Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: Collected Stories
Author: William Fryer Harvey
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605761.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html


To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au


Collected Stories
William Fryer Harvey



Table of Contents

Across the Moors
August Heat




ACROSS THE MOORS

It really was most unfortunate.

Peggy had a temperature of nearly a hundred, and a pain in her side,
and Mrs. Workington Bancroft knew that it was appendicitis. But there
was no one whom she could send for the doctor.

James had gone with the jaunting-car to meet her husband who had at
last managed to get away for a week's shooting.

Adolph, she had sent to the Evershams, only half an hour before, with
a note for Lady Eva.

The cook could not manage to walk, even if dinner could be served
without her.

Kate, as usual, was not to be trusted.

There remained Miss Craig.

"Of course, you must see that Peggy is really ill," said she, as the
governess came into the room, in answer to her summons. "The
difficulty is, that there is absolutely no one whom I can send for the
doctor." Mrs. Workington Bancroft paused; she was always willing that
those beneath her should have the privilege of offering the services
which it was her right to command.

"So, perhaps, Miss Craig," she went on, "you would not mind walking
over to Tebbits' Farm. I hear there is a Liverpool doctor staying
there. Of course I know nothing about him, but we must take the risk,
and I expect he'll be only too glad to be earning something during his
holiday. It's nearly four miles, I know, and I'd never dream of asking
you if it was not that I dread appendicitis so."

"Very well," said Miss Craig, "I suppose I must go; but I don't know
the way."

"Oh you can't miss it," said Mrs. Workington Bancroft, in her anxiety
temporarily forgiving the obvious unwillingness of her governess'
consent.

"You follow the road across the moor for two miles, until you come to
Redman's Cross. You turn to the left there, and follow a rough path
that leads through a larch plantation. And Tebbits' farm lies just
below you in the valley."

"And take Pontiff with you," she added, as the girl left the room.
"There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of, but I expect you'll feel
happier with the dog."

"Well, miss," said the cook, when Miss Craig went into the kitchen to
get her boots, which had been drying by the fire; "of course she knows
best, but I don't think it's right after all that's happened for the
mistress to send you across the moors on a night like this. It's not
as if the doctor could do anything for Miss Margaret if you do bring
him. Every child is like that once in a while. He'll only say put her
to bed, and she's there already."

"I don't see what there is to be afraid of, cook," said Miss Craig as
she laced her boots, "unless you believe in ghosts."

"I'm not so sure about that. Anyhow I don't like sleeping in a bed
where the sheets are too short for you to pull them over your head.
But don't you be frightened, miss. It's my belief that their bark is
worse than their bite."

But though Miss Craig amused herself for some minutes by trying to
imagine the bark of a ghost (a thing altogether different from the
classical ghostly bark), she did not feel entirely at her ease.

She was naturally nervous, and living as she did in the hinterland of
the servants' hall, she had heard vague details of true stories that
were only myths in the drawing-room.

The very name of Redman's Cross sent a shiver through her; it must
have been the place where that horrid murder was committed. She had
forgotten the tale, though she remembered the name.

Her first disaster came soon enough.

Pontiff, who was naturally slow-witted, took more than five minutes to
find out that it was only the governess he was escorting, but once the
discovery had been made, he promptly turned tail, paying not the
slightest heed to Miss Craig's feeble whistle. And then, to add to her
discomfort, the rain came, not in heavy drops, but driving in sheets
of thin spray that blotted out what few landmarks there were upon the
moor.

They were very kind at Tebbits' farm. The doctor had gone back to
Liverpool the day before, but Mrs. Tebbit gave her hot milk and turf
cakes, and offered her reluctant son to show Miss Craig a shorter path
on to the moor, that avoided the larch wood.

He was a monosyllabic youth, but his presence was cheering, and she
felt the night doubly black when he left her at the last gate.

She trudged on wearily. Her thoughts had already gone back to the
almost exhausted theme of the bark of ghosts, when she heard steps on
the road behind her that were at least material. Next minute the
figure of a man appeared: Miss Craig was relieved to see that the
stranger was a clergyman. He raised his hat. "I believe we are both
going in the same direction," he said.

"Perhaps I may have the pleasure of escorting you." She thanked him.
"It is rather weird at night," she went on, "and what with all the
tales of ghosts and bogies that one hears from the country people,
I've ended by being half afraid myself."

"I can understand your nervousness," he said, "especially on a night
like this. I used at one time to feel the same, for my work often
meant lonely walks across the moor to farms which were only reached by
rough tracks difficult enough to find even in the daytime."

"And you never saw anything to frighten you--nothing immaterial I
mean?"

"I can't really say that I did, but I had an experience eleven years
ago which served as the turning point in my life, and since you seem
to be now in much the same state of mind as I was then in, I will tell
it you.

"The time of year was late September. I had been over to Westondale to
see an old woman who was dying, and then, just as I was about to start
on my way home, word came to me of another of my parishioners who had
been suddenly taken ill only that morning. It was after seven when at
last I started. A farmer saw me on my way, turning back when I reached
the moor road.

"The sunset the previous evening had been one of the most lovely I
ever remember seeing. The whole vault of heaven had been scattered
with flakes of white cloud, tipped with rosy pink like the strewn
petals of a full-blown rose.

"But that night all was changed. The sky was an absolutely dull slate
colour, except in one corner of the west where a thin rift showed the
last saffron tint of the sullen sunset. As I walked, stiff and
footsore, my spirits sank. It must have been the marked contrast
between the two evenings, the one so lovely, so full of promise (the
corn was still out in the fields spoiling for fine weather), the other
so gloomy, so sad with all the dead weight of autumn and winter days
to come. And then added to this sense of heavy depression came another
different feeling which I surprised myself by recognising as fear.

"I did not know why I was afraid.

"The moors lay on either side of me, unbroken except for a straggling
line of turf shooting butts, that stood within a stone's-throw of the
road.

"The only sound I had heard for the last half hour was the cry of the
startled grouse--Go back, go back, go back. But yet the feeling of
fear was there, affecting a low centre of my brain through some little
used physical channel.

"I buttoned my coat closer, and tried to divert my thoughts by
thinking of next Sunday's sermon.

"I had chosen to preach on Job. There is much in the old-fashioned
notion of the book, apart from all the subtleties of the higher
criticism, that appeals to country people; the loss of herds and
crops, the break up of the family. I would not have dared to speak,
had not I too been a farmer; my own glebe land had been flooded three
weeks before, and I suppose I stood to lose as much as any man in the
parish. As I walked along the road repeating to myself the first
chapter of the book, I stopped at the twelfth verse.

"'And the Lord said unto Satan: Behold all that he hath is in thy
power'. . .

"The thought of the bad harvest (and that is an awful thought in these
valleys) vanished. I seemed to gaze into an ocean of infinite
darkness.

"I had often used, with the Sunday glibness of the tired priest, whose
duty it is to preach three sermons in one day, the old simile of the
chess board. God and the Devil were the players: and we were helping
one side or the other. But until that night I had not thought of the
possibility of my being only a pawn in the game, that God might throw
away that the game might be won.

"I had reached the place where we are now, I remember it by that rough
stone water-trough, when a man suddenly jumped up from the roadside.
He had been seated on a heap of broken road metal."

'Which way are you going, guv'ner?' he said.

"I knew from the way he spoke that the man was a stranger. There are
many at this time of the year who come up from the south, tramping
northwards with the ripening corn. I told him my destination.

"'We'll go along together,' he replied.

"It was too dark to see much of the man's face, but what little I made
out was coarse and brutal.

"Then he began the half-menacing whine I knew so well--he had tramped
miles that day, he had had no food since breakfast, and that was only
a crust."

'Give us a copper', he said, 'it's only for a night's lodging.'

"He was whittling away with a big clasp knife at an ash stake he had
taken from some hedge."

The clergyman broke off.

"Are those the lights of your house?" he said. "We are nearer than I
expected, but I shall have time to finish my story. I think I will,
for you can run home in a couple of minutes, and I don't want you to
be frightened when you are out on the moors again.

"As the man talked he seemed to have stepped out of the very
background of my thoughts, his sordid tale, with the sad lies that hid
a far sadder truth.

"He asked me the time.

"It was five minutes to nine. As I replaced my watch I glanced at his
face. His teeth were clenched, and there was something in the gleam of
his eyes that told me at once his purpose.

"Have you ever known how long a second is? For a third of a second I
stood there facing him, filled with an overwhelming pity for myself
and him; and then without a word of warning he was upon me. I felt
nothing. A flash of lightning ran down my spine, I heard the dull
crash of the ash stake, and then a very gentle patter like the sound
of a far-distant stream. For a minute I lay in perfect happiness
watching the lights of the house as they increased in number until the
whole heaven shone with twinkling lamps.

"I could not have had a more painless death."

Miss Craig looked up. The man was gone; she was alone on the moor.

She ran to the house, her teeth chattering, ran to the solid shadow
that crossed and recrossed the kitchen blind.

As she entered the hall, the clock on the stairs struck the hour. It
was nine o'clock.




AUGUST HEAT


PHENISTONE ROAD, CLAPHAM.
August 20th, 190--.

I have had what I believe to be the most remarkable day in my life,
and while the events are still fresh in my mind, I wish to put them
down on paper as clearly as possible.

Let me say at the outset that my name is James Clarence Withencroft.

I am forty years old, in perfect health, never having known a day's
illness.

By profession I am an artist, not a very successful one, but I earn
enough money by my black-and--white work to satisfy my necessary
wants.

My only near relative, a sister, died five years ago, so that I am
independent. I breakfasted this morning at nine, and after glancing
through the morning paper I lighted my pipe and proceeded to let my
mind wander in the hope that I might chance upon some subject for my
pencil.

The room, though door and windows were open, was oppressively hot, and
I had just made up my mind that the coolest and most comfortable place
in the neighbourhood would be the deep end of the public swimming
bath, when the idea came.

I began to draw. So intent was I on my work that I left my lunch
untouched, only stopping work when the clock of St. Jude's struck
four.

The final result, for a hurried sketch, was, I felt sure, the best
thing I had done. It showed a criminal in the dock immediately after
the judge had pronounced sentence. The man was fat---enormously fat.
The flesh hung in rolls about his chin; it creased his huge, stumpy
neck. He was clean shaven (perhaps I should say a few days before he
must have been clean shaven) and almost bald. He stood in the dock,
his short, clumsy fingers clasping the rail, looking straight in front
of him. The feeling that his expression conveyed was not so much one
of horror as of utter, absolute collapse.

There seemed nothing in the man strong enough to sustain that mountain
of flesh.

I rolled up the sketch, and without quite knowing why, placed it in my
pocket. Then with the rare sense of happiness which the knowledge of a
good thing well done gives, I left the house.

I believe that I set out with the idea of calling upon Trenton, for I
remember walking along Lytton Street and turning to the right along
Gilchrist Road at the bottom of the hill where the men were at work on
the new tram lines.

From there onwards I have only the vaguest recollection of where I
went. The one thing of which I was fully conscious was the awful heat,
that came up from the dusty asphalt pavement as an almost palpable
wave. I longed for the thunder promised by the great banks of copper-
coloured cloud that hung low over the western sky.

I must have walked five or six miles, when a small boy roused me from
my reverie by asking the time.

It was twenty minutes to seven.

When he left me I began to take stock of my bearings. I found myself
standing before a gate that led into a yard bordered by a strip of
thirsty earth, where there were flowers, purple stock and scarlet
geranium. Above the entrance was a board with the inscription--

CHS. ATKINSON. MONUMENTAL MASON.

WORKER IN ENGLISH AND ITALIAN MARBLES

From the yard itself came a cheery whistle, the noise of hammer blows,
and the cold sound of steel meeting stone.

A sudden impulse made me enter.

A man was sitting with his back towards me, busy at work on a slab of
curiously veined marble. He turned round as he heard my steps and I
stopped short.

It was the man I had been drawing, whose portrait lay in my pocket.

He sat there, huge and elephantine, the sweat pouring from his scalp,
which he wiped with a red silk handkerchief. But though the face was
the same, the expression was absolutely different.

He greeted me smiling, as if we were old friends, and shook my hand.

I apologised for my intrusion.

"Everything is hot and glary outside," I said. "This seems an oasis in
the wilderness."

"I don't know about the oasis," he replied, "but it certainly is hot,
as hot as hell. Take a seat, sir!"

He pointed to the end of the gravestone on which he was at work, and I
sat down.

"That's a beautiful piece of stone you've got hold of," I said.

He shook his head. "In a way it is," he answered; "the surface here is
as fine as anything you could wish, but there's a big flaw at the
back, though I don't expect you'd ever notice it. I could never make
really a good job of a bit of marble like that. It would be all right
in the summer like this; it wouldn't mind the blasted heat. But wait
till the winter comes. There's nothing quite like frost to find out
the weak points in stone."

"Then what's it for?" I asked.

The man burst out laughing.

"You'd hardly believe me if I was to tell you it's for an exhibition,
but it's the truth. Artists have exhibitions: so do grocers and
butchers; we have them too. All the latest little things in
headstones, you know."

He went on to talk of marbles, which sort best withstood wind and
rain, and which were easiest to work; then of his garden and a new
sort of carnation he had bought. At the end of every other minute he
would drop his tools, wipe his shining head, and curse the heat.

I said little, for I felt uneasy. There was something unnatural,
uncanny, in meeting this man.

I tried at first to persuade myself that I had seen him before, that
his face, unknown to me, had found a place in some out-of-the-way
corner of my memory, but I knew that I was practising little more than
a plausible piece of self-deception.

Mr. Atkinson finished his work, spat on the ground, and got up with a
sigh of relief.

"There! what do you think of that?" he said, with an air of evident
pride. The inscription which I read for the first time was this--

SACRED TO THE MEMORY

OF

JAMES CLARENCE WITHENCROFT.

BORN JAN. 18TH, 1860.

HE PASSED AWAY VERY SUDDENLY

ON AUGUST 20TH, 190--

"In the midst of life we are in death."

For some time I sat in silence. Then a cold shudder ran down my spine.
I asked him where he had seen the name.

"Oh, I didn't see it anywhere," replied Mr. Atkinson. "I wanted some
name, and I put down the first that came into my head. Why do you want
to know?"

"It's a strange coincidence, but it happens to be mine." He gave a
long, low whistle.

"And the dates?"

"I can only answer for one of them, and that's correct."

"It's a rum go!" he said.

But he knew less than I did. I told him of my morning's work. I took
the sketch from my pocket and showed it to him. As he looked, the
expression of his face altered until it became more and more like that
of the man I had drawn.

"And it was only the day before yesterday," he said, "that I told
Maria there were no such things as ghosts!"

Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.

"You probably heard my name," I said.

"And you must have seen me somewhere and have forgotten it! Were you
at Clacton-on-Sea last July?"

I had never been to Clacton in my life. We were silent for some time.
We were both looking at the same thing, the two dates on the
gravestone, and one was right.

"Come inside and have some supper," said Mr. Atkinson.

His wife was a cheerful little woman, with the flaky red cheeks of the
country-bred. Her husband introduced me as a friend of his who was an
artist. The result was unfortunate, for after the sardines and
watercress had been removed, she brought out a Doré Bible, and I had
to sit and express my admiration for nearly half an hour.

I went outside, and found Atkinson sitting on the gravestone smoking.

We resumed the conversation at the point we had left off. "You must
excuse my asking," I said, "but do you know of anything you've done
for which you could be put on trial?"

He shook his head. "I'm not a bankrupt, the business is prosperous
enough. Three years ago I gave turkeys to some of the guardians at
Christmas, but that's all I can think of. And they were small ones,
too," he added as an afterthought.

He got up, fetched a can from the porch, and began to water the
flowers. "Twice a day regular in the hot weather," he said, "and then
the heat sometimes gets the better of the delicate ones. And ferns,
good Lord! they could never stand it. Where do you live?"

I told him my address. It would take an hour's quick walk to get back
home.

"It's like this," he said. "We'll look at the matter straight. If you
go back home to-night, you take your chance of accidents. A cart may
run over you, and there's always banana skins and orange peel, to say
nothing of fallen ladders."

He spoke of the improbable with an intense seriousness that would have
been laughable six hours before. But I did not laugh.

"The best thing we can do," he continued, "is for you to stay here
till twelve o'clock. We'll go upstairs and smoke, it may be cooler
inside."

To my surprise I agreed.

* * *

We are sitting now in a long, low room beneath the eaves. Atkinson has
sent his wife to bed. He himself is busy sharpening some tools at a
little oilstone, smoking one of my cigars the while.

The air seems charged with thunder. I am writing this at a shaky table
before the open window.

The leg is cracked, and Atkinson, who seems a handy man with his
tools, is going to mend it as soon as he has finished putting an edge
on his chisel.

It is after eleven now. I shall be gone in less than an hour.

But the heat is stifling.

It is enough to send a man mad.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia