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Title: Collected Stories Author: May Sinclair * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0606491h.html 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
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Table of Contents
The Nature of the Evidence
THIS is the story Marston told me. He didn't want to tell it. I had to tear it from him bit by bit. I've pieced the bits together in their time order, and explained things here and there, but the facts are the facts he gave me. There's nothing that I didn't get out of him somehow.
Out of him--you'll admit my source is unimpeachable. Edward Marston, the great K.C., and the author of an admirable work on "The Logic of Evidence." You should have read the chapters on "What Evidence Is and What It Is Not." You may say he lied; but if you knew Marston you'd know he wouldn't lie, for the simple reason that he's incapable of inventing anything. So that, if you ask me whether I believe this tale, all I can say is, I believe the things happened, because he said they happened and because they happened to him. As for what they were--well, I don't pretend to explain it, neither would he.
You know he was married twice. He adored his first wife, Rosamund, and Rosamund adored him. I suppose they were completely happy. She was fifteen years younger than he, and beautiful. I wish I could make you see how beautiful. Her eyes and mouth had the same sort of bow, full and wide-sweeping, and they stared out of her face with the same grave, contemplative innocence. Her mouth was finished off at each corner with the loveliest little moulding, rounded like the pistil of a flower. She wore her hair in a solid gold fringe over her forehead, like a child's, and a big coil at the back. When it was let down it hung in a heavy cable to her waist. Marston used to tease her about it. She had a trick of tossing back the rope in the night when it was hot under her, and it would fall smack across his face and hurt him.
There was a pathos about her that I can't describe--a curious, pure, sweet beauty, like a child's; perfect, and perfectly immature; so immature that you couldn't conceive its lasting--like that--any more than childhood lasts. Marston used to say it made him nervous. He was afraid of waking up in the morning and finding that it had changed in the night. And her beauty was so much a part of herself that you couldn't think of her without it. Somehow you felt that if it went she must go too.
Well, she went first.
For a year afterwards Marston existed dangerously, always on the edge of a break-down. If he didn't go over altogether it was because his work saved him. He had no consoling theories. He was one of those bigoted materialists of the nineteenth century type who believe that consciousness is a Purely physiological function, and that when your body's dead, you're dead. He saw no reason to, suppose the contrary. "When you consider," he used to say, "the nature of the evidence!"
It's as well to bear this in mind, so as to realize that he hadn't any bias or anticipation. Rosamund survived for him only in his memory. And in his memory he was still in love with her. At the same time he used to discuss quite cynically the chances of his marrying again.
It seems that in their honeymoon they had gone into that. Rosamund said she hated to think of his being lonely and miserable, supposing she died before he did. She would like him to marry again. If, she stipulated, he married the right woman.
He had put it to her: "And if I marry the wrong one?"
And she had said, That would be different. She couldn't bear that.
He remembered all this afterwards; but there was nothing in it to make him suppose, at the time, that she would take action.
We talked it over, he and I, one night.
"I suppose," he said, "I shall have to marry again. It's a physical necessity. But it won't be anything more. I shan't marry the sort of woman who'll expect anything more. I won't put another woman in Rosamund's place. There'll be no unfaithfulness about it."
And there wasn't. Soon after that first year he married Pauline Silver.
She was a daughter of old Justice Parker, who was a friend of Marston's people. He hadn't seen the girl till she came home from India after her divorce.
Yes, there'd been a divorce. Silver had behaved very decently. He'd let her bring it against him, to save her. But there were some queer stories going about. They didn't get round to Marston, because he was so mixed up with her people; and if they had he wouldn't have believed them. He'd made up his mind he'd marry Pauline the first minute he'd seen her. She was handsome; the hard, black, white and vermilion kind, with a little aristocratic nose and a lascivious mouth.
It was, as he had meant it to be, nothing but physical infatuation on both sides. No question of Pauline's taking Rosamund's place.
Marston had a big case on at the time.
They were in such a hurry that they couldn't wait till it was over; and as it kept him in London they agreed to put off their honeymoon till the autumn; and he took her straight to his own house in Curzon Street.
This, he admitted afterwards, was the part he hated. The Curzon Street house was associated with Rosamund; especially their bedroom--Rosamund's bedroom--and his library. The library was the room Rosamund liked best, because it was his room. She had her place in the corner by the hearth, and they were always alone there together in the evenings when his work was done, and when it wasn't done she would still sit with him, keeping quiet in her corner with a book.
Luckily for Marston, at the first sight of the library Pauline took a dislike to it.
I can hear her. "Br-rr-rh! There's something beastly about this room, Edward. I can't think how you can sit in it."
And Edward, a little caustic:
"You needn't, if you don't like it."
"I certainly shan't."
She stood there--I can see her--on the hearthrug by Rosamund's chair, looking uncommonly handsome and lascivious. He was going to take her in his arms and kiss her vermilion mouth, when, he said, something stopped him. Stopped him clean, as if it had risen up and stepped between them. He supposed it was the memory of Rosamund, vivid in the place that had been hers.
You see it was just that place, of silent, intimate communion, that Pauline would never take. And the rich, coarse, contented creature didn't even want to take it. He saw that he would be left alone there, all right, with his memory.
But the bedroom was another matter. That, Pauline had made it understood from the beginning, she would have to have. Indeed, there was no other he could well have offered her. The drawing-room covered the whole of the first floor. The bedrooms above were cramped, and this one had been formed by throwing the two front rooms into one. It looked south, and the bathroom opened out of it at the back. Marston's small northern room had a door on the narrow landing at right angles to his wife's door. He could hardly expect her to sleep there, still less in any of the tight boxes on the top floor. He said he wished he had sold the Curzon Street house.
But Pauline was enchanted with the wide, three-windowed piece that was to be hers. It had been exquisitely furnished for poor little Rosamund; all seventeenth century walnut wood, Bokhara rugs, thick silk curtains, deep blue with purple linings, and a big, rich bed covered with a purple counterpane embroidered in blue.
One thing Marston insisted on: that he should sleep on Rosamund's side of the bed, and Pauline in his own old place. He didn't want to see Pauline's body where Rosamund's had been. Of course he had to lie about it and pretend he had always slept on the side next the window.
I can, see Pauline going about in that room, looking at everything; looking at herself, her black, white and vermilion, in the glass that had held Rosamund's pure rose and gold; opening the wardrobe where Rosamund's dresses used to hang, sniffing up the delicate, flower scent of Rosamund, not caring, covering it with her own thick trail.
And Marston (who cared abominably)--I can see him getting more miserable and at the same time more excited as the wedding evening went on. He took her to the play to fill up the time, or perhaps to get her out of Rosamund's rooms; God knows. I can see them sitting in the stalls, bored and restless, starting up and going out before the thing was half over, and coming back to that house in Curzon Street before eleven o'clock.
It wasn't much past eleven when he went to her room.
I told you her door was at right angles to his, and the landing was narrow, so that anybody standing by Pauline's door must have been seen the minute he opened his. He hadn't even to cross the landing to get to her.
Well, Marston swears that there was nothing there when he opened his own door; but when he came to Pauline's he saw Rosamund standing up before it; and, he said, "She wouldn't let me in."
Her arms were stretched out, barring the passage. Oh yes, he saw her face, Rosamund's face; I gathered that it was utterly sweet, and utterly inexorable. He couldn't pass her.
So he turned into his own room, backing, he says, so that he could keep looking at her. And when he stood on the threshold of his own door she wasn't there.
No, he wasn't frightened. He couldn't tell me what he felt; but he left his door open all night because he couldn't bear to shut it on her. And he made no other attempt to go in to Pauline; he was so convinced that the phantasm of Rosamund would come again and stop him.
I don't know what sort of excuse he made to Pauline the next morning. He said she was very stiff and sulky all day; and no wonder. He was still infatuated with her, and I don't think that the phantasm of Rosamund had put him off Pauline in the least. In fact, he persuaded himself that the thing was nothing but a hallucination, due, no doubt, to his excitement.
Anyhow, he didn't expect to see it at the door again the next night.
Yes. It was there. Only, this time, he said, it drew aside to let him pass. It smiled at him, as if it were saying, "Go in, if you must; you'll see what'll happen."
He had no sense that it had followed him into the room; he felt certain that, this time, it would let him be.
It was when he approached Pauline's bed, which had been Rosamund's bed, that she appeared again, standing between it and him, and stretching out her arms to keep him back.
All that Pauline could see was her bridegroom backing and backing, then standing there, fixed, and the look on his face. That in itself was enough to frighten her.
She said, "What's the matter with you, Edward?"
He didn't move.
"What are you standing there for? Why don't you come to bed?"
Then Marston seems to have lost his head and blurted it out:
"I can't. I can't."
"Can't what?" said Pauline from the bed.
"Can't sleep with you. She won't let me."
"Rosamund. My wife. She's there."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"She's there, I tell you. She won't let me. She's pushing me back."
He says Pauline must have thought he was drunk or something. Remember, she saw nothing but Edward, his face, and his mysterious attitude. He must have, looked very drunk.
She sat up in bed, with her hard,' black eyes blazing away at him, and told him to leave the room that minute. Which he did.
The next day she had it out with him. I gathered that she kept on talking about the "state" he was in.
"You came to my room, Edward, in a disgraceful state."
I suppose Marston said he was sorry; but he couldn't help it; he wasn't drunk. He stuck to it that Rosamund was there. He had seen her. And Pauline said, if he wasn't drunk then he must be mad, and he said meekly, "Perhaps I am mad."
That set her off, and she broke out in a fury. He was no more mad than she was; but he didn't care for her; he was making ridiculous excuses; shamming, to put her off. There was some other woman.
Marston asked her what on earth she supposed he'd married her for. Then she burst out crying and said she didn't know.
Then he seems to have made it up with Pauline. He managed to make her believe he wasn't lying, that he really had seen something, and between them they arrived at a rational explanation of the appearance. He had been overworking Rosamund's phantasm was nothing but a hallucination of his exhausted brain.
This theory carried him on till bed-time. Then, he says, he began to wonder what would happen, what Rosamund's phantasm would do next. Each morning his passion for Pauline had come back again, increased by frustration, and it worked itself up crescendo, towards night. Supposing he had seen Rosamund. He might see her again. He had become suddenly subject to hallucinations. But as long as you knew you were hallucinated you were all right.
So what they agreed to do that night was by way of precaution, in case the thing came again. It might even be sufficient in itself to prevent his seeing anything.
Instead of going in to Pauline he was to get into the room before she did, and she was to come to him there. That, they said, would break the spell. To make him feel even safer he meant to be in bed before Pauline came.
Well, he got into the room all right.
It was when he tried to get into bed that--he saw her (I mean Rosamund).
She was lying there, in his place next the window, her own place, lying in her immature childlike beauty and sleeping, the firm full bow of her mouth softened by sleep. She was perfect in every detail, the lashes of her shut eyelids golden on her white cheeks, the solid gold of her square fringe shining, and the great braided golden rope of her hair flung back on the pillow.
He knelt down by the bed and pressed his forehead into the bedclothes, close to her side. He declared he could feel her breathe.
He stayed there for the twenty minutes Pauline took to undress and come to him. He says the minutes stretched out like hours. Pauline found him still kneeling with his face pressed into the bedclothes. When he got up he staggered.
She asked him what he was doing and why he wasn't in bed. And he said, "It's no use. I can't. I can't."
But somehow he couldn't tell her that Rosamund was there. Rosamund was too sacred; he couldn't talk about her. He only said:
"You'd better sleep in my room to-night."
He was staring down at the place in the bed where he still saw Rosamund. Pauline couldn't have seen anything but the bedclothes, the sheet smoothed above an invisible breast, and the hollow in the pillow. She said she'd do nothing of the sort. She wasn't going to be frightened out of her own room. He could do as he liked.
He couldn't leave them there; he couldn't leave Pauline with Rosamund, and he couldn't leave Rosamund with Pauline. So he sat up in a chair with his back turned to the bed. No. He didn't make any attempt to go back. He says he knew she was still lying there, guarding his place, which was her place. The odd thing is that he wasn't in the least disturbed or frightened or surprised. He took the whole thing as a matter of course. And presently he dozed off into a sleep.
A scream woke him and the sound of a violent body leaping out of the bed and thudding on to its feet. He switched on the light and saw the bedclothes flung back and Pauline standing on the floor with her mouth open.
He went to her and held her. She was cold to the touch and shaking with terror, and her jaws dropped as if she was palsied.
She said, "Edward, there's something in the bed."
He glanced again at the bed. It was empty.
"There isn't," he said. "Look."
He stripped the bed to the foot-rail, so that she could see.
"There was something."
"Do you see it?"
"No. I felt it."
She told him. First something had come swinging, smack across her face. A thick, heavy rope of woman's hair. It had waked her. Then she had put out her hands and felt the body. A woman's body, soft and horrible; her fingers had sunk in the shallow breasts. Then she had screamed and jumped.
And she couldn't stay in the room. The room, she said, was "beastly."
She slept in Marston's room, in his small single bed, and he sat up with her all night, on a chair.
She believed now that he had really seen something, and she remembered that the library was beastly, too. Haunted by something. She supposed that was what she had felt. Very well. Two rooms in the house were haunted; their bedroom and the library. They would just have to avoid those two rooms. She had made up her mind, you see, that it was nothing but a case of an ordinary haunted house; the sort of thing you're always hearing about and never believe in till it happens to yourself. Marston didn't like to point out to her that the house hadn't been haunted till she came into it.
The following night, the fourth night, she was to sleep in the spare room on the top floor, next to the servants, and Marston in his own room.
But Marston didn't sleep. He kept on wondering whether he would or would not go up to Pauline's room. That made him horribly restless, and instead of undressing and going to bed, he sat up on a chair with a book. He wasn't nervous; but he had a queer feeling that something was going to happen, and that he must be ready for it, and that he'd better be dressed.
It must have been soon after midnight when he heard the door-knob turning very slowly and softly. The door opened behind him and Pauline came in, moving without a sound, and stood before him. It gave him a shock; for he had been thinking of Rosamund, and when he heard the door-knob turn it was the phantasm of Rosamund that he expected to see coming in. He says, for the first minute, it was this appearance of Pauline that struck him as the uncanny and unnatural thing.
She had nothing, absolutely nothing on but a transparent white chiffony sort of dressing-gown. She was trying to undo it. He could see her hands shaking as her fingers fumbled with the fastenings.
He got up suddenly, and they just stood there before each other, saying nothing, staring at each other. He was fascinated by her, by the sheer glamour of her body, gleaming white through the thin stuff, and by the movement of her fingers. I think I've said she was a beautiful woman, and her beauty at that moment was overpowering.
And still he stared at her without saying anything. It sounds as if their silence lasted quite a long time, but in reality it couldn't have been more than some fraction of a second.
Then she began. "Oh, Edward, for God's sake say something. Oughtn't I to have come?"
And she went on without waiting for an answer. "Are you thinking of her? Because, if--if you are, I'm not going to let her drive you away from me... I'm not going to... She'll keep on coming as long as we don't--Can't you see that this is the way to stop it...? When you take me in your arms."
She slipped off the loose sleeves of the chiffon thing and it fell to her feet. Marston says he heard a queer sound, something between a groan and a grunt, and was amazed to find that it came from himself.
He hadn't touched her yet--mind you, it went quicker than it takes to tell, it was still an affair of the fraction of a second--they were holding out their arms to each other, when the door opened again without a sound, and, without visible passage, the phantasm was there. It came incredibly fast, and thin at first, like a shaft of light sliding between them. It didn't do anything; there was no beating of hands, only, as it took on its full form, its perfect likeness of flesh and blood, it made its presence felt like a push, a force, driving them asunder.
Pauline hadn't seen it yet. She thought it was Marston who was beating her back. She cried out: "Oh, don't, don't push me away!" She stooped below the phantasm's guard and clung to his knees, writhing and crying. For a moment it was a struggle between her moving flesh and that still, supernatural being.
And in that moment Marston realized that he hated Pauline. She was fighting Rosamund with her gross flesh and blood, taking a mean advantage of her embodied state to beat down the heavenly, discarnate thing.
He called to her to let go.
"It's not I," he shouted. "Can't you see her?"
Then, suddenly, she saw, and let go, and dropped, crouching on the floor and trying to cover herself. This time she had given no cry.
The phantasm gave way; it moved slowly towards the door, and as it went it looked back over its shoulder at Marston, it trailed a hand, signalling to him to come.
He went out after it, hardly aware of Pauline's naked body that still writhed there, clutching at his feet as they passed, and drew itself after him, likea worm, like a beast, along the floor.
She must have got up at once and followed them out on to the landing; for, as he went down the stairs behind the phantasm, he could see Pauline's face, distorted with lust and terror, peering at them above the stairhead. She saw them descend the last flight, and cross the hall at the bottom and go into the library. The door shut behind them.
Something happened in there. Marston never told me precisely what it was, and I didn't ask him. Anyhow, that finished it.
The next day Pauline ran away to her own people. She couldn't stay in Marston's house because it was haunted by Rosamund, and he wouldn't leave it for the same reason.
And she never came back; for she was not only afraid of Rosamund, she was afraid of Marston. And if she had come it wouldn't have been any good. Marston was convinced that, as often as he attempted to get to Pauline, something would stop him. Pauline certainly felt that, if Rosamund were pushed to it, she might show herself in some still more sinister and terrifying form. She knew when she was beaten.
And there was more in it than that. I believe he tried to explain it to her; said he had married her on the assumption that Rosamund was dead, but that now he knew she was alive; she was, as he put it, "there." He tried to make her see that if he had Rosamund he couldn't have her. Rosamund's presence in the world annulled their contract.
You see I'm convinced that something did happen that night in the library. I say, he never told me precisely what it was, but he once let something out. We were discussing one of Pauline's love-affairs (after the separation she gave him endless grounds for divorce).
"Poor Pauline," he said, "she thinks she's so passionate."
"Well," I said, "wasn't she?"
Then he burst out. "No. She doesn't know what passion is. None of you know. You haven't the faintest conception. You'd have to get rid of your bodies first. I didn't know until--"
He stopped himself. I think he was going to say, "until Rosamund came back and showed me." For he leaned forward and whispered: "It isn't a localized affair at all. If you only knew--"
So I don't think it was just faithfulness to a revived memory. I take it there had been, behind that shut door, some experience, some terrible and exquisite contact. More penetrating than sight or touch. More--more extensive: passion at all points of being.
Perhaps the supreme moment of it, the ecstasy, only came when her phantasm had disappeared.
He couldn't go back to Pauline after that.
I have only known one absolutely adorable woman, and that was my brother's wife, Cicely Dunbar.
Sisters-in-law do not, I think, invariably adore each other, and I am aware that my chief merit in Cicely's eyes was that I am Donald's sister; but for me there was no question of extraneous quality--it was all pure Cicely.
And how Donald--But then, like all the Dunbars, Donald suffers from being Scottish, so that, if he has a feeling, he makes it a point of honour to pretend he hasn't it. I daresay he let himself go a bit during his courtship, when he was not, strictly speaking, himself; but after he had once married her I think he would have died rather than have told Cicely in so many words that he loved her. And Cicely wanted to be told. You say she ought to have known without telling? You don't know Donald. You can't conceive the perverse ingenuity he could put into hiding his affection. He has that peculiar temper--I think it's Scottish--that delights in snubbing and fault-finding and defeating expectation. If he knows you want him to do a thing, that alone is reason enough with Donald for not doing it. And my sister, who was as transparent as white crystal, was never able to conceal a want. So that Donald could, as we said, 'have' her at every turn.
And, then, I don't think my brother really knew how ill she was. He didn't want to know.
Besides, he was so wrapt up in trying to finish his 'Development of Social Economics' (which, by the way, he hasn't finished yet) that he had no eyes to see what we all saw: that, the way her poor little heart was going, Cicely couldn't have very long to live.
Of course he understood that this was why, in those last months, they had to have separate rooms. And this in the first year of their marriage when he was still violently in love with her. I keep those two facts firmly in my mind when I try to excuse Donald; for it was the main cause of that unkindness and perversity which I find it so hard to forgive. Even now, when I think how he used to discharge it on the poor little thing, as if it had been her fault, I have to remind myself that the lamb's innocence made her a little trying.
She couldn't understand why Donald didn't want to have her with him in his library any more while he read or wrote. It seemed to her sheer cruelty to shut her out now when she was ill, seeing that, before she was ill, she had always had her chair by the fireplace, where she would sit over her book or her embroidery for hours without speaking, hardly daring to breathe lest she should interrupt him. Now was the time, she thought, when she might expect a little indulgence.
Do you suppose that Donald would give his feelings as an explanation? Not he. They were his feelings, and he wouldn't talk about them; and he never explained anything you didn't understand.
That--her wanting to sit with him in the library--was what they had the awful quarrel about, the day before she died; that and the paper-weight, the precious paper-weight that he wouldn't let anybody touch because George Meredith had given it him. It was a brass block, surmounted by a white alabaster Buddha painted and gilt. And it had an inscription: To Donald Dunbar, from George Meredith. In Affectionate Regard.
My brother was extremely attached to this paper-weight, partly, I'm afraid, because it proclaimed his intimacy with the great man. For this reason it was known in the family ironically as the Token.
It stood on Donald's writing-table at his elbow, so near the ink-pot that the white Buddha had received a splash or two. And this evening Cicely had come in to us in the library, and had annoyed Donald by staying in it when he wanted her to go. She had taken up the Token, and was cleaning it to give herself a pretext.
She died after the quarrel they had then.
It began by Donald shouting at her.
'What are you doing with that paper-weight?'
'Only getting the ink off.'
I can see her now, the darling. She had wetted the corner of her handkerchief with her little pink tongue and was rubbing the Buddha. Her hands had begun to tremble when he shouted.
'Put it down, can't you? I've told you not to touch my things.'
'You inked him,' she said. She was giving one last rub as he rose, threatening.
And, poor child, she did put it down. Indeed, she dropped it at his feet.
'Oh!' she cried out, and stooped quickly and picked it up. Her large tear-glassed eyes glanced at him, frightened.
'He isn't broken.'
'No thanks to you,' he growled.
'You beast! You know I'd die rather than break anything you care about.'
'It will be broken some day, if you will come meddling.'
I couldn't bear it. I said, 'You mustn't yell at her like that. You know she can't stand it. You'll make her ill again.'
That sobered him for a moment.
'I'm sorry,' he said; but he made it sound as if he wasn't.
'If you're sorry,' she persisted, 'you might let me stay with you. I'll be as quiet as a mouse.'
'No; I don't want you--I can't work with you in the room.'
'You can work with Helen.'
'You're not Helen.'
'He only means he's not in love with me, dear.'
'He means I'm no use to him. I know I'm not. I can't even sit on his manuscripts and keep them down. He cares more for that damned paper-weight than he does for me.'
'Well--George Meredith gave it me.'
'And nobody gave you me. I gave myself.'
That worked up his devil again. He had to torment her.
'It can't have cost you much,' he said. 'And I may remind you that the paper-weight has some intrinsic value.'
With that he left her.
'What's he gone out for?' she asked me.
'Because he's ashamed of himself; I suppose,' I said. 'Oh, Cicely, why will you answer him?
You know what he is.'
'No!' she said passionately--'that's what I don't know. I never have known.'
'At least you know he's in love with you.'
'He has a queer way of showing it, then. He never does anything but stamp and shout and find fault with me--all about an old paper-weight!'
She was caressing it as she spoke, stroking the alabaster Buddha as if it had been a live thing.
'His poor Buddha. Do you think it'll break if I stroke it? Better not. Honestly, Helen, I'd rather die than hurt anything he really cared for. Yet look how he hurts me.'
'Some men must hurt the things they care for.'
'I wouldn't mind his hurting, if only I knew he cared. Helen I'd give anything to know.'
'I think you might know.' 'I don't! I don't!' 'Well, you'll know some day.' 'Never! He won't tell me.'
'He's Scotch, my dear. It would kill him to tell you.'
'Then how'm I to know! If I died to-morrow I should die not knowing.'
And that night, not knowing, she died.
She died because she had never really known.
We never talked about her. It was not my brother's way. Words hurt him, to speak or to hear them.
He had become more morose than ever, but less irritable, the source of his irritation being gone. Though he plunged into work as another man might have plunged into dissipation, to drown the thought of her, you could see that he had no longer any interest in it; he no longer loved it. He attacked it with a fury that had more hate in it than love. He would spend the greater part of the day and long evenings at nights shut up in his library, only going out for a short walk an hour before dinner. You could see that soon all spontaneous impulses would be checked in him and he would become the creature of habit and routine.
I tried to rouse him, to shake him up out of his deadly groove; but it was no use. The first effort--for he did make efforts--exhausted him, and he sank back into it again.
But he liked to have me with him, arid all the time that I could spare from my housekeeping and gardening I spent in the library. I think he didn't like to be left alone there in the place where they had the quarrel that killed her; and I noticed that the cause of it, the Token, had disappeared from his table.
And all her things, everything that could remind him of her, had been put away. It was the dead burying its dead.
Only the chair she had loved remained in its place by the side of the hearth--her chair, if you could call it hers when she wasn't allowed to sit in it. It was always empty, for by tacit consent we both avoided it.
We would sit there for hours at a time without speaking, while he worked and I read or sewed.
I never dared to ask him whether he sometimes had, as I had, the sense of Cicely's presence there, in that room which she had so longed to enter, from which she had been so cruelly shut out. You couldn't tell what he felt or didn't feel. My brother's face was a heavy, sombre mask; his back, bent over the writing-table, a wall behind which he hid himself.
You must know that twice in my life I have more than felt these presences; I have seen them.
This may be because I am on both sides a Highland Celt, and my mother had the same uncanny gift. I had never spoken of these appearances to Donald because he would have put it all down to what he calls my hysterical fancy. And I am sure that if he ever felt or saw anything himself he would never own it.
I ought to explain that each time the vision was premonitory of a death (in Cicely's case I had no such warning), and each time it only lasted for a second; also that, though I am certain I was wide awake each time, it is open to anybody to say I was asleep and dreamed it. The queer thing was that I was neither frightened nor surprised.
And so I was neither surprised nor frightened now, the first evening that I saw her.
It was in the early autumn twilight, about six o'clock. I was sitting in my place in front of the fireplace; Donald was in his armchair on my left, smoking a pipe, as usual, before the lamplight drove him out of doors into the dark.
I had had so strong a sense of Cicely's being there in the room that I felt nothing but a sudden sacred pang that was half joy when I looked up and saw her sitting in her chair on my right.
The phantasm was perfect and vivid, as if it had been flesh and blood. I should have thought that it was Cicely herself if I hadn't known that she was dead. She wasn't looking at me; her face was turned to Donald with that longing, wondering look it used to have, searching his face for the secret that he kept from her.
I looked at Donald. His chin was sunk a little, the pipe drooping from the corner of his mouth.
He was heavy, absorbed in his smoking. It was clear that he did not see what I saw.
And whereas those other phantasms that I told you about disappeared at once, this lasted some little time, and always with its eyes fixed on Donald. It even lasted while Donald stirred, while he stooped forward, knocking the ashes out of his pipe against the hob, while he sighed, stretched himself, turned, and left the room. Then, as the door shut behind him, the whole figure went out suddenly--not flickering, but like a light you switch off.
I saw it again the next evening and the next, at the same time and in the same place, and with the same look turned towards Donald. And again I was sure that he did not see it. But I thought, from his uneasy sighing and stretching, that he had some sense of something there.
No; I was not frightened. I was glad. You see, I loved Cicely. I remember thinking, 'At last, at last, you poor darling, you've got in. And you can stay as long as you like now. He can't turn you away.'
The first few times I saw her just as I have said. I would look up and find the phantasm there, sitting in her chair. And it would disappear suddenly when Donald left the room. Then I knew I was alone.
But as I grew used to its presence, or perhaps as it grew used to mine and found out that I was not afraid of it, that indeed I loved to have it there, it came, I think, to trust me, so that I was made aware of all its movements. I would see it coming across the room from the doorway, making straight for its desired place, and settling in a little curled-up posture of satisfaction, appeased, as if it had expected opposition that it no longer found. Yet that it was not happy, I could still see by its look at Donald. That never changed. It was as uncertain of him now as she had been in her lifetime.
Up till now, the sixth or seventh time I had seen it, I had no clue to the secret of its appearance; and its movements seemed to me mysterious and without purpose. Only two things were clear: it was Donald that it came for--the instant he went it disappeared; and I never once saw it when I was alone. And always it chose this room and this hour before the lights came, when he sat doing nothing. It was clear also that he never saw it.
But that it was there with him sometimes when I was not I knew; for, more than once, things on Donald's writing-table, books or papers, would be moved out of their places, though never beyond reach; and he would ask me whether I had touched them.
'Either you lie,' he would say, 'or I'm mistaken. I could have sworn I put those notes on the left-hand side; and they aren't there now.'.And once--that was wonderful--I saw, yes, I saw her come and push the lost thing under his hand. And all he said was, 'Well, I'm--I could have sworn--'
For whether it had gained a sense of security, or whether its purpose was now finally fixed, it began to move regularly about the room, and its movements had evidently a reason and an aim.
It was looking for something.
One evening we were all there in our places, Donald silent in his chair and I in mine, and it seated in its attitude of wonder and of waiting, when suddenly I saw Donald looking at me.
'Helen,' he said, 'what are you staring for like that?'
I started. I had forgotten that the direction of my eyes would be bound, sooner or later, to betray me.
I heard myself stammer, 'W--w--was I staring?'
'Yes. I wish you wouldn't.'
I knew what he meant. He didn't want me to keep on looking at that chair; he didn't want to know that I was thinking of her. I bent my head closer over my sewing, so that I no longer had the phantasm in sight.
It was then I was aware that it had risen and was crossing the hearthrug. It stopped at Donald's knees, and stood there, gazing at him with a look so intent and fixed that I could not doubt that this had some significance. I saw it put out its hand and touch him; and, though Donald sighed and shifted his position, I could tell that he had neither seen nor felt anything.
It turned to me then--and this was the first time it had given any sign that it was conscious of my presence--it turned on me a look of supplication, such supplication as I had seen on my sister's face in her lifetime, when she could do nothing with him and implored me to intercede.
At the same time three words formed themselves in my brain with a sudden, quick impulsion, as if I had heard them cried.
'Speak to him--speak to him!'
I knew now what it wanted. It was trying to make itself seen by him, to make itself felt, and it was in anguish at finding that it could not. It knew then that I saw it, and the idea had come to it that it could make use of me to get through to him. I think I must have guessed even then what it had come for.
I said, 'You asked me what I was staring at, and I lied. I was looking at Cicely's chair.'
I saw him wince at the name.
'Because,' I went on, 'I don't know how you feel, but I always feel as if she were there.'
He said nothing; but he got up, as though to shake off the oppression of the memory I had evoked, and stood leaning on the chimney-piece with his back to me.
The phantasm retreated to its place, where it kept its eyes fixed on him as before.
I was determined to break down his defences, to make him say something it might hear, give some sign that it would understand.
'Donald, do you think it's a good thing, a kind thing, never to talk about her?'
'Kind? Kind to whom?'
'To yourself, first of all.'
'You can leave me out of it.'
'To me, then.'
'What's it got to do with you?' His voice was as hard and cutting as he could make it.
'Everything,' I said. 'You forget, I loved her.' He was silent. He did at least respect my love for her. 'But that wasn't what she wanted.'
That hurt him. I could feel him stiffen under it.
'You see, Donald,' I persisted, 'I like thinking about her.' It was cruel of me; but I had to break him.
'You can think as much as you like,' he said, 'provided you stop talking.'
'All the same, it's as bad for you,' I said, 'as it is for me, not talking.'
'I don't care if it is bad for me. I can't talk about her, Helen. I don't want to.'
'How do you know,' I said, 'it isn't bad for her?'
I could see I had roused him.
'Yes. If she really is there, all the time.'
'How d'you mean, there?'
'Here--in this room. I tell you I can't get over that feeling that she's here.'
'Oh, feel, feel,' he said; 'but don't talk to me about it!'
And he left the room, flinging himself out in anger. And instantly her flame went out.
I thought, 'How he must have hurt her!' It was the old thing over again: I trying to break him down, to make him show her; he beating us both off, punishing us both. You see, I knew now what she had come back for: she had come back to find out whether he loved her. With a longing unquenched by death, she had come back for certainty. And now, as always, my clumsy interference had only made him more hard, more obstinate. I thought, 'If only he could see her!
But as long as he beats her off he never will.'
Still, if I could once get him to believe that she was there--I made up my mind that the next time I saw the phantasm I would tell him.
The next evening and the next its chair was empty, and I judged that it was keeping away, hurt by what it had heard the last time.
But the third evening we were hardly seated before I saw it.
It was sitting up, alert and observant, not staring at Donald as it used to, but looking round the room, as if searching for something that it missed.
'Donald,' I said, 'if I told you that Cicely is in the room now, I suppose you wouldn't believe me?'
'Is it likely?'
'No. All the same, I see her as plainly as I see you.'
The phantasm rose and moved to his side.
'She's standing close beside you.'
And now it moved and went to the writing-table. I turned and followed its movements. It slid its open hands over the table, touching everything, unmistakably feeling for something it believed to be there.
I went on. 'She's at the writing-table now. She's looking for something.'
It stood back, baffled and distressed. Then suddenly it began opening and shutting the drawers, without a sound, searching each one in turn.
I said, 'Oh, she's trying the drawers now!'
Donald stood up. He was not looking at the place where it was. He was looking hard at me, in anxiety and a sort of fright. I suppose that was why he remained unaware of the opening and shutting of the drawers.
It continued its desperate searching.
The bottom drawer stuck fast. I saw it pull and shake it, and stand back again, baffled.
'It's locked,' I said.
'That bottom drawer.'
'Nonsense! It's nothing of the kind.'
'It is, I tell you. Give me the key. Oh, Donald, give it me!'
He shrugged his shoulders; but all the same he felt in his pockets for the key, which he gave me with a little teasing gesture, as if he humoured a child.
I unlocked the drawer, pulled it out to its full length, and there, thrust away at the back, out of sight, I found the Token.
I had not seen it since the day of Cicely's death.
'Who put it there?' I asked.
'Well, that's what she was looking for,' I said.
I held out the Token to him on the palm of my hand, as if it were the proof that I had seen her.
'Helen,' he said gravely, 'I think you must be ill.'
'You think so? I'm not so ill that I don't know what you put it away for,' I said. 'It was because she thought you cared for it more than you did for her.'
'You can remind me of that? There must be something very badly wrong with you, Helen,' he said.
'Perhaps. Perhaps I only want to know what she wanted...You did care for her, Donald?'
I couldn't see the phantasm now, but I could feel it, close, close, vibrating, palpitating, as I drove him.
'Care?' he cried. 'I was mad with caring for her! And she knew it.'
'She didn't. She wouldn't be here now if she knew.'
At that he turned from me to his station by the chimney-piece. I followed him there.
'What are you going to do about it?' I said.
'Do about it?'
'What are you going to do with this?'
I thrust the Token close towards him. He drew back, staring at it with a look of concentrated hate and loathing.
'Do with it?' he said. 'The damned thing killed her! This is what I'm going to do with it--'
He snatched it from my hand and hurled it with all his force against the bars of the grate. The Buddha fell, broken to bits, among the ashes.
Then I heard him give a short, groaning cry. He stepped forward, opening his arms, and I saw the phantasm slide between them. For a second it stood there, folded to his breast; then suddenly, before our eyes, it collapsed in a shining heap, a flicker of light on the floor, at his feet.
Then that went out too.
I never saw it again.
Neither did my brother. But I didn't know this till some time afterwards; for, somehow, we hadn't cared to speak about it. And in the end it was he who spoke first.
We were sitting together in that room, one evening in November, when he said, suddenly and irrelevantly:
'Helen--do you never see her now?'
'No,' I said--'Never!'
'Do you think, then, she doesn't come?'
'Why should she?' I said. 'She found what she came for. She knows what she wanted to know.'
'And that--was what?'
'Why, that you loved her.'
His eyes had a queer, submissive, wistful look.
'You think that was why she came back?' he said.
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