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Title: The Hampdenshire Wonder
Author: J D Beresford
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Title: The Hampdenshire Wonder
Author: J D Beresford



CONTENTS:

PART I. MY EARLY ASSOCIATIONS WITH GINGER STOTT

CHAPTER I. THE MOTIVE
CHAPTER II. NOTES FOR A BIOGRAPHY OF GINGER STOTT
CHAPTER III. THE DISILLUSIONMENT OF GINGER STOTT

PART II. THE CHILDHOOD OF THE WONDER
CHAPTER IV. THE MANNER OF HIS BIRTH
CHAPTER V. HIS DEPARTURE FROM STOKE-UNDERHILL
CHAPTER VI. HIS FATHER'S DESERTION
CHAPTER VII. HIS DEBT TO HENRY CHALLIS
CHAPTER VIII. HIS FIRST VISIT TO CHALLIS COURT

INTERLUDE

PART II. (continued) THE WONDER AMONG BOOKS

CHAPTER IX. HIS PASSAGE THROUGH THE PRISON OF KNOWLEDGE
CHAPTER X. HIS PASTORS AND MASTERS
CHAPTER XI. HIS EXAMINATION
CHAPTER XII. FUGITIVE

PART III. MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE WONDER

CHAPTER XIII. HOW I WENT TO PYM TO WRITE A BOOK
CHAPTER XIV. THE INCIPIENCE OF MY SUBJECTION TO THE WONDER
CHAPTER XV. THE PROGRESS AND RELAXATION OF MY SUBJECTION
CHAPTER XVI. RELEASE
CHAPTER XVII. IMPLICATIONS

EPILOGUE. THE USES OF MYSTERY


* * * * *

PART I. MY EARLY ASSOCIATIONS WITH GINGER STOTT

CHAPTER I. THE MOTIVE

I

I COULD not say at which station the woman and her baby entered the
train.

Since we had left London I had been engrossed in Henri Bergson's Time
and Free Will, as it is called in the English translation. I had been
conscious of various stoppages and changes of passengers, but my
attention had been held by Bergson's argument. I agreed with his
conclusion in advance, but I wished to master his reasoning.

I looked up when the woman entered my compartment, though I did not
notice the name of the station. I caught sight of the baby she was
carrying, and turned back to my book. I thought the child was a freak,
an abnormality; and such things disgust me.

I returned to the study of my Bergson and read: "It is at the great and
solemn crisis, decisive of our reputation with others, that we choose in
defiance of what is conventionally called a motive, and this absence of
any tangible reason is the more striking the deeper our freedom goes."

I kept my eyes on the book--the train had started again--but the next
passage conveyed no meaning to my mind, and as I attempted to reread it
an impression was interposed between me and the work I was studying.

I saw projected on the page before me an image which I mistook at first
for the likeness of Richard Owen. It was the conformation of the head
that gave rise to the mistake, a head domed and massive, white and
smooth--it was a head that had always interested me. But as I looked, my
mind already searching for the reason of this hallucination, I saw that
the lower part of the face was that of an infant. My eyes wandered from
the book, and my gaze fluttered along the four persons seated opposite
to me, till they rested on the reality of my vision. Even as these acts
were being performed, I found myself foolishly saying, "I don't call
this freedom."

For several seconds the eyes of the infant held mine. Its gaze was
steady and clear as that of a normal child, but what differentiated it
was the impression one received of calm intelligence. The head was
completely bald, and there was no trace of eyebrows, but the eyes
themselves were protected by thick, short lashes.

The child turned its head, and I felt my muscles relax. Until then I had
not been conscious that they had been stiffened. My gaze was released,
pushed aside as it were, and I found myself watching the object of the
child's next scrutiny.

This object was a man of forty or so, inclined to corpulence, and
untidy. He bore the evidences of failure in the process of becoming. He
wore a beard that was scanty and ragged, there were bare patches of skin
on the jaw; one inferred that he wore that beard only to save the
trouble of shaving. He was sitting next to me, the middle passenger of
the three on my side of the carriage, and he was absorbed in the pages
of a half-penny paper--I think he was reading the Police News--which was
interposed between him and the child in the corner diagonally opposite
to that which I occupied.

The man was hunched up, slouching, his legs crossed, his elbows seeking
support against his body; he held with both hands his paper, unfolded,
close to his eyes. He had the appearance of being very myopic, but he
did not wear glasses.

As I watched him, he began to fidget. He uncrossed his legs and hunched
his body deeper into the back of his seat. Presently his eyes began to
creep up the paper in front of him. When they reached the top, he
hesitated a moment, making a survey under cover, then he dropped his
hands and stared stupidly at the infant in the corner, his mouth
slightly open, his feet pulled in under the seat of the carriage.

As the child let him go, his head drooped, and then he turned and looked
at me with a silly, vacuous smile. I looked away hurriedly; this was not
the man with whom I cared to share experience.

The process was repeated. The next victim was a big, rubicund,
healthy-looking man, clean shaved, with light-blue eyes that were
slightly magnified by the glasses of his gold-mounted spectacles. He,
too, had been reading a newspaper--the Evening Standard--until the
child's gaze claimed his attention, and he, too, was held motionless by
that strange, appraising stare. But when he was released, his surprise
found vent in words.

"This," I thought, "is a man accustomed to act."

"A very remarkable child, ma'am," he said, addressing the thin,
ascetic-looking mother.

II

The mother's appearance did not convey the impression of poverty. She
was, indeed, warmly, decently, and becomingly clad. She wore a long
black coat, braided and frogged; it had the air of belonging to an older
fashion, but the material of it was new. And her bonnet, trimmed with
jet ornaments growing on stalks that waved tremulously--that, also, was
a modern replica of an older mode. On her hands were black thread
gloves, somewhat ill-fitting.

Her face was not that of a country woman. The thin, high-bridged nose,
the fallen cheeks, the shadows under eyes gloomy and retrospective--these
were marks of the town; above all, perhaps, that sallow greyness of the
skin which speaks of confinement...

The child looked healthy enough. Its great bald head shone resplendently
like a globe of alabaster.

"A very remarkable child, ma'am," said the rubicund man who sat facing
the woman.

The woman twitched her untidy-looking black eyebrows, her head trembled
slightly and set the jet fruit of her bonnet dancing and nodding.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"Very remarkable," said the man, adjusting his spectacles and leaning
forward. His action had an air of deliberate courage; he was justifying
his fortitude after that temporary aberration.

I watched him a little nervously. I remembered my feelings when, as a
child, I had seen some magnificent enter the lion's den in a travelling
circus. The failure on my right was, also, absorbed in the spectacle; he
stared, open-mouthed, his eyes blinking and shifting.

The other three occupants of the compartment, sitting on the same side
as the woman, back to the engine, dropped papers and magazines and
turned their heads, all interest. None of these three had, so far as I
had observed, fallen under the spell of inspection by the infant, but I
noticed that the man--an artisan apparently--who sat next to the woman
had edged away from her, and that the three passengers opposite to me
were huddled towards my end of the compartment.

The child had abstracted its gaze, which was now directed down the aisle
of the carriage, indefinitely focussed on some point outside the window.
It seemed remote, entirely unconcerned with any human being.

I speak of it asexually. I was still uncertain as to its sex. It is true
that all babies look alike to me; but I should have known that this
child was male, the conformation of the skull alone should have told me
that. It was its dress that gave me cause to hesitate. It was dressed
absurdly, not in "long-clothes," but in a long frock that hid its feet
and was bunched about its body.

III

"Er--does it--er--can it--talk?" hesitated the rubicund man, and I grew
hot at his boldness. There seemed to be something disrespectful in
speaking before the child in this impersonal way.

"No, sir, he's never made a sound," replied the woman, twitching and
vibrating. Her heavy, dark eyebrows jerked spasmodically, nervously.

"Never cried?" persisted the interrogator.

"Never once, sir."

"Dumb, eh?" He said it as an aside, half under his breath.

"'E's never spoke, sir."

"Hm!" The man cleared his throat and braced himself with a deliberate
and obvious effort. "Is it--he--not water on the brain--what?"

I felt that a rigour of breathless suspense held every occupant of the
compartment. I wanted, and I know that every other person there wanted,
to say, "Look out! Don't go too far." The child, however, seemed
unconscious of the insult: he still stared out through the window, lost
in profound contemplation.

"No, sir, oh no!" replied the woman. "'E's got more sense than a
ordinary child." She held the infant as if it were some priceless piece
of earthenware, not nursing it as a woman nurses a baby, but balancing
it with supreme attention in her lap.

"How old is he?"

We had been awaiting this question.

"A year and nine munse, sir."

"Ought to have spoken before that, oughtn't he?"

"Never even cried, sir," said the woman. She regarded the child with a
look into which I read something of apprehension. If it were
apprehension it was a feeling that we all shared. But the rubicund man
was magnificent, though, like the lion tamer of my youthful experience,
he was doubtless conscious of the aspect his temerity wore in the eyes
of beholders. He must have been showing off.

"Have you taken opinion?" he asked; and then, seeing the woman's lack of
comprehension, he translated the question--badly, for he conveyed a
different meaning--thus,

"I mean, have you had a doctor for him?"

The train was slackening speed.

"Oh! yes, sir."

"And what do they say?"

The child turned its head and looked the rubicund man full in the eyes.
Never in the face of any man or woman have I seen such an expression of
sublime pity and contempt...

I remembered a small urchin I had once seen at the Zoological Gardens.
Urged on by a band of other urchins, he was throwing pebbles at a great
lion that lolled, finely indifferent, on the floor of its playground.
Closer crept the urchin; he grew splendidly bold; he threw larger and
larger pebbles, until the lion rose suddenly with a roar, and dashed
fiercely down to the bars of its cage.

I thought of that urchin's scared, shrieking face now, as the rubicund
man leant quickly back into his corner.

Yet that was not all, for the infant, satisfied, perhaps, with its
victim's ignominy, turned and looked at me with a cynical smile. I was,
as it were, taken into its confidence. I felt flattered, undeservedly
yet enormously flattered. I blushed, I may have simpered.

The train drew up in Great Hittenden station.

The woman gathered her priceless possession carefully into her arms, and
the rubicund man adroitly opened the door for her.

"Good day, sir," she said as she got out.

"Good day," echoed the rubicund man with relief, and we all drew a deep
breath of relief with him in concert, as though we had just witnessed
the safe descent of some over-daring aviator.

IV

As the train moved on, we six, who had been fellow-passengers for some
thirty or forty minutes before the woman had entered our compartment, we
who had not till then exchanged a word, broke suddenly into general
conversation.

"Water on the brain; I don't care what any one says," asserted the
rubicund man.

"My sister had one very similar," put in the failure, who was sitting
next to me. "It died," he added, by way of giving point to his instance.

"Ought not to exhibit freaks like that in public," said an old man
opposite to me.

"You're right, sir," was the verdict of the artisan, and he spat
carefully and scraped his boot on the floor; "them things ought to be
kep' private."

"Mad, of course, that's to say imbecile," repeated the rubicund man.

"Horrid head he'd got," said the failure, and shivered histrionically.

They continued to demonstrate their contempt for the infant by many
asseverations. The reaction grew. They were all bold now, and all wanted
to speak. They spoke as the survivors from some common peril; they were
increasingly anxious to demonstrate that they had never suffered
intimidation, and in their relief they were anxious to laugh at the
thing which had for a time subdued them. But they never named it as a
cause for fear. Their speech was merely innuendo.

At the last, however, I caught an echo of the true feeling.

It was the rubicund man who, most daring during the crisis, was now bold
enough to admit curiosity.

"What's your opinion, sir?" he said to me. The train was running into
Wenderby; he was preparing to get out; he leaned forward, his fingers on
the handle of the door.

I was embarrassed. Why had I been singled out by the child? I had taken
no part in the recent interjectory conversation. Was this a consequence
of the notice that had been paid to me?

"I?" I stammered, and then reverted to the rubicund man's original
phrase. "It--it was certainly a very remarkable child," I said.

The rubicund man nodded and pursed his lips. "Very," he muttered as he
alighted. "Very remarkable. Well, good day to you."

I returned to my book, and was surprised to find that my index finger
was still marking the place at which I had been interrupted some fifteen
minutes before. My arm felt stiff and cramped.

I read "... this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking the
deeper our freedom goes."

CHAPTER II. NOTES FOR A BIOGRAPHY OF GINGER STOTT

I

GINGER STOTT is a name that was once as well known as any, in England.
Stott has been the subject of leading articles in every daily paper; his
life has been written by an able journalist who interviewed Stott
himself, during ten crowded minutes, and filled three hundred pages with
details, seventy per cent, of which were taken from the journals, and
the remainder supplied by a brilliant imagination. Ten years ago Ginger
Stott was on a pinnacle, there was a Stott vogue. You found his name at
the bottom of signed articles written by members of the editorial staff;
you bought Stott collars, although Stott himself did not wear collars;
there was a Stott waltz, which is occasionally hummed by clerks, and
whistled by errand-boys to this day; there was a periodical which lived
for ten months, entitled Ginger Stott's Weekly; in brief, during one
summer there was a Stott apotheosis.

But that was ten years ago, and the rising generation has almost
forgotten the once well-known name. One rarely sees him mentioned in the
morning paper now, and then it is but the briefest reference; some such
note as this, "Pickering was at the top of his form, recalling the
finest achievements of Ginger Stott at his best," or "Flack is a
magnificent find for Kent: he promises to completely surpass the
historic feats of Ginger Stott." These journalistic superlatives only
irritate those who remember the performances referred to. We who watched
the man's career know that Pickering and Flack are but tyros compared to
Stott; we know that none of his successors has challenged comparison
with him. He was a meteor that blazed across the sky, and if he ever has
a true successor, such stars as Pickering and Flack will shine pale and
dim in comparison.

It makes one feel suddenly old to recall that great matinee at the
Lyceum, given for Ginger Stott's benefit after he met with his accident.
In ten years so many great figures in that world have died or fallen
into obscurity. I can count on my fingers the number of those who were
then, and are still, in the forefront of popularity. Of the others, poor
Captain Wallis, for instance, is dead--and no modern writer, in my
opinion, can equal the brilliant descriptiveness of Wallis's articles in
the Daily Post. Bobby Maisefield, again, Stott's colleague, is a martyr
to rheumatism, and keeps a shop in Ailesworth, the scene of so many of
his triumphs. What a list one might make, but how uselessly. It is
enough to note how many names have dropped out, how many others are the
names of those we now speak of as veterans. In ten years! It certainly
makes one feel old.

II

No apology is needed for telling again the story of Stott's career.
Certain details will still be familiar, it is true, the historic details
that can never be forgotten while cricket holds place as our national
game. But there are many facts of Stott's life familiar to me, which
have never been made public property. If I must repeat that which is
known, I can give the known a new setting; perhaps a new value.

He came of mixed races. His mother was pure Welsh, his father a
Yorkshire collier; but when Ginger was nine years old his father died,
and Mrs. Stott came to live in Ailesworth where she had immigrant
relations, and it was there that she set up the little paper-shop, the
business by which she maintained herself and her boy. That shop is still
in existence, and the name has not been altered. You may find it in the
little street that runs off the market place, going down towards the
Borstal Institution.

There are many people alive in Ailesworth to-day who can remember the
sturdy, freckled, sandy-haired boy who used to go round with the morning
and evening papers; the boy who was to change the fortunes of a county.

Ginger was phenomenally thorough in all he undertook. It was one of the
secrets of his success. It was this thoroughness that kept him engaged
in his mother's little business until he was seventeen. Up to that age
he never found time for cricket--he certainly had remarkable and very
unusual qualities.

It was sheer chance, apparently, that determined his choice of a career.

He had walked into Stoke-Underhill to deliver a parcel, and on his way
back his attention was arrested by the sight of a line of vehicles drawn
up to the boarded fencing that encloses the Ailesworth County Ground.
The occupants of these vehicles were standing up, struggling to catch a
sight of the match that was being played behind the screen erected to
shut out non-paying sightseers. Among the horses' feet, squirming
between the spokes of wheels, utterly regardless of all injury, small
boys glued their eyes to knot-holes in the fence, while others climbed
surreptitiously, and for the most part unobserved, on to the backs of
tradesmen's carts. All these individuals were in a state of tremendous
excitement, and even the policeman whose duty it was to move them on,
was so engrossed in watching the game that he had disappeared inside the
turnstile, and had given the outside spectators full opportunity for
eleemosynary enjoyment.

That tarred fence has since been raised some six feet, and now encloses
a wider sweep of ground--alterations that may be classed among the minor
resolutions effected by the genius of that thick-set, fair-haired youth
of seventeen, who paused on that early September afternoon to wonder
what all the fuss was about. The Ailesworth County Ground was not famous
in those days; not then was accommodation needed for thirty thousand
spectators, drawn from every county in England to witness the
unparalleled.

Ginger stopped. The interest of the spectacle pierced his absorption in
the business he had in hand. Such a thing was almost unprecedented.

"What's up?" he asked of Puggy Phillips.

Puggy Phillips--hazarding his life by standing on the shiny, slightly
curved top of his butcher's cart--made no appropriate answer.
"Yah--ah--ah!" he screamed in ecstasy. "Oh! played! Pla-a-a-ayed!!"

Ginger wasted no more breath, but laid hold of the little brass rail
that encircled Puggy's platform, and with a sudden hoist that lifted the
shafts and startled the pony, raised himself to the level of a
spectator.

"'Ere!" shouted the swaying, tottering Puggy. "What the ... are yer rup
to?"

The well-drilled pony, however, settled down again quietly to maintain
his end of the see-saw, and, finding himself still able to preserve his
equilibrium, Puggy instantly forgot the presence of the intruder.

"What's up?" asked Ginger again.

"Oh! Well 'it, well 'it!" yelled Puggy. "Oh! Gow on, gow on agen! Run it
aht. Run it ah-t."

Ginger gave it up, and turned his attention to the match.

It was not any famous struggle that was being fought out on the old
Ailesworth Ground; it was only second-class cricket, the deciding match
of the Minor Counties championship. Hampdenshire and Oxfordshire, old
rivals, had been neck-and-neck all through the season, and, as luck
would have it, the engagement between them had been the last fixture on
the card.

When Ginger rose to the level of spectator, the match was anybody's
game. Bobby Maisefield was batting. He was then a promising young colt
who had not earned a fixed place in the Eleven. Ginger knew him
socially, but they were not friends, they had no interests in common.
Bobby had made twenty-seven. He was partnered by old Trigson, the bowler
(he has been dead these eight years), whose characteristic score of "Not
out...0," is sufficiently representative of his methods.

It was the fourth innings, and Hampdenshire, with only one more wicket
to fall, still required nineteen runs to win. Trigson could be relied
upon to keep his wicket up, but not to score. The hopes of Ailesworth
centred in the ability of that almost untried colt Bobby Maisefield--and
he seemed likely to justify the trust reposed in him. A beautiful late
cut, that eluded third man and hit the fence with a resounding bang,
nearly drove Puggy wild with delight.

"Only fifteen more," he shouted. "Oh! Played; pla-a-a-yed!"

But as the score crept up, the tensity grew. As each ball was delivered,
a chill, rigid silence held the onlookers in its grip. When Trigson,
with the field collected round him, almost to be covered with a sheet,
stonewalled the most tempting lob, the click of the ball on his bat was
an intrusion on the stillness. And always it was followed by a deep
breath of relief that sighed round the ring like a faint wind through a
plantation of larches. When Bobby scored, the tumult broke out like a
crash of thunder, but it subsided again, echoless, to that intense
silence so soon as the ball was "dead."

Curiously, it was not Bobby who made the winning hit but Trigson. "One
to tie, two to win," breathed Puggy as the field changed over, and it
was Trigson who had to face the bowling. The suspense was torture.
Oxford had put on their fast bowler again, and Trigson, intimidated,
perhaps, did not play him with quite so straight a bat as he had opposed
to the lob-bowler. The ball hit Trigson's bat and glanced through the
slips. The field was very close to the wicket, and the ball was
travelling fast. No one seemed to make any attempt to stop it. For a
moment the significance of the thing was not realised; for a moment
only, then followed uproar, deafening, stupendous.

Puggy was stamping fiercely on the top of his cart; the tears were
streaming down his face; he was screaming and yelling incoherent words.
He was representative of the crowd. Thus men shouted and stamped and
cried when news came of the relief of Kimberley, or when that false
report of victory was brought to Paris in the August of 1870...

The effect upon Ginger was a thing apart. He did not join in the fierce
acclamation; he did not wait to see the chairing of Bobby and Trigson.
The greatness of Stott's character, the fineness of his genius is
displayed in his attitude towards the dramatic spectacle he had just
witnessed.

As he trudged home into Ailesworth his thoughts found vent in a muttered
sentence which is peculiarly typical of the effect that had been made
upon him.

"I believe I could have bowled that chap," he said.

III

In writing a history of this kind, a certain licence must be claimed. It
will be understood that I am filling certain gaps in the narrative with
imagined detail. But the facts are true. My added detail is only
intended to give an appearance of life and reality to my history. Let
me, therefore, insist upon one vital point I have not been dependent on
hearsay for one single fact in this story. Where my experience does not
depend upon personal experience, it has been received from the
principals themselves. Finally, it should be remembered that when I
have, imaginatively, put words into the mouths of the persons of this
story, they are never essential words which affect the issue. The
essential speeches are reported from first-hand sources. For instance,
Ginger Stott himself has told me on more than one occasion that the
words with which I closed the last section, were the actual words spoken
by him on the occasion in question. It was not until six years after the
great Oxfordshire match that I myself first met the man, but what
follows is literally true in all essentials.

There was a long, narrow strip of yard, or alley, at the back of Mrs.
Stott's paper-shop, a yard that, unfortunately, no longer exists. It has
been partly built over, and another of England's memorials has thus been
destroyed by the vandals of modern commerce...

This yard was fifty-three feet long, measuring from Mrs. Stott's back
door to the door of the coal-shed, which marked the alley's extreme
limit. This measurement, an apparently negligible trifle, had an
important effect upon Stott's career. For it was in this yard that he
taught himself to bowl, and the shortness of the pitch precluded his
taking any run. From those long studious hours of practice he emerged
with a characteristic that was--and still remains--unique. Stott never
took more than two steps before delivering the ball; frequently he
bowled from a standing position, and batsmen have confessed that of all
Stott's puzzling mannerisms, this was the one to which they never became
accustomed. S. R. L. Maturin, the finest bat Australia ever sent to this
country, has told me that to this peculiarity of delivery he attributed
his failure ever to score freely against Stott. It completely upset
one's habit of play, he said: one had no time to prepare for the flight
of the ball; it came at one so suddenly. Other bowlers have since
attempted some imitation of this method without success. They had not
Stott's physical advantages.

Nevertheless, the shortness of that alley threw Stott back for two
years. When he first emerged to try conclusions on the field, he found
his length on the longer pitch utterly unreliable, and the effort
necessary to throw the ball another six yards at first upset his slowly
acquired methods.

It was not until he was twenty years old that Ginger Stott played in his
first Colts' match.

The three years that had intervened had not been prosperous years for
Hampdenshire. Their team was a one-man team. Bobby Maisefield was
developing into a fine bat (and other counties were throwing out
inducements to him, trying to persuade him to qualify for first-class
cricket), but he found no support, and Hampdenshire was never looked
upon as a coming county. The best of the minor counties in those years
were Staffordshire and Norfolk.

In the Colts' match Stott's analysis ran:
overs maidens runs wickets
11.3    7      16    7

and reference to the score-sheet, which is still preserved among the
records of the County Club, shows that six of the seven wickets were
clean bowled. The Eleven had no second innings; the match was drawn,
owing to rain. Stott has told me that the Eleven had to bat on a drying
wicket, but after making all allowances, the performance was certainly
phenomenal.

After this match Stott was, of course, played regularly. That year
Hampdenshire rose once more to their old position at the head of the
minor counties, and Maisefield, who had been seriously considering
Surrey's offer of a place in their Eleven after two years' qualification
by residence, decided to remain with the county which had given him his
first chance.

During that season Stott did not record any performance so remarkable as
his feat in the Colts' match, but his record for the year was
eighty-seven wickets with an average of 9-31; and it is worthy of notice
that Yorkshire made overtures to him, as he was qualified by birth to
play for the northern county.

I think there must have been a wonderful esprit de corps among the
members of that early Hampdenshire Eleven. There are other evidences
beside this refusal of its two most prominent members to join the ranks
of first-class cricket. Lord R--, the president of the H.C.C.C., has
told me that this spirit was quite as marked as in the earlier case of
Kent. He himself certainly did much to promote it, and his generosity in
making good the deficits of the balance sheet had a great influence on
the acceleration of Hampdenshire's triumph.

In his second year, though Hampdenshire were again champions of the
second-class counties, Stott had not such a fine average as in the
preceding season. Sixty-one wickets for eight hundred and sixty-eight
(average 14-23) seems to show a decline in his powers, but that was a
wonderful year for batsmen (Maisefield scored seven hundred and
forty-two runs, with an average of forty-two) and, moreover, that was
the year in which Stott was privately practising his new theory.

It was in this year that three very promising recruits, all since become
famous, joined the Eleven, viz.: P. H. Evans, St. John Townley, and
Flower the fast bowler. With these five cricketers Hampdenshire fully
deserved their elevation into the list of first-class counties.
Curiously enough, they took the place of the old champions,
Gloucestershire, who, with Somerset, fell back into the obscurity of the
second-class that season.

IV

I must turn aside for a moment at this point in order to explain the
"new theory" of Stott's, to which I have referred, a theory which became
in practice one of the elements of his most astounding successes.

Ginger Stott was not a tall man. He stood only 5 ft. 5 in. in his socks,
but he was tremendously solid; he had what is known as a "stocky"
figure, broad and deep-chested. That was where his muscular power lay,
for his abnormally long arms were rather thin, though his huge hands
were powerful enough.

Even without his "new theory" Stott would have been an exceptional
bowler. His thoroughness would have assured his success. He studied his
art diligently, and practised regularly in a barn through the winter.
His physique, too, was a magnificent instrument. That long, muscular
body was superbly steady on the short, thick legs. It gave him a
fulcrum, firm, apparently immovable. And those weirdly long, thin arms
could move with lightning rapidity. He always stood with his hands
behind him, and then--as often as not without even one preliminary
step--the long arm would flash round and the ball be delivered, without
giving the batsman any opportunity of watching his hand; you could never
tell which way he was going to break. It was astonishing, too, the pace
he could get without any run. Poor Wallis used to call him the "human
catapult"; Wallis was always trying to find new phrases.

The theory first came to Stott when he was practising at the nets. It
was a windy morning, and he noticed that several times the balls he
bowled swerved in the air. When those swerving balls came they were
almost unplayable.

Stott made no remark to anyone--he was bowling to the groundsman--but
the ambition to bowl "swerves," as they were afterwards called, took
possession of him from that morning. It is true that he never mastered
the theory completely; on a perfectly calm day he could never depend
upon obtaining any swerve at all, but, within limits, he developed his
theory until he had any batsman practically at his mercy.

He might have mastered the theory completely, had it not been for his
accident--we must remember that he had only three seasons of first-class
cricket--and, personally, I believe he would have achieved that complete
mastery. But I do not believe, as Stott did, that he could have taught
his method to another man. That belief became an obsession with him, and
will be dealt with later.

My own reasons for doubting that Stott's "swerve" could have been taught
is that it would have been necessary for the pupil to have had Stott's
peculiarities, not only of method, but of physique. He used to spin the
ball with a twist of his middle finger and thumb, just as you may see a
billiard professional spin a billiard ball. To do this in his manner it
is absolutely necessary not only to have a very large and muscular hand,
but to have very lithe and flexible arm muscles, for the arm is moving
rapidly while the twist is given, and there must be no antagonistic
muscular action. Further, I believe that part of the secret was due to
the fact that Stott bowled from a standing position. Given these things,
the rest is merely a question of long and assiduous practice. The human
mechanism is marvellously adaptable. I have seen Stott throw a cricket
ball half across the room with sufficient spin on the ball to make it
shoot back to him along the carpet.

I have mentioned the wind as a factor in obtaining the swerve. It was a
head-wind that Stott required. I have seen him, for sport, toss a
cricket ball into the teeth of a gale and make it describe the
trajectory of a badly sliced golf-ball. This is why the big pavilion at
Ailesworth is set at such a curious angle to the ground. It was built in
the winter following Hampdenshire's second season of first-class
cricket, and it was so placed that when the wickets were pitched in a
line with it, they might lie south-west and north-east, or in the
direction of the prevailing winds.

V

The first time I ever saw Ginger Stott was on the occasion of the
historic encounter with Surrey; Hampdenshire's second engagement in
first-class cricket. The match with Notts, played at Trent Bridge a few
days earlier, had not foreshadowed any startling results. The truth of
the matter is that Stott had been kept, deliberately, in the background;
and as matters turned out his services were only required to finish off
Notts' second innings. Stott was even then a marked man, and the
Hampdenshire captain did not wish to advertise his methods too freely
before the Surrey match. Neither Archie Findlater, who was captaining
the team that year, nor any other person, had the least conception of
how unnecessary such a reservation was to prove. In his third year, when
Stott had been studied by every English, Australian and South African
batsman of any note, he was still as unplayable as when he made his
debut in first-class cricket.

I was reporting the Surrey match for two papers, and in company with
poor Wallis interviewed Stott before the first innings.

His appearance made a great impression on me. I have, of course, met
him, and talked with him many times since then, but my most vivid memory
of him is the picture recorded in the inadequate professional
dressing-room of the old Ailesworth pavilion.

I have turned up the account of my interview in an old press-cutting
book, and I do not know that I can do better than quote that part of it
which describes Stott's personal appearance. I wrote the account on the
off chance of being able to get it taken. It was one of my lucky hits.
After that match, finished in a single day, my interview afforded copy
that any paper would have paid heavily for, and gladly.

Here is the description:

"Stott--he is known to every one in Ailesworth as 'Ginger' Stott--is a
short, thick-set young man, with abnormally long arms that are tanned a
rich red up to the elbow. The tan does not, however, obliterate the
golden freckles with which arm and face are richly speckled. There is no
need to speculate as to the raison d'etre of his nickname. The hair of
his head, a close, short crop, is a pale russet, and the hair on his
hands and arms is a yellower shade of the same colour. 'Ginger' is,
indeed, a perfectly apt description. He has a square chin and a
thin-lipped, determined mouth. His eyes area clear, but rather light,
blue, his forehead is good, broad, and high, and he has a
well-proportioned head. One might have put him down as an engineer,
essentially intelligent, purposeful, and reserved."

The description is journalistic, but I do not know that I could improve
upon the detail of it. I can see those queer, freckled, hairy arms of
his as I write--the combination of colours in them produced an effect
that was almost orange. It struck one as unusual...

Surrey had the choice of innings, and decided to bat, despite the fact
that the wicket was drying after rain, under the influence of a steady
south-west wind and occasional bursts of sunshine. Would any captain in
Stott's second year have dared to take first innings under such
conditions? The question is farcical now, but not a single member of the
Hampdenshire Eleven had the least conception that the Surrey captain was
deliberately throwing away his chances on that eventful day.

Wallis and I were together in the reporters' box. There were only four
of us; two specials--Wallis and myself--a news-agency reporter, and a
local man.

"Stott takes first over," remarked Wallis, sharpening his pencil and
arranging his watch and score-sheet--he was very meticulous in his
methods. "They've put him to bowl against the wind. He's medium right,
isn't he?"

"Haven't the least idea," I said. "He volunteered no information;
Hampdenshire have been keeping him dark."

Wallis sneered. "Think they've got a find, eh?" he said. "We'll wait and
see what he can do against first-class batting."

We did not have to wait long.

As usual, Thorpe and Harrison were first wicket for Surrey, and Thorpe
took the first ball.

It bowled him. It made his wicket look as untidy as any wicket I have
ever seen. The off-stump was out of the ground, and the other two were
markedly divergent.

"Damn it, I wasn't ready for him," we heard Thorpe say in the
professionals' room. Thorpe always had some excuse, but on this occasion
it was justified.

C. V. Punshon was the next comer, and he got his first ball through the
slips for four, but Wallis looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

"Punshon didn't know a lot about that," he said, and then he added: "I
say, what a queer delivery that chap has. He stands and shoots 'em out.
It's uncanny. He's a kind of human catapult." He made a note of the
phrase on his pad.

Punshon succeeded in hitting the next ball also, but it simply ran up
his bat into the hands of short slip.

"Well, that's a sitter, if you like," said Wallis. "What's the matter
with 'em?"

I was beginning to grow enthusiastic.

"Look here, Wallis," I said, "this chap's going to break records."

Wallis was still doubtful.

He was convinced before the innings was over.

There must be many who remember the startling poster that heralded the
early editions of the evening papers:

SURREY

ALL OUT

FOR 13 RUNS

For once sub-editors did not hesitate to give the score on the contents
bill. That was a proclamation which would sell. Inside, the headlines
were rich and varied. I have an old paper by me, yellow now, and
brittle, that may serve as a type for the rest. The headlines are as
follows:

SURREY AND HAMPDENSHIRE

EXTRAORDINARY BOWLING PERFORMANCE

DOUBLE HAT-TRICK

SURREY ALL OUT IN 35 MINUTES FOR 13 RUNS

STOTT TAKES 10 WICKETS FOR 5

The "double hat-trick" was six consecutive wickets, the last six, all
clean bowled.

"Good God!" Wallis said when the last wicket fell, and he looked at me
with something like fear in his eyes. "This man will have to be barred;
it means the end of cricket."

I need not detail the remainder of the match. Hampdenshire hit up
ninety-three--P. H. Evans was top scorer with twenty-seven--and then got
Surrey out a second time for forty-nine.

I believe Stott did not bowl his best in the second innings. He was
quite clever enough to see that he must not overdo it. As Wallis had
said, if he were too effective he might have to be barred. As it was, he
took seven wickets for twenty-three.

VI

That was Stott's finest performance. On eight subsequent occasions he
took all ten wickets in a single innings, once he took nineteen wickets
in one match (Hampdenshire v. Somerset at Taunton), twice he took five
wickets with consecutive balls, and any number of times he did the
"hat-trick," but he never afterwards achieved so amazing a performance
as that of the celebrated Surrey match.

I am still of opinion that Stott deliberately bowled carelessly in the
second innings of that match, but, after watching him on many fields,
and after a careful analysis of his methods--and character--I am quite
certain that his comparative failures in later matches were not due to
any purpose on Stott's part.

Take, for instance, the match which Hampdenshire lost to Kent in Stott's
second season--their first loss as a first-class county; their record up
to that time was thirteen wins and six drawn games. It is incredible to
me that Stott should have deliberately allowed Kent to make the
necessary one hundred and eighty-seven runs required in the fourth
innings. He took five wickets for sixty-three; if he could have done
better, I am sure he would have made the effort. He would not have
sacrificed his county. I have spoken of the esprit de corps which held
the Hampdenshire Eleven together, and they were notably proud of their
unbeaten record.

No; we must find another reason for Stott's comparative failures. I
believe that I am the only person who knows that reason, and I say that
Stott was the victim of an obsession. His "swerve" theory dominated him,
he was always experimenting with it, and when, as in the Kent match I
have cited, the game was played in a flat calm, his failure to influence
the trajectory of the ball in his own peculiar manner, puzzled and upset
him. He would strive to make the ball swerve, and in the effort he lost
his length and became playable. Moreover, when Stott was hit he lost his
temper, and then he was useless. Findlater always took him off the
moment he showed signs of temper. The usual sign was a fast full pitch
at the batsman's ribs.

I have one more piece of evidence, the best possible, which upholds this
explanation of mine, but it must follow the account of Stott's accident.

That accident came during the high flood of Hampdenshire success. For
two years they had held undisputed place as champion county, a place
which could not be upset by the most ingenious methods of calculating
points. They had three times defeated Australia, and were playing four
men in the test matches. As a team they were capable of beating any
eleven opposed to them. Not even the newspaper critics denied that.

In this third year of Hampdenshire's triumph, Australia had sent over
the finest eleven that had ever represented the colony, but they had
lost the first two test matches, and they had lost to Hampdenshire.
Nevertheless, they won the rubber, and took back the "ashes." No one has
ever denied, I believe, that this was due to Stott's accident. There is
in this case no room for anyone to argue that the argument is based on
the fallacy of post and propter.

The accident appeared insignificant at the time. The match was against
Notts on the Trent Bridge ground. I was reporting for three papers;
Wallis was not there.

Stott had been taken off. Notts were a poor lot that year, and I think
Findlater did not wish to make their defeat appear too ignominious.
Flower was bowling; it was a fast, true wicket, and Stott, who was a
safe field, was at cover.

G. L. Mallinson was batting and making good use of his opportunity; he
was, it will be remembered, a magnificent though erratic hitter. Flower
bowled him a short-pitched, fast ball, rather wide of the off-stump.
Many men might have left it alone, for the ball was rising, and the
slips were crowded, but Mallinson timed the ball splendidly, and drove
it with all his force. He could not keep it on the ground, however, and
Stott had a possible chance. He leaped for it and just touched the ball
with his right hand. The ball jumped the ring at its first bound, and
Mallinson never even attempted to run. There was a big round of applause
from the Trent Bridge crowd.

I noticed that Stott had tied a handkerchief round his finger, but I
forgot the incident until I saw Findlater beckon to his best bowler, a
few overs later. Notts had made enough runs for decency; it was time to
get them out.

I saw Stott walk up to Findlater and shake his head, and through my
glasses I saw him whip the handkerchief from his finger and display his
hand. Findlater frowned, said something and looked towards the pavilion,
but Stott shook his head. He evidently disagreed with Findlater's
proposal. Then Mallinson came up, and the great bulk of his back hid the
faces of the other two. The crowd was beginning to grow excited at the
interruption. Every one had guessed that something was wrong. All round
the ring men were standing up, trying to make out what was going on.

I drew my inferences from Mallinson's face, for, when he turned round
and strolled back to his wicket, he was wearing a broad smile. Through
my field-glasses I could see that he was licking his lower lip with his
tongue. His shoulders were humped and his whole expression one of barely
controlled glee. (I always see that picture framed in a circle; a
bioscopic presentation.) He could hardly refrain from dancing. Then
little Beale, who was Mallinson's partner, came up and spoke to him, and
I saw Mallinson hug himself with delight as he explained the situation.

When Stott unwillingly came into the pavilion, a low murmur ran round
the ring, like the buzz of a great crowd of disturbed blue flies. In
that murmur I could distinctly trace the signs of mixed feelings. No
doubt the crowd had come there to witness the performances of the
phenomenon--the abnormal of every kind has a wonderful attraction for
us--but, on the other hand, the majority wanted to see their own country
win. Moreover, Mallinson was giving them a taste of his abnormal powers
of hitting, and the batsman appeals to the spectacular, more than the
bowler.

I ran down hurriedly to meet Stott.

"Only a split finger, sir," he said carelessly in answer to my question;
"but Mr. Findlater says I must see to it."

I examined the finger, and it certainly did not seem to call for
surgical aid. Evidently it had been caught by the seam of the new ball;
there was a fairly clean cut about half an inch long on the fleshy
underside of the second joint of the middle finger.

"Better have it seen to," I said. "We can't afford to lose you, you
know, Stott."

Stott gave a laugh that was more nearly a snarl. "Ain't the first time
I've 'ad a cut finger," he said scornfully.

He had the finger bound up when I saw him again, but it had been done by
an amateur. I learnt afterwards that no antiseptic had been used. That
was at lunch-time, and Notts had made a hundred and sixty-eight for one
wicket; Mallinson was not out, a hundred and three. I saw that the Notts
eleven were in magnificent spirits.

But after lunch Stott came out and took the first over. I don't know
what had passed between him and Findlater, but the captain had evidently
been over-persuaded.

We must not blame Findlater. The cut certainly appeared trifling, it was
not bad enough to prevent Stott from bowling, and Hampdenshire seemed
powerless on that wicket without him. It is very easy to distribute
blame after the event, but most people would have done what Findlater
did in those circumstances.

The cut did not appear to inconvenience Stott in the least degree. He
bowled Mallinson with his second ball, and the innings was finished up
in another fifty-seven minutes for the addition of thirty-eight runs.

Hampdenshire made two hundred and thirty-seven for three wickets before
the drawing of stumps, and that was the end of the match, for the
weather changed during the night and rain prevented any further play.

I, of course, stayed on in Nottingham to await results. I saw Stott on
the next day, Friday, and asked him about his finger. He made light of
it, but that evening Findlater told me over the bridge-table that he was
not happy about it. He had seen the finger, and thought it showed a
tendency to inflammation. "I shall take him to Gregory in the morning if
it's not all right," he said. Gregory was a well-known surgeon in
Nottingham.

Again one sees, now, that the visit to Gregory should not have been
postponed, but at the time one does not take extraordinary precautions
in such a case as this. A split finger is such an everyday thing, and
one is guided by the average of experience. After all, if one were
constantly to make preparation for the abnormal, ordinary life could not
go on...

I heard that Gregory pursed his lips over that finger when he had
learned the name of his famous patient. "You'll have to be very careful
of this, young man," was Findlater's report of Gregory's advice. It was
not sufficient. I often wonder now whether Gregory might not have saved
the finger. If he had performed some operation at once, cut away the
poison, it seems to me that the tragedy might have been averted. I am, I
admit, a mere layman in these matters, but it seemed to me that
something might have been done.

I left Nottingham on Saturday after lunch--the weather was hopeless--and
I did not make use of the information I had for the purposes of my
paper. I was never a good journalist. But I went down to Ailesworth on
Monday morning, and found that Findlater and Stott had already gone to
Harley Street to see Graves, the King's surgeon.

I followed them, and arrived at Graves's house while Stott was in the
consulting-room. I hocussed the butler and waited with the patients.
Among the papers I came upon the famous caricature of Stott in the
current number of Punch--the "Stand-and-Deliver" caricature, in which
Stott is represented with an arm about ten feet long, and the batsman is
looking wildly over his shoulder to square leg, bewildered, with no
conception from what direction the ball is coming. Underneath is written
"Stott's New Theory--the Ricochet. Real Ginger." While I was laughing
over the cartoon, the butler came in and nodded to me. I followed him
out of the room and met Findlater and Stott in the hall.

Findlater was in a state of profanity. I could not get a sensible word
out of him. He was in a white heat of pure rage. The butler, who seemed
as anxious as I to learn the verdict, was positively frightened.

"Well, for God's sake tell me what Graves said," I protested.

Findlater's answer is unprintable, and told me nothing.

Stott, however, quite calm and self-possessed, volunteered the
information. "Finger's got to come off, sir," he said quietly. "Doctor
says if it ain't off to-day or to-morrer, he won't answer for my 'and."

This was the news I had to give to England. It was a great coup from the
journalistic point of view, but I made up my three columns with a heavy
heart, and the congratulations of my editor only sickened me. I had some
luck, but I should never have become a good journalist.

The operation was performed successfully that evening, and Stott's
career was closed.

VII

I have already referred to the obsession which dominated Stott after his
accident, and I must now deal with that overweening anxiety of his to
teach his method to another man.

I did not see Stott again till August, and then I had a long talk with
him on the Ailesworth County Ground, as together we watched the progress
of Hampdenshire's defeat by Lancashire.

"Oh! I can't learn him nothing" he broke out, as Flower was hit to the
four corners of the ground; "'alf vollies and long 'ops and then a full
pitch--'e's a disgrace."

"They've knocked him off his length," I protested. "On a wicket like
this..."

Stott shook his head. "I've been trying to learn 'im," he said, "but he
can't never learn. 'E's got 'abits what you can't break 'im of."

"I suppose it is difficult," I said vaguely.

"Same with me," went on Stott, "I've been trying to learn myself to bowl
without my finger"--he held up his mutilated hand--"or left-'anded; but
I can't. If I'd started that way ... No! I'm always feeling for that
finger as is gone. A second-class bowler I might be in time, not better
nor that."

"It's early days yet," I ventured, intending encouragement, but Stott
frowned and shook his head.

"I'm not going to kid myself," he said, "I know. But I'm going to find a
youngster and learn 'im. On'y he must be young.

"No 'abits, you know," he explained.

The next time I met Stott was in November. I ran up against him,
literally, one Friday afternoon in Ailesworth.

When he recognised me he asked me if I would care to walk out to
Stoke-Underhill with him. "I've took a cottage there," he explained;
"I'm to be married in a fortnight's tune."

His circumstances certainly warranted such a venture. The proceeds of
matinee and benefit, invested for him by the Committee of the County
Club, produced an income of nearly two pounds a week, and in addition to
this he had his salary as groundsman. I tendered my congratulations.

"Oh! well, as to that, better wait a bit," said Stott.

He walked with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground. He
had the air of a man brooding over some project.

"It is a lottery, of course ..." I began, but he interrupted me.

"Oh, that!" he said, and kicked a stone into the ditch; "take my chances
of that. It's the kid I'm thinking on."

"The kid?" I repeated, doubtful whether he spoke of his fiancee, or
whether his nuptials pointed an act of reparation.

"What else 'd I tie myself up for?" asked Stott. "I must 'ave a kid of
my own and learn 'im from his cradle. It's come to that."

"Oh! I understand," I said; "teach him to bowl."

"Ah!" replied Stott as an affirmative. "Learn 'im to bowl from his
cradle; before 'e's got 'abits. When I started I'd never bowled a ball
in my life, and by good luck I started right. But I can't find another
kid over seven years old in England as ain't never bowled a ball o' some
sort and started 'abits. I've tried..."

"And you hope with your own boys...?" I said.

"Not 'ope; it's a cert," said Stott. "I'll see no boy of mine touches a
ball afore he's fourteen, and then he'll learn from me; and learn right.
From the first go off." He was silent for a few seconds, and then he
broke out in a kind of ecstasy. "My Gawd, 'e'll be a bowler such as 'as
never been, never in this world. He'll start where I left orf. He'll..."
Words failed him, he fell back on the expletive he had used, repeating
it with an awed fervour. "My Gawd!"

I had never seen Stott in this mood before. It was a revelation to me of
the latent potentialities of the man, the remarkable depth and quality
of his ambitions...

VIII

I intended to be present at Stott's wedding, but I was not in England
when it took place; indeed, for the next two years and a half I was
never in England for more than a few days at a time. I sent him a
wedding present, an inkstand in the guise of a cricket ball, with a
pen-rack that was built of little silver wickets. They were still
advertised that Christmas as "Stott inkstands."

Two years and a half of American life broke up many of my old habits of
thought. When I first returned to London I found that the cricket news
no longer held the same interest for me, and this may account for the
fact that I did not trouble for some time to look up my old friend
Stott.

In July, however, affairs took me to Ailesworth, and the associations of
the place naturally led me to wonder how Stott's marriage had turned
out, and whether the much-desired son had been born to him. When my
business in Ailesworth was done, I decided to walk out to
Stoke-Underhill.

The road passes the County Ground, and a match was in progress, but I
walked by without stopping. I was wool-gathering. I was not thinking of
the man I was going to see, or I should have turned in at the County
Ground, where he would inevitably have been found. Instead, I was
thinking of the abnormal child I had seen in the train that day;
uselessly speculating and wondering.

When I reached Stoke-Underhill I found the cottage which Stott had
shown me. I had by then so far recovered my wits as to know that I
should not find Stott himself there, but from the look of the cottage I
judged that it was untenanted, so I made inquiries at the post office.

"No; he don't live here now, sir," said the post-mistress; "he lives at
Pym now, sir, and rides into Ailesworth on his bike." She was evidently
about to furnish me with other particulars, but I did not care to hear
them. I was moody and distrait. I was wondering why I should bother my
head about so insignificant a person as this Stott.

"You'll be sure to find Mr. Stott at the cricket ground," the
postmistress called after me.

Another two months of English life induced a return to my old habits of
thought. I found myself reverting to old tastes and interests. The
reversion, was a pleasant one. In the States I had been forced out of my
groove, compelled to work, to strive, to think desperately if I would
maintain any standing among my contemporaries. But when the perpetual
stimulus was removed, I soon fell back to the less strenuous methods of
my own country. I had time, once more, for the calm reflection that is
so unlike the urgent, forced, inventive thought of the American
journalist. I was braced by that thirty months' experience, perhaps
hardened a little, but by September my American life was fading into the
background; I had begun to take an interest in cricket again.

With the revival of my old interests, revived also my curiosity as to
Ginger Stott, and one Sunday in late September I decided to go down to
Pym.

It was a perfect day, and I thoroughly enjoyed my four-mile walk from
Great Hittenden Station.

Pym is a tiny hamlet made up of three farms and a dozen scattered
cottages. Perched on one of the highest summits of the Hampden Hills and
lost in the thick cover of beech-woods, without a post office or a shop,
Pym is the most perfectly isolated village within a reasonable distance
of London. As I sauntered up the mile-long lane that climbs the steep
hill, and is the only connection between Pym and anything approaching a
decent road, I thought that this was the place to which I should like to
retire for a year, in order to write the book I had so often
contemplated, and never found time to begin. This, I reflected, was a
place of peace, of freedom from all distraction, the place for calm,
contemplative meditation.

I met no one in the lane, and there was no sign of life when I reached
what I must call the village, though the word conveys a wrong idea, for
there is no street, merely a cottage here and there, dropped haphazard,
and situated without regard to its aspect. These cottages lie all on
one's left hand; to the right a stretch of grass merges into bracken and
bush, and then the beech woods enclose both, and surge down into the
valley and rise up again beyond, a great wave of green; as I saw it
then, not yet touched with the first flame of autumn.

I inquired at the first cottage and received my direction to Stott's
dwelling. It lay up a little lane, the farther of two cottages joined
together.

The door stood open, and after a moment's hesitation and a light knock,
I peered in.

Sitting in a rocking-chair was a woman with black, untidy eyebrows, and
on her knee, held with rigid attention, was the remarkable baby I had
seen in the train two months before. As I stood, doubtful and, I will
confess it, intimidated, suddenly cold and nervous, the child opened his
eyes and honoured me with a cold stare. Then he nodded, a reflective,
recognisable nod.

"'E remembers seein' you in the train, sir," said the woman, "'e never
forgets any one. Did you want to see my 'usband? 'E's upstairs."

So this was the boy who was designed by Stott to become the greatest
bowler the world had ever seen...

CHAPTER III. THE DISILLUSIONMENT OF GINGER STOTT

I

STOTT maintained an obstinate silence as we walked together up to the
Common, a stretch of comparatively open ground on the plateau of the
hill. He walked with his hands in his pockets and his head down, as he
had walked out from Ailesworth with me nearly three years before, but
his mood was changed. I was conscious that he was gloomy, depressed,
perhaps a little unstrung. I was burning with curiosity. Now that I was
released from the thrall of the child's presence, I was eager to hear
all there was to tell of its history.

Presently we sat down under an ash-tree, one of three that guarded a
shallow, muddy pond skimmed with weed. Stott accepted my offer of a
cigarette, but seemed disinclined to break the silence.

I found nothing better to say than a repetition of the old phrase.
"That's a very remarkable baby of yours, Stott," I said.

"Ah!" he replied, his usual substitute for "yes," and he picked up a
piece of dead wood and threw it into the little pond.

"How old is he?" I asked.

"Nearly two year."

"Can he ..." I paused; my imagination was reconstructing the scene of
the railway carriage, and I felt a reflex of the hesitation shown by the
'rubicund man when he had asked the same question. "Can he ... can he
talk?" It seemed so absurd a question to ask, yet it was essentially a
natural question in the circumstances.

"He can, but he won't."

This was startling enough, and I pressed my enquiry.

"How do you know? Are you sure he can?"

"Ah!" Only that aggravating, monosyllabic assent.

"Look here, Stott," I said, "don't you want to talk about the child?"

He shrugged his shoulders and threw more wood into the pond with a
strained attentiveness as though he were peculiarly anxious to hit some
particular wafer of the vivid, floating weed. For a full five minutes we
maintained silence. I was trying to subdue my impatience and my temper.
I knew Stott well enough to know that if I displayed signs of either, I
should get no information from him. My self-control was rewarded at
last.

"I've 'eard 'im speak," he said, "speak proper, too, not like a baby."

He paused, and I grunted to show that I was listening, but as he
volunteered no further remark, I said: "What did you hear him say?"

"I dunno," replied Stott, "somethin' about learnin' and talkin'. I
didn't get the rights of it, but the missus near fainted--she thinks
'e's Gawd A'mighty or suthing."

"But why don't you make him speak?" I asked deliberately.

"Make 'im!" said Stott, with a curl of his lip, "make 'im! You try it
on!"

I knew I was acting a part, but I wanted to provoke more information.
"Well! Why not?" I said.

"'Cos 'e'd look at you--that's why not," replied Stott, "and you can't
no more face 'im than a dog can face a man. I shan't stand it much
longer."

"Curious," I said, "very curious."

"Oh! he's a blarsted freak, that's what 'e is," said Stott, getting to
his feet and beginning to pace moodily up and down.

I did not interrupt him. I was thinking of this man who had drawn huge
crowds from every part of England, who had been a national hero, and
who, now, was unable to face his own child. Presently Stott broke out
again.

"To think of all the trouble I took when 'e was comin'," he said,
stopping in front of me. "There was nothin' the missus fancied as I
wouldn't get. We was livin' in Stoke then." He made a movement of his
head in the direction of Ailesworth. "Not as she was difficult," he went
on thoughtfully. "She used to say 'I mussent get 'abits, George.' Caught
that from me; I was always on about that--then. You know, thinkin' of
learnin' 'im bowlin'. Things was different then; afore 'e came." He
paused again, evidently thinking of his troubles.

Sympathetically, I was wondering how far the child had separated husband
and wife. There was the making of a tragedy here, I thought; but when
Stott, after another period of pacing up and down, began to speak again
I found that his tragedy was of another kind.

"Learn 'im bowling!" he said, and laughed a mirthless laugh. "My Gawd I
it 'ud take something. No fear; that little game's off. And I could a'
done it if he'd been a decent or'nery child, 'stead of a blarsted freak.
There won't never be another, neither. This one pretty near killed the
missus. Doctor said it'd be 'er last... With an 'ead like that, whacher
expect?"

"Can he walk?" I asked.

"Ah! Gets about easy enough for all 'is body and legs is so small. When
the missus tries to stop 'im--she's afraid 'e'll go over--'e just looks
at 'er and she 'as to let 'im 'ave 'is own way."

II

Later, I reverted to that speech of the child's, that intelligent,
illuminating speech that seemed to prove that there was indeed a
powerful, thoughtful mind behind those profoundly speculative eyes.

"That time he spoke, Stott," I said, "was he alone?"

"Ah!" assented Stott. "In the garden, practisin' walkin' all by
'imself."

"Was that the only time?"

"Only time I've 'eard 'im."

"Was it lately?"

"‘Bout six weeks ago."

"And he has never made a sound otherwise, cried, laughed?"

"'Ardly. 'E gives a sort o' grunt sometimes, when e' wants anything--and
points."

"He's very intelligent."

"Worse than that, 'e's a freak, I tell you."

With the repetition of this damning description, Stott fell back into
his moody pacing, and this time I failed to rouse him from his gloom.
"Oh! forget it," he broke out once, when I asked him another question,
and I saw that he was not likely to give me any more information that
day.

We walked back together, and I said good-bye to him at the end of the
lane which led up to his cottage.

"Not comin' up?" he asked, with a nod of his head towards his home.

"Well! I have to catch that train ..." I prevaricated, looking at my
watch. I did not wish to see that child again; my distaste was even
stronger than my curiosity.

Stott grinned. "We don't 'ave many visitors," he said. "Well, I'll come
a bit farther with you."

He came to the bottom of the hill, and after he left me he took the road
that goes over the hill to Wenderby. It would be about seven miles back
to Pym by that road...

III

I spent the next afternoon in the Reading Room of the British Museum. I
was searching for a precedent, and at last I found one in the story of
Christian Heinrich Heinecken,* who was born at Lubeck on February 6,
1721. There were marked points of difference between the development of
Heinecken and that of Stott's child. Heinecken was physically feeble; at
the age of three he was still being fed at the breast. The Stott
precocity appeared to be physically strong; his body looked small and
undeveloped, it is true, but this was partly an illusion produced by the
abnormal size of the head. Again Heinecken learned to speak very early;
at ten months old he was asking intelligent questions, at eighteen
months he was studying history, geography, Latin and anatomy; whereas
the Stott child had only once been heard to speak at the age of two
years, and had not, apparently, begun any study at all.

[* See the Teutsche Bibliothek and Schoneich's account of the child of
Lubeck.]

From this comparison it might seem at first that the balance of
precocity lay in the Heinecken scale. I drew another inference. I argued
that the genius of the Stott child far outweighed the genius of
Christian Heinecken.

Little Heinecken in his four years of life suffered the mental
experience--with certain necessary limitations--of a developed brain. He
gathered knowledge as an ordinary child gathers knowledge, the only
difference being that his rate of assimilation was as ten to one.

But little Stott had gathered no knowledge from books. He had been born
of ignorant parents, he was being brought up among uneducated people.
Yet he had wonderful intellectual gifts: surely he must have one above
all others--the gift of reason. His brain must be constructive, logical;
he must have the power of deduction. He must even at an extraordinarily
early age, say six months, have developed some theory of life. He must
be withholding his energy, deliberately; declining to exhibit his
powers, holding his marvellous faculties in reserve. Here was surely a
case of genius which, comparable in some respects to the genius of
Heinecken, yet far exceeded it.

As I developed my theory, my eagerness grew. And then suddenly an
inspiration came to me. In my excitement I spoke aloud and smacked the
desk in front of me with my open hand. "Why, of course!" I said. "That
is the key."

An old man in the next seat scowled fiercely. The attendants in the
central circular desk all looked up. Other readers turned round and
stared at me. I had violated the sacred laws of the Reading Room. I saw
one of the librarians make a sign to an attendant and point to me.

I gathered up my books quickly and returned them at the central desk. My
self-consciousness had returned, and I was anxious to be away from the
observation of the many dilettante readers who found my appearance more
engrossing than the books with which they were dallying on some pretext
or another.

Yet, curiously, when I reached the street, the theory which had come to
me in the Museum with the force and vividness of an illuminating dream
had lost some of its glamour. Nevertheless, I set it out as it then
shaped itself in my mind.

The great restraining force in the evolution of man, so I thought, has
been the restriction imposed by habit. What we call instinct is a
hereditary habit. This is the first guiding principle in the life of the
human infant. Upon this instinct we immediately superimpose the habits
of reason, all the bodily and intellectual conventions that have been
handed down from generation to generation. We learn everything we know
as children by the hereditary, simian habit of imitation. The child of
intellectual, cultured parents, born into savage surroundings, becomes
the slave of this inherited habit--call it tendency, if you will, the
intention is the same. I elaborated the theory by instance and
introspection, and found no flaw in it...

And here, by some freak of nature, was a child born without these
habits. During the period of gestation, one thought had dominated the
minds of both parents--the desire to have a son born without habits. It
does not seriously affect the theory that the desire had a peculiar end
in view; the wish, the urgent, controlling, omnipotent will had been
there, and the result included far more than the specific intention.

Already some of my distaste for the Stott child had vanished. It was
accountable, and therefore no longer fearful. The child was supernormal,
a cause of fear to the normal man, as all truly supernormal things are
to our primitive, animal instincts. This is the fear of the wild thing;
when we can explain and give reasons, the horror vanishes. We are men
again.

I did not quite recover the glow of my first inspiration, but the theory
remained with me; I decided to make a study of the child, to submit
knowledge to his reason. I would stand between him and the delimiting
training of the pedagogue, I thought.

Then I reached home, and my life was changed.

This story is not of my own life, and I have no wish to enter into the
curious and saddening experiences which stood between me and the child
of Ginger Stott for nearly six years. In that time my thoughts strayed
now and again to that cottage in the little hamlet on those wooded
hills. Often I thought "When I have time I will go and see that child
again if he is alive." But as the years passed, the memory of him grew
dim, even the memory of his father was blurred over by a thousand new
impressions. So it chanced that for nearly six years I heard no word of
Stott and his supernormal infant, and then chance again intervened. My
long period of sorrow came to an end almost as suddenly as it had begun,
and by a coincidence I was once more entangled in the strange web of the
phenomenal.

In this story of Victor Stott I have bridged these six years in the
pages that follow. In doing this I have been compelled to draw to a
certain extent on my imagination, but the main facts are true. They have
been gathered from first-hand authority only, from Henty Challis, from
Mrs. Stott, and from her husband; though none, I must confess, has been
checked by that soundest of all authorities, Victor Stott himself, who
might have given me every particular in accurate detail, had it not been
for those peculiarities of his which will be explained fully in the
proper place.

PART II. THE CHILDHOOD OF THE WONDER

CHAPTER IV. THE MANNER OF HIS BIRTH

I

STOKE-UNDERHILL lies in the flat of the valley that separates the
Hampden from the Quainton Hills. The main road from London to Ailesworth
does not pass through Stoke, but from the highway you can see the ascent
of the bridge over the railway, down the vista of the straight mile of
side road; and, beyond, a glimpse of scattered cottages. That is all,
and as a matter of fact, no one who is not keeping a sharp look-out
would ever notice the village, for the eye is drawn to admire the bluff
of Deane Hill, the highest point of the Hampdens, which lowers over the
little hamlet of Stoke and gives it a second name; and to the church
tower of Chilborough Beacon, away to the right, another landmark.

The attraction which Stoke-Underhill held for Stott, lay not in its
seclusion or its picturesqueness but in its nearness to the County
Ground. Stott could ride the two flat miles which separated him from the
scene of his work in ten minutes, and Ailesworth station is only a mile
beyond. So when he found that there was a suitable cottage to let in
Stoke, he looked no farther for a home; he was completely satisfied.

Stott's absorption in any matter that was occupying his mind, made him
exceedingly careless about the detail of his affairs. He took the first
cottage that offered when he looked for a home, he took the first woman
who offered when he looked for a wife.

Stott was not an attractive man to women. He was short and plain, and he
had an appearance of being slightly deformed, a "monkeyish" look, due to
his build and his long arms. Still, he was famous, and might, doubtless,
have been accepted by a dozen comely young women for that reason, even
after his accident. But if Stott was unattractive to women, women were
even more unattractive to Stott. "No opinion of women?" he used to say.
"Ever seen a gel try to throw a cricket ball? You 'ave? Well, ain't that
enough to put you off women?" That was Stott's intellectual standard;
physically, he had never felt drawn to women.

Ellen Mary Jakes exhibited no superiority over her sisters in the matter
of throwing a cricket ball. She was a friend of Ginger's mother, and she
was a woman of forty-two, who had long since been relegated to some
remote shelf of the matrimonial exchange. But her physical disadvantages
were outbalanced by her mental qualities. Ellen Mary was not a
book-worm, she read nothing but the evening and Sunday papers, but she
had a reasoning and intelligent mind.

She had often contemplated the state of matrimony, and had made more
than one tentative essay in that direction. She had walked out with
three or four sprigs of the Ailesworth bourgeoisie in her time, and the
shadow of middle-age had crept upon her before she realised that,
however pliant her disposition, her lack of physical charm put her at
the mercy of the first bright-eyed rival. At thirty-five Ellen had
decided, with admirable philosophy, that marriage was not for her, and
had assumed, with apparent complacency, the outward evidences of a
dignified spinsterhood. She had discarded gay hats and ribbons,
imitation jewellery, unreliable cheap shoes, and chill diaphanous
stockings, and had found some solace for her singleness in more
comfortable and suitable apparel.

When Ellen, a declared spinster of seven years' standing, was first
taken into the confidence of Ginger Stott's mother, the scheme which she
afterwards elaborated immediately presented itself to her mind. This
fact is a curious instance of Ellen Mary's mobility of intellect, and
the student of heredity may here find matter for careful thought.*

[* A study of genius shows that in a percentage of cases so large as to
exclude the possibility of coincidence, the exceptional man, whether in
the world of action, of art, or of letters, seems to inherit his
magnificent powers through the female line. Mr. Gallon, it is true, did
not make a great point of this curious observation, but the tendency of
more recent analyses is all in the direction of confirming the
hypothesis; and it would seem to hold good in the converse proposition,
namely, that the exceptional woman inherits her qualities from her
father.]

The confidence in question was Ginger's declared intention of becoming
the father of the world's greatest bowler. Mrs. Stott was a dark,
garrulous, rather deaf little woman, with a keen eye for the main
chance; she might have become a successful woman of business if she had
not been by nature both stingy and a cheat. When her son presented his
determination, her first thought was to find some woman who would not
dissipate her son's substance, and in her opinion--not expressed to
Ginger--the advertised purpose of the contemplated marriage evidenced a
wasteful disposition.

Mrs. Stott did not think of Ellen Mary as a possible daughter-in-law,
but she did hold forth for an hour and three-quarters on the
contemptible qualities of the young maidens, first of Ailesworth, and
then with a wider swoop that was not justified by her limited
experience, of the girls of England, Scotland, and Ireland at large.

It required the flexible reasoning powers of Ellen Mary to find a
solution of the problem. Any ordinary, average woman of forty-two, a
declared spinster of seven years' standing, who had lived all her life
in a provincial town, would have been mentally unable to realise the
possibilities of the situation. Such a representative of the decaying
sexual instinct would have needed the stimulus of courtship, at the
least of some hint of preference displayed by the suitor. Ruled by the
conventions which hold her sex in bondage, she would have deemed it
unwomanly to make advances by any means other than innuendo, the subtle
suggestions which are the instruments of her sex, but which are often
too delicate to pierce the understanding of the obtuse and slow-witted
male.

Ellen Mary stood outside the ruck that determines the destinies of all
such typical representatives. She considered the idea presented to her
by Mrs. Stott with an open and mobile intelligence. She weighed the
character of Ginger, the possibilities of rejection, and the influence
of Mrs. Stott; and she gave no thought to the conventions, nor to the
criticisms of Ailesworth society. When she had decided that such chances
as she could calculate were in her favour, Ellen made up her mind walked
out to the County Ground one windy October afternoon, and discovered
Ginger experimenting with grass seed in a shed off the pavilion. In this
shed she offered herself, while Ginger worked on, attentive but
unresponsive. Perhaps she did not make an offer so much as state a case.
A masterly case, without question; for who can doubt that Stott, however
procrastinating and unwilling to make a definite overture, must already
have had some type of womanhood in his mind; some conception, the seed
of an ideal.

I find a quality of romance in this courageous and unusual wooing of
Ellen Mary's; but more, I find evidences of the remarkable quality of
her intelligence. In other circumstances the name of Ellen Mary Jakes
might have stood for individual achievement; instead, she is remembered
as a common woman who happened to be the mother of Victor Stott. But
when the facts are examined, can we say that chance entered? If ever the
birth of a child was deliberately designed by both parents, it was in
the case under consideration. And what a strange setting to the
inception.

Ellen Mary, a gaunt, tall, somewhat untidy woman, stood at the narrow
door of the little shed of the Ailesworth pavilion; with one hand,
shoulder high, she steadied herself against the door frame, with the
other she continually pushed forward the rusty bonnet which had been
loosened during her walk by the equinoctial gale that now tore at the
door of the shed, and necessitated the employment of a wary foot to keep
the door from slamming, With all these distractions she still made good
her case, though she had to raise her voice above the multitudinous
sounds of the wind, and though she had to address the unresponsive
shoulders of a man who bent over shallow trays of earth set on a trestle
table under the small and dirty window. It was heroic, but she had her
reward in full measure. Presently her voice ceased, and she waited in
silence for the answer that should decide her destiny. There was an
interval broken only by the tireless passion of the wind, and then
Ginger Stott, the best-known man in England, looked up and stared
through the incrusted pane of glass before him at the dim vision of
grass and swaying hedge. Unconsciously his hands strayed to his pockets,
and then he said in a low, thoughtful voice: "Well! I dunno why not."

II

Dr. O'Connell's face was white and drawn, and the redness of his eyelids
more pronounced than ever as he faced Stott in the pale October dawn. He
clutched at his beard with a nervous, combing movement, as he shook his
head decidedly in answer to the question put to him.

"If it's not dead now, 'twill be in very few hours," he said.

Stott was shaken by the feeble passion of a man who has spent many weary
hours of suspense. His anger thrilled out in a feeble stream of
hackneyed profanities.

O'Connell looked down on him with contempt. At sunrise, after a
sleepless night, a man is a creature of unrealised emotions.

"Damn it, control yourself, man!" growled O'Connell, himself
uncontrolled; "your wife'll pull through with care, though she'll never
have another child." O'Connell did not understand; he was an Irishman,
and no cricketer; he had been called in because he had a reputation for
his skill in obstetrics.

Stott stared at him fiercely. The two men seemed as if about to grapple
desperately for life in the windy, grey twilight.

O'Connell recovered his self-control first, and began again to claw
nervously at his beard. "Don't be a fool," he said, "it's only what you
could expect. Her first child, and her a woman of near fifty." He
returned to the upstairs room; Stott seized his cap and went out into
the chill-world of sunrise.

"She'll do, if there are no complications," said O'Connell to the nurse,
as he bent over the still, exhausted figure of Mrs. Stott. "She's a
wonderful woman to have delivered such a child alive."

The nurse shivered, and avoiding any glance at the huddle that lay on an
improvised sofa-bed, she said: "It can't live, can it?"

O'Connell, still intent on his first patient, shook his head. "Never
cried after delivery," he muttered, "--the worst sign." He was silent
for a moment and then he added: "But, to be sure, it's a freak of some
kind." His scientific curiosity led him to make a further investigation.
He left the bed and began to examine the huddle on the sofa-couch.
Victor Stott owed his life, in the first instance, to this scientific
curiosity of O'Connell's.

The nurse, a capable but sentimental woman, turned to the window and
looked out at the watery trickle of feeble sunlight that now illumined
the wilderness of Stott's garden.

"Nurse!" The imperative call startled her; she turned nervously.

"Yes, doctor?" she said, making no movement towards him.

"Come here!" O'Connell was kneeling by the sofa. "There seems to be
complete paralysis of all the motor centres," he went on; "but the
child's not dead. We'll try artificial respiration."

The nurse overcame her repugnance by a visible effort. "Is it ... is it
worth while?" she asked, regarding the flaccid, tumbled, wax-like thing,
with its bloated, white globe of a skull. Every muscle of it was relaxed
and limp, its eyes shut, its tiny jaw hanging. "Wouldn't it be better to
let it die...?"

O'Connell did not seem to hear her. He waved an impatient hand for her
assistance. "Outside my experience," he muttered, "no heart-beat
discernible, no breath ...yet it is indubitably alive." He depressed the
soft, plastic ribs and gave the feeble heart a gentle squeeze.

"It's beating," he ejaculated, after a pause, with an ear close to the
little chest, "but still no breath! Come!"

The diminutive lungs were as readily open to suggestion as the wee
heart: a few movements of the twigs they called arms, and the breath
came. O'Connell closed the mouth and it remained closed, adjusted the
limbs, and they stayed in the positions in which they were placed. At
last he gently lifted the lids of the eyes.

The nurse shivered and drew back. Even O'Connell was startled, for the
eyes that stared into his own seemed to be heavy with a brooding
intelligence...

Stott came back at ten o clock, after a morose trudge through the misty
rain. He found the nurse in the sitting-room.

"Doctor gone?" he asked.

The nurse nodded.

"Dead, I suppose?" Stott gave an upward twist of his head towards the
room above.

The nurse shook her head.

"Can't live, though?" There was a note of faint hope in his voice.

The nurse drew herself together and sighed deeply. "Yes! we believe
it'll live, Mr. Stott," she said. "But ...it's a very remarkable baby."

How that phrase always recurred!

III

There were no complications, but Mrs. Stott's recovery was not a rapid
one. It was considered advisable that she should not see the child. She
thought that they were lying to her, that the child was dead and so
resigned herself. But her husband saw it.

He had never seen so young an infant before, and, just for one moment,
he believed that it was a normal child.

"What an 'ead!" was his first ejaculation, and then he realised the
significance of that sign. Fear came into his eyes, and his mouth fell
open. "'Ere, I say, nurse, it's ...it's a wrong 'un, ain't it?" he
gasped.

"I'm sure I can't tell you, Mr. Stott," broke out the nurse
hysterically. She had been feeding and tending that curious baby for
three hours, and she was on the verge of a break-down. There was no
wet-nurse to be had, but a woman from the village had been sent for. She
was expected every moment.

"More like a tadpole than anything," mused the unhappy father.

"Oh! Mr. Stott, for goodness sake, don't" cried the nurse. "If you only
knew..."

"Knew what?" questioned Stott, still staring at the motionless figure of
his son, who lay with closed eyes, apparently unconscious.

"There's something--I don't know," began the nurse, and then after a
pause, during which she seemed to struggle for some means of expression,
she continued with a sigh of utter weariness, "You'll know when it opens
its eyes. Oh! Why doesn't, that women come, the woman you sent for?"

"She'll be 'ere directly," replied Stott. "What d'you mean about there
bein' something ...something what?"

"Uncanny," said the nurse without conviction. "I do wish that woman
would come. I've been up the best part of the night, and now..."

"Uncanny? As how?" persisted Stott.

"Not normal," explained the nurse. "I can't tell you more than that."

"But 'ow? What way?"

He did not receive an answer then; for the long-expected relief came at
last, a great hulk of a woman, who became voluble when she saw the child
she had come to nurse.

"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" the stream began. "How unforchnit, and 'er first,
too. It'll be a idjit, I'm afraid. Mrs. 'Arrison's third was the very
spit of it, ..."

The stream ran on, but Stott heard no more. An idiot! He had fathered an
idiot! That was the end of his dreams and ambitions! He had had an
hour's sleep on the sitting-room sofa. He went out to his work at the
County Ground with a heart full of blasphemy.

When he returned at four o'clock he met the stout woman on the doorstep.
She put up a hand to her rolling breast, closed her eyes tightly, and
gasped as though completely overcome by this trifling encounter.

"'Ow is it?" questioned the obsessed Stott.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" panted the stout woman, "the leas' thing upsets me
this afternoon..." She wandered away into irrelevant fluency, but Stott
was autocratic; his insistent questions overcame the inertia of even
Mrs. Reade at last. The substance of her information, freed from
extraneous matter, was as follows:

"Oh! 'ealthy? It'll live, I've no doubt, if that's what you mean; but
'elpless...! There, 'elpless is no word... Learn 'im to take the bottle,
learn 'im to close 'is 'ands, learn 'im to go to sleep, learn 'im
everythink. I've never seen nothink like it, never in all my days, and
I've 'elped to bring a few into the world... I can't begin to tell you
about it, Mr. Stott, and that's the solemn truth. When 'e first looked
at me, I near 'ad a faint. An old-fashioned, wise sort of look as 'e
might 'a been a 'undred. 'Lord 'elp us, nurse,' I says, 'Lord help us.'
I was that opset, I didn't rightly know what I was a-saying..."

Stott pushed past the agitated Mrs. Reade, and went into the
sitting-room. He had had neither breakfast nor lunch; there was no sign
of any preparation for his tea, and the fire-place was grey with the
cinders of last night's fire. For some minutes he sat in deep
despondency, a hero faced with the uncompromising detail of domestic
neglect. Then he rose and called to the nurse.

She appeared at the head of the steep, narrow staircase. "Sh!" she
warned, with a finger to her lips.

"I'm goin' out again," said Stott in a slightly modulated voice.

"Mrs. Reade's coming back presently," replied the nurse, and looked over
her shoulder.

"Want me to wait?" asked Stott.

The nurse came down a few steps. "It's only in case any one was wanted,"
she began, "I've got two of 'em on my hands, you see. They're both doing
well as far as that goes. Only..." She broke off and drifted into small
talk. Ever and again she stopped and listened intently, and looked back
towards the half-open door of the upstairs room.

Stott fidgeted, and then, as the flow of conversation gave no sign of
running dry, he damned it abruptly. "Look 'ere, miss," he said, "I've
'ad nothing to eat since last night."

"Oh! dear!" ejaculated the nurse. "If--perhaps, if you'd just stay here
and listen, I could get you something." She seemed relieved to have some
excuse for coming down.

While she bustled about the kitchen, Stott, halfway upstairs, stayed and
listened. The house was very silent, the only sound was the hushed
clatter made by the nurse in the kitchen. There was an atmosphere of
wariness about the place that affected even so callous a person as
Stott. He listened with strained attention, his eyes fixed on the
half-open door. He was not an imaginative man, but he was beset with
apprehension as to what lay behind that door. He looked for something
inhuman that might come crawling preternaturally wise and
threatening--something horribly unnatural.

The window of the upstairs room was evidently open, and now and again
the door creaked faintly. When that happened Stott gripped the handrail,
and grew damp and hot. He looked always at the shadows under the
door--if it crawled...

The nurse stood at the door of the sitting-room while Stott ate, and
presently Mrs. Reade came grunting and panting up the brick path.

"I'm going out, now," said Stott resolutely, and he rose to his feet,
though his meal was barely finished.

"You'll be back before Mrs. Reade goes?" asked the nurse, and passed a
hand over her tired eyes. "She'll be here till ten o'clock. I'm going to
lie down."

"I'll be back by ten," Stott assured her as he went out.

He did come back at ten o'clock, but he was stupidly drunk.

IV

The Stott's cottage was no place to live in during the next few days,
but the nurse made one stipulation; Mr. Stott must come home to sleep.
He slept on an improvised bed in the sitting-room, and during the night
the nurse came down many times and listened to the sound of his snores.
She would put her ear against the door, and rest her nerves with the
thought of human companionship. Sometimes she opened the door very
quietly and watched him as he slept. Except at night, when he was rarely
quite sober, Stott only visited his cottage once a day, at lunch time;
from seven in the morning till ten at night he remained in Ailesworth
save for this one call of enquiry.

It was such a still house. Ellen Mary only spoke when speech was
absolutely required, and then her words were the fewest possible, and
were spoken in a whisper. The child made no sound of any kind. Even Mrs.
Reade tried to subdue her stertorous breathing, to move with less
ponderous quakings. The neighbours told her she looked thinner.

Little wonder that during the long night vigil the nurse, moving
silently between the two upstairs rooms, should pause on the landing and
lean over the handrail; little wonder that she should give a long sigh
of relief when she heard the music of Stott's snore ascend from the
sitting-room.

O'Connell called twice every day during the first week, not because it
was necessary for him to visit his two patients, but because the infant
fascinated him. He would wait for it to open its eyes, and then would
get up and leave the room hurriedly. Always he intended to return the
infant's stare, but when the opportunity was given to him, he always
rose and left the room--no matter how long and deliberately he had
braced himself to another course of action.

It was on a Thursday that the baby was born, and it was on the following
Thursday that the circumstance of the household was reshaped.

O'Connell came in the morning, full of resolution. After he had
pronounced Mrs. Stott well on the way to recovery, he paid the usual
visit to his younger patient. The child lay, relaxed, at full length, in
the little cot which had been provided for him. His eyes were, as usual,
closed, and he had all the appearance of the ordinary hydro-cephalic
idiot.

O'Connell sat down by the cot, listened to the child's breathing and
heart-beat, lifted and let fall again the lax wrist, turned back the
eyelid, revealing only the white of the upturned eyeball, and then
composed himself to await the natural waking of the child, if it were
asleep--always a matter of uncertainty.

The nurse stood near him, silent, but she looked away from the cot.

"Hydrocephalus!" murmured O'Connell, staring at his tiny patient,
"hydrocephalus, without a doubt. Eh? nurse!"

"Yes, perhaps! I don't know, doctor."

"Oh, not a doubt of it, not a doubt," repeated O'Connell, and then came
a flicker of the child's eyelids and a weak crumpling of the tiny hand.

O'Connell caught his breath and clawed at his beard; "Hydrocephalus," he
muttered with set jaw and drawn eyebrows.

The tiny hand straightened with a movement that suggested the recovery
of crushed grass, the mouth opened with a microscopic yawn, and then the
eyelids were slowly raised and a steady unwavering stare of profoundest
intelligence met O'Council's gaze.

He clenched his hands, shifted in his chair, and then rose abruptly and
turned to the window.

"I--it won't be necessary for me to come again, nurse," he said curtly;
"they are both doing perfectly well."

"Not come again?" There was dismay in the nurse's question.

"No! No! It's unnecessary..." He broke off, and made for the door
without another glance in the direction of the cot.

Nurse followed him downstairs.

"If I'm wanted--you can easily send for me," said O'Connell, as he went
out. As he moved away he dragged at his beard and murmured
"Hydrocephalus, not a doubt of it."

Following his departure, Mrs. Reade heard curious and most unwonted
laughter, and cautiously blundered downstairs to investigate. She found
the nurse in an advanced condition of hysteria, laughing, gurgling,
weeping, and intermittently crying in a shrill voice: "Oh! Lord have
mercy; Lord ha' mercy!"

"Now, see you 'ere, my dear," said Mrs. Reade, when nurse had been
recovered to a red-eyed sanity, "it's time she was told. I've never 'eld
with keepin' it from er', myself, and I've 'ad more experience than
many..." Mrs. Reade argued with abundant recourse to parenthesis.

"Is she strog edough?" asked the nurse, still with tears in her voice;
"cad she bear the sight of him?" She blew her nose vigorously, and then
continued with greater clearness: "I'm afraid it may turn her head."

Out of her deep store of wisdom, Mrs. Reade produced a fact which she
elaborated and confirmed by apt illustration, adducing more particularly
the instance of Mrs. Harrison's third. "She's 'is mother," was the
essence of her argument, a fact of deep and strange significance.

The nurse yielded, and so the circumstance of Stott's household was
changed, and Stott himself was once more able to come home to meals.

The nurse, wisely, left all diplomacy to the capable Mrs. Reade, a woman
specially fitted by nature for the breaking of news. She delivered a
long, a record-breaking circumlocution, and it seemed that Ellen Mary,
who lay with closed eyes, gathered no hint of its import. But when the
impressive harangue was slowly rustling to collapse like an exhausted
balloon, she opened her eyes and said quite clearly,

"What's wrong with 'im, then?"

The question had the effect of reinflation, but at last the child itself
was brought, and it was open-eyed.

The supreme ambition of all great women--and have not all women the
potentialities of greatness?--is to give birth to a god. That ambition
it is which is marred by the disappointing birth of a female child--when
the man-child is born, there is always hope, and slow is the realisation
of failure. That realisation never came to Ellen Mary. She accepted her
child with the fear that is adoration. When she dropped her eyes before
her god's searching glance, she did it in reverence. She hid her faith
from the world, but in her heart she believed that she was blessed above
all women. In secret, she worshipped the inscrutable wonder that had
used her as the instrument of his incarnation. Perhaps she was right...

CHAPTER V. HIS DEPARTURE FROM STOKE-UNDERHILL

I

THE VILLAGE of Stoke was no whit intimidated by the news that Mrs. Reade
sowed abroad. The women exclaimed and chattered, the men gaped and shook
their heads, the children hung about the ruinous gate that shut them out
from the twenty-yard strip of garden which led up to Stott's cottage.
Curiosity was the dominant emotion. Any excuse was good enough to make
friendly overtures, but the babe remained invisible to all save Mrs.
Reade; and the village community kept open ears while the lust of its
eyes remained, perforce, unsatisfied. If Stott's gate slammed in the
wind, every door that commanded a view of that gate was opened, and
heads appeared, and bare arms--the indications of women who nodded to
each other, shook their heads, pursed their lips and withdrew for the
time to attend the pressure of household duty. Later, even that gate
slamming would reinvigorate the gossip of backyards and front doorways.

The first stranger to force an entry was the rector. He was an Oxford
man who, in his youth, had been an ardent disciple of the school that
attempts the reconciliation of Religion and Science. He had been
ambitious, but nature had predetermined his career by giving him a head
of the wrong shape. At Oxford his limitations had not been clearly
kenned, and on the strength of a certain speech at the Union, he crept
into a London west-end curacy. There he attempted to demonstrate the
principle of reconciliation from the pulpit, but his vicar and his
bishop soon recognised that excellent as were his intentions, he was
doing better service to agnosticism than to his own religion. In
consequence he was vilely marooned on the savage island of
Stoke-Underhill, where he might preach as much science as he would to
the natives, for there was no fear of their comprehending him. Fifteen
years of Stoke had brought about a reaction. Nature had made him a
feeble fanatic, and he was now as ardent an opponent of science as he
had once been a defender. In his little mind he believed that his early
reading had enabled him to understand all the weaknesses of the
scientific position. His name was Percy Crashaw.

Mrs. Stott could not deny her rector the right of entry, and he insisted
on seeing the infant, who was not yet baptised---a shameful neglect,
according to Crashaw, for the child was nearly six weeks old. Nor had
Mrs. Stott been "churched." Crashaw had good excuse for pressing his
call.

Mrs. Stott refused to face the village. She knew that the place was all
agape, eager to stare at what they considered some "new kind of idiot."
Let them wait, was Ellen Mary's attitude. Her pride was a later
development. In those early weeks she feared criticism.

But she granted Crashaw's request to see the child, and after the
interview (the term is precise) the rector gave way on the question of a
private ceremony, though he had indignantly opposed the scheme when it
was first mooted. It may be that he conceived an image of himself with
that child in his arms, the cynosure of a packed congregation... .

Crashaw was one of the influences that hastened the Stott's departure
from Stoke. He was so indiscreet. After the christening he would talk.
His attitude is quite comprehensible. He, the lawgiver of Stoke, had
been thwarted. He had to find apology for the private baptism he had
denied to many a sickly infant. Moreover, the Stotts had broken another
of his ordinances, for father and mother had stood as god-parents to
their own child, and Crashaw himself had been the second god-father
ordained as necessary by the rubric. He had given way on these
important points so weakly; he had to find excuse, and he talked himself
into a false belief with regard to the child he had baptised.

He began with his wife. "I would allow more latitude to medical men," he
said. "In such a case as this child of the Stotts, for instance; it
becomes a burden on the community, I might say a danger, yes, a positive
danger. I am not sure whether I was right in administering the holy
sacrament of baptism..."

"Oh! Percy! Surely..." began Mrs. Crashaw.

"One moment, my dear," protested the rector, "I have not fully explained
the circumstances of the case." And as he warmed to his theme the image
of Victor Stott grew to a fearful grotesqueness. It loomed as a threat
over the community and the church. Crashaw quoted, inaccurately,
statistics of the growth of lunacy, and then went off at a tangent into
the theory of possession by evil spirits. Since his rejection of
science, he had lapsed into certain forms of mediaevalism, and he now
began to dally with a theory of a malign incarnation which he elaborated
until it became an article of his faith.

To his poorer parishioners he spoke in vague terms, but he changed their
attitude; he filled them with overawed terror. They were intensely
curious still, but, now, when the gate was slammed, one saw a face
pressed to the window, the door remained fast; and the children no
longer clustered round that gate, but dared each other to run past it;
which they did, the girls with a scream, the boys with a jeering
"Yah--ah!" a boast of intrepidity.

This change of temper was soon understood by the persons most concerned.
Stott grumbled and grew more morose. He had never been intimate with the
villagers, and now he avoided any intercourse with them. His wife kept
herself aloof, and her child sheltered from profane observation.
Naturally, this attitude of the Stotts fostered suspicion. Even the
hardiest sceptic in the taproom of the Challis Arms began to shake his
head, to concede that there "moight be soome-thing in it."

Yet the departure from Stoke might have been postponed indefinitely, if
it had not been for another intrusion. Both Stott and his wife were
ready to take up a new idea, but they were slow to conceive it.

II

The intruder was the local magnate, the landlord of Stoke, Wenderby,
Chilborough, a greater part of Ailesworth, two or three minor parishes,
and, incidentally, of Pym.

This magnate, Henry Challis, was a man of some scholarship, whose
ambition had been smothered by the heaviness of his possessions. He had
a remarkably fine library at Challis Court, but he made little use of
it, for he spent the greater part of his time in travel. In appearance
he was rather an ungainly man; his great head and the bulk of his big
shoulders were something too heavy for his legs.

Crashaw regarded his patron with mixed feelings. For Challis, the man of
property, the man of high connections, of intimate associations with the
world of science and letters, Crashaw had a feeling of awed respect; but
in private he inveighed against the wickedness of Challis, the agnostic,
the decadent.

When Victor Stott was nearly three months old, the rector met his patron
one day on the road between Chilborough and Stoke. It was three years
since their last meeting, and Crashaw noticed that in the interval
Challis's pointed beard had become streaked with grey.

"Hallo! How d'ye do, Crashaw?" was the squire's casual greeting. "How is
the Stoke microcosm?"

Crashaw smiled subserviently; he was never quite at his ease in
Challis's presence. "Rari nantes in gurgite vasto," was the tag he found
in answer to the question put. However great his contempt for Challis's
way of life, in his presence Crashaw was often oppressed with a feeling
of inferiority, a feeling which he fought against but could not subdue.
The Latin tag was an attempt to win appreciation, it represented a boast
of equality.

Challis correctly evaluated the rector's attitude; it was with something
of pity in his mind that he turned and walked beside him.

There was but one item of news from Stoke, and it soon came to the
surface. Crashaw phrased his description of Victor Stott in terms other
than those he used in speaking to his wife or to his parishioners; but
the undercurrent of his virulent superstition did not escape Challis,
and the attitude of the villagers was made perfectly plain.

"Hm!" was Challis's comment, when the flow of words ceased, "nigroque
simillima cygno, eh?"

"Ah! of course, you sneer at our petty affairs," said Crashaw.

"By no means. I should like to see this black swan of Stoke," replied
Challis. "Anything so exceptional interests me."

"No doubt Mrs. Stott would be proud to exhibit the horror," said
Crashaw. He had a gleam of satisfaction in the thought that even the
great Henry Challis might be scared. That would, indeed, be a triumph.

"If Mrs. Stott has no objection, of course," said Challis. "Shall we go
there, now?"

III

The visit of Henry Challis marked the first advent of Ellen Mary's pride
in the exhibition of her wonder. After the King and the Royal
Family--superhuman beings, infinitely remote--the great landlord of the
neighbourhood stood as a symbol of temporal power to the whole district.
The budding socialist of the taproom might sneer, and make threat that
the time was coming when he, the boaster, and Challis, the landlord,
would have equal rights; but in public the socialist kow-towed to his
master with a submission no less obsequious than that of the humblest
conservative on the estate.

Mrs. Stott dropped a deep curtsy when, opening the door to the
autocratic summons of Crashaw's rat-a-tat, she saw the great man of the
district at her threshold. Challis raised his hat. Crashaw did not
imitate his example; he was all officiousness, he had the air of a
chief superintendent of police.

"Oh! Mrs. Stott, we should like to come in for a few minutes. Mr.
Challis would like to see your child."

"Damn the fool!" was Challis's thought, but he gave it less abrupt
expression. "That is, of course, if it is quite convenient to you, Mrs.
Stott. I can come at some other tune..."

"Please walk in, sir," replied Mrs. Stott, and curtsied again as she
stood aside.

Superintendent Crashaw led the way ...

Challis called again next day, by himself this time; and the day after
he dropped in at six o'clock while Mr. and Mrs. Stott were at tea. He
put them at their ease by some magic of his personality, and insisted
that they should continue their meal while he sat among the collapsed
springs of the horsehair armchair. He leaned forward and swung his stick
between his knees as it were a pendulum, and shot out questions as to
the Stotts' relations with the neighbours. And always he had an
attentive eye on the cradle that stood near the fire.

"The neighbours are not highly intelligent, I suspect," said Challis.
"Even Mr. Crashaw, I fancy, does not appreciate the--peculiarities of
the situation."

"He's worse than any," interpolated Stott. Ellen Mary sat in shadow;
there was a new light in her eyes, a foretaste of glory.

"Ah! a little narrow, a little dogmatic, no doubt," replied Challis. "I
was going to propose that you might prefer to live at Pym."

"Much farther for me," muttered Stott. He had mixed with nobility on the
cricket field, and was not overawed.

"No doubt; but you have other interests to consider, interests of far
greater importance." Challis shifted his gaze from the cradle, and
looked Stott in the face. "I understand that Mrs. Stott does not care to
take her child out in the village. Isn't that so?"

"Yes, sir," replied Ellen, to whom this question was addressed. "I don't
care to make an exhibition of 'im."

"Quite right, quite right," went on Challis, "but it is very necessary
that the child should have air. I consider it very necessary, a matter
of the first importance that the child should have air," he repeated.
His gaze had shifted back to the cradle again. The child lay with open
eyes, staring up at the ceiling.

"Now, there is an excellent cottage at Pym which I will have put in
repair for you at once," continued Challis. "It is one of two together,
but next door there are only old Metcalfe and his wife and daughter, who
will give you no trouble. And really, Mrs. Stott," he tore his regard
from the cradle for a moment, "there is no reason in the world why you
should fear the attention of your neighbours. Here, in Stoke, I admit,
they have been under a complete misapprehension, but I fancy there were
special reasons for that. In Pym you will have few neighbours, and you
need not, I'm sure, fear their criticism."

"They got one idiot there, already," Stott remarked somewhat sulkily.

"You surely do not regard your own child as likely to develop into an
idiot, Stott!" Challis's tone was one of rebuke.

Stott shifted in his chair and his eyes flickered uncertainly in the
direction of the cradle. "Dr. O'Connell says 'twill," he said.

"When did he see the child last?" asked Challis.

"Not since 'twere a week old, sir," replied Ellen.

"In that case his authority goes for nothing, and, then, by the way, I
suppose the child has not been vaccinated?"

"Not yet, sir."

"Better have that done. Get Walters. I'll make myself responsible. I'll
get him to come."

Before Challis left, it was decided that the Stotts should move to Pym
in February. When the great landowner had gone, Mrs. Stott looked
wistfully at her husband.

"You ain't fair to the child, George," she said. "There's more than you
or any one sees, more than Mr. Challis, even."

Stott stared moodily into the fire.

"And it won't be so out of the way far for you, at Pym, with your bike,"
she continued; "and we can't stop 'ere."

"We might 'a took a place in Ailesworth," said Stott.

"But it'll be so much 'ealthier for 'im up at Pym," protested Ellen.
"It'll be fine air up there for 'im."

"Oh! 'im. Yes, all right for 'im," said Stott, and spat into the fire.
Then he took his cap and went out. He kept his eyes away from the
cradle.

IV

Harvey Walters lived in Wenderby, but his consulting-rooms were in
Harley Street, and he did not practise in his own neighbourhood;
nevertheless he vaccinated Victor Stott to oblige Challis.

"Well?" asked Challis a few days later, "what do you make of him,
Walters? No cliches, now, and no professional jargon."

"Candidly, I don't know," replied Walters, after a thoughtful interval.

"How many times have you seen him?"

"Four, altogether."

"Good patient? Healthy flesh and that sort of thing?"

"Splendid."

"Did he look you in the eyes?"

"Once, only once, the first time I visited the house."

Challis nodded. "My own experience, exactly. And did you return that
look of his?"

"Not willingly. It was, I confess, not altogether a pleasant
experience."

"Ah!"

Challis was silent for a few moments, and it was Walters who took up the
interrogatory.

"Challis!"

"Yes?"

"Have you, now, some feeling of, shall I say, distaste for the child? Do
you feel that you have no wish to see it again?"

"Is it that exactly?" parried Challis.

"If not, what is it?" asked Walters.

"In my own case," said Challis, "I can find an analogy only in my
attitude towards my 'head' at school. In his presence I was always
intimidated by my consciousness of his superior learning. I felt
unpleasantly ignorant, small, negligible. Curiously enough, I see
something of the same expression of feeling in the attitude of that
feeble Crashaw to myself. Well, one makes an attempt at self-assertion,
a kind of futile bragging; and one knows the futility of it--at the
time. But afterwards, one finds excuse and seeks to belittle the
personality and attainment of the person one feared. At school we did
not love the 'head,' and, as schoolboys will, we were always trying to
run him down. 'Next time he rags me, I'll cheek him,' was our usual
boast--but we never did. Let's be honest, Walters, are not you and I
exhibiting much the same attitude towards this extraordinary child?
Didn't he produce the effect upon you that I've described? Didn't you
have a little of the 'fifth form' feeling--a boy under examination?"

Walters smiled and screwed his mouth on one side. "The thing is so
absurd," he said.

"That is what we used to say at school," replied Challis.

CHAPTER VI. HIS FATHER'S DESERTION

I

THE STOTTS' move to Pym was not marked by any incident. Mrs. Stott and
her boy were not unduly stared upon as they left Stoke--the children
were in school--and their entry into the new cottage was uneventful.

They moved on a Thursday. On Sunday morning they had their first
visitor.

He came mooning round the fence that guarded the Stotts' garden from the
little lane--it was hardly more than a footpath. He had a great
shapeless head that waggled heavily on his shoulders, his eyes were
lustreless, and his mouth hung open, frequently his tongue lagged out.
He made strange, inhuman noises. "A-ba-ba," was his nearest approach to
speech.

"Now, George," called Mrs. Stott, "look at that. It's Mrs. 'Arrison's
boy what Mrs. Reade's spoke about. Now, is 'e anythink like ..." she
paused, "anythink like 'im?" and she indicated the cradle in the
sitting-room.

"What's 'e want, 'angin' round 'ere?" replied Stott, disregarding the
comparison. "'Ere, get off," he called, and he went into the garden and
picked up a stick.

The idiot shambled away.

The strongest of all habits is that of acquiescence. It is this habit of
submission which explains the admired patience and long-suffering of the
abjectly poor. The lower the individual falls, the more unconquerable
becomes the inertia of mind which interferes between him and revolt
against his condition. All the miseries of the flesh, even starvation,
seem preferable to the making of an effort great enough to break this
habit of submission.

Ginger Stott was not poor. For a man in his station of life he was
unusually well provided for, but in him the habit of acquiescence was
strongly rooted. Before his son was a year old, Stott had grown to
loathe his home, to dread his return to it, yet it did not occur to him
until another year had passed that he could, if he would, set up another
establishment on his own account; that he could, for instance, take a
room in Ailesworth, and leave his wife and child in the cottage. For two
years he did not begin to think of this idea, and then it was suddenly
forced upon him.

Ever since they had overheard those strangely intelligent
self-communings, the Stotts had been perfectly aware that their
wonderful child could talk if he would. Ellen Mary, pondering that
single expression, had read a world of meaning into her son's murmurs of
"learning." In her simple mind she understood that his deliberate
withholding of speech was a reserve against some strange manifestation.

The manifestation, when it came, was as remarkable as it was unexpected.

The arm-chair in which Henry Challis had once sat was a valued
possession, dedicated by custom to the sole use of George Stott. Ever
since he had been married, Stott had enjoyed the full and undisputed use
of that chair. Except at his meals, he never sat in any other, and he
had formed a fixed habit of throwing himself into that chair immediately
on his return from his work at the County Ground.

One evening in November, however, when his son was just over two years
old, Stott found his sacred chair occupied. He hesitated a moment, and
then went in to the kitchen to find his wife.

"That child's in my chair," he said.

Ellen was setting the tray for her husband's tea. "Yes ... I know," she
replied. "I--I did mention it, but 'e 'asn't moved."

"Well, take 'im out," ordered Stott, but he dropped his voice.

"Does it matter?" asked his wife. "Tea's just ready. Time that's done
'e'll be ready for 'is bath."

"Why can't you move 'im?" persisted Stott gloomily. "'E knows it's my
chair."

"There! kettle's boilin', come in and 'ave your tea," equivocated the
diplomatic Ellen.

During the progress of the meal, the child still sat quietly in his
father's chair, his little hands resting on his knees, his eyes wide
open, their gaze abstracted, as usual, from all earthly concerns. But
after tea Stott was heroic. He had reached the limit of his endurance.
One of his deep-seated habits was being broken, and with it snapped his
habit of acquiescence. He rose to his feet and faced his son with
determination, and Stott had a bull-dog quality about him that was not
easily defeated.

"Look 'ere! Get out!" he said. "That's my chair!"

The child very deliberately with drew his attention from infinity and
regarded the dogged face and set jaw of his father. Stott returned the
stare for the fraction of a second, and then his eyes wavered and
dropped, but he maintained his resolution.

"You got to get out," he said, "or I'll lift you." Ellen Mary gripped
the edge of the table, but she made no attempt to interfere.

There was a tense, strained silence. Then Stott began to breathe
heavily. He lifted his long arms for a moment and raised his eyes, he
even made a tentative step towards the usurped chair.

The child sat calm, motionless; his eyes were fixed upon his father's
face with a sublime, unalterable confidence.

Stott's arms fell to his sides again, he shuffled his feet. One more
effort he made, a sudden, vicious jerk, as though he would do the thing
quickly and be finished with it; then he shivered, his resolution broke,
and he shambled evasively to the door.

"God damn," he muttered. At the door he turned for an instant, swore
again in the same words, and went out into the night.

To Stott, moodily pacing the Common, this thing was incomprehensible,
some horrible infraction of the law of normal life, something to be
condemned; altered, if possible. It was unprecedented, and it was,
therefore, wrong, unnatural, diabolical, a violation of the sound
principles which uphold human society.

To Ellen Mary it was merely a miracle, the foreshadowing of greater
miracles to come. And to her was manifested, also, a minor miracle, for
when his father had gone the child looked at his mother and gave out his
first recorded utterance.

"'Oo is God?" he said.

Ellen Mary tried to explain, but before she had stammered out many
words, her son abstracted his gaze, climbed down out of the chair, and
intimated with his usual grunt that he desired his bath and his bed.

II

The depths of Stott were stirred that night. He had often said that "he
wouldn't stand it much longer," but the words were a mere formula: he
had never even weighed their intention. As he paced the Common he
muttered them again to the night, with new meaning: he saw new
possibilities, and saw that they were practicable. "I've 'ad enough,"
was his new phrase, and he added another that evidenced his new
attitude. "Why not?" he said again and again. "And why not?"

Stott's mind was not analytical. He did not examine his problem, weigh
this and that and draw a balanced deduction. He merely saw a picture of
peace and quiet, in a room at Ailesworth, in convenient proximity to his
work (he made an admirable groundsman and umpire, his work absorbed him)
and, perhaps, he conceived some dim ideal of pleasant evenings spent in
the companionship of those who thought in the same terms as himself;
whose speech was of form, averages, the preparation of wickets, and all
the detail of cricket; who shared in his one interest.

Stott's ambition to have a son and to teach him the mysteries of his
father's success had been dwindling for some time past. On this night it
was finally put aside. Stott's "I've 'ad enough" may be taken to include
that frustrated ideal. No more experiments for him was the pronouncement
that summed up his decision.

Still there were difficulties Economically he was free, he could allow
his wife thirty shillings a week, more than enough for her support and
that of her child; but--what would she say, how would she take his
determination? A determination it was, not a proposal. And the
neighbours, what would they say? Stott anticipated a fuss. "She'll say
I've married 'er, and it's my duty to stay by 'er," was his anticipation
of his wife's attitude. He did not profess to understand the ways of the
sex, but some rumours of misunderstandings between husbands and wives of
his own class had filtered through his absorption in cricket.

He stumbled home with a mind prepared for dissension.

He found his wife stitching by the fire. The door at the foot of the
stairs was closed. The room presented an aspect of cleanly, cheerful
comfort; but Stott entered with dread, not because he feared to meet his
wife, but because there was a terror sleeping in that house.

His arm-chair was empty now, but he hesitated before he sat down in it.
He took off his cap and rubbed the seat and back of the chair
vigorously: a child of evil had polluted it, the chair might still hold
enchantment...

"'I've 'ad enough," was his preface, and there was no need for any
further explanation.

Ellen Mary let her hands fall into her lap, and stared dreamily at the
fire.

"I'm sorry it's come to this, George," she said, "but it 'asn't been my
fault no more'n it's been your'n. Of course I've seen it a-comin', and I
knowed it 'ad to be, some time; but I don't think there need be any 'ard
words over it. I don't expec' you to understand 'im, no more'n I do
myself--it isn't in nature as you should, but all said and done, there's
no bones broke, and if we 'ave to part, there's no reason as we
shouldn't part peaceable."

That speech said nearly everything. Afterwards it was only a question of
making arrangements, and in that there was no difficulty.

Another man might have felt a little hurt, a little neglected by the
absence of any show of feeling on his wife's part, but Stott passed it
by. He was singularly free from all sentimentality; certain primitive,
human emotions seem to have played no part in his character. At this
moment he certainly had no thought that he was being carelessly treated;
he wanted to be free from the oppression of that horror upstairs--so he
figured it--and the way was made easy for him. He nodded approval, and
made no sign of any feeling.

"I shall go to-morrer," he said, and then, "I'll sleep down 'ere
to-night." He indicated the sofa upon which he had slept for so many
nights at Stoke, after his tragedy had been born to him.

Ellen Mary had said nearly everything, but when she had made up a bed
for her husband in the sitting-room, she paused, candle in hand, before
she bade him good night.

"Don't wish 'im 'arm, George," she said. "'E's different from us, and
we don't understand 'im proper, but some day--"

"I don't wish 'im no 'arm," replied Stott, and shuddered. "I don't wish
'im no 'arm," he repeated as he kicked off the boot he had been
unlacing.

"You mayn't never see 'im again," added Ellen Mary.

Stott stood upright. In his socks he looked noticeably shorter than his
wife. "I suppose not," he said, and gave a deep sigh of relief. "Well,
thank Gawd for that, anyway."

Ellen Mary drew her lips together. For some dim, unrealised reason she
wished her husband to leave the cottage with a feeling of goodwill
towards the child, but she saw that her wish was little likely to be
fulfilled.

"Well, good-night, George," she said after a few seconds of silence, and
she added pathetically, as she turned at the foot of the stairs: "Don't
wish 'im no harm."

"I won't," was all the assurance she received.

When she had gone and the door was closed behind her, Stott padded
silently to the window and looked out. A young moon was dipping into a
bank of cloud, and against the feeble brightness he could see an
uncertain outline of bare trees. He pulled the curtain across the window
and turned back to the warm cheerfulness of the room.

"Shan't never see 'im again," he murmured, "thank Gawd!" He undressed
quietly, blew out the lamp and got between the sheets of his improvised
bed. For some minutes he stared at the leaping shadows on the ceiling.
He was wondering why he had ever been afraid of the child. "After all,
'e's only a blarsted freak," was the last thought in his mind before he
fell asleep.

With that pronouncement Stott passes out of the history of the
Hampdenshire Wonder. He was in many ways an exceptional man, and his
name will always be associated with the splendid successes of
Hampdenshire cricket, both before and after the accident that destroyed
his career as a bowler. He was not spoiled by his triumphs: those two
years of celebrity never made Stott conceited, and there are undoubtedly
many traits in his character which call for our admiration. He is still
in his prime, an active agent in finding talent for his county, and in
developing that talent when found. Hampdenshire has never come into the
field with weak bowling, and all the credit belongs to Ginger Stott.

One sees that he was not able to appreciate the wonderful gifts of his
own son, but Stott was an ignorant man, and men of intellectual
attainment failed even as Stott failed in this respect. Ginger Stott was
a success in his own walk of life, and that fact should command our
admiration. It is not for us to judge whether his attainments were more
or less noble than the attainments of his son.

III

One morning, two days after Stott had left the cottage, Ellen Mary was
startled by the sudden entrance of her child into the sitting-room. He
toddled in hastily from the garden, and pointed with excitement through
the window.

Ellen Mary was frightened; she had never seen her child other than
deliberate, calm, judicial, in all his movements. In a sudden spasm of
motherly love she bent to pick him up, to caress him.

"No," said the Wonder, with something that approached disgust in his
tone and attitude. "No," he repeated. "What's 'e want 'angin' round
'ere? Send 'im off." He pointed again to the window.

Ellen Mary looked out and saw a grinning, slobbering obscenity at the
gate. Stott had scared the idiot away, but in some curious, inexplicable
manner he had learned that his persecutor and enemy had gone, and he had
returned, and had made overtures to the child that walked so sedately up
and down the path of the little garden.

Ellen Mary went out. "You be off," she said.

"A-ba, a-ba-ba," bleated the idiot, and pointed at the house.

"Be off, I tell you!" said Ellen Mary fiercely.

But still the idiot babbled and pointed.

Ellen Mary stooped to pick up a stick. The idiot blenched; he understood
that movement well enough, though it was a stone he anticipated, not a
stick; with a foolish cry he dropped his arms and slouched away down the
lane.

CHAPTER VII. HIS DEBT TO HENRY CHALLIS

I

CHALLIS was out of England for more than three years after that one
brief intrusion of his into the affairs of Mr. and Mrs. Stott. During
the interval he was engaged upon those investigations, the results of
which are embodied in his monograph on the primitive peoples of the
Melanesian Archipelago. It may be remembered that he followed Dr. W. H.
R. Rivers' and Dr. C. G. Seligmann's inquiry into the practice and
theory of native customs. Challis developed his study more particularly
with reference to the earlier evolution of Totemism, and he was able by
his patient work among the Polynesians of Tikopia and Ontong Java, and
his comparisons of those sporadic tribes with the Papuasians of Eastern
New Guinea, to correct some of the inferences with regard to the origins
of exogamy made by Dr. J. G. Frazer in his great work on that subject,
published some years before. A summary of Challis's argument may be
found in vol. li. of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

When he returned to England, Challis shut himself up at Chilborough. He
had engaged a young Cambridge man, Gregory Lewes, as his secretary and
librarian, and the two devoted all their time to planning, writing, and
preparing the monograph referred to.

In such circumstances it is hardly remarkable that Challis should have
completely forgotten the existence of the curious child which had
intrigued his interest nearly four years earlier, and it was not until
he had been back at Challis Court for more than eight months that the
incursion of Percy Crashaw revived his memory of the phenomenon.

The library at Challis Court occupies a suite of three rooms. The first
and largest of the three is part of the original structure of the house.
Its primitive use had been that of a chapel, a one-storey building
jutting out from the next wing. This Challis had converted into a very
practicable library with a continuous gallery running round at a height
of seven feet from the floor, and in it he had succeeded in arranging
some 20,000 volumes. But as his store of books grew--and at one period
it had grown very rapidly--he had been forced to build, and so he had
added first one and then the other of the two additional rooms which
became necessary. Outside, the wing had the appearance of an unduly
elongated chapel, as he had continued the original roof over his
addition, and copied the style of the old chapel architecture. The only
external alteration he had made had been the lowering of the sills of
the windows.

It was in the farthest of these three rooms that Challis and his
secretary worked, and it was from here that they saw the gloomy figure
of the Rev. Percy Crashaw coming up the drive.

This was the third time he had called. His two former visits had been
unrewarded, but that morning a letter had come from him, couched in
careful phrases, the purport of which had been a request for an
interview on a "matter of some moment." Challis frowned, and rose from
among an ordered litter of manuscripts.

"I shall have to see this man," he said to Lewes, and strode hastily
out of the library.

Crashaw was perfunctorily apologetic, and Challis, looking somewhat out
of place, smoking a heavy wooden pipe in the disused, bleak
drawing-room, waited, almost silent, until his visitor should come to
the point.

"... and the--er--matter of some moment, I mentioned," Crashaw mumbled
on, "is, I should say, not altogether irrelevant to the work you are at
present engaged upon."

"Indeed!" commented Challis, with a lift of his thick eyebrows, "no
Polynesians come to settle in Stoke, I trust?"

"On broad lines, relevant on broad, anthropological lines, I mean," said
Crashaw. Challis grunted. "Go on!" he said. "You may remember that
curious--er--abnormal child of the Stotts?" asked Crashaw.

"Stotts? Wait a minute. Yes! Curious infant with an abnormally
intelligent expression and the head of a hydrocephalic?"

Crashaw nodded. "Its development has upset me in a most unusual way,"
he continued. "I must confess that I am entirely at a loss, and I really
believe that you are the only person who can give me any intelligent
assistance in the matter."

"Very good of you," murmured Challis. "You see," said Crashaw, warming
to his subject and interlacing his fingers, "I happen, by the merest
accident, I may say, to be the child's godfather."

"Ah! you have responsibilities!" commented Challis, with the first glint
of amusement in his eyes.

"I have," said Crashaw, "undoubtedly I have." He leaned forward with his
hands still clasped together, and rested his forearms on his thighs. As
he talked he worked his hands up and down from the wrists, by way of
emphasis. "I am aware," he went on, "that on one point I can expect
little sympathy from you, but I make an appeal to you, nevertheless, as
a man of science and--and a magistrate; for ... for assistance."

He paused and looked up at Challis, received a nod of encouragement and
developed his grievance.

"I want to have the child certified as an idiot, and sent to an asylum."

"On what grounds?"

"He is undoubtedly lacking mentally," said Crashaw, "and his influence
is, or may be, malignant."

"Explain," suggested Challis.

For a few seconds Crashaw, paused intent on the pattern of the carpet,
and working his hands slowly. Challis saw that the man's knuckles were
white, that he was straining his hands together.

"He has denied God," he said at last with great solemnity.

Challis rose abruptly, and went over to the window; the next words were
spoken to his back.

"I have myself heard this infant of four years use the most abhorrent
blasphemy."

Challis had composed himself. "Oh! I say; that's bad," he said as he
turned towards the room again.

Crashaw's head was still bowed. "And whatever may be your own
philosophic doubts," he said, "I think you will agree with me that in
such a case as this something should be done. To me it is horrible, most
horrible."

"Couldn't you give me any details?" asked

Challis. "They are most repugnant to me," answered

Crashaw.

"Quite, quite! I understand. But if you want any assistance ... Or do
you expect me to investigate?"

"I thought it my duty, as his godfather, to see to the child's spiritual
welfare," said Crashaw, ignoring the question put to him, "although he
is not now one of my parishioners. I first went to Pym some few months
ago, but the mother interposed between me and the child. I was not
permitted to see him. It was not until a few weeks back that I met
him--on the Common; alone. Of course, I recognised him at once. He is
quite unmistakable."

"And then?" prompted Challis.

"I spoke to him, and he replied with, with--an abstracted air, without
looking at me. He has not the appearance in any way of a normal child. I
made a few ordinary remarks to him, and then I asked him if he knew his
catechism. He replied that he did not know the word 'catechism.' I may
mention that he speaks the dialect of the common people, but he has a
much larger vocabulary. His mother has taught him to read, it appears."

"He seems to have a curiously apt intelligence," interpolated Challis.

Crashaw wrung his clasped hands and put the comment on one side. "I then
spoke to him of some of the broad principles of the Church's teaching,"
he continued. "He listened quietly, without interruption, and when I
stopped he prompted me with questions."

"One minute!" said Challis. "Tell me; what sort of questions? That is
most important."

"I do not remember precisely," returned Crashaw, "but one, I think, was
as to the sources of the Bible. I did not read anything beyond simple
and somewhat unusual curiosity into those questions, I may say. ... I
talked to him for some considerable time--I dare say for more than an
hour..."

"No signs of idiocy, apparently, during all this?"

"I consider it less a case of idiocy than one of possession, maleficent
possession," replied Crashaw. He did not see his host's grim smile.
"Well, and the blasphemy?" prompted Challis. "At the end of my
intrusion, the child, still looking away from me, shook his head and
said that what I had told him was not true. I confess that I was
staggered. Possibly I lost my temper, somewhat. I may have grown rather
warm in my speech. And at last..." Crashaw clenched his hands and spoke
in such a low voice that Challis could hardly hear him. "At last he
turned to me and said things which I could not possibly repeat, which I
pray that I may never hear again from the mouth of any living being."

"Profanities, obscenities, er--swear-words," suggested Challis.

"Blasphemy, blasphemy" cried Crashaw. "Oh! I wonder that I did not
injure the child."

Challis moved over to the window again. For more than a minute there was
silence in that big, neglected-looking room. Then Crashaw's feelings
began to find vent in words, in a long stream of insistent
asseverations, pitched on a rising note that swelled into a diapason of
indignation. He spoke of the position and power of his Church, of its
influence for good among the uneducated, agricultural population among
which he worked. He enlarged on the profound necessity for a living
religion among the poorer classes; and on the revolutionary tendency
towards socialism, which would be encouraged if the great restraining
power of a creed that enforced subservience to temporal power was once
shaken. And, at last, he brought his arguments to a head by saying that
the example of a child of four years old, openly defying a minister of
the Church, and repudiating the very conception of the Deity, was an
example which might produce a profound effect upon the minds of a
slow-thinking people; that such an example might be the leaven which
would leaven the whole lump; and that for the welfare of the whole
neighbourhood it was an instant necessity that the child should be put
under restraint, his tongue bridled, and any opportunity to proclaim his
blasphemous doctrines forcibly denied to him. Long before he had
concluded, Crashaw was on his feet, pacing the room, declaiming, waving
his arms.

Challis stood, unanswering, by the window. He did not seem to hear; he
did not even shrug his shoulders. Not till Crashaw had brought his
argument to a culmination, and boomed into a dramatic silence, did
Challis turn and look at him.

"But you cannot confine a child in an asylum on those grounds," he said;
"the law does not permit it."

"The Church is above the law," replied Crashaw.

"Not in these days," said Challis; "it is by law established!"

Crashaw began to speak again, but Challis waved him down. "Quite, quite.
I see your point," he said, "but I must see this child myself. Believe
me, I will see what can be done. I will, at least, try to prevent his
spreading his opinions among the yokels." He smiled grimly. "I quite
agree with you that that is a consummation which is not to be desired."

"You will see him soon?" asked Crashaw.

"To-day," returned Challis.

"And you will let me see you again, afterwards?"

"Certainly."

Crashaw still hesitated for a moment. "I might, perhaps, come with you,"
he ventured.

"On no account," said Chain's.

II

Gregory Lewes was astonished at the long absence of his chief; he was
more astonished when his chief returned.

"I want you to come up with me to Pym, Lewes," said Challis; "one of my
tenants has been confounding the rector of Stoke. It is a matter that
must be attended to."

Lewes was a fair-haired, hard-working young man, with a bent for science
in general that had not yet crystallised into any special study. He had
a curious sense of humour, that proved something of an obstacle in the
way of specialisation. He did not take Challis's speech seriously.

"Are you going as a magistrate?" he asked; "or is it a matter for
scientific investigation?"

"Both," said Challis. "Come along!"

"Are you serious, sir?" Lewes still doubted.

"Intensely. I'll explain as we go," said Challis.

It is not more than a mile and a half from Challis Court to Pym. The
nearest way is by a cart track through the beech woods, that winds up
the hill to the Common. In winter this track is almost impassable, over
boot-top in heavy mud; but the early spring had been fairly dry, and
Challis chose this route.

As they walked, Challis went through the early history of Victor Stott,
so far as it was known to him. "I had forgotten the child," he said; "I
thought it would die. You see, it is by way of being an extraordinary
freak of nature. It has, or had, a curious look of intelligence. You
must remember that when I saw it it was only a few months old. But even
then it conveyed in some inexplicable way a sense of power. Every one
felt it. There was Harvey Walters, for instance--he vaccinated it; I
made him confess that the child made him feel like a school-boy. Only,
you understand, it had not spoken then."

"What conveyed that sense of power?" asked Lewes.

"The way it had of looking at you, staring you out of countenance,
sizing you up and rejecting you. It did that, I give you my word; it did
all that at a few months old, and without the power of speech. Only, you
see, I thought it was merely a freak of some kind, some abnormality that
disgusted one in an unanalysed way. And I thought it would die. I
certainly thought it would die. I am most eager to see this new
development."

"I haven't heard. It confounded Crashaw, you say? And it cannot be more
than four or five years old now?"

"Four; four and a half," returned Challis, and then the conversation was
interrupted by the necessity of skirting a tiny morass of wet leaf-mould
that lay in a hollow.

"Confounded Crashaw? I should think so," Challis went on when they had
found firm going again. "The good man would not soil his devoted tongue
by any condescension to oratio recta, but I gathered that the child had
made light of his divine authority."

"Great Caesar!" ejaculated Lewes; "but that is immense. What did Crashaw
do--shake him?"

"No; he certainly did not lay hands on him at all. His own expression
was that he did not know how it was he did not do the child an injury.
That is one of the things that interest me enormously. That power I
spoke of must have been retained. Crashaw must have been blue with
anger; he could hardly repeat the story to me, he was so agitated. It
would have surprised me less if he had told me he had murdered the
child. That I could have understood, perfectly."

"It is, of course, quite incomprehensible to me, as yet," commented
Lewes.

When they came out of the woods on to the stretch of common from which
you can see the great swelling undulations of the Hampden Hills, Challis
stopped. A spear of April sunshine had pierced the load of cloud towards
the west, and the bank of wood behind them gave shelter from the cold
wind that had blown fiercely all the afternoon.

"It is a fine prospect," said Challis, with a sweep of his hand. "I
sometimes feel, Lewes, that we are over-intent on our own little narrow
interests. Here are you and I, busying ourselves in an attempt to throw
some light--a very little it must be--on some petty problems of the
origin of our race. We are looking downwards, downwards always; digging
in old muck-heaps; raking up all kinds of unsavoury rubbish to prove
that we are born out of the dirt. And we have never a thought for the
future in all our work--a future that may be glorious, who knows? Here,
perhaps in this village, insignificant from most points of view, but set
in a country that should teach us to raise our eyes from the ground;
here, in this tiny hamlet, is living a child who may become a greater
than Socrates or Shakespeare, a child who may revolutionise our
conceptions of time and space. There have been great men in the past who
have done that, Lewes; there is no reason for us to doubt that still
greater men may succeed them."

"No; there is no reason for us to doubt that," said Lewes, and they
walked on in silence towards the Stotts' cottage.

III

Chalk's knocked and walked in. They found Ellen Mary and her son at the
tea-table.

The mother rose to her feet and dropped a respectful curtsy. The boy
glanced once at Gregory Lewes and then continued his meal as if he were
unaware of any strange presence in the room.

"I'm sorry. I am afraid we are interrupting you," Challis apologised.
"Pray sit down, Mrs. Stott, and go on with your tea."

"Thank you, sir. I'd just finished, sir," said Ellen Mary, and remained
standing with an air of quiet deference.

Challis took the celebrated arm-chair, and motioned Lewes to the
window-sill, the nearest available seat for him. "Please sit down, Mrs.
Stott," he said, and Ellen Mary sat, apologetically.

The boy pushed his cup towards his mother and pointed to the teapot; he
made a grunting sound to attract her attention.

"You'll excuse me, sir," murmured Ellen Mary, and she refilled the cup
and passed it back to her son, who received it without any
acknowledgment. Challis and Lewes were observing the boy intently, but
he took not the least notice of their scrutiny. He discovered no trace
of self-consciousness; Henry Challis and Gregory Lewes appeared to have
no place in the world of his abstraction.

The figure the child presented to his two observers was worthy of
careful scrutiny.

At the age of four and a half years, the Wonder was bald, save for a few
straggling wisps of reddish hair above the ears and at the base of the
skull, and a weak, sparse down, of the same colour, on the crown. The
eyebrows, too, were not marked by any line of hair, but the eyelashes
were thick, though short, and several shades darker than the hair on the
skull.

The face is not so easily described. The mouth and chin were relatively
small, overshadowed by that broad cliff of forehead, but they were firm,
the chin well moulded, the lips thin and compressed. The nose was
unusual when seen in profile. There was no sign of a bony bridge, but it
was markedly curved and jutted out at a curious angle from the line of
the face. The nostrils were wide and open. None of these features
produced any effect of childishness; but this effect was partly achieved
by the contours of the cheeks, and by the fact that there was no
indication of any lines on the face.

The eyes nearly always wore their usual expression of abstraction. It
was very rarely that the Wonder allowed his intelligence to be exhibited
by that medium. When he did, the effect was strangely disconcerting,
blinding. One received an impression of extraordinary concentration: it
was as though for an instant the boy was able to give one a glimpse of
the wonderful force of his intellect. When he looked one in the face
with intention, and suddenly allowed one to realise, as it were, all the
dominating power of his brain, one shrank into insignificance, one felt
as an ignorant, intelligent man may feel when confronted with some
elaborate theorem of the higher mathematics. "Is it possible that any
one can really understand these things?" such a man might think with
awe, and in the same way see apprehended some vast, inconceivable
possibilities of mind-function when the Wonder looked at one with, as I
have said, intention.

He was dressed in a little jacket-suit, and wore a linen collar; the
knickerbockers, loose and badly cut, fell a little below the knees. His
stockings were of worsted, his boots clumsy and thick-soled, though
relatively tiny. One had the impression always that his body was fragile
and small, but as a matter of fact the body and limbs were, if anything,
slightly better developed than those of the average child of four and a
half years.

Challis had ample opportunity to make these observations at various
periods. He began them as he sat in the Stotts’ cottage. At first he did
not address the boy directly.

"I hear your son has been having a religious controversy with Mr.
Crashaw," was his introduction to the object of his visit.

"Indeed, sir!" Plainly this was not news to Mrs. Stott.

"Your son told you?" suggested Challis.

"Oh! no, sir, 'e never told me," replied Mrs. Stott, "'twas Mr. Crashaw.
'E's been 'ere several times lately."

Challis looked sharply at the boy, but he gave no sign that he heard
what was passing.

"Yes; Mr. Crashaw seems rather upset about it."

"I'm sorry, sir, but--"

"Yes; speak plainly," prompted Challis. "I assure you that you will have
no cause to regret any confidence you may make to me."

"I can't see as it's any business of Mr. Crashaw's sir, if you'll
forgive me for sayin' so."

He has been worrying you?"

"'E 'as, sir, but 'e..." she glanced at her son--she laid a stress on
the pronoun always when she spoke of him that differentiated its
significance--"'e 'asn't seen Mr. Crashaw again, sir."

Challis turned to the boy. "You are not interested in Mr. Crashaw, I
suppose?" he asked.

The boy took no notice of the question.

Challis was piqued. If this extraordinary child really had an
intelligence, surely it must be possible to appeal to that intelligence
in some way. He made another effort, addressing Mrs. Stott.

"I think we must forgive Mr. Crashaw, you know, Mrs. Stott. As I
understand it, your boy at the age of four years and a half has
defied--his cloth, if I may say so." He paused, and as he received no
answer, continued: "But I hope that the matter may be easily arranged."

"Thank you, sir," said Mrs. Stott. "It's very kind of you. I'm sure I'm
greatly obliged to you, sir."

"That's only one reason of my visit to you, however." Challis hesitated.
"I've been wondering whether I might not be able to help you and your
son in some other way. I understand that he has unusual power of--of
intelligence."

"Indeed 'e 'as, sir," responded Mrs. Stott.

"And he can read, can't he?"

"I've learned 'im what I could, sir: it isn't much."

"Well, perhaps I could lend him a few books."

Challis made a significant pause, and again he looked at the boy; but
there was no response, so he continued: "Tell me what he has read."

"We've no books, sir, and we never 'ardly see a paper now. All we 'ave
in the 'ouse is a Bible and two copies of Lillywhite's cricket annual as
my 'usband left be'ind."

Challis smiled. "Has he read those?" he

"The Bible 'e 'as, I believe," replied Mrs. Stott.

It was a conversation curious in its impersonality. Challis was
conscious of the anomaly that he was speaking in the boy's presence,
crediting him with a remarkable intelligence, and yet addressing a
frankly ignorant woman as though the boy was not in the room. Yet how
could he break that deliberate silence? It seemed to him as though there
must, after all, be some mistake; yet how account for Crashaw's story if
the boy were indeed an idiot?

With a slight show of temper he turned to the Wonder.

"Do you want to read?" he asked. "I have between forty and fifty
thousand books in my library. I think it possible that you might find
one or two which would interest you."

The Wonder lifted his hand as though to ask for silence. For a minute,
perhaps, no one spoke. All waited, expectant; Challis and Lewes with
intent eyes fixed on the detached expression of the child's face, Ellen
Mary with bent head. It was a strange, yet very logical question that
came at last:

"What should I learn out of all them books?" asked the Wonder. He did
not look at Challis as he spoke.

IV

Challis drew a deep breath and looked at Lewes. "A difficult question,
that, Lewes," he said.

Lewes lifted his eyebrows and pulled at his fair moustache. "If you take
the question literally," he muttered.

"You might learn--the essential part... of all the knowledge that has
been ...discovered by mankind," said Challis. He phrased his sentence
carefully, as though he were afraid of being trapped.

"Should I learn what I am?" asked the Wonder.

Challis understood the question in its metaphysical acceptation. He had
the sense of a powerful but undirected intelligence working from the
simple premises of experience; of a cloistered mind that had functioned
profoundly; a mind unbound by the tradition of all the speculations and
discoveries of man, the essential conclusions of which were contained in
that library at Challis Court.

"No!" said Challis, after a perceptible interval, "that you will not
learn from any books in my possession, but you will find grounds for
speculation."

"Grounds for speculation?" questioned the Wonder. He repeated the words
quite clearly.

"Material--matter from which you can--er--formulate theories of your
own," explained Challis.

The Wonder shook his head. It was evident that Challis's sentence
conveyed little or no meaning to him.

He got down from his chair and took up an old cricket cap of his
father's, a cap which his mother had let out by the addition of another
gore of cloth that did not match the original material. He pulled this
cap carefully over his bald head, and then made for the door.

At the threshold the strange child paused, and without looking at anyone
present said: "I'll coom to your library," and went out.

Challis joined Lewes at the window, and they watched the boy make his
deliberate way along the garden path and up the lane towards the fields
beyond.

"You let him go out by himself?" asked Challis.

"He likes to be in the air, sir," replied Ellen Mary.

"I suppose you have to let him go his own way?"

"Oh! yes, sir."

"I will send the governess cart up for him tomorrow morning," said
Challis, "at ten o'clock. That is, of course, if you have no objection
to his coming."

"'E said 'e'd coom, sir," replied Ellen Mary. Her tone implied that
there was no appeal possible against her son's statement of his wishes.

"His methods do not lack terseness," remarked Lewes, when he and Challis
were out of earshot of the cottage.

"His methods and manners are damnable," said Challis, "but--"

"You were going to say?" prompted Lewes.

"Well, what is your opinion?"

"I am not convinced, as yet," said Lewes.

"Oh, surely," expostulated Challis.

"Not from objective, personal evidence. Let us put Crashaw out of our
minds for the moment."

"Very well; go on, state your case."

"He has, so far, made four remarks in our presence," said Lewes,
gesticulating with his walking stick. "Two of them can be neglected; his
repetition of your word, which he did not understand, and his
condescending promise to study your library."

"Yes, I'm with you so far."

"Now, putting aside the preconception with which we entered the cottage,
was there really anything in the other two remarks? Were they not the
type of simple, unreasoning questions which one may often hear from the
mouth of a child of that age? 'What shall I learn from your books?'
Well, it is the natural question of the ignorant child, who has no
conception of the contents of books, no experience which would furnish
material for his imagination."

"Well?"

"The second remark is more explicable still. It is a remark we all make
in childhood, in some form or another. I remember quite well at the age
of six or seven asking my mother: 'Which is me, my soul or my body?' I
was brought up on the Church catechism. But you at once accepted these
questions--which, I maintain, were questions possible in the mouth of a
simple, ignorant child--in some deep, metaphysical acceptation. Don't
you think, sir, we should wait for further evidence before we attribute
any phenomenal intelligence to this child?"

"Quite the right attitude to take, Lewes--the scientific attitude,"
replied Challis. "Let's go by the lane," he added as they reached the
entrance to the wood.

For some few minutes they walked in silence; Challis with his head down,
his heavy shoulders humped. His hands were clasped behind him, dragging
his stick as it were a tail, which he occasionally cocked. He walked
with a little stumble now and again, his eyes on the ground. Lewes
strode with a sure foot, his head up, and he slashed at the tangle of
last year's growth on the bank whenever he passed some tempting butt for
the sword-play of his stick.

"Do you think, then," said Challis at last, "that much of the
atmosphere--you must have marked the atmosphere--of the child's
personality, was a creation of our own minds, due to our
preconceptions?"

"Yes, I think so," Lewes replied, a touch of defiance in his tone.

"Isn't that what you want to believe?" asked Challis.

Lewes hit at a flag of dead bracken and missed. "You mean...?" he
prevaricated.

"I mean that that is a much stronger influence than any preconception,
my dear Lewes. I'm no pragmatist, as you know; but there can be no doubt
that with the majority of us the wish to believe a thing is true
constitutes the truth of that thing for us. And that is, in my opinion,
the wrong attitude for either scientist or philosopher. Now, in the case
we are discussing, I suppose, at bottom I should like to agree with you.
One does not like to feel that a child of four and a half has greater
intellectual powers than oneself. Candidly, I do not like it at all."

"Of course not! But I can't think that--"

"You can if you try; you would at once if you wished to," returned
Challis, anticipating the completion of Lewes's sentence.

"I'll admit that there are some remarkable facts in the case of this
child," said Lewes, "but I do not see why we should, as yet, take the
whole proposition for granted."

"No! I am with you there," returned Challis. And no more was said until
they were nearly home.

Just before they turned into the drive, however, Challis stopped. "Do
you know, Lewes," he said, "I am not sure that I am doing a wise thing
in bringing that child here!"

Lewes did not understand. "No, sir? Why not?" he asked.

"Why, think of the possibilities of that child, if he has all the powers
I credit him with," said Challis. "Think of his possibilities for
original thought if he is kept away from all the traditions of this
futile learning." He waved an arm in the direction of the elongated
chapel.

"Oh! but surely," remonstrated Lewes, "that is a necessary groundwork.
Knowledge is built up step by step."

"Is it? I wonder. I sometimes doubt," said Challis. "Yes, I sometimes
doubt whether we have ever learned anything at all that is worth
knowing. And, perhaps, this child, if he were kept away from
books...However, the thing is done now, and in any case he would never
have been able to dodge the school attendance officer."

CHAPTER VIII. HIS FIRST VISIT TO CHALLIS COURT

I

"SHALL YOU be able to help me in collating your notes of the Tikopia
observations this morning, sir?" Lewes asked. He rose from the
breakfast-table and lit a cigarette. There was no ceremony between
Challis and his secretary.

"You forget our engagement for ten o'clock," said Challis.

"Need that distract us?"

"It need not, but doesn't it seem to you that it may furnish us with
valuable material?"

"Hardly pertinent, sir, is it?"

"What line do you think of taking up, Lewes?" asked Challis with
apparent irrelevance.

"With regard to this--this phenomenon?"

"No, no. I was speaking of your own ambitions." Challis had sauntered
over to the window; he stood, with his back to Lewes, looking out at the
blue and white of the April sky.

Lewes frowned. He did not understand the gist of the question. "I
suppose there is a year's work on this book before me yet," he said.

"Quite, quite," replied Challis, watching a cloud shadow swarm up the
slope of Deane Hill. "Yes, certainly a year's work. I was thinking of
the future."

"I have thought of laboratory work in connection with psychology," said
Lewes, still puzzled.

"I thought I remembered you saying something of the kind," murmured
Challis absently. "We are going to have more rain. It will be a late
spring this year."

"Had the question any bearing on our engagement of this morning?" Lewes
was a little anxious, uncertain whether this inquiry as to his future
had not some particular significance; a hint, perhaps, that his services
would not be required much longer.

"Yes; I think it had," said Challis. "I saw the governess cart go up the
road a few minutes since."

"I suppose the boy will be here in a quarter of an hour?" said Lewes by
way of keeping up the conversation. He was puzzled; he did not know
Challis in this mood. He did not conceive it possible that Challis could
be nervous about the arrival of so insignificant a person as this Stott
child.

"It's all very ridiculous," broke out Challis suddenly; and he turned
away from the window, and joined Lewes by the fire. "Don't you think
so?"

"I'm afraid I don't follow you, sir."

Challis laughed. "I'm not surprised," he said; "I was a trifle
inconsecutive. But I wish you were more interested in this child, Lewes.
The thought of him engrosses me, and yet I don't want to meet him. I
should be relieved to hear that he wasn't coming. Surely you, as a
student of psychology..." he broke off with a lift of his heavy
shoulders.

"Oh! Yes! I am interested, certainly, as you say, as a student of
psychology. We ought to take some measurements. The configuration of the
skull is not abnormal otherwise than in its relation to the development
of the rest of his body, but..." Lewes meandered off into somewhat
abstruse speculation with regard to the significance of the craniology.

Challis nodded his head and murmured: "Quite, quite," occasionally. He
seemed glad that Lewes should continue to talk.

The lecture was interrupted by the appearance of the governess cart.

"By Jove, he has come," ejaculated Challis in the middle of one of
Lewes's periods. "You'll have to see me through this, my boy. I'm damned
if I know how to take the child."

Lewes flushed, annoyed at the interruption of his lecture. He had
believed that he had been interesting. "Curse the kid," was the thought
in his mind as he followed Challis to the window.

II

Jessop, the groom deputed to fetch the Wonder from Pym, looked a little
uneasy, perhaps a little scared. When he drew up at the porch, the child
pointed to the door of the cart and indicated that it was to be opened
for him. He was evidently used to being waited upon. When this command
had been obeyed, he descended deliberately and then pointed to the front
door.

"Open!" he said clearly, as Jessop hesitated. The Wonder knew nothing of
bells or ceremony.

Jessop came down from the cart and rang.

The butler opened the door. He was an old servant and accustomed to his
master's eccentricities, but he was not prepared for the vision of that
strange little figure, with a large head in a parti-coloured
cricket-cap, an apparition that immediately walked straight by him into
the hall, and pointed to the first door he came to.

"Oh, dear! Well, to be sure," gasped Heathcote. "Why, whatever--"

"Open!" commanded the Wonder, and Heathcote obeyed, weak-kneed.

The door chanced to be the right one, the door of the breakfast-room,
and the Wonder walked in, still wearing his cap.

Challis came forward to meet him with a conventional greeting. "I'm glad
you were able to come..." he began, but the child took no notice; he
looked rapidly round the room, and not finding what he wanted, signified
his desire by a single word.

"Books," he said, and looked at Challis.

Heathcote stood at the door, hesitating between amazement and
disapproval. "I've never seen the like," was how he phrased his
astonishment later, in the servants' hall, "never in all my born days.
To see that melon-'eaded himp in a cricket-cap ordering the master
about. Well there "

"Jessop says he fair got the creeps drivin' 'im over," said the cook.
"'E says the child's not right in 'is 'ead."

Much embroidery followed in the servants' hall.

INTERLUDE

This brief history of the Hampdenshire Wonder is marked by a stereotyped
division into three parts, an arbitrary arrangement dependent on the
experience of the writer. The true division becomes manifest at this
point. The life of Victor Stott was cut into two distinct sections,
between which there is no correlation. The first part should tell the
story of his mind during the life of experience, the time occupied in
observation of the phenomena of life presented to him in fact, without
any specific teaching on the theories of existence and progress, or on
the speculation as to ultimate destiny. The second part should deal with
his entry into the world of books; into that account of a long series of
collated experiments and partly verified hypotheses we call science;
into the imperfectly developed system of inductive and deductive logic
which determines mathematics and philosophy; into the long, inaccurate
and largely unverifiable account of human blindness and error known as
history; and into the realm of idealism, symbol, and pitiful pride we
find in the story of poetry, letters, and religion.

I will confess that I once contemplated the writing of such a history.
It was Challis who, in his courtly, gentle way, pointed out to me that
no man living had the intellectual capacity to undertake so profound a
work.

For some three months before I had this conversation with Challis, I had
been wrapped in solitude, dreaming, speculating. I had been uplifted in
thought, I had come to believe myself inspired as a result of my
separation from the world of men, and of the deep introspection and
meditation in which I had been plunged. I had arrived at a point,
perhaps not far removed from madness, at which I thought myself capable
of setting out the true history of Victor Stott.

Challis broke the spell. He cleared away the false glamour which was
blinding and intoxicating me, and brought me back to a condition of
open-eyed sanity. To Challis I owe a great debt.

Yet at the moment I was sunk in depression. All the glory of my vision
had faded; the afterglow was quenched in the blackness of the night that
drew out of the east and fell from the zenith as a curtain of utter
darkness.

Again Challis came to my rescue. He brought me a great sheaf of notes.

"Look here," he said, "if you can't write a true history of that strange
child, I see no reason why you should not write his story as it is known
to you, as it impinges on your own life. After all, you, in many ways,
know more of him than any one. You came nearest to receiving his
confidence."

"But only during the last few months," I said.

"Does that matter?" said Challis with an upheaval of his shoulders--"shrug"
is far too insignificant a word for that mountainous humping. "Is
any biography founded on better material than you have at command?"

He unfolded his bundle of notes. "See here," he said, "here is some
magnificent material for you--first-hand observations made at the
time. Can't you construct a story from that?"

Even then I began to cast my story in a slightly biographical form. I
wrote half a dozen chapters, and read them to Challis.

"Magnificent, my dear fellow," was his comment, "magnificent; but no one
will believe it."

I had been carried away by my own prose, and with the natural vanity of
the author, I resented intensely his criticism.

For some weeks I did not see Challis again, and I persisted in my futile
endeavour, but always as I wrote that killing suggestion insinuated
itself: "No one will believe you." At times I felt as a man may feel who
has spent many years in a lunatic asylum, and after his release is for
ever engaged in a struggle to allay the doubts of a leering suspicion.

I gave up the hopeless task at last, and sought out Challis again.

"Write it as a story," he suggested, "and give up the attempt to carry
conviction."

And in that spirit, adopting the form of a story, I did begin, and in
that form I hope to finish.

But here as I reach the great division, the determining factor of Victor
Stott's life, I am constrained to pause and apologise. I have become
uncomfortably conscious of my own limitations, and the feeble, ephemeral
methods I am using. I am trifling with a wonderful story, embroidering
my facts with the tawdry detail of my own imagining.

I saw--I see--no other way.

This is, indeed, a preface, yet I prefer to put it in this place, since
it was at this time I wrote it.

On the Common a faint green is coming again like a mist among the
ash-trees, while the oak is still dead and bare. Last year the oak came
first.

They say we shall have a wet summer.

PART II. (continued) THE WONDER AMONG BOOKS

CHAPTER IX. HIS PASSAGE THROUGH THE PRISON OF KNOWLEDGE

I

CHALLIS LED the way to the library; Lewes, petulant and mutinous, hung
in the rear.

The Wonder, toddled forward, unabashed, to enter his new world. On the
threshold, however, he paused. His comprehensive stare took in a
sweeping picture of enclosing walls of books, and beyond was a vista of
further rooms, of more walls all lined from floor to ceiling with
records of human discovery, endeavour, doubt, and hope.

The Wonder stayed and stared. Then he took two faltering steps into the
room and stopped again, and, finally, he looked up at Challis with doubt
and question; his gaze was no longer quelling and authoritative, but
hesitating, compliant, perhaps a little childlike.

"'Ave you read all these?" he asked.

It was a curious picture. The tall figure of Challis, stooping, as
always, slightly forward; Challis, with his seaman's eyes and scholar's
head, his hands loosely clasped together behind his back, paying such
scrupulous attention to that grotesque representative of a higher
intellectuality, clothed in the dress of a villager, a patched
cricket-cap drawn down over his globular skull, his little arms hanging
loosely at his sides; who, nevertheless, even in this new, strange
aspect of unwonted humility bore on his face the promise of some
ultimate development which differentiated him from all other humanity,
as the face of humanity is differentiated from the face of its
prognathous ancestor.

The scene is set in a world of books, and in the background lingers the
athletic figure and fair head of Lewes, the young Cambridge
undergraduate, the disciple of science, hardly yet across the threshold
which divides him from the knowledge of his own ignorance.

"'Ave you read all these?" asked the Wonder.

"A greater part of them--in effect," replied Challis. "There is much
repetition, you understand, and much record of experiment which becomes,
in a sense, worthless when the conclusions are either finally accepted
or rejected."

The eyes of the Wonder shifted and their expression became abstracted;
he seemed to lose consciousness of the outer world; he wore the look
which you may see in the eyes of Jakob Schlesinger's portrait of the
mature Hegel, a look of profound introspection and analysis.

There was an interval of silence, and then the Wonder unknowingly gave
expression to a quotation from Hamlet. "Words," he whispered
reflectively, and then again "words."

II

Challis understood him. "You have not yet learned the meaning of words?"
he asked. The brief period--the only one recorded--of amazement and
submission was over. It may be that he had doubted during those few 
minutes of time whether he was well advised to enter into that world of
books, whether he would not by so doing stunt his own mental growth. It
may be that the decision of so momentous a question should have been
postponed for a year--two years; to a time when his mind should have had
further possibilities for unlettered expansion. However that may be, he
decided now and finally. He walked to the table and climbed up on a
chair.

"Books about words," he commanded, and pointed at Challis and Lewes.

They brought him the latest production of the twentieth century in many
volumes, the work of a dozen eminent authorities on the etymology of the
English language, and they seated him on eight volumes of the
Encyclopedia Britannica (India paper edition) in order that he might
reach the level of the table.

At first they tried to show him how this wonderful dictionary should be
used, but he pushed them on one side, neither then nor at any future
time would he consent to be taught--the process was too tedious for him,
his mind worked more fluently, rapidly, and comprehensively than the
mind of the most gifted teacher that could have been found for him.

So Challis and Lewes stood on one side and watched him, and he was no
more embarrassed by their presence than if they had been in another
world, as, possibly, they were.

He began with volume one, and he read the title page and the
introduction, the list of abbreviations, and all the preliminary matter
in due order.

Challis noted that when the Wonder began to read, he read no faster than
the average educated man, but that he acquired facility at a most
astounding rate, and that when he had been reading for a few days his
eye swept down the column, as it were at a single glance.

Challis and Lewes watched him for, perhaps, half an hour, and then,
seeing that their presence was of an entirely negligible value to the
Wonder, they left him and went into the farther room.

"Well?" asked Challis, "what do you make of him?"

"Is he reading or pretending to read?" parried Lewes. "Do you think it
possible that he could read so fast? Moreover, remember that he has
admitted that he knows few words of the English language, yet he does
not refer from volume to volume; he does not look up the meanings of the
many unknown words which must occur in every definition."

"I know. I had noticed that."

"Then you think he is humbugging--pretending to read?"

"No; that solution seems to me altogether unlikely. He could not, for
one thing, simulate that look of attention. Remember, Lewes, the child
is not yet five years old."

"What is your explanation, then?"

"I am wondering whether the child has not a memory beside which the
memory of a Macaulay would appear insignificant."

Lewes did not grasp Challis's intention. "Even so..." he began.

"And," continued Challis, "I am wondering whether, if that is the case,
he is, in effect, prepared to learn the whole dictionary by heart, and,
so to speak, collate its contents later, in his mind."

"Oh! sir!" Lewes smiled. The supposition was too outrageous to be taken
seriously. "Surely, you can't mean that." There was something in Lewes's
tone which carried a hint of contempt for so far-fetched a hypothesis."

Challis was pacing up and down the library, his hands clasped behind
him. "Yes, I mean it," he said, without looking up. "I put it forward as
a serious theory, worthy of full consideration."

Lewes sneered. "Oh, surely not, sir," he said. Challis stopped and faced
him. "Why not, Lewes; why not?" he asked, with a kindly smile. "Think of
the gap which separates your intellectual powers from those of a
Polynesian savage. Why, after all, should it be impossible that this
child's powers should equally transcend our own? A freak, if you will,
an abnormality, a curious effect of nature's, like the giant
puff-ball--but still--"

"Oh! yes, sir, I grant you the thing is not impossible from a
theoretical point of view," argued Lewes, "but I think you are
theorising on altogether insufficient evidence. I am willing to admit
that such a freak is theoretically possible, but I have not yet found
the indications of such a power in the child."

Challis resumed his pacing. "Quite, quite," he assented; "your method is
perfectly correct--perfectly correct. We must wait."

At twelve o'clock Challis brought a glass of milk and some biscuits, and
set them beside the Wonder--he was at the letter "B."

"Well, how are you getting on?" asked Challis.

The Wonder took not the least notice of the question, but he stretched
out a little hand and took a biscuit and ate it, without looking up from
his reading.

"I wish he'd answer questions," Challis remarked to Lewes, later.

"I should prescribe a sound shaking," returned Lewes.

Challis smiled. "Well, see here, Lewes," he said, "I'll take the
responsibility; you go and experiment, go and shake him."

Lewes looked through the folding doors at the picture of the Wonder,
intent on his study of the great dictionary. "Since you've franked me,"
he said, "I'll do it--but not now. I'll wait till he gives me some
occasion."

"Good," replied Challis, "my offer holds ...and, by the way I have no
doubt that an occasion will present itself. Doesn't it strike you as
likely, Lewes, that we shall see a good deal of the child here?"

They stood for some minutes, watching the picture of that intent
student, framed in the written thoughts of his predecessors.

III

The Wonder ignored an invitation to lunch; he ignored, also, the tray
that was sent in to him. He read on steadily till a quarter to six, by
which time he was at the end of "L," and then he climbed down from his
Encyclopaedia, and made for the door. Challis, working in the farther
room, saw him and came out to open the door.

"Are you going now?" he asked.

The child nodded.

"I will order the cart for you, if you will wait ten minutes," said
Challis.

The child shook his head. "It's very necessary to have air," he said.

Something in the tone and pronunciation struck Challis, and awoke a long
dormant memory. The sentence spoken, suddenly conjured up a vision of
the Stotts' cottage at Stoke, of the Stotts at tea, of a cradle in the
shadow, and of himself, sitting in an uncomfortable arm-chair and
swinging his stick between his knees. When the child had gone--walking
deliberately, and evidently regarding the mile and a half walk through
the twilight wood and over the deserted Common as a trivial incident in
the day's business--Challis set himself to analyse that curious
association.

As he strolled back across the hall to the library, he tried to
reconstruct the scene of the cottage at Stoke, and to recall the outline
of the conversation he had had with the Stotts.

"Lewes!" he said, when he reached the room in which his secretary was
working, "Lewes, this is curious," and he described the associations
called up by the child's speech. "The curious thing is," he continued,
"that I had gone to advise Mrs. Stott to take a cottage at Pym, because
the Stoke villagers were hostile, in some way, and she did not care to
take the child out in the street. It is more than probable that I used
just those words, 'It is very necessary to have air,' very probable.
Now, what about my memory theory? The child was only six months old at
that time."

Lewes appeared unconvinced. "There is nothing very unusual in the
sentence," he said.

"Forgive me," replied Challis, "I don't agree with you. It is not
phrased as a villager would phrase it, and, as I tell you, it was not
spoken with the local accent."

"You may have spoken the sentence to-day," suggested Lewes.

"I may, of course, though I don't remember saying anything of the sort,
but that would not account for the curiously vivid association which was
conjured up."

Lewes pursed his lips. "No, no, no," he said. "But that is hardly ground
for argument, is it?"

"I suppose not," returned Challis thoughtfully; "but when you take up
psychology, Lewes, I should much like you to specialise in a careful
inquiry into association in connection with memory. I feel certain that
if one can reproduce, as nearly as may be, any complex sensation one has
experienced, no matter how long ago, one will stimulate what I may call
an abnormal memory of all the associations connected with that
experience. Just now I saw the interior of that room in the Stotts'
cottage so clearly that I had an image of a dreadful oleograph of
Disraeli hanging on the wall. But, now, I cannot for the life of me
remember whether there was such an oleograph or not. I do not remember
noticing it at the time."

"Yes, that's very interesting," replied Lewes. "There is certainly a
wide field for research in that direction."

"You might throw much light on our mental processes," replied Challis.

*It was as the outcome of this conversation that Gregory Lewes did, two
years afterwards, take up this line of study. The only result up to the
present time is his little brochure Reflexive Associations, which has
hardly added to our knowledge of the subject.

IV

Challis's anticipation that he and Lewes would be greatly favoured by
the Wonder's company was fully realised.

The child put in an appearance at half-past nine the next morning, just
as the governess cart was starting out to fetch him. When he was
admitted he went straight to the library, climbed on to the chair, upon
which the volumes of the Encyclopaedia still remained, and continued his
reading where he had left off the previous evening.

He read steadily throughout the day without giving utterance to speech
of any kind.

Challis and Lewes went out in the afternoon, and left the child deep in
study. They came in at five o'clock, and went to the library. The
Wonder, however, was not there.

Challis rang the bell.

"Has little Stott gone?" he asked when Heathcote came.

"I 'aven't seen 'im, sir," said Heathcote.

"Just find out if anyone opened the door for him, will you?" said
Challis. "He couldn't possibly have opened that door for himself."

"No one 'asn't let Master Stott hout, sir," Heathcote reported on his
return.

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure, sir. I've made full hinquiries," said Heathcote with
dignity.

"Well, we'd better find him," said Challis.

"The window is open," suggested Lewes.

"He would hardly..." began Challis, walking over to the low sill of the
open window, but he broke off in his sentence and continued, "By Jove,
he did, though; look here!"

It was, indeed, quite obvious that the Wonder had made his exit by the
window; the tiny prints of his feet were clearly marked in the mould of
the flower-bed; he had, moreover, disregarded all results of early
spring floriculture.

"See how he has smashed those daffodils," said Lewes. "What an
infernally cheeky little brute he is!"

"What interests me is the logic of the child," returned Challis. "I
would venture to guess that he wasted no time in trying to attract
attention. The door was closed, so he just got out of the window. I
rather admire the spirit; there is something Napoleonic about him. Don't
you think so?"

Lewes shrugged his shoulders. Heathcote's expression was quite
non-committal.

"You'd better send Jessop up to Pym, Heathcote," said Challis. "Let him
find out whether the child is safe at home."

Jessop reported an hour afterwards that Master Stott had arrived home
quite safely, and Mrs. Stott was much obliged.

V

"What can I give that child to read to-day?" asked Challis at breakfast
next morning.

"I should reverse the arrangement; let him sit on the Dictionary and
read the Encyclopaedia." Lewes always approached the subject of the
Wonder with a certain supercilious contempt.

"You are not convinced yet that he isn't humbugging?"

"No! Frankly, I'm not."

"Well, well, we must wait for more evidence, before we argue about it,"
said Challis, but they sat on over the breakfast-table, waiting for the
child to put in an appearance, and their conversation hovered over the
topic of his intelligence.

"Half-past ten?" Challis ejaculated at last, with surprise. "We are
getting into slack habits, Lewes." He rose and rang the bell.

"Apparently the Stott infant has had enough of it," suggested Lewes.
"Perhaps he has exhausted the interest of dictionary illustrations."

"We shall see," replied Challis, and then to a deferentially appearing
Heathcote he said: "Has Master Stott come this morning?"

"No, sir. Leastways, no one 'asn't let 'im in, sir."

"It may be that he is mentally collating the results of the past two
days' reading," said Challis, as he and Lewes made their way to the
library.

"Oh!" was all Lewes's reply, but it conveyed much of impatient contempt
for his employer's attitude.

Challis only smiled.

When they entered the library they found the Wonder hard at work, and he
had, of his own initiative, adopted the plan ironically suggested by
Lewes, for he had succeeded in transferring the Dictionary volumes to
the chair, and he was deep in volume one, of the eleventh edition of the
Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The library was never cleared up by any one except Challis or his
deputy, but an early housemaid had been sent to dust, and she had left
the casement of one of the lower lights of the window open. The means of
the Wonder's entrance was thus clearly in evidence.

"It's Napoleonic," murmured Challis.

"It's most infernal cheek," returned Lewes in a loud voice, "I should
not be at all surprised if that promised shaking were not administered
to-day."

The Wonder took no notice. Challis says that on that morning his eyes
were travelling down the page at about the rate at which one could count
the lines.

"He isn't reading," said Lewes. "No one could read as fast as that, and
most certainly not a child of four and a half."

"If he would only answer questions..." hesitated Challis.

"Oh! of course he won't do that," said Lewes. "He's clever enough not to
give himself away."

The two men went over to the table and looked down over the child's
shoulder. He was in the middle of the article on algebra.

Lewes made a gesture. "Now do you believe he's humbugging?" he asked
confidently, and made no effort to modulate his voice.

Challis drew his eyebrows together. "My boy," he said, and laid his hand
lightly on Victor Stott's shoulder, "can you understand what you are
reading there?"

But no answer was vouchsafed. Challis sighed. "Come along, Lewes," he
said; "we must waste no more time."

Lewes wore a look of smug triumph as they went to the farther room, but
he was clever enough to refrain from expressing his triumph in speech.

VI

Challis gave directions that the window which the Wonder had found to be
his most convenient method of entry and exit should be kept open, except
at night; and a stool was placed under the sill inside the room, and a
low bench was fixed outside to facilitate the child's goings and
comings. Also, a little path was made across the flower-bed.

The Wonder gave no trouble. He arrived at nine o'clock every morning,
Sunday included, and left at a quarter to six in the evening. On wet
days he was provided with a waterproof which had evidently been made by
his mother out of a larger garment. This he took off when he entered the
room and left on the stool under the window.

He was given a glass of milk and a plate of bread-and-butter at twelve
o'clock; and except for this he demanded and received no attention.

For three weeks he devoted himself exclusively to the study of the
Encyclopaedia.

Lewes was puzzled.

Challis spoke little of the child during these three weeks, but he often
stood at the entrance to the farther rooms and watched the Wonder's eyes
travelling so rapidly yet so intently down the page. That sight had a
curious fascination for him; he returned to his own work by an effort,
and an hour afterwards he would be back again at the door of the larger
room. Sometimes Lewes would hear him mutter: "If he would only answer a
few questions..." There was always one hope in Challis's mind. He hoped
that some sort of climax might be reached when the Encyclopedia was
finished. The child must, at least, ask then for another book. Even if
he chose one for himself, his choice might furnish some sort of a test.

So Challis waited and said little; and Lewes was puzzled, because he was
beginning to doubt whether it were possible that the child could sustain
a pose so long. That, in itself, would be evidence of extraordinary
abnormality. Lewes fumbled in his mind for another hypothesis.

This reading craze may be symptomatic of some form of idiocy, was his
thought; "and I don't believe he does read," was the inevitable rider.

Mrs. Stott usually came to meet her son, and sometimes she would come
early in the afternoon and stand at the window watching him at his work;
but neither Challis nor Lewes ever saw the Wonder display by any sign
that he was aware of his mother's presence.

During those three weeks the Wonder held himself completely detached
from any intercourse with the world of men. At the end of that period he
once more manifested his awareness of the human factor in existence.

Challis, if he spoke little to Lewes of the Wonder during this time,
maintained a strict observation of the child's doings.

The Wonder began his last volume of the Encyclopaedia one Wednesday
afternoon soon after lunch, and on Thursday morning Challis was
continually in and out of the room watching the child's progress, and
noting his nearness to the end of the colossal task he had undertaken.

At a quarter to twelve he took up his old position in the doorway, and
with his hands clasped behind his back he watched the reading of the
last forty pages.

There was no slackening and no quickening in the Wonder's rate of
progress. He read the articles under "Z" with the same attention he had
given to the remainder of the work, and then, arrived at the last page,
he closed the volume and took up the Index.

Challis suffered a qualm; not so much on account of the possible
postponement of the crisis he was awaiting, as because he saw that the
reading of the Index could only be taken as a sign that the whole study
had been unintelligent. No one could conceivably have any purpose in
reading through an index.

And at this moment Lewes joined him in the doorway.

"What volume has he got to now?" asked Lewes.

"The Index," returned Challis.

Lewes was no less quick in drawing his inference than Challis had been.

"Well, that settles it, I should think," was Lewes's comment.

"Wait, wait," returned Challis.

The Wonder turned a dozen pages at once, glanced at the new opening,
made a further brief examination of two or three headings near the end
of the volume, closed the book, and looked up.

"Have you finished?" asked Challis.

The Wonder shook his head. "All this," he said--he indicated with a
small and dirty hand the pile of volumes that were massed round him--"
all this..." he repeated, hesitated for a word, and again shook his head
with that solemn, deliberate impressiveness which marked all his
actions.

Challis came towards the child, leaned over the table for a moment, and
then sat down opposite to him. Between the two protagonists hovered
Lewes, sceptical, inclined towards aggression.

"I am most interested," said Challis. "Will you try to tell me, my boy,
what you think of--all this?"

"So elementary ...inchoate ... a disjunctive ...patchwork," replied
the Wonder. His abstracted eyes were blind to the objective world of our
reality; he seemed to be profoundly analysing the very elements of
thought.

VII

Then that almost voiceless child found words. Heathcote's announcement
of lunch was waved aside, the long afternoon waned, and still that thin
trickle of sound flowed on.

The Wonder spoke in odd, pedantic phrases; he used the technicalities of
every science; he constructed his sentences in unusual ways, and often
he paused for a word and gave up the search, admitting that his meaning
could not be expressed through the medium of any language known to him.

Occasionally Challis would interrupt him fiercely, would even rise from
his chair and pace the room, arguing, stating a point of view, combating
some suggestion that underlay the trend of that pitiless wisdom which in
the end bore him down with its unanswerable insistence.

During those long hours much was stated by that small, thin voice which
was utterly beyond the comprehension of the two listeners; indeed, it is
doubtful whether even Challis understood a tithe of the theory that was
actually expressed in words.

As for Lewes, though he was at the time nonplussed, quelled, he was in
the outcome impressed rather by the marvellous powers of memory
exhibited than by the far finer powers shown in the superhuman logic of
the synthesis.

One sees that Lewes entered upon the interview with a mind predisposed
to criticise, to destroy. There can be no doubt that as he listened his
uninformed mind was endeavouring to analyse, to weigh, and to oppose;
and this antagonism and his own thoughts continually interposed between
him and the thought of the speaker. Lewes's account of what was spoken
on that afternoon is utterly worthless.

Challis's failure to comprehend was not, at the outset, due to his
antagonistic attitude. He began with an earnest wish to understand: he
failed only because the thing spoken was beyond the scope of his
intellectual powers. But he did, nevertheless, understand the trend of
that analysis of progress; he did in some half-realised way apprehend
the gist of that terrible deduction of a final adjustment.

He must have apprehended, in part, for he fiercely combated the
argument, only to quaver, at last, into a silence which permitted again
that trickle of hesitating, pedantic speech, which was yet so
overwhelming, so conclusive.

As the afternoon wore on, however, Challis's attitude must have changed;
he must have assumed an armour of mental resistance not unlike the
resistance of Lewes. Challis perceived, however dimly, that life would
hold no further pleasure for him if he accepted that theory of origin,
evolution, and final adjustment; he found in this cosmogony no place for
his own idealism; and he feared to be convinced even by that fraction of
the whole argument which he could understand.

We see that Challis, with all his apparent devotion to science, was
never more than a dilettante. He had another stake in the world which,
at the last analysis, he valued more highly than the acquisition of
knowledge. Those means of ease, of comfort, of liberty, of opportunity
to choose his work among various interests, were the ruling influence of
his life. With it all Challis was an idealist, and unpractical. His
genial charity, his refinement of mind, his unthinking generosity,
indicate the bias of a character which inclined always towards a
picturesque optimism. It is not difficult to understand that he dared
not allow himself to be convinced by Victor Stott's appalling synthesis.

At last, when the twilight was deepening into night, the voice ceased,
the child's story had been told, and it had not been understood. The.
Wonder never again spoke of his theory of life. He realised from that
time that no one could comprehend him.

As he rose to go, he asked one question that, simple as was its
expression, had a deep and wonderful significance.

"Is there none of my kind?" he said. "Is this," and he laid a hand on
the pile of books before him, "is this all?"

"There is none of your kind," replied Challis; and the little figure
born into a world that could not understand him, that was not ready to
receive him, walked to the window and climbed out into the darkness.

Henry Challis is the only man who could ever have given any account of
that extraordinary analysis of life, and he made no effort to recall the
fundamental basis of the argument, and so allowed his memory of the
essential part to fade. Moreover, he had a marked disinclination to
speak of that afternoon or of anything that was said by Victor Stott
during those six momentous hours of expression. It is evident that
Challis's attitude to Victor Stott was not unlike the attitude of
Captain Wallis to Victor Stott's father on the occasion of
Hampdenshire's historic match with Surrey.

"This man will have to be barred," Wallis said. "It means the end of
cricket." Challis, in effect, thought that if Victor Stott were
encouraged, it would mean the end of research, philosophy, all the
mystery, idealism, and joy of life. Once, and once only, did Challis
give me any idea of what he had learned during that afternoon's
colloquy, and the substance of what Challis then told me will be found
at the end of this volume.

CHAPTER X. HIS PASTORS AND MASTERS

FOR MANY months after that long afternoon in the library, Challis was
affected with a fever of restlessness, and his work on the book stood
still. He was in Rome during May, and in June he was seized by a sudden
whim and went to China by the Trans-Siberian railway. Lewes did not
accompany him. Challis preferred, one imagines, to have no intercourse
with Lewes while the memory of certain pronouncements was still fresh.
He might have been tempted to discuss that interview, and if, as was
practically certain, Lewes attempted to pour contempt on the whole
affair, Challis might have been drawn into a defence which would have
revived many memories he wished to obliterate.

He came back to London in September--he made the return journey by
steamer--and found his secretary still working at the monograph on the
primitive peoples of Melanesia.

Lewes had spent the whole summer in Challis's town house in Eaton
Square, whither all the material had been removed two days after that
momentous afternoon in the library of Challis Court.

"I have been wanting your help badly for some time, sir," Lewes said on
the evening of Challis's return. "Are you proposing to take up the work
again? If not..." Gregory Lewes thought he was wasting valuable time.

"Yes, yes, of course; I am ready to begin again now, if you care to go
on with me," said Challis. He talked for a few minutes of the book
without any great show of interest. Presently they came to a pause, and
Lewes suggested that he should give some account of how his time had
been spent.

"To-morrow," replied Challis, "to-morrow will be time enough. I shall
settle down again in a few days." He hesitated a moment, and then said:
"Any news from Chilborough?"

"N-no, I don't think so," returned Lewes. He was occupied with his own
interests; he doubted Challis's intention to continue his work on the
book--the announcement had been so half-hearted.

"What about that child?" asked Challis.

"That child?" Lewes appeared to have forgotten the existence of Victor
Stott.

"That abnormal child of Stott's?" prompted Challis.

"Oh! Of course, yes. I believe he still goes nearly every day to the
library. I have been down there two or three times, and found him
reading. He has learned the use of the index-catalogue. He can get any
book he wants. He uses the steps."

"Do you know what he reads?"

"No; I can't say I do."

"What do you think will become of him?"

"Oh! these infant prodigies, you know," said Lewes with a large air of
authority, "they all go the same way. Most of them die young, of course,
the others develop into ordinary commonplace men rather under than over
the normal ability. After all, it is what one would expect. Nature
always maintains her average by some means or another. If a child like
this with his abnormal memory were to go on developing, there would be
no place for him in the world's economy. The idea is inconceivable."

"Quite, quite," murmured Challis, and after a short silence he added:
"You think he will deteriorate, that his faculties will decay
prematurely?"

"I should say there could be no doubt of it," replied Lewes.

"Ah! well. I'll go down and have a look at him, one day next week," said
Challis; but he did not go till the middle of October.

The direct cause of his going was a letter from Crashaw, who offered to
come up to town, as the matter was one of "really peculiar urgency."

"I wonder if young Stott has been blaspheming again," Challis remarked
to Lewes. "Wire the man that I'll go down and see him this afternoon. I
shall motor. Say I'll be at Stoke about half-past three."

Challis was ushered into Crashaw's study on his arrival, and found the
rector in company with another man--introduced as Mr. Forman--a
jolly-looking, high-complexioned man of sixty or so with, a great
quantity of white hair on his head and face; he was wearing an
old-fashioned morning-coat and grey trousers that were noticeably too
short for him.

Crashaw lost no time in introducing the subject of "really peculiar
urgency," but he rambled in his introduction.

"You have probably forgotten," he said "that last spring I had to bring
a most horrible charge against a child called Victor Stott, who has
since been living, practically, as I may say, under your aegis, that is,
he has, at least, spent a greater part of his day, er--playing in your
library at Challis Court."

"Quite, quite; I remember perfectly," said Challis. "I made myself
responsible for him up to a certain point. I gave him an occupation. It
was intended, was it not, to divert his mind from speaking against
religion to the yokels?"

"Quite a character, if I may say so," put in Mr. Forman cheerfully.

Crashaw was seated at his study table; the affair had something the
effect of an examining magistrate taking the evidence of witnesses.

"Yes, yes," he said testily; "I did ask your help, Mr. Challis, and I
did, in a way, receive some assistance from you. That is, the child has
to some extent been isolated by spending so much of his time at your
house."

"Has he broken out again?" asked Challis.

"If I understand you to mean has the child been speaking openly on any
subject connected with religion, I must say 'No,'" said Crashaw. "But he
never attends any Sunday school, or place of worship; he has received no
instruction in--er--any sacred subject, though I understand he is able
to read; and his time is spent among books which, pardon me, would not,
I suppose, be likely to give a serious turn to his thoughts."

"Serious?" questioned Challis.

"Perhaps I should say 'religious,'" replied Crashaw. "To me the two
words are synonymous."

Mr. Forman bowed his head slightly with an air of reverence, and nodded
two or three times to express his perfect approval of the rector's
sentiments.

"You think the child's mind is being perverted by his intercourse with
the books in the library where he--he--' plays' was your word, I
believe?"

"No, not altogether," replied Crashaw, drawing his eyebrows together.
"We can hardly suppose that he is able at so tender an age to read, much
less to understand, those works of philosophy and science which would
produce an evil effect on his mind. I am willing to admit, since I, too,
have had some training in scientific reading, that writers on those
subjects are not easily understood even by the mature intelligence."

"Then why, exactly, do you wish me to prohibit the child from coming to
Challis Court?"

"Possibly you have not realised that the child is now five years old?"
said Crashaw with an air of conferring illumination.

"Indeed! Yes. An age of some discretion, no doubt," returned Challis.

"An age at which the State requires that he should receive the elements
of education," continued Crashaw.

"Eh?" said Challis.

"Time he went to school," explained Mr. Forman. "I've been after him,
you know. I'm the attendance officer for this district."

Challis for once committed a breach of good manners. The import of the
thing suddenly appealed to his sense of humour: he began to chuckle and
then he laughed out a great, hearty laugh, such as had not been stirred
in him for twenty years.

"Oh! forgive me, forgive me," he said, when he had recovered his
self-control. "But you don't know; you can't conceive the utter,
childish absurdity of setting that child to recite the multiplication
table with village infants of his own age. Oh! believe me, if you could
only guess, you would laugh with me. It's so funny, so inimitably
funny."

"I fail to see, Mr. Challis," said Crashaw, "that there is anything in
any way absurd or--or unusual in the proposition."

"Five is the age fixed by the State," said Mr. Forman. He had relaxed
into a broad smile in sympathy with Challis's laugh, but he had now
relapsed into a fair imitation of Crashaw's intense seriousness.

"Oh! How can I explain?" said Challis. "Let me take an instance. You
propose to teach him, among other things, the elements of arithmetic?"

"It is part of the curriculum," replied Mr. Forman.

"I have only had one conversation with this child," went on Challis--and
at the mention of that conversation his brows drew together and he
became very grave again; "but in the course of that conversation this
child had occasion to refer, by way of illustration, to some abstruse
theorem of the differential calculus. He did it, you will understand, by
way of making his meaning clear--though the illustration was utterly
beyond me: that reference represented an act of intellectual
condescension."

"God bless me, you don't say so?" said Mr. Forman.

"I cannot see," said Crashaw, "that this instance of yours, Mr. Challis,
has any real bearing on the situation. If the child is a mathematical
genius--there have been instances in history, such as Blaise Pascal--he
would not, of course, receive elementary instruction in a subject with
which he was already acquainted."

"You could not find any subject, believe me, Crashaw, in which he could
be instructed by any teacher in a Council School."

"Forgive me, I don't agree with you," returned Crashaw. "He is sadly in
need of some religious training."

"He would not get that at a Council School," said Challis. and Mr.
Forman shook his head sadly, as though he greatly deprecated the fact.

"He must learn to recognise authority," said Crashaw. "When he has been
taught the necessity of submitting himself to all his governors,
teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters: ordering himself lowly and
reverently to all his betters; when, I say, he has learnt that lesson,
he may be in a fit and proper condition to receive the teachings of the
Holy Church."

Mr. Forman appeared to think he was attending divine service. If the
rector had said "Let us pray," there can be no doubt that he would
immediately have fallen on his knees.

Challis shook his head. "You can't understand, Crashaw," he said.

"I do understand," said Crashaw, rising to his feet, "and I intend to
see that the statute is not disobeyed in the case of this child, Victor
Stott."

Challis shrugged his shoulders; Mr. Forman assumed an expression of
stern determination.

"In any case, why drag me into it?" asked Challis.

Crashaw sat down again. The flush which had warmed his sallow skin
subsided as his passion died out. He had worked himself into a condition
of righteous indignation, but the calm politeness of Challis rebuked
him. If Crashaw prided himself on his devotion to the Church, he did not
wish that attitude to overshadow the pride he also took in the belief
that he was Challis's social equal. Crashaw's father had been a lawyer,
with a fair practice in Derby, but he had worked his way up to a
partnership from the position of office-boy, and Percy Crashaw seldom
forgot to be conscious that he was a gentleman by education and
profession.

"I did not wish to drag you into this business," he said quietly,
putting his elbows on the writing-table in front of him, and reassuming
the judicial attitude he had adopted earlier; "but I regard this child
as, in some sense, your protege." Crashaw put the tips of his fingers
together, and Mr. Forman watched him warily, waiting for his cue. If
this was to be a case for prayer, Mr. Forman was ready, with a clean
white handkerchief to kneel upon.

"In some sense, perhaps," returned Challis. "I haven't seen him for some
months."

"Cannot you see the necessity of his attending school?" asked Crashaw,
this time with an insinuating suavity; he believed that Challis was
coming round.

"Oh!" Challis sighed with a note of expostulation. "Oh! the thing's
grotesque, ridiculous."

"If that's so," put in Mr. Forman, who had been struck by a brilliant
idea, "why not bring the child here, and let the Reverend Mr. Crashaw,
or myself, put a few general questions to 'im?"

"Ye-es," hesitated Crashaw, "that might be done; but, of course, the
decision does not rest with us."

"It rests with the Local Authority," mused Challis. He was running over
three or four names of members of that body who were known to him.

"Certainly," said Crashaw, "the Local Education Authority alone has the
right to prosecute, but--" He did not state his antithesis. They
had come to the crux which Crashaw had wished to avoid. He had no weight
with the committee of the L.E.A., and Challis's recommendation would
have much weight. Crashaw intended that Victor Stott should attend
school, but he had bungled his preliminaries: he had rested on his own
authority, and forgotten that Challis had little respect for that
influence. Conciliation was the only card to play now.

"If I brought him, he wouldn't answer your questions," sighed Challis.
"He's very difficult to deal with."

"Is he, indeed?" sympathised Mr. Forman. "I've 'ardly seen 'im myself;
not to speak to, that is."

"He might come with his mother," suggested Crashaw.

Challis shook his head. "By the way, it is the mother whom you would
proceed against?" he asked.

"The parent is responsible," said Mr. Forman. "She will be brought
before a magistrate and fined for the first offence."

"I shan't fine her if she comes before me," replied Challis.

Crashaw smiled. He meant to avoid that eventuality.

The little meeting lapsed into a brief silence. There seemed to be
nothing more to say.

"Well," said Crashaw, at last, with a rising inflexion that had a
conciliatory, encouraging, now-my-little-man kind of air, "We-ll, of
course, no one wishes to proceed to extremes. I think, Mr. Challis, I
think I may say that you are the person who has most influence in this
matter, and I cannot believe that you will go against the established
authority both of the Church and the State. If it were only for the sake
of example."

Challis rose deliberately. He shook his head, and unconsciously his
hands went behind his back. There was hardly room for him to pace up and
down, but he took two steps towards Mr. Forman, who immediately rose to
his feet; and then he turned and went over to the window. It was from
there that he pronounced his ultimatum.

"Regulations, laws, religious and lay authorities," he said, "come into
existence in order to deal with the rule, the average. That must be so.
But if we are a reasoning, intellectual people we must have some means
of dealing with the exception. That means rests with a consensus of
intelligent opinion strong enough to set the rule upon one side. In an
overwhelming majority of cases there is no such consensus of opinion,
and the exceptional individual suffers by coming within the rule of a
law which should not apply to him. Now, I put it to you, as reasoning,
intelligent men" ('ear, 'ear, murmured Mr. Forman automatically), "are
we, now that we have the power to perform a common act of justice, to
exempt an unfortunate individual exception who has come within the rule
of a law that holds no application for him, or are we to exhibit a crass
stupidity by enforcing that law? Is it not better to take the case into
our own hands, and act according to the dictates of common sense?"

"Very forcibly put," murmured Mr. Forman.

"I'm not finding any fault with the law or the principle of the law,"
continued Challis; "but it is, it must be, framed for the average. We
must use our discretion in dealing with the exception--and this is an
exception such as has never occurred since we have had an Education
Act."

"I don't agree with you," said Crashaw, stubbornly. "I do not consider
this an exception."

"But you must agree with me, Crashaw. I have a certain amount of
influence and I shall use it."

"In that case," replied Crashaw, rising to his feet, "I shall fight you
to the bitter end. I am determined"--he raised his voice and struck the
writing-table with his fist--"I am determined that this infidel child
shall go to school. I am prepared, if necessary, to spend all my leisure
in seeing that the law is carried out."

Mr. Forman had also risen. "Very right, very right, indeed," he said,
and he knitted his mild brows and stroked his patriarchal white beard
with a simulation of stern determination.

"I think you would be better advised to let the matter rest," said
Challis.

Mr. Forman looked inquiringly at the representative of the Church.

"I shall fight," replied Crashaw, stubbornly, fiercely.

"Ha!" said Mr. Forman.

"Very well, as you think best," was Challis's last word.

As Challis walked down to the gate, where his motor was awaiting him,
Mr. Forman trotted up from behind and ranged himself alongside.

"More rain wanted yet for the roots, sir," he said. "September was a
grand month for 'arvest, but we want rain badly now."

"Quite, quite," murmured Challis, politely. He shook hands with Mr.
Forman before he got into the car.

Mr. Forman, standing politely bareheaded, saw that Mr. Challis's car
went in the direction of Ailesworth.

CHAPTER XI. HIS EXAMINATION

I

CHALLIS'S FIRST visit was paid to Sir Deane Elmer, that man of many
activities, whose name inevitably suggests his favourite phrase of
"Organised Progress"--with all its variants.

This is hardly the place in which to criticise a man of such diverse
abilities as Deane Elmer, a man whose name still figures so prominently
in the public press in connection with all that is most modern in
eugenics; with the Social Reform programme of the moderate party; with
the reconstruction of our penal system; with education, and so many
kindred interests; and, finally, of course, with colour photography and
process printing. This last Deane Elmer always spoke of as his hobby,
but we may doubt whether all his interests were not hobbies in the same
sense. He is the natural descendant of those earlier amateur
scientists--the adjective conveys no reproach--of the nineteenth
century, among whom we remember such striking figures as those of Lord
Avebury and Sir Francis Gallon.

In appearance Deane Elmer was a big, heavy, rather corpulent man, with a
high complexion, and his clean-shaven jowl and his succession of chins
hung in heavy folds. But any suggestion of material grossness was
contradicted by the brightness of his rather pale-blue eyes, by his
alertness of manner, and by his ready, whimsical humour.

As chairman of the Ailesworth County Council, and its most prominent
unpaid public official--after the mayor--Sir Deane Elmer was certainly
the most important member of the Local Authority, and Challis wisely
sought him at once. He found him in the garden of his comparatively
small establishment on the Quainton side of the town. Elmer was very
much engaged in photographing flowers from nature through the ruled
screen and colour filter--in experimenting with the Elmer process, in
fact; by which the intermediate stage of a coloured negative is rendered
unnecessary. His apparatus was complicated and cumbrous.

"Show Mr. Challis out here," he commanded the man who brought the
announcement.

"You must forgive me, Challis," said Elmer, when Challis appeared. "We
haven't had such a still day for weeks. It's the wind upsets us in this
process. Screens create a partial vacuum."

He was launched on a lecture upon his darling process before Challis
could get in a word. It was best to let him have his head, and Challis
took an intelligent interest.

It was not until the photographs were taken, and his two assistants
could safely be trusted to complete the mechanical operations, that
Elmer could be divorced from his hobby. He was full of jubilation. "We
should have excellent results," he boomed--he had a tremendous voice--"
but we shan't be able to judge until we get the blocks made. We do it
all on the spot. I have a couple of platens in the shops here; but we
shan't be able to take a pull until to-morrow morning, I'm afraid. You
shall have a proof, Challis. We should get magnificent results." He
looked benignantly at the vault of heaven, which had been so obligingly
free from any current of air.

Challis was beginning to fear that even now he would be allowed no
opportunity to open the subject of his mission. But quite suddenly Elmer
dropped the shutter on his preoccupation, and with that ready
adaptability which was so characteristic of the man, forgot his hobby
for the time being, and turned his whole attention to a new subject.

"Well?" he said, "what is the latest news in anthropology?"

"A very remarkable phenomenon," replied Challis. "That is what I have
come to see you about."

"I thought you were in Paraguay pigging it with the Guaranis--"

"No, no; I don't touch the Americas," interposed Challis. "I want all
your attention, Elmer. This is important."

"Come into my study,-" said Elmer, "and let us have the facts. What will
you have--tea, whisky, beer?"

Challis's resume of the facts need not be reported. When it was
accomplished, Elmer put several keen questions, and finally delivered
his verdict thus:

"We must see the boy, Challis. Personally I am, of course, satisfied,
but we must not give Crashaw opportunity to raise endless questions, as
he can and will. There is Mayor Purvis, the grocer, to be reckoned with,
you must remember. He represents a powerful Nonconformist influence.
Crashaw will get hold of him--and work him if we see Purvis first.
Purvis always stiffens his neck against any breach of conventional
procedure. If Crashaw saw him first, well and good, Purvis would
immediately jump to the conclusion that Crashaw intended some subtle
attack on the Nonconformist position, and would side with us."

"I don't think I know Purvis," mused Challis.

"Purvis and Co., in the Square," prompted Elmer. "Black-and-white
fellow; black moustache and side whiskers, black eyes and white face.
There's a suggestion of the Methodist pulpit about him. Doesn't appear
in the shop much, and when he does, always looks as if he'd sooner sell
you a Bible than a bottle of whisky."

"Ah, yes! I know," said Challis. "I dare say you're right, Elmer; but it
will be difficult to persuade this child to answer any questions his
examiners may put to him."

"Surely he must be open to reason," roared Elmer. "You tell me he has an
extraordinary intelligence, and in the next sentence you imply that the
child's a fool who can't open his mouth to serve his own interests.
What's your paradox?"

"Sublimated material. Intellectual insight, and absolute spiritual
blindness," replied Challis, getting to his feet. "The child has gone
too far in one direction--in another he has made not one step. His mind
is a magnificent, terrible machine. He has the imagination of a
mathematician and a logician developed beyond all conception, he has not
one spark of the imagination of a poet. And so he cannot deal with men;
he can't understand their weaknesses and limitations; they are geese and
hens to him, creatures to be scared out of his vicinity. However, I will
see what I can do. Could you arrange for the members of the Authority to
come to my place?"

"I should think so. Yes," said Elmer. "I say, Challis, are you sure
you're right about this child? Sounds to me like some--some freak."

"You'll see," returned Challis. "I'll try and arrange an interview. I'll
let you know."

"And, by the way," said Elmer, "you had better invite Crashaw to be
present. He will put Purvis's back up, and that'll enlist the difficult
grocer on our side probably."

When Challis had gone, Elmer stood for a few minutes, thoughtfully
scratching the ample red surface of his wide, clean-shaven cheek. "I
don't know," he ejaculated at last, addressing his empty study, "I don't
know." And with that expression he put all thought of Victor Stott away
from him, and sat down to write an exhaustive article on the necessity
for a broader basis in primary education.

II

Challis called at the rectory of Stoke-Underhill on his way back to his
own house.

"I give way," was the characteristic of his attitude to Crashaw, and the
rector suppled his back again, remembered the Derby office-boy's
tendency to brag, and made the amende honorable. He even overdid his
magnanimity and came too near subservience--so lasting is the influence
of the lessons of youth.

Crashaw did not mention that in the interval between the two interviews
he had called upon Mr. Purvis in the Square. The ex-mayor had refused to
commit himself to any course of action.

Challis forgot the rectory and all that it connoted before he was well
outside the rectory's front door. Challis had a task before him that he
regarded with the utmost distaste. He had warmly championed a cause; he
had been heated by the presentation of a manifest injustice which was
none the less tyrannical because it was ridiculous. But now he realised
that it was only the abstract question which had aroused his
enthusiastic advocacy, and he shrank from the interview with Victor
Stott--that small, deliberate, intimidating child.

Henry Challis, the savant, the man of repute in letters, the respected
figure in the larger world; Challis, the proprietor and landlord;
Challis, the power among known men, knew that he would have to plead, to
humble himself, to be prepared for a rebuff--worst of all, to
acknowledge the justice of taking so undignified a position. Any
aristocrat may stoop with dignity when he condescends of his own free
will; but there are few who can submit gracefully to deserved contempt.

Challis was one of the few. He had many admirable qualities.
Nevertheless, during that short motor ride from Stoke to his own house,
he resented the indignity he anticipated, resented it intensely--and
submitted.

III

He was allowed no respite. Victor Stott was emerging from the library
window as Challis rolled up to the hall door. It was one of Ellen Mary's
days--she stood respectfully in the background while her son descended;
she curtsied to Challis as he came forward.

He hesitated a moment. He would not risk insult in the presence of his
chauffeur and Mrs. Stott. He confronted the Wonder; he stood before him,
and over him like a cliff.

"I must speak to you for a moment on a matter of some importance," said
Challis to the little figure below him, and as he spoke he looked over
the child's head at the child's mother. "It is a matter that concerns
your own welfare. Will you come into the house with me for a few
minutes?"

Ellen Mary nodded, and Challis understood. He turned and led the way. At
the door, however, he stood aside and spoke again to Mrs. Stott. "Won't
you come in and have some tea, or something?" he asked.

"No, sir, thank you, sir," replied Ellen Mary; "I'll just wait 'ere till
'e's ready."

"At least come in and sit down," said Challis, and she came in and sat
in the hall. The Wonder had already preceded them into the house. He had
walked into the morning-room--probably because the door stood open
though he was now tall enough to reach the handles of the Challis Court
doors. He stood in the middle of the room when Challis entered.

"Won't you sit down?" said Challis.

The Wonder shook his head.

"I don't know if you are aware," began Challis, "that there is a system
of education in England at the present time, which requires that every
child should attend school at the age of five years, unless the parents
are able to provide their children with an education elsewhere."

The Wonder nodded.

Challis inferred that he need proffer no further information with regard
to the Education Act.

"Now, it is very absurd," he continued, "and I have, myself, pointed out
the absurdity; but there is a man of some influence in this
neighbourhood who insists that you should attend the elementary school."
He paused, but the Wonder gave no sign.

"I have argued with this man," continued Challis, "and I have also seen
another member of the Local Education Authority--a man of some note in
the larger world--and it seems that you cannot be exempted unless you
convince the Authority that your knowledge is such that to give you a
Council school education would be the most absurd farce."

"Cannot you stand in loco parentis!" asked the Wonder suddenly, in his
still thin voice.

"You mean," said Challis, startled by this outburst, "that I am in a
sense providing you with an education? Quite true; but there is Crashaw
to deal with."

"Inform him," said the Wonder.

Challis sighed. "I have," he said, "but he can't understand." And then,
feeling the urgent need to explain something of the motives that govern
this little world of ours--the world into which this strangely logical
exception had been born--Challis attempted an exposition.

"I know," he said, "that these things must seem to you utterly absurd,
but you must try to realise that you are an exception to the world about
you; that Crashaw or I, or, indeed, the greatest minds of the present
day, are not ruled by the fine logic which you are able to exercise. We
are children compared to you. We are swayed even in the making of our
laws by little primitive emotions and passions, self-interests, desires.
And at the best we are not capable of ordering our lives and our
government to those just ends which we may see, some of us are
abstractly right and fine. We are at the mercy of that great mass of the
people who have not yet won to an intellectual and discriminating
judgment of how their own needs may best be served, and whose
representatives consider the interests of a party, a constituency, and
especially of their own personal ambitions and welfare, before the needs
of humanity as a whole, or even the humanity of these little islands.

"Above all, we are divided man against man. We are split into parties
and factions, by greed and jealousies, petty spites and self-seeking, by
unintelligence, by education, and by our inability--a mental
inability--' to see life steadily and see it whole,' and lastly, perhaps
chiefly, by our intense egotisms, both physical and intellectual.

"Try to realise this. It is necessary, because whatever your wisdom, you
have to live in a world of comparative ignorance, a world which cannot
appreciate you, but which can and will fall back upon the compelling
power of the savage--the resort to physical, brute force."

The Wonder nodded. "You suggest ?" he said.

"Merely that you should consent to answer certain elementary questions
which the members of the Local Authority will put to you," replied
Challis. "I can arrange that these questions be asked here--in the
library. Will you consent?"

The Wonder nodded, and made his way into the hall, without another word.
His mother rose and opened the front door for him.

As Challis watched the curious couple go down the drive, he sighed
again, perhaps with relief, perhaps at the impotence of the world of
men.

IV

There were four striking figures on the Education Committee selected by
the Ailesworth County Council.

The first of these was Sir Deane Elmer, who was also chairman of the
Council at this time. The second was the vice-chairman, Enoch Purvis,
the ex-mayor, commonly, if incorrectly, known as "Mayor" Purvis.

The third was Richard Standing, J.P., who owned much property on the
Quainton side of the town. He was a bluff, hearty man, devoted to sport
and agriculture; a Conservative by birth and inclination, a staunch
upholder of the Church and the Tariff Reform movement.

The fourth was the Rev. Philip Steven, a co-opted member of the
Committee, head master of the Ailesworth Grammar School. Steven was a
tall thin man with bent shoulders, and he had a long, thin face, the
length of which was exaggerated by his square brown beard. He wore
gold-mounted spectacles which, owing to his habit of dropping his head,
always needed adjustment whenever he looked up. The movement of lifting
his head and raising his hand to his glasses had become so closely
associated, that his hand went up even when there was no apparent need
for the action. Steven spoke of himself as a Broad Churchman, and in his
speech on prize-day he never omitted some allusion to the necessity for
"marching" or "keeping step" with the times. But Elmer was inclined to
laugh at this assumption of modernity. "Steven," he said, on one
occasion, "marks time and thinks he is keeping step. And every now and
then he runs a little to catch up." The point of Elmer's satire lay in
the fact that Steven was usually to be seen either walking very slowly,
head down, lost in abstraction; or--when aroused to a sense of present
necessity--going with long strides as if intent on catching up with the
times without further delay. Very often, too, he might be seen running
across the school playground, his hand up to those elusive glasses of
his. "There goes Mr. Steven, catching up with the times," had become an
accepted phrase.

There were other members of the Education Committee, notably Mrs. Philip
Steven, but they were subordinate. If those four striking figures were
unanimous, no other member would have dreamed of expressing a contrary
opinion. But up to this time they had not yet been agreed upon any
important line of action.

This four, Challis and Crashaw met in the morning-room of Challis Court
one Thursday afternoon in early June. Elmer had brought a stenographer
with him for scientific purposes.

"Well," said Challis, when they were all assembled. "The--the subject--I
mean, Victor Stott is in the library. Shall we adjourn?" Challis had not
felt so nervous since the morning before he had sat for honours in the
Cambridge Senate House.

In the library they found a small child, reading.

He did not look up when the procession entered, nor did he remove his
cricket cap. He was in his usual place at the centre table.

Challis found chairs for the Committee, and the members ranged
themselves round the opposite side of the table. Curiously, the effect
produced was that of a class brought up for a viva voce examination, and
when the Wonder raised his eyes and glanced deliberately down the line
of his judges, this effect was heightened. There was an audible
fidgeting, a creak of chairs, an indication of small embarrassments.

"Her--um!" Deane Elmer cleared his throat with noisy vigour; looked at
the Wonder, met his eyes and looked hastily away again; "Hm!--her--rum!"
he repeated, and then he turned to Challis. "So this little fellow has
never been to school?" he said.

Challis frowned heavily. He looked exceedingly uncomfortable and
unhappy. He was conscious that he could take neither side in this
controversy--that he was in sympathy with no one of the seven other
persons who were seated in his library.

He shook his head impatiently in answer to Sir Deane Elmer's question,
and the chairman turned to the Rev. Philip Steven, who was gazing
intently at the pattern of the carpet.

"I think, Steven," said Elmer, "that your large experience will probably
prompt you to a more efficient examination than we could conduct. Will
you initiate the inquiry?"

Steven raised his head slightly, put a readjusting hand up to his
glasses, and then looked sternly at the Wonder over the top of them.
Even the sixth form quailed when the head master assumed this
expression, but the small child at the table was gazing out of the
window.

Doubtless Steven was slightly embarrassed by the detachment of the
examinee, and blundered. "What is the square root of 226?" he asked--he
probably intended to say 225.

"15-03329--to five places," replied the Wonder.

Steven started. Neither he nor any other member of the Committee was
capable of checking that answer without resort to pencil and paper.

"Dear me!" ejaculated Squire Standing.

Elmer scratched the superabundance of his purple jowl, and looked at
Challis, who thrust his hands into his pockets and stared at the
ceiling.

Crashaw leaned forward and clasped his hands together. He was biding his
time.

"Mayor" Purvis alone seemed unmoved.

"What's that book he's got open in front of him?" he asked.

"May I see?" interposed Challis hurriedly, and he rose from his chair,
picked up the book in question, glanced at it for a moment, and then
handed it to the grocer. The book was Van Yloten's Dutch text and Latin
translation of Spinoza's Short Treatise.

The grocer turned to the title-page.
"Ad-beany--dick--ti--de--Spy--nozer," he read aloud and then: "What's it
all about, Mr. Challis?" he asked. "German or something, I take it?"

"In any case it has nothing to do with elementary arithmetic," replied
Challis curtly, "Mr. Steven will set your mind at ease on that point."

"Certainly, certainly," murmured Steven.

Grocer Purvis closed the book carefully and replaced it on the desk.
"What does half a stone o' loaf sugar at two-three-farthings come to?"
he asked.

The Wonder shook his head. He did not understand the grocer's
phraseology.

"What is seven times two and three-quarters?" translated Challis.

"19 25," answered the Wonder.

"What's that in shillin's?" asked Purvis.

"1.60416."

"Wrong!" returned the grocer triumphantly.

"Er--excuse me, Mr. Purvis." interposed Steven, "I think not.
The--the--er--examinee has given the correct mathematical answer to five
places of decimals--that is, so far as I can check him mentally."

"Well, it seems to me," persisted the grocer, "as he's gone a long way
round to answer a simple question what any fifth-standard child could do
in his head. I'll give him another."

"Cast it in another form," put in the chairman. "Give it as a
multiplication sum."

Purvis tucked his fingers carefully into his waistcoat pockets. "I put
the question, Mr. Chairman," he said, "as it'll be put to the youngster
when he has to tot up a bill. That seems to be a sound and practical
form for such questions to be put in."

Challis sighed impatiently. "I thought Mr. Steven had been delegated to
conduct the first part of the examination," he said. "It seems to
me that we are wasting a lot of time."

Elmer nodded. "Will you go on, Mr. Steven?" he said.

Challis was ashamed for his compeers. "What children we are," he
thought.

Steven got to work again with various arithmetical questions, which were
answered instantly, and then he made a sudden leap and asked: "What is
the binomial theorem?"

"A formula for writing down the coefficient of any stated term in the
expansion of any stated power of a given binomial," replied the Wonder.

Elmer blew out his cheeks and looked at Challis, but met the gaze of Mr.
Steven, who adjusted his glasses and said, "I am satisfied under this
head."

"It's all beyond me," remarked Squire Standing frankly.

"I think, Mr. Chairman, that we've had enough theoretical arithmetic,"
said Purvis. "There's a few practical questions I'd like to put."

"No more arithmetic, then," assented Elmer, and Crashaw exchanged a
glance of understanding with the grocer.

"Now, how old was our Lord when He began His ministry?" asked the
grocer.

"Uncertain," replied the Wonder.

Mr. Purvis smiled. "Any Sunday-school child knows that!" he said.

"Of course, of course," murmured Crashaw.

But Steven looked uncomfortable. "Are you sure you understand the
purport of the answer, Mr. Purvis?" he asked.

"Can there be any doubt about it?" replied the grocer. "I asked how old
our Lord was when He began His ministry, and he"--he made an indicative
gesture with one momentarily released hand towards the Wonder--"and he
says he's 'uncertain.'"

"No, no," interposed Challis impatiently, "he meant that the answer to
your question was uncertain."

"How's that?" returned the grocer. "I've always understood--"

"Quite, quite," interrupted Challis. "But what we have always understood
does not always correspond to the actual fact."

"What did you intend by your answer?" put in Elmer quickly, addressing
the Wonder.

"The evidence rests mainly on Luke's Gospel," answered the Wonder, "but
the phrase 'Greek Text' is vague--it allows latitude in either
direction. According to the chronology of John's Gospel the age might
have been about thirty-two."

"It says 'thirty' in the Bible, and that's good enough for me," said the
grocer, and Crashaw muttered "Heresy, heresy," in an audible undertone.

"Sounds very like blarsphemy to me," said Purvis, "like doubtin' the
word of God. I'm for sending him to school."

Deane Elmer had been regarding the face of the small abstracted child
with considerable interest. He put aside for the moment the grocer's
intimation of his voting tendency.

"How many elements are known to chemists?" asked Elmer of the examinee.

"Eighty-one well characterised; others have been described," replied the
Wonder.

"Which has the greatest atomic weight?" asked Elmer.

"Uranium."

"And that weight is?"

"On the oxygen basis of 16--238-5."

"Extraordinary powers of memory," muttered Elmer, and there was silence
for a moment, a silence broken by Squire Standing, who, in a loud voice,
asked suddenly and most irrelevantly, "What's your opinion of Tariff
Reform?"

"An empirical question that cannot be decided from a theoretical basis,"
replied the Wonder.

Elmer laughed out, a great shouting guffaw. "Quite right, quite right,"
he said, his cheeks shaking with mirth. "What have you to say to that,
Standing?"

"I say that Tariff Reform's the only way to save the country," replied
Squire Standing, looking very red and obstinate, "and if this Government--"

Challis rose to his feet. "Oh! aren't you all satisfied?" he said. "Is
this Committee here to argue questions of present politics? What more
evidence do you need?"

"I'm not satisfied," put in Purvis resolutely, "nor is the Rev. Mr.
Crashaw, I fancy."

"He has no vote," said Challis. "Elmer, what do you say?"

"I think we may safely say that the child has been, and is being,
provided with an education elsewhere, and that he need not therefore
attend the elementary school," replied Elmer, still chuckling.

"On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, is that what you put to the
meeting?" asked Purvis.

"This is quite informal," replied Elmer. "Unless we are all agreed, the
question must be put to the full Committee."

"Shall we argue the point in the other room?" suggested Challis.

"Certainly, certainly," said Elmer. "We can return, if necessary."

And the four striking figures of the Education Committee filed out,
followed by Crashaw and the stenographer.

Challis, coming last, paused at the door and looked back.

The Wonder had returned to his study of Spinoza.

Challis waved a hand to the unconscious figure. "I must join my
fellow-children," he said grimly, "or they will be quarrelling."

VI

But when he joined his fellow-children, Challis stood at the window of
the morning-room, attending little to the buzz of voices and the clatter
of glasses which marked the relief from the restraint of the
examination-room. Even the stenographer was talking; he had joined
Crashaw and Purvis--a lemonade group; the other three were drinking
whisky. The division, however, is arbitrary, and in no way significant.

Challis caught a fragment of the conversation here and there: a
bull-roar from Elmer or Squire Standing; an occasional blatancy from
Purvis; a vibrant protest from Crashaw; a hesitating tenor pronouncement
from Steven.

"Extraordinary powers of memory... It isn't facts, but what they stand
for that I... Don't know his Bible--that's good enough for me.
...Heresy, heresy... A phenomenal memory, of course, quite phenomenal,
but--"

The simple exposition of each man's theme was dogmatically asserted, and
through it all Challis, standing alone, hardly conscious of each
individual utterance, was still conscious that the spirits of those six
men were united in one thing, had they but known it. Each was
endeavouring to circumscribe the powers of the child they had just
left--each was insistent on some limitation he chose to regard as vital.

They came to no decision that afternoon. The question as to whether the
Authority should prosecute or not had to be referred to the Committee.

At the last, Crashaw entered his protest and announced once more that he
would fight the point to the bitter end.

Crashaw's religious hatred was not, perhaps, altogether free from a
sense of affronted dignity, but it was nevertheless a force to be
counted; and he had that obstinacy of the bigot which as in the past
contributed much fire and food to the pyre of martyrdom. He had, too, a
power of initiative within certain limits. It is true that the bird on a
free wing could avoid him with contemptuous ease, but along his own path
he was a terrifying juggernaut. Crashaw, thus circumscribed, was a
power, a moving force.

But now he was seeking to crush, not some paralysed rabbit on the road,
but an elusive spirit of swiftness which has no name, but may be figured
as the genius of modernity. The thing he sought to obliterate ran ahead
of him with a smiling facility and spat rearwards a vaporous jet of
ridicule.

Crashaw might crash his clerical wideawake over his frowning eyebrows,
arm himself with a slightly dilapidated umbrella, and seek with long,
determined strides the members of the Local Education Authority, but far
ahead of him had run an intelligence that represented the instructed
common sense of modernity.

It was for Crashaw to realise--as he never could and never did
realise--that he was no longer the dominant force of progress; that he
had been outstripped, left toiling and shouting vain words on a road
that had served its purpose, and though it still remained and was used
as a means of travel, was becoming year by year more antiquated and
despised.

Crashaw toiled to the end, and no one knows how far his personal purpose
and spite were satisfied, but he could never impede any more that
elusive spirit of swiftness; it had run past him.

CHAPTER XII. FUGITIVE

MEANWHILE A child of five--all unconscious that he was being represented
to various members of the Local Education Authority as a protege under
the especial care and tutelage of the greatest of local magnates--ran
through a well-kept index of the books in the library of Challis
Court--an index written clearly on cards that occupied a great nest of
accessible drawers; two cards with a full description to each book,
alphabetically arranged, one card under the title of the work and one
under the author's name.

The child made no notes as he studied--he never wrote a single line in
all his life; but when a drawer of that delightful index had been
searched, he would walk here and there among the three rooms at his
disposal, and by the aid of the flight of framed steps that ran smoothly
on rubber-tyred wheels, he would take down now and again some book or
another until, returning to the table at last to read, he sat in an
enceinte of piled volumes that had been collected round him.

Sometimes he read a book from beginning to end, more often he glanced
through it, turning a dozen pages at a time, and then pushed it on one
side with a gesture displaying the contempt that was not shown by any
change of expression.

On many afternoons the sombrely clad figure of a tall, gaunt woman would
stand at the open casement of a window in the larger room, and keep a
mystic vigil that sometimes lasted for hours. She kept her gaze fixed on
that strange little figure whenever it roved up and down the suite of
rooms or clambered the pyramid of brown steps that might have made such
a glorious plaything for any other child. And even when her son was
hidden behind the wall of volumes he had built, the woman would still
stare in his direction, but then her eyes seemed to look inwards; at
such times she appeared to be wrapped in an introspective devotion.

Very rarely, the heavy-shouldered figure of a man would come to the
doorway of the larger room, and also keep a silent vigil--a man who
would stand for some minutes with thoughtful eyes and bent brows and
then sigh, shake his head and move away, gently closing the door behind
him.

There were few other interruptions to the silence of that chapel-like
library. Half a dozen times in the first few months a fair-haired,
rather supercilious young man came and fetched away a few volumes; but
even he evidenced an inclination to walk on tip-toe, a tendency that
mastered him whenever he forgot for a moment his self-imposed role of
scorn...

Outside, over the swelling undulations of rich grass the sheep came back
with close-cropped, ungainly bodies to a land that was yellow with
buttercups. But when one looked again, their wool hung about them, and
they were snatching at short turf that was covered at the wood-side by a
sprinkle of brown leaves. Then the sheep have gone, and the wood is
black with February rain, and again the unfolding of the year is about
us; a thickening of high twigs in the wood, a glint of green on the
blackthorn...

Nearly three cycles of death and birth have run their course, and then
the strange little figure comes no more to the library at Challis Court.

PART III. MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE WONDER

CHAPTER XIII. HOW I WENT TO PYM TO WRITE A BOOK

I

THE CIRCUMSTANCE that had intrigued me for so long was determined with
an abruptness only less remarkable than the surprise of the onset. Two
deaths within six months brought to me, the first, a competence, the
second, release from gall and bitterness. For the first time in my life
I was a free man. At forty one can still look forward, and I put the
past behind me and made plans for the future. There was that book of
mine still waiting to be written.

It was wonderful how the detail of it all came back to me--the plan of
it, the thread of development, even the very phrases that I had toyed
with. The thought of the book brought back a train of associations.
There was a phrase I had coined as I had walked out from Ailesworth to
Stoke-Underhill; a chapter I had roughed out the day I went to see
Ginger Stott at Pym. It seemed to me that the whole conception of the
book was associated in some way with that neighbourhood. I remembered at
last that I had first thought of writing it after my return from
America, on the day that I had had that curious experience with the
child in the train. It occurred to me that by a reversal of the process,
I might regain many more of my original thoughts; that by going to live,
temporarily perhaps, in the neighbourhood of Ailesworth, I might revive
other associations.

The picture of Pym presented itself to me very clearly. I remembered
that I had once thought that Pym was a place to which I might retire one
day in order to write the things I wished to write. I decided to make
the dream a reality, and I wrote to Mrs. Berridge at the Wood Farm,
asking her if she could let me have her rooms for the spring, summer and
autumn.

II

I was all aglow with excitement on the morning that I set out for the
Hampden Hills. This was change, I thought, freedom, adventure. This was
the beginning of life, my real entry into the joy of living.

The world was alight with the fire of growth. May had come with a clear
sky and a torrent of' green was flowing over field, hedge, and wood. I
remembered that I thanked "whatever gods there be," that one could live
so richly in the enjoyment of these things.

III

Farmer Bates met me at Great Hittenden Station. His was the only
available horse and cart at Pym, for the Berridges were in a very small
way, and it is doubtful if they could have made both ends meet if Mrs.
Berridge had not done so well by letting her two spare rooms.

I have a great admiration for Fanner Bates and Mrs. Berridge. I regret
intensely that they should both have been unhappily married. If they had
married each other they would undoubtedly have made a success of life.

Bates was a Cockney by birth, but always he had had an ambition to take
a farm, and after twenty years of work as a skilled mechanic he had
thrown up a well-paid job, and dared the uncertainties which beset the
English farmer. That venture was a constant bone of strife between him
and his wife. Mrs. Bates preferred the town. It has always seemed to me
that there was something fine about Bates and his love for the land.

"Good growing weather, Mr. Bates," I said, as I climbed up into the
cart.

"Shouldn't be sorry to see some more rain," replied Bates, and damped my
ardour for a moment.

Just before we turned into the lane that leads up the long hill to Pym,
we passed a ramshackle cart, piled up with a curious miscellany of
ruinous furniture. A man was driving, and beside him sat a slatternly
woman and a repulsive-looking boy 'of ten or twelve years old, with a
great swollen head and an open, slobbering mouth.

I was startled. I jumped to the conclusion that this was the child I had
seen in the train, the son of Ginger Stott.

As we slowed down to the ascent of the long hill, I said to Bates: "Is
that Stott's boy?"

Bates looked at me curiously. "Why, no," he said. "Them's the 'Arrisons.
'Arrison's dead now; he was a wrong 'un, couldn't make a job of it,
nohow. They used to live 'ere, five or six year ago, and now 'er
'usband's dead, Mrs. 'Arrison's coming back with the boy to live. Worse
luck! We thought we was shut of 'em."

"Oh!" I said. "The boy's an idiot, I suppose."

"'Orrible," replied Bates, shaking his head, "'orrible; can't speak nor
nothing; goes about bleating and baa-ing like an old sheep."

I looked round, but the ramshackle cart was hidden by the turn of the
road. "Does Stott still live at Pym?" I asked.

"Not Ginger," replied Bates. "He lives at Ailesworth. Mrs. Stott and 'er
son lives here."

"The boy's still alive then?" I asked.

"Yes," said Bates.

"Intelligent child?" I asked.

"They say," replied Bates. "Book-learnin' and such. They say 'e's read
every book in Mr. Challis's librairy."

"Does he go to school?"

"No. They let 'im off. Leastways Mr. Challis did. They say the Reverend
Crashaw, down at Stoke, was fair put out about it."

I thought that Bates emphasised the "on dit" nature of his information
rather markedly. "What do you think of him?" I asked.

"Me?" said Bates. "I don't worry my 'ead about him. I've got too much to
do." And he went off into technicalities concerning the abundance of
charlock on the arable land of Pym. He called it "garlic." I saw that it
was typical of Bates that he should have too much to do. I reflected
that his was the calling which begot civilisation.

IV

The best and surest route from Pym to the Wood Farm is, appropriately,
by way of the wood; but in wet weather the alternative of various cart
tracks that wind among the bracken and shrub of the Common, is
preferable in many ways. May had been very dry that year, however, and
Farmer Bates chose the wood. The leaves were still light on the beeches.
I remember that as I tried to pierce the vista of stems that dipped over
the steep fall of the hill, I promised myself many a romantic
exploration of the unknown mysteries beyond.

Everything was so bright that afternoon that nothing, I believe, could
have depressed me. When I looked round the low, dark room with its one
window, a foot from the ground and two from the ceiling, I only thought
that I should be out-of-doors all the time. It amused me that I could
touch the ceiling with my head by standing on tiptoe, and I laughed at
the framed "presentation plates" from old Christmas numbers on the
walls. These things are merely curious when the sun is shining and it is
high May, and one is free to do the desired work after twenty years in a
galley.

At a quarter to eight that evening I saw the sun set behind the hills.
As I wandered reflective ly down the lane that goes towards Challis
Court, a blackbird was singing ecstatically in a high elm; here and
there a rabbit popped out and sat up, the picture of precocious
curiosity. Nature seemed to be standing in her doorway for a careless
half-hour's gossip, before putting up the shutters to bar the robbers
who would soon be about their work of the night.

It was still quite light as I strolled back over the Common, and I chose
a path that took me through a little spinney of ash, oak, and beech,
treading carefully to avoid crushing the tender crosiers of bracken that
were just beginning to break their way through the soil.

As I emerged from the little clump of wood, I saw two figures going away
from me in the direction of Pym.

One was that of a boy wearing a cricket-cap; he was walking
deliberately, his hands hanging at his sides; the other figure was a
taller boy, and he threw out his legs in a curious, undisciplined way,
as though he had little control over them. At first sight I thought he
was not sober.

The two passed out of sight behind a clump of hawthorn, but once I saw
the smaller figure turn and face the other, and once he made a repelling
gesture with his hands.

It occurred to me that the smaller boy was trying to avoid his
companion; that he was, in one sense, running away from him, that he
walked as one might walk away from some threatening animal,
deliberately--to simulate the appearance of courage.

I fancied the bigger boy was the idiot Harrison I had seen that
afternoon, and Fanner Bates's "We hoped we were shut of him," recurred
to me. I wondered if the idiot were dangerous or only a nuisance.

I took the smaller boy to be one of the villagers' children. I noticed
that his cricket-cap had a dark patch as though it had been mended with
some other material.

The impression which I received from this trivial affair was one of
disappointment. The wood and the Common had been so deserted by
humanity, so given up to nature, that I felt the presence of the idiot
to be a most distasteful intrusion. "If that horrible thing is going to
haunt the Common there will be no peace or decency," was the idea that
presented itself. "I must send him off, the brute," was the rider. But I
disliked the thought of being obliged to drive him away.

V

The next morning I did not go on the Common; I was anxious to avoid a
meeting with the Harrison idiot. I had been debating whether I should
drive him away if I met him. Obviously I had no more right on the Common
than he had--on the other hand, he was a nuisance, and I did not see why
I should allow him to spoil all my pleasure in that ideal stretch of
wild land which pressed on three sides of the Wood Farm. It was a stupid
quandary of my own making; but I am afraid it was rather typical of my
mental attitude. I am prone to set myself tasks, such as this eviction
of the idiot from common ground, and equally prone to avoid them by a
process of procrastination.

By way of evasion I walked over to Deane Hill and surveyed the wonderful
panorama of neat country that fills the basin between the Hampden and
the Quainton Hills. Seen from that height, it has something the effect
of a Dutch landscape, it all looks so amazingly tidy. Away to the left I
looked over Stoke-Underhill. Ailesworth was a blur in the hollow, but I
could distinguish the high fence of the County Ground.

I sat all the morning on Deane Hill, musing and smoking, thinking of
such things as Ginger Stott, and the match with Surrey. I decided that I
must certainly go and see Stott's queer son, the phenomenon who had,
they say, read all the books in Mr. Challis's library. I wondered what
sort of a library this Challis had, and who he was. I had never heard of
him before. I think I must have gone to sleep for a time.

When Mrs. Berridge came to clear away my dinner--I dined, without shame,
at half-past twelve--I detained her with conversation. Presently I asked
about little Stott.

"He's a queer one, that's what he is," said Mrs. Berridge. She was a
neat, comely little woman, rather superior to her station, and it seemed
to me, certainly superior to her clod of a husband.

"A great reader, Farmer Bates tells me," I said.

Mrs. Berridge passed that by. "His mother's in trouble about him this
morning," she said. "She's such a nice, respectable woman, and has all
her milk and eggs and butter off of us. She was here this morning while
you were out, sir, and, what I could make of it that 'Arrison boy had
been chasing her boy on the Common last night."

"Oh!" I said with sudden enlightenment. "I believe I saw them." At the
back of my mind I was struggling desperately with a vague remembrance.
It may sound incredible, but I had only the dimmest memory of my later
experience of the child. The train incident was still fresh in my mind,
but I could not remember what Stott had told me when I talked with him
by the pond. I seemed to have an impression that the child had some
strange power of keeping people at a distance; or was I mixing up
reality with some Scandinavian fairy tale?

"Very likely, sir," Mrs. Berridge went on. "What upset Mrs. Stott was
that her boy's never upset by anything--he has a curious way of looking
at you, sir, that makes you wish you wasn't there; but from what Mrs.
Stott says, this 'Arrison boy wasn't to be drove off, anyhow, and her
son came in quite flurried like. Mrs. Stott seemed quite put out about
it."

Doubtless I might have had more information from my landlady, but I was
struggling to reconstruct that old experience which had slipped away
from me, and I turned back to the book I had been pretending to read.
Mrs. Berridge was one of those unusual women--for her station in
life--who know when to be silent, and she finished her clearing away
without initiating any further remarks.

When she had finished I went out on to the Common and looked for the
pond where I had talked with Ginger Stott.

I found it after a time, and then I began to gather up the threads I had
dropped.

It all came back to me, little by little. I remembered that talk I had
had with him, his very gestures; I remembered how he had spoken of
habits, or the necessity for the lack of them, and that took me back to
the scene in the British Museum reading-room, and to my theory. I was
suddenly alive to that old interest again.

I got up and walked eagerly in the direction of Mrs. Stott's cottage.

CHAPTER XIV. THE INCIPIENCE OF MY SUBJECTION TO THE WONDER

I

VICTOR STOTT was in his eighth year when I met him for the third time. I
must have stayed longer than I imagined by the pond on the Common, for
Mrs. Stott and her son had had tea, and the boy was preparing to go out.
He stopped when he saw me coming; an unprecedented mark of recognition,
so I have since learned.

As I saw him then, he made a remarkable, but not a repulsively abnormal
figure. His baldness struck one immediately, but it did not give him a
look of age. Then one noticed that his head was unmistakably out of
proportion to his body, yet the disproportion was not nearly so marked
as it had been in infancy. These two things were conspicuous; the less
salient peculiarities were observed later; the curious little beaky nose
that jutted out at an unusual angle from the face, the lips that were
too straight and determined for a child, the laxity of the limbs when
the body was in repose--lastly, the eyes.

When I met Victor Stott on this, third, occasion, there can be no doubt
that he had lost something of his original power. This may have been due
to his long sojourn in the world of books, a sojourn that had, perhaps,
altered the strange individuality of his thought; or it may have been
due, in part, at least, to his recent recognition of the fact that the
power of his gaze exercised no influence over creatures such as the
Harrison idiot. Nevertheless, though something of the original force had
abated, he still had an extraordinary, and, so far as I can learn,
altogether unprecedented power of enforcing his will without word or
gesture; and I may say here that in those rare moments when Victor Stott
looked me in the face, I seemed to see a rare and wonderful personality
peering out through his eyes. That was the personality which had, no
doubt, spoken to Challis and Lewes through that long afternoon in the
library of Challis Court. Normally one saw a curious, unattractive,
rather repulsive figure of a child; when he looked at one with that rare
look of intention, the man that lived within that unattractive body was
revealed, his insight, his profundity, his unexampled wisdom. If we mark
the difference between man and animals by a measure of intelligence,
then surely this child was a very god among men.

II

Victor Stott did not look at me when I entered his mother's cottage; I
saw only the unattractive exterior of him, and I blundered into an air
of patronage.

"Is this your boy?" I said, when I had greeted her. "I hear he is a
great scholar."

"Yes, sir," replied Ellen Mary quietly. She never boasted to strangers.

"You don't remember me, I suppose?" I went on, foolishly; trying,
however, to speak as to an equal. "You were in petticoats the last time
I saw you."

The Wonder was standing by the window, his arms hanging loosely at his
sides; he looked out aslant up the lane; his profile was turned towards
me. He made no answer to my question.

"Oh, yes, sir, he remembers," replied Ellen Mary. "He never forgets
anything."

I paused, uncomfortably. I was slightly huffed by the boy's silence.

"I have come to spend the summer here," I said at last. "I hope he will
come to see me. I have brought a good many books with me; perhaps he
might care to read some of them."

I had to talk at the boy; there was no alternative. Inwardly I was
thinking that I had Kant's Critique and Hegel's Phenomenology among my
books. "He may put on airs of scholarship," I thought; "but I fancy that
he will find those two works rather above the level of his comprehension
as yet." I did not recognise the fact that it was I who was putting on
airs, not Victor Stott.

"'E's given up reading the past six weeks, sir," said Ellen Mary, "but I
daresay he will come and see your books."

She spoke demurely, and she did not look at her son; I received the
impression that her statements were laid before him to take up, reject,
or pass unnoticed as he pleased.

I was slightly exasperated. I turned to the Wonder. "Would you care to
come?" I asked.

He nodded without looking at me, and walked out of the cottage.

I hesitated.

"'E'll go with you now, sir," prompted Ellen Mary. "That's what 'e
means."

I followed the Wonder in a condition of suppressed irritation. "His
mother might be able to interpret his rudeness," I thought, "but I would
teach him to convey his intentions more clearly. The child had been
spoilt."

III

The Wonder chose the road over the Common. I should have gone by the
wood, but when we came to the entrance of the wood, he turned up on to
the Common. He did not ask me which way I preferred. Indeed, we neither
of us spoke during the half-mile walk that separated the Wood Farm from
the last cottage in Pym.

I was fuming inwardly. I had it in my mind at that time to put the
Wonder through some sort of an examination. I was making plans to
contribute towards his education, to send him to Oxford, later. I had
adumbrated a scheme to arouse interest in his case among certain
scholars and men of influence with whom I was slightly acquainted. I had
been very much engrossed with these plans as I had made my way to the
Stotts' cottage. I was still somewhat exalted in mind with my dreams of
a vicarious brilliance. I had pictured the Wonder's magnificent passage
through the University; I had acted, in thought, as the generous and
kindly benefactor... It had been a grandiose dream, and the reality was
so humiliating. Could I make this mannerless child understand his
possibilities? Had he any ambition?

Thinking of these things I had lagged behind as we crossed the Common,
and when I came to the gate of the farmyard, the Wonder was at the door
of the house. He did not wait for me, but walked straight into my
sitting-room. When I entered, I found him seated on the low window-sill,
turning over the top layer of books in the large case which had been
opened, but not unpacked. There was no place to put the books; in fact,
I was proposing to have some shelves put up, if Mrs. Berridge had no
objection.

I entered the room in a condition of warm indignation. "Cheek" was the
word that was in my mind. "Confounded cheek," I muttered. Nevertheless I
did not interrupt the boy; instead, I lit a cigarette, sat down and
watched him.

I was sceptical at first. I noted at once the sure touch with which the
boy handled my books, the practised hand that turned the pages, the
quick examination of title-page and the list of contents, the occasional
swift reference to the index, but I did not believe it possible that any
one could read so fast as he read when he did condescend for a few
moments to give his attention to a few consecutive pages. "Was it a
pose?" I thought, yet he was certainly an adept in handling the books. I
was puzzled, yet I was still sceptical--the habit of experience was
towards disbelief--a boy of seven and a half could not possibly have the
mental equipment to skim all that philosophy...

My books were being unpacked very quickly. Kant, Hegel, Schelling,
Fichte, Leibnitz, Nietzsche, Hume, Bradley, William James had all been
rejected and were piled on the floor, but he had hesitated longer over
Bergson's Creative Evolution. He really seemed to be giving that some
attention, though he read it--if he were reading it--so fast that the
hand which turned the pages hardly rested between each movement.

When Bergson was sent to join his predecessors, I determined that I
would get some word out of this strange child--I had never yet heard him
speak, not a single syllable. I determined to brave all rebuffs. I was
prepared for that.

"Well?" I said, when Bergson was laid down. "Well! What do you make of
that?" He turned and looked out of the window. I came and sat on the end
of the table within a few feet of him. From that position I, too, could
see out of the window, and I saw the figure of the Harrison idiot
slouching over the farmyard gate.

A gust of impatience whirled over me. I caught up my stick and went out
quickly.

"Now then," I said, as I came within speaking distance of the idiot,
"get away from here. Out with you!"

The idiot probably understood no word of what I said, but like a dog he
was quick to interpret my tone and gesture. He made a revoltingly
inhuman sound as he shambled away, a kind of throaty yelp. I walked back
to the house. I could not avoid the feeling that I had been
unnecessarily brutal.

When I returned the Wonder was still staring out of the window; but
though I did not guess it then, the idiot had served my purpose better
than my determination. It was to the idiot that I owed my subsequent
knowledge of Victor Stott. The Wonder had found a use for me. He was
resigned to bear with my feeble mental development, because I was strong
enough to keep at bay that half-animal creature who appeared to believe
that Victor Stott was one of his own kind--the only one he had ever met.
The idiot in some unimaginable way had inferred a likeness between
himself and the Wonder--they both had enormous heads--and the idiot was
the only human being over whom the Wonder was never able to exercise the
least authority.

IV

I went in and sat down again on the end of the table. I was rather
heated. I lit another cigarette and stared at the Wonder, who was still
looking out of the window.

There was silence for a few seconds, and then he spoke of his own
initiative.

"Illustrates the weakness of argument from history and analogy," he said
in a clear, small voice, addressing no one in particular. "Hegel's
limitations are qualitatively those of Harrison, who argues that I and
he are similar in kind."

The proposition was so astounding that I could find no answer
immediately. If the statement had been made in boyish language I should
have laughed at it, but the phraseology impressed me.

"You've read Hegel, then?" I asked evasively.

"Subtract the endeavour to demonstrate a preconceived hypothesis from
any known philosophy," continued the Wonder, without heeding my
question, "and the remainder, the only valuable material, is found to be
distorted." He paused as if waiting for my reply.

How could one answer such propositions as these offhand? I tried,
however, to get at the gist of the sentence, and, as the silence
continued, I said with some hesitation: "But it is impossible, surely,
to approach the work of writing, say a philosophy, without some
apprehension of the end in view?"

"Illogical," replied the Wonder, "not philosophy; a system of trial and
error--to evaluate a complex variable function." He paused a moment and
then glanced down at the pile of books on the floor. "More millions," he
said.

I think he meant that more millions of books might be written on this
system without arriving at an answer to the problem, but I admit that I
am at a loss, that I cannot interpret his remarks. I wrote them down
within an hour or two after they were uttered, but I may have made
mistakes. The mathematical metaphor is beyond me. I have no acquaintance
with higher mathematics.

The Wonder had a very expressionless face, but I thought at this moment
that he wore a look of sadness; and that look was one of the factors
which helped me to understand the unbridgeable gulf that lay between his
intellect and mine. I think it was at this moment that I first began to
change my opinion. I had been regarding him as an unbearable little
prig, but it flashed across me as I watched him now, that his mind and
my own might be so far differentiated that he was unable to convey his
thoughts to me. "Was it possible," I wondered, "that he had been trying
to talk down to my level?"

"I am afraid I don't quite follow you," I said. I had intended to
question him further, to urge him to explain, but it came to me that it
would be quite hopeless to go on. How can one answer the unreasoning
questions of a child? Here I was the child, though a child of slightly
advanced development. I could appreciate that it was useless to persist
in a futile "Why, why?" when the answer could only be given in terms
that I could not comprehend. Therefore I hesitated, sighed, and then
with that obstinacy of vanity which creates an image of self-perfection
and refuses to relinquish it, I said:

"I wish you could explain yourself; not on this particular point of
philosophy, but your life--"

I stopped, because I did not know how to phrase my demand. What was it,
after all, that I wanted to learn?

"That I can't explain," said the Wonder. "There are no data."

I saw that he had accepted my request for explanation in a much wider
sense than I had intended, and I took him up on this.

"But haven't you any hypothesis?"

"I cannot work on the system of trial and error," replied the Wonder.

Our conversation went no further this afternoon, for Mrs. Berridge came
in to lay the cloth. She looked askance, I thought, at the figure on the
window-sill, but she ventured no remark save to ask if I was ready for
my supper.

"Yes, oh! yes!" I said.

"Shall I lay for two, sir?" asked Mrs. Berridge.

"Will you stay and have supper?" I said to the Wonder, but he shook his
head, got up and walked out of the room. I watched him cross the
farmyard and make his way over the Common.

"Well!" I said to Mrs. Berridge. when the boy was out of sight, "that
child is what in America they call  ‘the limit,' Mrs. Berridge."

My landlady put her lips together, shook her head, and shivered
slightly. "He gives me the shudders," she said.

V

I neither read nor wrote that evening. I forgot to go out for a walk at
sunset. I sat and pondered until it was time for bed, and then I
pondered myself to sleep. No vision came to me, and I had no relevant
dreams.

The next morning at seven o'clock I saw Mrs. Stott come over the Common
to fetch her milk from the farm. I waited until her business was done,
and then I went out and walked back with her.

"I want to understand about your son," I said by way of making an
opening.

She looked at me quickly. "You know, 'e 'ardly ever speaks to me, sir,"
she said.

I was staggered for a moment. "But you understand him?" I said.

"In some ways, sir," was her answer.

I recognised the direction of the limitation. "Ah! we none of us
understand him in all ways," I said, with a touch of patronage.

"No, sir," replied Ellen Mary. She evidently agreed to that statement
without qualification.

"But what is he going to do?" I asked. "When he grows up, I mean?"

"I can't say, sir. We must leave that to 'im."

I accepted the rebuke more mildly than I should have done on the
previous day. "He never speaks of his future?" I said feebly.

"No, sir."

There seemed to be nothing more to say. We had only gone a couple of
hundred yards, but I paused in my walk. I thought I might as well go
back and get my breakfast. But Mrs. Stott looked at me as though she had
something more to say. We stood facing each other on the cart track.

"I suppose I can't be of any use?" I asked vaguely.

Ellen Mary broke suddenly into volubility.

"I 'ope I'm not askin' too much, sir," she said, "but there is a way you
could 'elp if you would. 'E 'ardly ever speaks to me, as I've said, but
I've been opset about that 'Arrison boy. 'E's a brute beast, sir, if you
know what I mean, and 'e  (she differentiated her pronouns only by
accent, and where there is any doubt I have used italics to indicate
that her son is referred to) "doesn't seem to 'ave the same 'old on 'im
as 'e does over others. It's truth, I am not easy in my mind about it,
sir, although 'e 'as never said a word to me, not being afraid of
anything like other children, but 'e seems to have took a sort of a
fancy to you, sir" (I think this was intended as the subtlest flattery),
"and if you was to go with 'im when 'e takes 'is walks--'e's much in the
air, sir, and a great one for walkin'--I think 'e 'd be glad of your
cump'ny, though maybe 'e won't never say it in so many words. You
mustn't mind 'im being silent, sir; there's some things we can't
understand, and though, as I say, 'e 'asn't said anything to me, it's
not that I'm scheming be'ind 'is back, for I know 'is meaning without
words being necessary."

She might have said more, but I interrupted her at this point.
"Certainly, I will come and fetch him"--I lapsed unconsciously into her
system of denomination--"this morning, if you are sure he would like to
come out with me."

"I'm quite sure, sir," she said.

"About nine o'clock?" I asked.

"That would do nicely, sir," she answered.

As I walked back to the farm I was thinking of the life of those two
occupants of the Stotts' cottage. The mother who watched her son in
silence, studying his every look and action in order to gather his
meaning; who never asked her son a question nor expected from him any
statement of opinion; and the son wrapped always in that profound
speculation which seemed to be his only mood. What a household!

It struck me while I was having breakfast that I seemed to have let
myself in for a duty that might prove anything but pleasant.

VI

There is nothing to say of that first walk of mine with the Wonder. I
spoke to him once or twice and he answered by nodding his head; even
this notice I now know to have been a special mark of favour, a
condescension to acknowledge his use for me as a guardian. He did not
speak at all on this occasion.

I did not call for him in the afternoon; I had made other plans. I
wanted to see the man Challis, whose library had been at the disposal of
this phenomenal child. Chalk's might be able to give me further
information. The truth of the matter is that I was in two minds as to
whether I would stay at Pym through the summer, as I had originally
intended. I was not in love with the prospect which the sojourn now held
out for me. If I were to be constituted head nursemaid to Master Victor
Stott, there would remain insufficient time for the progress of my own
book on certain aspects of the growth of the philosophic method.

I see now, when I look back, that I was not convinced at that time, that
I still doubted the Wonder's learning. I may have classed it as a
freakish pedantry, the result of a phenomenal memory.

Mrs. Berridge had much information to impart on the subject of Henry
Challis. He was her husband's landlord, of course, and his was a
hallowed name, to be spoken with decency and respect. I am afraid I
shocked Mrs. Berridge at the outset by my casual "Who's this man
Challis?" She certainly atoned by her own manner for my irreverence; she
very obviously tried to impress me. I professed submission, but was not
intimidated, rather my curiosity was aroused.

Mrs. Berridge was not able to tell me the one thing I most desired to
know, whether the lord of Challis Court was in residence; but it was not
far to walk, and I set out about two o'clock.

VII

Challis was getting into his motor as I walked up the drive. I hurried
forward to catch him before the machine was started. He saw me coming
and paused on the doorstep.

"Did you want to see me?" he asked, as I came up.

"Mr. Challis?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"I won't keep you now," I said, "but perhaps you could let me know some
time when I could see you."

"Oh, yes," he said, with the air of a man who is constantly subjected to
annoyance by strangers. "But perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what
it is you wish to see me about? I might be able to settle it now, at
once."

"I am staying at the Wood Farm," I began. "I am interested in a very
remarkable child."

"Ah! take my advice, leave him alone," interrupted Challis quickly.

I suppose I looked my amazement, for Challis laughed. "Oh, well," he
said, "of course you won't take such spontaneous advice as that. I'm in
no hurry. Come in." He took off his heavy overcoat and threw it into the
tonneau. "Come round again in an hour," he said to the chauffeur.

"It's very good of you," I protested, "I could come quite well at any
other time."

"I'm in no hurry," he repeated. "You had better come to the scene of
Victor Stott's operations. He hasn't been here for six weeks, by the
way. Can you throw any light on his absence?"

I made a friend that afternoon. When the car came back at four o'clock,
Challis sent it away again. "I shall probably stay down here tonight,"
he said to the butler, and to me: "Can you stay to dinner? I must
convince you about this child."

"I have dined once to-day," I said. "At half-past twelve. I have no
other excuse."

"Oh! well," said Challis, "you needn't eat, but I must. Get us
something, Heathcote," he said to the butler, "and bring tea here."

Much of our conversation after dinner was not relevant to the subject of
the Wonder; we drifted into a long argument upon human origins which has
no place here. But by that time I had been very well informed as to all
the essential facts of the Wonder's childhood, of his entry into the
world of books, of his earlier methods, and of the significance of that
long speech in the library. But at that point Challis became reserved.
He would give me no details.

"You must forgive me; I can't go into that," he said.

"But it is so incomparably important," I protested.

"That may be, but you must not question me. The truth of the matter is
that I have a very confused memory of what the boy said, and the little
I might remember, I prefer to leave undisturbed."

He piqued my curiosity, but I did not press him. It was so evident that
he did not wish to speak on that head.

He walked up with me to the farm at ten o'clock and came into my room.

"We need not keep you out of bed, Mrs. Berridge," he said to my
flustered landlady. "I dare say we shall be up till all hours. We
promise to see that the house is locked up." Mr. Berridge stood a figure
of subservience in the background.

My books were still heaped on the floor. Challis sat down on the
window-sill and looked over some of them. "Many of these Master Stott
probably read in my library," he remarked, "in German. Language is no
bar to him. He learns a language as you or I would learn a page of
history."

Later on, I remember that we came down to essentials. "I must try and
understand something of this child's capacities," I said in answer to a
hint of Challis's that I should leave the Wonder alone. "It seems to me
that here we have something which is of the first importance, of greater
importance, indeed, than anything else, in the history of the world."

"But you can't make him speak," said Chalk's

"I shall try," I said. "I recognise that we cannot compel him, but I
have a certain hold over him. I see from what you have told me that he
has treated me with most unusual courtesy. I assure you that several
times when I spoke to him this morning he nodded his head."

"A good beginning," laughed Challis.

"I can't understand," I went on, "how it is that you are not more
interested. It seems to me that this child knows many things which we
have been patiently attempting to discover since the dawn of
civilisation."

"Quite," said Challis. "I admit that, but... well, I don't think I want
to know."

"Surely," I said, "this key to all knowledge--"

"We are not ready for it," replied Challis. "You can't teach metaphysics
to children."

Nevertheless my ardour was increased, not abated, by my long talk with
Challis.

"I shall go on," I said, as I went out to the farm gate with him at
half-past two in the morning.

"Ah! well," he answered, "I shall come over and see you when I come
back." He had told me earlier that he was going abroad for some months.

We hesitated a moment by the gate, and instinctively we both looked up
at the vault of the sky and the glimmering dust of stars.

The same thought was probably in both our minds, the thought of the
insignificance of this little system that revolves round one of the
lesser lights of the Milky Way, but that thought was not to be expressed
save by some banality, and we did not speak.

"I shall certainly look you up when I come back," said Challis.

"Yes; I hope you will," I said lamely.

I watched the loom of his figure against the vague background till I
could distinguish it no longer.

CHAPTER XV. THE PROGRESS AND RELAXATION OF MY SUBJECTION

I

THE MEMORY of last summer is presented to me now as a series of
pictures, some brilliant, others vague, others again so uncertain that I
cannot be sure how far they are true memories of actual occurrences, and
how far they are interwoven with my thoughts and dreams. I have, for
instance, a recollection of standing on Deane Hill and looking down over
the wide panorama of rural England, through a driving mist of fine rain.
This might well be counted among true memories, were it not for the fact
that clearly associated with the picture is an image of myself grown to
enormous dimensions, a Brocken spectre that threatened the world with
titanic gestures of denouncement, and I seem to remember that this
figure was saying: "All life runs through my fingers like a handful of
dry sand." And yet the remembrance has not the quality of a dream.

I was, undoubtedly, overwrought at times. There were days when the sight
of a book filled me with physical nausea, with contempt for the
littleness, the narrow outlook, that seemed to me to characterise every
written work. I was fiercely, but quite impotently, eager at such times
to demonstrate the futility of all the philosophy ranged on the rough
wooden shelves in my gloomy sitting-room. I would walk up and down and
gesticulate, struggling, fighting to make clear to myself what a true
philosophy should set forth. I felt at such times that all the knowledge
I needed for so stupendous a task was present with me in some
inexplicable way, was even pressing upon me, but that my brain was so
clogged and heavy that not one idea of all that priceless wisdom could
be expressed in clear thought. "I have never been taught to think," I
would complain, "I have never perfected the machinery of thought," and
then some dictum thrown out haphazard by the Wonder--his conception of
light conversation--would recur to me, and I would realise that however
well I had been trained, my limitations would remain, that I was an
undeveloped animal, only one stage higher than a totem-fearing savage, a
creature of small possibilities, incapable of dealing with great
problems.

Once the Wonder said to me, in a rare moment of lucid condescension to
my feeble intellect, "You figure space as a void in three dimensions,
and time as a line that runs across it, and all other conceptions you
relegate to that measure." He implied that this was a cumbrous machinery
which had no relation to reality, and could define nothing. He told me
that his idea of force, for example, was a pure abstraction, for which
there was no figure in my mental outfit.

Such pronouncements as these left me struggling like a drowning man in
deep water. I felt that it must be possible for me to come to the
surface, but I could do nothing but flounder; beat fiercely with limbs
that were so powerful and yet so utterly useless. I saw that my very
metaphors symbolised my feebleness; I had no terms for my own mental
condition; I was forced to resort to some inapplicable physical analogy.

These fits of revolt against the limitations of human thought grew more
frequent as the summer progressed. Day after day my self-sufficiency and
conceit were being crushed out of me. I was always in the society of a
boy of seven whom I was forced to regard as immeasurably my intellectual
superior. There was no department of useful knowledge in which I could
compete with him. Compete indeed! I might as well speak of a
third-standard child competing with Macaulay in a general knowledge
paper.

"Useful knowledge," I have written, but the phrase needs definition. I
might have taught the Wonder many things, no doubt; the habits of men in
great cities, the aspects of foreign countries, or the subtleties of
cricket; but when I was with him I felt--and my feelings must have been
typical--that such things as these were of no account.

Towards the end of the summer, the occasions upon which I was able to
stimulate myself into a condition of bearable complacency were very
rare. I often thought of Challis's advice to leave the Wonder alone. I
should have gone away if I had been free, but Victor Stott had a use for
me, and I was powerless to disobey him. I feared him, but he controlled
me at his will. I feared him as I had once feared an imaginary God, but
I did not hate him.

One curious little fragment of wisdom came to me as the result of my
experience--a useless fragment perhaps, but something that has in one
way altered my opinion of my fellow-men. I have learnt that a measure of
self-pride, of complacency, is essential to every human being. I judge
no man any more for displaying an overweening vanity, rather do I envy
him this representative mark of his humanity. The Wonder was completely
and quite inimitably devoid of any conceit, and the word ambition had no
meaning for him. It was inconceivable that he should compare himself
with any of his fellow-creatures, and it was inconceivable that any
honour they might have lavished upon him would have given him one
moment's pleasure. He was entirely alone among aliens who were unable to
comprehend him, aliens who could not flatter him, whose opinions were
valueless to him. He had no more common ground on which to air his
knowledge, no more grounds for comparison by which to achieve
self-conceit than a man might have in a world tenanted only by sheep.
From what I have heard him say on the subject of our slavery to
preconceptions, I think the metaphor of sheep is one which he might have
approved.

But the result of all this, so far as I am concerned, is a feeling of
admiration for those men who are capable of such magnificent approval
for themselves, the causes they espouse, their family, their country,
and their species; it is an approval which I fear I can never again
attain in full measure.

I have seen possibilities which have enforced a humbleness that is not
good for my happiness or conducive to my development. Henceforward I
will espouse the cause of vanity. It is only the vain who deprecate
vanity in others.

But there were times in the early period of my association with Victor
Stott when I rebelled vigorously against his complacent assumption of my
ignorance.

II

May was a gloriously fine month, and we were much out of doors.
Unfortunately, except for one fortnight in August, that was all the
settled weather we had that summer.

I remember sitting one afternoon staring at the same pond that Ginger
Stott had stared at when he told me that the boy now beside me was a
"blarsted freak."

The Wonder had said nothing that day, but now he began to enunciate some
of his incomprehensible commonplaces in that thin, clear voice of his. I
wrote down what I could remember of his utterances when I went home, but
now I read them over again I am exceedingly doubtful whether I reported
him correctly. There is, however, one dictum which seems clearly
phrased, and when I recall the scene, I remember trying to push the
induction he had started. The pronouncement, as I have written it, is as
follows:

"Pure deduction from a single premiss, unaided by previous knowledge of
the functions of the terms used in the expansion of the argument, is an
act of creation, incontrovertible, and outside the scope of human
reasoning."

I believe he meant to say--but my notes are horribly confused--that
logic and philosophy were only relative, being dependent always in a
greater or less degree upon the test of a material experiment for
verification.

Here, as always, I find the Wonder's pronouncements very elusive. In one
sense I see that what I have quoted here is a self-evident proposition,
but I have the feeling that behind it there lies some gleam of wisdom
which throws a faint light on the profound problem of existence.

I remember that in my own feeble way I tried to analyse this statement,
and for a time I thought I had grasped one significant aspect of it. It
seemed to me that the possibility of conceiving a philosophy that was
not dependent for verification upon material experiment--that is to say,
upon evidence afforded by the five senses--indicates that there is
something which is not matter; but that since the development of such a
philosophy is not possible to our minds, we must argue that our
dependence upon matter is so intimate that it is almost impossible to
conceive that we are actuated by any impulse which does not arise out of
a material complex.

At the back of my mind there seemed to be a thought that I could not
focus, I trembled on the verge of some great revelation that never came.

Through my thoughts there ran a thread of reverence for the intelligence
that had started my speculations. If only he could speak in terms that I
could understand.

I looked round at the Wonder. He was, as usual, apparently lost in
abstraction, and quite unconscious of my regard.

The wind was strong on the Common, and he sniffed once or twice and then
wiped his nose. He did not use a handkerchief.

It came to me at the moment that he was no more than a vulgar little
village boy.

III

There were few incidents to mark the progress of that summer. I marked
the course of time by my own thoughts and feelings, especially by my
growing submission to the control of the Wonder.

It was curious to recall that I had once thought of correcting the
Wonder's manners, of administering, perhaps, a smacking. That was a
fault of ignorance. I had often erred in the same way in other
experiences of life, but I had not taken the lesson to heart. I remember
at school our "head" taking us--I was in the lower fifth then--in Latin
verse. He rebuked me for a false quantity, and I, very cocksure,
disputed the point and read my line. The head pointed out very gravely
that I had been misled by an English analogy in my pronunciation of the
word "maritus," and I grew very hot and ashamed and apologetic. I feel
much the same now when I think of my early attitude towards the Wonder.
But this time, I think, I have profited by my experience.

There is, however, one incident which in the light of subsequent events
it seems worth while to record.

One afternoon in early July, when the sky had lifted sufficiently for us
to attempt some sort of a walk, we made our way down through the sodden
woods in the direction of Deane Hill.

As we were emerging into the lane at the foot of the slope, I saw the
Harrison idiot lurking behind the trunk of a big beech. This was only
the third time I had seen him since I drove him away from the farm, and
on the two previous occasions he had not come close to us.

This time he had screwed up his courage to follow us. As we climbed the
lane I saw him slouching up the hedge-side behind us.

The Wonder took no notice, and we continued our way in silence.

When we reached the prospect at the end of the hill, where the ground
falls away like a cliff and you have a bird's-eye view of two counties,
we sat down on the steps of the monument erected in honour of those
Hampdenshire men whose lives, were thrown away in the South African war.

That view always has a soothing effect upon me, and I gave myself up to
an ecstasy of contemplation and forgot, for a few moments, the presence
of the Wonder, and the fact that the idiot had followed us.

I was recalled to existence by the sound of a foolish, conciliatory
mumbling, and looked round to see the leering face of the Harrison idiot
ogling the Wonder from the corner of the plinth. The Wonder was between
me and the idiot, but he was apparently oblivious of either of us.

I was about to rise and drive the idiot away, but the Wonder, still
staring out at some distant horizon, said quietly, "Let him be."

I was astonished, but I sat still and awaited events.

The idiot behaved much as I have seen a very-young and nervous puppy
behave.

He came within a few feet of us, gurgling and crooning, flapping his
hands and waggling his great head; his uneasy eyes wandered from the
Wonder to me and back again, but it was plainly the Wonder whom he
wished to propitiate. Then he suddenly backed as if he had dared too
much, flopped on to the wet grass and regarded us both with foolish,
goggling eyes. For a few seconds he lay still, and then he began to
squirm along the ground towards us, a few inches at a time, stopping
every now and again to bleat and gurgle with that curious, crooning note
which he appeared to think would pacificate the object of his overtures.

I stood by, as it were, ready to obey the first hint that the presence
of this horrible creature was distasteful to the Wonder, but he gave no
sign.

The idiot had come within five or six feet of us, wriggling himself
along the wet grass, before the Wonder looked at him. The look when it
came was one of those deliberate, intentional stares which made one feel
so contemptible and insignificant.

The idiot evidently regarded this look as a sign of encouragement. He
knelt up, began to flap his hands and changed his crooning note to a
pleased, emphatic bleat.

"A-ba-ba," he blattered, and made uncouth gestures, by which I think he
meant to signify that he wanted the Wonder to come and play with him.

Still the Wonder gave no sign, but his gaze never wavered, and though
the idiot was plainly not intimidated, he never met that gaze for more
than a second or two. Nevertheless he came on, walking now on his knees,
and at last stretched out a hand to touch the boy he so curiously
desired for a playmate.

That broke the spell. The Wonder drew back quickly--he never allowed one
to touch him--got up and climbed two or three steps higher up the base
of the monument. "Send him away," he said to me.

"That'll do," I said threateningly to the idiot, and at the sound of my
voice and the gesture of my hand, he blenched, yelped, rolled over away
from me, and then got to his feet and shambled off for several yards
before stopping to regard us once more with his pacificatory, disgusting
ogle.

"Send him away," repeated the Wonder, as I hesitated, and I rose to my
feet and pretended to pick up a stone.

That was enough. The idiot yelped again and made off. This time he did
not stop, though he looked over his shoulder several times as he
lolloped away among the low gorse, to which look I replied always with
the threat of an imaginary stone.

The Wonder made no comment on the incident as we walked home. He had
shown no sign of fear. It occurred to me that my guardianship of him was
merely a convenience, not a protection from any danger.

IV

As time went on it became increasingly clear to me that my chance of
obtaining the Wonder's confidence was becoming more and more remote.

At first he had replied to my questions; usually, it is true, by no more
than an inclination of his head, but he soon ceased to make even this
acknowledgment of my presence.

So I fell by degrees into a persistent habit of silence, admitted my
submission by obtruding neither remark nor question upon my constant
companion, and gave up my intention of using the Wonder as a means to
gratify my curiosity concerning the problem of existence.

Once or twice I saw Crashaw at a distance. He undoubtedly recognised the
Wonder, and I think he would have liked to come up and rebuke
him--perhaps me, also; but probably he lacked the courage. He would
hover within sight of us for a few minutes, scowling, and then stalk
away. He gave me the impression of being a dangerous man, a thwarted
fanatic, brooding over his defeat. If I had been Mrs. Stott, I should
have feared the intrusion of Crashaw more .than the foolish overtures of
the Harrison idiot. But there was, of course, the Wonder's compelling
power to be reckoned with, in the case of Crashaw.

Challis came back in early September, and it was he who first coaxed,
and then goaded me into rebellion.

Challis did not come too soon.

At the end of August I was seeing visions, not pleasant, inspiriting
visions, but the indefinite, perplexing shapes of delirium.

I think it must have been in August that I stood on Deane Hill, through
an afternoon of fine, driving rain, and had a vision of myself playing
tricks with the sands of life.

I had begun to lose my hold on reality. Silence, contemplation, a
long-continued wrestle with the profound problems of life, were
combining to break up the intimacy of life and matter, and my brain was
not of the calibre to endure the strain.

Challis saw at once what ailed me.

He came up to the farm one morning at twelve o'clock. The date was, I
believe, the twelfth of September. It was a brooding, heavy morning,
with half a gale of wind blowing from the south-west, but it had not
rained, and I was out with the Wonder when Challis arrived.

He waited for me and talked to the flattered Mrs. Berridge, remonstrated
kindly with her husband for his neglect of the farm, and incidentally
gave him a rebate on the rent.

When I came in, he insisted that I should come to lunch with him at
Challis Court.

I consented, but stipulated that I must be back at Pym by three o'clock
to accompany the Wonder for his afternoon walk.

Challis looked at me curiously, but allowed the stipulation.

We hardly spoke as we walked down the hill--the habit of silence had
grown upon me, but after lunch Challis spoke out his mind.

On that occasion I hardly listened to him, but he came up to the farm
again after tea and marched me off to dinner at the Court. I was
strangely plastic when commanded, but when he suggested that I should
give up my walks with the--the Wonder, go away... I smiled and said
"Impossible," as though that ended the matter.

Challis, however, persisted, and I suppose I was not too far gone to
listen to him. I remember his saying: "That problem is not for you or me
or any man living to solve by introspection. Our work is to add
knowledge little by little, data here and there, for future evidence."

The phrase struck me, because the Wonder had once said, "There are no
data," when in the early days I had asked him whether he could say
definitely if there was any future existence possible for us?

Now Challis put it to me that our work was to find data, that every
little item of real knowledge added to the feeble store man has
accumulated in his few thousand years of life, was a step, the greatest
step any man could possibly make.

"But could we not get, not a small but a very important item, from
Victor Stott?"

Challis shook his head. "He is too many thousands of years ahead of us,"
he said. "We can only bridge the gap by many centuries of patient toil.
If a revelation were made to us, we should not understand it."

So, by degrees, Challis's influence took possession of me and roused me
to self-assertion.

One morning, half in dread, I stayed at home and read a novel--no other
reading could hold my attention--philosophy had become nauseating.

I expected to see the strange little figure of the Wonder come across
the Common, but he never came, nor did I receive any reproach from Ellen
Mary. I think she had forgotten her fear of the Harrison idiot.

Nevertheless, I did not give up my guardianship all at once. Three times
after that morning I took the Wonder for a walk. He made no allusion to
my defalcations. Indeed he never spoke. He relinquished me as he had
taken me up, without comment or any expression of feeling.

VI

On the twenty-ninth of September I went down to Challis Court and stayed
there for a week. Then I returned for a few days to Wood Farm in order
to put my things together and pack my books. I had decided to go to
Cairo for the winter with Challis.

At half-past one o'clock on Thursday, the eighth of October, I was in
the sitting-room, when I saw the figure of Mrs. Stott coming across the
Common. She came with a little stumbling run. I could see that she was
agitated even before she reached the farmyard gate.



CHAPTER XVI. RELEASE

I

SHE OPENED the front door without knocking, and came straight into my
sitting-room.

"'E's not 'ere," she said in a manner that left it doubtful whether she
made an assertion or asked a question.

"Your son?" I said. I had risen when she came into the room. "No; I
haven't seen him to-day."

Ellen Mary was staring at me, but it was clear that she neither saw nor
heard me. She had a look of intense concentration. One could see that
she was calculating, thinking, thinking...

I went over to her and took her by the arm. I gently shook her. "Now,
tell me what's the matter? What has happened?" I asked.

She made an effort to collect herself, loosened her arm from my hold and
with an instinctive movement pushed forward the old bonnet, which had
slipped to the back of her head.

"'E 'asn't been in to 'is dinner," she said hurriedly. "I've been on the
Common looking for 'im."

"He may have made a mistake in the time," I suggested.

She made a movement as though to push me on one side, and turned towards
the door. She was calculating again. Her expression said quite plainly,
"Could he be there, could he be there!"

"Come, come," I said, "there is surely no need to be anxious yet."

She turned on me. "'E never makes a mistake in the time," she said
fiercely, "'e always knows the time to the minute without clock or
watch. Why did you leave 'im alone?"

She broke off in her attack upon me and continued: "'E's never been late
before, not a minute, and now it's a hour after 'is time."

"He may be at home by now," I said. She took the hint instantly and
started back again with the same stumbling little run.

I picked up my hat and followed her.

II

The Wonder was not at the cottage.

"Now, my dear woman, you must keep calm," I said. "There is absolutely
no reason to be disturbed. You had better go to Challis Court and see if
he is in the library, I--"

"I'm a fool," broke in Ellen Mary with sudden decision, and she set off
again without another word. I followed her back to the Common and
watched her out of sight. I was more disturbed about her than about the
non-appearance of the Wonder. He was well able to take care of himself,
but she ...How strange that with all her calculations she had not
thought of going to Challis Court, to the place where her son had spent
so many days. I began to question whether the whole affair was not, in
some way, a mysterious creation of her own disordered brain.

Nevertheless, I took upon myself to carry out that part of the programme
which I had not been allowed to state in words to Mrs. Stott, and set
out for Deane Hill. It was just possible that the Wonder might have
slipped down that steep incline and injured himself. Possible, but very
unlikely; the Wonder did not take the risks common to boys of his age,
he did not disport himself on dangerous slopes.

As I walked I felt a sense of lightness, of relief from depression. I
had not been this way by myself since the end of August. It was good to
be alone and free.

The day was fine and not cold, though the sun was hidden. I noticed that
the woods showed scarcely a mark of autumn decline.

There was not a soul to be seen by the monument. I scrambled down the
slope and investigated the base of the hill and came back another way
through the woods. I saw no one. I stopped continually and whistled
loudly. If he is anywhere near at hand, I thought, and in trouble, he
will hear that and answer me. I did not call him by name. I did not know
what name to call. It would have seemed absurd to have called "Victor."
No one ever addressed him by name.

My return route brought me back to the south edge of the Common, the
point most remote from the farm. There I met a labourer whom I knew by
sight, a man named Hawke. He was carrying a stick, and prodding with it
foolishly among the furze and gorse bushes. The bracken was already
dying down.

"What are you looking for?" I asked.

"It's this 'ere Master Stott, sir," he said, looking up. "'E's got
loarst seemingly."

I felt a sudden stab of self-reproach. I had been taking things too
easily. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to four.

"Mr. Challis 'ave told me to look for 'un," added the man, and continued
his aimless prodding of the gorse.

"Where is Mr. Challis?" I asked.

"'E's yonder, soomwheres." He made a vague gesture in the direction of
Pym.

The sun had come out, and the Common was all aglow. I hastened towards
the village.

On the way I met Farmer Bates and two or three labourers. They, too,
were beating among the gorse and brown bracken. They told me that Mr.
Chain's was at the cottage and I hurried on. All the neighbourhood, it
seems, were searching for the Wonder. In the village I saw three or four
women standing with aprons over their heads, talking together.

I had never seen Pym so animated.

III

I met Challis in the lane. He was coming away from Mrs. Stott's cottage.

"Have you found him?" I asked stupidly. I knew quite well that the
Wonder was not found, and yet I had a fond hope that I might,
nevertheless, be mistaken.

Challis shook his head. "There will be a mad woman in that cottage if he
doesn't come back by nightfall," he remarked with a jerk of his head.
"I've done what I can for her."

I explained that I had been over to Deane Hill, searching and calling.

"You didn't see anything?" asked Challis, echoing my foolish query of a
moment before. I shook my head.

We were both agitated without doubt.

We soon came up with Farmer Bates and his men. They stopped and touched
their hats when they saw us, and we put the same silly question to them.

"You haven't found him?" We knew perfectly well that they would have
announced the fact at once if they had found him.

"One of you go over to the Court and get any man you can find to come
and help," said Challis. "Tell Heathcote to send every one."

One of the labourers touched his cap again, and started off at once with
a lumbering trot.

Challis and I walked on in silence, looking keenly about us and stopping
every now and then and calling. We called "Hallo! Hallo-o!" It was an
improvement upon my whistle.

"He's such a little chap," muttered Challis once; "it would be so easy
to miss him if he were unconscious."

It struck me that the reference to the Wonder was hardly sufficiently
respectful. I had never thought of him as "a little chap." But Challis
had not known him so intimately as I had.

The shadows were fast creeping over the Common. At the woodside it was
already twilight. The whole of the western sky right up to the zenith
was a finely shaded study in brilliant orange and yellow. "More rain," I
thought instinctively, and paused for a moment to watch the sunset. The
black distance stood clearly silhouetted against the sky. One could
discern the sharp outline of tiny trees on the distant horizon.

We met Heathcote and several other men in the lane.

"Shan't be able to do much to-night, sir," said Heathcote. "It'll be
dark in 'alf an hour, sir,"

"Well, do what you can in half an hour," replied Challis, and to me he
said, "You'd better come back with me. We've done what we can."

I had a picture of him then as the magnate; I had hardly thought of him
in that light before. The arduous work of the search he could delegate
to his inferiors. Still, he had come out himself, and I doubt not that
he had been altogether charming to the bewildered, distraught mother.

I acquiesced in his suggestion. I was beginning to feel very tired.

Mrs. Heathcote was at the gate when we arrived at the Court. "'Ave they
found 'im, sir?" she asked.

"Not yet," replied Challis.

I followed him into the house.

IV

As I walked back at ten o'clock it was raining steadily. I had refused
the offer of a trap. I went through the dark and sodden wood, and I
lingered and listened. The persistent tap, tap, tap of the rain on the
leaves irritated me. How could one hear while that noise was going on?
There was no other sound. There was not a breath of wind. Only that
perpetual tap, tap, patter, patter, drip, tap, tap. It seemed as if it
might go on through eternity...

I went to the Stotts' cottage, though I knew there could be no news.
Challis had given strict instructions that any news should be brought to
him immediately. If it was bad news it was to be brought to him before
the mother was told.

There was a light burning in the cottage, and the door was set wide
open.

I went up to the door but I did not go in.

Ellen Mary was sitting in a high chair, her hands clasped together, and
she rocked continually to and fro. She made no sound; she merely rocked
herself with a steady, regular persistence.

She did not see me standing at the open door, and I moved quietly away.

As I walked over the Common--I avoided the wood deliberately--I wondered
what was the human limit of endurance. I wondered whether Ellen Mary had
not reached that limit.

Mrs. Berridge had not gone to bed, and there were some visitors in the
kitchen. I heard them talking. Mrs. Berridge came out when I opened the
front door.

"Any news, sir?" she asked.

"No; no news," I said. I had been about to ask her the same question.

V

I did not go to sleep for some time. I had a picture of Ellen Mary
before my eyes, and I could still hear that steady, pat, patter, drip,
of the rain on the beech leaves.

In the night I awoke suddenly, and thought I heard a long, wailing cry
out on the Common. I got up and looked out of the window, but I could
see nothing. The rain was still falling, but there was a blur of light
that showed where the moon was shining behind the clouds. The cry, if
there had been a cry, was not repeated.

I went back to bed and soon fell asleep again.

I do not know whether I had been dreaming, but I woke suddenly with a
presentation of the little pond on the Common very clear before me.

"We never looked in the pond," I thought, and then--"but he could not
have fallen into the pond; besides, it's not two feet deep."

It was full daylight, and I got up and found that, it was nearly seven
o'clock.

The rain had stopped, but there was a scurry of low, threatening cloud
that blew up from the south.

I dressed at once and went out. I made my way directly to the Stotts'
cottage.

The lamp was still burning and the door open, but Ellen Mary had fallen
forward on to the table; her head was pillowed on her arms.

"There is a limit to our endurance," I reflected, "and she has reached
it."

I left her undisturbed.

Outside I met two of Fanner Bates's labourers going back to work.

"I want you to come up with me to the pond," I said.

VI

The pond was very full.

On the side from which we approached, the ground sloped gradually, and
the water was stretching out far beyond its accustomed limits.

On the farther side the gorse among the trunks of the three ash-trees
came right to the edge of the bank. On that side the bank was three or
four feet high.

We came to the edge of the pond, and one of the labourers waded in a
little way--the water was very shallow on that side--but we could see
nothing for the scum of weed, little spangles of dirty green, and a mass
of some other plant that had borne a little white flower in the earlier
part of the year--stuff like dwarf hemlock.

Under the farther bank, however, I saw one comparatively clear space of
black water.

"Let's go round," I said, and led the way

There was a tiny path which twisted between the gorse roots and came out
at the edge of the farther bank by the stem of the tallest ash. I had
seen tiny village boys pretending to fish from this point with a stick
and a piece of string. There was a dead branch of ash some five or six
feet long, with the twigs partly twisted off; it was lying among the
bushes. I remembered that I had seen small boys using this branch to
clear away the surface weed. I picked it up and took it with me.

I wound one arm round the trunk of the ash, and peered over into the
water under the bank.

I caught sight of something white under the water. I could not see
distinctly. I thought it was a piece of broken ware--the bottom of a
basin. I had picked up the ash stick and was going to probe the deeper
water with it. Then I saw that the dim white object was globular.

The end of my stick was actually in the water. I withdrew it quickly,
and threw it behind me.

My heart began to throb painfully.

I turned my face away and leaned against the ash-tree.

"Can you see anythin'?" asked one of the labourers who had come up
behind me.

"O Christ!" I said. I turned quickly from the pond and pressed a way
through the gorse.

I was overwhelmingly and disgustingly sick.

VII

By degrees the solid earth ceased to wave and sway before me like a
rolling heave of water, and I looked up, pressing my hands to my
head--my hands were as cold as death.

My clothes were wet and muddy where I had lain on the sodden ground. I
got to my feet and instinctively began to brush at the mud.

I was still a little giddy, and I swayed and sought for support.

I could see the back of one labourer. He was kneeling by the ash-tree
bending right down over the water. The other man was standing in the
pond, up to his waist in water and mud. I could just see his head and
shoulders...

I staggered away in the direction of the village.

VIII

I found Ellen Mary still sitting in the same chair. The lamp was
fluttering to extinction, the flame leaping spasmodically, dying down
till it seemed that it had gone out, and then again suddenly flickering
up with little clicking bursts of flame. The air reeked intolerably of
paraffin.

I blew the lamp out and pushed it on one side.

There was no need to break the news to Ellen Mary. She had known last
night, and now she was beyond the reach of information.

She sat upright in her chair and stared out into the immensity. Her
hands alone moved, and they were not still for an instant. They lay in
her lap, and her fingers writhed and picked at her dress.

I spoke to her once, but I knew that her mind was beyond the reach of my
words.

"It is just as well," I thought; "but we must get her away."

I went out and called to the woman next door.

She was in her kitchen, but the door was open. She came out when I
knocked.

"Poor thing!" she said, when I told her. "It 'as been a shock, no doubt.
She was so wrapped hup in the boy."

She could hardly have said less if her neighbour had lost half-a-crown.

"Get her into your cottage before they come," I said harshly, and left
her.

I wanted to get out of the lane before the men came back, but I had
hardly started before I saw them coming.

They had made a chair of their arms, and were carrying him between them.
They had not the least fear of him, now.

IX

The Harrison idiot suddenly jumped out of the hedge.

I put my hand to my throat. I wanted to cry out, to stop him, but I
could not move. I felt sick again, and utterly weak and powerless, and I
could not take my gaze from that little doll with the great drooping
head that rolled as the men walked.

I was reminded, disgustingly, of children with a guy.

The idiot ran shambling down the lane. He knew the two men, who
tolerated him and laughed at him. He was not afraid of them nor their
burden.

He came right up to them. I heard one of the men say gruffly, "Now then,
you cut along off!"

I believe the idiot must have touched the dead body.

I was gripping my throat in my hand; I was trying desperately to cry
out.

Whether the idiot actually touched the body or not I cannot say, but he
must have realised in his poor, bemused brain that the thing was dead.

He cried out with his horrible, inhuman cry, turned, and ran up the lane
towards me. He fell on his face a few yards from me, scrambled wildly to
his feet again and came on yelping and shrieking. He was wildly,
horribly afraid. I caught sight of his face as he passed me, and his
mouth was distorted into a square, his upper lip horribly drawn up over
his ragged, yellow teeth. Suddenly he dashed at the hedge and clawed his
way through. I heard him still yelping appallingly as he rushed away
across the field...

CHAPTER XVII. IMPLICATIONS

I

THE jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death."

If there had been any traces of a struggle, I had not noticed them when
I came to the edge of the pond. There may have been marks as if a foot
had slipped. I was not thinking of evidence when I looked into the
water.

There were marks enough when the police came to investigate, but they
were the marks made by a twelve-stone man in hobnail boots, who had
scrambled into, and out of, the pond. As the inspector said, it was not
worth while wasting any time in looking for earlier traces of footsteps
below those marks.

Nor were there any signs of violence on the body. It was in no way
disfigured, save by the action of the water, in which it had lain for
eighteen hours.

There was, indeed, only one point of any significance from the jury's
point of view, and that they put on one side, if they considered it at
all; the body was pressed into the mud.

The coroner asked a few questions about this fact.

Was the mud very soft? Yes, very soft, liquid on top.

How was the body lying? Face downwards.

What part of the body was deepest in the mud? The chest. The witness
said he had hard work to get the upper part of the body released; the
head was free, but the mud held the rest. "The mooad soocked like," was
the expressive phrase of the witness.

The Coroner passed on to other things. Had any one a spite against the
child? and such futilities. Only once more did he revert to that
solitary significant fact. "Would it be possible," he asked of the
abashed and self-conscious labourer, "would it be possible for the body
to have worked its way down into the soft mud as you have described it
to have been found?"

"We-el," said the witness, "'twas in the stacky mooad, 'twas through the
sarft stoof."

"But this soft mud would suck any solid body down, would it not?"
persisted the Coroner.

And the witness recalled the case of a duck that had been sucked into
the same soft pond mud the summer before, and cited the instance. He
forgot to add that on that occasion the mud had not been under water.

The Coroner accepted the instance. There can be no question that both he
and the jury were anxious to accept the easier explanation.

II

But I know perfectly well that the Wonder did not fall into the pond by
accident.

I should have known, even if that conclusive evidence with regard to his
being pushed into the mud had never come to light.

He may have stood by the ash-tree and looked into the water, but he
would never have fallen. He was too perfectly controlled; and, with all
his apparent abstraction, no one was ever more alive to the detail of
his surroundings. He and I have walked together perforce in many
slippery places, but I have never known him to fall or even begin to
lose his balance, whereas I have gone down many times.

Yes; I know that he was pushed into the pond, and I know that he was
held down in the mud, most probably by the aid of that ash stick I had
held. But it was not for me to throw suspicion on any one at that
inquest, and I preferred to keep my thoughts and my inferences to
myself. I should have done so, even if I had been in possession of
stronger evidence.

I hope that it was the Harrison idiot who was to blame. He was not
dangerous in the ordinary sense, but he might quite well have done the
thing in play--as he understood it. Only I cannot quite understand his
pushing the body down after it fell. That seems to argue
vindictiveness--and a logic which I can hardly attribute to the idiot.
Still, who can tell what went on in the distorted mind of that poor
creature? He is reported to have rescued the dead body of a rabbit from
the undergrowth on one occasion, and to have blubbered when he could not
bring it back to life.

There is but one other person who could have been implicated, and I
hesitate to name him in this place. Yet one remembers what terrific acts
of misapplied courage and ferocious brutality the fanatics of history
have been capable of performing when their creed and their authority
have been set at naught.

III

Ellen Mary never recovered her sanity. She died a few weeks ago in the
County Asylum. I hear that her husband attended the funeral. When she
lost her belief in the supernal wisdom and power of her god, her world
must have fallen about her. The thing she had imagined to be solid,
real, everlasting, had proved to be friable and destructible like all
other human building.

IV

The Wonder is buried in Chilborough churchyard.

You may find the place by its proximity to the great marble mausoleum
erected over the remains of Sir Edward Bigg, the well-known brewer and
philanthropist.

The grave of Victor Stott is marked by a small stone, some six inches
high, which is designed to catch the foot rather than the eye of the
seeker.

The stone bears the initials "V. S." and a date--no more.

I saw the Wonder before he was buried.

I went up into the little bedroom and looked at him in his tiny coffin.

I was no longer afraid of him. His power over me was dissipated. He was
no greater and no less than any other dead thing.

It was the same with everyone. He had become that "poor little boy of
Mrs. Stott's." No one spoke of him with respect now. No one seemed to
remember that he had been in any way different from other "poor little
fellows" who had died an untimely death. One thing did strike me as
curious. The idiot, the one person who had never feared him living, had
feared him horribly when he was dead...

EPILOGUE. THE USES OF MYSTERY

SOMETHING Challis has told me; something I have learned for myself; and
there is something which has come to me from an unknown source.

But here again we are confronted with the original difficulty--the
difficulty that for some conceptions there is no verbal figure.

It is comprehensible, it is, indeed, obvious that the deeper abstract
speculation of the Wonder's thought cannot be set out by any metaphor
that would be understood by a lesser intelligence.

We see that many philosophers, whose utterances have been recorded in
human history--that record which floats like a drop of oil on the
limitless ocean of eternity--have been confronted with this same
difficulty, and have woven an intricate and tedious design of words in
their attempt to convey some single conception--some conception which
themselves could see but dimly when disguised in the masquerade of
language; some figure that as it was limned grew ever more confused
beneath the wrappings of metaphor, so that we who read can glimpse
scarce a hint of its original shape and likeness. We see, also, that the
very philosophers who caricatured their own eidolon, became intrigued
with the logical abstraction of words and were led away into a
wilderness of barren deduction--their one inspired vision of a stable
premiss distorted and at last forgotten.

How then shall we hope to find words to adumbrate a philosophy which
starts by the assumption that we can have no impression of reality until
we have rid ourselves of the interposing and utterly false concepts of
space and time, which delimit the whole world of human thought?

I admit that one cannot even begin to do this thing; within our present
limitations our whole machinery of thought is built of these two
original concepts. They are the only gauges wherewith we may measure
every reality, every abstraction; wherewith we may give outline to any
image or process of the mind. Only when we endeavour to grapple with
that indeterminable mystery of consciousness can we conceive, however
dimly, some idea of a pure abstraction uninfluenced by and independent
of, those twin bases of our means of thought.

Here it is that Challis has paused. Here he says that we must wait, that
no revelation can reveal what we are incapable of understanding, that
only by the slow process of evolution can we attain to any understanding
of the mystery we have sought to solve by our futile and primitive
hypotheses.

"But then," I have pressed him, "why do you hesitate to speak of what
you heard on that afternoon?"

And once he answered me:

"I glimpsed a finality," he said, "and that appalled me. Don't you see
that ignorance is the means of our intellectual pleasure? It is the
solving of the problem that brings enjoyment--the solved problem has no
further interest. So when all is known, the stimulus for action ceases;
when all is known there is quiescence, nothingness. Perfect knowledge
implies the peace of death, implies the state of being one--our
pleasures are derived from action, from differences, from heterogeneity.

"Oh! pity the child," said Challis, "for whom there could be no mystery.
Is not mystery the first and greatest joy of life? Beyond the gate there
is unexplored mystery for us in our childhood. When that is explored,
there are new and wonderful possibilities beyond the hills, then beyond
the seas, beyond the known world, in the everyday chances and movements
of the unknown life in which we are circumstanced.

"Surely we should all perish through sheer inanity, or die desperately
by suicide if no mystery remained in the world. Mystery takes a thousand
beautiful shapes; it lurks even in the handiwork of man, in a stone god,
or in some mighty, intricate machine, incomprehensibly deliberate and
determined. The imagination endows the man-made thing with consciousness
and powers, whether of reservation or aloofness; the similitude of
meditation and profundity is wrought into stone. Is there not source for
mystery to the uninstructed in the great machine registering the
progress of its own achievement with each solemn, recurrent beat of its
metal pulse?

"Behind all these things is the wonder of the imagination that never
approaches more nearly to the creation of a hitherto unknown image than
when it thus hesitates on the verge of mystery.

"There is yet so much, so very much cause for wondering speculation.
Science gains ground so slowly. Slowly it has outlined, however vaguely,
the uncertainties of our origin so far as this world is concerned, while
the mystic has fought for his entrancing fairy tales one by one.

"The mystic still holds his enthralling belief in the succession of
peoples who have risen and died--the succeeding world-races, red, black,
yellow, and white, which have in turn dominated this planet. Science
with its hammer and chisel may lay bare evidence, may collate material,
date man's appearance, call him the most recent of placental mammals,
trace his superstitions and his first conceptions of a god from the
elemental fears of the savage. But the mystic turns aside with an
assumption of superior knowledge; he waves away objective evidence; he
has a certainty impressed upon his mind.

"The mystic is a power; he compels a multitude of followers, because he
offers an attraction greater than the facts of science; he tells of a
mystery profounder than any problem solved by patient investigation,
because his mystery is incomprehensible even by himself; and in fear
lest any should comprehend it, he disguises the approach with an array
of lesser mysteries, man-made; with terminologies, symbologies and high
talk of esotericism too fearful for any save the initiate.

"But we must preserve our mystic in some form against the awful time
when science shall have determined a limit; when the long history of
evolution shall be written in full, and every stage of world-building
shall be made plain. When the cycle of atomic dust to atomic dust is
demonstrated, and the detail of the life-process is taught, and
understood, we shall have a fierce need for the mystic to save us from
the futility of a world we understand, to lie to us if need be, to
inspirit our material and regular minds with some breath of delicious
madness. We shall need the mystic then, or the completeness of our
knowledge will drive us at last to complete the dusty circle in our
eagerness to escape from a world we understand...

"See how man clings to his old and useless traditions; see how he
opposes at every step the awful force of progress. At each stage he
protests that the thing that is, is good, or that the thing that was and
has gone, was better. He despises new knowledge and fondly clings to the
belief that once men were greater than they now are. He looks back to
the more primitive, and endows it with that mystery he cannot find in
his own times. So have men ever looked lingeringly behind them. It is an
instinct, a great and wonderful inheritance that postpones the moment of
disillusionment.

"We are still mercifully surrounded with the countless mysteries of
everyday experience, all the evidences of the unimaginable stimulus we
call life. Would you take them away? Would you resolve life into a
disease of the ether--a disease of which you and I, all life and all
matter, are symptoms? Would you teach that to the child, and explain to
him that the wonder of life and growth is no wonder, but a demonstrable
result of impeded force, to be evaluated by the application of an
adequate formula?

"You and I," said Challis, "are children in the infancy of the world.
Let us to our play in the nursery of our own times. The day will come,
perhaps, when humanity shall have grown and will have to take upon
itself the heavy burden of knowledge. But you need not fear that that
will be in our day, nor in a thousand years.

"Meanwhile leave us our childish fancies, our little imaginings, our
hope--children that we are--of those impossible mysteries beyond the
hills ...beyond the hills."



THE END



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