little and their lines shifted to uncertainty and
hesitation.  His eyes, too, shifted; after a short look from me
they dropped and refused to meet mine.  Where had I quite recently
seen just that same shyness?  Why, of course, Charlie Buller . . .
and with that I knew also the reason of the similarity.  He had
also been making his inspection of me.

'Well, Dick--so you've turned up again.  You're looking pretty fit
whatever you've been doing.  Hair a bit long, which it usedn't to
be.'

Then, quite without warning, he gripped my hand.  'I'm damn glad to
see you.  I've missed you a lot.'

But he hadn't.  I knew at once even as he spoke those words that he
wasn't thinking of what he was saying, that when he had gripped my
hand he was expressing some emotion that hadn't anything to do with
myself.  Even in the old days he had had the irritating habit of
allowing his mind to run ahead of what he was actually saying.
This had grown on him apparently.  But suddenly he jumped up,
walked about the room as though he were looking for something, then
went to the door, glanced out of it, closed it very carefully, and
came back to me.

'Sorry,' he said, sitting down beside me.  'But I'm half-expecting
someone.'

'Yes, I told Buller--' I began.  Then I stopped.

I wasn't going to be the first to mention Pengelly.

'Buller went out for a minute.  He'll be back.'  Then he tried to
concentrate on me.  'Now, Dick,' he said.  'Fire away.  Tell me all
about yourself--all your adventures.  You're as fat as ever, you
old pig.  Been doing yourself proud?  Married yet?'

No, I was not married yet, but I didn't tell him the reason.  I
began a long rigmarole, but neither of us was attending.  My nerves
were on edge.  For what?  I don't know.  Looking back, I try hard
to recover every moment of that important half-hour.  For one
thing, I was, I fancy, expecting that at any moment Charlie Buller
would enter, and for another I had the consciousness that that
swine Pengelly was skulking behind the curtains somewhere.

Of course he wasn't.  But I couldn't rid myself of the sense and
smell of him.  And all the time Osmund's fingers were tapping
restlessly on the arm of the sofa.

'And so I've been living in Westminster lately,' I added at last,
lamely.  'Quite a decent place.  Nice woman--food not bad as those
things go--'

Osmund nodded his head.  'I know,' he said.  But he'd only caught
the last words.  'As things go, but I tell you what, Dick, things
go damnably.  Damnably, that's the way they go.  Wait a minute.  Do
you hear anything?'

He held up his hand.  I must confess that what I heard was my heart
beating like a pendulum clock.  'What do you expect me to hear?' I
asked at last.

'The crowd,' he answered.

'The crowd?' I repeated feebly.

'Yes, the crowd,' he answered impatiently.  With a swift movement
he jumped up, went to the window, and flung it open.

'Now listen,' he said.  There came up to us all the murmur of the
Circus.  Like the sea it was, coming in with a regular beat and
rhythm, 'Tip-Top, Tip-Top, Tip-Top,' and this was broken into by
the cry of a motor horn, the distant shout of the calling of the
evening papers, the muffled ringing of a church bell--and I seemed
to hear also a plaintive undertone as though some giant were
whimpering.

He banged the window down again.  He came back to me and stood in
front of me.

'There you are,' he cried.  'YOU can't hear it with the windows
shut, but I can--night and day.  It never stops.'

'What do you live here for,' I asked him, 'if it bothers you so?
There are plenty of quiet streets.'

'That wouldn't make any difference,' he answered.  'They'd be there
just the same.  It's the thought of them, all alike, all thinking
the same things, all doing the same things, all dirty, diseased,
making love, eating, drinking, sleeping--'  He broke off.  'Don't
think I've gone crazy.  I haven't.  But that time in prison gave me
a turn about crowds.  I always had it, in a way.  Since I was a kid
I've always wondered that people weren't better-looking, didn't
care for themselves more.  Yes, and why they didn't get rid of
the unfit and all the rotters, just shove them into a lethal
chamber. . . .  I'm a rotter myself, of course.  Deserve extinction
as much as anybody.  But I'm quite ready to be put away if someone
decided. . . .'  He broke off, and smiled in just his old charming
way. 'Aren't I an ass, Dick?  But I always was, and jail didn't
improve me.  I wonder you come near me.'

'No,' I answered him; 'but what I can't understand is why, if you
feel like that, you've pitched on this place for a flat, in the
very middle of all the racket.'

'Ah, you see,' he answered, nodding his head.  'But I wanted to
beat it.  When I first came out I tried to live in the country, but
they all knew about me, and I felt as though I had the plague.  So
then I shifted to Spain.  There I was quiet enough.  A beautiful
country--beautiful. . . .  But I was an exile all the same.  I had
to come home.  I had crazy notions about all sorts of things.  And
then I joined up, of course; changed my name, and by that time they
wanted men so badly they didn't bother to ask whether I'd been in
quod or no.  I was in France two years.  And not a thing touched
me.  Not a thing.  I'd have been glad enough to die, but my life
was charmed.  Well in 'Eighteen I came home, and knowing how my
feelings were, I set out to beat them.  And sometimes I have.  And
then again--sometimes I haven't.'

I've tried here to recover an impression of the spirit behind the
words rather than the words themselves.  But that is hard indeed to
recover.  There was something so touching, so alarming, and yet, in
spite of its indecision, so determined in the force with which
Osmund spoke.

He spoke himself of 'nerves' and 'feelings,' and I felt as I
listened that everything that had sensitiveness in him was on edge,
straining at the leash (to mix my metaphors), for some crisis of
dramatic action.  But not an action unpremeditated.  I realized
that what he said about the 'crowd' and the rest was true enough,
but that it was only a background behind some act that he was
contemplating.  I realized that I had, by a chance, tumbled in at
this very hour upon some dramatic event.

Even the room that we were in seemed to encourage me in this
belief.  There was very little furniture in it.  The superb
secretaire with the pictured doors of red and white ivory, a long
bare refectory table, three chairs with gilt backs, on the bare
stained floor two rugs, ragged and torn, but of a lovely deep peach
colour, an ancient silver stand for holding Bible or prayer book
from some old church, two very old silver candlesticks--but the
oddest thing about the room was the walls that were rough with
uneven patches of white and gray on them, just as the workmen would
leave them after preparing them for distemper.  On one of the walls
was a mirror of gilded wood, with that beautiful glimmer of rose-
colour in it that the old Spanish wood-carving so often has.  On
another wall was a fine triptych in Limoges enamel, with deep
burning blues and greens in it--on the other walls, nothing.

Over everything there was an odd air of dust, as though no one
cared for the room properly, and this was strange, for Osmund had
been always meticulously spruce and clean about himself and his
surroundings.  This led me to look at him more closely, and I
realized that he was not now himself as smartly brushed and cared
for as he used to be.

The collar of his coat was dusty, his tie a little crooked, his
trousers a trifle baggy.

He had sat down beside me again and had his hand on my arm.

'I'll tell you something, Dick.  In that cabinet there' (pointing
to the secretaire) 'I've got a revolver, always loaded.  And one
day I shouldn't wonder but that I'll lean over the wall and look
down into that damned Circus and take a pot at one or two of them.
No, I'm not mad--far from it.  It would be a sort of protest
against this modern rush, noise, screaming and shrieking.
Everything's gone from the world, Dick, that made it worth while--
all beauty and repose, all craftsmanship and originality.  Men move
like sheep pushing after one another through the same hole in the
same fence.

'It will be worse and worse unless someone makes an example, pulls
things up for a moment.  There they go, round and round the Circus,
jumping the hoops, grinning the same silly grins.  And the noise
never stops, never stops.  I lie awake at night listening to it.
Rumble--rumble--rumble.  Rustle--rustle--rustle, and the little man
there was once, so grave, so quiet, working away in his room on a
piece of wood or a fragment of stone, making something beautiful
out of it, he's dead, Dick--dead and buried, and everyone's
forgotten where his grave is.'

'All the same,' I said, 'I can't see that potting a few stray
unfortunate people out of the window is going to help matters
much.'

'No--neither it will.'  He shook himself briskly, flung back his
head as though he'd suddenly waked from a dream.  'Neither it will.
I talk an awful lot of rot sometimes.  I haven't seen you for so
long.  That's my excuse.  Hullo!  Here's Charlie!'

The door opened, and Buller came in.  He started on seeing me.  He
hadn't expected, I suppose, to find me still there, and the words
that he had intended to speak died on his lips.

We all three waited in silence.  It was an awkward moment for me.
Something was going on in which I had no part.  So once more I said
good-bye.

'Let's meet soon--'

Osmund stopped me.  In those moments he had made up his mind.  'No,
hang on a minute, Dick.  I think you can help us.'

'What is it?' I asked.

'As a matter of fact, you've tumbled in on a little plot.  Nothing
much, but you may as well know.'

Buller made a movement.

'It's all right, Charlie.  Dick's an old friend of the firm.  You
see, Dick, we're a bit excited this evening, Charlie and I, because
in another hour or so we're hoping to have a little talk with our
old friend, Mr. Pengelly.'

I nodded.  'I know.  I saw Pengelly hanging about outside.'

'Yes.  Exactly.  He'd come up, I suppose, to see how the land lay.
We've been waiting for this meeting a long time, Charlie and Hench
and I.  We owe Pengelly something--and the rum thing is that it's
he who has asked for the meeting.'

He was another Osmund now, with no nonsense about revolvers and
crowds.  He was smiling, his eyes were dancing, the old boyish
gaiety that I had found so attractive in former days was here
again.

'Yes.  Would you believe it?  He had the cheek to write to Charlie
three weeks ago--to suggest a meeting, said he had something
important to suggest--THAT after the way he landed us!  Well,
Charlie brought the letter to me, and--I--I've arranged that he
shall have a talk with all three of us.'

'What are you going to do to him?' I asked.

'Do?  Oh, I don't know.  We'll see.  Frighten him a bit.  He
deserves it.  He--'

Then we all stiffened.  Someone was turning a key in the outer
door.

We all looked round.  There were steps, a pause, then the handle of
the door of our room was turned.

Staring, I found myself looking, wonder of wonders at last, into
the eyes of Helen Cameron.



CHAPTER IV

The Tea Shop


When I looked at her I felt such happiness surge up within me that
I could be conscious of no other feeling whatever.

And here I must interpolate this--namely, that throughout all the
extraordinary incidents that followed, horrible, ludicrous,
terrifying, or beautiful, my own feeling was in the main one of
happiness.  If this chronicle does not treat death and the
anticipation of death as seriously as it should do, I am sorry, and
I make my apologies, but the fact is that, throughout this
incredible evening, death seemed to me quite unimportant, just as,
at certain great moments in the war, it had seemed quite
unimportant.

But as you will see, it did not seem unimportant to Hench, for
instance, nor at one moment to Pengelly.

In fact, the way that the imminence of it took us all in different
fashion is one of the reasons for this narrative.  For myself,
there is just this to be said, that from this instant of meeting
Helen again until that last mad moment among the roofs and
chimneys, although I had many other emotions as well, my principal
dominating one was of overwhelming, almost triumphant, happiness,
although what I had for most of the time to be triumphant about,
heaven only knows.

If I was surprised to see Helen, that was nothing to the surprise
that she felt at seeing me.

'Dick!' she cried, and for a moment she could not move.  Then she
stepped forward and took my hand.  We stood there looking at one
another like two children, smiling, almost giggling.

The first thing she said was what Osmund had said.

'Dick!  Your hair wants cutting.'

'That's what I told him,' Osmund said.  At the sound of his deep,
penetrating voice I was recalled to a wider consciousness of the
world and its affairs.  I was aware of a number of rather exciting
things, as, for instance, that neither Osmund nor Charlie Buller
had expected Helen to appear, that they were greatly disconcerted
by her appearance, that Helen had not expected to find Charlie
there and was annoyed at his company, and that every piece of
furniture in that dusty room seemed to be aware of what was going
on.

I took in something too of the change in Helen.  She looked older,
of course.  That one must expect.  She was slimmer even than
before, so slim and slight that she was like the dark stem of some
lovely flower--some pale slender flower, strong and reposing
quietly in its beauty.  She wore clothes of the same character as
of old, altered to the times, of course, but dark, cut for
efficiency and discipline, giving, in spite of all her femininity,
almost the effect of uniform.  In her face was all the kindliness
and gentleness that I had so long treasured, but also the
austerity, the irony, and now, added to these, a maturity, a
sternness of self-discipline that had not been there before.  And
on her finger was a plain gold wedding ring.  Helen Cameron no
longer then--Helen Osmund. . . .

I had known that it must be so, but something--some wild unreasoned
hope--sank in me now at the positive proof of it.

Osmund was watching her.

'Why, Helen,' he cried, 'how delightful to see you!  What's brought
you?'

She stood looking at all of us and smiling, taking off her gloves.
Then she sat down and with a quiet, leisurely movement that showed
she was quite at home there, pulled off her little soft mouse-gray
hat.

'I'm only up for the night,' she said.  'But I was suddenly bored
this afternoon.  Mopsett CAN be boring, John, you know, and I
thought that a little shopping to-morrow morning would do me good.
Cheer me up.  But don't YOU worry.  Clare's in town.  I rang her up
from Mopsett.  We're going to dine together--eight o'clock in her
flat.'

Osmund, while she was speaking, seemed to have made up his mind.
'Right,' he said; 'that's fine.'

'Well, I'll go and wash.'  But when she stood up she turned to me,
her whole face glowing with pleasure at seeing me.  I thought there
was relief there, too, as though my presence were in some way going
to help her.

'But you, Dick!  That you should be here like this!  It's
incredible!  I've wondered about you again and again, where you
were, what you were doing. . . .'  She broke off, I remember, at
that, aware perhaps of all the strange and possibly terrible ways
her life had been twisting since our last meeting, much aware,
also, by bitter experience, that people did not now rush to 'meet'
herself and Osmund--quite the contrary.

Nevertheless, she had only to look at me to see the wild
tempestuous happiness I felt at finding her again.  I didn't
attempt to hide it.  I should have been wiser, possibly, and later
events might have been different if I had.  Not that Osmund, at
this time, saw anything; he was busy just now with quite other
thoughts.

She moved to the door.

'You're not going at once, Dick, are you?  We've got to have a
tremendous talk.  I've got to know about everything--your most
intimate secrets.'

'You shall know everything,' I assured her.

When she was gone and the door closed behind her we three stood
looking at one another.

Osmund swayed on his huge legs, frowning, then he turned to me.
'Look here, Dick.  There isn't very much time.  Helen's turning up
unexpectedly has rather complicated things.  Would you like to help
us out?'

'In what way?' I asked him.

'It's like this.  I was telling you about Pengelly when Helen came
in.  Our little interview with him won't be quite complete unless
Hench is also there.  Hench perhaps most of all, because he's
suffered most.

'Now, I was to have met Hench at a tea place by the Omnibus Theatre
at six-thirty.  Helen is here, and I'd rather stay with her as
things are turning out.  Buller has a job on.  Would you do that
for us--go to the Green Plate, meet Hench there, and bring him
here?'

'The Green Plate?' I asked.

'Yes, yes,' Osmund answered impatiently--I saw that he was on edge
lest Helen should return--'it's just round the corner from the
Circus, Lower Regent Street, next the Omnibus Theatre.  There's an
old man in fancy dress at the door with a placard on a pole--the
tea shop is on the second floor.  You can't miss it.'

'What am I to say to Hench?' I asked.

'Simply say that I couldn't come, that I'd been intending to bring
him on here to tea instead of having it there.'

I remember that I asked then whether Hench had been told about
Pengelly.  Yes, Osmund said, he knew that this was something to do
with Pengelly.  He had been longing for years to meet him again and
tell him what he thought of him, but at the same time he was
frightened of him.  Funny chap, Hench.  Of course I remembered him.
Well, he was funnier now--a lot funnier--especially since his wife
died.

I said that I didn't know that he had a wife.  Yes, Osmund said, a
splendid woman.  They had been devoted to one another.  She had
stuck to him all the time he'd been in prison, and then died a week
after he came out.

Very bad luck.

Very bad luck, I repeated.

Well, there it was.  Osmund didn't want to waste time with stories
about Hench's wife.  The point was, would I go?

Then once more I asked my great question.  I remember that I
dropped my voice as though all the world were at my elbow.

'Look here,' I asked, 'what do you mean to do to Pengelly?'

'Do?' repeated Osmund.  'Nothing.  Only give him a fright.'  Then
he added, in a low monotone as though he were speaking to himself,
'I want to know--we all want to know--why he did what he did.'

His words seemed to have an echo--the furniture--the beautiful
secretaire, the old silver candlesticks, the gilt chairs seemed to
repeat:

'We all want to know--why he did what he did.'

And even--it wasn't at the time too fanciful a notion--it seemed to
me that the Circus itself rose up to the windows and repeated--'We
all want to know--why he did what he did.'

Well, I wanted also to know--I wanted to know that and a great many
other things as well.  I said I would go to meet Hench.

When I was outside the flat and starting down the dark staircase I
found that I was incredibly refreshed.  Now this was odd.  I had
been on my legs all day.  I had been worried and troubled almost to
insanity.  Only an hour ago I had fainted from hunger, and yet, as
I went down that staircase, I seemed to have wings.

I was fancying that I was taking Helen with me, and that thought,
untrue in every sense though it was, gave me a fiery elation so
that I was ready for anyone or anything.

It was this light-headedness that made me step out of the building
into the street as though I were going to strike off, swimming with
my head up, through a glorious sea of shining waters.  I had not at
the time considered it, but in looking back now, I suddenly
realized that Osmund's room had been lit only by candles in the
silver candlesticks.  The staircase had been dimly dark, and now I
was almost, for a moment, blinded by the lights of the Circus.

I had reached the moment--it always seems to me a moment, as though
some vast dominant giant had snapped out a word of command--when
all the shops close their doors and thousands and thousands of
human beings pour out into the streets.

London suddenly, after being a place of mystery where every sort of
transaction, dangerous, evil, generous, impulsive, cruel, foolish,
disastrous, helpful, is carried through in coloured caves defended
by dark doors, is turned upside down, inside out, and everything
that was hidden and mysterious is open and mysterious instead.

The same game is played as before, but now all the rules are
different, and these engagements, these contracts, these purchases
and agreements, these plots and duels, are worked out in the open,
under blazing lights, before everyone's eyes, and the rule is that
everyone must keep moving, no one must be still for a single
moment.  Perhaps it is that which decides who shall be the masters
of the world--those clever ones who are able to get their way as
easily in the enclosed corner as in the shining, blazing open.
Life, indeed, if it is to be conquered, demands every kind of
clever trick.

I felt at that moment, for the first time for many months, that I
could conquer it.

There they all were, out in the open, making the Circus ring with
their tramping.  It was no longer a dim pool to which the animals
came to drink their fill, but rather, under the dazzling and
jumping lights, a hard and shining arena, upon whose stage everyone
was engaged in attempting to win the game.  The game that I was out
to win, I realized with a start of surprise, was Osmund's.  I can't
possibly convey to you with how extraordinary a force, as I
hesitated on the edge of the kerb--brushed on every side by these
hurrying eager phantoms--I seemed to feel his body, dark, gigantic,
winged, careen with its spreading shadow over all the Circus.  He
hung like a great bird over us all, watching me to see that I did
his bidding.  At that, I remember that just before I stepped out
into the centre of the arena I did for a moment hesitate and wonder
what I was doing in this affair.  What was it that Buller and
Osmund were planning?  Why was the miserable Pengelly skulking
about those stairs?  Would it not be better for me to leave the
whole mysterious business and go my own way?  Then I thought of
Helen--Helen in that flat with Osmund who did not want her, alone,
unwitting, Pengelly round the corner.  That decided me, and I went
forward.

As I pushed ahead and touched shoulders with the crowd I recovered
my normal health.  It was as though I had a moment before been
sickening for influenza.  Now, stopping once again--What, I asked
myself, have I been making all this fuss about?  Yes, I said,
staring into the round rosy faces of two old women who, both short
and fat, looked as though in another instant they would roll
themselves like barrels through the crowd, what has there been in
all this but the fact that, by accident, I have stumbled into a
group of old friends and (thank God, thank God) am in touch once
more with the woman I love.  'The woman I love!'  I might have
shouted out loud, so exalted and excited was I at the thought of
Helen--'The woman I love,' I said, and plunged into the arena like
a gladiator, my sword flashing, my buckler agleam, while all the
thumbs at all the upper windows prepared to turn themselves down!

At the Omnibus Theatre they were playing a comedy called Good-
night, Charlie, and there they were, rows of photographs with
Charlie in pajamas and a pillowcase, and two ladies in two beds,
and an old gentleman in a Bath chair--all doing the most natural
things with that complete air of unreality that theatrical
photographs always present.  Out of the twirling door of the
Omnibus Restaurant came two young men arguing, I most clearly
remember, about some hair-restorer.  They were quite vexed with one
another, and then, in through the twirling door there pushed a
disdainful stout lady with bright yellow hair, and a very thin old
man, who was shivering with the cold.  And it WAS cold.  The snow,
very gently, very softly, very kindly, was beginning to fall again.

Still on fire with my strange and unnatural happiness, I turned the
corner and very easily found the Green Plate.

In the doorway was a sort of Father Christmas, a peaked hat of
dirty gray on his head, his woolly beard a little askew, and the
hand that held the advertising sign extremely dirty.

On the sign was printed 'YE GREENE PLATE,' and then a picture of
the same.  As I passed the old man he dug out from the pocket of
his very shabby gown a very dirty handkerchief and proceeded to
lift his beard that he might the better blow his nose.  You say
that I cannot after these years remember that old man's beard?
Wait and see whether I had not cause to remember it!

I climbed the staircase and found myself inside a room that was
littered with little tables and quite empty save for two waitresses
who sat together in a corner like wax figures from Madame
Tussaud's.

It was, of course, not the hour for any sort of meal.  Here the
cave was empty.  All the action of life had passed into the open.
I sat down at a table near the window.  One of the automata
approached me, yawning behind her hand.  I ordered a pot of tea and
a muffin.  She passed, still yawning, to a hole in the wall and,
galvanized into a sudden almost unearthly excitement (as though I
had whispered in her ear that the Last Trump was about to sound),
shouted down it, 'Pototeamuffin--ONE,' then wandered back to her
chair, where she took on again the waxen immobility of a dummy.

I looked through my window on to walls that were like rough and
jagged rocks.  Here the light was dim, figures passed like shades,
and you might see at any moment old Charon approach with his boat.
The prehistoric monsters played up the hill, and at the edge of the
rocky cliffs you could hear the dim 'flap-flap' of the sluggish
waters.

Then the door was pushed open and Hench came in.  He was not
difficult to recognize--that big flabby misshapen body like a
bolster, with the small round head set on the top of it, and on the
head perched a bowler ridiculously minute.  It was characteristic
of him that he should carry an umbrella, untidily folded, that
bulged like a cabbage.  He exactly resembled, as he stood there, a
figure of the music halls, stout in the wrong places, unhappy,
bewildered, about to burst into a piping and desperate little song.

He looked about him, opened his mouth at the sight of the two
waitresses, shut it again, then saw me.  Like Charlie Buller he
failed to recognize me.  He was moving towards another place.  I
got up and came to meet him, and we stood together in the middle of
the desert of the little tables like Stanley meeting Livingstone.

'Hullo, Hench!' I cried.  'Don't you remember me?'

He stared, gaped, dropped his umbrella, picked it up again:

'No,' he said in his funny emasculated voice.  'I'm afraid . . .'

'Dick Gunn,' I said.

He jumped almost out of his fat skin then, was as shy, confused,
pleased and apprehensive as a girl at her first party.  I could see
at once that he wasn't sure (that he hadn't been sure, poor devil,
for many a day) whether I or anyone else would care to be found
speaking to him in public.  So I reassured him by catching his arm
and pulling him with me over to my table by the window.  He sat
down without a word; the automaton appeared, and I ordered tea and
a muffin for him.

'Are you hungry?  Would you like a poached egg or something?' I
asked him.

'No, no,' he said hurriedly.  'Indeed, no.  Not at all.'

I proceeded at once (because he was shaking with apprehension) to
explain things to him.  He had been expecting to meet Osmund here,
but Osmund was detained and wanted me to take him on to the flat--
only a yard away, across the Circus.

He was, it seemed, completely overwhelmed by my appearance.  I was
the very last person he had expected to see.  He had been in two
minds whether he would come at all.

'Yes--you see, Gunn, meeting Osmund again after all this time--what
I mean to say--it's bringing back unhappy memories, very unhappy
indeed.'

'Haven't you seen him, then,' I asked, 'since--'  I paused.

'No,' Hench broke in hurriedly.  'Not for five years--that is, for
nearly five.  The last time was at Eastbourne, quite by accident--
on the Front.  We had a little talk.  I mean, you couldn't call
that a REAL meeting--'

'No, you couldn't,' I agreed seriously.

To give any real impression of Hench's conversation is very
difficult.  It was the oddest, strangest kind of twittering, as
though a canary had escaped from its cage and were trying to tell
one about his imprisonment.  But this small, shrill, wandering,
little voice came out of a body that might have been magnificent
had it been properly cared for.

Hench was, I suppose, every bit of six foot, and broad with it, but
he was made of that dull white doughy kind of fat that runs into
little rolls of flesh at the back of the neck, under the eyes,
between the fingers.  His hair also was so light coloured as to be
almost invisible.  In his bath he must have looked like an enormous
upright bolster.  Yet his was not an unpleasant face; it was
kindly, honest, genuine.  Now, with his many troubles, it was
overclouded with a shadow of nervous unhappiness.  And he moved, as
I had already noticed in Osmund and Buller, as though he belonged
to some sect apart from the common race of men.

As a matter of fact, I saw in another moment an expression that
transformed him.

'What does Osmund ask me for?'

'He wants you to meet Pengelly,' I answered shortly.

THEN I saw a change!

He became in a flash a dangerous animal.  His body seemed to
stiffen, his hand straightened out, hard and taut, against the
table.

'Pengelly . . .' he repeated.  'At last . . . he's turned up
again.'

He forgot me, I think, for a moment or two; just sat there, his
head bent forward, thinking, remembering.  The waitress brought us
our food.  I busied myself with it.  Hench swallowed his tea
blindly, without knowing what he was doing.  Then he began in a
strange, trembling monotone, staring before him out beyond the
window to those dark rocky cliffs and the flowing Styx.  Once and
again he dropped an 'h,' once and again he muddled a word, but, as
I remember it, it flowed on in a scarcely hindered stream, as
though I had turned a handle and this were a recorded disc.

'You were always a good friend to me, Gunn, or I think you were.
What I mean to say, it's hard to know after all that's happened who
you CAN trust.  But I don't care--you can't do me any 'arm now.
Nobody can.  I mean to say, it's too late now for anything to
matter much.'

He went back then to the very beginning of the story, how he and
his wife and kid had been up against things, didn't know where to
turn for a job.

'You can't judge me, Gunn,' I remember his saying, 'because you've
never been up against it, and until a fellow has been it isn't fair
to talk.'  (Lord, if he only knew!)  Well, then, he met Charlie
Buller, an old acquaintance, and Buller invited him down to the
seaside to talk things over.  Down he went, and soon he saw what
Buller was after.  Now the thing that he most urgently wanted to
explain to me was that neither Buller nor himself had intended to
'do anything really dirty.'  It had begun with some grudge that
Buller had against Borlass.  He wanted to give the conceited swine
a bit of a fright.  Hench had to admit that after a while it became
something much more concrete than that.  He couldn't deny, when I
put it to him, that they had intended to rob Lady Borlass of some
of her jewels, and then, driven into a corner, he fell back on the
old 'Robin Hood' line of argument that the Borlass party was rich
and disgusting and mean, and that here was he with his wife and kid
starving. . . .

'All right,' I broke in.  'We can cut all that, Hench.  I'm not
saying that I wouldn't have robbed Lady Borlass myself if I'd had
the chance.  Drop the excuses.'

But he wouldn't and he couldn't.  I could see that this had been,
for years now, with him a constant and persistent preoccupation,
that he had gone over the same ground again and again and again,
that in the long sleepless nights his soul, alone with its Maker in
the bitter dark, wailed out its excuses and found in that wailing
no possible sort of comfort.  No, he was not a villain, poor Hench,
nor ever intended for one.

I moved him on at last, and it was plain enough that his final
action had been determined by Buller's highly coloured picture of
Borlass's villainy (for Borlass was no villain, only a fool), his
consciousness of the hunger of his wife and child, and, by far the
strongest influence, quite outweighing all the rest, his worship of
Osmund.

Yes, worship, it seems, was not too strong a word for his feeling
for Osmund at that time.  Osmund had seemed to him simply the most
miraculous creation, a kind of God in human form.  Osmund was
everything that Hench was not, a gentleman, of magnificent
physique, of superb courage, infinite wisdom--and so on, and so on.

When Hench learnt that Osmund was also of the venture he hesitated
no longer.  He realized, of course, that Osmund was going into it
from no common motives of burglary, that it was from hatred of
Borlass, and from a kind of mad, wild desire 'to do him one in the
eye.'  Hench had always afterwards believed (and in this he was, I
daresay, correct) that Osmund would have prevented any real robbery
and would have turned the whole affair into some wild, desperate
practical joke, stripping Borlass naked and throwing him into the
garden pond, or tying him to the dining-table, something crazy,
childish and vain.

In any case the theme changed to Pengelly, and here I saw at once
that on this subject Hench was not sane.  He became now strangely
unreal as though the true normal Hench had jumped out of the window
into the Styx and his place had been taken by a quivering madman
whose brain was quietly boiling with insanities.

He considered, you see, that Pengelly was the murderer of his wife.

At the mention of his wife his face, pale in any case, was drained
of all shadow of colour.

'You see, Gunn, she was a wonderful woman.  You never saw her.
What I mean to say, you couldn't really appreciate her without
seeing her.  She was one of those women who, the worse things are,
the fonder they get of you.  She didn't want to marry me at first,
and I'm sure I couldn't blame 'er.  I asked her six times over
before she'd listen, and then it was to escape her stepmother as
much as anything.  What I mean is, she wasn't really happy at home--
not likely to be, with her father giving in to his second wife
over everything and never considering his children.

'Anyway, she came to me the sixth time I asked her, and from that
moment we were the happiest pair in England.  Never a cross word.
She was an angel if ever there was one.'

He paused to wipe his forehead, on which there were beads of
perspiration.  His appearance was no longer ludicrous to me.  I
knew again that there was something here deeply real, and something
close to me, for which I could feel, in my own way, a sort of
protective affection.

'You see, Gunn, she believed in me right away from the very
beginning when nobody else did.  I wouldn't be where I am now,
wouldn't 'ave 'ad any of that special printing knowledge I got if
she hadn't urged me on and seen where my tastes lay.  What I mean
is there's nothing like a woman whom you're in love with for making
a man believe in himself if she wants to. . . .  And she made me
believe in myself.  Then we had our kid, the prettiest little girl,
Gunn, she was, and after that everything went wrong.

'I lost my job at the printing works in Reading through no fault of
my own, both the wife and child fell ill, and I got sort of
desperate.  It wouldn't 'ave been so bad if Clara had been up and
about, but with her sick and the child not having enough to eat--
what I mean is that it would drive any man sort of desperate--and I
never was as strong a character as Clara wanted me to be--'

No, he wasn't a strong character, and he was a good deal weaker now
than he had been then.  Kindliness and friendliness had been, I
daresay, his undoing.  Anything to make people pleased with him.  A
despicable desire, the sterner ironist may declare, but all the
nicest people suffer from it.

Yes, he was off his head with worry, and so the rest easily
followed.  He went down to Howlett and fell under the influence
first of Buller and then, far more thoroughly, of Osmund.  One of
the chief attractions that Osmund had for him was that his wife,
Clara, would have thought the world of him.

He was exactly the kind of man that she had always been hoping
Hench would one day have as a friend.  His imagination united Clara
and Osmund together in a sort of sentimental embrace--his wife and
his best friend--all three of them passing blissfully to the
Elysian Fields together!

Poor Hench!  It turned out for him far otherwise.  First Osmund,
then Pengelly, and ruin in their train.

He made no excuses for himself save this poor futile argument that
he and Charlie Buller had never really intended 'to do anything
dirty.'  But the villainy of Pengelly left him bewildered.  Like
Osmund, he wanted to know what made him do it.  Certainly not a
love of law and order, for a more abandoned scoundrel than Pengelly
you couldn't find anywhere.  He had been betraying them, it seemed,
from the very first, urging Buller on, making it all easy,
arranging with someone to take the stuff after it had been stolen.
It was not greed of money that attracted him, it was not even
hatred of Osmund, whom from the first moment he detested: he had,
it seemed, arranged to betray Buller and Hench long before he knew
that Osmund was to be in the affair.

All incredible, all motiveless.  'What I mean,' said Hench, 'is
that we weren't worth all his trouble--we weren't important enough.
Anyway, that's how it was . . . and Clara stuck to me all the time
I was in prison and died a week after I came out.'

She died thinking that Pengelly was still pursuing them.  She was
haunted by the face and voice of Pengelly, and she would cry out
his name in her sleep and shiver with terror of him in her last
delirium.

After her death Hench simply waited for the day when he would meet
Pengelly again.  All through his regular quiet life--for he found
work with people who trusted him, and rose steadily in their
esteem, all through the unvarying loneliness of his days--his child
had died when he was in prison--this thought had persisted, that
the time would come when he would meet Pengelly face to face and
tell him what he thought of him.  But for years he never heard of
him nor of Buller, and had only that one meeting with Osmund at
Eastbourne.  Then had come a line from Osmund asking for this
rendezvous, and at last from my lips he had learnt the reason of
it.

Now, as I sat opposite him at this shabby little table, some of the
hatred that he had for Pengelly passed to myself.  I had always
loathed him, but now it was as though I, too, had been betrayed by
him, and I, too, had waited all these years to repay a little of
what I owed.

And I felt also some of that struggle that was going on in Hench's
heart, the struggle between his natural sentimental love for his
fellow human beings, his desire to be liked by them and to like
them in return, and this hot, corroding hatred that never left him,
that turned and turned in his heart like a wild animal lying
uneasily there.

'Well, I'll come,' said Hench, staring beyond me into space.  'I'll
see Osmund again--yes, and Pengelly too.'

Then, as I rose up to pay the bill, I knew that I was at last being
drawn into their affair, that there was no escape for me.  I had an
odd breathlessness as though I had been running.

Yes, there was no doubt about it.  I was in it now--up to the neck.



CHAPTER V

Pengelly on Earth


As we passed by Father Christmas into the open air, I realized that
it had become, during this last half-hour, very much colder.

Snow was now falling with a soft determination, settling against
the cheek like the touch of a dove's wing, touching the hand with
an intimacy that seemed to be the privilege of oneself alone.

The air was colder, and the arena wore now a fiercer colour.
Through the snow all the sky signs danced in a fresh activity, and
the white surface that began thinly to encrust the paths and
borders made the walls and roofs velvet in a dim and gentle dusk.
The hour of release from the caves had completely passed, and now
the arena was filled with figures all bent upon the warfare of the
evening--warfare of all kinds, duels between man and woman, between
woman and woman, dog and rat, elephant and spider, boa-constrictor
and rhinoceros.  All the combatants could be seen moving to their
especial places, and over everything there was the pause and hush
of preparation.

I had my own drama to prepare for, but at the moment my particular
care was that Hench should come to no harm.  I was aware that his
nerves were in no very controlled state, that a talk with Pengelly,
after brooding on that very thing for so long, might swing him
easily into a world of uncontrolled melodrama.  We had, in fact,
almost immediately an instance of his nervousness.

As we passed the doors of the Omnibus Restaurant three young men in
evening dress came hurrying out, very happy, very noisy, having
started what would surely be a jolly evening in exactly the proper
spirit.

Beyond the spinning doors they joined arm-in-arm and, their top-
hats a trifle tilted, came surging into us.

'Sorry, old top,' someone shouted.

Hench staggered back.  He turned, trembling, onto them.

'Why can't you look where you're going?' he called out in his
funny, tremulous, piping voice.  'Do you call that manners not to--'

But they were far beyond him, halfway across the Circus, gay,
defiant gladiators, raising their swords to the emperor and the
thronging audience, ready, eager to meet with every challenger.

I caught his arm.

'All right, Hench,' I said, 'they are only a bit jolly.'

He was trembling all over.  I caught suddenly some sense of his own
fear.  The Circus seemed to be, at that instant, crowded with
shining, ferocious, determined figures resolved that we should not
pass.  I caught his arm, feeling an odd tenderness and affection
for him.

'It's all right, Hench,' I repeated, 'it's all right,' as though he
had been a child.  I conveyed him across and brought him safely to
the door.

Going up the dark, twisting staircase he explained.  'You see,
Gunn, it means a good bit to me, this does.  What I mean to say is
that meeting Osmund and Buller again, well, it's like old times,
and not very pleasant old times either.'

Halfway up, at the very spot where I had watched Pengelly
listening, he paused, catching my arm.

'Look here, Gunn,' he said, 'I don't think I'll go on, if you don't
mind.  I'm not quite myself to-night, and seeing Pengelly again I
don't know what I mightn't do and say.  I don't, really.  What I
mean is that I'm not in proper control of myself.  I'm not,
really.'

I quieted and soothed him.  I assured him that nobody was going to
harm Pengelly (I wasn't at all sure of this myself), that it would
do him good to see his old friends again, that he had given his
word to Osmund that he would see him.  I persuaded him, and a
moment later I rang the bell of Osmund's flat.

It was Buller who opened the door.  Buller and Hench seemed glad to
see one another.

'Hullo, Charlie.'

'Well, Percy, how are you?  Come along in.'

We came in.  Buller led Hench into the sitting-room, then came back
to me, while I was hanging up my coat.  He dropped his voice.

'I say, Gunn, wait a minute.'  I paused.  He told me then that
Osmund had gone out with his wife.  Osmund was very anxious that
his wife should not meet Pengelly.  'A man's affair this,' I
remember Buller's saying.  'We don't want any women around.'  So
Osmund had seen his wife safely to her destination.  Osmund also
did not want Hench to meet Pengelly before Osmund returned, so he,
Buller, was going to take Hench out with him for half an hour to
have a drink.

And that was where I came in.  I was, after all, thoroughly 'in'
this by this time.  I had proved myself their friend--would I help
them yet further?  Would I stay in Osmund's flat and receive
Pengelly when he came, see that he didn't get away?

'We don't want to frighten him,' Charlie Buller said.  'Just when
he's been so kind as to like to see us again.'

'Look here, Charlie,' I said.  'I must get this clear.  What are
you and Osmund planning to do to Pengelly?'

'Nothing,' Buller answered.  'Nothing at all.  We want to have a
little talk with him, that's all.'  He stood, his legs planted,
sucking an imaginary straw.  He grinned, came close to me, put his
hand on my shoulder.

'You'd like to have a look at him yourself, wouldn't you?' he asked
me.

'All right,' I said.  'I'll wait.'

A moment later Hench came out smiling.  He seemed to have lost all
his nervousness.

'Charlie and I are going out for a drink.'  He nodded at me.

'All right,' I said.

But my word, it was funny when I was left alone in that flat!  I
don't know that ever before in my life I had experienced a queerer
sensation.  It isn't nearly enough to say that it was queer,
because of what I was expecting would shortly occur there, although
there was something of that in it, nor that it was queer because of
the effect that Osmund's personality cast over it, nor that it was
queer because I was in any case wildly excited, a little
lightheaded with my starving, poverty, and joy that I had found
Helen again.  There was something besides these.  I started a tour
of inspection, and the first thing that I saw was my volume of
Quixote lying demurely on the gaunt refectory table.  And wasn't I
glad to see it!  It was a reminder that this fantastic adventure
into which I had plunged was only one facet of a life that was on
the whole always normal and sane.

Sancho Panza's joy at seeing his ass returning to him again was not
greater than mine at seeing Sancho Panza once more.  It was a small
flat; the sitting-room, two bedrooms, the bathroom and a minute
kitchen.  The smaller bedroom was plainly a servant's room from the
photograph of a young woman all smiles and flowers on the dressing-
table.

The larger bedroom was monastic in its simplicity.  It led directly
out of the sitting-room, an important fact, as I was to discover
later on in the evening.  The floor was stained, and its only
covering was a Persian rug, a dull biscuit-gold in colour, with
little trees of a dark purple worked round the border.  There was a
small, very hard-looking bed of black wood, a chest of drawers with
twisted handles of brass, a mirror of dark wood lined with silver
and some very old silver hairbrushes, badly dented.  There was a
cupboard, and there were two cane-bottomed chairs.  There were no
pictures on the walls.  The point of the room was that on the bed
was lying a woman's hat, and on one of the chairs a pair of woman's
gloves.  Helen's!  I picked up the gloves and put them in my
pocket.  It was so instinctive an act that now, looking back, I
believe that I was unaware that I did it.

It was one of the many silly acts of my very silly life, and I was
to repent it sufficiently before all was over.

I went back to the sitting-room and stood in admiration before that
secretaire of which I have already spoken.  It was one of the
loveliest things!  The little red and white panels were as fresh as
though they had been painted only yesterday, the pictures
enchanting in their gaiety and fun, the whole effect of colour was
so deep and rich that it seemed to stain all the room to a finer
glow.

The thick purple curtains were not drawn.  I went to the windows
and looked out.  The snow had for a moment ceased to fall.
Although its covering of the Circus must have been very slight the
white glow gave an iridescent shine to the air, and all the little
black figures hurried like dolls pulled by hidden strings about the
scene.  How self-important they all were!  I could fancy myself
standing in the shadow of those curtains and, with a rifle, picking
them off one after another.  How ludicrous the sudden starts they
would give, how silently they would lie like blots of ink against
the snow, while over them the lights of the advertisements, the
stars--the golden flask, the appearing and disappearing letters
would move, the only live things in all the world.

Not that I was bloodthirsty--far, far from it--but from the height
where I was nothing below me had human life.  So God, yawning up on
His lonely cloud, must so often feel!

The bell rang.  It broke into the flat like a menacing tap on the
shoulder.  I went to the hall door, opened it, and there stood
Pengelly.

It was my fate that evening to surprise my old friends, but I can
have surprised none of them more than Pengelly.  I thought for a
moment that he was going to turn and run.  He did, indeed, step
back into the passage.

'Come in, Mr. Pengelly,' I said.  'You're expected.'

He looked me all over.  How I detested him at that moment!  Then he
shrugged his shoulders.

'I hadn't expected to see YOU, Mr. Gunn,' he said.  'It's quite a
long time since we last met.'

So long, in fact, that I had forgotten a peculiarity in his voice,
a way that he had of sucking in a word every once and again, as
though it had escaped him by accident and he only caught it just in
time.

'Yes,' I answered, standing aside to let him in.  'Better late than
never.'

He gave me another look--malevolent, inquisitive and puzzled--then
came inside.

He took off his hat and coat and stepped into the sitting-room.  He
moved always, as well I remembered, as though at any moment he
might have to hide behind a curtain or a door.  Now he stood there,
his bony head bent forward, his thin arms and legs a little spread,
as though they too were listening.

'Doesn't Osmund keep any servants?' he asked.

'I really don't know,' I answered.  'But at the moment I'm the only
person in the flat.  You are a little early for your appointment.'

He said nothing to that, but looked all round the room like a dog
sniffing.

'Funny thing.  No electric light.  Only candles.'

'Osmund's fancy, I daresay,' I answered.  'I expect he thinks his
things look better in candlelight.'

Pengelly then picked up my Quixote from the table, and it was all I
could do not to shout out that he was to leave it alone.  However,
he gave a contemptuous sniff and put it down again.  Then he
settled himself into the Spanish armchair, and his thin, mean
little body seemed to curl itself up like an animal's, into a bony
heap, and from this his head, with protuberant, naked forehead and
greedy, quivering nostrils, jutted out.

'Now, Mr. Gunn, I'd like to know what you're doing here,' he said.

I smiled.  'That's all right, Pengelly,' I answered.  'I'm Osmund's
guest, for the moment.'

'Well, it isn't all right,' he answered.  'I'm here on business
with Buller and Osmund, and it's nobody else's affair.'

'Quite so,' I answered.  'It certainly isn't my affair, and I won't
stay if I'm not wanted.  But it will be twenty minutes or so before
Osmund comes back, so we may as well put up with one another until
then.'

He looked at me with scornful patronage.

'Fancy you turning up again.  I've heard of you once or twice.  Not
been doing too well, have you?'

But it wasn't my purpose to quarrel with him just then.  I wanted
to know one or two things.

'No,' I answered.  'To tell you the truth, I haven't.  As a matter
of fact, that's what I wanted to speak to you about.  When I heard
that you were coming I hoped that there would be a chance of a word
with you privately.  I don't know what it is you're suggesting to
Osmund and Buller, but I don't see why, if it's a good thing, I
shouldn't be in on it too.'

Amazing is the vanity of man!  A moment earlier he had been
regarding me with the deepest suspicion--now, so deep and rooted
was his conceit that, at one word from me, his suspicions vanished.
His contempt for me, however, only deepened.

He rubbed his thin long fingers together.

'So you're down and out, are you?  Well, I'm not surprised. . . .'
He became suddenly confidential.  'Look here.  You can tell me
something.  I was taking a bit of a risk suggesting this meeting.
Of course, Osmund and Buller only got what they were asking for
over that burglary business.  They'd have been caught anyway.  But
I couldn't expect them to feel especially friendly to me over it.
Yes, it was a bit bold, suggesting a meeting, but that's why I'm
where I am to-day.  I've taken risks all my life long, and they've
always come off.  But you can tell me, Gunn.  Ain't they sore about
that old business?'

'They were a bit sore,' I answered, 'for a while.  Naturally.
They've always been puzzled why you let them in as you did.'

'I had my own reasons,' he answered, with immense self-
satisfaction.  'As a matter of fact, I didn't do them any harm.
They'd have been caught anyway.  They were babies at it.  And I did
myself a bit of good--rather necessary for me just then, as it
happened, to be in with the police.'

'I see,' I answered, nodding my head.  'Very clever of you.'

'And you think they're not sore any longer?'

'Oh, well,' I replied.  'It was all a long while ago.  It's no use
bearing grudges all your life.'  He seemed to be greatly relieved.

'That's what I thought,' he said, sucking his words down his
throat.

'All the same,' I went on, 'I'm not sure that they'll be eager to
trust you again.'

'Oh, they needn't be afraid,' he said.  'I won't let them down this
time.  If they like, they're in for a good thing--a very good thing
indeed.'

'What kind of a thing?' I asked, a trifle too eagerly, perhaps.

He looked at me through his narrow, evil eyes, then shook his
wicked head.

'Not quite so fast,' he answered.  'I haven't said that you're in
on this, have I?'  He nodded his self-satisfaction.  'I'm glad
they're sensible.  They need someone with a brain to advise them.
Buller's no fool if he's started in the right direction, but Osmund--
I never had any opinion of Osmund's intelligence.  Always in the
air.  Never knows what he's doing.  But he'll have to know this
time AND do what he's told.'

I've tried to give you some idea of the way that this conversation
went, but if I hadn't heard it with my own ears I never would have
believed it.  I perceived that with Pengelly, as with all true
criminals, self-pride, conceit, arrogance amounted to insanity.
This self-confidence, this conviction that they are not as other
men but are made altogether of another clay, is the spring of all
their actions, the reason, too, of their inevitable defeat.  It is
true, perhaps, that they are beings of another mould from the rest
of mankind, that the rules and motives of their daily lives, of
their ambitions, desires, conquests and defeats belong mentally,
spiritually, physically, to another planet, a planet dark and
separate, burning with its own baleful secret fire.

True motiveless wickedness, however, is so rare that Pengelly was a
fascinating object to me.  So rare and not rare at all.  By that I
mean that any evil human being who is without conscience or any
sense of shame attracts us because it seems to us that we might so
easily be like him.  Throw over one little scruple, one little
moral hesitation, and there we are, and WHAT a fine time we might
be having.  The real characteristic of this post-war world of ours
is not that it is especially amoral or bold or advanced, but that
the reasons against our acting foolishly, badly or ruinously are so
many fewer than they used to be.

As Pengelly continued to talk there were parts of me that rose like
awakening animals in response to him.  Parts of me were like that,
and there were more parts of me that could be like that were they
given any encouragement.  It was not the remoteness of Pengelly's
evil mind and life that, in retrospect, horrified one, but rather
its closeness and intimacy.  It is absurd to pretend that evil is
not infective; it is as infective as measles or scarlet fever, and
often as fascinating as a full meal to a hungry man.

Pengelly would never have been as confidential in this little talk
of ours had he not despised me so thoroughly, but I was a poor,
weak fool of a failure, and there is nothing that a man like
Pengelly values so highly as an audience that is so far below him
that it can admire without danger of retaliation.

So he let himself go.  He told me a little of what he had been
doing during these last years.  His favourite game was blackmail,
his favourite game and, I gathered, his principal source of income.
He assured me that I had no idea how simple and easy it was--even,
he implied, for a poor, silly, soft fool like myself.  Everyone had
his or her secret, and all you had to do was to discover it and
then play with the victim as you would with a trout.

As he spoke, the world began to take colour from his stories, and
soon I saw it in groups of cowering, quivering men and women,
bending their backs, falling onto their knees, raising their hands
for pity while Pengelly stole in and out among them, his bony head
a little thrust forward, his hands crossed behind his back.

Men had hanged themselves to escape him, women suffered the last
ignominy, even children had been betrayed.  But the astonishing
thing was that it became clear, as he proceeded, that he regarded
himself as an entirely virtuous being.

It was the whole race of men that was at fault.  The fools that men
were who, for some lust of the body or mean desire of gain or cheap
revenge, put themselves so naively, so simply into his hands.

He saw himself as a kind of immortal judge walking about among men
and punishing justly follies.

Of his own cleverness also he never could have enough.  He had, I
am sure, learnt a good deal about the different weaknesses of
mankind.  Even during this short time that we were together I
learnt some surprising things, and I have no doubt that he was
speaking truthfully enough.

But very soon his voice and personality pervaded all the room; it
crawled like a snake here and there, its little sharp, bright eyes
peering into every corner as it dragged its sluggish, gleaming
coils from corner to corner.  It seemed to me that the Circus below
us was soon aware of its presence, and that all those little
manikin figures hastened into the shadows that they might escape
it; the white shining surface of the Circus was bare and naked.
Everywhere there was a breathless silence, and from the roofs that
bordered it the sharp eyes looked down, piercing every shadow. . . .

Meanwhile time was passing, and I was beginning to wonder why they
had not returned.

Pengelly also began to wonder.

'Look here,' he said, taking out his watch and suddenly looking up
at me with renewed suspicion.  'You're not having a game, are you?'

'Game?' I asked.  'What kind of a game?'

'Well, it's time Osmund was turning up.  I haven't all the evening
to waste, you know.'

'Oh, he'll turn up,' I said.  'You were early.  And I'm very glad
you were.  See here, Pengelly.  Can't you let me in on this plan of
yours?'

'What use would you be?' he asked contemptuously.  'You're too
soft.'

'Oh, I don't know,' I answered.  'I'm not so soft as I used to be,
you know.  I've had a pretty rough time these last years, and that
changes a man.'

'We'll see,' he replied.  'Of course, you talk and behave like a
gentleman.  That's in your favour.  There's nobody like a gentleman
for taking people in.'

'Is that so?' I answered innocently.  'Why's that?'

'Well, with women, for instance,' Pengelly answered with immense
satisfacton.  'Women always trust a gentleman more.  Can't think
why they should, but there it is.  I should think women might like
you if you smartened yourself up a bit.'

'Yes,' I said ruefully, 'I want a hair-cut, and, to be frank with
you, I haven't had a decent meal for days.'

His suspicions were now entirely quieted.  I could see that I was
just the kind of help that he needed, a fool, a gentleman, down and
out, ready to fill my belly at anybody's cost, very quickly
succumbing to all his wishes and demands.

That was a knowledge that I don't doubt he had to the full--how to
subdue weaklings to his slightest word with a swift and subtle
course of training.  No wonder that he should think poorly of the
human race when he had seen so many of them so quickly surrender!

In fact, he had a kind of power, even for a moment, over myself,
although I sat there loathing him, deriding him, thinking myself
vastly his superior.  It is strange when you consider how, just
then, each of us thought himself infinitely the king of the other!

There followed the oddest ten minutes--I was going to say 'of my
life,' but there were to be other strange ten minutes before this
odd evening was over.  He got up and began to creep about the room.
'Creep' is a true word; he moved so softly, with his head forward,
his hands clasped like twisting tentacles behind his back.  His
walk was, I think, a kind of triumphant march.  I don't doubt but
that he had determined on this move into the enemy's camp after a
great deal of doubt and hesitation.  I shouldn't wonder if he had
been spying round the place all day.  I myself, you will remember,
had caught him on the stairs earlier in the evening.  He had come
here with many fears and misgivings, and it must have been a pretty
important scheme that led him to such dangerous methods.

He argued, I suppose, that Osmund and Buller would be in fierce
need of some help, and he hoped, perhaps, to add some gentle
blackmail to his scheme.  Gentlemen, rash gentlemen, like Osmund,
who have served their time in jail, are often open to blackmail.
Life isn't easy for a gentleman who has done time.

But against all this were the tempers and possible violence of his
old friends.  He couldn't be sure that they wouldn't be very
disagreeable before he had time to explain to them how good his
scheme for them was.  Once they gave him time, the rest was easy,
and I expect that he had some very pretty pictures before his eyes
of the helpless and useless tools that Osmund and Buller would
become.

My reassurance, therefore, was extremely welcome to him.  This was
exactly what he had hoped he might find--the poor fools, crushed
and hungry, all sight lost of any silly vengeance, ready for
anything that he might propose--and added to them, quite
unexpectedly, myself, an admirable 'extra.'

So he crept about the room, humming to himself in a little whining
undertone, an unrecognizable tune.  This sound was exactly like the
hum or sibilant whisper of some animal hiding expectantly in the
jungle undergrowth.  Thin, reedy, just not in tune, hissing through
the teeth.  Softly he inspected everything--the secretaire, the
triptych, the Spanish carving, the chairs.  They seemed to rouse in
him only the deepest contempt.

Then he came to the window, and, pausing there, pressed his nose
against the glass and stared out.  Although other more striking
things were to happen in connection with him later in the evening,
that is the pose in which I shall always remember him.  His thin
shabbily clad body (his clothes had an especial shiny shabbiness.
They had been always, ever since I first knew him, in exactly that
same condition) perched on its toes and his head pressed forward
right into the glass while he looked down, finding in the Circus, I
don't doubt, numbers of prospective victims.

And once again I had, from my chair, the vision of the white
surface covered with little figures scurrying into the safe
shadows, then the white virginal expanse, empty of all life.

The candles in their old silver holders blew a little in some
mysterious breeze.  He turned round and looked at me--looked at me,
I felt, with both triumph and contempt.

'So you'd like to come in with me, would you?' he asked.  'Ever had
any experience?'

'Experience of what?' I asked.

'Why, of playing on people's feelings . . . having a game with
them.'

'You mean blackmail?' I asked.

'Well, no. . . .'  His tongue flickered out for a moment between
his teeth.  'That's putting it too strong.  I don't like the word,
and the less it's used the better for everybody.'

He left the window and came close to me, his eyes appraising every
part of me.  'Remember Robin Hood?'

'Remember him?' I asked.  'I never met him, if that's what you
mean.'

But facetiousness did not please him.  I recollect very clearly the
savage, mean look he then gave me.  It was a look that, I am sure,
many of his friends in trouble had grown accustomed to.

'No need to be funny,' he said.  'No time for it if you're coming
in with me. . . .  Well, what did Robin Hood do?  He went about
taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, righting
wrongs, so to speak.  He and his band were proper for his time; I
and mine are proper for this.  Same methods exactly.'

'I see,' I answered.'  And DO you give your profits to the poor?'

He shot at me again a look of swift suspicion.

'Never you mind what I give to the poor,' he said.  'You'll see
soon enough.'  He began then, standing in front of me, as strange a
glory-song as ever man uttered--a Song of Triumph proclaimed by a
king among men, of his cleverness and brilliance and knowledge, of
his victims and their follies and pitiful cries for mercy and silly
foolish humiliations, of his remorselessness and relentless
pursuit, of his power and subtlety and superiority to all other
conquerors . . . and I saw, as he triumphed in front of me, that he
really did consider himself a glory and a wonder, that he did not
know what remorse or repentance might be, that nothing could touch
any softness in him, for there was no softness, nor rouse any
shame, for there was no shame . . . and I felt that possibly in
this at least he was right--that he was, in the completeness of his
purpose, in the absence of all decency, sensitiveness, moral
perception, unique in the world, and so in his own order, and
citizen from his own dark planet, a king among men.

He touched my arm with his finger.'  You shall be in on this,' he
said.  'You should be useful.  But mind--once you're in you're
never out again.  I'll never let you go once I've my touch on you.
You'll be mine. . . .'

But how I was to be his I was never to know, for at that moment we
both heard the click of the outside door, and from the sound of
voices I knew that Buller and Hench had returned.



CHAPTER VI

Pengelly in Heaven


The other day, after I had begun this narrative, I found this
paragraph in a memoir of William Morris:  'I have found that my
memory is, on many occasions, subject to what seems to be a sort of
"illumination" or "inspiration."  Thus when I have fixed my mind on
one, say, of the incidents in these chapters, the scene has begun
to unfold itself, perhaps slowly at first but afterwards rapidly
and clearly.  Meditating upon it for a time, I have lifted my pen
and begun to write, then to my surprise the conversations, long
buried or hidden somewhere in my memory, have come back to me
sometimes with the greatest fullness, word for word, as we say.
Nay, not only the words, but the tones, the pauses and the gestures
of the speaker.'

This is so apt to my present business that I cannot avoid quoting
it; it is true of the whole of my experience in this narrative but
especially true of the scene, so decisive in the lives of some of
us, that now occurred.

Buller and Hench came in and stood in the doorway looking at
Pengelly.  You can understand that he was a vision of some dramatic
importance to them.  They had not set eyes on him since the trial.
How many harsh and bitter experiences had come to them in the
intervening years!  Buller was not a man of imagination.  He took
things very much as they came to him.  He was no sentimentalist, no
enthusiast either--but when an idea nested in his hair there it
remained, and the idea that he had about Pengelly was 'that he owed
him one.'

But with Hench it was different.  He saw Pengelly as the devil
himself, tail and all.  He had, I am inclined to think from what
afterwards occurred, a sense that he had almost supernatural powers
of evil and malevolence--gave Pengelly, in fact, a good deal more
than his due.

They stood at the doorway looking at him, and Pengelly looked at
them back again.  He had received from me too certain a reassurance
of his security with them to feel any alarm.  Instead of alarm,
indeed, he was filled with a triumphant and overwhelming patronage.

He nodded to them.

'Hullo, Buller.  Glad to see you.  Hullo, Hench, how are you?'
Then he felt in his pocket and produced a very flamboyant gold
cigarette case from which he extracted a cigarette.  Then he handed
it to Buller.

'Have one?' he said.  Buller was mechanically about to accept, then
something seemed to occur to him.  He shook his head.

'No, thanks.  I'm not smoking.'  We all sat down.  Buller sat near
the door, as though he were guarding it.  Pengelly took charge of
the proceedings; indeed, so entirely was he at home that he went to
the windows and drew the curtains across.

'Cosier,' he said, 'much cosier.'  Then he sat down in the Spanish
armchair, crossing his spindly legs.  'How have you been?' he asked
Buller.

'All right. . . .  How's yourself?'

'All right,' said Buller, sucking his imaginary straw.

'Cold, isn't it?' continued Pengelly affably.  'Shouldn't wonder if
we have a heap of snow before the night's out.'

'Shouldn't wonder,' said Buller.

There was a little pause, and I remember how I noticed that Hench,
sitting in a chair by the window, was trembling from head to foot.

'Osmund be long?' asked Pengelly.

'Come in any moment,' said Buller.  'Nice little place he's got,
hasn't he?'

'It's all right,' said Pengelly.  'You should see a little place
I've got Maidenhead way.  Pretty as a picture.  Five minutes from
the river.  Garden and everything.'

'I'd like to,' said Buller.

'What's his idea,' asked Pengelly, 'only having candles?  Bit old-
fashioned, isn't it?'

'Don't know,' said Buller.  'Prefer electric light myself.'

Then we all heard the outside door.  A moment afterwards Osmund
came in.

How I wish that I had the power to solve Osmund's secret!  Only
Dostoevski perhaps could do that; he was beyond question one of
Dostoevski's 'sick men.'  And yet he was not at all a Dostoevski
figure, in no way at all Russian or semi-Asiatic.  He was English--
English in his bodily strength, frankness, honesty, lack of
subtlety.  But, like so many Englishmen, he was always at war with
his imagination, feeling that it was something dangerous and that
he would be better without it.  But he could not be without it.
The catastrophe that ended in his imprisonment increased it, and
the war (as again with so many Englishmen) gave him a malaise of
revolt and disgust and a passionate desire to do something that
'would change everything.'  This revolt made him a spiritual exile
from his own country.  There are no spiritual exiles so unfortunate
as the English because there is no other country possible for them
with whatever pugnacity they may determine to acquire one.

He had really come to feel, I believe, in these post-war years,
that England was 'lost,' that she was going down and down into an
abyss, and this because rogues were everywhere in charge of her and
the land was filled with devils.  There were very many men in the
country at this time who felt as he did.  But his sense of it was
the more dangerous because there was a fire in his blood, a
ferocity and impatience over which he never got control.

He was filled with nobility, warm affection, a childish belief in
the possibility of right, but I think his sense that he had
'ruined' himself spiritually over that silly and so disastrous
episode of the burglary fiasco, that both he and his country were
doomed, this worked in his brain like a fever.  His loathing of
Pengelly had its root, I don't doubt, in his loathing of himself.

At any rate, I saw quite clearly when he came into that room, where
we were waiting for him, that he was pitched at that moment to a
point of disgust at the evil both in himself and the world around
him that was not far from madness.

I would put it this way.  If, at that instant, out of the snowy
Circus, there had risen before his window a hero who had called to
him to follow him to some glorious crusade, Osmund would have been
in that second translated into a triumphantly happy man for whom
Pengelly was too low a worm to be considered.

He needed only some campaign, some knight-errantry towards the
ennobling of the world, with a chance in it for himself to win some
glorious redemption, and all would have been magnificently well
with him.  But alas, all that there was, was the rosy volume of
Quixote, lying by itself on the bare refectory table.

He was quiet enough when he came in.  I could never see him, as I
think I have already said, without feeling him to be of different
clay from the rest of us.  It was not only his height and the noble
carriage of his head, but something spiritual that set him apart
from us.  His disgust at his own failures, perhaps, or his vision
of horizons wider and grander than any that we could see.  When he
saw Pengelly he nodded to him.

'Sorry I'm late,' he said.  He sat down on the sofa near to me.  I
fancy that Pengelly's assurance was a little dimmed by Osmund's
presence, but if it was, he had no consciousness of the possibility
of any danger to himself.

He continued to take command of the situation.

'Well,' he said.  'Here we all are.'  Then, smirking a little.
'What about a drink?  Not very hospitable, are you, Osmund?  And
why not a cigar while you're about it?'

Osmund nodded to Buller, who got up and went out.  We all sat quite
silently while he was away.  He returned with whisky, soda-water,
some glasses, a box of cigars.  He put them down on the table.  I
stretched my hand out.

'I'll take that book,' I said.  'It will be out of the way.'  He
handed me the Quixote.  His legs a little spread, his face very
serious, he poured out some whisky.

'Say when,' he said to Pengelly.

'Right you are,' said Pengelly.  'Not too much soda.'  The glass
was passed to him and the box of cigars.  Each of us in turn was
offered then a drink, and each of us refused.  Pengelly looked at
us, and that was, I think, the first moment when it occurred to him
that we were not, perhaps, quite so friendly as we ought to be.

'Hullo!' he said.  'Nobody drinking?'

The others said nothing.  I muttered:  'Have one later.'

Osmund turned to Pengelly.

'Mr. Pengelly,' he said, 'you wrote to Charlie Buller saying that
you would like to meet him and myself and Hench again and that you
had something to propose.  Here we are--at your service.'

I knew then one of the many reasons why Pengelly detested Osmund.
Osmund was absolutely polite, but he conveyed, in spite of himself,
the sense that he was of altogether another order.  It was not
conceit, nor pride, nor arrogance, it was something that was so
true that no good manners could keep it back.

I could see how, at the sound of his voice, Pengelly's hatred of
him, already strong enough, was strengthened a hundredfold.

'All right, Osmund,' said Pengelly, lighting his cigar, as though
he were king of the world.  'All in good time.  Not too fast now.
I have got something to suggest--something that might be useful to
you, but there's no hurry.  Here we are, all friends together, and
I must say,' he added, finishing his whisky at a gulp and
stretching his glass out, with great familiarity, to Buller for
more, 'that I'm glad there's no malice felt on either side.  Tell
you the truth, I thought there might have been.  I was sorry I had
to do as I did, but you were in for it anyhow.  You went about it
like infants in arms--you did really--'

He leaned back puffing at his cigar, while his little legs, crossed
knee over knee, jerked convulsively in the air.

'If you don't mind,' said Osmund quietly, 'we've all been very
curious to know--why exactly you did let us in.  You owed us no
grudge--or did you?'

'Well, now,' said Pengelly, evidently enjoying himself, 'as to
grudge--that's scarcely the word.  You see, Osmund, you're a bit
above yourself at times--you don't mean it, I daresay, but I'm
sensitive, always was from a kid.  What my father used to say ever
since I was a little nipper was, "Do as you would be done by."  He
always said that was a safe motto, and there's a lot in it.  Let
anyone treat me as man to man, and it's my hand in theirs every
time, but sort of looking down your nose--well, that never did
anyone any good, if you get me.  Of course I don't suppose you KNEW
you were so stuck-up as you were, but there it was.  I've got a
skin less than most men, my mother always said so, and I feel
things.  Things can hurt me surprisingly, and I don't mind telling
you, Osmund, now that the past IS past, that you hurt me quite a
lot the way you cut me short and didn't consider I was a human
being with feelings just like anyone else.  Of course, it's silly
to be sensitive, I know, but there it is--it's the way one's
made. . . .  One can't help oneself. . . .'

I remember that we listened to this long rigmarole which might have
continued quite indefinitely had he not buried his face in his
glass, in complete silence.

Then Osmund said:

'Yes, I see. . . .  But why Buller and Hench?  They hadn't done you
any harm?'

Here Pengelly sat forward and looked at both his old friends with a
very considering glance.

'Well, now, I'll tell you,' he said at last.  'It's a funny thing--
funny, I mean, the way little actions lead to big results.  But
Charlie Buller there--I dare say he's quite forgot something,
something that altered the whole of his existence, as you may say--'

'What's that?' said Buller, leaning forward and staring at
Pengelly.

'Throw your mind back a bit, Charlie, it'll interest you.'  I could
see that Pengelly was now most thoroughly enjoying himself, his
eyes almost closed, one leg kicking on the other, his long spidery
fingers tip-meeting-tip as though in prayer.'  Don't you remember a
girl at the pub down there, a girl with red hair, called Amy?'

'I do,' said Buller.

'And do you remember that she was quite sweet on me until you told
her lies about me?'

'I don't remember telling her anything about you.'

'No, you wouldn't.  But you did all the same.  I don't know just
what you told her, but she was shy of me after that--a fine girl,
she was, with a fine figure.'

'It's a long time ago,' murmured Buller.

'It is,' cried Pengelly triumphantly.  'So you may think, but I
don't forget quite so easily.  It isn't my nature to.  I haven't
got along in this world by forgetting everything, I can tell you.
No, sir.  You were real nasty, Charlie Buller, about that girl.  It
wasn't as though you wanted her yourself either.  I don't know what
you were so mean for.  Anyway, she cost you two years in jail, that
girl did.  It's a pity you've forgotten--important she was, as it
turned out.'

Buller said nothing.  We none of us said anything.

'And Hench?' at last Osmund asked quietly.

'Hench?' Pengelly asked contemptuously.  'Oh, I'd nothing against
HIM.  He was in it, so he went with the rest.'

A cry, a strange, bitter, agonizing cry, so foreign to us that it
was as though someone besides ourselves were in the room, broke on
to us.

'And it was for nothing--for no reason--that you . . . that you . . .
my wife . . .'

Even Pengelly seemed to feel something then.

'Well,' he said at last, 'you were trying to crack a crib, weren't
you?  You deserved what you got, didn't you?  It would have been
the same even though I hadn't let them in on you.'

'And those were ALL your reasons?' Osmund asked at last.

'Oh, not at all,' Pengelly answered, finishing his second glass.
'I had to be in with the police just then.  Had a little affair of
my own on hand.  All the weeks I was covering you I was playing my
own game as well. . . .'  He puffed at his cigar confidently.
'What I was hoping you'd see, and what I'm glad to find you HAVE
seen, is that I hadn't anything to do with it, so to speak.  It
would have been the same thing whether I'd been there OR no.  AND
you've had your lesson and taken it well.  Now we're all good
friends again, and I'm glad of it.'

I remember noticing at this point that he was a little uneasy about
Hench.  That moment's outcry had disturbed him a trifle.  He threw
him furtive, half-questioning glances.

Osmund was sitting up straight on the sofa now, his legs drawn in,
his great back set.  I wondered how Pengelly could be as completely
unconscious of the sinister force behind that quiet voice as he
was.

At last he said:  'So much for the past.  Now what of the present?
You suggested that we could be of use to one another.  What's your
plan?'

'I'm not sure,' Pengelly answered, looking at each one of us in
turn, 'that there are not too many in on this.  I've had a little
talk with our friend here,' nodding at me, 'and he seems to want to
share in the fun--but about Mr. Hench now. . . .'

He paused, suddenly shooting his bony forehead forward in Hench's
direction.

'Fun?' said Osmund.  'We've got to know what kind of fun it is
before we come in with you.  That's quite fair, isn't it?'

'Have you?' said Pengelly, smiling in what he must have considered
a very sly manner.  'That's just the question.'

Osmund, Buller and Hench all made a movement together as though
they were closing in.  Then Buller said:

'How do you mean--the question?  You asked us to meet you here,
didn't you?'

'That's right,' said Pengelly.  'But I'd like to know a bit more
about all of you first.  You see, it's quite a time since we met.
I know you're all pretty well on your uppers.  I've found that out,
at any rate.'

No one said anything.

Pengelly began to be a little irritated.

'Well, now, aren't you?  There's Osmund here--him and his wife.
This is a fine fresh flat, I'll allow, but how much longer is he
going to be able to stay here?  What about that last job you had,
Osmund--secretary to Edward Hoskins, Esq., wasn't it?  Someone
suddenly peached on you, didn't he, told Mr. Hoskins a few things?
And you--Charlie Buller--things haven't been quite so dandy with
you lately, have they?'

Osmund spoke.

'We don't want this to last forever.  If you have a plan to put in
front of us let's have it--otherwise--'

'Yes--otherwise?' said Pengelly.

'Otherwise--we are only wasting time.'

'Not at all,' said Pengelly.  'You've got it ALL wrong.  What I
want you fellows to realize is that I can do what I like with you--
so to speak.  I can stop your settling in any place where you're
comfortable--if I want to.  Not that I bear you any sort of malice.
I'm not one to bear malice.  Not at all.  But I wouldn't have you
think, the four of you, that you do ME a favour if you come into my
little scheme.  Quite the CONTRARY.  I'M doing the favour, you
understand.'

Osmund jumped up.  For an instant I was in doubt as to what he
would do.  His movement was so sudden, his stature so great when he
got to his feet, that Pengelly shrank back into his chair and
raised his hand, then covered his awkwardness with a nervous laugh.
Osmund had gone to the window.  With a sharp tearing sound he
jerked back the curtains.  We could see now beyond the windows the
shadowed glow of the lighted sky, and faintly, as though jerked
there by a drunken hand, the reflection from a leaping sky-sign
marked the wall above the fireplace.

Osmund turned from looking out, and stood with his back to the
window, facing the room.

'All right,' he said quietly.  'You are doing us a favour.  We
realize your generosity.  We are broken and ruined--at your feet,
Pengelly.  What will you do with us?'

Pengelly's eyes sparkled.

'Now you're kidding me.  You don't truly feel like that.  All the
same, I take it that you're pretty desperate, all of you, and ready
to come in on any sensible scheme--that is, if it's really
sensible.'

'Yes, if it's really sensible,' repeated Osmund.

'This is sensible, all right,' said Pengelly, triumphantly.  He
sunk his voice and leaned forward in confidence towards us.  'The
fact is that there are a lot of folk in this world who've funny
habits, or are fond of someone they shouldn't be, or have been in a
mess sometime and want to forget it.  You can recognize that
yourselves, having had the experience you have. . . .'

(As he spoke I could see the glittering expanse of the Circus, and,
staring from the caves on every side of it, hundreds of eyes, furry
with anxious fear.)

'Well--what I say is that if a man's made a slip he oughtn't to
grumble if he has to pay for it.  Why, you wouldn't believe the
dirty things men do and the nasty ways they have.  Why should they
get off scot-free and the rest of us suffer?  Here are you three,
for instance--made one little mistake and had two years in jail for
it.  Don't you feel a bit sore at all these folk dancing around,
wine, women, and song and all the rest of it, and never a penny the
worse for it?  That's where I come in,' he added.

'That's where you come in,' Osmund repeated.

'Yes, and where you'll come in too, if you join us, Osmund.  You
see' (he became with every word more confidential, more sure of
himself and of us), 'what I'm in need of is gentlemen.  Real pukka
gentlemen that look right and talk right and eat their food right
and make love to women right.  Now you're a gentleman, Osmund, and
so's Gunn.  I can't tell you what an advantage a gentleman is at
this game, especially with women.  I'd give you quite a decent
share of the profits, as long as you played straight with me--and
there ARE some profits, I can tell you.'

Buller sucked straws; Hench half rose as though he would speak,
then sat down again.

Osmund nodded his head.

'I understand,' he said.  'What's commonly known as blackmail.'

Pengelly shrugged his bony shoulders.

'That's a silly word, to my thinking.  After all, what isn't
blackmail when you come to think of it?  Who is there isn't forever
bribing his friend to keep quiet about him, if you understand what
I mean?  Everybody's got a secret somewhere, and if his friends
didn't look after him where'd he be?  I tell you, Osmund, this is
the grandest game in the universe.  There isn't anything else to
touch it for fun and excitement.  You never know WHAT you're up
against, and you should see the way folks squeal.  Why, I've got a
woman now--'  He stopped.  'No, that's telling.  But you four come
in with me and you'll have the time of your lives.  I'll do the
directing.  I've got quite a bunch under me as it is, and I make it
worth their while too. . . .  What do you say?'

Buller stretched his legs and arms and yawned.  'It sounds a good
enough scheme,' he said--'for the right kind of man.'

'Of course,' said Pengelly, looking round on us rather as a trainer
looks round on his animals, 'you'd have to do what you're told, you
know.'

It was then that, looking round and catching sight of Osmund's
face, I suddenly became myself frightened.  An immense disgust,
contempt and, oddly mixed with it, a sort of pity rose in me toward
Pengelly.

I believed him.  I know now that there had been no original plan in
their minds about him.  They had pictured him, perhaps, as at last
at their mercy, and so, in very utter contempt of him, they would
have told him so.  But what they had never pictured was this
arrogance and patronage, this confident proposal to them of the
vilest schemes open to mankind.  It was, I think, his certain
belief that we would agree to his foul purposes that drove us to
the climax.  For we were driven; driven if you like by other things
than Pengelly, driven by the ivory pictures of the secretaire, the
silver candlesticks, by the gleaming light beyond the windowpanes.

But it happened that I looked up and caught the moment when Osmund
passed from calm to tempest.  His rages had always been like that,
descending on him as swiftly as a squall falling from the hills
across a lake.  He was the only human being I have ever known who
seemed to be inhabited by a devil at such times--not an evil devil,
nothing mean or vile, but a spirit of tempest, ready to be gone as
swiftly as he came.

I wondered that Pengelly felt nothing of the change.  For a moment
he did not.  He went on as confidently as before.

'It's a paying game--there's no doubt about that.  It's marvellous
how they pay up when you've got them by the throat.  It's very
seldom they cut up rough, and if they do there's lots of ways of
dealing with them.

'Of course, you'd want a bit of training, but I expect it would
come natural enough after a time.  Some take to it like second
nature.  I wouldn't wonder if you did, Gunn!  I bet you'd be one of
the smartest--'

He broke off.  He was aware of our silence.  He recognized that it
was different from our earlier attitude.  Our eyes were on him too.
He was suddenly suspicious that perhaps he had gone too far.  Those
whiskies had unsealed his tongue too readily.  He drew back into
his chair, and I noticed that that convention of melodrama was in
this instance true; he WAS gathered together like an animal ready
to spring.

Then Osmund's voice, deep, shaking with emotion, broke our silence.

'You filthy little swine!'  I heard Hench draw a deep sigh.  But
Pengelly was quick.  He knew instantly that our whole attitude had
been bluff, that he was in the presence of his enemies, and that he
had been a fool to give himself away.

Lord!  How he hated us then!  He half rose, resting his thin hands
on the arms of the chair.

'So that's your game, is it?' he said.  'You've tried to trick me,
have you?  Well, you've bitten off more than you can chew, the lot
of you.  I wasn't such a fool as to come here unprotected, and
don't you think it.  If anything happens to me you're in for it--
the lot of you.  I should have thought you'd had enough of jail--'

'It's possible,' said Osmund, 'that we don't care what the
consequences are.'  Then he came forward a little and stood staring
at Pengelly as though he were delivering judgment on him.

'Understand us, Pengelly, this isn't any business of revenge.  You
were right in that.  We let ourselves into a dirty business and
were punished for it--justly punished, I daresay.  Our point is
quite different.  You're a nuisance to society, vile, foul. . . .
There's no goodness in you anywhere.  You are the cause of misery
and wretchedness to everyone you touch.  You've proved it again and
again by your own words.  There's nothing to be said for you--
absolutely nothing at all.  That's our case.  We've heard you and
we've condemned you.'

Pengelly's eyes went straight for the door.  He knew his danger by
now.

'Oh, shut your mouth--!' he screamed and leapt from his chair
across the floor.  Then things happened quickly.  Buller was in
front of the door, but before Pengelly got to him Osmund was onto
him.  I saw Osmund rise to his height and spread his shoulders.  He
had his hands about Pengelly's throat.  Pengelly kicked.  A chair
fell.  Then Osmund had him hanging in air, his thin spidery legs,
his long bony arms struggling.  Osmund's huge hands pressed.  There
came from Pengelly throttled broken little screams like a rabbit's.
Once he seemed to have his head free, and he let out a yell of
terror, sheer naked animal terror.

Then Osmund swung him like a dummy and brought him down with a thud
on the table.  There was a little moan, a convulsive kick of the
legs.

Buller murmured:  'My God, you've killed him.'

From his chair Hench began to whimper like a child.



CHAPTER VII

Extraordinary Adventures of a Corpse


From an infinite distance came the sound of Hench's whimpering.  It
went on and on, something between a sniffle and a strangled breath.
Otherwise the silence in the room was profound, and it seemed
endless.

The body was crumpled in a heap on the floor; a leg crooked back
had its trouser hitched up, and pale mottled skin showed above a
shabby sock.  The head hung forward onto the breast.

At last Osmund bent down, picked up the body, and laid it down on
the sofa, the face away from us, but, as he moved it, I caught a
glimpse of the pale untidy face, the tongue protruding, and it was
in that moment that I had my conviction which the evening was to
strengthen; namely, that Pengelly wasn't there, that he had escaped
us at the instant when Osmund banged his head on the table, that he
was at this minute jeering at us somewhere in the background.  If I
seem to show a certain levity or casualness towards this corpse you
must remember that I had this conviction.  I recollect also that I
had a mingled sense of congratulation and pity towards the corpse:
congratulation because it had at last escaped from the odiousness
of Pengelly's personality; pity because it was now so helpless.

Osmund bent down and felt beneath the body's waistcoat.  Then he
straightened himself.

'Yes, he's gone,' he said.

Charlie Buller, who seemed in no kind of way discomposed, nodded
his head.

'And a damned good thing too, filthy swine! . . .  And what are we
going to do with it?'

Osmund stood there, his legs spread, looking out through the
window.  He talked softly, as though to himself.

'I didn't mean to.  It was my temper again.  His taking it for
granted that we were like himself.  That's the mistake he always
made.  Our mistake too--we were partly responsible. . . .  My
damnable temper.'

Buller broke in.  'All right.  Never mind whose fault it was.
We're all in it now, and what we've got to decide is what we're
going to do with it.  We can't leave it here all night.'  Nobody
said anything.  He went on:  'Somebody may come after him.  It
isn't likely he'd trust himself into our hands without warning one
of his pals.  We may have got rid of HIM, but we aren't rid of his
gang.'

Then Hench broke in.  He jumped up from his chair and began to wave
his hands in an absurd manner.  'You aren't rid of him!  You aren't
rid of him!' he cried out in his shrill, piping voice.  'You don't
get rid of him by killing him.  You've done the one thing that'll
never rid us of him.  Don't you see?  Oh, my God, don't you
see? . . .  What I mean to say is, he isn't dead at all and never
will be now.  Never, never!'

He was going to scream or shout or do something equally silly, so I
stepped in then, went over to him, caught his fat shoulders, forced
him down into his chair.

'Look here, Hench--if you don't behave decently we'll have to knock
you on the head just to keep you quiet.  We're not going to have
the whole of the Circus in here.'  Then I told Buller to give him a
stiff whisky, which he did.  Hench drank it, then turned his face
from us all, hiding it in his arms, one shudder passing over his
body after another.

I remember then that I became as urgent as Charlie Buller that
something must be done immediately.  I couldn't bear to see the
thing lying there, as though it were shamming sleep, with its
trouser still hitched up and the bare flesh showing.  The whole
room seemed stained and beastly so long as that crumpled thing lay
there, and I felt as I suppose many a murderer has felt, that if
only the body were removed out of sight all would be well.

Osmund's immobility irritated me.  He just stood there, looking out
of the window, lost apparently in his own thoughts.  I shook him by
the arm.

'See here, Osmund, Buller's right.  We've got to do something about
this.  Either you can telephone to the police and tell them all
about it, or we must put this away somewhere--and quickly.'

Buller broke in.

'Telephone the police?  Hang by the neck for THAT swine?  No, thank
you.  I can deal with it.  I've got the car parked round the
corner.  I'll take it in the car to the river behind Dirk's.  They
won't find the body for two days after that, and when they do they
won't recognize it.'

Somehow the thought of the outside world made me shiver.  I didn't
know who or what Dirk's might be, but I had stepped suddenly into
the unreal pantomime of detective novels where police officers and
newspaper men and dope fiends jostle one another, puppet-fashion,
on a mathematical staircase constructed of algebraical formulæ.

'How are you going to get it to the car this time of day with
everybody about?' I asked.

'Someone will have to help me.  The stairs are dark.  We'll take
him down between us as though he were tight.  Once it's in the car
I can manage alone.'

Osmund nodded his head.

'Yes, if you like.  It won't make any difference in the end.  Not
for me, anyway.  I'm caught all right.'  Then added to himself in a
sort of whisper, 'Yes, he's caught me.'

Then he threw up his head and was quite suddenly practical.  'But
I'm not going to have any of you spoiling your lives for my mess.
It's my affair.  I'll deal with it.'

'No, you won't,' said Buller abruptly.  'Not this bit of it,
anyway.  With your height and everything you'd attract attention at
once.  Gunn and I will manage this.  There's no difficulty.  Shove
his hat over his eyes, put his waterproof on him.  There's no risk
at all.'

He stopped abruptly and drew his breath in.  He had heard a sound.
We all had.  The opening of the outer door.

The funny thing then was that, at that moment, when we all of us
were stiffened by the sound into immobility (even Hench ceased his
shudder), the corpse rolled over onto its back, one leg tumbling
off the sofa, exactly as though it had heard the opening door.
There it lay, eyes staring, tongue hanging out, the head indecently
crooked.  We waited.  There were steps in the outer hall.  Osmund
looked at me.

'Helen!' he said.  'She is the only one who has a key.'

I went as though he had ordered me.  Looking back now, I think that
the truth was that I instantly felt that I was the only person in
the whole world to come in between her and Pengelly's body.  She,
at least, must be kept away from this. . . .

So I went straight out of the room into the little hall.  Here
there was electric light (Osmund's æsthetic prejudices didn't
extend apparently to coat racks and umbrella-stands), and just
inside the door Helen was standing, staring in front of her and
taking off her gloves.  It is all very well to reduce everything to
chemical formulæ, but you are not going to tell me that the look
that Helen and I gave one another at that moment, a look so much
more searching, involving so much more of recognition of the
eternal bond between us than any physical attraction, had anything
chemical about it.

In that awful moment, when I was sick in the stomach and blind in
the eyes from the reaction from all that had just occurred, I saw
Helen with more clarity and justice, saw the beauty of her spirit
and the generous nobility of her heart more vividly than I had ever
done before, even in my most romantic dreams of her (and I had had
many).  We always afterwards admitted that it was that glance of
recognition in the little hall that pledged us to one another.

All that she said was:  'Oh, Dick . . . I'm so glad you're still
here.  I hoped you would be.'

There was something ironical in her greetings even with those she
loved the most, irony, if you understand, turned towards herself,
an implication that she always found life, and her place in it, a
little absurd.

'What's brought you back?  Was the dinner off?'  (I can't tell you
how unexpected I found the absence of all noise in that other room
to be.  My ears, all this time, were straining for every sound.)

'Well . . .'  She looked at me, smiling.  I smiled back.  'My
friend's young man turned up--unexpectedly, of course.  They wanted
me to stay, but I'm much too tactful.  They wanted the three of us
to go out to a restaurant.  I detest restaurants.  Then--I hadn't
seen you for so long--you're so elusive, you know, Dick.  I might
never have set eyes on you again.  I had expected that you and John
would have gone out to dine somewhere.  I thought I'd make myself a
cup of tea here and wait--in case he brought you back.'

All the time that she was talking, she was listening.  I realized
that the silence was forcing itself upon her.  She took off her
hat, looked at herself in the glass, patted her hair, then moved
forward a little.  But I didn't stir.

'Well--where IS John?  Why haven't you gone out?  It's a quarter-
past eight.'

'Some friends have come,' I said.  'They've kept him.'

'Friends? . . .  Who?'

'Charlie Buller.  Mr. Hench.'

She nodded.

'I knew he wanted me out of the way.  I'm not such a fool--'  She
stopped suddenly.  We both heard it--Hench crying something out,
shrilly, like a child's cry.

'Dick, what's the matter?  Something's been going on.  What is it?'

'There HAS been a bit of a row,' I acknowledged.  'That was Hench.
Ever since his wife died he's been queer.  I never saw such a
change in a man.  But it's nothing.  Buller and Osmund have got him
in hand all right.'

Her voice softened.  'Poor Hench!  I'm sorrier for him than for any
of them.  Are you mixed up in this?'

'Not a bit, I came quite by chance.'

'Go in and tell John that you're taking me out for an hour.  It's
such ages since we've met.  I have a thousand things to ask you;
John won't mind.  He can join us later.'

She smiled.  Her eyes were bright with something that I did not
dare to connect as yet with myself.  She turned once more to the
bedroom, then drew back.  She put her hand out to steady herself on
the door handle and whispered:

'Pengelly!'

I followed her gaze and saw that she was staring at a hat and a
waterproof hanging on the rack.  Together they were unmistakable.
I myself, after all these years, would have recognized them
anywhere.  There were, I don't doubt, hundreds of other poor
mortals in this city to whom that hat and waterproof were insignia
of shame and torture.

I nodded.

'Yes, he's been here.  He's gone.'

'He's gone? . . .  Why are you hiding something?  Something's
happened?  I don't believe he's gone--the vile . . .'

She was interrupted, because the door opened and Osmund came out.

She went straight up to him and, looking him in the face, said:

'What's been going on?  Dick's hiding something.  Pengelly's been
here.  What about?'

Osmund nodded his head.

'Yes, he's been here--but he's gone.'

'I don't believe it.  He's still here.  His hat and coat are
there.'

She pushed past him and went into the room.

She stopped just inside the door.  One of the candles was
flickering and rivalled in its jumping shadows the reflections of
the sky-signs on the wall.  Pengelly was lying, straightened out on
the sofa, a handkerchief over his face.

'He's dead,' she said.

'Yes,' said Osmund.  'I killed him.'

She swayed ever so little, put her hand for a moment in front of
her eyes, and gave her husband the strangest look.  It was a look
of terror.  She turned and glanced at all of us; then she left the
room without another word.  Osmund followed her, closing the door
behind him.

Buller shook his head.  'What a shame!' he said.  'What a damned
shame!  Couldn't you have stopped her coming?  It's worse now.  It
was bad enough, but now it's worse.'

He looked round at Hench and saw that he was of no use at all.  He
was sitting staring in front of him, his hands hanging.

Then he appealed to me.

'Look here, Gunn, you're the only one who's any good.  It's bad
luck on you; you had nothing to do with this.  You oughtn't to have
been in this at all.  We must get it away.  Osmund's gone a bit
queer; Hench is no good.  We've got to get busy.'

At that moment a clock tinkled the quarter past somewhere.

'Quarter-past eight.  Will you help me?'

At his direct appeal I found that I had been thinking only of
Helen, seeing her and Osmund outside that door, wanting to be with
her, longing. . . .

But at the urgency of his voice I swung right round.  I, as it
were, jerked myself, my brain, my consciousness, my determination
into another position.

'Yes,' I said, 'I'll help you.'

'There's only one thing to do.  We've got to get it into the car.
It isn't very pleasant, but we must manage it.  Wait--I'll go out
and get his hat and coat.'

He opened the door, peered out, then went, closing the door behind
him.

I had been standing near the window while he was speaking to me,
and the moment he was gone Hench sprang up and laid his trembling
hand on me.

'Don't go,' he said.  'Don't go, Gunn.  It's nothing to do with
you.  And we can't get rid of him that way.  Don't you see--he's
outside, waiting on the staircase.  That isn't him there.  We must
tell everybody.  That's the only way to get clear.'

I saw that he was on the edge of the wildest hysteria.  I felt an
odd tenderness for him; in fact, at that moment I felt an
extraordinary tenderness and compassion for the whole world, as
though all human beings had shared in this deed, as though all
human fates had been altered by it.

I put my arm round him.

'Wait a minute, Hench.  Take this calmly.  Pull yourself up a bit.
Remember this: Pengelly was the dirtiest, rottenest fellow there's
ever been.  There's never been anyone worse.  He was a blackmailer,
and there's nothing rottener than that--nothing.  He's made
hundreds of men and women wretched, frightening them, bullying
them.  He had no remorse, no mercy.  He wanted to make us as bad as
himself.  And he was responsible for your wife's death.'

He broke in.

'But she wouldn't have wanted to kill him.  She didn't wish anyone
harm.  However bad he was, she wouldn't have hurt him.  And we
haven't killed him.  He's more alive than ever he was.  He'll be
with us always now.  Oh, God, God . . . if only I hadn't come. . . .'

Buller came in, carrying the hat and coat.  At the sight of them I
was suddenly practical, resolved.

'Sorry I was so long,' Buller whispered (we were all speaking in
whispers).  'I went out into the passage to see if anyone was
there.  It's all clear.'

'Is Osmund there?' I asked.

'No.  They've gone into the bedroom.  You see, I want us to get
away before he's back.  Osmund is so damned funny.  You never know
what he'll do--impulsive. . . .  Here--catch his arm while I slip
the coat on.'

I put my arm round the body's waist, and it leaned its lolling head
against my chest as though it loved me.  I raised the hand, and it
was warm to my touch.  We slipped the waterproof on and pushed the
hat down onto the head.

As we raised the body away from the sofa I had a brief attack of
nausea.  Everything in the room began to swim round me, the silver
candlesticks were trebled, and the windows gaped like pools of
water.  It passed.  I was quite steady.  Buller held the body
firmly round the waist.  I clutched one arm.  It made quite a
passable figure between us, very like a drunken man, the head sunk,
the feet dragging, the shoes tapping on the floor.

There was no sign of Osmund and Helen--no sign or sound of anyone
or anything.  Then, as I opened the flat-door with my spare hand, I
saw that someone had at the same moment switched on the staircase
light from below.  It was too late to turn back.  Even as we came
out, the door closing behind us, I saw a large, stout, red-faced
woman mounting the stairs towards us.

She paused on the top step, panting for breath.  She was one of
those strange women, not, I suppose, peculiar to our times, who,
well over forty in age, nevertheless dress like girls of twenty.
She had a little black shining hat pulled tightly over her shingled
hair, but she was wearing evening dress, her shoulders covered with
a very gaily coloured Spanish shawl; her skirts were extremely
short, and her legs, in black silk stockings, immense.

Buller and I had both instinctively moved forward a little to cover
our burden.  She was at first occupied with the recovery of her
breath and saw nothing at all.  Then, realizing us, she gasped:

'Major Escott?'

(So vividly did this awful moment drive that name into me that,
when only a few weeks ago I encountered the name in a newspaper, I
could not for a minute or two read the paragraph that followed.)

'I beg your pardon?' asked Buller.

'Oh, no--it's all right.'  (Her hand was against her panting
breast.)  'I saw you come out of that door.  I thought it might be
Major Escott's.  He's in this building somewhere.'

'Higher up, madam,' said Buller.

'Oh, thank you.'  She moved on to the foot of the next staircase.
Then she turned.  Her silly, round, rather sheepish eyes were like
saucers.  She had one of the stupidest faces possible to woman, and
a very coquettish manner.

'You're SURE it's higher up?' she said.  'Because I THOUGHT it was
number three. . . .'  Then she saw the lolling figure between us.
She gave a little gasp.

'Oh! . . .  Is your friend ill?'

Buller smiled grimly.  'We have been celebrating. . . .'

'Oh, yes. . . .'  She hesitated.  'Because I have my car.  The
chauffeur could fetch a doctor. . . .'

'You are very kind,' Buller answered.  'It is nothing--a little
fresh air. . . .'

She looked again.  I had an agonizing sense that she suspected
something; my own knees went, and the body hanging on my arm
weighed suddenly a ton.

'Oh, if that's all--'  She gave us another look and went up,
disappearing round the corner.  We waited until her steps died
away.  I leant back against the door of Osmund's flat.

'I'm sorry, Buller--I'm going to be sick.'  Indeed, the floor and
the stairs were heaving and dancing, the thin glass globe of the
electric light swelled and retracted.

Buller was disgusted.  He jerked at the body.  'Here, give me the
thing.  I thought you were up to this.  Go back and be sick in the
flat.  I'll manage it alone.'

I was ashamed.  I shook my head.

'No, I'm all right.'

'Remember he was a beast,' Buller went on rapidly.  'The rankest
ever.  If anyone deserved a knock on the head . . .'

The words with which I had tried to strengthen Hench; and at the
thought of Hench and his hysteria I pulled myself together.

'Come on,' I said, and we moved forward.

As we moved down that flight of stairs I became convinced that
Pengelly was still alive.  After all, it might be so.  No one had
made any very careful examination.

It seemed to me that he was grinning under his hat, but it was
especially the rolling of the head that had a horrible life in it.
I felt that at all cost I must stop and steady that head with my
hand.  My own fingers slipped and came into contact with those
fingers that were still warm.

'Buller, wait. . . .'  We were halfway down that section of the
staircase.  'I don't think he's dead . . . the way his head
rolls. . . .'

'He's dead,' said Charlie,--'Stone,' and went on.  It seemed to me
that those fingers were trying to catch mine, and that roused in me
a nasty vindictiveness.  My hand tightened on the arm, and it was
as though I said:  'If you are grinning, there's nothing to grin
about.  If you play any tricks I'll finish you off properly.'  The
heels of the shoes tap-tapped at every step.

On the next landing there was nobody.  We moved forward.  There was
only one more flight of stairs, and we were on the ground floor.
We passed the barber's door, now dark and dead!  What months ago
that visit to that barber seemed!  There was a very dim light here,
and no sound at all.  We might have been stepping down into a well
without bottom.

Halfway down this last flight Buller paused.  'Now it's going to be
a bit difficult,' he whispered.  'This is the only risky bit, but
there's nothing else for it.  The car's parked round the corner.
I've got to fetch it, and you've got to wait here.  It's all right.
We'll stick it down in this corner--you stand over it.  I'll only
be a minute or two, but when I've got the car we can't leave it
outside more than a moment.  It's almost certain no one will come,
and if they do they won't notice anything.'

I had a wild impulse of refusal.  To wait alone in this dark
corner, alone with Pengelly . . .  But there was something about
Buller, a courage, an indifference to all emotionalism, that shamed
me.  He added:  'After all, there were lots of worse things in the
war. . . .'

He took the body in his arms, propped it up on the last step in the
corner against the wall, nodded to me, and was gone.  I stood
there, the nausea still with me.

Impossible now not to believe that Pengelly was alive!  He sat
there, his head forward, huddled, his legs jutting out.  I had to
push his legs back, and, as I did so, one of his hands, colder
surely than a moment ago, touched mine.  When did rigor mortis set
in?  The time of it differed, didn't it?  In any case, not yet for
a while.  But why think of that when he was alive?  At any moment
he might lean forward and clutch me round the knees.  My own knees
were trembling.  It wouldn't be very difficult to pull me down and
then, with those cold hands, to strangle me. . . .  Every kind of
wild idea flew to my brain, and every sound in the world began to
be audible to me. . . .  The whole building stirred with a life of
its own, a life altogether independent of the human beings who
inhabited it.  A small inquisitive wind came creeping down the
stairs wondering what I had got there.  In the corner beside me
were a broom and a bucket, and they seemed also to share the same
inquisitiveness.  But there were more positive sounds than these.
A vibration like a silly malicious giggle seemed to tremble through
the building.  This was almost out of earshot, but not quite.  If I
listened with all my attention, I caught the quiver of it just as
though someone were laughing at me behind the door.  Then, at
constant intervals, the whole place moved (possibly certain
vibrations of the traffic shook it), but it was a movement so like
the other sounds of derision and menace, as though the place knew
that I was a fool and hated me for my presence and for the thing
that I had with me.

Somewhere a door blew to, and this puzzled me, because it must be
some inside door, and yet it was close to my ear and more sharply
menacing than any other sound.

Soon, however, all my sensations rolled into one, my consciousness
of the cold.  I had neither hat nor coat with me.  I was (you will
remember) dirty and unshaven.  Every draught in the world was
circling about me, blowing round my forehead, creeping up my legs,
stroking my arms.

Cold and hunger, as everyone has at some time experienced, have a
personal force.  When they are felt intensely enough they become
individuals and wear, for the person who is confronted by them,
physical aspects.

So now it seemed to me that the cold came down from the stairs, and
crept in from under the street door, and began to flap a wet
freezing cloak about my face.  I was tired, overstrung, and it was
not long before my imagination conceived for me that Pengelly also
felt the cold and crept closer to me for warmth, but that he was
colder than any cold, and that I was conscious of his stiff naked
body beneath his thin clothes.

Oh, yes, those minutes at the foot of that staircase were of
themselves extremely uncomfortable for me, but now something was to
happen which made them infinitely worse.

The street door was pushed open--the noise of the outside traffic
was suddenly a roar, the door was closed again, and a little man in
evening dress was facing me.  The light here was very dim, and he
would not have seen me at all had he not held the door open for a
moment and let the outside glare in upon me.

But he did see me, and he stopped with a gasp.  He stood swaying a
little on his feet, and when he spoke I realized that he was
slightly tipsy.

'Hullo,' he said.  'Who's there?'

I must have been frightening, standing there, stiff and straight,
in the shadow against the wall.

'It's all right,' I answered.  'I'm waiting for a friend.'

He was reassured, I suppose, by my voice, and he took it at once
for granted that I was waiting for a woman.

'All right,' he said; 'won't spoil sport.'  He swayed forward so
that he touched me.  'Damned dark here.'

'There's a light on the next landing,' I said.

'Right O!'  I could see his face, and it was very young and very
weak.  'Hope I'll get up there all right.  Been drinking a bit.
Too many cocktails.'

'Yes,' I said.  For the life of me I could not keep my teeth from
chattering.  It was then, I think, that it struck him that there
was something unusual about my immobility.  He peered a little
closer.

'Cold spot you've chosen.  No business of mine.'

I didn't reply.  I was at this moment so badly overwrought and
nervously alarmed that for tuppence I would have caught him by the
scruff of his neck and thrown him up the stairs.  Buller might
return at any moment.  What if the young fool were still here and
insisted on remaining?

'Well,' he repeated.  'No business of mine.  Late already.  Major
Escott's flat.  Number three.  Next floor, isn't it?'

'Yes,' I answered sharply, having a wild hysterical desire to
laugh.  Suppose this ass climbed up and rank the bell of Osmund's
flat and in his drunken humour insisted that it was the one he
wanted!  Oh, well, I had the body here--that was one comfort.

But it was no comfort at all, for, with another lurch, he peered
into the dusk and saw the huddled shadow at my feet.

'Hul-lo!' he whistled.  'What have you got there?'

'That's what I'm waiting for,' I answered quickly.  'If you want to
know, it's a pal of mine drunk himself silly.  Someone's gone to
fetch his car--it's parked round the corner--we'll put him into it
and take him home.'

'My WORD!'  The young ass was deeply interested.  'And I thought it
was a girl you were waiting for.  By Jove, he does look bad!  Too
many cocktails, that's what I've been having--and before the
party's even started.  We're going to make a night of it.  It's
Escott's birthday--lots of people coming in later on, but WE'RE
dining . . .'

He broke off.  Something seemed to tell him that Pengelly's
immobility was rather remarkable.

'He IS bad.  Gone off in a sort of stupor or something.'

My nerves were at breaking point.

'He'll be all right,' I snapped out, 'once we get him home.'

Then the most terrible thing happened.  He fumbled in his pocket,
produced a cigarette case and a lighter.  He took out a cigarette,
then there was a flare of light.  He looked over the little flame--
straight into Pengelly's face.  The head had rolled back, the hat
tumbled sideways, the face with staring eyes, the tip of the tongue
jutting out between the teeth, the cheeks a dead yellow--this was
what the young man saw.  The light went out.  The cigarette dropped
to the ground.

'My God!' he whispered.  'He's dead!'

Had he, in that moment of illumination, looked at my face?  I
didn't know.

I moved forward.  He turned, as though he thought I was going to
strike him, up the staircase.

'Rot!' I said.  'He's only dead drunk.  He fell and struck his
head.  He'll be as right as anything in the morning.'

But the young man was gone.  I was alone once more.

Only for a moment.  The door opened, and, to my intense relief,
this time it was Buller.

Without a word we had Pengelly between us, had passed into the
brilliant light of the street, had placed Pengelly in the dark
corner of the back seat, the head once more lowered, the hat once
more obscuring the face.

No one noticed us.  The crowd was now thick, and to my eyes and
ears, after that awful ten minutes, seemed to have the vitality and
colour of a flaming, shouting miracle.

I had one glimpse of Buller as, his face sternly set, his thick
strong bullet head stiff with courage and resolve, he stared to see
that his path was clear.

Then the car moved forward, and I was alone.




BOOK II



CHAPTER VIII

Shadow Pursuing


I did not at once realize that I was at last alone.  It seemed to
me that all of them--Buller, Osmund, Hench, Helen--were yet at my
side as I pushed into the flaming icy stream.  For that, I
remember, was how it just seemed to me--to be flaming with light
and brilliant with cold.  I was without hat or coat--I was
terrified.  I must confess to that now, for this was the first
moment (although it was not to be the last) during this evening
when I was quaking, panic-driven with terror.  All that I wanted at
that particular instant was to flee, to hide myself, to bury
myself, to escape from every kind of contact.  It was not until
later that the question of Helen, of my return to the flat, of my
involving myself once more in the whole adventure, began to
persecute me.  I had in that first moment no thought at all of
Helen.  I thought only of myself.

And here, if you will forgive me for an instant, I must explain
that I had, for months before this, been a driven fugitive.  No one
who has not experienced it can have any true notion of what it is
to be day after day, week after week, month after month, without
any means of subsistence at all, and to have beyond that no one in
the world anywhere who cares the fall of a pin whether you have
subsistence or no--but, worse than that, far, far worse, is to be,
at my age, without any means at all of filling the twenty-four
hours--day after day stretching in front of you, naked, bare and of
an infinite, infinite length.

Many English officers who had deserved something of their country
were in this state after the war until a lucky job found them, or,
more probably, death from sickness, despair, suicide.  I know that
it was very easily said by those who were more secure that it was
simple enough for these men to find some kind of work, that it was
only, often enough, a kind of effete snobbishness that prevented
them.

But that simply was not the truth.  Thousands of men were ready for
any job, were ready at last, I fear, for almost any degradation . . .
that recurring emptiness of the endless succeeding days beats any
Chinese torture for long-drawn malignity.

Well, I had been like that, and it had had its effect on my
vitality, my vision, my courage, and my sense of reality.  I have
written these words here because, looking back on this strange half-
hour that I am about to describe, I can see that I was not quite in
my sane mind--it is my unbalanced vision that I am trying here to
recover.

The first reaction of that same unbalanced vision was to the light.
I saw, as I stood on the pavement outside that door, from a clock
on the opposite side of the street that it was only half-past
eight.  Only a quarter of an hour then had passed since that
meeting with Helen and the awful descent of those stairs.
Unbelievable, incredible fact!  It seemed to me that I had been
plunged into an icily chill well of darkness with my huddled
companion for hours of time.  But there in the face of that clock
were the facts.

Anyway, I had been in darkness and now was blinded with light.  I
had been in silence and now was deafened with sound.  I had not at
that time visited America, but I have had since then that dazzling
and exciting experience, and I can well understand how dim and
shabby an affair Piccadilly Circus must seem to proud citizens of
Broadway's fantastic bizarrerie.  I will go further and admit that
the Circus never after this evening was to have for me the flame
and thunder that it had at this particular hour.  My experiences of
it were, thank God, never to be the same again!  But now, as I
emerged into it, I seemed to be held by a barrier of fire.  I
wanted to hide: on the contrary every eye of that pushing multitude
seemed to stare at me, and at my side, never leaving me, taking
soft step in step with mine, was Pengelly's shadow.  It was, as a
matter of fact, the last ten minutes of one of the Circus's two
most crowded evening hours.  When I had gone out earlier to find
Hench everything was preparing for battle.  Now the battle had been
joined, the restaurants and theatres filled, but already the
tendency which is now so marked, to dine ever later and later, was
beginning to be felt, and there were the thronging cars and cabs of
the late-comers to the theatres, and a great pushing crowd of
pedestrians, released from shops and families and duties, flowing
aimlessly from point to point.

But at first I could see nothing for the glare.  Once again snow
was beginning to fall, and I fancy that if one could have stood on
a rock above the city one would have seen the great snowstorm of
the later hour beating its way with wings of darkness from the salt
shallows of the Essex coast.  I saw nothing but lights.  I bent my
head beneath them.  At the end of Shaftesbury Avenue where I was
standing blazed above me on the left the letters of fire that
announced the revue at the theatre, and on the right, above the
chemist's and the sweet-shop and the tobacconist's, were the
dancing lights of red and green, the trickling gold stream of words
and sentences, the trembling, dazzling figure of a gentleman who
rode a bicycle of flame, faded into nothing, rode again, and faded
again into darkness.  Under this blaze the stream of men and women
ceaselessly flowed.

From where I stood I shared with the crowd a position immediately
under the windows of Osmund's flat, and my first quite absurd
impression was that they had all gathered there because they were
waiting for some sensational developments.  I had the conviction, I
remember, that if I looked up I should see Pengelly hanging, doll-
wise, out of Osmund's window, as the puppet does in Stravinsky's
ballet.

'Listen, everyone!' I could hear him calling.  'They've tried to
murder me in here, the dirty dogs.  They have indeed!  But they've
failed . . .  Come up and see!'

The crowd would stop and listen and then they would turn and start
pell-mell up the stairs, pushing, shoving, fighting to get a good
view.  I knew what crowds were like when there was something for
them to see!  Yes, and how like a pack of dogs they were!

Then I began to have the sensation that people were looking at me
with suspicious glances.  It was likely enough that they were, for
I was dirty, dishevelled, without hat or coat.  But it did not seem
impossible that Pengelly was down there on the pavement at my
elbow, shuffling along beside me, moving when I moved, coming to a
standstill when I came to a standstill--I did not dare to turn
round and look.  But I had to get away from there, right away.  I
stared across the Circus as across a sea.  The huts and planks of
the excavators stood out, ragged and sinister under the blaze.  In
the black cavern of one of them hung a lighted lantern that was
like the red eye of some dragon lurking in the entrance of its
cave.  The nakedness of those boards made everything all around
them unreal.  I regarded them with shivering apprehension.

The safe place for me was the Tube.  There, in the bowels of the
earth, I could be free of this pursuing shadow.  I could speed away
to some secure suburb with a comforting name like Balham or Ealing.
There I would find shelter.  Someone would be kind to me.  I would
work myself boneless for any kind stranger.  What I wanted was
kindliness, friendliness, warmth--and to forget utterly and forever
that moment when Pengelly hung in midair, his legs kicking, or that
other moment, later, when the young man staring over the flare of
his lighter saw that yellow face and that protruding tongue.

I hurried across the Circus feeling that a million startled eyes
followed me, and when I reached the entrance to the Tube I paused,
breathless, as though I had been a hundred miles.

But all my life long I shall remember with kindness that sheltering
porch, for here, for the first time, I had a sense of protection.
My pursuers seemed for a while to have stayed their chase.  I stood
back against the wall while the crowds passed up and down the steps
behind me and recovered a little my self-possession.

Very quickly there followed the accusing question:

'What are you doing?  You are running away.  You have left the
woman whom you profess to love in a situation of extreme danger.
You must go back.'  I would not go back.  No, I would not go back.

'I beg your pardon?' said someone standing beside me.  I looked up
and saw a fresh-faced, rather stout man nervously watching the Tube
entrance.

'I didn't say anything,' I answered.

'Oh, I thought you did.  Cold waiting here, isn't it?  And it's
nearly a quarter to nine.  Damned shame, I call it.'

'Yes,' I answered, taking refuge in his company.

'Rummy things, women,' he went on.  'Simply don't know what
punctuality means.  I told her--I won't wait one minute after the
quarter, I said, and neither I will--not a minute--'

'Perhaps something's kept her,' I said.

'Oh, she'll have her excuse, right enough,' he went on.  'She's a
marvel for excuses--''bus broke down or there was only room on top
or some damn thing.  Anyway, if she doesn't come in the next ten
minutes--'

I couldn't help myself.  The cold was awful.  I shivered from foot
to neck, and my head had a separate existence altogether, jerking
like a mandarin's.  He looked at me curiously.  He had a jolly,
friendly, unsuspicious countenance, and if he ever reads this and,
looking back, remembers a hatless, coatless individual to whom he
talked once some years ago for five minutes in the entrance to the
Piccadilly Tube, he may as well know that I'm grateful.

'I say--isn't it a bit chilly without a hat or coat?'

'I just ran out,' my teeth chattered, 'for a moment to see someone.
Said he'd meet me here.  He hasn't come.  I'll go back.'

But the curious thing was that I suddenly discovered that I
couldn't for the life of me go down those steps into that Tube!
No, I could not, and for the very good reason that at the bottom of
those steps just in front of the bookstall Pengelly was waiting for
me!  For many years the same man had been in charge of that
bookstall.  He was a rather large man with a bowler hat tilted a
little to the back of his head, and, when you tendered him money,
he handed you newspapers rather as though you were one of the
criminal classes.  He meant nothing offensive, I'm sure, but there
it was--I never could ask him for a News or a Standard without
feeling that I had my best friend's silver spoons in my pocket and
that he was aware of the fact!  Although I did not turn my head,
everything behind my back was clear to me: on the left the steps
leading down to the cloakroom, on the right the ticket office with
a little queue of people forming, then the steps, beyond them the
bookstall piled high with gaily coloured magazines and papers, and
perched up in his bowler hat, looking out like a magician from his
castle window, the stout-faced ironist.  To the right of him, quite
close to the magazines, Pengelly.  Pengelly for certain.  Pengelly
with his small, pale, vivid snake-glance under the shabby hat, the
waterproof hanging from him, waiting, quite motionless, until I
came down. . . .

'Evening News, please,' says a little stout woman, holding up her
penny, and the ironist, his bowler hat half off his head, looking
over her contemptuously, gives her the paper.  The lift gates
clang!  The icy wind with the snuffle of snow in its nostrils blows
through the passages, but Pengelly does not move--he is waiting for
me there.

'Well,' said the man at my elbow.  'Another three minutes I give
her--and then--good-night all!'

I was absorbed in my struggle to turn and force myself down those
steps.

'He's not there!  You know he's not there.  He was killed in
Osmund's flat.  Already perhaps Buller has thrown that body with
which you struggled into the river.  There's nothing there by that
bookstall.  You know there's nothing!'

But yes--he is standing there, and to the left of him,
indifferently, obediently, the lift gates open and shut.

'If I were you,' said my friend, 'I wouldn't stand there any longer
without a coat--I wouldn't really.  You'll catch your death.  Well,
I'll be moving . . . ah!'

I felt his body warm with pleasure.  He stepped forward.  A pretty
girl in a little fawn-coloured hat came to meet him.  They held
hands.  I heard her say:  'I'm terribly sorry, Alfred--truly, I am.
There wasn't a 'bus--they were all full, even on top.  I can tell
you I was fussing--I knew how vexed you'd be. . . .'

They moved away, her hand through his arm.

And at that I cannot possibly convey to you how wretchedly desolate
I felt.  It swept down upon me, like a voice from heaven, that I
was forever separated now from all mankind, ostracized, alone,
abandoned. . . .

I cowered against the wall into the dark.  They were going, those
two, loving one another, into their own happy place, but for me
there was no place, no home, no love.

The Circus moved before my eyes, and into it, about it and around,
passed every happy thing in the world--men and women by the fire,
the stir of the falling coal below the lamp, the dancers turning
cheek to cheek to the band's rhythm, the colours and scents and
warmth brought for someone else's happiness, the door opening to a
beloved voice, closing upon the intimacy of hushed voices in talk,
bells ringing, dogs and cats, toys and coloured ribbons and tin
trumpets, the slow realization of the truth and fidelity of a great
friendship, birth and death shared by will and desire, work done
eagerly for another's glory, a chorus of voices singing, the tones
rising above the hum of the traffic, and the measured tread of
passing men--all THIS never for me again because henceforth I was
marked apart.

I went off with my head down.

I found myself outside the entrance to the tea place where I had
met Hench, and there, standing erect in the doorway, was old Father
Christmas with his sign aloft just as it had been all those years
before Pengelly's visit.

I stopped.

'It's cold,' I said.

He nodded his head.  'Aye,' he said.  'Bitter.  Where's your coat
and 'at?'

'I'm over the way playing dominoes.  Came out to the chemist's for
a moment.'

He was really a dear old man, with blue eyes as mild as a cocker
spaniel's.

'You must be warm,' I said, 'wearing that false beard for hours.'

'It's a bit ticklish at times,' he answered.  'But I don't complain--
got to do something these days.  Lucky to get this job.  That's
the way I look at it.'

'What are your hours?' I asked him.  His nose was as red as a
cherry.

'Four to ten.  There's another man--ten to four.  He 'ates the
beard.  Positively 'ates it.  I says to 'im--what's a beard for a
'our or two?  Makes 'im look silly, 'e thinks, and 'e isn't much to
look at neither.  But 'e's younger than me.  Thinks it beneath
'im.'

'Nothing's beneath you if you do it well,' I replied sententiously.

'Just what I say to 'im.  There's plenty worse jobs.  On a cold
night especially.  Why, I'm all stuffed up inside to give me a
chest.  I'm quite a little man, really.  Thin made.  Always was.
And it's a blessing, all this wadding, cold night like this.'

He took away a little of my desolation.  He seemed to find nothing
unusual in my appearance.  I was a man to him like another.

I knew suddenly what it was that I wanted to do.  I wanted to tell
him all about everything--yes, everything--and then to ask him--
must I go back to that flat again, fling myself once more into all
that horror?  Would he go back if he were me?  What use to see
again a woman I loved when she was married to my friend?  Maybe he
would help me to escape from this terror, this sense of pursuit,
this shadow of ostracism!

He was such a VERY kind old man with his mild blue eyes and cherry-
coloured nose.  Had he ever stumbled with a knee-knocking corpse
down dark stairs?  Maybe he had and that was why he was so
charitable.

'Don't have anyone much as late as this, do you?' I asked him.

'You'd be surprised.  People come in for a quiet chop--AND chat.
Many's the marriage been fixed up in our place--quarrels too--
plenty of them.  I've seen 'em go up those stairs as 'appy as you
like, and come down 'alf an 'our later all red in the face and
separate.  Aye, life's queer!' he sighed through his beard.

I wanted to tell him--what?  Should I go back?  Could I flee even
though I wished to?

'Have you ever--?' I began.

And then stopped.  His mild blue eyes bent amiably upon me, but, in
an instant, turned sharp with suspicion.  My words had made him
uncomfortable.  He suddenly, I suppose, began to put two and two
together.  Queer man, coming out of nowhere without hat or coat, a
stubbly beard, said he'd been playing dominoes, frightened of
something, nervous, staring about him, asking me whether I'd ever--

Something queer here.  Don't want to be mixed up in it.  Been mixed
up with enough in my time.  That girl down at Hackney. . . .  That
night I drank too much at the Peacock and got mixed up with . . .
yes . . . precisely.  That's why I'm here now, holding up a ruddy
pole, dressed in a fancy beard, on a snowy night!  NO, thank you.

So my dear old Father Christmas was, in an instant, a stranger.
Oh, but removed from me a thousand, thousand miles!  His eyes were
frosty.  His sham beard bristled with suspicion, the pole that he
was holding was his weapon of defence.

That isolation again!--and even as I was aware of it I knew that
Pengelly had left his post by the station bookstall and was turning
the corner towards me.

'Good-night,' I said abruptly, and left him.

I crossed to the huts, the planks, the scaffolding.  Here Eros had
once been, here had once been the stout flower-women with their
roses, violets, carnations--now all was ruin, and a period in man's
civilization was closed.  But I didn't care just then a hoot for
man's civilization.  Ever more pressingly now was driving in upon
me the question as to whether I would desert Helen or no.  Nothing
but that.  Should I force myself back to that room--that room with
the unfinished mottled walls, the blowing candles, the little
ivory landscapes on the secretaire, and take up again all my
responsibility for that moment when Osmund had lifted Pengelly into
the air--or should I leave it all like a bad dream behind me,
forgetting Helen, giving Pengelly the slip? . . .  Giving Pengelly
the slip?  Even as the thought came to me I knew that he had crept
into his shelter just inside the large dark canvas hood that
crouched beside the hole where the red lantern hung.  What a place
for him to hide, here where the depths went down into the very
bowels of the earth.  In my fantastic apprehension I could feel the
cold stiff fingers about my neck and those strong, wiry arms
pulling me down, past the lantern's red eye, until the air grew
stuffier and the damp thick earth began to press into my nostrils.

I looked up and out, to the sky shining with leaping signs, to the
walls of dark buildings, and almost exactly opposite me Osmund's
window, a black square embedded in a darting field of red and green
stars.

I almost ran across the Circus, hiding myself in the crowd, feeling
nothing but cold, fear, and the inevitability of that pursuing
figure.  I turned towards the Regent Palace Hotel and saw on the
right above my head in very large letters, 'CHINESE RESTAURANT.'

I had only my half-crown.  I was no fitting person for any
restaurant, but I was cold and frightened.  I turned in and climbed
the stairs.  On the wall above the staircase were Chinese pictures,
white marble backgrounds with sprays of pink blossom, bridges,
temples, tea houses, and underneath them English advertisements of
Worcestershire Sauce, Corsets and Trips to Geneva.  As I turned the
corner a girl and a man passed me, and she said:

'But what I say is you don't know what you're eating.  It isn't
like a good square meal you can give a name to.'

And what _I_ said as I turned to the left into the restaurant was:
'I WON'T go back. . . .  Oh, God! don't make me go back!  I don't
want to see that room again.  I don't want ever to see--'

'Yes,' said the polite Chinaman in evening dress at the door.
'There's a place at that table by the window.'  For the room was
surprisingly full, surprisingly for that hour, I mean.  At every
table people were sitting, and at the table pointed out to me there
were a man and a woman.  I went over and sat opposite them.  I was
next to the window.  I could look down and see the curve of the
Circus and the narrow street that runs to the Regent Palace.
Against the wall of the street a woman was selling papers.  She had
a placard, and on it in large letters was this sentence:  'TRAGEDY
IN A WEST-END FLAT.'

I shivered.  Perhaps it was Osmund's flat that they meant.
Buller's car had been stopped.  They had searched it and found the
huddled figure on the back seat.  Or he had been caught with the
body just behind Dirk's (wherever or whatever Dirk's might be), and
now Osmund and Helen and Hench . . .

'Is there much difference between the four-shilling and four-and-
sixpenny dinner?' I asked the English waiter.

'The four-and-sixpenny is chicken soup,' he answered wearily and
with his eye on the placard below the window.

'All right.  I'll have the four-and-sixpenny.'  (He's seen it too,
I thought.  Everyone must be talking about it.)

The pair opposite me sat demurely side by side.  She was a thin
woman in a red hat, and he a stout, round-faced fellow, very
English, very quiet and, I could see, very amiable.  They might be
an engaged couple, but if so they had been engaged for long enough;
they were not romantic about one another--simply quiet, kindly,
content.  The waiter had just placed in front of them large dishes
of uncertain shape and complexion.  One appeared to be a pie of
some sort, another was a confusion of vegetables.

'Chopsticks?' asked the waiter.  They shook their heads.

'I may as well go over and choose some of the silver,' she said.
'It will save Mother the trouble.'

He was the quietest man I had ever seen--not only external quiet
but internal--quite settled and contented.  Yes, perhaps they were
shortly to be married.

'It's just the same,' she said, 'since we were last here.  Do you
remember?--that was the time we saw Mary Rose.'

He nodded his head again. . . .  I had never seen better, kindlier
eyes.

'No, but what do you think about the silver?  Or shall I wait until
you can come with me?'

'No, you go--no need for me.'

They began to help themselves.  I saw that they were practised with
this Chinese food, mixing it and knowing exactly what they were
about.

Meanwhile I had been brought a bowl that seemed to contain hot
water with fragments of naked chicken floating in it.  I could eat
nothing.  I felt terribly sick.  If that newspaper placard WERE
concerned with Osmund's flat, then it would be madness for me to
return there.  The police would be there.  I could aid Helen more
easily if I kept away.

'That woman,' the lady in the red hat said, 'laughs like Lucy.
Just as silly.  It's funny--Lucy's laugh hasn't changed in all
these years.'

'She's all right,' he muttered, staring into the pie.  They had
been married for years.  They lived abroad.  China, perhaps.  My
soup was taken away and something put in its place.  But my eyes,
that seemed now to have some quite independent life of their own,
would not leave the door.  At any moment he might appear, his hat
about his brows, his hands in his coat-pockets.  And then what
would I do?  As he crossed the room, his eyes fixed on mine, ghost
or no ghost . . .

I saw that the stout fellow was looking at me.  His gaze which was
(as always, I suppose) most kindly, saved my eyes from their
terror.  I smiled timidly.

'I beg your pardon,' I said.  'This is the first time I've been in
here.  I didn't know what to order so I just had the dinner.  But
your things look awfully good.'

The woman was charming.  Her thin face lit up as she talked.  She
told me what the things were.  I don't remember now their names.

'You live in China?' I asked.

'Straits Settlements,' said the man.  I never saw anyone that I
would have sooner made a friend of.

'Does London seem very different when you come back?' I asked.  But
my eyes WOULD shift to the door, and I knew that he had seen my
apprehension, that he was the kind of Englishman whom nothing to do
with facts escapes, that he knew that I was in some sort of serious
trouble.

'Not so very,' she answered.  'There are always the theatres and
one's friends and things going on.'  She was very kind.  How nice
you are, I thought, not to mind that I'm shabby and unshaved . . .
but she wasn't perceptive as he was, didn't know that I was in
desperate trouble.

And then, how terribly, with what a maniacal desire I wanted to
confide in him!  To take him aside and say to him:  'Look here, an
hour ago in a friend's flat . . .'  I pretended to eat my food.
How I was to pay I had no idea!  It did not seem to matter.  And
then it suddenly mattered to me terribly, for there, at the farther
end of the room, under a hanging cluster of Chinese decorations,
was Pengelly sitting.  He had his back turned to me, but there
could be no doubt of it.  The hat, the waterproof, the thin
slouching figure.  He was waiting for me, and when I rose to go he
too would rise.

I began to tremble, and I saw that my friend opposite me watched my
hands.

He said to his wife:  'We must cut the rest or we'll be too late.
Anyway, the preserves are too sweet. . . .'

He asked for the bill, paid it, rose.

I had the cowardice almost to cry out, 'Don't go!  Don't leave me!
I must tell you. . . .'  I think that my lips even moved.  She
smiled at me.  I bowed, then she started to the door.  He followed
her slowly, suddenly turned back, and then, his eyes gravely
regarding mine, before I could understand, murmured, 'Forgive me!',
had caught my hand, pressing something into it.  It was a ten-
shilling note.  So he had thought that that was my trouble!

My head cleared.  I saw that the man at the room-end was not indeed
Pengelly.  My fear slipped from me and, instead, I had the
strongest consciousness--I saw my volume of Quixote lying solitary
on Osmund's refectory table.  Of all the odd things that night that
was perhaps the oddest, for the thought of that lonely rose-
coloured volume decided me.  I would go back.  I could not leave it
there.  I should never forgive myself were it lost.

With my ten-shilling note I paid my bill, and five minutes later,
in the heart of a profound silence, was ringing the bell of
Osmund's flat.



CHAPTER IX

Helen


I don't know what it was that I expected to see when the door
opened--two policemen in the hall, Osmund and Hench guarded while
the flat was searched, anything you please. . . .  What I did see
was the little place as quiet and reflective as a graveyard--and
Helen.

I came in, closing the door quietly behind me.  I must have looked
at her cold, pale, dirty, desolate, for at once her movement
towards me was one of protection, maternal, the kind of anxiety
that no one had shown towards me for many a day.

'I thought you mightn't come back. . . .  I hoped that you
wouldn't.'

I looked at her and smiled.  Oh! I was so glad to see her!  The
confusion and fantasy of the Circus dropped from me as I stood
beside her.  I was no longer afraid.  I knew that I saw things
sanely again.

Then I quickly perceived her own change.  She was a woman of deep
reserve and strength of will.  She yielded to no weakness; at any
rate, no other human being should know that she yielded.

But this last hour had done something to all of us--'peeled a skin
off,' as Unamuno says somewhere.

I did not know at that moment--I WAS to know very shortly--what,
indeed, this last hour had been for her, something more
disintegrating than I could then guess.  But we were all--Osmund,
Hench, she and I--people in another world now.  The scene was of a
fierce bright colour, the figures strange, every movement had a new
echo.  And the rules that we had to obey were new rules.

'Osmund?' I asked.

'He's gone.'  She breathed quickly, looking back at the sitting-
room, whose door was slightly open.

'Mr. Hench is in there.  He's sleeping like a drugged man.  After
you'd gone he began to cry.  John gave him some brandy.  He drank
it, and quite suddenly went off to sleep.  He's there on the sofa.'

I pushed back the door and looked in.  The room was in a trembling
twittering dusk.  There were no lights, but the curtains had
remained drawn back from the windows; there was the golden shadow
like starry dust about the room, and on the wall the jumping sky-
signs.  On the sofa where Pengelly had been, Hench was lying, his
stout soft body shapeless like an undisciplined bolster, his head
back, his mouth open, and out of his mouth proceeded a long-drawn,
whining snore.  This snore filled the whole flat with its regular
rhythmical beat.

'We'll go into the bedroom,' she said.  'It's better to leave him.'

I followed her.  We closed the door, and then sat on the bed side
by side.

She began, in that low, deep, trusting voice that I loved so
dearly.

'Oh, Dick, I didn't want you to come back--but I'm so glad you
have.  If you hadn't, I don't know, I don't see how . . .'  She
looked at me, then smiling (a new different smile, a smile
belonging to the new country in which we now were) . . .  'You're
so dirty.  Go and wash.  It must be hateful being as dirty as
that.'

I nodded and went through the room into the bathroom.  While I
washed I listened, and I can give you no idea of how strange that
sound of Hench's snore was, dominating the quiet flat:  Honk--Honk--
One, Two, Three.  Honk--Honk.  That snore, too, was a snore of the
new world, sinister, threatening, charged with meaning. . . .

I washed.  I scrubbed.  I brushed my hair with Osmund's brushes.  I
longed to shave myself with his razor, but it would take too long.

I went back to her.

'Now tell me where Osmund is,' I said.

'I don't know where he is.  After you and Mr. Buller left--'

'No, but before that,' I interrupted.  'When you were alone with
him while we were in that other room.  What did he say to you?  I
want to know everything.'

'Everything?'  She gave me one of her old ironical smiles.  'You
won't know everything.  No one can about this.'  Her voice sank
almost to a whisper.  'That's why it's terrible--because there are
so many things in it that we can't get at.  The change--from the
one world to the other--it was so sudden--everything now is unreal--
EVERYTHING.'

She paused as though she were thinking something out.  She went on.
'We have very little time.  John may come back or--anything can
happen.  But there's a parallel with this--something that haunts
me.  Years ago I had a woman friend--only an acquaintance, if you
like.  I didn't know her well, but she was charming, sympathetic,
kindly, intelligent.  I asked her to stay with me in a flat that I
had then in Kensington.  The first evening she was delightful.  We
went to a concert, I remember, and both of us enjoyed every minute
of it.  Next morning the same; we talked, laughed, found that we
liked the same things.  Tea-time she went to her room for a nap
before we dined.  I went in an hour later and woke her up.  She
awoke, Dick, an utterly other creature--malevolent, rude, querulous--
the very lines of her face were different.  We had an awful
evening; and next morning, after a horrible row in which she
behaved like a fishwife, she left.  I can't tell you how disgusting
it was, how utterly puzzled I was, because there was no conceivable
reason for any of it.  Later I learnt that she was a hopeless drug
addict.  I've always thought that that instant, uncausable change
in her was one of the most dreadful and depressing experiences of
my life.  Causeless, fiendish--how are you to believe in the human
soul when a drug can do THAT?  How many worlds are there, and where
is there anything to trust to, to put your hand firmly on? . . .
We are wasting time, but that moment when I pushed past John and
looked into that room . . . it was like that . . . a fierce change
from one world to another that we hadn't asked for--and we've got
to live in this world now always--everything is different; there's
nothing to trust to--anything can happen. . . .'

'We're not different, Helen,' I broke in, 'you and I.'

'We are.  Better or worse, I don't know, but different, anyway.
And John--when he brought me in here to tell me--it was awful.  Two
things had happened.  One, I was so afraid of him that when he
touched me I could have screamed--and I'm not hysterical, you know,
Dick.  And the other, that I was so glad that Pengelly was dead, so
frightfully, horribly glad!  If only it hadn't been John who had
done it!  And all the time he was talking to me I was saying to
myself:  "You mustn't let him see that you're different, that
you're afraid of him, that you hate his touch.  He mustn't know
ANYTHING!"'

'And did he?'

'I can't tell.  But it was pitiful.  He needed me then as he had
never needed me before, and I could do nothing for him--nothing.
It had been coming a long time, my terror of him, I mean.  And yet--
what I tell you is true--he is one of the finest, noblest men ever
born.'

She put her hand through my arm, drawing herself to me:

'You don't know what it is to me to talk to you.  I haven't had
anybody for years.  We've been driven from pillar to post.  Even in
Spain someone would turn up who knew about John, and everywhere it
was the same thing--he saw his enemies round everything.  The odd
thing was that he never blamed them or hated them.  He thought it
right that they should hunt him.'

'They weren't hunting him,' I broke in.  'That was imagination.
People are too busy with their own affairs to care.  They haven't
time or energy to hunt anyone.'

'Maybe.  Probably.  But what does it matter?  If you think you're
hunted you ARE hunted.  A little imagination is enough.  But he was
hunted, in any case, by himself.  He couldn't escape what he wanted
to be, what he wanted to do.  He was a prisoner.'

She paused, and we were silent for a moment.  I remember that it
struck me then how strange this quiet talk was after all the
confusion and violence--the two of us sitting side by side on the
bed, no sound anywhere but Hench's snore that had now become an
accustomed element in our world, the things in the bedroom, the
brushes, the looking-glass, the cupboard, and the two of us, moving--
actually moving to a sort of happy tranquillity!

I daresay that it often happens that, after some awful catastrophe,
one sits for an hour almost sleepily tranquil.  The thing's done.
For the moment all that there is for one is to stay and await the
consequences.  There really was just then nothing else for us to
do, and, as I was to learn afterwards, over her, as over myself,
gradually was stealing the knowledge of how deeply we loved, and
that, whatever the future might be, we had at least these moments.

I put out my hand and took hers.

'Tell me first,' I said, 'before the Spanish part, what exactly
happened just now, what Osmund said, where he's gone. . . .'

'What he said?  He just said:  "I killed him, and he deserved it.
He was rotten all through."  I said nothing.  I could think of
nothing at that particular moment except that Pengelly was at last
dead.  You don't know--you can have no possible idea--of the way
that that man has haunted us.  He never actually interfered with
us, and yet he was always there.  We were never free of him.  In
Spain--in Segovia, where we buried ourselves--he was there just the
same.  It didn't matter where we went or what we did.  I always
knew that he would turn up again.

'So that, when John told me that he was dead, I could think only
that we were free.

'But, of course, we were not free.  A moment later John said,
looking at me in despair--"So he's beaten me after all.  I'm damned
forever, and he knows it."  I knew that the only thing for me to
say then was that I was with him through everything, and that
together we'd beat whatever came to us.  But I couldn't!  Dick,
that was the dreadful, unforgivable moment of my life!  The words
stuck.  I only knew that I would be loyal, faithful, but that the
fear of him that had been growing in me for years had reached in
this last act of his the point when I could control it no longer,
when it was stronger than I was.'

'Why were you afraid of him?'

'I had always been afraid of him.  I don't think I ever loved him.
That has been my sin from the beginning.  I admired him, feared
him, and couldn't leave him.  In the old days I was always being
drawn to him, and when he wasn't there I longed for a sight of him
and the sound of his voice, and when I was with him I used to
tremble--not at HIM so much, but at some power in him that was
stronger than he was.  Something that drove him to desperate
things.  All his desire for noble action, his love of grand things,
his idealism, would be used and twisted to something disastrous.
His very love for me, which has never faltered, made him irascible,
miserable, dissatisfied.'

'Bad luck,' I said.

'Rotten luck.  The worst ever.  You know that I'm not sentimental.
I'm not very weak either.  I don't suffer fools as gladly as I
ought.  I've no sympathy for hysteria.  But John could make me
hysterical and weak and soft--not simply because I was so sorry for
him, but because I didn't love him, didn't know how to help him.

'Well, this evening when I knew that I was afraid and didn't want
even to touch him, I was so sorry for him that I could have flung
my arms round him and kissed him.  But there IS something, Dick,
about killing a man, something terrible and apart.  The war was
different.  That was a world of its own.  Men obeyed orders, and
chances were equal.  But back in rooms and quiet flats, with boys
crying the evening papers, there IS something frightful, horrible,
that IS devilish.  And John's right.  He'll never be free of it
now, however loathsome Pengelly was.  I'm the only soul in the
world who could help him--and I can't.'

'What did he do?'

'He said that Pengelly wasn't dead--or wasn't so far as he was
concerned.  He raved a bit--that Pengelly and he were joined
together forever and ever.  Then he began about not dragging the
rest of you into it.  That you must, none of you, suffer, and that
he must go after Buller.  I told him that Buller knew his job--
better to leave him to it.  I was out of it, Dick.  I couldn't say
anything to him that would help.  For one thing--to be truthful--I
was thinking of you.  Every moment I was expecting to hear that you
and Buller had been stopped--the bell ringing--some policeman's
voice. . . .  I've pluck, as a rule, but those ten minutes in this
room were too much for me.  There were too many different things
pulling at me.  I felt that if I were only sure that you were safe
I could deal then with the rest.'

It was at that point, I think, that we were both aware of this new
element now flooding in upon us and drowning everything else--our
love for one another.

We were neither of us either very young or very romantic any more.
We have grown much younger since then.  Life had been hard and ugly
to both of us for a long time, and we had both the sense that on
the whole we had not been given a fair deal.  We knew that least of
all now were we having a fair deal, and that these minutes that we
were sharing were in all probability the last of our lives
together.

We were neither shy nor self-conscious, but we tried for a little
while to postpone any personal emotion.  There was something in all
this more important than ourselves and our private histories.

'Look here,' I said, 'we are both sensible, Helen.  There are only
two things that can happen.  On the one hand--the most likely thing--
Pengelly's body will be found, Osmund arrested, and all of us
publicly involved.  If that happens we'll know how to deal with it
when the time comes.  What we've got to do is to leave that alone
till it occurs.  The other thing that can happen is that nothing
will happen--Pengelly never found, no questions asked.'

'There must be questions asked,' she interrupted.  'Pengelly didn't
come in out of the blue.  He has friends, relations, wives,
mistresses.  Someone will want to know what has happened to him.
In all probability he told someone to keep an eye open.  He knew
that we didn't love him, that there must be some risk.'

'That needn't worry us,' I answered.  'All we have to say is that
he came, talked, departed.'

'Did anybody see you on the stairs?'

'Yes,' I answered slowly, 'I'm afraid two people did--a woman and a
man.  That would be awkward.  The man especially.  He had rather a
clear view.'

I told her about it.

'Oh, we're in a mess,' I finished up.  'As bad a mess as could be.
It can end in everything, anything, nothing.  And that's why I want
to tell you now--because this may be the last five minutes together
that we may ever have--that I love you, that I have always loved
you, and that my loving you is the only grand, constant, faithful
thing in my life.'

'Is it, Dick? . . .  Well, I love you too, and have ever since . . .
Oh, never mind when.'

I had the Quixote in one hand.  I had picked it up in the other
room.

'I wanted to fetch this, so I came back.  I wanted to be with you,
so I came back.  One and the same.  This is the world where you and
I truly are.'

'Yes,' Helen agreed.  'If you said that about any other book in the
world it would be literary--false.  But that is sanity, that
Quixote world.  This other is insanity, and it is because the two
are mingling. . . .  They are always mingling.  My life, Dick, has
been passing from one mad moment to the other, but always someone
else's madness.  We ought to have married years ago, had a cottage,
children, dogs, grown potatoes, had daffodils on the lawn and a
grandfather's clock in the hall--a down or a hill rising above our
back door, and the sea not too far away.  We would have gone to
stay in Edinburgh with the Maughams or the Baggots or the Freers.
Or we would have motored over to see Jane Herries at Keswick, and
she would have given us plants for our garden.  You would have gone
to Spain in an Austin Seven and written a bad book about it.  Our
eldest boy Richard would have chicken pox, and Mary, the second
girl, would have a talent for housekeeping, while Sybil would think
of nothing but hockey.  And you after ten years or so would see a
girl at a dance with a straight nose and Titian hair, and you would
love me just the same but kiss the Titian hair, and I would try to
be sensible and fail for a bit and then succeed.  No madness
anywhere . . . everything sane and straight. . . .'

She turned her head from me and softly, leaning away from me, began
to cry.  Of all the things that I could have conceived her doing,
crying was the last, the most impossible; I think, perhaps, she had
never cried before.  I put my arms round her.  She lay against my
heart.  At last she said:  'And that's that.  Don't be afraid.  No
more tears.'

But our contact was not to be broken.  I remember that I held her
to me as though my only hope of safety were in that.  Then I did
the worst of all my actions that night.

'Helen,' I said.  'Let's go.  Now, while we have the chance.  We
can be abroad by to-morrow morning.  We have our passports.
There's nothing to stop us.  I haven't any money at the moment, but
there are your friends the Tessiers in Paris, they'll get me a job.
Didn't you tell me once that he had a business in Tunis?  I'll
sweep floors, do anything.  Osmund won't drag us back into this.
He'll take it all.'

But even as I said his name I stopped.  I was ashamed.  She sighed.
'Yes--it would be wonderful.  Why be sentimental about it?  If our
consciences would let us we'd go.  But they won't.  We'd never have
a happy moment again.  I couldn't leave John now.  You know that I
couldn't. . . .  No, Dick, I suspect that this is our last time
together.  Pengelly will be found, John arrested, all of us
involved.  We must go through with it just as we've gone through
with everything else.'

'Oh, Helen!' I cried, 'what a muddle!  Our lives spoilt, all of
them, and for no fault of our own.'

'No, for our fault--always for our fault.  If John had more
discipline, I more understanding and sympathy--'

'You--more sympathy!' I broke in.

She nodded.

'Yes, that is what has always been the matter with me.  The machine
of my soul moves stiffly.  When certain people are near me round it
goes, functioning with smoothness.  How nice I am then, how
understanding, wise, kindly!  Another approaches, and every cog in
the wheel is checked.  I can comprehend only one tenth of your
human beings and have no charity for the rest.  You could teach me.
I don't think that you are very wonderful, or clever, or very good,
but I love you, Dick, with complete understanding, and it's good
for me to be with you--'

She took my face between her hands, stared into my eyes, and we sat
there, absorbed in one another, not hearing Hench's snore,
forgetting Pengelly, forgetting for the moment Osmund, and not
caring what happened next.

Like all lovers we began to recover the slightest details of our
early meetings, and over the Circus there crept the oddest little
rag-bag of trifles, the wind-swept empty village street, the sea
pounding like a dream at the end of it, an avenue of trees with a
carriage crawling towards a high stone gate, someone climbing a
staircase and looking back, a pebble beach wet and gleaming after
the departing sea, an Alsatian bounding across a green lawn in
chase of its master, a novel read in a deep armchair, absorbing in
its interest until the door opens, and, at someone's entrance, that
interest is dead--a laugh, a cry, a call, a turn of the head, a
wave of the hand--and, always encircling us both, that sea leaping
upon the shingly beach, and those woods, still and deep, or blowing
lightly, or crackling under storm.  We yet seemed to move there.
As we talked, gazing at one another, hand in hand, all this present
adventure was as unreal to us as it must seem now in retrospect
often to myself.  We had our moment, and we lived it to the full.

'Remember, Helen,' I told her, 'that whatever happens now, we have
had this half-hour--and remember that as I am now so I will always
be.'

She shook her head, smiling.  'No.  No one can tell that.  If John
gives me a black eye to-night, tomorrow you may be wondering that
you ever gave me a thought.  Always leave the future.  Make no
vows.  But you are right about this half-hour.  That shall last
forever, and no one can rob us of it.'

We kissed and were so happy that the Circus burst into flame, the
Quixote stood on its rose-coloured bindings and danced for joy, and
all the angels clapped their wings.

'And now,' at last she said, getting up and going to the looking-
glass, 'for the next business.'  She stared into the glass, and,
with a cry, turned to the door.  I turned also.  We had both reason
to be startled, for in the bedroom doorway Osmund was standing.

His soft hat was pulled over his eyes, and his coat-collar was
turned up.  He leaned against the doorway and seemed fearfully
weary.

Helen went up to him and put a hand on his coat.

'Well, did you find him?'

'No, I found nobody.'  But he was not looking at her.  He was
staring at me, and I expected in the next moment to be challenged
and then perhaps to be overwhelmed with one of those fearful
tempests of rage.  He would kill me also, maybe, as he had killed
Pengelly.  But when he spoke to me his voice was infinitely kind
and friendly.

'I'm sorry you've come back, Dick,' he said.  'It was good of you,
but it wasn't necessary.  And now you are back you must clear out--
at once.  This is none of your business, and I won't have you mixed
up in it.'

How I liked him then, yes, loved him, although I had been kissing
his wife three minutes before and asking her to go off with me.
Moreover, I felt no disloyalty to him at all.  If he HAD challenged
me, as I had supposed that he would, I would have admitted it at
once, acknowledged that I had always loved Helen and had wanted her
to go away with me.

The Quixote element of this strange evening was stamped with this--
the especial honesty of Osmund, Helen and myself.

'No, John,' I said.  (It was the first time in our acquaintance
that I had called him John.)  'You can't get me out of this now.
I'm in it as deeply as you are, and I'm glad that I am.  I'm not
going.'

'Indeed you are, Dick,' he answered smiling, 'and you are going to
take Helen with you.  Get up North by the night train.  The Lakes
or Scotland.  And wait till you hear from me.  I can manage this
alone.'

'Don't waste time, John,' Helen said quietly.  'Dick is not going,
and I am not going.  Take your coat off.  I'm hungry, and we must
wake Hench up; you can send HIM up North if you like.'

Then the door-bell rang.  It tinkled through the flat, striking us
all three motionless.  At the same moment, I remember, I noticed
that I heard Hench's snore no longer.

'Wait,' said Osmund.

He went into the hall and stood there listening.  The bedroom, I
must remind you, had two doors, one into the hall, the other,
behind us, into the sitting-room.  The bell rang again.  Osmund
opened the door.  At the same instant I heard the door behind us
opening and, half turning, saw Hench filling the doorway with his
untidy bulk.

I heard Osmund's voice:

'Yes?'

Then a soft, mild, and most amiable voice:

'I beg your pardon.  Is this Mr. Osmund's flat?'

'Yes.  I am Mr. Osmund.'

'Oh, thank you.  I beg your pardon for disturbing you.  My name is
Pengelly.'



CHAPTER X

The Curate


So we stood, Helen and I in the bedroom, Hench in the door behind
us, Osmund in the hall.  No one moved.

Then the voice came again:

'My name is Pengelly.'

We heard Osmund answer quietly:  'Won't you come in?'

I watched him, a tubby man, enter.  He had a round rosy face
shining (if he had been in an old-fashioned novel) with soap and
water.  His mild amiable eyes were covered and emphasized by
spectacles with tortoise-shell rims.  He was bald on the top of his
head, and had a dark suit, a little shiny, that fitted his limbs a
trifle too closely.  He was all smile and shining spectacles and
stout thigh and small friendly stomach.  A dear little man, a
younger 'Pickwick'; had he worn a high white wall of a collar he
would have made a perfect curate.  His voice suited his appearance--
gentle, urbane, humble.

'Please forgive me.  Only a moment.  I promised my brother that I
would call for him here.'

I felt Helen put out her hand and touch my arm.

'Your brother?' Osmund answered him.  'I'm afraid I don't quite
understand.'

'You ARE Mr. John Osmund, are you not?'

'Yes--that is my name.'

'I know that you know my brother.'

'You said your name--?'

'Pengelly.  Joseph Pengelly.'

'Oh, yes, of course!'  Osmund smiled as though greatly relieved.
'Of course I know your brother.  Do come in, won't you?'

Helen passed me and went into the hall.

'This is my wife.  Helen, this is Mr. Pengelly, whose brother we
know.'

If Helen was there I must be there also.

'And this is a friend of mine, Mr. Gunn--Dick, this is Mr.
Pengelly.'  We all moved into the sitting-room.  I heard Hench make
no sound behind me, but when we were in the sitting-room I saw that
the door into the bedroom was closed and there was no sign of Hench
anywhere.

The next thing that I noticed was that during my absence someone
had put fresh candles into the holders and that they burnt with a
steady, fierce flame.  Everything in the room glittered and shone.
Osmund strode across and pulled the purple curtains over the
window.  He went to the triptych of blue Limoges enamel and
straightened it on the wall.

Then with a delightful smile he turned to the little man, who was
standing patiently in the doorway.

'Do sit down, Mr. Pengelly.  Have something to drink?  Smoke?'

'Thank you.'

'Whisky and soda?'

'Thank you.'  He sat down with maidenly precision on the sofa, and
so mild and clerical did he seem that I remember that a whisky and
soda seemed a very dashing thing for him to venture on.  But I had
read in the past tales and novels enough to be thoroughly familiar
with the conventional milk-won't-turn-sour-to-day figure of the
amiable-seeming villain.  As it developed, this dear little man
was, before the evening was over, to show a personality all his
own.  So he sat on the sofa and beamed on us.  Osmund stood near
the window, Helen sat on a chair close beside him, I in my corner
where I had already been earlier in the evening.

'And what can we do for you, Mr. Pengelly?' asked Osmund.  I
shivered suddenly.  I don't know why.  The room was not cold, but
there were draughts everywhere.  But, as I shivered, I caught a
quick sharp impression of the little man, so that in a second of
intuition I knew that it was true, this man WAS Pengelly's brother.
I fancy now, on looking back, that it was a sudden glint in the
man's eye as he looked out over the top of his glasses that told
me.

He addressed himself, rather surprisingly, to Helen.

'It is exceedingly good of you, madam, to bother with me.  I will
really not detain you more than a moment.  Has my brother been here
this evening?'

'No,' said Osmund.  'I haven't seen him for a long time.  If you
are the brother of the Pengelly I mean, you will realize that
circumstances, past circumstances--'

'Oh, I DO understand!'  The little man broke in.  'In fact, it is
exactly that that made me so shy of coming here this evening.  I am
not, I must tell you, at all intimate with my brother.

'He and I have different ideas.  I suppose most brothers have.  But
I don't want to bother you with that now.  I only came because I
happened to have lunch with my brother to-day.  He said that he was
coming here to see you and asked me to pick him up here.  It's odd.
You say that he has never been?'

'Not so far as I know,' said Osmund in his frankest manner.  'I've
been out part of the evening.'

A jolt of apprehension shook me.  Osmund had made a mistake there,
I was sure--and I suddenly knew the little man on the sofa to be as
sinister as his brother.  I found that my hands, hot and damp, were
tightly clutching my Quixote.  I laid it down on the table near me.
Why had Osmund been such a fool?

'Then my brother never told you he was coming?'

'As a matter of fact,' said Osmund, 'that's the queer thing about
it.  We have none of us seen your brother for a long time.  You can
scarcely wonder at that, Mr. Pengelly, if you know the facts.'

'No,' murmured Mr. Joseph Pengelly.

'So that naturally you can understand our surprise when a day or
two ago I had a note from your brother saying that he wanted to see
me on a matter of business.  I appointed this evening for a
meeting, and have been all this time expecting him.  I thought that
he would have let me know if he had not been able to come.'

'Very strange--and you've had no word at all?'

'No word at all.'

'One would have thought that he would have telephoned.'

'Yes--but my name is not in the telephone book.'

'Ah, that might account for that.  But my brother prides himself on
keeping his engagements.  Are you sure he didn't call while you
were out?'

'He said he'd come between seven and eight.  I was careful to be in
during that time.'

The little man sat up and smoothed his knee, looking at it
reflectively.  'Between seven and eight?  He certainly gave me to
understand that it was to be later.  He told me to call for him
between nine and ten. . . .  I wonder what he can have been up to?'

'I've no idea,' said Osmund, smiling pleasantly.

They looked at one another, Osmund and Joseph Pengelly, and seemed
to like one another very much indeed.  You would have said that
this was one of those cases of instant mutual affection.  But I had
never throughout this strange evening had such a certain conviction
of coming danger as I had at that second when they exchanged
glances.  It suddenly seemed to me that everything was up, that we
were caught like rats, and that nothing could save us.  This little
man like a curate knew everything, and was enjoying his
prolongation of the agony.

My own point of view had now completely changed.  I was no longer
afraid of anything that might happen to myself.  All that personal
terror that had driven me just now like a frightened shadow round
the Circus was completely gone.  I was thinking now only of Helen.
That kiss we had exchanged had altered everything forever.  I know
that these lover's words are conventional platitudes, but in this
instance they were absolutely true.  Everything has been changed
for me from that moment, thank God.  But just then the only thing
that I could think of was Helen's safety.  I didn't mind very much
what happened to Osmund, Hench and myself (except that, of course,
I now wanted to live as I had never wanted to live before), but
nothing must happen to her.  She must not be dragged into this.
That meek, smiling little man must not touch her; for all his
amiability he seemed to me more dangerous than his brother had
been.

'It isn't really of much use that I should wait.'

(He had a precise, meticulous, rather effeminate way of speaking,
and although his voice was more cultured and his words more
carefully chosen, there was something there that reminded me
absolutely of his brother.  They both reminded me of animals, the
other Pengelly of a snake, and this one of a plump, sleek, amiably
vicious cat.)  'My brother can't be coming now.  I do apologize for
troubling you.'

'No trouble at all,' said Osmund most amiably, gathering his
gigantic body together as though he would usher his visitor out.
'Your brother was detained by something.  He will come and see me
another time.'

But the little man did not move.  He was looking at everything, the
candles, the curtains, the triptych, the oddly spotted walls,
finally the secretaire.

He got up to examine it.  'That is a charming thing that you have
there.  I've never seen anything more beautiful.  Quite a museum
piece.'

'I bought it in Spain,' said Osmund, coming nearer.  His voice had
changed.  It was weary, exhausted and dangerous.

Pengelly smiled.  His face was shining with pleasure.

'I know nothing about old furniture, but of course anyone can see
that these little ivory panels are simply delightful.  Charming.
Charming.'  He touched them with his fingers, the gentlemen
fighting a lion, the peacock, the stork, the toreador and the bull--
'Charming.  Charming.'

He saw my Quixote lying there.  He picked it up and idly turned the
pages.

'Well, I must be off.'

Then he stiffened.  He put the book down carefully, turned to us,
and, looking at Osmund, held something towards us.

'Mr. Osmund--forgive me.  But here is a strange coincidence.  This
is my brother's pocket-knife.'

Until that moment I had not seen the knife.  It had been lying
there on the table corner ever since Pengelly (how many centuries
ago?) had taken it out to cut off the end of his cigar.

It was a cheap knife of tortoise-shell with two mean little blades.

'Yes--that is my brother's knife,' said Pengelly quietly.  Then he
looked at Helen.

'I'm sure you will tell me, madam.  I don't want to contradict Mr.
Osmund's statement--possibly he had his own reasons for saying what
he did--but do tell me--has my brother been here this evening or
no?'

Before she could reply Osmund had answered:

'Yes.  Your brother was here.  I said what I did because I thought
that my interview with your brother was between ourselves--no
business of any outsider.'

I could see that his face was rigid with disgust.  Further and
further into low, mean, lying relationships was he to be dragged!
There was no limit to the degradations that he must suffer!  He had
an impulse, I am sure, at that moment, to throw all caution to the
winds, to out with everything!  I thought, in fact, for a moment
that this was what he was going to do.  Helen, I know, thought so
also.  I could see that her eyes were fixed on me.  Her thoughts
were with me then as mine were with her.  We were, at that crisis,
nearer to one another than at any other time in our earthly lives.

Pengelly sat down again on the sofa, rather on the edge of it, I
remember, as though he wanted us to understand that even now, in
spite of his discovery, he was about to depart.

He looked round and smiled on all three of us.

'Please,' he said, 'do understand me.  I'm ashamed of the trouble
that I'm causing.  The last thing I wanted was to pry into anyone's
affairs.  It is all the sillier because really I have nothing to do
with my brother.  I hardly ever see him.  It only happened quite by
chance that we had lunch together to-day, that he said he was
coming here this evening and would I call for him between nine and
ten?  We haven't met for months.  I know that knife, though,
because, as a matter of fact, I gave it to my brother.'

That was a lie.  I was positive at once that he had never given it
to his brother.  It was not the KIND of knife that this type of man
would give to anyone.  And because he was lying about this he was
lying about a number of other things as well.  I saw suddenly that
not only had he not done with us, but that he never would have done
with us.  We were all bound together for as long as this mild-faced
curate chose to bind us.  Osmund came forward and stood towering
over the little man on the sofa.

'I'm sick and tired of this,' he said.  'Sick and tired of it.
Your brother--if he was your brother--came here and was here for an
hour or more.  What we talked about is not your business.  I doubt
very seriously whether what YOU'VE told me was the truth, and what
I've told you until now was not the truth either.  But now you
know.  Your brother was here and went.  I suggest that you go after
him.'

Osmund was violent.  His voice shook with suppressed rage.  But the
little man answered him with exceeding mildness.

'I'm Pengelly's brother all right, Mr. Osmund.  You have every
right to be annoyed with me.  Only you might have told me the truth
in the first place.  Many people would think that you had something
to conceal.  Why shouldn't you acknowledge to me that he had been
here?  There was no harm in his coming here, was there?  It is
funny that he left his knife behind, though.  He's always so very
careful--too careful sometimes.  But please forgive me. . . .'  He
broke off, got up and then stood close to Osmund.  There was
something very comic in their positions.  The head of the one
reached to about the middle of the waistcoat of the other.

'My brother,' he said gently, 'said nothing about me?'

'Nothing at all.'

'Left no message?'

'No message.'

'You can tell me nothing more?'

'There's nothing more to tell.'

'That's a lie!'  The voice, shrill, piping, hysterical, came from
the bedroom door.  'Pengelly was killed here--this evening--by all
of us--in this room.'

It was Hench.

By God, we had forgotten him, all of us, utterly!  His raucous
snore had been the last that I had heard of him, and on that snore
he had swum, as it were, completely out of existence save for one
moment.  And now he was alive again just as though he had been
resurrected with a crick of little brother Pengelly's finger.

We all turned and looked at him.  I remember that I felt an odd
tired sensation of relief.  The thing was out now.  No more lies.
And the little Pengelly could do what he damn well pleased.

We all looked at Hench.  He stood in the doorway, his small round
face lit up with the glow of a fanatical lunatic.  He stared beyond
us all.  Then he came into the room and plumped his fat body down
beside Pengelly.  He put his hand on Pengelly's knee.

'It's all right.  It's all right,' he said confidentially.  'We are
not concealing anything.  What I mean to say is that we couldn't
conceal anything if we wanted to.  Your brother came here this
evening and insulted the lot of us.  So we killed him, and Mr.
Buller took him away in a car.  We've nothing to conceal.  You can
tell anyone you like, and if you don't, I will.'

'He was killed--here?' Pengelly asked, looking at Osmund.

'Yes,' said Hench eagerly.  (He was irritated, I think, because
Pengelly wouldn't look at him.)  'On this sofa.  And we're glad
he's dead.  He oughtn't ever to have been alive.'

Osmund, who seemed quite undisturbed, went to the window, pulled
back the curtain, and looked out.  Then he turned and said to
Helen:

'Leave this to us, Helen.  You're not in this.'

She shook her head.  'I AM in this.'

Pengelly looked at Osmund.

'Is this true?'

'Yes,' Osmund said.  'Your brother asked for it, and he got it.'

Hench broke in:

'I know you all wanted to keep it secret, but you couldn't.  I told
you you couldn't.  I know you think I've gone queer in the head,
but I haven't at all.  What I mean to say is that I'm no queerer in
the head than we all are most of the time.  I've been queer for
years, if it comes to that, with this hanging over me.  And so have
we all.  I knew that something was going to happen.  What I mean is
that your brother was a wicked man, Mr. Pengelly, a real wrong 'un,
and he thought everyone was as wicked as himself.  He did really.
Well, of course, that couldn't go on.  Everyone must see that.  I
mean to say, all we've got to do is to explain to everyone exactly
what happened, and there you are. . . .  It will be a relief to
everyone that he's gone.  He deserved what he got.  He did really.'
His voice sank into a kind of mumbling, and he began to bite his
nails.

I had meanwhile been watching little Pengelly, and I saw one thing
very clearly--that he had, all the time, known that something had
happened to his brother and that the knowledge didn't disturb him
in the least.  His round rosy face was as innocent of distress or
indignation as a cake of soap.  He fixed his attention on Osmund.

'So--that's it,' he said to himself.  Then to Osmund:

'Would you tell me--if it's true--how it happened?  I have a right
to hear, I think.'

I hadn't been sure up to that moment what line Osmund would take.
He could still deny everything, declare that Hench was a hysterical
lunatic, and throw Pengelly out of the flat.  I was prepared to aid
and abet him if that was his plan.  But it wasn't.  He stood beside
Helen, and I saw him draw a breath of air into his great chest as
though it were a relief to him that at last he should be done with
lying.

'Yes,' he said quietly, 'you shall hear what happened.  Afterwards--
we'll see.  But this was just how it was:  Your brother--if he WAS
your brother--wrote to us, as I've told you, to ask whether we
would see him.  We bore him a grudge, and we wanted to ask him some
questions, so we invited him to come here.  We were inquisitive,
rather naturally, but before he came we had no intention, I assure
you, of doing him any harm.  We didn't like him exactly, but all
that we wanted was to have from him his point of view about the
action he'd taken about us.

'I want you to understand,' he went on gravely, 'that we had no
wish to defend the ridiculous act that sent us to prison.  Please
understand that.  We were, all three of us, the last to defend it,
but we wanted to know why Pengelly had interfered.  We had done
him, so far as we could see, no sort of harm.  Well, he came.  He
came and talked to us.

'I don't want to hurt your fraternal feelings, Mr. Pengelly, but in
a little while it became apparent that your brother, feeling that
he had us all in his pocket, thought that he could do what he liked
with us.  That was insulting.  And then, when he explained clearly
his intentions for us--his idea was that we should associate with
him in certain blackmailing schemes that he had--his assumption
that we'd agree without a murmur was too much for us.  I was
responsible for his death.  No one else.  I strangled him, and his
body was taken away.  Where it is now I haven't the least idea.'

There was a long silence.  No one stirred.

At last Joseph Pengelly cleared his throat, took off his tortoise-
shell spectacles and wiped them with a very clean handkerchief.

He nodded his head.

'So that's the end of my dear brother.  I will tell you at once
that it is a great relief to me.  I absolutely loathed him.'

Helen gave a little cry.  Osmund turned and looked at me.  I spoke.
'You loathed him?'

'Yes--since we were small boys and he took my clothes off and made
me stand for an hour in a bucket of icy water.  Yes, I loathed him,
and I would have finished him off myself if I'd ever had the
courage.  I kept out of his way, of course.  Then he turned up this
morning in my rooms behind the Museum.  Made me give him lunch,
told me he was coming here this evening and forced me to promise
that I would come between nine and ten and see that everything was
all right.  He had his suspicions.'  He looked up, giving Osmund
the oddest look of admiration and almost affection.

'Yes.  You were the right man for the job, Mr. Osmund.  You've got
the strongest arms I've ever seen on a man.  My brother was wiry,
but he wouldn't have a dog's chance.'

I saw Osmund's eyes shrink with disgust.

'Now, then, Mr. Pengelly,' he said.  'You know the facts.  You can
do what you like.  There's a policeman in Shaftesbury Avenue.'

'You mean,' said Joseph Pengelly, 'you'd like me to go.  Well, I've
no intention whatever of going--not yet.  I'm in on this now as
well as yourselves.  A partner in crime.  I'm one of you, whether
you like it or not.'

'You are threatening us, then?' said Osmund.  'Just as your brother
did.'

Pengelly looked at him anxiously, wrinkling his brow as he might
when, had he been a clergyman, he discovered some casuist arguing
against the immortality of the soul.

'Threaten?  No, no.  Please.  That is the last thing. . . .  Oh,
but do understand me!  We shall never get on if you don't.  If you
think that I'm the least like my brother we shan't get on at all.
And it's so important for all of us that we should.'

He looked pleadingly at Helen, at myself, and even at Hench, who
sat up on the sofa very straight, breathing through his nostrils,
still snoring gently, although he was now awake.

'Let me try and explain,' he went on gently, gathering us all close
around him with a gesture as though we were his nearest and dearest
friends.  'It's like this: I have always hated my brother.  I have
always had every reason to do so.  When I was young I believed in
God, the goodness of the human race, general integrity, spring
flowers, and a number of other pretty and evanescent things.  I did
really.  You must believe me, because everything else springs from
that.  There was no pose or ingenuous affectation about it.  I
thought that the world was a fine place for fine people.  It wasn't
from my own observation that I thought so.  Our home was cheap and
shoddy--my father and mother quarrelled all the time.  My brother
was a swine, a cad, a bully, a terror from the year one.  It was my
brother, I think, who at that time made me an idealist.

'I hated him so that I was determined to be opposite to him in
everything.  His was a very simple case, but I think a very rare
one.  He loved evil for its own sake--the Iago pattern.  It was his
only fun, to cheat, to ravish, to ruin, to destroy.  I don't know
where he got it from.  We had decent relations--lawyers, doctors,
clergymen--good blood in our veins.  Some twist in his brain,
perhaps, or a strain of genius gone wrong.

'Anyway, I swore that his faith should not be mine, and I was
idealist, sentimentalist, romanticist.'  He broke off and looked at
Osmund.  'I hope that I'm not boring you.  This is really
important.'

'You shall have ten minutes,' said Osmund curtly.  'Then out you
go.'

'Thanks very much,' said Pengelly, smiling.  'It is possible that
in ten minutes' time you won't want me to go.  In any case, life
saw that it should smash my idealism.  It set about its job firmly.
I began to wonder whether my brother was not right.  The war came,
and I saw clearly that he was right.  This world followed the war,
and now I suppose there is no one with any sense or observation
left in him who does not see that life is a cold, callous, sneering
cheat.  I don't blame life for that--not in the least--only now
that I see how things are, I make my plans accordingly.'

It was plain to anyone by this time that little Pengelly loved the
sound of his own voice--the parsonic and lecturing strain was fixed
there firmly within him.  He liked the roll of his sentences, the
choice of his words, the effect on his hearers--but behind that
simple and very naïve pleasure I detected quite clearly an iron
determination and a cold unemotional purpose.  I did not yet see
what that purpose was.

'I don't understand,' said Osmund, 'what all this personal
biography has to do with us.'

'You'll see in a minute,' Pengelly assured him.  'After the war I
endured a succession of uncongenial jobs.  I was clerk, secretary,
lecturer for a Pacifist society, a number of things.  I hated them
all.  I'm lazy by nature, for one thing.  I detest to be under
someone else's orders.  I love to have my own free time.  I
perceived, of course, that in this postwar world there was no
morality of any kind left.  Everyone was for his own hand, no one
had ideals any more, God had been reduced by the scientists to gas
and water, the sexes were sexes no more, everyone was selfish, lazy
and cruel.  These things did not disgust or disappoint me.  I had
seen, through watching my brother for so long, how vile a human
being could be.  He was still abnormal because he was so complete,
but he was only an extension of a general law.

'Extension of a general law,' he repeated, looking round and
smiling at his phrase.

'I didn't hate him any less, though.  I hated and feared him more
than ever.  Yes, feared him!  It is marvellous to me now to think
that he's really gone, that I shan't see his beastly face again or
watch his mean little eyes!  I'm not a coward on the whole, I'm not
in the least afraid of any of you, for instance.  But my brother--
he was something quite by himself!

'Well, seeing that the world had gone entirely to pieces, and was
continuing in pieces, with no wish whatever to put itself together
again, I looked around for an easy, conscienceless job that would
give me the freedom and idleness and security that I needed.  You
know that my brother was a blackmailer.  I don't blame him for that
in the least.  We are all blackmailers in one way or another.  But
what I detested him for was that he had such horrible relations
with his clients.  He bullied them, frightened them, distressed
them!  I loathed the way that he threatened and abused them.  You
have done a good deed, Mr. Osmund, this evening, for many besides
myself.'  He looked round, beaming upon all of us.  'But to
continue--as I see that my ten minutes must be nearly up.  I have
never understood why, if you hold some secret that another human
being is willing to pay you for, you should not have with that
human being the friendliest possible relationship.  You are, after
all, bound by a common tie.  You have with one another a rare
personal intimacy.  You have made a bargain together, and should
be, it seems to me, on the best of terms.  It is that kind of
relationship that I am suggesting that we should all have
together.'

I looked up and across to Osmund.  I could see that he was forcing
upon himself every instinct of control of which he was capable, but
that this new tempest of feeling was very different from the
earlier one.  He had passed to a new world of experience in the
last few hours, and he was now the aggressor: not any member of the
Pengelly family.

His voice was quiet as he asked:

'You mean by that?'

'What I mean is simple enough, and I'm sure that you won't be
offended at it.  I have found at last that for which I have long
been searching--a comfortable resting-place.  I like you all so
much.  Not only have you done me a tremendous service in ridding me
of my brother, but you are the KIND of people I like.  I admire
your restraint and decency and forbearance.  I become from this
moment one of you.  I keep your secret as you yourselves will keep
it, and in return you, as friends of mine and well-wishers, supply
me with the wherewithal--enough to keep me happy, tranquil and idle
as I have always wished to be.  In a world that is certainly
beastly, false, mean, without standards, our relationship will be
one of the few fine, straight things.  I shall value our friendship
more than I can say.'

He looked at us all, once again, with an almost eager and yet
rather tired smile of appreciation.  I remember that I realized
with an odd little shock of surprise, because I was confronted with
a new sort of experience, that this man meant all that he said,
that he did like us and respect us, and that he thought this an
admirable plan by which to continue in our society.

What would Osmund do?  Helen rose and put her hand on his arm.  But
he needed now no kind of restraint.

Quietly and with a contempt that penetrated, I am sure, the hearts
of all of us three, he said to Pengelly:

'You mean that--about people, I mean?  That the whole world now is
vile, treacherous, false?'

'Of course I mean it--no one with eyes or ears can deny it.'

Then Osmund burst out:

'You are more evil than your brother--and more contemptible.  Life
is superb.  Human beings are magnificent--in courage, in
unselfishness, in determination to do right.  Here and there,
scattered among men, are wretched creatures like yourself and your
brother.  Conditions like these after-war conditions are fertile
for such as you.  A few of you can make a grand impression by your
destructiveness, your cynicism.  I am myself perhaps no better than
you.  I have been dragged, step by step, lower down, but at least
before I go I can see that you do no more harm.'

Pengelly got up.  He went to Osmund and caught his arm.

'You talk like a book,' he said, 'and I like it--but you mustn't
exaggerate.  If you think the world a fine place full of noble
people, I think it vile, false, rotten.  Why should we quarrel
about that?  Perhaps if we are often together, you will convert me.
At least you won't kill me as you killed my brother.  I'm not worth
it.  And, after all, I don't want very much.  A few hundreds a year
and to see you sometimes. . . .  But I will see you again.  I will
leave my card.  And I will write.  I am quite sure that we can
settle everything satisfactorily.'

He gave Osmund a friendly tap on the arm and moved to the door.

Then three things happened, and I recollect them with some
confusion.  Osmund caught Pengelly by both arms (but not at all
roughly), and held him.  I rose and committed the action that all
my life afterwards I have most regretted.  While Hench--but I will
come to Hench in a moment.

What I did, as well as I can remember, was this.  I didn't know
what it was that Osmund was going to do.  I was afraid lest it
should be another act of violence.  I felt in my pocket, whether
with simple absent-mindedness or for some purpose I don't know, but
I pulled out and held in my hand, without, I think, knowing that I
did so, the pair of Helen's gloves picked up by me in her bedroom.

Like a silly fool I held them there, not knowing, my mind intent
upon Osmund and his behaviour to Pengelly.  Osmund saw them.  His
eyes rested on them, as though, with the sight of them, some
intense and moving conviction had come to him.

Then he looked at me.  I returned his gaze, and my eyes dropped.
It was as though we both, for an instant, swung to some distant
isolated place where we faced one another quite alone--away from
all the world.

I let the gloves fall.  They lay at my feet.  I heard him then
speaking to Pengelly, who stood quite passively, without attempting
to move.  Osmund said something like this:

'You shall have your wish.  You shall never leave me again.  You
are too dangerous a man to be let loose on the world any more.
This is, perhaps, the last act of my life--my only decent one--to
prevent you from threatening anyone else.'

The third thing that happened was that Hench, whom once again we
had all forgotten, was out of the door before we realized him.

He looked back at us and cried hysterically:

'Don't you see what you've done?  We are in his hands forever!  I'm
going to the police--and you'll thank me afterwards.'

In all the confusion I saw that here at last was something for me
to do.

I was after him, but not before he had snatched his ridiculous hat
from the coat-rack and was tumbling down the stairs into the
street.



CHAPTER XI

The Sandwich Bar


I had intended to catch Hench by the turn of the stair, but I was
stopped by an extraordinary rout of revellers who were rushing,
with shouts and cries of joy, past Osmund's door to a higher floor.

They were revellers of both sexes and were dressed, so far as I
could see, in worshipful imitation of the ancient Greeks.  I could
not tell this with any certainty, partly because I was myself too
seriously agitated by my own troubles to observe anything very
closely, partly because they wore over their classical garments
coats and wraps, partly because they were rushing forward with
whoops and shouts up the stairs and round the corner.

There passed me, at that moment, some dozen, and these were all gay
with cocktails and were friends of all the world.

I should have been through them and after Hench had not a stout
middle-aged gentleman with a face like a red sponge, an eyeglass,
and a fillet of gold on his head, grasped my arm and said:

'Is your name Escott?'

'No, you silly ass,' someone shouted from the stairs.  'Of course
it isn't.  He's higher up.'

'Come and join us,' said the stout man, very solemnly, still
grasping my arm.  'All welcome.  Escott damn good fellow.  Everyone
welcome.'

I, in an agony of anxiety lest Hench should escape me, tried to
shake myself free.

'You look a decent sort.  Come along to the party.'

Then someone called:  'Come on, Toby, you fool,' so the stout man
suddenly jerked himself into an extraordinary animation and went
trembling up the stairs, with one hand holding on his gold fillet.
From the next floor came a babble of riotous sound.

But now I was down the stairs, and a moment later had my hand on
Hench's shoulder.

The contrast was extraordinary.  After that noise and singing the
street was like a stream of underground water.  I looked up and saw
that above the lights and the shadowed walls a vast black cloud was
creeping across the sky.  The line of it was marked quite clearly,
cutting the pale, faint night just above the Omnibus Theatre and
stretching over my head beyond me.  There was no wind, and it was
icily cold.

I noticed the sky because, when I touched Hench, he himself was
staring upwards.  I noticed also that there was now scarcely anyone
about.  After the traffic and confusion of my former plunge into
the Circus this silence was uncanny, but everyone was now within
walls, packed tightly in the theatres and cinemas, eating and
drinking in the hotels and restaurants, talking, laughing,
whispering, love-making, gambling, quarrelling--and safe from the
coming storm.

The cold was bitter.  I had snatched this time my coat and hat, but
Hench had only his hat, and it did not surprise me that he should
be shivering.

When I touched his shoulder he turned and looked at me, not
apparently at all astonished that I was there.

'Come on, Hench,' I said.  'Let's go back.  What's the use of
leaving that fellow there for Osmund to deal with him?  He'll only
do something violent.  Besides, it isn't fair--to leave him in the
lurch.'

He continued to shiver, and then suddenly leaned against me as
though he were going to faint.  I put my arm round him.  As I have
said, he was a big man.  I could feel his stout body against my
hand, trembling with a convulsive shiver.  Then he drew himself
away.

'That's all right, Mr. Gunn,' he said very quietly, as though he
were holding with me the most ordinary conversation about nothing.
'We'll go back in a minute, but we'll take a policeman with us.'
His large soup-plate eyes searched my face with an anxious,
hapless, friendly earnestness.  'What I mean to say is that it's
much the wisest thing that we can do.  You must see that yourself.
You're a sensible man, Mr. Gunn, and you must see it's the only
thing we can do.  It would be hopeless to let that devil have a
hold on us.  Much better we should all hang.  What I mean is, that
I said you couldn't get rid of that devil by killing him, and there
you see I'm right.  He's turned up again, just as I said he would.
Much better to end it once and for all, and as to hanging, I don't
mind being hanged now.  What I mean is, now Clara is dead I'd just
as soon be dead too.  Much better for us to tell the authorities.
It is really, Mr. Gunn--you must see that yourself.'

To my horror he broke from me.  A little man, his head sunk in his
upturned collar, was passing us quickly, whistling.  Hench caught
his arm.

The little man started back and tried to shake Hench off.  It must
have been alarming enough when you were walking along, quietly
whistling, to have your collar caught by a complete stranger at the
corner of Piccadilly Circus, at that time of the evening.  And you
must remember that Hench looked odd enough with his round white
face like a turnip-lantern and no coat.  I fancy, too, that that
heavy black cloud with its edge of steel and its threat of
impending storm gave an unnatural gleam to everything, to the lamps
and the flashing sky-signs and the faces of passing men.

'Here!  What's the matter?' the little man cried.

'I beg your pardon,' said Hench.  'But there's a murder just been
committed--I want to find a policeman. . . .'

'Murder!' said the little man, breaking free from Hench's hand.
Then he caught sight of me.  He found me reassuring.  I was
smiling.  I conveyed to him that Hench had been festivity-making.

'Oh, I see.'  He smiled with relief.  'You go along with your
friend, old cock,' he said, patting Hench on the shoulder.  'Have a
snooze and forget your murder.'

'But it's true!' Hench protested.  'I swear it is.  I'm not drunk.
What I mean to say, I'm as sober as you are.  But I've killed
someone and I must tell the police.'

'Killed twenty, I daresay,' said the little man in kindly fashion.
'But I tell you what--you'll catch your death of cold standing
about on a night like this without a coat.  Why don't you take him
home and let him sleep it off?' he asked me quite indignantly.

'I'm TAKING him home,' I answered.  'Only he's got this sudden
craze for a policeman.'

The little man looked round him.  A ghastly fear possessed me lest
he should suddenly see one.  Then we WOULD be in a hole!  But there
was no policeman in sight save the traffic controller at the end of
Shaftesbury Avenue, who, even as I looked, moved away out of sight.

'Well, I must be getting on.  Late as it is.  So long.  Forget your
murder, Cocky.'  He went off, whistling.

I caught Hench by the arm and took him without another word into
the bar of the adjacent Monte Carlo.  Whatever was going to happen,
it should be out of the way of that cutting wind.  The bar of the
Monte Carlo was practically deserted.  We sat at a little table
next the wall, and of the short stout waiter I ordered two large
cups of coffee.  (You may not know it, but you can order coffee in
the bar of the Monte Carlo, and it is the very best in London.)

Two nondescripts were hanging over the bar like rather shabby
serpents, and one old man with an entirely white beard was seated
at a table near us reading a Standard--that was all our company.

I took stock of the situation.  This was in many ways the most
perilous and also the most exasperating moment of the whole
adventure.  Here I was tied to this bloody imbecile.  No other
words for it.  Hench was idiotic, he was crazy, and yet I felt for
him a deep protective kindliness.  He had suffered during these
last years more than any of us.  He had none of Buller's stolidity,
of Osmund's fantasy, of my sentimentality, to pull him through.  He
was just the plain ordinary man in the street who had been involved
in a burglary, imprisonment, and murder through very little fault
of his own, and had no capacity at all for dealing with these
various situations.  He was now as nearly off his head as to make
no matter; he was longing to shout his news to all the world, and
one whisper in a serious ear would plunge us all into quite
irretrievable disaster--not only Osmund, myself and Buller, but
also Helen.

You must remember that at this moment, in addition to my
nervousness about MY situation, there was a racking ceaseless
anxiety about the events in the flat almost exactly above where I
was sitting.  Was Osmund murdering the second Pengelly?  Was he
submitting to a gentle system of blackmail?  What part was Helen
playing?

'You see,' said Hench quite suddenly to the waiter who brought him
his coffee, 'there's been a man killed upstairs and I want to fetch
the police in.'

This waiter was very odd in appearance because he had one of the
very baldest heads that I have ever seen, bald as the shining
globe, with just one black gleaming hair set stickily down its
centre.  But he had hair everywhere else.  He had two of the
bushiest black eyebrows seen anywhere, black hair sprouted from his
ears and his nostrils.  I'm sure that on his Saturday bath-night he
would be mistaken by his youngest son for the bear from the circus.
He was fat, round and perspired at every pore.

He paid no attention at all to Hench's remark.

'Sorry, sir,' he said.  'Very busy to-night,' and hurried away.
Hench looked at me in a kind of despair.

'They won't listen,' he said, 'they won't believe me.  They know
that he is not really dead.'

I put my hand out and touched his arm.

'Look here, Hench,' I said, 'drink your coffee and then attend to
me.'

He was looking at the old man so recently absorbed in the Evening
Standard.  He stared at him with a fixed and concentrated gaze.
Then he half rose from his chair.  My hand was on his sleeve like a
vice.  I was so exasperated, nervous and worried that I could have
hit him in the face.

'Now, look here, Hench,' and I saw from the quick apprehension in
his face that he realized from my tone that at last I meant what I
said, 'I'm about sick of this.  I've been more patient with you
than you're worth.  Try and think of someone besides yourself.  If
one of us plays the ass now it lets the whole lot of us in.
Anything can happen at any moment--Buller be arrested--the body
found--Pengelly's brother split to the police, Osmund do something
crazy.  How is it going to help anybody if you tell everybody about
it?'

I saw that he was preparing to babble, so I just closed my hand the
harder on his soft fat arm, and then he sat there, staring at me,
his mouth half open and what looked like tears welling apparently
into his eyes and back again.  I went on, dropping my voice because
I saw that the old man had put down his paper and was looking in
our direction.

'I know just how you feel, and I understand your feeling as you do,
but it's cowardice to run away from the thing as you're running
away from it.  Don't you see that?  Pengelly's dead enough.  You
didn't cart him down three flights of stairs as I did.  You can
take my word for it that he's dead.  Well, then, he's not only dead
but he's rightly dead.  There never was such a dirty swine.  Think
of all the thousands of people that Osmund's made happy by breaking
his neck.  What good is it going to do any of THEM if we tell
everyone we meet?  Why should Pengelly's brother turning up worry
you so?  Osmund will be able to deal with him all right.  He won't
stand being blackmailed for the rest of his life.  So THAT needn't
frighten you.  Here, drink your coffee and come back with me to the
flat.  Pengelly's brother will have gone.  We can talk things over
quietly.  Pull yourself together, man.  Remember we're ALL in it
and must look after one another.'

I thought that I had made some impression on him.  Perhaps I had.
But I shall never be sure, because he broke out now in quite a
different direction.  Leaning closer to me and breathing right into
my face (his breath, I shall always remember, was scented ever so
faintly with peppermint), in a low voice he explained to me that he
realized that I was his friend; he was very grateful.  He knew that
Pengelly was a vile beast, but it was of our souls that he was
really thinking.  It was of everyone's souls, in fact, that he was
thinking, and this horrible affair of to-night had only brought
matters to a crisis.

For the last year or two Clara, his dear departed Clara, had been
in constant communication with him, urging him to go out into the
market-place, gather the people about him and tell them of the
perils that lay ahead of them, the world rushing to perdition and
ignorant of its ruin!  The world, vicious, heedless . . .  His
voice was rising, the old man was now most definitely interested,
the bald and hairy waiter, his bow-legs under their apron widely
planted, stood listening.  Something must instantly be done.

'Right, Hench, right,' I interrupted him.  'I agree.  I agree with
every word you say.  But look here, how will this do?  Come with me
now.  Trust me.  And I'll find someone to whom you can tell
everything. . . .  How will that do for you?  I'll get you the very
man--only we must lose no time.  You realize how important that is--
that we should lose no time.'

'I do, I do,' he agreed eagerly.  'You are absolutely right, Mr.
Gunn.  What I mean is that we've wasted far too much time as it is.
You are entirely right.'  He got up and stood there trembling with
excitement.  I can see him now, such a striking figure with his
small pale head and his large flabby body; you could see the joints
in him where he was fastened together, a ridge here, a bundle of
fat, a ridge again--rather as a Jack-in-the-Box looks, sprung from
his imprisonment.  That was what Hench resembled now, standing
upright with his startled sightless eyes.

But we were causing altogether too eager an attention.  The waiter
was possibly reconsidering those strange words of Hench that at
first he had disregarded.  I called him over to me and paid the
little bill.

'Awfully cold night,' I said genially.  'We'll be having more
snow.'

'Yes,' he said, not taking his eyes from Hench.  'Has the gentleman
no coat?'

'We came in from next door,' I remarked easily, 'for a cup of
coffee.  We're going back again.'

'Yes,' said the waiter.

'Excellent coffee,' I added; 'no better in London.'

I gave him far too large a tip and hurried Hench away.

'Who are we going to?' asked Hench, now that we were in the street
again.  Before I could answer I saw that he was staring at a
gigantic policeman who, not more than five yards from us, was
commanding the traffic at the end of Shaftesbury Avenue.

I think that of all the perilous moments of that evening, looking
back now across time, I can assert that this was THE most perilous.
I was affected possibly by the icy little wind that was now blowing
about us, by the black massive cloud that covered now the entire
sky, by the extraordinary silence, so that no one seemed to be
speaking and even the 'buses and the few cars and taxis were moving
in perfect stillness.  That hush does drop every once and again
over the London traffic, and at this moment it had enveloped the
whole of Piccadilly Circus.

I believe that in the end it was the silence that saved me, that
even Hench was conscious of it and suffered himself to be led by me
rather than address that policeman.  But it was a very near thing,
a very near thing indeed.

Meanwhile, as I crossed the street with him, I realized that I had
to find someone and find him speedily.

First of all, however, someone found us.  We were on the edge of
the pavement, about to cross the completely deserted Circus, from
the centre of which the red lamps of the excavations winked at us
with a sinister glow under the black sky, when I realized that
someone had slunk up to our side, and there was a voice in my ear
saying:  'Good-evening, gentlemen.  Isn't there something you would
like to see?  Some way I can be of use?'

I turned and saw beside me a long lanky creature dressed in shiny
black and, apparently, a cricket shirt open at the neck.  He had a
white bony face, long like a nutcracker, and his upper lip was
streaked with a moustache so thin, so wet, and so black, that it
looked like a thread of grease paint.

I had, in my time, passed hours of pleasure, profit and pain with
the night-guides of most important cities, but never before had I
encountered one in London.  I had thought, indeed, that London was
free of them.  I was to discover my mistake.

'No, thanks,' I said brusquely, 'you can't show me anything, and
I'm busy.'

'I know you're busy,' he said mournfully; 'it's always the same.
No one in London ever wants to see anything.  What I left Paris for
I can't imagine.  You mightn't believe me,' he went on with a
gulping sound, as though he found it difficult to swallow, 'but I
actually came back to London because I was homesick.  I was doing a
fine trade in Paris, but I'm English, after all, and it seemed
rotten somehow doing nothing for the Old Country.  I know there's
people run her down, but after all one's country is one's country.
That's what _I_ say, anyway.'

He was gradually edging us away round the corner towards Regent
Street, and I at once perceived the reason--it was because of the
stout policeman in Shaftesbury Avenue.  I saw then another thing--
that Hench's gaze was eagerly fixed upon our new friend.  He also
quickly discovered this.

'What about you, sir?' he asked Hench in a voice that was poignant
with an eager and not altogether unpleasant pathos.  'Can't I show
YOU something?  I'm sure there's a house or two you'd like to
visit.'  He dropped his voice.  I caught the words:  'Really cheap
considering--no hanky-panky . . . the genuine article.'

Hench, his large eyes glittering, turned to him eagerly:  'I should
like very much to have a talk,' he said.  'I'll put my case to you.
What I mean is, there's no time to lose--no time at all.'

The gentleman turned to me.  'It's cold standing about here,' he
said.  His voice had become now very confidential.  'And your
friend's without a coat.  What about a drink?  Or, to tell you the
truth, I missed my meal this evening.  Too busy to think about it.
There's a sandwich bar close by.  What do you say?'

I was for the moment resigned.  Had I only dared to leave Hench I
would have turned and run back up those now familiar stairs again
and stood by Helen's side to the very end--or the very beginning--
whichever it might be, but my duty, for all our sakes, was first by
Hench, as I very well knew.  So we all three moved across the
Circus.

'Storm blowing up,' said the gentleman, throwing a glance over his
shoulder back to the policeman.  Yes, that was true.  A terrible
storm.  Not only was the cold bitter, but everything now seemed to
shiver under it, the lights on the walls, the doorways and windows,
the few figures moving hastily on their private purposes, the cars
and omnibuses.

The golden goblet, glittering intensely now under the ebon sky,
trembled as it spouted its crimson liquor.

The gentleman was confidential.  'The curse of my country,' he
continued, becoming with every word more confidential, his teeth
chattering a little with the cold, 'is its lack of curiosity.  Why,
I ask you, should the people of London be the only people in the
world who have no curiosity in anything?  Why, if you were to walk
stark naked down Piccadilly at midday no one would evince the
slightest interest.'

He used words like 'evince' with a lingering, almost sensual
pleasure.

'If,' I answered priggishly--you must remember that I was by this
time almost crazy with anxiety and scarcely knew what I was saying--
'they show no curiosity about the beastly things you want to show
them I'm glad of it.'

'Come now, come now' (he reproached me as though I were his long-
lost brother), 'don't be so punctilious.  What I saw is that the
thing we have to learn in this world is broad-mindedness.  Human
nature is human nature.  Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we
die.'  (He reminded me, most adversely, of my beloved Sancho Panza
in his devotion to comforting aphorisms.)

'Now I consider that I am completely broad-minded.  My profession,
I must acknowledge, has made me so.  Nothing in the world can shock
me.  I contravene all shockable possibilities.  Shock me!  You
can't!'

I grimly wondered whether that were true.  In a few moments I
should be able to test him.  Hench was feverishly hurrying us
along.  We turned up Jermyn Street in the direction of St. James's
Street, and an instant later were beside the dimly lit little
passage that did duty for a sandwich bar.

We could hear from where we stood the murmur of the Circus that was
indeed only two minutes away, and quite suddenly out of the very
heart of it I caught, or fancied that I caught, the shrill metallic
cry of a newspaper boy.  The word that I seemed to hear was
'Murder,' but I could not be sure of it, and mingled with it was an
odd little wind that now, presaging the storm, whistled in and out
of the traffic, blowing up against the window opposite that was
filled with round-faced staring clocks, and wandering tittering
away to the rear portions of the Popular Café that exuded always so
strange a mixture of roasting meats and jazz music, coming back
again to my feet, creeping like a nest of chilly spiders between my
trouser leg and the bare skin, and carrying always that hard shrill
tone of the newspaper vendor.  Was it 'Murder '?

It was only for a moment that I listened, but into that moment
everything seemed to be crowded--the first Pengelly hanging in
midair, the body stumbling against the stairway, Helen's kiss, the
soft voice of the second Pengelly.

Such an imminence of hopeless ruin and disaster came to me at that
moment, and I remember that only an urgent passionate thought of
Helen prevented my taking to my heels and running for my life. . . .

But I heard again that polite, rather pathetic voice in my ear--
'Ham or tongue?' he asked.  I found that I was standing right up
against the counter.  It was a lively, bright little place, and
liveliest and brightest of all was our host, who had a rosy face, a
merry eye, a mountainous stomach, all straight from Dickens.  The
little alley was so narrow that there was small room for his wares.
Nevertheless, he managed admirably.  Every kind of bright tin--
biscuits, jams, preserved fruits--glittered from the shelf that ran
the full length of the wall; and mingled with the tins were
pictures of charming ladies, ladies of an earlier and a brighter
day--Miss Gabrielle Ray, Miss Marie Studholme; and, in pride of
place, dominating the whole with the cock of his hat and the wink
of his gaily impertinent eye, no less a person than Lord Beatty
himself.  From two big urns steamed the fragrance of tea and
coffee, and under glass was a collection of almost museum value,
herrings embraced by slices of hard-boiled egg, glistening
sardines, iridescent ham, and piles of sponge-cakes.

We were alone with all this glory save for our splendid host, and
he was busied not so much with his more obvious duty as with the
writing of a letter.

We had our coffee, our sandwiches, and were moving off to a small
table squeezed into the only corner that the place possessed, when
he pushed his red face over the counter and in a husky whisper
asked us:

''Ow do yer spell "different"?'

'I beg your pardon?' asked the gentleman.

'What I mean is--'as it two heffs or one?'

'It has two,' said the gentleman, courteously, 'and only one R.'

'Thanks,' said our host, and disappeared again.

We sat down at our little table, and were forced to sit very close
together.  I could feel Hench's thigh trembling against my hand.
The gentleman was extremely hungry.  He ate his sandwiches as
though he had been starving for weeks.  That had but lately been my
own position.  I suffered with him.

The gentleman leaned across the little table and, in his most
confidential manner, said to Hench:

'And now what can I show you?  The night is young.  I can
demonstrate--'

But WHAT he could demonstrate will never now be known, for Hench
interrupted him violently.

'What are we doing here,' he cried, 'eating and drinking like this?
I don't know who you are, sir, but WHO you are doesn't matter in
the slightest.  This town in which we are sitting so idly is going
to hell.  The devil is abroad, and it is time that someone cried a
warning.  What I mean is that a murder's been committed to-night,
not five minutes away from here, and I can't get anyone to take
steps about it.  Let us lose no time.  Come with me to the nearest
policeman.  Until this thing is declared openly there'll be no
peace.'

'Nearest policeman?' said the gentleman.  'Not likely.  They are no
friends of mine, I'm sorry to say--narrowest-minded men in London.
Want to stop everyone's fun. . . .  What does he mean,' he asked,
turning to me, 'about a murder?  What's the matter with him?'

It was an impasse.  If I denied Hench he would as likely as not
burst into a scream, run shouting into the Circus, find a
policeman, and bring the whole catastrophe tumbling about us.

'Ask him about it,' I said, and at the same time tried to convey to
him that Hench, whether through drink or lunacy, was not to be
trusted.

But the gentleman's attention was already drifting.  He perceived
that neither Hench nor I were likely clients, he had little time to
lose and money to make.  His eye was already on the street.  He
wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and rose.  'Thanks,
gentlemen,' he said, touching his hat, 'for your generosity.  One
day I trust I may reciprocate.  Meanwhile--business you know--
business.'

He bowed politely and moved towards the exit.  The red-faced host
stopped him.

''Arf a mo',' he said.  ''Ow would you spell "mutton"--with a E or
a ho?'

'Always with an O,' said the gentleman, and vanished.

After that followed pandemonium.  I can trace only dimly the exact
sequence of events.  I must give them to you, I fear, in a kind of
strange confusion, mingled with the odour of coffee and ham, the
glitter of shining tins, and the cock of Lord Beatty's cap.

The little alley seemed to be suddenly crowded.  Certain figures
stand out very clearly in my mind, a chauffeur, thick-set and
cocky, with that appearance given to all mechanics of a certain
superiority to human beings (who are--alas--poor things, so
fallible beside machinery); a small page-boy from a hotel, packed
into a sky-blue uniform shiny with buttons; and a rather shabby
taxi-driver who had a muffler round his throat, and a small, rather
pathetic, baby face with red watery eyes.  All these figures I
remember, and I recollect, too, that I noticed, even in the middle
of my agitation, the shy but at the same time self-assertive
glances shot at the chauffeur by the taxi-man.

There were there also a woman and an old man--all crowding about
the bar, raising the round rough cups of tea and coffee solemnly to
their lips and gulping chunks of sandwich, all very friendly,
passing courteously the time of day, everyone speaking of the
bitter cold.

Into this warm social friendliness Hench burst, and not only Hench,
but all the alarm, discomfort, even terror that belongs to a human
being who is in a state not human, who is battling for life in a
sea that tumbles just beyond human shores.

I had seen at once that with the gentleman's indifference to his
story burst the last bar to his restraint.  What was this life into
which he had come, a life so low, degenerate, altogether lost, that
it cared nothing for murder, nothing for conscience, nothing for
the terror and loneliness of Hench's own soul?  I made one last
effort to quieten him.  His eyes were rolling in his small round
head, his hands clenching and unclenching.

'Steady, Hench, steady,' I whispered, putting my hand again on his
arm.  'Don't you see it's as I said?  Come back to the flat.  You
can do nothing here.  See first what Osmund has to say.  Take his
advice--'

He looked at me, and I saw that he had overstepped the boundary.
He was mad, crazed.  He saw men like trees walking, he felt God's
presence at his elbow, he would catch beneath his feet the tremble
of the earth as it paused before it slipped down to the flaming
hell that awaited it.  He did not know any longer who I was, nor
would he have cared had he known.  We were all lost together.

He pushed over his coffee-cup as he rose, and it fell on the floor.
The sound of the breaking china turned every eye in our direction.
He tumbled into the middle of them.  I can give you no orderly
picture of what followed.  If I shut my eyes and look back I see
Hench's tall, stout misshapen body towering among them.  I hear his
funny high cracked voice:  'The end of the world . . . the end of
the world . . . God's vengeance.  Killing is nothing to you, but
God's eye . . . damned . . . the lot of you . . . damned . . .' and
I can hear the host's husky good-natured remonstrance:  ''Ere now,
mind the china.  Wot's the matter with the gentleman? . . .  All
right . . . all right . . .', the shrill half-frightened laugh of
some woman, and then out of the struggling forms (for Hench had the
taxi-man by the collar and someone else had Hench by the trousers)
I can see the solid, thick, resolute figure of the chauffeur
pushing into the middle of them, and can hear his quiet
contemptuous tones:

'Can't you let the gentleman alone?  It's all right, sir.  No one's
going to hurt you; not while I'm about.  Come along into the fresh
air.  That will put you right.'

By now I had myself, I suppose, taken some step, but try as I may,
I cannot SEE myself in that scene.  I know, however, that Hench,
his eyes blazing with a mad mixture of ecstasy and anger, cried to
me as though I were hundreds of miles away from him:  'I WILL be
heard . . . I WILL be heard.  This is the end. . . .  There is no
death any more, only punishment.  You may murder but you cannot
kill. . . .  We are all lost. . . .'

'Yes, yes,' said the taxi-man in contemptuous comfort, 'of course
we are.'  Then turning to me:  'If he's your friend, sir, we'd
better get him off quietly.  Something's gone to his head.'  I
couldn't tell him that Hench thought that he had committed a murder
and was mad with exasperation because no one would believe that he
had.

Indeed, I could tell him nothing, for a moment later Hench had
broken from all of us and had run out into the street.

I followed him.  He paused at the corner of Jermyn Street, then
started to cross, at a sharp trot, the Circus.  He was nearly
knocked over by an omnibus which, in its turn, stopped my own
progress.  When I was clear again I saw that he was moving straight
for the Trafalgar Theatre, most brilliantly lit against the black
sky with the glittering words:  'THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD. . . .'

I was aware of a number of things, that the wind was rising in a
fury, that flakes of snow were licking my cheek, and then, even as
I saw Hench tumble into the pit entrance of the theatre, an
astonishing thing occurred.

A figure, whom I saw to be little Pengelly, also running, vanished
into the black orifice of the gallery entrance, and, a moment
later, almost touching me but not seeing me, followed like dream
figures Osmund and Helen.  I would have called their names, but
before I could speak they too had vanished into the gallery
entrance.

Hench, Pengelly, Helen, Osmund, mechanical figures propelled by the
storm. . . .

After an instant's hesitation I also slipped up the dark gallery
stairs.



CHAPTER XII

Affirmers; Deniers


I must now, before I give you the strange climax of this whole
affair--figures like the figures of a dream rushing before the wind
into the black mouth of the theatre blazing with light--write as
honest an account as I may of the only scenes in this whole story
of which I was not an eye-witness.  I said in the beginning that
there was one such account to be given of necessity at second hand.
Here it is, and the authority for it is Helen.

Naturally enough, Helen and I have discussed the events that
occurred between my running out of the flat after Hench and my
encountering them as they disappeared into the gallery entrance of
the Trafalgar Theatre.

They were, from certain points of view, the most important events
of the whole affair, and it is lucky that it was Helen rather than
I who was witness of them, because Osmund was their central figure,
and she knew Osmund as I could never know him.  Know Osmund?  It
must be apparent to any reader of this narrative that I never knew
him at all--from first to last he was a mystery to me.

So possibly he was to Helen, but he was a mystery with whom she had
shared every intimacy.  She had held him in her arms, his head on
her breast, not loving him, but having a great pity and tenderness
for him, she had waited those years for him while he was in prison,
cheering, comforting him, she had shared his exile in Spain with
him, playing with him (for in the earlier time he was often merry
and childlike, untroubled as a baby), watching despair and
loneliness and disappointment grow and grow with him--and, most
intimate thing of all, realizing increasingly in herself that she
did not love him, that she had never loved him, that the best of
her feeling for him was maternal and loyal, loyalty for the
misfortunes that she had shared with him, and that not only did she
not love him, but she was increasingly afraid of him.

He bored her, too, sometimes dreadfully.  He had, once and again,
all the boringness of the monomaniac--going over his case
monotonously, wondering eternally what had persuaded him to that
mad act of house-breaking, the act from which all the evil after-
consequences had sprung.  I could see them, easily enough, sitting
in some sun-scorched spot of Segovia or Toledo, he digging up his
'case' as a dog digs up a bone, she staring up at the burning sky
and wondering WHEN would it ever end.

For Helen was neither a very patient nor a very sentimental woman,
certainly not sentimental.  I have always been twice as sentimental
as she, and I am not really sentimental as Englishmen go.  She has
told me since that during the weeks before this final adventure of
Pengelly's death she had been making up her mind to the fact that
she could not endure the situation any longer, that she must go
away and leave Osmund both for her sake and his own.  In her heart
she had known for a long, long time that she loved me, and only me,
but it was not because she had any thought or any hope of ever
seeing me again that she was going away.  No, simply that she was
sick to death of Osmund, that her boredom with him had killed at
last her maternal care of him.

She was in many ways a hard woman.  Life had made her so, as it had
made many Englishwomen of her day.  The war had seemed to her so
awful, so bloody and unnecessary and wasteful, that she was
resolutely determined never to be cheated by life again.  Or she
thought she was.  But tenderness would keep breaking in.  My return
broke up all the hardness; the very sense that she had shown me
that she loved me roused in her again a great tenderness for
Osmund, a longing to see him through his troubles, to protect him,
so far as she might, from further evil.

Then the evil came.  She was never quite, I think, to recover from
the shock of seeing Pengelly's body there on the sofa.  She was
not, you see, quite as modern a woman as she pretended.  Osmund's
acknowledgment of the murder separated her from him forever.  It
would not have done so had she loved him.  She has often said since
then that if it had been I who had killed Pengelly she would have
felt as though she also had killed him, and would have been bound
to me only the closer.  But it was that sight of Pengelly's body on
the sofa that showed her once and for all that she had no kinship
with Osmund whatever, that he repelled and terrified her.
Nevertheless, with all that consciousness of distance, she felt a
pitying tenderness for him too--pitying at first, and then he
seemed to grow before her eyes into a gigantic stature, to stand
out a figure almost of the old sagas, like Siegmund when he has
heard from Brünnhilde of his doom, going almost gladly towards it
because he knows so definitely that there is no longer any hope for
him.

He was, in this last hour, finer and of greater stature than he had
ever been before.  He went from her, but he went grandly.

Our recognition of one another, brief though it was, gave her a
conviction of happiness that none of the other troubles could take
from her.  But she was sure, as she has often told me, that that
love, hers and mine, was fated to end exactly then when it was
declared.  Those words exchanged so hurriedly between us in the
bedroom were all that were to be permitted us.  It must be
remembered that through the whole of the scene that now followed
she was convinced that she had seen me for the last time.  She even
pushed me from her mind with that effort of supreme concentration
that was one of her finest attributes.  She applied now every nerve
and energy that she had to dealing with the situation that was in
front of her, and to helping Osmund as best she might, although he
was now far from her--dim, gigantic, like an allegory.

Then with the entrance of little Pengelly into the scene a new
element came to her, an element of drama, as though, she afterwards
told me, she were acting in the second act of a play, a play that
she herself was at the same time writing, and it was up to her to
see what the third act should be--not only up to her--up to Osmund
and Pengelly as well.

So you may say that every conceivable element--forces of love,
jealousy, fear, honour, restraint, pathos, pity, theatrical
unreality, and an absolute realism--were working together in her
breast at that moment when Hench left the flat and I, after
exchanging that glance with Osmund, followed him.

Many times she has enacted the events of the following scene for
me, and it is her version of the dialogue between them that I now
give.

When the door had closed behind Hench and myself Osmund turned to
her and said one thing:

'So Gunn keeps your gloves for you.'  She had not the slightest
idea of his meaning, was not sure that she had caught the words
rightly, for Osmund turned at once from her and said to Pengelly:
'Well, they are gone, and now we can attend to our own business.'

Pengelly answered, smiling, in his mild clergyman's voice:

'That's very simple.  I've told you how I feel.  I hated my
brother.  I'm glad you removed him.  I want to be your friend--I
admire you--and I suggest, the world being as rotten as it is, that
you should generously provide me with five hundred pounds a year in
quarterly instalments.'

Helen says that it was now that she was aware that something
besides the other Pengelly's death had happened to Osmund.  She did
not know at that moment what it was.  She was to learn very
shortly.  But what she realized without knowing any facts was that
Osmund had removed himself from her, that he had done with her and
all his life with her completely.  He stood there, his great bulk
swaying ever so slightly, staring at her, exactly as though he were
seeing her for the last time and were determined to memorize every
part of her.  And she, aware of that, stood tautly like a soldier
on duty, erect, facing him.  She felt as though she were saying to
him:  'Yes, this is farewell.  Whatever the outcome of these
events, we at least are never to be together again.'

The triptych glowed in its lovely colour under the golden
candlelight behind him, and he was part of the triptych and the
triptych part of him.

But all he said was:  'Helen, won't you leave us alone a little?
We want to talk.'

'No,' she answered, smiling into his eyes, 'I'm part of this.  I
won't go.'

'But I will,' said little Pengelly, suddenly sliding to the door.
With one stride Osmund was onto him and held him as he had done
five minutes before.  With the grip of one hand he held him, then
he let him go.

'You don't realize yet,' he said, standing right over him, 'that
you are never going to leave me again.  I told you so just now, but
you didn't believe me.  I'm finished and you're finished too.'

'I see,' said Pengelly quietly.  'You are going to murder me as you
did my brother?'

The little man showed no sort of alarm--very gentle and mild, but
quite without fear.

'No,' Osmund said, 'not that.  I don't know how this is going to
end.  The police may arrive at any moment, for one thing, and then
we shall both have to act quickly.  Or no one may come, and we
shall be here all night and go off together in the morning.'

'Go off--where?' asked Pengelly.

'I don't know--over the edge--deep down.  Where no one can hear you
deny anything ever again.'

'Then you do intend to kill me?'

'We go together,' Osmund repeated.  'You the denier, and I the
affirmer.  You stand for the rest, you see--all the other rotten
traitors who insult life by sneering at it and spit at human
beings.  I shall have done one thing at least with my life in
taking you with me.'

It was then that Helen realized that Osmund had left all of us and
the world to which we belonged.  You may call it insanity, if you
like.  I don't know.  It is simply an alteration of values when
physical life ceases to matter, when ideas change their size, and
when perhaps truths, real truths, are for the first time perceived.

But Helen, who was always exasperated by nonsense and pretensions,
and the use of capital letters when ordinary ones would do,
interrupted.

'Please, John, don't waste time.  I don't know what you mean, and
you don't know yourself.  The situation is quite simple.  This
gentleman here thinks he has a hold over us and is proposing to
blackmail us.  I suggest that you let him go and allow him to do
whatever he pleases.  Tell the police or anything else.  We refuse,
of course, to be blackmailed, and when he sees how hopeless his
plans are he may perhaps make other plans.'

That, so far as she can remember, is the kind of thing that she
said, trying at all cost to be sensible.  Whatever she had said her
words had at least the effect of turning Pengelly's attention
entirely upon herself.

He looked at her, she says, exactly as the little clergyman of some
remote country parsonage might look when begging for odds and ends
for his jumble sale--a little humorous, a little earnest, and very
determined.

'I don't understand either of you,' he said--'why should you use
the word blackmail, madam?  I wish you'd look at the facts for a
moment.  I think it very probable that you'll hear no more of my
brother.  I don't know how you've disposed of his body, but I
gather that you have taken some pretty effective steps.  If the
body is not found by the police I'm sure you'll hear no more about
it, for nobody will make any inquiries about his absence.  He was
universally loathed.  He had not even a woman who really cared for
him, and Lord knows women will care for anyone.  That's proved by
the fact that it was I whom he asked to come and inquire for him to-
night--when he knew I hated him.  No, you'll have no inquiries.
All that will happen will be that a number of men and women will
slowly realize that at last they are free.  There remains only
myself.  And I ask so little--five hundred a year among--how many
of you is it?  Four or five.  And I daresay I'll pay some of it
myself after a bit if I get to like you very much.  The truth about
me is simply that I'm lonely and have to earn my living in ways
that I detest.  You can cure me of those two ills.  In return I
promise to be loyal, faithful friend.  You'll grow so accustomed to
me that you simply won't be able to do without me.'

He looked at Helen with all the intimate humorous affection of old
friendship.  Then he turned, speaking gravely to Osmund:

'What you mean, sir, with all that business of affirming and
denying I simply don't understand.  I've been quite honest with
you.  I've attempted to conceal nothing.  I do think the world a
rotten place.  I believe that we are a decadent race, that we have
failed and shall shortly return to the air and water that have
composed us.  I find human beings mean, treacherous, weak and
cowardly.  But why that should irritate you I can't conceive.
There's nothing personal about it, I assure you.  You think
differently.  You're an optimist, although you don't look one.
Well, I don't blame you for it.  I like you the better.  Why should
we not agree to differ?'

Helen says that Osmund listened to all this with an increasing
disgust and irritation that was extraordinary to witness.  It was
now, she believes, that it was beginning to be driven in on her
(just as, almost at the same moment, I in the Circus was realizing
this with Hench) that the events of the evening had acted as the
breaking of the last barrier to Osmund's restraint.  For years he
had been holding the door against all the forces of insanity and
desperation.  His killing of Pengelly that evening had pushed the
door in.  And yet, as I have already said, there was perhaps a
wider, clearer mind shining now in the middle of his insanity than
he had ever known before.

He looked at Pengelly with a loathing greater than any that he had
ever shown to his brother.  'You may not understand,' he said
quietly, 'but my life long I've been fighting your kind of beliefs.
I know life to be noble and grand, although I have myself made a
failure of it.  You are only one of my enemies.  It is you and your
kind who have brought the world to the pass that it is in.  You
shan't be let loose again, I promise you, to ruin others with your
dirty doctrines.'

He looked around the room, then he went out into the little hall,
returned, flung back the bedroom door.

'Would you mind,' he said courteously to Pengelly, 'going in there
for twenty minutes?  The door from that room into the passage is
locked.  I shall lock this door behind you.  But it will only be
for twenty minutes.  I intend you no harm.  It is simply that I
want to speak to my wife alone.'

'Of course.  As long as you please.'  Pengelly walked into the
bedroom.  Osmund locked the door behind him.

Osmund watched him go, then he went to Helen, put his arm around
her, drew her face to his, and kissed her.

'Let's sit on this sofa.  I want to say one or two things to you.'
He drew her down on to the sofa and sat there with her, holding her
close to him.

'You gave those gloves to Dick?' he asked her gently.

She didn't know in the least to what he was referring.

'Well, if you didn't, he took them.  It doesn't matter.'  He put
his hand under her chin and held her face up towards his.

'You love him, don't you?' he asked.

'Yes,' she answered.

'And he loves you?'

'Yes.'

'How long have you loved one another?'

She couldn't tell him.

'And you've never loved me?'

She tried to explain.  Love?  What was it?  What did the word mean?
She did not know.  But he nodded his head.

'Oh, yes, you know.  You've never loved me, but you stood by me
through all those years . . . all the time that I was in prison . . .
I think that very fine.  But of course you would behave like
that, it's your nature.  Now tell me,' he went on very gently, 'if
you CAN tell me, why did you marry me in the first place, seeing
that you didn't love me?'

Their closeness, the silence and intimacy that there was now in the
flat, after all the storm and disturbance, above all, her knowledge
that they belonged to one another no longer, all these things moved
her greatly.

Very often the maternity that is so large a part of a woman's love
is felt more strongly after the affair is ended than it has been
felt during all its activity.  There will be no things to do for
this man, no more watching or caring or tending, and in that regret
the best and noblest part of love seems to linger.  So Helen felt
now.  She had never loved Osmund, but she had done so many things
for him, and now in another hour or so she would do nothing ever
for him again.  And then, even while she was feeling this, she
remembers that she was suddenly aware of the things in the room,
the secretaire, the silver candlesticks, the strange ugly splotches
on the wall, and realized that all these things had witnessed that
action of Osmund's a short while before; she saw again the man
lying on the sofa, his foot hanging limply to the ground.

She drew away from Osmund under an impulse so strong that it did
not seem to be her own.  He noticed it at once.  Indeed, in an
uncanny fashion, he seemed to know exactly what had been in her
mind.

'You have been feeling kindly to me,' he said, 'because we are
parting, and at the same time you have been thinking of what has
been happening here this evening.  Now, isn't that so?'

She nodded her head.

'And it's only an example of the way that you've felt to me always,
I know.  I've always known.  Now we've only got a few minutes.  We
shall never have a talk again.  I--'

'John,' she interrupted him sharply, 'what are you going to do?'

She remembers that a sudden conviction of instant danger swept over
her--danger to Osmund, danger to me, danger to herself.  The
candlelight rustled in her ears, the floor swayed a little.  She
caught his arm.

'John, what are you going to do?'

'Never mind, never mind,' he answered impatiently.  'What does the
future matter?  I've done something irrevocable.  I've no life of
my own any more, whatever way I go.  And that's why I want to make
myself a little clear to you--so that you can think of me
afterwards . . . look back and understand me a little.'

What he said was of such importance to Helen that she has tried
again and again since then to remember exactly the terms of it.
You must remember that I am giving it to you at second hand.

'Listen, Helen.  I've never been on proper terms with this life.
I've never seen things straight.  I've always been, if you like to
put it that way, a little drunk.'  (He returned to this analogy,
she says, several times.)  'Drunk with beauty, for one thing.  Ever
since, as a kid of six, I stood with my old father between Penzance
and Marazion and saw St. Michael's Mount in a bronze haze and the
sea purple and green around it.  If one thing's like that, I
thought, then everything must be.  I was both realist and romantic,
a sorry position for anyone.  But one thing I did see clearly--that
life's a fight between the setters up and the pullers down, the
affirmers and the deniers.  I wasn't sentimental about that.  I saw
it in the deadliest earnest.  Although I could play about when I
felt happy, I never had the slightest sense of humour, as you know.
Well, here was the world busily engaged in the struggle between
these two forces.  I threw myself into the fight.  I tried
different religions.  I went, as you know, to the Lepers'
Settlement in Candia.  I was at sea for two years, a Tommy in the
army--all the rest.  I was a failure at everything because I was
always too angry.  I COULDN'T keep my temper.  Everything was
always just wrong, the deniers were always just winning or the
affirmers were so damned complacent that it made me sick.  And then
I was mad sometimes.  Crazy.  I wouldn't call it so, but sane
people would.  The skin of life seemed to break, and I saw through,
saw through into incredible beauty, but all of it out of reach, out
of touch.  That made me angrier than ever.  I made friends and lost
them.  They were always afraid of me in the end, afraid of my
tempers and furies and the scenes I made.  Women too.  They were
always tremendously attracted to me at first and then frightened
afterwards.  They were always better than I was, even the worst of
them, but they didn't want the things I want, didn't need them.  Oh
God, how I needed them!  Then came the war.  There I saw some of my
glories nearer at hand.  But AFTER it the deniers had it all the
time.  Nothing was any good any more, and just when everyone should
have begun to build everyone was pulling down the little bit that
remained.  Then the jeerers, the mockers, the idlers came in.  I
tumbled against them everywhere.  They laughed at me, and I lost my
temper, and there we were.  I think I really began to go a little
queer then.  Tiny things maddened me.  I saw nothing in proportion.
I don't know what you can have thought of me.  But whatever else
you've thought I know you've never doubted my loving you.  I know,
too, how it's irked you--how often you'd have preferred me to hate
you.'

'No,' Helen said, 'that isn't true.  If your loving me had made you
happy I would have been content--but it didn't.'

'Happy!  How could I be happy?  How can anyone be happy?'

She recollects how he tossed his head here in a sort of wild
desperation, as though he were tied in somewhere and couldn't get
out.

'Happy?  No, I've never been happy, never for one moment in all my
life.  Even when you said you'd marry me I knew that there was a
catch in it somewhere.  When I've been gay like a child, I've felt
that behind all the nonsense, catastrophe was lingering.  I've
never been able to take anything lightly.  When I try to explain
what's in my mind I talk sententiously, like a lecturer.  I was
always, from the very beginning, at a disadvantage with you there,
Helen, for you are so made that you can't endure sententious,
pompous people.  How I longed not to be!  How often in Spain I've
wanted to be so simple and direct with you and didn't know how to!'

She says that her conscience smote her now most terribly--she
recalled so many times when she had been impatient with him--
wronging him from her own crass stupidity.  If she could only have
loved him, how much she would have understood.

'And you never realized,' he went on quickly, as though he realized
how brief the time left to him was, 'what humiliation and isolation
those two years in prison brought to me.  Coming to a nature like
mine the result was fatal.  They separate you, utterly, for even
you couldn't know--how could you?--what it is like to be different
from everyone--how you feel when people shout to you, "Be like us!
It is quite easy!" or scorn you, saying, "How dare you be like
that?" when you would give your soul to be like them if you could!
Or perhaps not--you have your own vision of things, something apart
and separate, an angle for seeing life--perhaps you wouldn't lose
it even though you had your choice.  I was normal, though, in my
love of you.  I loved you just as any man loves any woman--and you
didn't love me--did you--ever--one little scrap?  Did you?  Did
you?'

Then he dropped upon his knees in front of her, had his arms around
her.  Because of his great height, his face was level with hers,
his eyes stared into hers, beseeching her, begging her--this last
request.

And, miraculously, for a moment, the only moment in all their lives
together, she did love him.  She could never explain that
afterwards, whether it was her pity for him, her commiserating
maternity, or simply her sense that he was leaving her--for a
moment she loved him as he had always wanted her to love him.

She forgot myself, she forgot the incidents of that evening, she
had for a brief fiery instant an experience of what all her life
with him might have been, of how she might have saved him, yes, and
herself too, from all these consequences.

She felt the thrill of his own surprise at her response.  They
kissed as they had never kissed before, lip to lip, heart to heart,
her hand on his breast, his hand about her hair.

He got up, stood away from her, staring beyond her to the windows.

'Good-bye, my dear,' he said.  Then he went to the bedroom door and
unlocked it.

For herself, a little thing pulled her back to me--the sight of my
Don Quixote lying on the table.  She picked it up.

Pengelly came in.

'I've been asleep,' he said, and he looked behind his glasses
tousled and sleepy like a little owl.

Osmund said to him, 'You're coming with me.  We are going away
together.'

Pengelly answered:  'Indeed we are not.  I'll make you a prophecy.
Within a week you'll be paying me my five hundred and glad to do
it.  Within a month you'll be loving me like a brother, better than
my own brother ever loved me. . . .  Good-night.'

He was at the door and through it.  Osmund was after him.  Helen
heard the little hall door open, and then suddenly the whole flat
was filled with pandemonium--laughter--songs--cheers--shouts.

She heard Osmund's voice, someone shouted:  'Yoicks!  Yoicks!
Tally-ho!'

A moment later she was herself in the passage, and it seemed to her
that the whole world had run stark, staring mad.



CHAPTER XIII

The Party


It must have been strange indeed for Helen to come from that quiet
room, that intimate scene with Osmund, into the racket and
confusion of this absurd and fantastic company.

She had at the moment, however, thought only for Osmund.

If that scene had meant anything it had meant this--that she would
not leave him now until this thing was finished.

I had become for her something quite secondary so soon as she had
realized that Osmund was no longer capable of looking after
himself.  She had about him the feeling--only a hundred times
intensified--the sense that I was having at the same moment about
Hench--that he was crazed and so was helpless in a world composed
for the most part of sane and careful human beings.

But she could have been excused if, on coming into the passage, she
had had at first the impression that not only her husband, but the
whole world, had gone mad.

You must remember that she was not prepared, as I should have been,
for that party enjoying itself at Major Escott's, No. 3 flat
(whoever Major Escott was).  No, she was not prepared for any of
those fantastic figures, Greeks of old, and most of them drunk
before they ever got to the party at all.

The passage seemed to her to be filled with maniacs.  Some were
pressing up the stairs, some were pressing down.  An extremely fat
man, dressed, as it seemed to her, only in a nightshirt, with a
wreath of bright green metallic leaves pushed to one side of his
bald perspiring head, was crying out in shrill feminine tones:
'Come on, girls, we're late.  We're bloody late.  Oh, yes, we're
very bloody late indeed!'

Around him, like smaller fish about a friendly whale, were swimming
a number of persons of various sexes and of no sex at all.  There
were two elderly ladies in accustomed evening dress who looked
extremely anxious and disturbed.  One very handsome youth with a
gold fillet on his hair and a tunic that displayed most of his
person, led a little body of worshippers up the stairs.

One anxious little man with an eyeglass continued to repeat over
and over again:  'But where IS Escott's flat?  It's really too odd--
we can't find his flat anywhere!'

Helen found to her amazement that by the time that she reached the
flat-door, both Osmund and Pengelly were being accepted as members
of the party.  Pengelly, she saw at once, had seized this chance as
a means of escape.  She could understand how admirably it served
him.  There was safety in numbers.  Osmund could do nothing in such
a crowd, and, in the general confusion, Pengelly would be a fool
indeed if he could not get away.  She heard someone say to him:

'But it's quite all right, my dear fellow.  You've got to come and
drink his health.  We're ALL welcome.'

A moment later she saw Osmund's arm seized by the very stout
gentleman.

'Come along, sir, come along, he'll be delighted to see you.  It's
Liberty Hall to-night--we're all going the same way.'

She was herself almost at once caught in with the others.

A fierce-looking, extremely bony young woman snatched at her arm.

'Where's my husband?' she asked indignantly.  'You ought to know if
anyone does.'

'I'm very sorry,' said Helen, 'I'm afraid I don't.'

The young woman looked at her.  'I beg your pardon,' she said
crossly, 'I thought you were Mary Petch.  Come on.  She's got my
husband somewhere, and I won't have it.'

In the middle of all her anxiety and distress, the sense of fantasy
and bizarre incongruity that had been growing within her ever since
her return to the flat that evening carried her forward.  Moreover,
if Osmund and Pengelly were to be involved in this party she must
be involved too.

They all moved up the stairs together.

On the next floor the door of a flat was open, and from within came
sounds of extreme revelry.  They all pushed in.  Helen saw that
this flat was on the same plan as Osmund's, but the sitting-room
that had, in his case, played its drama to the tune of a few
figures, a pair of silver candlesticks and triptych was, in this
instance, packed and crammed with people.  The noise was deafening.
A gramophone was playing, everyone was shouting and singing.  Helen
was pushed into a corner.  No one paid her the slightest attention.
She discovered that she was pressed close against a thin and very
melancholy-looking man in a tunic, tights and sandals--rigid
against the wall and apparently extremely unhappy.

'Why ever did I come?' he said quite suddenly.  'I knew what it
would be like.  I knew that I should hate it.  And yet I came.'

Helen's memory of the scene becomes very clear at this point.  She
had an agonizing consciousness of approaching disaster, exactly as
though someone had cried, through all the babel, in her ear:
'Wait . . . you can't escape it now . . . you can't move. . . .
You are helpless.  In another second . . .'

Like a nightmare when you are caught on a wide stretch of railway
line, the train, with ever increasing roar and bellow, is pounding
towards you, your feet are glued to the rails, the shriek of the
whistle is in your ears, the huge black breast of the engine
covers your sight, there is one last scream, and then the horrid
impact. . . .  Her actual position was near the open door.  All the
furniture had been pushed from the room--there were no chairs;
people were sitting on the floor.  The only witnesses to Major
Escott's taste were a series of sporting prints, horses jumping
ditches and the rest, that vanished into a disturbing wallpaper of
crushed mulberry overlaid with Chinese temples.  The little hall
was packed with people, and the bedroom, it seemed, also.  The
drinks were in the kitchen and the bathroom.  At least, it may have
been so.  I do not know how much is from Helen in this description
and how much from my own reading about such parties in current
works of fiction--no novel of to-day seems complete without one.

Helen's only thought was for Osmund, and at first her eyes could
not find him.  She realized that a number of people besides
themselves were sharing in the festivities without any knowledge of
their host.  It seemed as though anyone might drift in.  This was
before the time of the 'gate-crashing' agitation in the press, but
she perceived on this occasion what I in after years suspected,
that many a party prefers to be with its stranger guest rather than
without it because so often it is the stranger guest who gives
animation to what would otherwise be too coldly a family affair.

She perceived, too, that although everyone was making a great deal
of noise no one seemed to be very happy.  At first, as I have said,
she could not find Osmund.  Then, to her astonishment, she saw him
close to the distant window, his arm round the shoulders of a girl
with red hair and almost no clothes, his eyes staring with a
peculiar fixed intensity--at Pengelly!

She turned to look at Pengelly and found him gazing upwards, his
spectacles tilting forward to the edge of his nose, looking into
the fat flushed face of an elderly woman who was apparently
threatening to pour champagne onto his head.

Now here is an odd thing.  Helen knew that the little man, although
he was gazing up into the silly face above him, was in reality
conscious of Osmund's eyes, and concentrating all his energies on
some plan of escape.  It was for a moment, Helen said, as though
she herself were Pengelly, and she realized with a certainty of
knowledge that can belong only to your own consciousness of
yourself that now, in this moment, he was, for the first time,
frightened of Osmund.  He had become quite suddenly aware that
Osmund wasn't any longer, in the ordinary meaning of the word,
sane, and that, because he wasn't sane, he followed no longer the
ordinary lines of cause and effect, but that he lived in a new
world in which all the rules were different.  Even as Helen looked
at him he dropped his eyes from the fat woman's face, and began to
edge his way through the crowd, and Helen saw quite clearly now
that his soul said:  'I've got to get out of this, I am in danger.'

She saw then Osmund's eyes follow him, and she saw them command
Pengelly to stop, and Pengelly stopped there where he was, pushed
about and jostled by the gyrating crowd.

She wanted herself then to get to her husband.  Something at any
moment might occur.  No one could influence him save herself, and
in that thought she had a curious half-pathetic pride.  She has
told me how she wondered, as she looked across that room at him,
whether anyone else realized how supremely he was above and beyond
everyone else in that crowd--above and beyond them all in beauty,
in dignity, in the larger share that he had of that divine fire--
the fire that burnt in him and made him a failure and an exile.
Jailbird and murderer--but the vision that she had of him then was
a true one.

The distance across the room between herself and him was very great--
she seemed to be quite hopelessly wedged in against the wall.  She
found that the melancholy gentleman next to her was speaking to
her:

'This is utterly horrible,' he said, 'and to think that we are
supposed to be imitating the Greeks!'

'Why don't you go away, then?' she asked him, her eyes desperately
watching Osmund.  She has told me since that if she were ever again
to meet that grave melancholy man, walking quietly in fitting
clothes in any sober place, or dancing madly wearing nothing at
all, whatever he was doing, wherever he might be, she would
recognize him.  And she would remember exactly forever every word
that he said.

'I am here,' he said, with the saddest of smiles, 'to be a
companion to my wife.  That is she dancing--'

He pointed to a little girl with dark bobbed hair, a white garment
half slipping off her shoulders, dancing with a fat young man; how
she could dance when there was no space to move upon was difficult
to explain, but dance she did, with complete abandon.

'I am ten years older than she,' he went on.  'She has just
discovered it.  For three years she was quite unaware . . .' then
broke off.  'Isn't it hot in here--and outside it is blowing up for
the worst snow-storm ever--and in Central Africa they are dancing
also,' he added.

She didn't reply.  She was watching Pengelly, who was edging his
way slowly towards the door.  At the same time, she saw Osmund
embrace the red-haired girl with his arm still more tightly, and
she was aware also that he did not know that he was even touching
her.

It was her consciousness that he was ignorant of what he was doing
that made her determined to reach his side.  So she began to fight
her way.  And it was a fight.  Many people had by this time drunk a
little more than they were quite able to carry, with the result
that personal histories, sorrows, victories, tragedies, began to
declare themselves on every side.  Osmund's was not the only murder
committed in London that evening.  The sense of nightmare dreamily
grew now upon Helen's brain, so that it really did begin to seem to
her as though presently she would wake in their quiet cottage near
Evesham, and she would hear the birds twittering in the ivy, feel
the cool morning air swing in from the window, and then see John
Osmund in the bed beside hers lying in his deep sleep, his head
cradled in his hand.  In this room there was a big flat looking-
glass over the fireplace, and in this glass was reflected, through
the open door, the little hall crowded with people.  How fantastic
this crowd in the disarrangement of its fancy dress!  As Helen saw
it through the glass it lost all appearance of humanity; the cries,
the movements, the staring eyes, the naked arms and half-bare
breasts, and white knees and thighs gleaming with sweat, these were
part of inhabitants from another star who, in some Wellsian
fashion, had been shot, bewildered and dazed, into this so
different scene.  The noise was deafening, but as, in a thick
forest, beneath the glare and coarseness of the larger forest life
there is a cool furtive underworld pursuing its own purposes, so
now Helen, trying to battle her way through to Osmund, encountered
subterranean conflict.

She had moved some steps forward when she almost fell over a large
stout woman who, seated on the floor, was holding a large stout man
by the sleeve and preventing him from rising.

'If you dance with her,' Helen heard her say, 'I go right off.
You'll never see me again--you can make your mind up to THAT!'  She
did not seem to care whether she were heard by the general company
or not.

Helen, stumbling, caught the stout man by the shoulder to save
herself.  'I beg your pardon,' she said.  He paid her no attention.

'But, Carrie,'--his voice was filled with tears--'I'm only going to
do the polite.  You wouldn't wish me to--'

'Yes, I would wish you,' she broke in furiously, 'and you know I
would too.  Do the polite!  What do you say about that?  Do the
polite. . . .'

Helen could not move unless this stout lady moved.  She murmured
again:  'I beg your pardon,' and at the same moment she pitched
over the pile of cushions almost into her arms.  Someone saved her
from going sprawling.  It was a man.  For a moment they clasped
hands.  She saw that it was Pengelly.

The bewildering absurdity of THAT was beyond anything else that the
evening had yet given her.  They stayed together; they could not
move, and breaking into their own urgency was the ridiculous
history of the pair at their feet.

'Mrs. Osmund,' he said at once as though there were no time at all
to lose.  'Help me out of this.  If you help me I promise to bother
none of you again.  When I give my word I mean it.  I've had enough
of this.'

'You're frightened,' she remembers that she said to him.

'Yes, your husband is mad.  That has broken my nerve.'  Then he
added breathlessly:  'I wasn't frightened until I came in here.
When I was alone in that bedroom I wasn't frightened at all.  It
was a kind of game that amused me.  But now--all I want is to get
away and never see him again.  You needn't be afraid that I'll come
back.'

The stout woman had got up onto her knees:  'I don't care who
knows,' she cried out.  'Where were you two nights ago?  Do you
suppose I'm deaf and blind as well as dumb?  I know what she's been
doing all the last month, the little sly cat. . . .'

The fat man sighed prodigiously.  'That isn't fair, Carrie. . . .'
He began an excited, tearful protest.

'You see,' said Helen (she was, she remembers, herself now a little
breathless) 'you ought never to have come into this at all.  Why
didn't you leave us alone?'

'I was his creature.  For years I did the dirty work. . . .'  He
broke off.  'To-night I thought I'd try a little bit on my own.
See how it worked.  It hasn't worked.  I'm frightened of your
husband, Mrs. Osmund.  Tell him anything--that I'm not Pengelly's
brother--anything--tell him.  Tell him.  Make him let me go.'

The fat woman had found a friend--'Come here, Grace, and take a
look at the meanest liar--'

'But,' Helen said, 'we are all caught.  Running away is no good.'

'Never mind,' the little man begged.  'Help me to get out of here.
Help me--'

Helen looked up and saw Osmund at her side.

They stood, the three of them, forced together by the crowd on
every side of them.  Osmund looked at Pengelly.  'Haven't you been
here long enough?' he said.'  Aren't you as weary of it as I am?'

Pengelly said:  'Let me go.  I shan't bother you again.  I'm sick
of the whole thing.  Let me go. . . .'

What would have happened then between them no one can say.  Would
Osmund have let him go and so saved the catastrophe?  Helen could
never afterwards be sure of what exactly was in his mind just then,
what he was seeing with his eyes that wandered restlessly like an
animal's up and down, in and out, around the room and yet never
seemed to lose guard of their prisoner.

In any case, Pengelly might have gone, and alone, at this moment,
but no one will ever know, for there was an interruption.

The noise was now frantic, but someone shut off the gramophone, and
as that background of jazz faded away voices also fell.  Then some
woman shouted at the top of her voice:

'We're Greeks!  We're Greeks!  We must have a sacrifice!  I'll be
Iphigenia!'

Everyone seemed to be enchanted with the idea, and a little round
tubby man who, Helen thought, must be her host, prominent now for
the first time, came forward and cried:

'Grand idea--come on, everybody.  We'll have a procession and an
altar and everything.'

They pushed a low little table into the centre of the room, laid a
purple cushion in front of it, found an ancient guest with a white
beard to be the priest, tied the hands of a pretty young girl
behind her back, and blindfolded her.

A number of tipsy men and women stood in a row and began to sway
backwards and forwards; with much laughter they began a drunken
chant.

Then Escott, looking round, saw Osmund.  'Hullo, you, sir, you're
the very man--the biggest man in the place.  You shall be Lord High
Executioner.'

Osmund instantly, like a man moving in a dream, went over to him.

'I don't know what the hell your name is, sir, but I hope you're
having a damned good time.  I'm jolly glad you've been able to
come.'  Then he turned and called:  'Hullo, somebody, where's the
knife?'

Someone had produced a carving knife.  Everyone was laughing.
Osmund stood there, the knife in his hand, the girl kneeling in
front of him.  Helen wanted to cry out:  'Stop!  Take that away
from him.  He mustn't be free. . . .'  But there was another
interruption.  Someone cried out:  'I say, Escott, do you hear
that?'

And then someone else said:  'Bunny Warner has seen a corpse to-
night.  None of your Greek sacrifices.  A real one.  On the way up
here.'

Everyone began to talk.  The pretty girl, tired of kneeling, got up
from her cushion, freed her wrists, and pulled the bandage from her
eyes.

'What's that?'  'Bunny seen a murder?'  'Bunny done someone in?'
Questions began to break out from every side of the room.  Everyone
had forgotten the game of the sacrifice.  And Osmund stood there,
the knife in his hand, without moving.

A young man in ordinary evening dress began to talk from the
fireplace.

'Well, if you want to know, it wasn't so awfully much.  I hadn't
meant to say anything about it.  All the same, it gave me a kind of
a turn.'

'What was it?'  'Oh, come on, Bunny, out with it!'  And Helen says
that she too wanted to echo:  'Yes, Bunny.  Tell us what you saw.'

He went on:  'Well, I don't know whether I rightly saw anything or
not.  I'm soberer now than I was then, as a matter of fact.  It
sobered me up, I can tell you.  I came in out of the street and was
just going to start up the stairs when I saw a man standing up in
the corner against the wall.'

'What kind of a man?' asked somebody.

'Oh, I don't know--an ordinary sort of a feller.  I asked him if he
knew which Escott's flat was, because I was a bit squiffy and
didn't want to go ring up the wrong man's bell.  Well, he wasn't
too civil, and then I discovered that there was another feller, all
hunched up, sitting on the bottom step.'

Some women gave a little scream, and someone else said:  'How
perfectly horrible!'

'I asked the feller if his friend was ill.  No, he said, only dead
drunk, and another chap had gone for a car to take him home.  So I
said all right, carry on.  But just then I thought I'd have a
cigarette, and I pulled out this thing'--he held up a lighter--'and
the flame went up, and I saw--'

The young man paused.  Someone cried:  'Oh, Bunny, go on, go on!'
There was a breathless silence everywhere.  Osmund never moved or
turned his head.

'Well, I swear that what I saw was a dead man.  You couldn't
mistake it.  His eyes and mouth and everything.  I cried out:  "My
God, he's dead!" or something, and he said:  "No, he's only tight,"
and then--well, I scooted upstairs as fast as I could!'

Exclamations broke out everywhere.  'How horrible!'  'Isn't that
awful!'  'Perhaps he's there now.'

But Helen had eyes only for Osmund.  She saw him swing round.  The
knife dropped to the floor.  Everyone was beginning to laugh and
sing again, but the gaiety was gone.  Nothing could restore it.
Someone turned on the gramophone.  Nobody danced.

Someone cried out:  'Come on, I'm going!'

She fancied that then people began to push towards the hall, but
she couldn't tell because, in another moment, she was in the hall
herself.  In a flash she realized it.  Both Pengelly and Osmund
were gone.



CHAPTER XIV

From the Stars Down


Sometimes, and even after this interval of time, I still dream of
those figures flying across the empty Circus driven by the storm.
The omnibuses are there, but filled with inquiring eyes, while a
skeleton policeman, his hand one huge white glove, stands, arm
outstretched, and all the lights of a maddened world dance like
flies upon the dark walls of the houses.

Overhead the black clouds pile as though they would presently crash
down upon this waiting, dying world.  The little running figures
are manikins rushing to hide in any dark hole that offers--and they
know that they are too late.

This dream has woven its pattern into my waking life too, and Helen
also has not escaped it.

I return here, however, to the moment when, myself pursuing Hench,
I saw first little Pengelly, then Osmund and Helen, vanish, to my
amazement, into the gallery entrance of the Trafalgar Theatre.  Had
I paused to think, I might have found it my immediate duty to
secure Hench, but the sight of Helen was enough for me.  What had
happened I could not conjecture, but I knew that the events of the
evening were working now to their climax, and in that climax I must
play my part.

It was by this time close on half-past ten, and the performance was
so nearly over that the attendant had left the gallery pay-box, not
supposing that anyone would be so imbecile as to pay good money for
merely twenty minutes' entertainment.

So I sped up the dark stairs and arrived breathless at the door
that opened onto the gallery.  I could hear beyond me laughter and
the voices of the chorus.  A tall ancient with a row of medals
stopped me.

'Standing room only,' he whispered in a voice combining military
dignity and an affection for beer.

'All right,' I said impatiently.  'How much?'

'Show's nearly over,' he whispered.  But I pushed past him and went
in.  One dim electric light hung at the back of the gallery.  In
front of me everything was dark, and then beyond that a blaze of
light colours, moving figures, and a blare of music.  I could at
first see very poorly.  A number of persons were standing behind
the wooden barrier.  I could catch no glimpse of Osmund or Helen or
Pengelly.

I felt, I remember, lost and in despair.  From the moment's vision
that I had had of Helen's face as she hurried past me I knew that
she was in a panic of apprehension.  What to do I knew not.

I moved cautiously along and tumbled right into Osmund.  He
recognized me at once, even in that half-light, and gripped my hand
so tightly that it was all that I could do not to cry out.

He whispered:

'Dick. . . .  That's good.  I wanted to say goodbye to you.  When
the lights go out we will go too.'

I knew then that he was crazy in the sense that Hench was crazy.  A
thousand impossible schemes danced through my brain.  What an
absurd and at the same time monstrous situation!  Where was Helen?
Where Pengelly?  And what was Hench doing down there on the floor
of the house?  Osmund was pressing me close against him.  His body
was absolutely rigid, like iron.

'Let my hand go.  You're hurting me,' I whispered.

He released my hand, but gripped my arm instead.  I tried to peer
beyond him, and then saw that with his other hand he held Pengelly.

That seemed to me so absurd that it was all I could do, I remember,
not to break out loud into hysterical laughter.  There we were, the
three of us, held there while the business of the house went
forward--and there downstairs was Hench!  What incredible farce was
it that we were now playing?  And yet I knew that to Osmund it was
no farce, but the proper conclusion to a long sequel of misfortunes
now to be, at last, properly rectified.

As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, I could see Pengelly's
face more plainly.  His forehead glistened with sweat.  Once and
again he wriggled his whole body as though to break away, but he
uttered no sound, nor did he look at Osmund.

I gazed, then, desperately about the house.  I could see now the
long sloping line of the gallery packed with people, the boxes on
either side beyond and below, and then, to right and left, the
farthest ends of the upper circle.  On the stage, as I shall
remember to the day of my death, a Spanish scene was being played.
This was one of those revues that our grandest and most individual
impresario, C. B. Cochran, so pleasantly provides for us.  It had,
I have no doubt, all the individuality, gaiety, good temper and
æsthetic taste with which his personality colours our rather
pedestrian stage.  I suppose that it had, but I am no true witness,
for I was never to see any scene of it but this one, and, as you
may imagine, my own vision was, just now, very far from reality.

But I got the fantastic impression that this Spanish scene
represented the very spot where Helen and Osmund in their Spanish
sojourn had been.  What was there then?  I can remember a black
tower rising in front of a purple sky.  At the foot of the tower a
crimson booth filled with oranges, and in the centre of the stage a
stone fountain tossing real water that splashed its pleasant echo
about the theatre.  There was a boat with tawny sails moored under
the tower.  Up and down the steps of the tower, figures very gaily
attired were passing.  In the foreground of the scene a very slim
woman in a black mantilla was dancing--some men and women rattled
castanets.

The scene, in its colour and light, was to me like a nightmare.
The figures that were passing into the tower would never return.
They were leaving all that light and colour and sound forever
behind them; and on the other side of the tower, the side that we
could not see, the water was black and of a soundless depth.

Of a soundless depth!  I pulled myself back.  I must do something--
but what?  It seemed incredible that the three of us should be
standing fixed as though by strait-jackets in this mad situation,
while all around us the ordinary sane world rolled forward, the
ancient with his medals whispering to the fireman, who was yawning
as though his jaws would snap; in front of me all those heads, all
fixed, as you could tell, in a sort of senility of pleasure--that
happy old age of the intellect when the senses are lulled, the
passions warmed but not heated.  And beyond them that blaze of
happy light.  The thin woman had ceased to dance, the stage was
filled with whirling figures, the castanets snapped, the orchestra
gently titillated itself, humming, as it were, a tune over for its
own pleasure.

But it was not the orchestra humming; Osmund was whispering to me,
whispering without turning his head, without lessening his grip on
my arm.  The words never ceased, so low that I missed many of them,
slipping out into the open theatre, heard by Pengelly as well as by
me.

'I always knew I'd do some damned silly thing at the end.  I've
been waiting for this.  I knew that I'd have to make a protest, and
men who protest are prigs . . . prigs . . . prigs . . .  But I've
always been one, Dick--you know that.  I never could laugh at
anything.  I can't laugh at this now. . . .  I ought to . . . you
can laugh afterwards. . . .

'And all these damned Pengellys. . . .  I'd finish the lot of
them if I had time.  I bet there are scores more of them hiding
under stones somewhere.  They and their kind.  It would be a new
crusade . . . wipe them out.'

(I remember thinking at this point--why doesn't Pengelly, if he
can't break away, shout out, make a noise, call the attendant?
He's had enough of this anyway by now, must have.  Why doesn't he
make the old boy with the medals fetch the police and end the whole
thing?  Here we have been all the evening circling round and round
with the police in the very centre of our circle, and no one has
ever said a word to them.  As though Osmund had hypnotized them.
As a matter of fact, I've wondered since then why Pengelly didn't
call out at this moment--but he had, I suspect, too many little
misadventures in his own past to wish for any personal contact with
the police.  And though he was, I suppose, by now beginning to
realize his own extreme danger, he still trusted to his wits to
pull him out of his hole. . . .  He trusted, in fact, just a little
too far.)

Osmund's voice went on:  'I can't see straight now.  You'd better
look out, young Pengelly, you're coming with me.  We're going for a
long ride.  You'll be cold . . . and then hot as hell.  It's funny,
Dick, that with all my chances I shouldn't have done better, but
being put away does you a lot of harm.  It makes you different from
the men who haven't been put away.  You can't forget it, and they
don't forget it either.  It was bound to end the way it has.  As
angry as I am sometimes--but these Pengellys, they deserve all they
get.  There are a lot of them about.'

'Let go my arm, Osmund,' I whispered fiercely.  'And come out of
this.  Let Pengelly go.  He won't interfere with you again.  Come
out of this.  Where's Helen?'

But he didn't let my arm go, and I doubt whether he had heard any
of this until the last word.

'Helen?  Oh, she's here.  So you took her gloves, Dick--as a love
token.  That upset me.  And you were kissing one another too.  That
upset me.  But I don't blame you.  She's a very attractive woman,
and we've said good-bye--she and I.'

Our whispering was beginning to attract attention.  A man in front
of us, seated against the barrier, turned round angrily and said,
'Hush!'

But what precisely happened then where we stood I shall never know,
for my eyes were suddenly transfixed.  Seated in the extreme right-
hand seat of the upper circle, in the half-light, visible to me
very plainly from where I stood, was Hench.  He must have moved
from the pit to the circle.

He was sitting forward, not looking at the stage at all, his head
between his hands.

'My God!' I whispered to Osmund, 'there's Hench!'

He did not hear me--or, if he heard, did not understand.  His grip
on my arm tightened.

And now what was Hench going to do?  I could see that his heavy fat
legs moved restlessly, and that he jerked his head up from his
knees and then down again.  He was not still for a moment.

On the stage, a man and a woman, close to the fountain, were
singing softly a love duet.  The lights had darkened--only the
tower, now jet black, stood forward against a sky thick with stars.
The fountain still rose and fell, its waters throwing a silvery
light.

I tried to pull my arm away.  'Let me go, Osmund.  There's Hench
down there.  He'll be making some disturbance if I don't get to
him.  Let me go.'  I saw that Pengelly on his side was wriggling
and twisting.  I could hear his little suppressed pants.

But all I got for my interruption was from the man in front who,
furious now, turned round and let out in a seething whisper:  'If
you don't bloody well be quiet I'll call the attendant.  What do
you think I paid my money for?  To hear you talk?'

But he had more than his money's worth that night, for on top of
his furious whisper I saw that Hench had sprung to his feet and was
shouting!

I had for the last five minutes been expecting something of the
kind--indeed, in some way that only added to the fantasy of the
whole scene, I seemed to hear him some distinct moment before he
began his interruption.

When the interruption actually came the effect of it was striking
enough.

Only twice before had I witnessed any scandalous scene in a theatre--
once, when touring France one Christmas with a Rugby football
team, in the Opera at Lyons there had been a deliberate arranged
attempt to spoil the début of some woman singer; the other when, at
the St. James's Theatre in London, a gentleman in the stalls had
suddenly risen during the interval and begun to take off all his
clothes, succeeding, in fact, so thoroughly that he was stark naked
before the attendants could get to him.

I remember on the second of these occasions the astonished sense
that we had that our world was turning upside-down.  Here we were
proceeding so gently on our ordered course when, in a second of
time, it was shown us that order was maintained only by permission
of the authorities, who, from their cloudy seats, with a
contemptuous turn of the wrist, could change us into pigs or
rabbits or whatever suited their humour.

It was so now.  I heard at first, before the interruptions became
more general, the words that he shouted:

'Sinners!' he cried out in his silly piping voice, breaking now to
a hysterical shriek, 'God is at hand!  Murderers! your crime has
been witnessed!'  I remember that he repeated the words 'God,'
'Murderers,' flinging out his arms, staggering forward, and almost
falling over the ridge of the upper circle into the dress circle
below him.

Very quickly, of course, attendants were running to him, but
everywhere there was confusion.  Nearly everyone in the gallery
stood up, craning forward that they might see.  There were calls
and cries from all over the theatre:  'What is it?'  'What's
happened?'  'Who's hurt?'  'There's a lady fainted' . . . and
meanwhile the pretty, silly duet continued in front of the dark
tower, the fountain gently splashing, and all the stars in the sky
sparkled with more than their natural fervour.

I had for a moment lost sight of Hench.  I caught a glimpse of him
again--the last that I was ever to see of him, struggling with two
attendants, his head back, his collar and shirt torn, his chest
bare.

There was one last triumphant cry:

'We are lost--lost, lost!' ending in that silly feminine shriek
that took all dignity, I fear, from his prophecies.  Poor Hench!
For all that trouble and agony there were only in the morning
newspapers two lines, speaking of a disturbance at the Trafalgar
Theatre, and adding that the gentleman, after being detained, was
found to be suffering from a nervous breakdown and was permitted to
go to his home.

Hench became later, I believe, an itinerant preacher--very popular
at seaside resorts in the summer, and, so far as I am aware, no
mention of Pengelly's death ever passed his lips again.

The importance for us of his outburst lay in its effect on Osmund.
Around us, as I have said, people were rising on every side,
exclaiming, asking questions; some nervous persons leaving the
theatre.

Osmund turned also as though to go.  I swung free of him, and
Pengelly almost did the same.  He was close to me now, and I could
see his distress.  One thing very disastrous for him had occurred.
In his struggles to free himself his spectacles had in some way
been jolted off his nose.  His face, now dripping with sweat, and
without the glasses, was shining with terror!  His eyes were never
still, his mouth moved ceaselessly, and he was always moistening
his lips with his tongue.

He was close to me now and he gasped:  'For God's sake . . . help
me out of this. . . .  The man's mad.  He'll do in the lot of us.
And my glasses--they've fallen--I'm blind without them--I'm
helpless.  Find them--for God's sake, find them.'

I had, Heaven knows, little reason for sympathy with the man, but I
felt then that the one thing that mattered was to find those
spectacles.  I dropped down onto the dusty floor and began to
grope.  I wondered, even as I searched, why Pengelly didn't call
loudly for help, and I still am wondering.  I can only suppose, as
I have already said, that he had the best of reasons for not
wishing any public attention drawn to himself.  But in fact, while
I was on my knees in the darkness, every kind of question was
crackling in my brain.  Where was Helen?  What should we do if
Osmund went amok and ran riot over the gallery?  And again--where,
where was Helen?  It was only weeks later that I remembered to ask
her that question, and found that she had been playing, on the
further side of Pengelly, the same sort of part as I and suffering
much the same agitation.

Indeed, the antics of all of us would by now have caused attention
had it not been for Hench's disturbance.

But now things moved fast, for Pengelly jerked himself free and had
slipped in an instant to the door.  Osmund had followed, I with
him.  Pengelly might have escaped and my story have had a very
different ending, or possibly no ending at all, had it not been
that he was confused by a group of women who, leaving the theatre
because of Hench's outcry, were standing in a silly bunch at the
stairhead, cackling like geese.

He could not see; the world was a mist before his eyes; he turned
to the right instead of the left, pushed back a door, and stumbled
upwards to the roof.  Although this door was marked 'Private,' and
was, I suppose, in general, locked, it was open enough now, but
dark.  Close behind Osmund I met, at the same moment as he, a blast
of the wind, went after him to find him on his knees by the door-
ledge, peering forward into the darkness.

I stood beside him and stared about me.  It was a strange enough
scene.  In front of me and around me was the upper world of London.
In spite of the blackness of the sky, heavy and thick, as though
roll upon roll of velvet were pressing down upon our heads, in
spite also of the snow that was now beginning to fall thickly and
was stroking my cheeks with a million chilly fingers, the scene was
lit with the trembling, jumping, witch-like illuminations of the
electric sky-signs.

I was, in fact, almost on a level with one of them--a vast rose
that opened its petals, slowly, luxuriantly, to allow a thin
tapering bottle of scent to emerge and return, then closed again.
All about the crimson and gold of this sign the heavy black sky was
illuminated; but for the most part the reflections in the sky were
from unseen lights, and it was as though London itself were leaping
and jumping to see whether it could touch the sky with its golden
fingers.  I could see no sign of Hench.  A moment later I turned to
find Helen had joined us.

Osmund saw her.

'Go back, Helen,' he said.  'Haven't we said goodbye already?  Go
back.'

She caught his arm.  'John, come with me.  Let the wretched man go.
You have frightened him enough.  Come home with me, John.  Come
home.  Come home.'  Her voice trembled in its urgency.  She must
have seen that I was there, but I don't think that I even existed
for her just then.

'Home?' he answered, and I remember the scorn he put into that
word.  'Home?  I have none.  I belong to nothing, to nobody.  Let
me finish with this little swine and I'll die happy.  One virtue
equals one crime.  Isn't it so?  Go back, Helen, you've no place
here.  The storm will blow you off your feet, and it's a long way
to fall.  Did you hear what Hench said?  He damned the lot of them.
Well, I'm damned with the rest, but I'll take that little rotter
with me.  He shan't deny his Maker more than another five minutes.'
Then he called:  'Hi, Pengelly!  Where are you? . . .  Come out and
join your brother.  I'll stuff your mouth with snow to stop your
lying words!'

He started off across the flat of the roof.

I gripped Helen's arm.  'Stay here, Helen,' I said, 'you can do no
good by coming.  A hurricane blowing up.  Wait. . . .  I'll bring
him back.'  Something like that.  I spoke incoherently.  Twenty
minutes later and all our destinies would have been changed.  The
performance over, the fireman or another would have come to
discover what we were about.  As it was, Hench's interruption had
drawn them all down to that part of the theatre.

Eerie experience enough, plunging about on that roof.  The storm
was indeed blowing up, and the little squat chimneys, the black
peaks of the roofs, hanging so narrowly over Little Windmill
Street, seemed to bend and swing with the storm.  As I moved I saw
to my right an aperture from which light was streaming, and found
that it was the small room whence the projectors flung their
colours upon the stage.  I caught for an instant a view from the
blackness of this roof through to the stage, little figures dancing
upon it, and a crimson curtain swinging backwards as I looked.

But my business was with Osmund, and I stumbled along, scarcely
able to keep my feet for the storm.

I had a moment just then, I remember, of intense loneliness and
fear.  I was, I suspect, a trifle off my head like the rest of them
by this time.  I could hear nothing but the whistle and shudder of
the storm.  My eyes were blinded with snow, but behind the
blindness was the reflection of the dancing lights.  All London
seemed to be leaping to get at me, and yet around and about me the
wind was tearing to pull the city off its feet.  In another moment
perhaps it would succeed.  A great exhilaration seized me.  London
seemed to be spinning on the Circus for its axis, and all the
little buildings, the toy omnibuses, the dolls of men and women,
were swinging too.  Tug--tug--tug--totter--totter--totter.  The
petty pile of brick and mortar was bending, swaying. . . .  Over it
must go, tossed into the air like smoke, spraying for one moment
the firmament with its dust, gone then, beyond the sight of man!

I shouted, 'Osmund!  Osmund!  Osmund!'  I waved my arms to push the
snow from my eyes and my mouth.  But all the adventures of the
evening seemed to crowd into this moment.

. . . Yes, I suppose I was mad like the rest, and, for an instant,
had torn the curtain aside and seen through into reality beyond.

But mad only for an instant, for in another moment I stumbled right
upon Pengelly.  He was crouching against the wall.  When I touched
him he screamed.  'Leave me alone, you blasted--'  Then he saw that
it wasn't Osmund.  'Here, get me away!  I can't see.  I can't see a
thing.  I've lost my glasses.  I daren't move.  Oh, for God's sake,
get me away!'

He clung to me then, holding my thighs, his round face now dark,
now illuminated with the flashing lights, turned up to mine.

'I can't see.  Oh, sir, I've meant no harm.  I don't want to die.
It isn't right that I should . . . I can't die. . . .  I'm not
ready.'

A moment later Osmund was upon us.  He bent down and dragged
Pengelly up.  He held him to his breast.

'Friend . . .' I heard him say--'Friend or enemy. . . .'  I tried
to stop him.  He was altogether unaware of me.  I heard him sigh,
then he lurched forward with Pengelly in his arms.

What happened then?  I am still troubled with uncertainty.  It
seemed to me, I fancy, as now I look back, that a firm hand held me
where I was.  I do know that it was most bitter cold and that the
wild snowstorm made it seem that the roof was moving beneath me and
that the Circus, with its lights, its figures, came whirling
upwards like the heaving side of the very globe itself.

I never heard Pengelly cry.  There was a silence, a blindness, and,
groping, I touched Helen's hand. . . .



Later the bodies were found, the snow already winding down upon
them, in a yard behind the theatre.  We told some story, Helen and
I, that, finding the door open, they had climbed, laughing, onto
the roof, tripped on the uneven surface, tried the one to save the
other, and pitched over.

I remember also that, later, after the finding of the bodies,
Helen, I, and two policemen passed through the Circus, and I saw
the little shabby woman arriving to take her blind man home.  She
was collecting carefully the coins out of the cup.  I heard them
chink.



That, then, was the end.

Next morning it was, I remember, as though a door had softly,
finally, closed upon a room that I was never again to be permitted
to enter.  Of that storm and passion all that remained were two
short paragraphs in the papers, one concerning Hench, the other
concerning two careless (and probably tipsy) revellers.  I never
saw Buller again, nor do I know to this day how he rid the world of
the elder Pengelly's body.

And was that room real?  Had I ever seen it--the secretaire, the
lovely Limoges triptych, the silver candlesticks, the peach-
coloured rugs?  Had it been the hallucination of the starving
wanderer that, thanks to later good fortune, I shall never be
again?  No, I know well enough that it was real, for happily
married though Helen and I are, we carry, and shall always carry,
John Osmund along with us and the five rosy volumes of the Quixote
are on my table before me as I write.



End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook
Above the Dark Tumult: An Adventure by Hugh Walpole





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