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Title: A Fragment of Life
Author: Arthur Machen
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700361.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: March 2007
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Title: A Fragment of Life
Author: Arthur Machen





Edward Darnell awoke from a dream of an ancient wood, and of a clear
well rising into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering
heat; and as his eyes opened he saw the sunlight bright in the room,
sparkling on the varnish of the new furniture. He turned and found his
wife's place vacant, and with some confusion and wonder of the dream
still lingering in his mind, he rose also, and began hurriedly to set
about his dressing, for he had overslept a little, and the 'bus passed
the corner at 9.15. He was a tall, thin man, dark-haired and
dark-eyed, and in spite of the routine of the City, the counting of
coupons, and all the mechanical drudgery that had lasted for ten
years, there still remained about him the curious hint of a wild
grace, as if he had been born a creature of the antique wood, and had
seen the fountain rising from the green moss and the grey rocks.

The breakfast was laid in the room on the ground floor, the back room
with the French windows looking on the garden, and before he sat down
to his fried bacon he kissed his wife seriously and dutifully.  She
had brown hair and brown eyes, and though her lovely face was grave
and quiet, one would have said that she might have awaited her husband
under the old trees, and bathed in the pool hollowed out of the rocks.

They had a good deal to talk over while the coffee was poured out and
the bacon eaten, and Darnell's egg brought in by the stupid, staring
servant-girl of the dusty face. They had been married for a year, and
they had got on excellently, rarely sitting silent for more than an
hour, but for the past few weeks Aunt Marian's present had afforded a
subject for conversation which seemed inexhaustible. Mrs.  Darnell had
been Miss Mary Reynolds, the daughter of an auctioneer and estate
agent in Notting Hill, and Aunt Marian was her mother's sister, who
was supposed rather to have lowered herself by marrying a coal
merchant, in a small way, at Turnham Green.

Marian had felt the family attitude a good deal, and the Reynoldses
were sorry for many things that had been said, when the coal merchant
saved money and took up land on building leases in the neighbourhood
of Crouch End, greatly to his advantage, as it appeared. Nobody had
thought that Nixon could ever do very much; but he and his wife had
been living for years in a beautiful house at Barnet, with
bow-windows, shrubs, and a paddock, and the two families saw but
little of each other, for Mr. Reynolds was not very prosperous. Of
course, Aunt Marian and her husband had been asked to Mary's wedding,
but they had sent excuses with a nice little set of silver apostle
spoons, and it was feared that nothing more was to be looked
for. However, on Mary's birthday her aunt had written a most
affectionate letter, enclosing a cheque for a hundred pounds from
'Robert' and herself, and ever since the receipt of the money
the Darnells had discussed the question of its judicious
disposal. Mrs. Darnell had wished to invest the whole sum in
Government securities, but Mr. Darnell had pointed out that the rate
of interest was absurdly low, and after a good deal of talk he had
persuaded his wife to put ninety pounds of the money in a safe mine,
which was paying five per cent. This was very well, but the remaining
ten pounds, which Mrs. Darnell had insisted on reserving, gave rise to
legends and discourses as interminable as the disputes of the schools.

At first Mr. Darnell had proposed that they should furnish the 'spare'
room. There were four bedrooms in the house: their own room, the small
one for the servant, and two others overlooking the garden, one of
which had been used for storing boxes, ends of rope, and odd numbers
of 'Quiet Days' and 'Sunday Evenings,' besides some worn suits
belonging to Mr. Darnell which had been carefully wrapped up and laid
by, as he scarcely knew what to do with them. The other room was
frankly waste and vacant, and one Saturday afternoon, as he was coming
home in the 'bus, and while he revolved that difficult question of the
ten pounds, the unseemly emptiness of the spare room suddenly came
into his mind, and he glowed with the idea that now, thanks to Aunt
Marian, it could be furnished. He was busied with this delightful
thought all the way home, but when he let himself in, he said nothing
to his wife, since he felt that his idea must be matured. He told
Mrs. Darnell that, having important business, he was obliged to go out
again directly, but that he should be back without fail for tea at
half-past six; and Mary, on her side, was not sorry to be alone, as
she was a little behind-hand with the household books. The fact was,
that Darnell, full of the design of furnishing the spare bedroom,
wished to consult his friend Wilson, who lived at Fulham, and had
often given him judicious advice as to the laying out of money to the
very best advantage. Wilson was connected with the Bordeaux wine
trade, and Darnell's only anxiety was lest he should not be at home.

However, it was all right; Darnell took a tram along the Goldhawk
Road, and walked the rest of the way, and was delighted to see Wilson
in the front garden of his house, busy amongst his flower-beds.

'Haven't seen you for an age,' he said cheerily, when he heard
Darnell's hand on the gate; 'come in. Oh, I forgot,' he added, as
Darnell still fumbled with the handle, and vainly attempted to enter.
'Of course you can't get in; I haven't shown it you.'

It was a hot day in June, and Wilson appeared in a costume which he
had put on in haste as soon as he arrived from the City. He wore a
straw hat with a neat pugaree protecting the back of his neck, and his
dress was a Norfolk jacket and knickers in heather mixture.

'See,' he said, as he let Darnell in; 'see the dodge. You don't turn
the handle at all. First of all push hard, and then pull. It's a trick
of my own, and I shall have it patented. You see, it keeps undesirable
characters at a distance--such a great thing in the suburbs. I feel I
can leave Mrs. Wilson alone now; and, formerly, you have no idea how
she used to be pestered.'

'But how about visitors?' said Darnell. 'How do they get in?'

'Oh, we put them up to it. Besides,' he said vaguely, 'there is sure
to be somebody looking out.  Mrs. Wilson is nearly always at the
window. She's out now; gone to call on some friends. The Bennetts' At
Home day, I think it is. This is the first Saturday, isn't it? You
know J. W. Bennett, don't you?  Ah, he's in the House; doing very
well, I believe. He put me on to a very good thing the other day.'

'But, I say,' said Wilson, as they turned and strolled towards the
front door, 'what do you wear those black things for? You look hot.
Look at me. Well, I've been gardening, you know, but I feel as cool as
a cucumber. I dare say you don't know where to get these things? Very
few men do. Where do you suppose I got 'em?'

'In the West End, I suppose,' said Darnell, wishing to be polite.

'Yes, that's what everybody says. And it is a good cut. Well, I'll
tell you, but you needn't pass it on to everybody. I got the tip from
Jameson--you know him, "Jim-Jams," in the China trade, 39
Eastbrook--and he said he didn't want everybody in the City to know
about it. But just go to Jennings, in Old Wall, and mention my name,
and you'll be all right. And what d'you think they cost?'

'I haven't a notion,' said Darnell, who had never bought such a suit
in his life.

'Well, have a guess.'

Darnell regarded Wilson gravely. The jacket hung about his body like a
sack, the knickerbockers drooped lamentably over his calves, and in
prominent positions the bloom of the heather seemed about to fade and
disappear.

'Three pounds, I suppose, at least,' he said at length.

'Well, I asked Dench, in our place, the other day, and he guessed four
ten, and his father's got something to do with a big business in
Conduit Street. But I only gave thirty-five and six. To measure? Of
course; look at the cut, man.'

Darnell was astonished at so low a price.

'And, by the way,' Wilson went on, pointing to his new brown boots,
'you know where to go for shoe-leather? Oh, I thought everybody was up
to that! There's only one place. "Mr. Bill," in Gunning Street,--nine
and six.

They were walking round and round the garden, and Wilson pointed out
the flowers in the beds and borders. There were hardly any blossoms,
but everything was neatly arranged.

'Here are the tuberous-rooted Glasgownias,' he said, showing a rigid
row of stunted plants; 'those are Squintaceæ; this is a new
introduction, Moldavia Semperflorida Andersonii; and this is Prattsia'

'When do they come out?' said Darnell.

'Most of them in the end of August or beginning of September,' said
Wilson briefly. He was slightly annoyed with himself for having talked
so much about his plants, since he saw that Darnell cared nothing for
flowers; and, indeed, the visitor could hardly dissemble vague
recollections that came to him; thoughts of an old, wild garden, full
of odours, beneath grey walls, of the fragrance of the meadowsweet
beside the brook.

'I wanted to consult you about some furniture,' Darnell said at
last. 'You know we've got a spare room, and I'm thinking of putting a
few things into it. I haven't exactly made up my mind, but I thought
you might advise me.'

'Come into my den,' said Wilson. 'No; this way, by the back'; and he
showed Darnell another ingenious arrangement at the side door whereby
a violent high-toned bell was set pealing in the house if one did but
touch the latch. Indeed, Wilson handled it so briskly that the bell
rang a wild alarm, and the servant, who was trying on her mistress's
things in the bedroom, jumped madly to the window and then danced a
hysteric dance. There was plaster found on the drawing-room table on
Sunday afternoon, and Wilson wrote a letter to the 'Fulham Chronicle,'
ascribing the phenomenon 'to some disturbance of a seismic nature.'

For the moment he knew nothing of the great results of his
contrivance, and solemnly led the way towards the back of the house.
Here there was a patch of turf, beginning to look a little brown, with
a background of shrubs. In the middle of the turf, a boy of nine or
ten was standing all alone, with something of an air.

'The eldest,' said Wilson. 'Havelock. Well, Lockie, what are ye doing
now? And where are your brother and sister?'

The boy was not at all shy. Indeed, he seemed eager to explain the
course of events.

'I'm playing at being Gawd,' he said, with an engaging frankness.
'And I've sent Fergus and Janet to the bad place. That's in the
shrubbery. And they're never to come out any more. And they're burning
for ever and ever.'

'What d'you think of that?' said Wilson admiringly. 'Not bad for a
youngster of nine, is it?  They think a lot of him at the
Sunday-school. But come into my den.'

The den was an apartment projecting from the back of the house. It had
been designed as a back kitchen and washhouse, but Wilson had draped
the 'copper' in art muslin and had boarded over the sink, so that it
served as a workman's bench.

'Snug, isn't it?' he said, as he pushed forward one of the two wicker
chairs. 'I think out things here, you know; it's quiet. And what about
this furnishing? Do you want to do the thing on a grand scale?'

'Oh, not at all. Quite the reverse. In fact, I don't know whether the
sum at our disposal will be sufficient. You see the spare room is ten
feet by twelve, with a western exposure, and I thought if we could
manage it, that it would seem more cheerful furnished. Besides, it's
pleasant to be able to ask a visitor; our aunt, Mrs. Nixon, for
example. But she is accustomed to have everything very nice.'

'And how much do you want to spend?'

'Well, I hardly think we should be justified in going much beyond ten
pounds. That isn't enough, eh?'

Wilson got up and shut the door of the back kitchen impressively.

'Look here,' he said, 'I'm glad you came to me in the first place.
Now you'll just tell me where you thought of going yourself.'

'Well, I had thought of the Hampstead Road,' said Darnell in a
hesitating manner.

'I just thought you'd say that. But I'll ask you, what is the good of
going to those expensive shops in the West End? You don't get a better
article for your money. You're merely paying for fashion.'

'I've seen some nice things in Samuel's, though. They get a brilliant
polish on their goods in those superior shops. We went there when we
were married.'

'Exactly, and paid ten per cent more than you need have paid. It's
throwing money away. And how much did you say you had to spend? Ten
pounds. Well, I can tell you where to get a beautiful bedroom suite,
in the very highest finish, for six pound ten. What d'you think of
that?  China included, mind you; and a square of carpet, brilliant
colours, will only cost you fifteen and six. Look here, go any
Saturday afternoon to Dick's, in the Seven Sisters Road, mention my
name, and ask for Mr. Johnston. The suite's in ash, "Elizabethan" they
call it. Six pound ten, including the china, with one of their
"Orient" carpets, nine by nine, for fifteen and six. Dick's.'

Wilson spoke with some eloquence on the subject of furnishing. He
pointed out that the times were changed, and that the old heavy style
was quite out of date.

'You know,' he said, 'it isn't like it was in the old days, when
people used to buy things to last hundreds of years. Why, just before
the wife and I were married, an uncle of mine died up in the North and
left me his furniture. I was thinking of furnishing at the time, and I
thought the things might come in handy; but I assure you there wasn't
a single article that I cared to give house-room to. All dingy, old
mahogany; big bookcases and bureaus, and claw-legged chairs and
tables. As I said to the wife (as she was soon afterwards), "We don't
exactly want to set up a chamber of horrors, do we?" So I sold off the
lot for what I could get. I must confess I like a cheerful room.'

Darnell said he had heard that artists liked the old-fashioned
furniture.

'Oh, I dare say. The "unclean cult of the sunflower," eh? You saw that
piece in the "Daily Post"? I hate all that rot myself. It isn't
healthy, you know, and I don't believe the English people will stand
it. But talking of curiosities, I've got something here that's worth a
bit of money.'

He dived into some dusty receptacle in a corner of the room, and
showed Darnell a small, worm-eaten Bible, wanting the first five
chapters of Genesis and the last leaf of the Apocalypse.

It bore the date of 1753.

'It's my belief that's worth a lot,' said Wilson. 'Look at the
worm-holes. And you see it's "imperfect," as they call it. You've
noticed that some of the most valuable books are "imperfect" at the
sales?'

The interview came to an end soon after, and Darnell went home to his
tea. He thought seriously of taking Wilson's advice, and after tea he
told Mary of his idea and of what Wilson had said about Dick's.

Mary was a good deal taken by the plan when she had heard all the
details. The prices struck her as very moderate. They were sitting one
on each side of the grate (which was concealed by a pretty cardboard
screen, painted with landscapes), and she rested her cheek on her
hand, and her beautiful dark eyes seemed to dream and behold strange
visions. In reality she was thinking of Darnell's plan.

'It would be very nice in some ways,' she said at last. 'But we must
talk it over. What I am afraid of is that it will come to much more
than ten pounds in the long run. There are so many things to be
considered. There's the bed. It would look shabby if we got a common
bed without brass mounts. Then the bedding, the mattress, and
blankets, and sheets, and counterpane would all cost something.'

She dreamed again, calculating the cost of all the necessaries, and
Darnell stared anxiously; reckoning with her, and wondering what her
conclusion would be. For a moment the delicate colouring of her face,
the grace of her form, and the brown hair, drooping over her ears and
clustering in little curls about her neck, seemed to hint at a
language which he had not yet learned; but she spoke again.

'The bedding would come to a great deal, I am afraid. Even if Dicks
are considerably cheaper than Boons or Samuels. And, my dear, we must
have some ornaments on the mantelpiece. I saw some very nice vases at
eleven-three the other day at Wilkin and Dodd's. We should want six at
least, and there ought to be a centre-piece. You see how it mounts
up.'

Darnell was silent. He saw that his wife was summing up against his
scheme, and though he had set his heart on it, he could not resist her
arguments.

'It would be nearer twelve pounds than ten,' she said.

'The floor would have to be stained round the carpet (nine by nine,
you said?), and we should want a piece of linoleum to go under the
washstand. And the walls would look very bare without any pictures.'

'I thought about the pictures,' said Darnell; and he spoke quite
eagerly. He felt that here, at least, he was unassailable. 'You know
there's the "Derby Day" and the "Railway Station," ready framed,
standing in the corner of the box-room already. They're a bit
old-fashioned, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in a bedroom. And
couldn't we use some photographs? I saw a very neat frame in natural
oak in the City, to hold half a dozen, for one and six. We might put
in your father, and your brother James, and Aunt Marian, and your
grandmother, in her widow's cap--and any of the others in the album.
And then there's that old family picture in the hair-trunk--that
might do over the mantelpiece.'

'You mean your great-grandfather in the gilt frame? But that's very
old-fashioned, isn't it? He looks so queer in his wig. I don't think
it would quite go with the room, somehow.'

Darnell thought a moment. The portrait was a 'kitcat' of a young
gentleman, bravely dressed in the fashion of 1750, and he very faintly
remembered some old tales that his father had told him about this
ancestor--tales of the woods and fields, of the deep sunken lanes, and
the forgotten country in the west.

'No,' he said, 'I suppose it is rather out of date. But I saw some
very nice prints in the City, framed and quite cheap.'

'Yes, but everything counts. Well, we will talk it over, as you
say. You know we must be careful.'

The servant came in with the supper, a tin of biscuits, a glass of
milk for the mistress, and a modest pint of beer for the master, with
a little cheese and butter. Afterwards Edward smoked two pipes of
honeydew, and they went quietly to bed; Mary going first, and her
husband following a quarter of an hour later, according to the ritual
established from the first days of their marriage. Front and back
doors were locked, the gas was turned off at the meter, and when
Darnell got upstairs he found his wife already in bed, her face turned
round on the pillow.

She spoke softly to him as he came into the room.

'It would be impossible to buy a presentable bed at anything under one
pound eleven, and good sheets are dear, anywhere.'

He slipped off his clothes and slid gently into bed, putting out the
candle on the table. The blinds were all evenly and duly drawn, but it
was a June night, and beyond the walls, beyond that desolate world and
wilderness of grey Shepherd's Bush, a great golden moon had floated up
through magic films of cloud, above the hill, and the earth was filled
with a wonderful light between red sunset lingering over the mountain
and that marvellous glory that shone into the woods from the summit of
the hill. Darnell seemed to see some reflection of that wizard
brightness in the room; the pale walls and the white bed and his
wife's face lying amidst brown hair upon the pillow were illuminated,
and listening he could almost hear the corncrake in the fields, the
fern-owl sounding his strange note from the quiet of the rugged place
where the bracken grew, and, like the echo of a magic song, the melody
of the nightingale that sang all night in the alder by the little
brook. There was nothing that he could say, but he slowly stole his
arm under his wife's neck, and played with the ringlets of brown
hair. She never moved, she lay there gently breathing, looking up to
the blank ceiling of the room with her beautiful eyes, thinking also,
no doubt, thoughts that she could not utter, kissing her husband
obediently when he asked her to do so, and he stammered and hesitated
as he spoke.

They were nearly asleep, indeed Darnell was on the very eve of
dreaming, when she said very softly--'I am afraid, darling, that we
could never afford it.' And he heard her words through the murmur of
the water, dripping from the grey rock, and falling into the clear
pool beneath.

Sunday morning was always an occasion of idleness. Indeed, they would
never have got breakfast if Mrs. Darnell, who had the instincts of the
housewife, had not awoke and seen the bright sunshine, and felt that
the house was too still. She lay quiet for five minutes, while her
husband slept beside her, and listened intently, waiting for the sound
of Alice stirring down below. A golden tube of sunlight shone through
some opening in the Venetian blinds, and it shone on the brown hair
that lay about her head on the pillow, and she looked steadily into
the room at the 'duchesse' toilet-table, the coloured ware of the
washstand, and the two photogravures in oak frames, 'The Meeting' and
'The Parting,' that hung upon the wall. She was half dreaming as she
listened for the servant's footsteps, and the faint shadow of a shade
of a thought came over her, and she imagined dimly, for the quick
moment of a dream, another world where rapture was wine, where one
wandered in a deep and happy valley, and the moon was always rising
red above the trees. She was thinking of Hampstead, which represented
to her the vision of the world beyond the walls, and the thought of
the heath led her away to Bank Holidays, and then to Alice. There was
not a sound in the house; it might have been midnight for the
stillness if the drawling cry of the Sunday paper had not suddenly
echoed round the corner of Edna Road, and with it came the warning
clank and shriek of the milkman with his pails.

Mrs. Darnell sat up, and wide awake, listened more intently. The girl
was evidently fast asleep, and must be roused, or all the work of the
day would be out of joint, and she remembered how Edward hated any
fuss or discussion about household matters, more especially on a
Sunday, after his long week's work in the City. She gave her husband
an affectionate glance as he slept on, for she was very fond of him,
and so she gently rose from the bed and went in her nightgown to call
the maid.

The servant's room was small and stuffy, the night had been very hot,
and Mrs. Darnell paused for a moment at the door, wondering whether
the girl on the bed was really the dusty-faced servant who bustled day
by day about the house, or even the strangely bedizened creature,
dressed in purple, with a shiny face, who would appear on the Sunday
afternoon, bringing in an early tea, because it was her 'evening out.'
Alice's hair was black and her skin was pale, almost of the olive
tinge, and she lay asleep, her head resting on one arm, reminding
Mrs. Darnell of a queer print of a 'Tired Bacchante' that she had seen
long ago in a shop window in Upper Street, Islington. And a cracked
bell was ringing; that meant five minutes to eight, and nothing done.

She touched the girl gently on the shoulder, and only smiled when her
eyes opened, and, waking with a start, she got up in sudden
confusion. Mrs. Darnell went back to her room and dressed slowly while
her husband still slept, and it was only at the last moment, as she
fastened her cherry-coloured bodice, that she roused him, telling him
that the bacon would be overdone unless he hurried over his dressing.

Over the breakfast they discussed the question of the spare room all
over again. Mrs. Darnell still admitted that the plan of furnishing it
attracted her, but she could not see how it could be done for the ten
pounds, and as they were prudent people they did not care to encroach
on their swings. Edward was highly paid, having (with allowances for
extra work in busy weeks) a hundred and forty pounds a year, and Mary
had inherited from an old uncle, her godfather, three hundred pounds,
which had been judiciously laid out in mortgage at 4½ per
cent. Their total income, then, counting in Aunt Marian's present, was
a hundred and fifty-eight pounds a year and they were clear of debt,
since Darnell had bought the furniture for the house out of money
which he had saved for five or six years before. In the first few
years of his life in the City his income had, of course, been smaller,
and at first he had lived very freely, without a thought of laying by.
The theatres and music-halls had attracted him, and scarcely a week
passed without his going (in the pit) to one or the other; and he had
occasionally bought photographs of actresses who pleased him. These he
had solemnly burnt when he became engaged to Mary; he remembered the
evening well; his heart had been so full of joy and wonder, and the
landlady had complained bitterly of the mess in the grate when he came
home from the City the next night.

Still, the money was lost, as far as he could recollect, ten or twelve
shillings; and it annoyed him all the more to reflect that if he had
put it by, it would have gone far towards the purchase of an 'Orient'
carpet in brilliant colours. Then there had been other expenses of his
youth: he had purchased threepenny and even fourpenny cigars, the
latter rarely, but the former frequently, sometimes singly, and
sometimes in bundles of twelve for half-a-crown. Once a meerschaum
pipe had haunted him for six weeks; the tobacconist had drawn
it out of a drawer with some air of secrecy as he was buying a
packet of 'Lone Star.' Here was another useless expense, these
American-manufactured tobaccos: his 'Lone Star,' 'Long Judge,' 'Old
Hank,' 'Sultry Clime,' and the rest of them cost from a shilling to
one and six the two-ounce packet; whereas now he got excellent loose
honeydew for threepence halfpenny an ounce. But the crafty tradesman,
who had marked him down as a buyer of expensive fancy goods, nodded
with his air of mystery, and, snapping open the case, displayed the
meerschaum before the dazzled eyes of Darnell. The bowl was carved in
the likeness of a female figure, showing the head and torso, and the
mouthpiece was of the very best amber--only twelve and six, the man
said, and the amber alone, he declared, was worth more than that. He
explained that he felt some delicacy about showing the pipe to any but
a regular customer, and was willing to take a little under cost price
and 'cut the loss.' Darnell resisted for the time, but the pipe
troubled him, and at last he bought it. He was pleased to show it to
the younger men in the office for a while, but it never smoked very
well, and he gave it away just before his marriage, as from the nature
of the carving it would have been impossible to use it in his wife's
presence. Once, while he was taking his holidays at Hastings, he had
purchased a malacca cane--a useless thing that had cost seven
shillings--and he reflected with sorrow on the innumerable evenings on
which he had rejected his landlady's plain fried chop, and had gone
out to flaner among the Italian restaurants in Upper Street, Islington
(he lodged in Holloway), pampering himself with expensive delicacies:
cutlets and green peas, braised beef with tomato sauce, fillet steak
and chipped potatoes, ending the banquet very often with a small wedge
of Gruyère, which cost twopence. One night, after receiving a
rise in his salary, he had actually drunk a quarter-flask of Chianti
and had added the enormities of Benedictine, coffee, and cigarettes to
an expenditure already disgraceful, and sixpence to the waiter made
the bill amount to four shillings instead of the shilling that would
have provided him with a wholesome and sufficient repast at home. Oh,
there were many other items in this account of extravagance, and
Darnell had often regretted his way of life, thinking that if he had
been more careful, five or six pounds a year might have been added to
their income.

And the question of the spare room brought back these regrets in an
exaggerated degree. He persuaded himself that the extra five pounds
would have given a sufficient margin for the outlay that he desired to
make; though this was, no doubt, a mistake on his part. But he saw
quite clearly that, under the present conditions, there must be no
levies made on the very small sum of money that they had saved. The
rent of the house was thirty-five, and rates and taxes added another
ten pounds--nearly a quarter of their income for houseroom. Mary kept
down the housekeeping bills to the very best of her ability, but meat
was always dear, and she suspected the maid of cutting surreptitious
slices from the joint and eating them in her bedroom with bread and
treacle in the dead of night, for the girl had disordered and
eccentric appetites. Mr. Darnell thought no more of restaurants, cheap
or dear; he took his lunch with him to the City, and joined his wife
in the evening at high tea--chops, a bit of steak, or cold meat from
the Sunday's dinner.

Mrs. Darnell ate bread and jam and drank a little milk in the middle
of the day; but, with the utmost economy, the effort to live within
their means and to save for future contingencies was a very hard
one. They had determined to do without change of air for at least
three years, as the honeymoon at Walton-on-the-Naze had cost a good
deal; and it was on this ground that they had, somewhat illogically,
reserved the ten pounds, declaring that as they were not to have any
holiday they would spend the money on something useful.

And it was this consideration of utility that was finally fatal to
Darnell's scheme. They had calculated and recalculated the expense of
the bed and bedding, the linoleum, and the ornaments, and by a great
deal of exertion the total expenditure had been made to assume the
shape of 'something very little over ten pounds,' when Mary said quite
suddenly--'But, after all, Edward, we don't really want to furnish the
room at all. I mean it isn't necessary. And if we did so it might lead
to no end of expense. People would hear of it and be sure to fish for
invitations. You know we have relatives in the country, and they would
be almost certain, the Mallings, at any rate, to give hints.'

Darnell saw the force of the argument and gave way. But he was
bitterly disappointed.

'It would have been very nice, wouldn't it?' he said with a sigh.

'Never mind, dear,' said Mary, who saw that he was a good deal cast
down. 'We must think of some other plan that will be nice and useful
too.'

She often spoke to him in that tone of a kind mother, though she was
by three years the younger.

'And now,' she said, 'I must get ready for church. Are you coming?'

Darnell said that he thought not. He usually accompanied his wife to
morning service, but that day he felt some bitterness in his heart,
and preferred to lounge under the shade of the big mulberry tree that
stood in the middle of their patch of garden--relic of the spacious
lawns that had once lain smooth and green and sweet, where the dismal
streets now swarmed in a hopeless labyrinth.

So Mary went quietly and alone to church. St. Paul's stood in a
neighbouring street, and its Gothic design would have interested a
curious inquirer into the history of a strange revival.

Obviously, mechanically, there was nothing amiss. The style chosen was
'geometrical decorated,' and the tracery of the windows seemed
correct. The nave, the aisles, the spacious chancel, were reasonably
proportioned; and, to be quite serious, the only feature obviously
wrong was the substitution of a low 'chancel wall' with iron gates for
the rood screen with the loft and rood. But this, it might plausibly
be contended, was merely an adaptation of the old idea to modern
requirements, and it would have been quite difficult to explain why
the whole building, from the mere mortar setting between the stones to
the Gothic gas standards, was a mysterious and elaborate
blasphemy. The canticles were sung to Joll in B flat, the chants were
'Anglican,' and the sermon was the gospel for the day, amplified and
rendered into the more modern and graceful English of the
preacher. And Mary came away.

After their dinner (an excellent piece of Australian mutton, bought in
the 'World Wide' Stores, in Hammersmith), they sat for some time in
the garden, partly sheltered by the big mulberry tree from the
observation of their neighbours. Edward smoked his honeydew, and Mary
looked at him with placid affection.

'You never tell me about the men in your office,' she said at
length. 'Some of them are nice fellows, aren't they?'

'Oh, yes, they're very decent. I must bring some of them round, one of
these days.'

He remembered with a pang that it would be necessary to provide
whisky. One couldn't ask the guest to drink table beer at tenpence the
gallon.

'Who are they, though?' said Mary. 'I think they might have given you
a wedding present.'

'Well, I don't know. We never have gone in for that sort of thing.
But they're very decent chaps. Well, there's Harvey; "Sauce" they call
him behind his back. He's mad on bicycling. He went in last year for
the Two Miles Amateur Record. He'd have made it, too, if he could have
got into better training.

'Then there's James, a sporting man. You wouldn't care for him. I
always think he smells of the stable.'

'How horrid!' said Mrs. Darnell, finding her husband a little frank,
lowering her eyes as she spoke.

'Dickenson might amuse you,' Darnell went on. 'He's always got a
joke. A terrible liar, though. When he tells a tale we never know how
much to believe. He swore the other day he'd seen one of the governors
buying cockles off a barrow near London Bridge, and Jones, who's just
come, believed every word of it.'

Darnell laughed at the humorous recollection of the jest.

'And that wasn't a bad yarn about Salter's wife,' he went on.  'Salter
is the manager, you know.

Dickenson lives close by, in Notting Hill, and he said one morning
that he had seen Mrs. Salter, in the Portobello Road, in red
stockings, dancing to a piano organ.'

'He's a little coarse, isn't he?' said Mrs. Darnell. 'I don't see much
fun in that.'

'Well, you know, amongst men it's different. You might like Wallis;
he's a tremendous photographer. He often shows us photos he's taken of
his children--one, a little girl of three, in her bath. I asked him
how he thought she'd like it when she was twenty-three.'

Mrs. Darnell looked down and made no answer.

There was silence for some minutes while Darnell smoked his pipe.  'I
say, Mary,' he said at length, 'what do you say to our taking a paying
guest?'

'A paying guest! I never thought of it. Where should we put him?'

'Why, I was thinking of the spare room. The plan would obviate your
objection, wouldn't it?  Lots of men in the City take them, and make
money of it too. I dare say it would add ten pounds a year to our
income. Redgrave, the cashier, finds it worth his while to take a
large house on purpose. They have a regular lawn for tennis and a
billiard-room.'

Mary considered gravely, always with the dream in her eyes. 'I don't
think we could manage it, Edward,' she said; 'it would be inconvenient
in many ways. She hesitated for a moment. 'And I don't think I should
care to have a young man in the house. It is so very small, and our
accommodation, as you know, is so limited.'

She blushed slightly, and Edward, a little disappointed as he was,
looked at her with a singular longing, as if he were a scholar
confronted with a doubtful hieroglyph, either wholly wonderful or
altogether commonplace. Next door children were playing in the garden,
playing shrilly, laughing crying, quarrelling, racing to and fro.
Suddenly a dear, pleasant voice sounded from an upper window.

'Enid! Charles! Come up to my room at once!'

There was an instant sudden hush. The children's voices died away.

'Mrs. Parker is supposed to keep her children in great order,' said
Mary. 'Alice was telling me about it the other day. She had been
talking to Mrs. Parker's servant. I listened to her without any
remark, as I don't think it right to encourage servants' gossip; they
always exaggerate everything. And I dare say children often require to
be corrected.'

The children were struck silent as if some ghastly terror had seized
them.

Darnell fancied that he heard a queer sort of cry from the house, but
could not be quite sure. He turned to the other side, where an
elderly, ordinary man with a grey moustache was strolling up and down
on the further side of his garden. He caught Darnell's eye, and Mrs.
Darnell looking towards him at the same moment, he very politely
raised his tweed cap. Darnell was surprised to see his wife blushing
fiercely.

'Sayce and I often go into the City by the same 'bus,' he said, 'and
as it happens we've sat next to each other two or three times
lately. I believe he's a traveller for a leather firm in Bermondsey.
He struck me as a pleasant man. Haven't they got rather a good-looking
servant?'

'Alice has spoken to me about her--and the Sayces,' said Mrs.
Darnell. 'I understand that they are not very well thought of in the
neighbourhood. But I must go in and see whether the tea is ready.
Alice will be wanting to go out directly.' Darnell looked after his
wife as she walked quickly away. He only dimly understood, but he
could see the charm of her figure, the delight of the brown curls
clustering about her neck, and he again felt that sense of the scholar
confronted by the hieroglyphic. He could not have expressed his
emotion, but he wondered whether he would ever find the key, and
something told him that before she could speak to him his own lips
must be unclosed. She had gone into the house by the back kitchen
door, leaving it open, and he heard her speaking to the girl about the
water being 'really boiling.' He was amazed, almost indignant with
himself; but the sound of the words came to his ears as strange,
heart-piercing music, tones from another, wonderful sphere. And yet he
was her husband, and they had been married nearly a year; and yet,
whenever she spoke, he had to listen to the sense of what she said,
constraining himself, lest he should believe she was a magic creature,
knowing the secrets of immeasurable delight.

He looked out through the leaves of the mulberry tree. Mr. Sayce had
disappeared from his view, but he saw the light-blue fume of the cigar
that he was smoking floating slowly across the shadowed air. He was
wondering at his wife's manner when Sayce's name was mentioned,
puzzling his head as to what could be amiss in the household of a most
respectable personage, when his wife appeared at the dining-room
window and called him in to tea. She smiled as he looked up, and he
rose hastily and walked in, wondering whether he were not a little
'queer,' so strange were the dim emotions and the dimmer impulses that
rose within him.

Alice was all shining purple and strong scent, as she brought in the
teapot and the jug of hot water. It seemed that a visit to the kitchen
had inspired Mrs. Darnell in her turn with a novel plan for disposing
of the famous ten pounds. The range had always been a trouble to her,
and when sometimes she went into the kitchen, and found, as she said,
the fire 'roaring halfway up the chimney,' it was in vain that she
reproved the maid on the ground of extravagance and waste of
coal. Alice was ready to admit the absurdity of making up such an
enormous fire merely to bake (they called it 'roast') a bit of beef or
mutton, and to boil the potatoes and the cabbage; but she was able to
show Mrs. Darnell that the fault lay in the defective contrivance of
the range, in an oven which 'would not get hot.' Even with a chop or a
steak it was almost as bad; the heat seemed to escape up the chimney
or into the room, and Mary had spoken several times to her husband on
the shocking waste of coal, and the cheapest coal procurable was never
less than eighteen shillings the ton. Mr. Darnell had written to the
landlord, a builder, who had replied in an illiterate but offensive
communication, maintaining the excellence of the stove and charging
all the faults to the account of 'your good lady,' which really
implied that the Darnells kept no servant, and that Mrs. Darnell did
everything. The range, then, remained, a standing annoyance and
expense. Every morning, Alice said, she had the greatest difficulty in
getting the fire to light at all, and once lighted it 'seemed as if it
fled right up the chimney.' Only a few nights before Mrs. Darnell had
spoken seriously to her husband about it; she had got Alice to weigh
the coals expended in cooking a cottage pie, the dish of the evening,
and deducting what remained in the scuttle after the pie was done, it
appeared that the wretched thing had consumed nearly twice the proper
quantity of fuel.

'You remember what I said the other night about the range?' said
Mrs. Darnell, as she poured out the tea and watered the leaves. She
thought the introduction a good one, for though her husband was a most
amiable man, she guessed that he had been just a little hurt by her
decision against his furnishing scheme.

'The range?' said Darnell. He paused as he helped himself to the
marmalade and considered for a moment. 'No, I don't recollect. What
night was it?'

'Tuesday. Don't you remember? You had "overtime," and didn't get home
till quite late.' She paused for a moment, blushing slightly; and then
began to recapitulate the misdeeds of the range, and the outrageous
outlay of coal in the preparation of the cottage pie.

'Oh, I recollect now. That was the night I thought I heard the
nightingale (people say there are nightingales in Bedford Park), and
the sky was such a wonderful deep blue.'

He remembered how he had walked from Uxbridge Road Station, where the
green 'bus stopped, and in spite of the fuming kilns under Acton, a
delicate odour of the woods and summer fields was mysteriously in the
air, and he had fancied that he smelt the red wild roses, drooping
from the hedge. As he came to his gate he saw his wife standing in the
doorway, with a light in her hand, and he threw his arms violently
about her as she welcomed him, and whispered something in her ear,
kissing her scented hair. He had felt quite abashed a moment
afterwards, and he was afraid that he had frightened her by his
nonsense; she seemed trembling and confused. And then she had told him
how they had weighed the coal.

'Yes, I remember now,' he said. 'It is a great nuisance, isn't it?  I
hate to throw away money like that.'

'Well, what do you think? Suppose we bought a really good range with
aunt's money? It would save us a lot, and I expect the things would
taste much nicer.'

Darnell passed the marmalade, and confessed that the idea was
brilliant.

'It's much better than mine, Mary,' he said quite frankly. 'I am so
glad you thought of it. But we must talk it over; it doesn't do to buy
in a hurry. There are so many makes.'

Each had seen ranges which looked miraculous inventions; he in the
neighbourhood of the City; she in Oxford Street and Regent Street, on
visits to the dentist. They discussed the matter at tea, and
afterwards they discussed it walking round and round the garden, in
the sweet cool of the evening.

'They say the "Newcastle" will burn anything, coke even,' said Mary.

'But the "Glow" got the gold medal at the Paris Exhibition,' said
Edward.

'But what about the "Eutopia" Kitchener? Have you seen it at work in
Oxford Street?' said Mary. 'They say their plan of ventilating the
oven is quite unique.'

'I was in Fleet Street the other day,' answered Edward, 'and I was
looking at the "Bliss" Patent Stoves. They burn less fuel than any in
the market--so the makers declare.'

He put his arm gently round her waist. She did not repel him; she
whispered quite softly--'I think Mrs. Parker is at her window,' and he
drew his arm back slowly.

'But we will talk it over,' he said. 'There is no hurry. I might call
at some of the places near the City, and you might do the same thing
in Oxford Street and Regent Street and Piccadilly, and we could
compare notes.'

Mary was quite pleased with her husband's good temper. It was so nice
of him not to find fault with her plan; 'He's so good to me,' she
thought, and that was what she often said to her brother, who did not
care much for Darnell. They sat down on the seat under the mulberry,
close together, and she let Darnell take her hand, and as she felt his
shy, hesitating fingers touch her in the shadow, she pressed them ever
so softly, and as he fondled her hand, his breath was on her neck, and
she heard his passionate, hesitating voice whisper, 'My dear, my
dear,' as his lips touched her cheek. She trembled a little, and
waited.  Darnell kissed her gently on the cheek and drew away his
hand, and when he spoke he was almost breathless.

'We had better go in now,' he said. 'There is a heavy dew, and you
might catch cold.'

A warm, scented gale came to them from beyond the walls. He longed to
ask her to stay out with him all night beneath the tree, that they
might whisper to one another, that the scent of her hair might
inebriate him, that he might feel her dress still brushing against his
ankles. But he could not find the words, and it was absurd, and she
was so gentle that she would do whatever he asked, however foolish it
might be, just because he asked her. He was not worthy to kiss her
lips; he bent down and kissed her silk bodice, and again he felt that
she trembled, and he was ashamed, fearing that he had frightened her.

They went slowly into the house, side by side, and Darnell lit the gas
in the drawing-room, where they always sat on Sunday evenings.
Mrs. Darnell felt a little tired and lay down on the sofa, and Darnell
took the arm-chair opposite. For a while they were silent, and then
Darnell said suddenly--'What's wrong with the Sayces? You seemed to
think there was something a little strange about them. Their maid
looks quite quiet.'

'Oh, I don't know that one ought to pay any attention to servants'
gossip. They're not always very truthful.'

'It was Alice told you, wasn't it?'

'Yes. She was speaking to me the other day, when I was in the kitchen
in the afternoon.'

'But what was it?'

'Oh, I'd rather not tell you, Edward. It's not pleasant. I scolded
Alice for repeating it to me.'

Darnell got up and took a small, frail chair near the sofa.

'Tell me,' he said again, with an odd perversity. He did not really
care to hear about the household next door, but he remembered how his
wife's cheeks flushed in the afternoon, and now he was looking at her
eyes.

'Oh, I really couldn't tell you, dear. I should feel ashamed.'

'But you're my wife.'

'Yes, but it doesn't make any difference. A woman doesn't like to talk
about such things.'

Darnell bent his head down. His heart was beating; he put his ear to
her mouth and said, 'Whisper.'

Mary drew his head down still lower with her gentle hand, and her
cheeks burned as she whispered--'Alice says that--upstairs--they have
only--one room furnished. The maid told her--herself.' With an
unconscious gesture she pressed his head to her breast, and he in turn
was bending her red lips to his own, when a violent jangle clamoured
through the silent house. They sat up, and Mrs. Darnell went hurriedly
to the door.

'That's Alice,' she said. 'She is always in in time. It has only just
struck ten.'

Darnell shivered with annoyance. His lips, he knew, had almost been
opened. Mary's pretty handkerchief, delicately scented from a little
flagon that a school friend had given her, lay on the floor, and he
picked it up, and kissed it, and hid it away.

The question of the range occupied them all through June and far into
July. Mrs. Darnell took every opportunity of going to the West End and
investigating the capacity of the latest makes, gravely viewing the
new improvements and hearing what the shopmen had to say; while
Darnell, as he said, 'kept his eyes open' about the City. They
accumulated quite a literature of the subject, bringing away
illustrated pamphlets, and in the evenings it was an amusement to look
at the pictures. They viewed with reverence and interest the drawings
of great ranges for hotels and public institutions, mighty
contrivances furnished with a series of ovens each for a different
use, with wonderful apparatus for grilling, with batteries of
accessories which seemed to invest the cook almost with the dignity of
a chief engineer. But when, in one of the lists, they encountered the
images of little toy 'cottage' ranges, for four pounds, and even for
three pounds ten, they grew scornful, on the strength of the eight or
ten pound article which they meant to purchase--when the merits of
the divers patents had been thoroughly thrashed out.

The 'Raven' was for a long time Mary's favourite. It promised the
utmost economy with the highest efficiency, and many times they were
on the point of giving the order. But the 'Glow' seemed equally
seductive, and it was only £8. 5s. as compared with
£9. 7s. 6d., and though the 'Raven' was supplied to the Royal
Kitchen, the 'Glow' could show more fervent testimonials from
continental potentates.

It seemed a debate without end, and it endured day after day till that
morning, when Darnell woke from the dream of the ancient wood, of the
fountains rising into grey vapour beneath the heat of the sun. As he
dressed, an idea struck him, and he brought it as a shock to the
hurried breakfast, disturbed by the thought of the City 'bus which
passed the corner of the street at 9.15.

'I've got an improvement on your plan, Mary,' he said, with
triumph. 'Look at that,' and he flung a little book on the table.

He laughed. 'It beats your notion all to fits. After all, the great
expense is the coal. It's not the stove--at least that's not the real
mischief. It's the coal is so dear. And here you are. Look at those
oil stoves. They don't burn any coal, but the cheapest fuel in the
world--oil; and for two pounds ten you can get a range that will do
everything you want.'

'Give me the book,' said Mary, 'and we will talk it over in the
evening, when you come home.

'Must you be going?'

Darnell cast an anxious glance at the clock.

'Good-bye,' and they kissed each other seriously and dutifully, and
Mary's eyes made Darnell think of those lonely water-pools, hidden in
the shadow of the ancient woods.

So, day after day, he lived in the grey phantasmal world, akin to
death, that has, somehow, with most of us, made good its claim to be
called life. To Darnell the true life would have seemed madness, and
when, now and again, the shadows and vague images reflected from its
splendour fell across his path, he was afraid, and took refuge in what
he would have called the sane 'reality' of common and usual incidents
and interests. His absurdity was, perhaps, the more evident, inasmuch
as 'reality' for him was a matter of kitchen ranges, of saving a few
shillings; but in truth the folly would have been greater if it had
been concerned with racing stables, steam yachts, and the spending of
many thousand pounds.

But so went forth Darnell, day by day, strangely mistaking death for
life, madness for sanity, and purposeless and wandering phantoms for
true beings. He was sincerely of opinion that he was a City clerk,
living in Shepherd's Bush--having forgotten the mysteries and the
far-shining glories of the kingdom which was his by legitimate
inheritance.

II

All day long a fierce and heavy heat had brooded over the City, and as
Darnell neared home he saw the mist lying on all the damp lowlands,
wreathed in coils about Bedford Park to the south, and mounting to the
West, so that the tower of Acton Church loomed out of a grey lake. The
grass in the squares and on the lawns which he overlooked as the 'bus
lumbered wearily along was burnt to the colour of dust. Shepherd's
Bush Green was a wretched desert, trampled brown, bordered with
monotonous poplars, whose leaves hung motionless in air that was
still, hot smoke. The foot passengers struggled wearily along the
pavements, and the reek of the summer's end mingled with the breath of
the brickfields made Darnell gasp, as if he were inhaling the poison
of some foul sick-room.

He made but a slight inroad into the cold mutton that adorned the
tea-table, and confessed that he felt rather 'done up' by the weather
and the day's work.

'I have had a trying day, too,' said Mary. 'Alice has been very queer
and troublesome all day, and I have had to speak to her quite
seriously. You know I think her Sunday evenings out have a rather
unsettling influence on the girl. But what is one to do?'

'Has she got a young man?'

'Of course: a grocer's assistant from the Goldhawk Road--Wilkin's, you
know. I tried them when we settled here, but they were not very
satisfactory.'

'What do they do with themselves all the evening? They have from five
to ten, haven't they?'

'Yes; five, or sometimes half-past, when the water won't boil.  Well,
I believe they go for walks usually. Once or twice he has taken her to
the City Temple, and the Sunday before last they walked up and down
Oxford Street, and then sat in the Park. But it seems that last Sunday
they went to tea with his mother at Putney. I should like to tell the
old woman what I really think of her.'

'Why? What happened? Was she nasty to the girl?'

'No; that's just it. Before this, she has been very unpleasant on
several occasions. When the young man first took Alice to see
her--that was in March--the girl came away crying; she told me so
herself. Indeed, she said she never wanted to see old Mrs. Murry
again; and I told Alice that, if she had not exaggerated things, I
could hardly blame her for feeling like that.'

'Why? What did she cry for?'

'Well, it seems that the old lady--she lives in quite a small cottage
in some Putney back street--was so stately that she would hardly
speak. She had borrowed a little girl from some neighbour's family,
and had managed to dress her up to imitate a servant, and Alice said
nothing could be sillier than to see that mite opening the door, with
her black dress and her white cap and apron, and she hardly able to
turn the handle, as Alice said. George (that's the young man's name)
had told Alice that it was a little bit of a house; but he said the
kitchen was comfortable, though very plain and old-fashioned. But,
instead of going straight to the back, and sitting by a big fire on
the old settle that they had brought up from the country, that child
asked for their names (did you ever hear such nonsense?) and showed
them into a little poky parlour, where old Mrs. Murry was sitting
"like a duchess," by a fireplace full of coloured paper, and the room
as cold as ice. And she was so grand that she would hardly speak to
Alice.'

'That must have been very unpleasant.'

'Oh, the poor girl had a dreadful time. She began with: "Very pleased
to make your acquaintance, Miss Dill. I know so very few persons in
service." Alice imitates her mincing way of talking, but I can't do
it. And then she went on to talk about her family, how they had farmed
their own land for five hundred years--such stuff! George had told
Alice all about it: they had had an old cottage with a good strip of
garden and two fields somewhere in Essex, and that old woman talked
almost as if they had been country gentry, and boasted about the
Rector, Dr. Somebody, coming to see them so often, and of Squire
Somebody Else always looking them up, as if they didn't visit them out
of kindness.  Alice told me it was as much as she could do to keep
from laughing in Mrs. Murry's face, her young man having told her all
about the place, and how small it was, and how the Squire had been so
kind about buying it when old Murry died and George was a little boy,
and his mother not able to keep things going. However, that silly old
woman "laid it on thick," as you say, and the young man got more and
more uncomfortable, especially when she went on to speak about
marrying in one's own class, and how unhappy she had known young men
to be who had married beneath them, giving some very pointed looks at
Alice as she talked.  And then such an amusing thing happened: Alice
had noticed George looking about him in a puzzled sort of way, as if
he couldn't make out something or other, and at last he burst out and
asked his mother if she had been buying up the neighbours' ornaments,
as he remembered the two green cut-glass vases on the mantelpiece at
Mrs. Ellis's, and the wax flowers at Miss Turvey's. He was going on,
but his mother scowled at him, and upset some books, which he had to
pick up; but Alice quite understood she had been borrowing things from
her neighbours, just as she had borrowed the little girl, so as to
look grander. And then they had tea--water bewitched, Alice calls
it--and very thin bread and butter, and rubbishy foreign pastry from
the Swiss shop in the High Street--all sour froth and rancid fat,
Alice declares. And then Mrs.  Murry began boasting again about her
family, and snubbing Alice and talking at her, till the girl came away
quite furious, and very unhappy, too. I don't wonder at it, do you?'

'It doesn't sound very enjoyable, certainly,' said Darnell, looking
dreamily at his wife. He had not been attending very carefully to the
subject-matter of her story, but he loved to hear a voice that was
incantation in his ears, tones that summoned before him the vision of
a magic world.

'And has the young man's mother always been like this?' he said after
a long pause, desiring that the music should continue.

'Always, till quite lately, till last Sunday in fact. Of course Alice
spoke to George Murry at once, and said, like a sensible girl, that
she didn't think it ever answered for a married couple to live with
the man's mother, "especially," she went on, "as I can see your mother
hasn't taken much of a fancy to me." He told her, in the usual style,
it was only his mother's way, that she didn't really mean anything,
and so on; but Alice kept away for a long time, and rather hinted, I
think, that it might come to having to choose between her and his
mother. And so affairs went on all through the spring and summer, and
then, just before the August Bank Holiday, George spoke to Alice again
about it, and told her how sorry the thought of any unpleasantness
made him, and how he wanted his mother and her to get on with each
other, and how she was only a bit old-fashioned and queer in her ways,
and had spoken very nicely to him about her when there was nobody
by. So the long and the short of it was that Alice said she might come
with them on the Monday, when they had settled to go to Hampton
Court--the girl was always talking about Hampton Court, and wanting to
see it. You remember what a beautiful day it was, don't you?'

'Let me see,' said Darnell dreamily. 'Oh yes, of course--I sat out
under the mulberry tree all day, and we had our meals there: it was
quite a picnic. The caterpillars were a nuisance, but I enjoyed the
day very much.' His ears were charmed, ravished with the grave,
supernal melody, as of antique song, rather of the first made world in
which all speech was descant, and all words were sacraments of might,
speaking not to the mind but to the soul. He lay back in his chair,
and said--'Well, what happened to them?'

'My dear, would you believe it; but that wretched old woman behaved
worse than ever. They met as had been arranged, at Kew Bridge, and got
places, with a good deal of difficulty, in one of those
char-à-banc things, and Alice thought she was going to enjoy
herself tremendously.

Nothing of the kind. They had hardly said "Good morning," when old
Mrs. Murry began to talk about Kew Gardens, and how beautiful it must
be there, and how much more convenient it was than Hampton, and no
expense at all; just the trouble of walking over the bridge. Then she
went on to say, as they were waiting for the char-à-banc, that
she had always heard there was nothing to see at Hampton, except a lot
of nasty, grimy old pictures, and some of them not fit for any decent
woman, let alone girl, to look at, and she wondered why the Queen
allowed such things to be shown, putting all kinds of notions into
girls' heads that were light enough already; and as she said that she
looked at Alice so nastily--horrid old thing--that, as she told me
afterwards, Alice would have slapped her face if she hadn't been an
elderly woman, and George's mother. Then she talked about Kew again,
saying how wonderful the hot-houses were, with palms and all sorts of
wonderful things, and a lily as big as a parlour table, and the view
over the river. George was very good, Alice told me. He was quite
taken aback at first, as the old woman had promised faithfully to be
as nice as ever she could be; but then he said, gently but firmly,
"Well, mother, we must go to Kew some other day, as Alice has set her
heart on Hampton for to-day, and I want to see it myself!" All Mrs.
Murry did was to snort, and look at the girl like vinegar, and just
then the char-a-banc came up, and they had to scramble for their
seats. Mrs. Mummy grumbled to herself in an indistinct sort of voice
all the way to Hampton Court. Alice couldn't very well make out what
she said, but now and then she seemed to hear bits of sentences, like:
Pity to grow old, if Sons grow bold; and Honour thy father and mother;
and Lie on the shelf, said the housewife to the old shoe, and the
wicked son to his mother; and I gave you milk and you give me the
go-by.

Alice thought they must be proverbs (except the Commandment, of
course), as George was always saying how old-fashioned his mother is;
but she says there were so many of them, and all pointed at her and
George, that she thinks now Mrs. Murry must have made them up as they
drove along. She says it would be just like her to do it, being
old-fashioned, and ill-natured too, and fuller of talk than a butcher
on Saturday night. Well, they got to Hampton at last, and Alice
thought the place would please her, perhaps, and they might have some
enjoyment. But she did nothing but grumble, and out loud too, so that
people looked at them, and a woman said, so that they could hear, "Ah
well, they'll be old themselves some day," which made Alice very
angry, for, as she said, they weren't doing anything. When they showed
her the chestnut avenue in Bushey Park, she said it was so long and
straight that it made her quite dull to look at it, and she thought
the deer (you know how pretty they are, really) looked thin and
miserable, as if they would be all the better for a good feed of
hog-wash, with plenty of meal in it. She said she knew they weren't
happy by the look in their eyes, which seemed to tell hem that their
keepers beat them. It was the same with everything; she said she
remembered market-gardens in Hammersmith and Gunnersbury that had a
better show of flowers, and when they took her to the place where the
water is, under the trees, she burst out with its being rather hard to
tramp her off her legs to show her a common canal, with not so much as
a barge on it to liven it up a bit. She went on like that the whole
day, and Alice told me she was only too thankful to get home and get
rid of her. Wasn't it wretched for the girl?'

'It must have been, indeed. But what happened last Sunday?'

'That's the most extraordinary thing of all. I noticed that Alice was
rather queer in her manner this morning; she was a longer time washing
up the breakfast things, and she answered me quite sharply when I
called to her to ask when she would be ready to help me with the wash;
and when I went into the kitchen to see about something, I noticed
that she was going about her work in a sulky sort of way. So I asked
her what was the matter, and then it all came out. I could scarcely
believe my own ears when she mumbled out something about Mrs.  Murry
thinking she could do very much better for herself; but I asked her
one question after another till I had it all out of her.

It just shows one how foolish and empty-headed these girls are. I told
her she was no better than a weather-cock. If you will believe me,
that horrid old woman was quite another person when Alice went to see
her the other night. Why, I can't think, but so she was. She told the
girl how pretty she was; what a neat figure she had; how well she
walked; and how she'd known many a girl not half so clever or
well-looking earning her twenty-five or thirty pounds a year, and with
good families. She seems to have gone into all sorts of details, and
made elaborate calculations as to what she would be able to save,
"with decent folks, who don't screw, and pinch, and lock up everything
in the house," and then she went off into a lot of hypocritical
nonsense about how fond she was of Alice, and how she could go to her
grave in peace, knowing how happy her dear George would be with such a
good wife, and about her savings from good wages helping to set up a
little home, ending up with "And, if you take an old woman's advice,
deary, it won't be long before you hear the marriage bells."

'I see,' said Darnell; 'and the upshot of it all is, I suppose, that
the girl is thoroughly dissatisfied?'

'Yes, she is so young and silly. I talked to her, and reminded her of
how nasty old Mrs. Murry had been, and told her that she might change
her place and change for the worse. I think I have persuaded her to
think it over quietly, at all events. Do you know what it is, Edward?
I have an idea. I believe that wicked old woman is trying to get Alice
to leave us, that she may tell her son how changeable she is; and I
suppose she would make up some of her stupid old proverbs:


"A changeable wife, a troublesome life," or some nonsense of the
kind. Horrid old thing!'

'Well, well,' said Darnell, 'I hope she won't go, for your sake. It
would be such a bother for you, hunting for a fresh servant.'

He refilled his pipe and smoked placidly, refreshed somewhat after the
emptiness and the burden of the day. The French window was wide open,
and now at last there came a breath of quickening air, distilled by
the night from such trees as still wore green in that arid valley.
The song to which Darnell had listened in rapture, and now the breeze,
which even in that dry, grim suburb still bore the word of the
woodland, had summoned the dream to his eyes, and he meditated over
matters that his lips could not express.

'She must, indeed, be a villainous old woman,' he said at length.

'Old Mrs. Murry? Of course she is; the mischievous old thing!  Trying
to take the girl from a comfortable place where she is happy.'

'Yes; and not to like Hampton Court! That shows how bad she must be,
more than anything.'

'It is beautiful, isn't it?'

'I shall never forget the first time I saw it. It was soon after I
went into the City; the first year. I had my holidays in July, and I
was getting such a small salary that I couldn't think of going away to
the seaside, or anything like that. I remember one of the other men
wanted me to come with him on a walking tour in Kent. I should have
liked that, but the money wouldn't run to it. And do you know what I
did? I lived in Great College Street then, and the first day I was
off, I stayed in bed till past dinner-time, and lounged about in an
arm-chair with a pipe all the afternoon. I had got a new kind of
tobacco--one and four for the two-ounce packet--much dearer than I
could afford to smoke, and I was enjoying it immensely. It was awfully
hot, and when I shut the window and drew down the red blind it grew
hotter; at five o'clock the room was like an oven.

But I was so pleased at not having to go into the City, that I didn't
mind anything, and now and again I read bits from a queer old book
that had belonged to my poor dad. I couldn't make out what a lot of it
meant, but it fitted in somehow, and I read and smoked till
tea-time. Then I went out for a walk, thinking I should be better for
a little fresh air before I went to bed; and I went wandering away,
not much noticing where I was going, turning here and there as the
fancy took me. I must have gone miles and miles, and a good many of
them mound and round, as they say they do in Australia if they lose
their way in the bush; and I am sure I couldn't have gone exactly the
same way all over again for any money. Anyhow, I was still in the
streets when the twilight came on, and the lamp-lighters were trotting
round from one lamp to another. It was a wonderful night: I wish you
had been there, my dear.'

'I was quite a little girl then.'

'Yes, I suppose you were. Well, it was a wonderful night. I remember,
I was walking in a little street of little grey houses all alike, with
stucco copings and stucco door-posts; there were brass plates on a lot
of the doors, and one had "Maker of Shell Boxes" on it, and I was
quite pleased, as I had often wondered where those boxes and things
that you buy at the seaside came from. A few children were playing
about in the road with some rubbish or other, and men were singing in
a small public-house at the corner, and I happened to look up, and I
noticed what a wonderful colour the sky had turned. I have seen it
since, but I don't think it has ever been quite what it was that
night, a dark blue, glowing like a violet, just as they say the sky
looks in foreign countries. I don't know why, but the sky or something
made me feel quite queer; everything seemed changed in a way I
couldn't understand. I remember, I told an old gentleman I knew
then--a friend of my poor father's, he's been dead for five years, if
not more--about how I felt, and he looked at me and said something
about fairyland; I don't know what he meant, and I dare say I didn't
explain myself properly. But, do you know, for a moment or two I felt
as if that little back street was beautiful, and the noise of the
children and the men in the public-house seemed to fit in with the sky
and become part of it. You know that old saying about "treading on
air" when one is glad!

'Well, I really felt like that as I walked, not exactly like air, you
know, but as if the pavement was velvet or some very soft carpet.  And
then--I suppose it was all my fancy--the air seemed to smell sweet,
like the incense in Catholic churches, and my breath came queer and
catchy, as it does when one gets very excited about anything. I felt
altogether stranger than I've ever felt before or since.'

Darnell stopped suddenly and looked up at his wife. She was watching
him with parted lips, with eager, wondering eyes.

'I hope I'm not tiring you, dear, with all this story about
nothing. You have had a worrying day with that stupid girl; hadn't you
better go to bed?'

'Oh, no, please, Edward. I'm not a bit tired now. I love to hear you
talk like that. Please go on.'

'Well, after I had walked a bit further, that queer sort of feeling
seemed to fade away. I said a bit further, and I really thought I had
been walking about five minutes, but I had looked at my watch just
before I got into that little street, and when I looked at it again it
was eleven o'clock. I must have done about eight miles. I could
scarcely believe my own eyes, and I thought my watch must have gone
mad; but I found out afterwards it was perfectly right. I couldn't
make it out, and I can't now; I assure you the time passed as if I
walked up one side of Edna Road and down the other. But there I was,
right in the open country, with a cool wind blowing on me from a wood,
and the air full of soft rustling sounds, and notes of birds from the
bushes, and the singing noise of a little brook that ran under the
road. I was standing on the bridge when I took out my watch and struck
a wax light to see the time; and it came upon me suddenly what a
strange evening it had been. It was all so different, you see, to what
I had been doing all my life, particularly for the year before, and it
almost seemed as if I couldn't be the man who had been going into the
City every day in the morning and coming back from it every evening
after writing a lot of uninteresting letters. It was like being
pitched all of a sudden from one world into another. Well, I found my
way back somehow or other, and as I went along I made up my mind how
I'd spend my holiday.  I said to myself, "I'll have a walking tour as
well as Ferrars, only mine is to be a tour of London and its
environs," and I had got it all settled when I let myself into the
house about four o'clock in the morning, and the sun was shining, and
the street almost as still as the wood at midnight!'

'I think that was a capital idea of yours. Did you have your tour?
Did you buy a map of London?'


'I had the tour all right. I didn't buy a map; that would have spoilt
it, somehow; to see everything plotted out, and named, and
measured. What I wanted was to feel that I was going where nobody had
been before. That's nonsense, isn't it? as if there could be any such
places in London, or England either, for the matter of that.'

'I know what you mean; you wanted to feel as if you were going on a
sort of voyage of discovery. Isn't that it?'

'Exactly, that's what I was trying to tell you. Besides, I didn't want
to buy a map. I made a map.'

'How do you mean? Did you make a map out of your head?'

'I'll tell you about it afterwards. But do you really want to hear
about my grand tour?'

'Of course I do; it must have been delightful. I call it a most
original idea.'

'Well, I was quite full of it, and what you said just now about a
voyage of discovery reminds me of how I felt then. When I was a boy I
was awfully fond of reading of great travellers--I suppose all boys
are--and of sailors who were driven out of their course and found
themselves in latitudes where no ship had ever sailed before, and of
people who discovered wonderful cities in strange countries; and all
the second day of my holidays I was feeling just as I used to when I
read these books. I didn't get up till pretty late. I was tired to
death after all those miles I had walked; but when I had finished my
breakfast and filled my pipe, I had a grand time of it. It was such
nonsense, you know; as if there could be anything strange or wonderful
in London.'

'Why shouldn't there be?'

'Well, I don't know; but I have thought afterwards what a silly lad I
must have been. Anyhow, I had a great day of it, planning what I would
do, half making-believe--just like a kid--that I didn't know where I
might find myself, or what might happen to me. And I was enormously
pleased to think it was all my secret, that nobody else knew anything
about it, and that, whatever I might see, I would keep to myself. I
had always felt like that about the books. Of course, I loved reading
them, but it seemed to me that, if I had been a discoverer, I would
have kept my discoveries a secret. If I had been Columbus, and, if it
could possibly have been managed, I would have found America all by
myself, and never have said a word about it to anybody.

Fancy! how beautiful it would be to be walking about in one's own
town, and talking to people, and all the while to have the thought
that one knew of a great world beyond the seas, that nobody else
dreamed of. I should have loved that!

'And that is exactly what I felt about the tour I was going to make. I
made up my mind that nobody should know; and so, from that day to
this, nobody has heard a word of it.'

'But you are going to tell me?'

'You are different. But I don't think even you will hear everything;
not because I won't, but because I can't tell many of the things I
saw.'

'Things you saw? Then you really did see wonderful, strange things in
London?'

'Well, I did and I didn't. Everything, or pretty nearly everything,
that I saw is standing still, and hundreds of thousands of people have
looked at the same sights--there were many places that the fellows in
the office knew quite well, I found out afterwards. And then I read a
book called "London and its Surroundings." But (I don't know how it
is) neither the men at the office nor the writers of the book seem to
have seen the things that I did. That's why I stopped reading the
book; it seemed to take the life, the real heart, out of everything,
making it as dry and stupid as the stuffed birds in a museum.

'I thought about what I was going to do all that day, and went to bed
early, so as to be fresh. I knew wonderfully little about London,
really; though, except for an odd week now and then, I had spent all
my life in town. Of course I knew the main streets--the Strand, Regent
Street, Oxford Street, and so on--and I knew the way to the school I
used to go to when I was a boy, and the way into the City. But I had
just kept to a few tracks, as they say the sheep do on the mountains;
and that made it all the easier for me to imagine that I was going to
discover a new world.'

Darnell paused in the stream of his talk. He looked keenly at his wife
to see if he were wearying her, but her eyes gazed at him with
unabated interest--one would have almost said that they were the eyes
of one who longed and half expected to be initiated into the
mysteries, who knew not what great wonder was to be revealed. She sat
with her back to the open window, framed in the sweet dusk of the
night, as if a painter had made a curtain of heavy velvet behind her;
and the work that she had been doing had fallen to the floor. She
supported her head with her two hands placed on each side of her brow,
and her eyes were as the wells in the wood of which Darnell dreamed in
the night-time and in the day.

'And all the strange tales I had ever heard were in my head that
morning,' he went on, as if continuing the thoughts that had filled
his mind while his lips were silent. 'I had gone to bed early, as I
told you, to get a thorough rest, and I had set my alarum clock to
wake me at three, so that I might set out at an hour that was quite
strange for the beginning of a journey. There was a hush in the world
when I awoke, before the clock had rung to arouse me, and then a bird
began to sing and twitter in the elm tree that grew in the next
garden, and I looked out of the window, and everything was still, and
the morning air breathed in pure and sweet, as I had never known it
before. My room was at the back of the house, and most of the gardens
had trees in them, and beyond these trees I could see the backs of the
houses of the next street rising like the wall of an old city; and as
I looked the sun rose, and the great light came in at my window, and
the day began.

'And I found that when I was once out of the streets just about me
that I knew, some of the queer feeling that had come to me two days
before came back again. It was not nearly so strong, the streets no
longer smelt of incense, but still there was enough of it to show me
what a strange world I passed by. There were things that one may see
again and again in many London streets: a vine or a fig tree on a
wall, a lark singing in a cage, a curious shrub blossoming in a
garden, an odd shape of a roof, or a balcony with an uncommon-looking
trellis-work in iron. There's scarcely a street, perhaps, where you
won't see one or other of such things as these; but that morning they
rose to my eyes in a new light, as if I had on the magic spectacles in
the fairy tale, and just like the man in the fairy tale, I went on and
on in the new light. I remember going through wild land on a high
place; there were pools of water shining in the sun, and great white
houses in the middle of dark, rocking pines, and then on the turn of
the height I came to a little lane that went aside from the main road,
a lane that led to a wood, and in the lane was a little old shadowed
house, with a bell turret in the roof, and a porch of trellis-work all
dim and faded into the colour of the sea; and in the garden there were
growing tall, white lilies, just as we saw them that day we went to
look at the old pictures; they were shining like silver, and they
filled the air with their sweet scent. It was from near that house I
saw the valley and high places far away in the sun. So, as I say, I
went "on and on," by woods and fields, till I came to a little town on
the top of a hill, a town full of old houses bowing to the ground
beneath their years, and the morning was so still that the blue smoke
rose up straight into the sky from all the roof-tops, so still that I
heard far down in the valley the song of a boy who was singing an old
song through the streets as he went to school, and as I passed through
the awakening town, beneath the old, grave houses, the church bells
began to ring.

'It was soon after I had left this town behind me that I found the
Strange Road. I saw it branching off from the dusty high road, and it
looked so green that I turned aside into it, and soon I felt as if I
had really come into a new country. I don't know whether it was one of
the roads the old Romans made that my father used to tell me about;
but it was covered with deep, soft turf, and the great tall hedges on
each side looked as if they had not been touched for a hundred years;
they had grown so broad and high and wild that they met overhead, and
I could only get glimpses here and there of the country through which
I was passing, as one passes in a dream. The Strange Road led me on
and on, up and down hill; sometimes the rose bushes had grown so thick
that I could scarcely make my way between them, and sometimes the road
broadened out into a green, and in one valley a brook, spanned by an
old wooden bridge, ran across it. I was tired, and I found a soft and
shady place beneath an ash tree, where I must have slept for many
hours, for when I woke up it was late in the afternoon. So I went on
again, and at last the green road came out into the highway, and I
looked up and saw another town on a high place with a great church in
the middle of it, and when I went up to it there was a great organ
sounding from within, and the choir was singing.'

There was a rapture in Darnell's voice as he spoke, that made his
story well-nigh swell into a song, and he drew a long breath as the
words ended, filled with the thought of that far-off summer day, when
some enchantment had informed all common things, transmuting them into
a great sacrament, causing earthly works to glow with the fire and the
glory of the everlasting light.

And some splendour of that light shone on the face of Mary as she sat
still against the sweet gloom of the night, her dark hair making her
face more radiant. She was silent for a little while, and then she
spoke--'Oh, my dear, why have you waited so long to tell me these
wonderful things? I think it is beautiful. Please go on.'

'I have always been afraid it was all nonsense,' said Darnell. 'And I
don't know how to explain what I feel. I didn't think I could say so
much as I have to-night.'

'And did you find it the same day after day?'

'All through the tour? Yes, I think every journey was a success. Of
course, I didn't go so far afield every day; I was too tired. Often I
rested all day long, and went out in the evening, after the lamps were
lit, and then only for a mile or two. I would roam about old, dim
squares, and hear the wind from the hills whispering in the trees; and
when I knew I was within call of some great glittering street, I was
sunk in the silence of ways where I was almost the only passenger, and
the lamps were so few and faint that they seemed to give out shadows
instead of light. And I would walk slowly, to and fro, perhaps for an
hour at a time, in such dark streets, and all the time I felt what I
told you about its being my secret--that the shadow, and the dim
lights, and the cool of the evening, and trees that were like dark low
clouds were all mine, and mine alone, that I was living in a world
that nobody else knew of, into which no one could enter.

'I remembered one night I had gone farther. It was somewhere in the
far west, where there are orchards and gardens, and great broad lawns
that slope down to trees by the river. A great red moon rose that
night through mists of sunset, and thin, filmy clouds, and I wandered
by a road that passed through the orchards, till I came to a little
hill, with the moon showing above it glowing like a great rose. Then I
saw figures pass between me and the moon, one by one, in a long line,
each bent double, with great packs upon their shoulders. One of them
was singing, and then in the middle of the song I heard a horrible
shrill laugh, in the thin cracked voice of a very old woman, and they
disappeared into the shadow of the trees. I suppose they were people
going to work, or coming from work in the gardens; but how like it was
to a nightmare! I can't tell you about Hampton; I should never finish
talking. I was there one evening, not long before they closed the
gates, and there were very few people about. But the grey-red, silent,
echoing courts, and the flowers falling into dreamland as the night
came on, and the dark yews and shadowy-looking statues, and the far,
still stretches of water beneath the avenues; and all melting into a
blue mist, all being hidden from one's eyes, slowly, surely, as if
veils were dropped, one by one, on a great ceremony! Oh! my dear, what
could it mean? Far away, across the river, I heard a soft bell ring
three times, and three times, and again three times, and I turned
away, and my eyes were full of tears.

'I didn't know what it was when I came to it; I only found out
afterwards that it must have been Hampton Court. One of the men in the
office told me he had taken an A. B. C. girl there, and they had great
fun. They got into the maze and couldn't get out again, and then they
went on the river and were nearly drowned. He told me there were some
spicy pictures in the galleries; his girl shrieked with laughter, so
he said.'

Mary quite disregarded this interlude.

'But you told me you had made a map. What was it like?'

'I'll show it you some day, if you want to see it. I marked down all
the places I had gone to, and made signs--things like queer
letters--to remind me of what I had seen. Nobody but myself could
understand it. I wanted to draw pictures, but I never learnt how to
draw, so when I tried nothing was like what I wanted it to be. I tried
to draw a picture of that town on the hill that I came to on the
evening of the first day; I wanted to make a steep hill with houses on
top, and in the middle, but high above them, the great church, all
spires and pinnacles, and above it, in the air, a cup with rays coming
from it. But it wasn't a success. I made a very strange sign for
Hampton Court, and gave it a name that I made up out of my head.'

The Darnells avoided one another's eyes as they sat at breakfast the
next morning. The air had lightened in the night, for rain had fallen
at dawn; and there was a bright blue sky, with vast white clouds
rolling across it from the south-west, and a fresh and joyous wind
blew in at the open window; the mists had vanished. And with the mists
there seemed to have vanished also the sense of strange things that
had possessed Mary and her husband the night before; and as they
looked out into the clear light they could scarcely believe that the
one had spoken and the other had listened a few hours before to
histories very far removed from the usual current of their thoughts
and of their lives. They glanced shyly at one another, and spoke of
common things, of the question whether Alice would be corrupted by the
insidious Mrs. Murry, or whether Mrs.  Darnell would be able to
persuade the girl that the old woman must be actuated by the worst
motives.

'And I think, if I were you,' said Darnell, as he went out, 'I should
step over to the stores and complain of their meat. That last piece of
beef was very far from being up to the mark--full of sinew.'

III

It might have been different in the evening, and Darnell had matured a
plan by which he hoped to gain much. He intended to ask his wife if
she would mind having only one gas, and that a good deal lowered, on
the pretext that his eyes were tired with work; he thought many things
might happen if the room were dimly lit, and the window opened, so
that they could sit and watch the night, and listen to the rustling
murmur of the tree on the lawn. But his plans were made in vain, for
when he got to the garden gate his wife, in tears, came forth to meet
him.

'Oh, Edward,' she began, 'such a dreadful thing has happened! I never
liked him much, but I didn't think he would ever do such awful
things.'

'What do you mean? Who are you talking about? What has happened?  Is
it Alice's young man?'

'No, no. But come in, dear. I can see that woman opposite watching us:
she's always on the look out.'

'Now, what is it?' said Darnell, as they sat down to tea. 'Tell me,
quick! you've quite frightened me.'

'I don't know how to begin, or where to start. Aunt Marian has thought
that there was something queer for weeks. And then she found--oh,
well, the long and short of it is that Uncle Robert has been carrying
on dreadfully with some horrid girl, and aunt has found out
everything!'

'Lord! you don't say so! The old rascal! Why, he must be nearer
seventy than sixty!'

'He's just sixty-five; and the money he has given her--'

The first shock of surprise over, Darnell turned resolutely to his
mince.

'We'll have it all out after tea,' he said; 'I am not going to have my
meals spoilt by that old fool of a Nixon. Fill up my cup, will you,
dear?'

'Excellent mince this,' he went on, calmly. 'A little lemon juice and
a bit of ham in it? I thought there was something extra. Alice all
right to-day? That's good. I expect she's getting over all that
nonsense.'

He went on calmly chattering in a manner that astonished Mrs.
Darnell, who felt that by the fall of Uncle Robert the natural order
had been inverted, and had scarcely touched food since the
intelligence had arrived by the second post. She had started out to
keep the appointment her aunt had made early in the morning, and had
spent most of the day in a first-class waiting-room at Victoria
Station, where she had heard all the story.

'Now,' said Darnell, when the table had been cleared, 'tell us all
about it. How long has it been going on?'

'Aunt thinks now, from little things she remembers, that it must have
been going on for a year at least. She says there has been a horrid
kind of mystery about uncle's behaviour for a long time, and her
nerves were quite shaken, as she thought he must be involved with
Anarchists, or something dreadful of the sort.'

'What on earth made her think that?'

'Well, you see, once or twice when she was out walking with her
husband, she has been startled by whistles, which seemed to follow
them everywhere. You know there are some nice country walks at Barnet,
and one in particular, in the fields near Totteridge, that uncle and
aunt rather made a point of going to on fine Sunday evenings. Of
course, this was not the first thing she noticed, but, at the time, it
made a great impression on her mind; she could hardly get a wink of
sleep for weeks and weeks.'

'Whistling?' said Darnell. 'I don't quite understand. Why should she
be frightened by whistling?'

'I'll tell you. The first time it happened was one Sunday in last
May. Aunt had a fancy they were being followed a Sunday or two before,
but she didn't see or hear anything, except a sort of crackling noise
in the hedge. But this particular Sunday they had hardly got through
the stile into the fields, when she heard a peculiar kind of low
whistle. She took no notice, thinking it was no concern of hers or her
husband's, but as they went on she heard it again, and then again, and
it followed them the whole walk, and it made her so uncomfortable,
because she didn't know where it was coming from or who was doing it,
or why. Then, just as they got out of the fields into the lane, uncle
said he felt quite faint, and he thought he would try a little brandy
at the "Turpin's Head," a small public-house there is there. And she
looked at him and saw his face was quite purple--more like apoplexy,
as she says, than fainting fits, which make people look a sort of
greenish-white. But she said nothing, and thought perhaps uncle had a
peculiar way of fainting of his own, as he always was a man to have
his own way of doing everything. So she just waited in the road, and
he went ahead and slipped into the public, and aunt says she thought
she saw a little figure rise out of the dusk and slip in after him,
but she couldn't be sure. And when uncle came out he looked red
instead of purple, and said he felt much better; and so they went
home quietly together, and nothing more was said. You see, uncle had
said nothing about the whistling, and aunt had been so frightened that
she didn't dare speak, for fear they might be both shot.

'She wasn't thinking anything more about it, when two Sundays
afterwards the very same thing happened just as it had before. This
time aunt plucked up a spirit, and asked uncle what it could be. And
what do you think he said? "Birds, my dear, birds." Of course aunt
said to him that no bird that ever flew with wings made a noise like
that: sly, and low, with pauses in between; and then he said
that many rare sorts of birds lived in North Middlesex and
Hertfordshire. "Nonsense, Robert," said aunt, "how can you talk so,
considering it has followed us all the way, for a mile or more?" And
then uncle told her that some birds were so attached to man that they
would follow one about for miles sometimes; he said he had just been
reading about a bird like that in a book of travels. And do you know
that when they got home he actually showed her a piece in the
"Hertfordshire Naturalist" which they took in to oblige a friend of
theirs, all about rare birds found in the neighbourhood, all the most
outlandish names, aunt says, that she had never heard or thought of,
and uncle had the impudence to say that it must have been a Purple
Sandpiper, which, the paper said, had "a low shrill note, constantly
repeated." And then he took down a book of Siberian Travels from the
bookcase and showed her a page which told how a man was followed by a
bird all day long through a forest. And that's what Aunt Marian says
vexes her more than anything almost; to think that he should be so
artful and ready with those books, twisting them to his own wicked
ends. But, at the time, when she was out walking, she simply couldn't
make out what he meant by talking about birds in that random, silly
sort of way, so unlike him, and they went on, that horrible whistling
following them, she looking straight ahead and walking fast, really
feeling more huffy and put out than frightened. And when they got to
the next stile, she got over and turned round, and "lo and behold," as
she says, there was no Uncle Robert to be seen! She felt herself go
quite white with alarm, thinking of that whistle, and making sure he'd
been spirited away or snatched in some way or another, and she had
just screamed out "Robert" like a mad woman, when he came quite slowly
round the corner, as cool as a cucumber, holding something in his
hand. He said there were some flowers he could never pass, and when
aunt saw that he had got a dandelion torn up by the roots, she felt as
if her head were going round.'

Mary's story was suddenly interrupted. For ten minutes Darnell had
been writhing in his chair, suffering tortures in his anxiety to avoid
wounding his wife's feelings, but the episode of the dandelion was too
much for him, and he burst into a long, wild shriek of laughter,
aggravated by suppression into the semblance of a Red Indian's
war-whoop. Alice, who was washing-up in the scullery, dropped some
three shillings' worth of china, and the neighbours ran out into their
gardens wondering if it were murder. Mary gazed reproachfully at her
husband.

'How can you be so unfeeling, Edward?' she said, at length, when
Darnell had passed into the feebleness of exhaustion. 'If you had seen
the tears rolling down poor Aunt Marian's cheeks as she told me, I
don't think you would have laughed. I didn't think you were so
hard-hearted.'

'My dear Mary,' said Darnell, faintly, through sobs and catching of
the breath, 'I am awfully sorry. I know it's very sad, really, and I'm
not unfeeling; but it is such an odd tale, now, isn't it?  The
Sandpiper, you know, and then the dandelion!'

His face twitched and he ground his teeth together. Mary looked
gravely at him for a moment, and then she put her hands to her face,
and Darnell could see that she also shook with merriment.

'I am as bad as you,' she said, at last. 'I never thought of it in
that way. I'm glad I didn't, or I should have laughed in Aunt Marian's
face, and I wouldn't have done that for the world. Poor old thing; she
cried as if her heart would break. I met her at Victoria, as she asked
me, and we had some soup at a confectioner's. I could scarcely touch
it; her tears kept dropping into the plate all the time; and then we
went to the waiting-room at the station, and she cried there
terribly.'

'Well,' said Darnell, 'what happened next? I won't laugh any more.

'No, we mustn't; it's much too horrible for a joke. Well, of course
aunt went home and wondered and wondered what could be the matter, and
tried to think it out, but, as she says, she could make nothing of it.
She began to be afraid that uncle's brain was giving way through
overwork, as he had stopped in the City (as he said) up to all hours
lately, and he had to go to Yorkshire (wicked old story-teller!),
about some very tiresome business connected with his leases. But then
she reflected that however queer he might be getting, even his
queerness couldn't make whistles in the air, though, as she said, he
was always a wonderful man. So she had to give that up; and then she
wondered if there were anything the matter with her, as she had read
about people who heard noises when there was really nothing at
all. But that wouldn't do either, because though it might account for
the whistling, it wouldn't account for the dandelion or the Sandpiper,
or for fainting fits that turned purple, or any of uncle's
queerness. So aunt said she could think of nothing but to read the
Bible every day from the beginning, and by the time she got into
Chronicles she felt rather better, especially as nothing had happened
for three or four Sundays. She noticed uncle seemed absent-minded, and
not as nice to her as he might be, but she put that down to too much
work, as he never came home before the last train, and had a hansom
twice all the way, getting there between three and four in the
morning. Still, she felt it was no good bothering her head over what
couldn't be made out or explained anyway, and she was just settling
down, when one Sunday evening it began all over again, and worse
things happened. The whistling followed them just as it did before,
and poor aunt set her teeth and said nothing to uncle, as she knew he
would only tell her stories, and they were walking on, not saying a
word, when something made her look back, and there was a horrible boy
with red hair, peeping through the hedge just behind, and
grinning. She said it was a dreadful face, with something unnatural
about it, as if it had been a dwarf, and before she had time to have a
good look, it popped back like lightning, and aunt all but fainted
away.'

'A red-headed boy?' said Darnell. 'I thought--What an extraordinary
story this is. I've never heard of anything so queer. Who was the
boy?'

'You will know in good time,' said Mrs. Darnell. 'It is very strange,
isn't it?'

'Strange!' Darnell ruminated for a while.

'I know what I think, Mary,' he said at length. 'I don't believe a
word of it. I believe your aunt is going mad, or has gone mad, and
that she has delusions. The whole thing sounds to me like the
invention of a lunatic.'


'You are quite wrong. Every word is true, and if you will let me go
on, you will understand how it all happened.'

'Very good, go ahead.'

'Let me see, where was I? Oh, I know, aunt saw the boy grinning in the
hedge. Yes, well, she was dreadfully frightened for a minute or two;
there was something so queer about the face, but then she plucked up a
spirit and said to herself, "After all, better a boy with red hair
than a big man with a gun," and she made up her mind to watch Uncle
Robert closely, as she could see by his look he knew all about it; he
seemed as if he were thinking hard and puzzling over something, as if
he didn't know what to do next, and his mouth kept opening and
shutting, like a fish's. So she kept her face straight, and didn't say
a word, and when he said something to her about the fine sunset, she
took no notice. "Don't you hear what I say, Marian?" he said, speaking
quite crossly, and bellowing as if it were to somebody in the next
field. So aunt said she was very sorry, but her cold made her so deaf,
she couldn't hear much. She noticed uncle looked quite pleased, and
relieved too, and she knew he thought she hadn't heard the whistling.
Suddenly uncle pretended to see a beautiful spray of honeysuckle high
up in the hedge, and he said he must get it for aunt, only she must go
on ahead, as it made him nervous to be watched. She said she would,
but she just stepped aside behind a bush where there was a sort of
cover in the hedge, and found she could see him quite well, though she
scratched her face terribly with poking it into a rose bush. And in a
minute or two out came the boy from behind the hedge, and she saw
uncle and him talking, and she knew it was the same boy, as it wasn't
dark enough to hide his flaming red head. And uncle put out his hand
as if to catch him, but he just darted into the bushes and
vanished. Aunt never said a word at the time, but that night when they
got home she charged uncle with what she'd seen and asked him what it
all meant. He was quite taken aback at first, and stammered and
stuttered and said a spy wasn't his notion of a good wife, but at last
he made her swear secrecy, and told her that he was a very high
Freemason, and that the boy was an emissary of the order who brought
him messages of the greatest importance. But aunt didn't believe a
word of it, as an uncle of hers was a mason, and he never behaved like
that. It was then she began to be afraid that it was really
Anarchists, or something of the kind, and every time the bell rang she
thought that uncle had been found out, and the police had come for
him.'

'What nonsense! As if a man with house property would be an
Anarchist.'

'Well, she could see there must be some horrible secret, and she
didn't know what else to think. And then she began to have the things
through the post.'

'Things through the post! What do you mean by that?'

'All sorts of things; bits of broken bottle-glass, packed carefully as
if it were jewellery; parcels that unrolled and unrolled worse than
Chinese boxes, and then had "cat" in large letters when you came to
the middle; old artificial teeth, a cake of red paint, and at last
cockroaches.'

'Cockroaches by post! Stuff and nonsense; your aunt's mad.'

'Edward, she showed me the box; it was made to hold cigarettes, and
there were three dead cockroaches inside. And when she found a box of
exactly the same kind, half-full of cigarettes, in uncle's great-coat
pocket, then her head began to turn again.'

Darnell groaned, and stirred uneasily in his chair, feeling that the
tale of Aunt Marian's domestic troubles was putting on the semblance
of an evil dream.

'Anything else?' he asked.

'My dear, I haven't repeated half the things poor aunt told me this
afternoon. There was the night she thought she saw a ghost in the
shrubbery. She was anxious about some chickens that were just due to
hatch out, so she went out after dark with some egg and bread-crumbs,
in case they might be out. And just before her she saw a figure
gliding by the rhododendrons. It looked like a short, slim man dressed
as they used to be hundreds of years ago; she saw the sword by his
side, and the feather in his cap. She thought she should have died,
she said, and though it was gone in a minute, and she tried to make
out it was all her fancy, she fainted when she got into the
house. Uncle was at home that night, and when she came to and told him
he ran out, and stayed out for half-an-hour or more, and then came in
and said he could find nothing; and the next minute aunt heard that
low whistle just outside the window, and uncle ran out again.'

'My dear Mary, do let us come to the point. What on earth does it all
lead to?'

'Haven't you guessed? Why, of course it was that girl all the time.

'Girl? I thought you said it was a boy with a red head?'

'Don't you see? She's an actress, and she dressed up. She won't leave
uncle alone. It wasn't enough that he was with her nearly every
evening in the week, but she must be after him on Sundays too. Aunt
found a letter the horrid thing had written, and so it has all come
out. Enid Vivian she calls herself, though I don't suppose she has any
right to one name or the other. And the question is, what is to be
done?'

'Let us talk of that again. I'll have a pipe, and then we'll go to
bed.'

They were almost asleep when Mary said suddenly--'Doesn't it seem
queer, Edward? Last night you were telling me such beautiful things,
and to-night I have been talking about that disgraceful old man and
his goings on.'

'I don't know,' answered Darnell, dreamily. 'On the walls of that
great church upon the hill I saw all kinds of strange grinning
monsters, carved in stone.'

The misdemeanours of Mr. Robert Nixon brought in their train
consequences strange beyond imagination. It was not that they
continued to develop on the somewhat fantastic lines of these first
adventures which Mrs. Darnell had related; indeed, when 'Aunt Marian'
came over to Shepherd's Bush, one Sunday afternoon, Darnell wondered
how he had had the heart to laugh at the misfortunes of a
broken-hearted woman.

He had never seen his wife's aunt before, and he was strangely
surprised when Alice showed her into the garden where they were
sitting on the warm and misty Sunday in September. To him, save during
these latter days, she had always been associated with ideas of
splendour and success: his wife had always mentioned the Nixons with a
tinge of reverence; he had heard, many times, the epic of Mr. Nixon's
struggles and of his slow but triumphant rise. Mary had told the story
as she had received it from her parents, beginning with the flight to
London from some small, dull, and unprosperous town in the flattest of
the Midlands, long ago, when a young man from the country had great
chances of fortune. Robert Nixon's father had been a grocer in the
High Street, and in after days the successful coal merchant and
builder loved to tell of that dull provincial life, and while he
glorified his own victories, he gave his hearers to understand that he
came of a race which had also known how to achieve. That had been long
ago, he would explain: in the days when that rare citizen who desired
to go to London or to York was forced to rise in the dead of night,
and make his way, somehow or other, by ten miles of quagmirish,
wandering lanes to the Great North Road, there to meet the 'Lightning'
coach, a vehicle which stood to all the countryside as the visible and
tangible embodiment of tremendous speed--'and indeed,' as Nixon would
add, 'it was always up to time, which is more than can be said of the
Dunham Branch Line nowadays!' It was in this ancient Dunham that the
Nixons had waged successful trade for perhaps a hundred years, in a
shop with bulging bay windows looking on the market-place.

There was no competition, and the townsfolk, and well-to-do farmers,
the clergy and the country families, looked upon the house of Nixon as
an institution fixed as the town hall (which stood on Roman pillars)
and the parish church. But the change came: the railway crept nearer
and nearer, the farmers and the country gentry became less well-to-do;
the tanning, which was the local industry, suffered from a great
business which had been established in a larger town, some twenty
miles away, and the profits of the Nixons grew less and less.  Hence
the hegira of Robert, and he would dilate on the poorness of his
beginnings, how he saved, by little and little, from his sorry wage of
City clerk, and how he and a fellow clerk, 'who had come into a
hundred pounds,' saw an opening in the coal trade--and filled it. It
was at this stage of Robert's fortunes, still far from magnificent,
that Miss Marian Reynolds had encountered him, she being on a visit to
friends in Gunnersbury. Afterwards, victory followed victory; Nixon's
wharf became a landmark to bargemen; his power stretched abroad, his
dusky fleets went outwards to the sea, and inward by all the far
reaches of canals. Lime, cement, and bricks were added to his
merchandise, and at last be hit upon the great stroke--that extensive
taking up of land in the north of London. Nixon himself ascribed this
coup to native sagacity, and the possession of capital; and there were
also obscure rumours to the effect that some one or other had been
'done' in the course of the transaction. However that might be, the
Nixons grew wealthy to excess, and Mary had often told her husband of
the state in which they dwelt, of their liveried servants, of the
glories of their drawing-room, of their broad lawn, shadowed by a
splendid and ancient cedar.

And so Darnell had somehow been led into conceiving the lady of this
demesne as a personage of no small pomp. He saw her, tall, of
dignified port and presence, inclining, it might be, to some measure
of obesity, such a measure as was not unbefitting in an elderly lady
of position, who lived well and lived at ease. He even imagined a
slight ruddiness of complexion, which went very well with hair that
was beginning to turn grey, and when he heard the door-bell ring, as
he sat under the mulberry on the Sunday afternoon, he bent forward to
catch sight of this stately figure, clad, of course, in the richest,
blackest silk, girt about with heavy chains of gold.

He started with amazement when he saw the strange presence that
followed the servant into the garden. Mrs. Nixon was a little, thin
old woman, who bent as she feebly trotted after Alice; her eyes were
on the ground, and she did not lift them when the Darnells rose to
greet her. She glanced to the right, uneasily, as she shook hands with
Darnell, to the left when Mary kissed her, and when she was placed on
the garden seat with a cushion at her back, she looked away at the
back of the houses in the next street. She was dressed in black, it
was true, but even Darnell could see that her gown was old and shabby,
that the fur trimming of her cape and the fur boa which was twisted
about her neck were dingy and disconsolate, and had all the melancholy
air which fur wears when it is seen in a second-hand clothes-shop in a
back street. And her gloves--they were black kid, wrinkled with much
wear, faded to a bluish hue at the finger-tips, which showed signs of
painful mending. Her hair, plastered over her forehead, looked dull
and colourless, though some greasy matter had evidently been used with
a view of producing a becoming gloss, and on it perched an antique
bonnet, adorned with black pendants that rattled paralytically one
against the other.

And there was nothing in Mrs. Nixon's face to correspond with the
imaginary picture that Darnell had made of her. She was sallow,
wrinkled, pinched; her nose ran to a sharp point, and her red-rimmed
eyes were a queer water-grey, that seemed to shrink alike from the
light and from encounter with the eyes of others. As she sat beside
his wife on the green garden-seat, Darnell, who occupied a
wicker-chair brought out from the drawing-room, could not help feeling
that this shadowy and evasive figure, muttering replies to Mary's
polite questions, was almost impossibly remote from his conceptions of
the rich and powerful aunt, who could give away a hundred pounds as a
mere birthday gift. She would say little at first; yes, she was
feeling rather tired, it had been so hot all the way, and she had been
afraid to put on lighter things as one never knew at this time of year
what it might be like in the evenings; there were apt to be cold mists
when the sun went down, and she didn't care to risk bronchitis.

'I thought I should never get here,' she went on, raising her voice to
an odd querulous pipe.

'I'd no notion it was such an out-of-the-way place, it's so many years
since I was in this neighbourhood.'

She wiped her eyes, no doubt thinking of the early days at Turnham
Green, when she married Nixon; and when the pocket-handkerchief had
done its office she replaced it in a shabby black bag which she
clutched rather than carried. Darnell noticed, as he watched her, that
the bag seemed full, almost to bursting, and he speculated idly as to
the nature of its contents: correspondence, perhaps, he thought,
further proofs of Uncle Robert's treacherous and wicked dealings. He
grew quite uncomfortable, as he sat and saw her glancing all the while
furtively away from his wife and himself, and presently he got up and
strolled away to the other end of the garden, where he lit his pipe
and walked to and fro on the gravel walk, still astounded at the gulf
between the real and the imagined woman.

Presently he heard a hissing whisper, and he saw Mrs. Nixon's head
inclining to his wife's.

Mary rose and came towards him.

'Would you mind sitting in the drawing-room, Edward?' she murmured.
'Aunt says she can't bring herself to discuss such a delicate matter
before you. I dare say it's quite natural.'

'Very well, but I don't thing I'll go into the drawing-room. I feel as
if a walk would do me good. You mustn't be frightened if I am a little
late,' he said; 'if I don't get back before your aunt goes, say
good-bye to her for me.'

He strolled into the main road, where the trains were humming to and
fro. He was still confused and perplexed, and he tried to account for
a certain relief he felt in removing himself from the presence of
Mrs. Nixon. He told himself that her grief at her husband's ruffianly
conduct was worthy of all pitiful respect, but at the same time, to
his shame, he had felt a certain physical aversion from her as she sat
in his garden in her dingy black, dabbing her red-rimmed eyes with a
damp pocket-handkerchief. He had been to the Zoo when he was a lad,
and he still remembered how he had shrunk with horror at the sight of
certain reptiles slowly crawling over one another in their slimy pond.
But he was enraged at the similarity between the two sensations, and
he walked briskly on that level and monotonous road, looking about him
at the unhandsome spectacle of suburban London keeping Sunday.

There was something in the tinge of antiquity which still exists in
Acton that soothed his mind and drew it away from those unpleasant
contemplations, and when at last he had penetrated rampant after
rampart of brick, and heard no more the harsh shrieks and laughter of
the people who were enjoying themselves, he found a way into a little
sheltered field, and sat down in peace beneath a tree, whence he could
look out on a pleasant valley. The sun sank down beneath the hills,
the clouds changed into the likeness of blossoming rose-gardens; and
he still sat there in the gathering darkness till a cool breeze blew
upon him, and he rose with a sigh, and turned back to the brick
ramparts and the glimmering streets, and the noisy idlers sauntering
to and fro in the procession of their dismal festival. But he was
murmuring to himself some words that seemed a magic song, and it was
with uplifted heart that he let himself into his house.

Mrs. Nixon had gone an hour and a half before his return, Mary told
him. Darnell sighed with relief, and he and his wife strolled out into
the garden and sat down side by side.

They kept silence for a time, and at last Mary spoke, not without a
nervous tremor in her voice.

'I must tell you, Edward,' she began, 'that aunt has made a proposal
which you ought to hear. I think we should consider it.'

'A proposal? But how about the whole affair? Is it still going on?'

'Oh, yes! She told me all about it. Uncle is quite unrepentant. It
seems he has taken a flat somewhere in town for that woman, and
furnished it in the most costly manner. He simply laughs at aunt's
reproaches, and says he means to have some fun at last. You saw how
broken she was?'

'Yes; very sad. But won't he give her any money? Wasn't she very badly
dressed for a woman in her position?'

'Aunt has no end of beautiful things, but I fancy she likes to hoard
them; she has a horror of spoiling her dresses. It isn't for want of
money, I assure you, as uncle settled a very large sum on her two
years ago, when he was everything that could be desired as a
husband. And that brings me to what I want to say. Aunt would like to
live with us. She would pay very liberally. What do you say?'

'Would like to live with us?' exclaimed Darnell, and his pipe dropped
from his hand on to the grass. He was stupefied by the thought of Aunt
Marian as a boarder, and sat staring vacantly before him, wondering
what new monster the night would next produce.

'I knew you wouldn't much like the idea,' his wife went on. 'But I do
think, dearest, that we ought not to refuse without very serious
consideration. I am afraid you did not take to poor aunt very much.'

Darnell shook his head dumbly.

'I thought you didn't; she was so upset, poor thing, and you didn't
see her at her best. She is really so good. But listen to me, dear. Do
you think we have the right to refuse her offer? I told you she has
money of her own, and I am sure she would be dreadfully offended if we
said we wouldn't have her. And what would become of me if anything
happened to you? You know we have very little saved.'

Darnell groaned.

'It seems to me,' he said, 'that it would spoil everything. We are so
happy, Mary dear, by ourselves. Of course I am extremely sorry for
your aunt. I think she is very much to be pitied.

'But when it comes to having her always here--'

'I know, dear. Don't think I am looking forward to the prospect; you
know I don't want anybody but you. Still, we ought to think of the
future, and besides we shall be able to live so very much better. I
shall be able to give you all sorts of nice things that I know you
ought to have after all that hard work in the City. Our income would
be doubled.'

'Do you mean she would pay us £150 a year?'

'Certainly. And she would pay for the spare room being furnished, and
any extra she might want. She told me, specially, that if a friend or
two came now and again to see her, she would gladly bear the cost of a
fire in the drawing-room, and give something towards the gas bill,
with a few shillings for the girl for any additional trouble. We
should certainly be more than twice as well off as we are now. You
see, Edward, dear, it's not the sort of offer we are likely to have
again. Besides, we must think of the future, as I said. Do you know
aunt took a great fancy to you?'

He shuddered and said nothing, and his wife went on with her argument.

'And, you see, it isn't as if we should see so very much of her.  She
will have her breakfast in bed, and she told me she would often go up
to her room in the evening directly after dinner. I thought that very
nice and considerate. She quite understands that we shouldn't like to
have a third person always with us. Don't you think, Edward, that,
considering everything, we ought to say we will have her?'

'Oh, I suppose so,' he groaned. 'As you say, it's a very good offer,
financially, and I am afraid it would be very imprudent to refuse. But
I don't like the notion, I confess.'

'I am so glad you agree with me, dear. Depend upon it, it won't be
half so bad as you think.

'And putting our own advantage on one side, we shall really be doing
poor aunt a very great kindness. Poor old dear, she cried bitterly
after you were gone; she said she had made up her mind not to stay any
longer in Uncle Robert's house, and she didn't know where to go, or
what would become of her, if we refused to take her in. She quite
broke down.'

'Well, well; we will try it for a year, anyhow. It may be as you say;
we shan't find it quite so bad as it seems now. Shall we go in?'

He stooped for his pipe, which lay as it had fallen, on the grass.  He
could not find it, and lit a wax match which showed him the pipe, and
close beside it, under the seat, something that looked like a page
torn from a book. He wondered what it could be, and picked it up.

The gas was lit in the drawing-room, and Mrs. Darnell, who was
arranging some notepaper, wished to write at once to Mrs. Nixon,
cordially accepting her proposal, when she was startled by an
exclamation from her husband.

'What is the matter?' she said, startled by the tone of his voice.
'You haven't hurt yourself?'

'Look at this,' he replied, handing her a small leaflet; 'I found it
under the garden seat just now.'

Mary glanced with bewilderment at her husband and read as follows.


THE NEW AND CHOSEN SEED OF ABRAHAM

PROPHECIES TO BE FULFILLED IN THE PRESENT YEAR

1. The Sailing of a Fleet of One hundred and Forty and Four Vessels
for Tarshish and the Isles.

2. Destruction of the Power of the Dog, including all the instruments
of anti-Abrahamic legislation.

3. Return of the Fleet from Tarshish, bearing with it the gold of
Arabia, destined to be the Foundation of the New City of Abraham.

4. The Search for the Bride, and the bestowing of the Seals on the
Seventy and Seven.

5. The Countenance of FATHER to become luminous, but with a greater
glory than the face of Moses.

6. The Pope of Rome to be stoned with stones in the valley called
Berek-Zittor.

7. FATHER to be acknowledged by Three Great Rulers. Two Great Rulers
will deny FATHER, and will immediately perish in the Effluvia of
FATHER'S Indignation.

8. Binding of the Beast with the Little Horn, and all Judges cast
down.

9. Finding of the Bride in the Land of Egypt, which has been revealed
to FATHER as now existing in the western part of London.

10. Bestowal of the New Tongue on the Seventy and Seven, and on the
One Hundred and Forty and Four. FATHER proceeds to the Bridal Chamber.

11. Destruction of London and rebuilding of the City called No, which
is the New City of Abraham.

12. FATHER united to the Bride, and the present Earth removed to the
Sun for the space of half an hour.

Mrs. Darnell's brow cleared as she read matter which seemed to her
harmless if incoherent.

From her husband's voice she had been led to fear something more
tangibly unpleasant than a vague catena of prophecies.

'Well,' she said, 'what about it?'

'What about it? Don't you see that your aunt dropped it, and that she
must be a raging lunatic?'

'Oh, Edward! don't say that. In the first place, how do you know that
aunt dropped it at all? It might easily have blown over from any of
the other gardens.

And, if it were hers, I don't think you should call her a lunatic.  I
don't believe, myself, that there are any real prophets now; but there
are many good people who think quite differently. I knew an old lady
once who, I am sure, was very good, and she took in a paper every week
that was full of prophecies and things very like this. Nobody called
her mad, and I have heard father say that she had one of the sharpest
heads for business he had ever come across.'

'Very good; have it as you like. But I believe we shall both be
sorry.'

They sat in silence for some time. Alice came in after her 'evening
out,' and they sat on, till Mrs. Darnell said she was tired and wanted
to go to bed.

Her husband kissed her. 'I don't think I will come up just yet,' he
said; 'you go to sleep, dearest. I want to think things over. No, no;
I am not going to change my mind: your aunt shall come, as I said. But
there are one or two things I should like to get settled in my mind.'

He meditated for a long while, pacing up and down the room. Light
after light was extinguished in Edna Road, and the people of the
suburb slept all around him, but still the gas was alight in Darnell's
drawing-room, and he walked softly up and down the floor. He was
thinking that about the life of Mary and himself, which had been so
quiet, there seemed to be gathering on all sides grotesque and
fantastic shapes, omens of confusion and disorder, threats of madness;
a strange company from another world. It was as if into the quiet,
sleeping streets of some little ancient town among the hills there had
come from afar the sound of drum and pipe, snatches of wild song, and
there had burst into the market-place the mad company of the players,
strangely bedizened, dancing a furious measure to their hurrying
music, drawing forth the citizens from their sheltered homes and
peaceful lives, and alluring them to mingle in the significant figures
of their dance.

Yet afar and near (for it was hidden in his heart) he beheld the
glimmer of a sure and constant star. Beneath, darkness came on, and
mists and shadows closed about the town. The red, flickering flame of
torches was kindled in the midst of it. The song grew louder, with
more insistent, magical tones, surging and falling in unearthly
modulations, the very speech of incantation; and the drum beat madly,
and the pipe shrilled to a scream, summoning all to issue forth, to
leave their peaceful hearths; for a strange rite was preconized in
their midst. The streets that were wont to be so still, so hushed with
the cool and tranquil veils of darkness, asleep beneath the patronage
of the evening star, now danced with glimmering lanterns, resounded
with the cries of those who hurried forth, drawn as by a magistral
spell; and the songs swelled and triumphed, the reverberant beating of
the drum grew louder, and in the midst of the awakened town the
players, fantastically arrayed, performed their interlude under the
red blaze of torches.

He knew not whether they were players, men that would vanish suddenly
as they came, disappearing by the track that climbed the hill; or
whether they were indeed magicians, workers of great and efficacious
spells, who knew the secret word by which the earth may be transformed
into the hall of Gehenna, so that they that gazed and listened, as at
a passing spectacle, should be entrapped by the sound and the sight
presented to them, should be drawn into the elaborated figures of that
mystic dance, and so should be whirled away into those unending mazes
on the wild hills that were abhorred, there to wander for evermore.

But Darnell was not afraid, because of the Daystar that had risen in
his heart. It had dwelt there all his life, and had slowly shone forth
with clearer and clearer light, and he began to see that though his
earthly steps might be in the ways of the ancient town that was beset
by the Enchanters, and resounded with their songs and their
processions, yet he dwelt also in that serene and secure world of
brightness, and from a great and unutterable height looked on the
confusion of the mortal pageant, beholding mysteries in which he was
no true actor, hearing magic songs that could by no means draw him
down from the battlements of the high and holy city.

His heart was filled with a great joy and a great peace as he lay down
beside his wife and fell asleep, and in the morning, when he woke up,
he was glad.

IV

In a haze as of a dream Darnell's thoughts seemed to move through the
opening days of the next week. Perhaps nature had not intended that he
should be practical or much given to that which is usually called
'sound common sense,' but his training had made him desirous of good,
plain qualities of the mind, and he uneasily strove to account to
himself for his strange mood of the Sunday night, as he had often
endeavoured to interpret the fancies of his boyhood and early
man-hood.

At first he was annoyed by his want of success; the morning paper,
which he always secured as the 'bus delayed at Uxbridge Road Station,
fell from his hands unread, while he vainly reasoned, assuring himself
that the threatened incursion of a whimsical old woman, though
tiresome enough, was no rational excuse for those curious hours of
meditation in which his thoughts seemed to have dressed themselves in
unfamiliar, fantastic habits, and to parley with him in a strange
speech, and yet a speech that he had understood.

With such arguments he perplexed his mind on the long, accustomed ride
up the steep ascent of Holland Park, past the incongruous hustle of
Notting Hill Gate, where in one direction a road shows the way to the
snug, somewhat faded bowers and retreats of Bayswater, and in another
one sees the portal of the murky region of the slums. The customary
companions of his morning's journey were in the seats about him; he
heard the hum of their talk, as they disputed concerning politics, and
the man next to him, who came from Acton, asked him what he thought of
the Government now. There was a discussion, and a loud and excited
one, just in front, as to whether rhubarb was a fruit or vegetable,
and in his ear he heard Redman, who was a near neighbour, praising the
economy of 'the wife.'

'I don't know how she does it. Look here; what do you think we had
yesterday? Breakfast: fish-cakes, beautifully fried--rich, you know,
lots of herbs, it's a receipt of her aunt's; you should just taste
'em. Coffee, bread, butter, marmalade, and, of course, all the usual
etceteras.

Dinner: roast beef, Yorkshire, potatoes, greens, and horse-radish
sauce, plum tart, cheese. And where will you get a better dinner than
that? Well, I call it wonderful, I really do.'

But in spite of these distractions he fell into a dream as the 'bus
rolled and tossed on its way Citywards, and still he strove to solve
the enigma of his vigil of the night before, and as the shapes of
trees and green lawns and houses passed before his eyes, and as he saw
the procession moving on the pavement, and while the murmur of the
streets sounded in his ears, all was to him strange and unaccustomed,
as if he moved through the avenues of some city in a foreign land. It
was, perhaps, on these mornings, as he rode to his mechanical work,
that vague and floating fancies that must have long haunted his brain
began to shape themselves, and to put on the form of definite
conclusions, from which he could no longer escape, even if he had
wished it. Darnell had received what is called a sound commercial
education, and would therefore have found very great difficulty in
putting into articulate speech any thought that was worth thinking;
but he grew certain on these mornings that the 'common sense' which he
had always heard exalted as man's supremest faculty was, in all
probability, the smallest and least-considered item in the equipment
of an ant of average intelligence. And with this, as an almost
necessary corollary, came a firm belief that the whole fabric of life
in which he moved was sunken, past all thinking, in the grossest
absurdity; that he and all his friends and acquaintances and
fellow-workers were interested in matters in which men were never
meant to be interested, were pursuing aims which they were never meant
to pursue, were, indeed, much like fair stones of an altar serving as
a pigsty wall. Life, it seemed to him, was a great search for--he knew
not what; and in the process of the ages one by one the true marks
upon the ways had been shattered, or buried, or the meaning of the
words had been slowly forgotten; one by one the signs had been turned
awry, the true entrances had been thickly overgrown, the very way
itself had been diverted from the heights to the depths, till at last
the race of pilgrims had become hereditary stone-breakers and
ditch-scourers on a track that led to destruction--if it led anywhere
at all. Darnell's heart thrilled with a strange and trembling joy,
with a sense that was all new, when it came to his mind that this
great loss might not be a hopeless one, that perhaps the difficulties
were by no means insuperable.

It might be, he considered, that the stonebreaker had merely to throw
down his hammer and set out, and the way would be plain before him;
and a single step would free the delver in rubbish from the foul slime
of the ditch.

It was, of course, with difficulty and slowly that these things became
clear to him. He was an English City clerk, 'flourishing' towards the
end of the nineteenth century, and the rubbish heap that had been
accumulating for some centuries could not be cleared away in an
instant. Again and again the spirit of nonsense that had been
implanted in him as in his fellows assured him that the true world was
the visible and tangible world, the world in which good and faithful
letter-copying was exchangeable for a certain quantum of bread, beef,
and house-room, and that the man who copied letters well, did not beat
his wife, nor lose money foolishly, was a good man, fulfilling the end
for which he had been made. But in spite of these arguments, in spite
of their acceptance by all who were about him, he had the grace to
perceive the utter falsity and absurdity of the whole position. He was
fortunate in his entire ignorance of sixpenny 'science,' but if the
whole library had been projected into his brain it would not have
moved him to 'deny in the darkness that which he had known in the
light.' Darnell knew by experience that man is made a mystery for
mysteries and visions, for the realization in his consciousness of
ineffable bliss, for a great joy that transmutes the whole world, for
a joy that surpasses all joys and overcomes all sorrows. He knew this
certainly, though he knew it dimly; and he was apart from other men,
preparing himself for a great experiment.

With such thoughts as these for his secret and concealed treasure, he
was able to bear the threatened invasion of Mrs. Nixon with something
approaching indifference. He knew, indeed, that her presence between
his wife and himself would be unwelcome to him, and he was not without
grave doubts as to the woman's sanity; but after all, what did it
matter? Besides, already a faint glimmering light had risen within him
that showed the profit of self-negation, and in this matter he had
preferred his wife's will to his own. Et non sua pomo; to his
astonishment he found a delight in denying himself his own wish, a
process that he had always regarded as thoroughly detestable. This was
a state of things which he could not in the least understand; but,
again, though a member of a most hopeless class, living in the most
hopeless surroundings that the world has ever seen, though he knew as
much of the askesis as of Chinese metaphysics; again, he had the grace
not to deny the light that had begun to glimmer in his soul.

And he found a present reward in the eyes of Mary, when she welcomed
him home after his foolish labours in the cool of the evening. They
sat together, hand in hand, under the mulberry tree, at the coming of
the dusk, and as the ugly walls about them became obscure and vanished
into the formless world of shadows, they seemed to be freed from the
bondage of Shepherd's Bush, freed to wander in that undisfigured,
undefiled world that lies beyond the walls. Of this region Mary knew
little or nothing by experience, since her relations had always been
of one mind with the modern world, which has for the true country an
instinctive and most significant horror and dread. Mr.  Reynolds had
also shared in another odd superstition of these later days--that it
is necessary to leave London at least once a year; consequently Mary
had some knowledge of various seaside resorts on the south and east
coasts, where Londoners gather in hordes, turn the sands into one
vast, bad music-hall, and derive, as they say, enormous benefit from
the change. But experiences such as these give but little knowledge of
the country in its true and occult sense; and yet Mary, as she sat in
the dusk beneath the whispering tree, knew something of the secret of
the wood, of the valley shut in by high hills, where the sound of
pouring water always echoes from the clear brook. And to Darnell these
were nights of great dreams; for it was the hour of the work, the time
of transmutation, and he who could not understand the miracle, who
could scarcely believe in it, yet knew, secretly and half consciously,
that the water was being changed into the wine of a new life. This was
ever the inner music of his dreams, and to it he added on these still
and sacred nights the far-off memory of that time long ago when, a
child, before the world had overwhelmed him, he journeyed down to the
old grey house in the west, and for a whole month heard the murmur of
the forest through his bedroom window, and when the wind was hushed,
the washing of the tides about the reeds; and sometimes awaking very
early he had heard the strange cry of a bird as it rose from its nest
among the reeds, and had looked out and had seen the valley whiten to
the dawn, and the winding river whiten as it swam down to the sea. The
memory of all this had faded and become shadowy as he grew older and
the chains of common life were riveted firmly about his soul; all the
atmosphere by which he was surrounded was well-nigh fatal to such
thoughts, and only now and again in half-conscious moments or in sleep
he had revisited that valley in the far-off west, where the breath of
wind was an incantation, and every leaf and stream and hill spoke of
great and ineffable mysteries. But now the broken vision was in great
part restored to him, and looking with love in his wife's eyes he saw
the gleam of water-pools in the still forest, saw the mists rising in
the evening, and heard the music of the winding river.

They were sitting thus together on the Friday evening of the week that
had begun with that odd and half-forgotten visit of Mrs. Nixon, when,
to Darnell's annoyance, the door-bell gave a discordant peal, and
Alice with some disturbance of manner came out and announced that a
gentleman wished to see the master. Darnell went into the
drawing-room, where Alice had lit one gas so that it flared and burnt
with a rushing sound, and in this distorting light there waited a
stout, elderly gentleman, whose countenance was altogether unknown to
him. He stared blankly, and hesitated, about to speak, but the visitor
began.

'You don't know who I am, but I expect you'll know my name. It's
Nixon.' He did not wait to be interrupted. He sat down and plunged
into narrative, and after the first few words, Darnell, whose mind was
not altogether unprepared, listened without much astonishment.

'And the long and the short of it is,' Mr. Nixon said at last, 'she's
gone stark, staring mad, and we had to put her away to-day--poor
thing.'

His voice broke a little, and he wiped his eyes hastily, for though
stout and successful he was not unfeeling, and he was fond of his
wife. He had spoken quickly, and had gone lightly over many details
which might have interested specialists in certain kinds of mania, and
Darnell was sorry for his evident distress. 'I came here,' he went on
after a brief pause, 'because I found out she had been to see you last
Sunday, and I knew the sort of story she must have told.'

Darnell showed him the prophetic leaflet which Mrs. Nixon had dropped
in the garden. 'Did you know about this?' he said.

'Oh, him,' said the old man, with some approach to cheerfulness; 'oh
yes, I thrashed him black and blue the day before yesterday.'

'Isn't he mad? Who is the man?'

'He's not mad, he's bad. He's a little Welsh skunk named Richards.
He's been running some sort of chapel over at New Barnet for the last
few years, and my poor wife--she never could find the parish church
good enough for her--had been going to his damned schism shop for the
last twelve-month. It was all that finished her off. Yes; I thrashed
him the day before yesterday, and I'm not afraid of a summons either.
I know him, and he knows I know him.'

Old Nixon whispered something in Darnell's ear, and chuckled faintly
as he repeated for the third time his formula--'I thrashed him black
and blue the day before yesterday.'

Darnell could only murmur condolences and express his hope that
Mrs. Nixon might recover.

The old man shook his head.

'I'm afraid there's no hope of that,' he said. 'I've had the best
advice, but they couldn't do anything, and told me so.'

Presently he asked to see his niece, and Darnell went out and prepared
Mary as well as he could. She could scarcely take in the news that her
aunt was a hopeless maniac, for Mrs. Nixon, having been extremely
stupid all her days, had naturally succeeded in passing with her
relations as typically sensible. With the Reynolds family, as with the
great majority of us, want of imagination is always equated with
sanity, and though many of us have never heard of Lombroso we are his
ready-made converts. We have always believed that poets are mad, and
if statistics unfortunately show that few poets have really been
inhabitants of lunatic asylums, it is soothing to learn that nearly
all poets have had whooping-cough, which is doubtless, like
intoxication, a minor madness.

'But is it really true?' she asked at length. 'Are you certain uncle
is not deceiving you? Aunt seemed so sensible always.'

She was helped at last by recollecting that Aunt Marian used to get up
very early of mornings, and then they went into the drawing-room and
talked to the old man. His evident kindliness and honesty grew upon
Mary, in spite of a lingering belief in her aunt's fables, and when he
left, it was with a promise to come to see them again.

Mrs. Darnell said she felt tired, and went to bed; and Darnell
returned to the garden and began to pace to and fro, collecting his
thoughts. His immeasurable relief at the intelligence that, after all,
Mrs. Nixon was not coming to live with them taught him that, despite
his submission, his dread of the event had been very great. The weight
was removed, and now he was free to consider his life without
reference to the grotesque intrusion that he had feared. He sighed for
joy, and as he paced to and fro he savoured the scent of the night,
which, though it came faintly to him in that brick-bound suburb,
summoned to his mind across many years the odour of the world at night
as he had known it in that short sojourn of his boyhood; the odour
that rose from the earth when the flame of the sun had gone down
beyond the mountain, and the afterglow had paled in the sky and on the
fields.  And as he recovered as best he could these lost dreams of an
enchanted land, there came to him other images of his childhood,
forgotten and yet not forgotten, dwelling unheeded in dark places of
the memory, but ready to be summoned forth. He remembered one fantasy
that had long haunted him. As he lay half asleep in the forest on one
hot afternoon of that memorable visit to the country, he had 'made
believe' that a little companion had come to him out of the blue mists
and the green light beneath the leaves--a white girl with long black
hair, who had played with him and whispered her secrets in his ear, as
his father lay sleeping under a tree; and from that summer afternoon,
day by day, she had been beside him; she had visited him in the
wilderness of London, and even in recent years there had come to him
now and again the sense of her presence, in the midst of the heat and
turmoil of the City. The last visit he remembered well; it was a few
weeks before he married, and from the depths of some futile task he
had looked up with puzzled eyes, wondering why the close air suddenly
grew scented with green leaves, why the murmur of the trees and the
wash of the river on the reeds came to his ears; and then that sudden
rapture to which he had given a name and an individuality possessed
him utterly. He knew then how the dull flesh of man can be like fire;
and now, looking back from a new standpoint on this and other
experiences, he realized how all that was real in his life had been
unwelcomed, uncherished by him, had come to him, perhaps, in virtue of
merely negative qualities on his part. And yet, as he reflected, he
saw that there had been a chain of witnesses all through his life:
again and again voices had whispered in his ear words in a strange
language that he now recognized as his native tongue; the common
street had not been lacking in visions of the true land of his birth;
and in all the passing and repassing of the world he saw that there
had been emissaries ready to guide his feet on the way of the great
journey.

A week or two after the visit of Mr. Nixon, Darnell took his annual
holiday.

There was no question of Walton-on-the-Naze, or of anything of the
kind, as he quite agreed with his wife's longing for some substantial
sum put by against the evil day. But the weather was still fine, and
he lounged away the time in his garden beneath the tree, or he
sauntered out on long aimless walks in the western purlieus of London,
not unvisited by that old sense of some great ineffable beauty,
concealed by the dim and dingy veils of grey interminable streets.
Once, on a day of heavy rain he went to the 'box-room,' and began to
turn over the papers in the old hair trunk--scraps and odds and ends
of family history, some of them in his father's handwriting, others in
faded ink, and there were a few ancient pocket-books, filled with
manuscript of a still earlier time, and in these the ink was glossier
and blacker than any writing fluids supplied by stationers of later
days. Darnell had hung up the portrait of the ancestor in this room,
and had bought a solid kitchen table and a chair; so that
Mrs. Darnell, seeing him looking over his old documents, half thought
of naming the room 'Mr. Darnell's study.' He had not glanced at these
relics of his family for many years, but from the hour when the rainy
morning sent him to them, he remained constant to research till the
end of the holidays. It was a new interest, and he began to fashion in
his mind a faint picture of his forefathers, and of their life in that
grey old house in the river valley, in the western land of wells and
streams and dark and ancient woods. And there were stranger things
than mere notes on family history amongst that odd litter of old
disregarded papers, and when he went back to his work in the City some
of the men fancied that he was in some vague manner changed in
appearance; but he only laughed when they asked him where he had been
and what he had been doing with himself. But Mary noticed that every
evening he spent at least an hour in the box-room; she was rather
sorry at the waste of time involved in reading old papers about dead
people. And one afternoon, as they were out together on a somewhat
dreary walk towards Acton, Darnell stopped at a hopeless second-hand
bookshop, and after scanning the rows of shabby books in the window,
went in and purchased two volumes. They proved to be a Latin
dictionary and grammar, and she was surprised to hear her husband
declare his intention of acquiring the Latin language.

But, indeed, all his conduct impressed her as indefinably altered; and
she began to be a little alarmed, though she could scarcely have
formed her fears in words. But she knew that in some way that was all
indefined and beyond the grasp of her thought their lives had altered
since the summer, and no single thing wore quite the same aspect as
before. If she looked out into the dull street with its rare
loiterers, it was the same and yet it had altered, and if she opened
the window in the early morning the wind that entered came with a
changed breath that spoke some message that she could not understand.
And day by day passed by in the old course, and not even the four
walls were altogether familiar, and the voices of men and women
sounded with strange notes, with the echo, rather, of a music that
came over unknown hills. And day by day as she went about her
household work, passing from shop to shop in those dull streets that
were a network, a fatal labyrinth of grey desolation on every side,
there came to her sense half-seen images of some other world, as if
she walked in a dream, and every moment must bring her to light and to
awakening, when the grey should fade, and regions long desired should
appear in glory. Again and again it seemed as if that which was hidden
would be shown even to the sluggish testimony of sense; and as she
went to and fro from street to street of that dim and weary suburb,
and looked on those grey material walls, they seemed as if a light
glowed behind them, and again and again the mystic fragrance of
incense was blown to her nostrils from across the verge of that world
which is not so much impenetrable as ineffable, and to her ears came
the dream of a chant that spoke of hidden choirs about all her
ways. She struggled against these impressions, refusing her assent to
the testimony of them, since all the pressure of credited opinion for
three hundred years has been directed towards stamping out real
knowledge, and so effectually has this been accomplished that we can
only recover the truth through much anguish. And so Mary passed the
days in a strange perturbation, clinging to common things and common
thoughts, as if she feared that one morning she would wake up in an
unknown world to a changed life. And Edward Darnell went day by day to
his labour and returned in the evening, always with that shining of
light within his eyes and upon his face, with the gaze of wonder that
was greater day by day, as if for him the veil grew thin and soon
would disappear.

From these great matters both in herself and in her husband Mary
shrank back, afraid, perhaps, that if she began the question the
answer might be too wonderful. She rather taught herself to be
troubled over little things; she asked herself what attraction there
could be in the old records over which she supposed Edward to be
poring night after night in the cold room upstairs. She had glanced
over the papers at Darnell's invitation, and could see but little
interest in them; there were one or two sketches, roughly done in pen
and ink, of the old house in the west: it looked a shapeless and
fantastic place, furnished with strange pillars and stranger ornaments
on the projecting porch; and on one side a roof dipped down almost to
the earth, and in the centre there was something that might almost be
a tower rising above the rest of the building. Then there were
documents that seemed all names and dates, with here and there a coat
of arms done in the margin, and she came upon a string of uncouth
Welsh names linked together by the word 'ap' in a chain that looked
endless. There was a paper covered with signs and figures that meant
nothing to her, and then there were the pocket-books, full of
old-fashioned writing, and much of it in Latin, as her husband told
her--it was a collection as void of significance as a treatise on
conic sections, so far as Mary was concerned. But night after night
Darnell shut himself up with the musty rolls, and more than ever when
he rejoined her he bore upon his face the blazonry of some great
adventure. And one night she asked him what interested him so much in
the papers he had shown her.

He was delighted with the question. Somehow they had not talked much
together for the last few weeks, and he began to tell her of the
records of the old race from which he came, of the old strange house
of grey stone between the forest and the river. The family went back
and back, he said, far into the dim past, beyond the Normans, beyond
the Saxons, far into the Roman days, and for many hundred years they
had been petty kings, with a strong fortress high up on the hill, in
the heart of the forest; and even now the great mounds remained,
whence one could look through the trees towards the mountain on one
side and across the yellow sea on the other. The real name of the
family was not Darnell; that was assumed by one Iolo ap Taliesin ap
Iorwerth in the sixteenth century--why, Darnell did not seem to
understand. And then he told her how the race had dwindled in
prosperity, century by century, till at last there was nothing left
but the grey house and a few acres of land bordering the river.

'And do you know, Mary,' he said, 'I suppose we shall go and live
there some day or other.

'My great-uncle, who has the place now, made money in business when he
was a young man, and I believe he will leave it all to me. I know I am
the only relation he has. How strange it would be.

'What a change from the life here.'

'You never told me that. Don't you think your great-uncle might leave
his house and his money to somebody he knows really well? You haven't
seen him since you were a little boy, have you?'

'No; but we write once a year. And from what I have heard my father
say, I am sure the old man would never leave the house out of the
family. Do you think you would like it?'

'I don't know. Isn't it very lonely?'

'I suppose it is. I forget whether there are any other houses in
sight, but I don't think there are any at all near. But what a change!
No City, no streets, no people passing to and fro; only the sound of
the wind and the sight of the green leaves and the green hills, and
the song of the voices of the earth.' . . . . He checked himself
suddenly, as if he feared that he was about to tell some secret that
must not yet be uttered; and indeed, as he spoke of the change from
the little street in Shepherd's Bush to that ancient house in the
woods of the far west, a change seemed already to possess himself, and
his voice put on the modulation of an antique chant. Mary looked at
him steadily and touched his arm, and he drew a long breath before he
spoke again.

'It is the old blood calling to the old land,' he said. 'I was
forgetting that I am a clerk in the City.'

It was, doubtless, the old blood that had suddenly stirred in him; the
resurrection of the old spirit that for many centuries had been
faithful to secrets that are now disregarded by most of us, that now
day by day was quickened more and more in his heart, and grew so
strong that it was hard to conceal. He was indeed almost in the
position of the man in the tale, who, by a sudden electric shock, lost
the vision of the things about him in the London streets, and gazed
instead upon the sea and shore of an island in the Antipodes; for
Darnell only clung with an effort to the interests and the atmosphere
which, till lately, had seemed all the world to him; and the grey
house and the wood and the river, symbols of the other sphere,
intruded as it were into the landscape of the London suburb.

But he went on, with more restraint, telling his stories of far-off
ancestors, how one of them, the most remote of all, was called a
saint, and was supposed to possess certain mysterious secrets often
alluded to in the papers as the 'Hidden Songs of Iolo Sant.' And then
with an abrupt transition he recalled memories of his father and of
the strange, shiftless life in dingy lodgings in the backwaters of
London, of the dim stucco streets that were his first recollections,
of forgotten squares in North London, and of the figure of his father,
a grave bearded man who seemed always in a dream, as if he too sought
for the vision of a land beyond the strong walls, a land where there
were deep orchards and many shining hills, and fountains and
water-pools gleaming under the leaves of the wood.

'I believe my father earned his living,' he went on, 'such a living as
he did earn, at the Record Office and the British Museum. He used to
hunt up things for lawyers and country parsons who wanted old deeds
inspected. He never made much, and we were always moving from one
lodging to another--always to out-of-the-way places where everything
seemed to have run to seed. We never knew our neighbours--we moved too
often for that--but my father had about half a dozen friends, elderly
men like himself, who used to come to see us pretty often; and then,
if there was any money, the lodging-house servant would go out for
beer, and they would sit and smoke far into the night.

'I never knew much about these friends of his, but they all had the
same look, the look of longing for something hidden. They talked of
mysteries that I never understood, very little of their own lives, and
when they did speak of ordinary affairs one could tell that they
thought such matters as money and the want of it were unimportant
trifles. When I grew up and went into the City, and met other young
fellows and heard their way of talking, I wondered whether my father
and his friends were not a little queer in their heads; but I know
better now.'

So night after night Darnell talked to his wife, seeming to wander
aimlessly from the dingy lodging-houses, where he had spent his
boyhood in the company of his father and the other seekers, to the old
house hidden in that far western valley, and the old race that had so
long looked at the setting of the sun over the mountain. But in truth
there was one end in all that he spoke, and Mary felt that beneath his
words, however indifferent they might seem, there was hidden a
purpose, that they were to embank on a great and marvellous adventure.

So day by day the world became more magical; day by day the work of
separation was being performed, the gross accidents were being refined
away. Darnell neglected no instruments that might be useful in the
work; and now he neither lounged at home on Sunday mornings, nor did
he accompany his wife to the Gothic blasphemy which pretended to be a
church. They had discovered a little church of another fashion in a
back street, and Darnell, who had found in one of the old notebooks
the maxim Incredibilia sola Credenda, soon perceived how high and
glorious a thing was that service at which he assisted. Our stupid
ancestors taught us that we could become wise by studying books on
'science,' by meddling with test-tubes, geological specimens,
microscopic preparations, and the like; but they who have cast off
these follies know that they must read not 'science' books, but
mass-books, and that the soul is made wise by the contemplation of
mystic ceremonies and elaborate and curious rites. In such things
Darnell found a wonderful mystery language, which spoke at once more
secretly and more directly than the formal creeds; and he saw that, in
a sense, the whole world is but a great ceremony or sacrament, which
teaches under visible forms a hidden and transcendent doctrine. It was
thus that he found in the ritual of the church a perfect image of the
world; an image purged, exalted, and illuminate, a holy house built up
of shining and translucent stones, in which the burning torches were
more significant than the wheeling stars, and the fuming incense was a
more certain token than the rising of the mist. His soul went forth
with the albed procession in its white and solemn order, the mystic
dance that signifies rapture and a joy above all joys, and when he
beheld Love slain and rise again victorious he knew that he witnessed,
in a figure, the consummation of all things, the Bridal of all
Bridals, the mystery that is beyond all mysteries, accomplished from
the foundation of the world. So day by day the house of his life
became more magical.

And at the same time he began to guess that if in the New Life there
are new and unheard-of joys, there are also new and unheard-of
dangers. In his manuscript books which professed to deliver the outer
sense of those mysterious 'Hidden Songs of Iolo Sant' there was a
little chapter that bore the heading: Fons Sacer non in communem Vsum
convertendus est, and by diligence, with much use of the grammar and
dictionary, Darnell was able to construe the by no means complex Latin
of his ancestor. The special book which contained the chapter in
question was one of the most singular in the collection, since it bore
the title Terra de Iolo, and on the surface, with an ingenious
concealment of its real symbolism, it affected to give an account of
the orchards, fields, woods, roads, tenements, and waterways in the
possession of Darnell's ancestors. Here, then, he read of the Holy
Well, hidden in the Wistman's Wood--Sylva Sapientum--'a fountain of
abundant water, which no heats of summer can ever dry, which no flood
can ever defile, which is as a water of life, to them that thirst for
life, a stream of cleansing to them that would be pure, and a medicine
of such healing virtue that by it, through the might of God and the
intercession of His saints, the most grievous wounds are made whole.'

But the water of this well was to be kept sacred perpetually, it was
not to be used for any common purpose, nor to satisfy any bodily
thirst; but ever to be esteemed as holy, 'even as the water which the
priest hath hallowed.' And in the margin a comment in a later hand
taught Darnell something of the meaning of these prohibitions. He was
warned not to use the Well of Life as a mere luxury of mortal life, as
a new sensation, as a means of making the insipid cup of everyday
existence more palatable. 'For,' said the commentator, 'we are not
called to sit as the spectators in a theatre, there to watch the play
performed before us, but we are rather summoned to stand in the very
scene itself, and there fervently to enact our parts in a great and
wonderful mystery.'

Darnell could quite understand the temptation that was thus
indicated. Though he had gone but a little way on the path, and had
barely tested the over-runnings of that mystic well, he was already
aware of the enchantment that was transmuting all the world about him,
informing his life with a strange significance and romance. London
seemed a city of the Arabian Nights, and its labyrinths of streets an
enchanted maze; its long avenues of lighted lamps were as starry
systems, and its immensity became for him an image of the endless
universe. He could well imagine how pleasant it might be to linger in
such a world as this, to sit apart and dream, beholding the strange
pageant played before him; but the Sacred Well was not for common use,
it was for the cleansing of the soul, and the healing of the grievous
wounds of the spirit. There must be yet another transformation: London
had become Bagdad; it must at last be transmuted to Syon, or in the
phrase of one of his old documents, the City of the Cup.

And there were yet darker perils which the Iolo MSS. (as his father
had named the collection) hinted at more or less obscurely. There were
suggestions of an awful region which the soul might enter, of a
transmutation that was unto death, of evocations which could summon
the utmost forces of evil from their dark places--in a word, of that
sphere which is represented to most of us under the crude and somewhat
childish symbolism of Black Magic. And here again he was not
altogether without a dim comprehension of what was meant. He found
himself recalling an odd incident that had happened long ago, which
had remained all the years in his mind unheeded, amongst the many
insignificant recollections of his childhood, and now rose before him,
clear and distinct and full of meaning. It was on that memorable visit
to the old house in the west, and the whole scene returned, with its
smallest events, and the voices seemed to sound in his ears. It was a
grey, still day of heavy heat that he remembered: he had stood on the
lawn after breakfast, and wondered at the great peace and silence of
the world. Not a leaf stirred in the trees on the lawn, not a whisper
came from the myriad leaves of the wood; the flowers gave out sweet
and heavy odours as if they breathed the dreams of the summer night;
and far down the valley, the winding river was like dim silver under
that dim and silvery sky, and the far hills and woods and fields
vanished in the mist. The stillness of the air held him as with a
charm; he leant all the morning against the rails that parted the lawn
from the meadow, breathing the mystic breath of summer, and watching
the fields brighten as with a sudden blossoming of shining flowers as
the high mist grew thin for a moment before the hidden sun. As he
watched thus, a man weary with heat, with some glance of horror in his
eyes, passed him on his way to the house; but he stayed at his post
till the old bell in the turret rang, and they dined all together,
masters and servants, in the dark cool room that looked towards the
still leaves of the wood. He could see that his uncle was upset about
something, and when they had finished dinner he heard him tell his
father that there was trouble at a farm; and it was settled that they
should all drive over in the afternoon to some place with a strange
name. But when the time came Mr. Darnell was too deep in old books and
tobacco smoke to be stirred from his corner, and Edward and his uncle
went alone in the dog-cart.

They drove swiftly down the narrow lane, into the road that followed
the winding river, and crossed the bridge at Caermaen by the
mouldering Roman walls, and then, skirting the deserted, echoing
village, they came out on a broad white turnpike road, and the
limestone dust followed them like a cloud. Then, suddenly, they turned
to the north by such a road as Edward had never seen before. It was so
narrow that there was barely room for the cart to pass, and the
footway was of rock, and the banks rose high above them as they slowly
climbed the long, steep way, and the untrimmed hedges on either side
shut out the light. And the ferns grew thick and green upon the banks,
and hidden wells dripped down upon them; and the old man told him how
the lane in winter was a torrent of swirling water, so that no one
could pass by it. On they went, ascending and then again descending,
always in that deep hollow under the wild woven boughs, and the boy
wondered vainly what the country was like on either side. And now the
air grew darker, and the hedge on one bank was but the verge of a dark
and rustling wood, and the grey limestone rocks had changed to
dark-red earth flecked with green patches and veins of marl, and
suddenly in the stillness from the depths of the wood a bird began to
sing a melody that charmed the heart into another world, that sang to
the child's soul of the blessed faery realm beyond the woods of the
earth, where the wounds of man are healed. And so at last, after many
turnings and windings, they came to a high bare land where the lane
broadened out into a kind of common, and along the edge of this place
there were scattered three or four old cottages, and one of them was a
little tavern. Here they stopped, and a man came out and tethered the
tired horse to a post and gave him water; and old Mr. Darnell took the
child's hand and led him by a path across the fields. The boy could
see the country now, but it was all a strange, undiscovered land; they
were in the heart of a wilderness of hills and valleys that he had
never looked upon, and they were going down a wild, steep hillside,
where the narrow path wound in and out amidst gorse and towering
bracken, and the sun gleaming out for a moment, there was a gleam of
white water far below in a narrow valley, where a little brook poured
and rippled from stone to stone. They went down the hill, and through
a brake, and then, hidden in dark-green orchards, they came upon a
long, low whitewashed house, with a stone roof strangely coloured by
the growth of moss and lichens. Mr. Darnell knocked at a heavy oaken
door, and they came into a dim room where but little light entered
through the thick glass in the deep-set window. There were heavy beams
in the ceiling, and a great fire-place sent out an odour of burning
wood that Darnell never forgot, and the room seemed to him full of
women who talked all together in frightened tones. Mr. Darnell
beckoned to a tall, grey old man, who wore corduroy knee-breeches, and
the boy, sitting on a high straight-backed chair, could see the old
man and his uncle passing to and fro across the window-panes, as they
walked together on the garden path. The women stopped their talk for a
moment, and one of them brought him a glass of milk and an apple from
some cold inner chamber; and then, suddenly, from a room above there
rang out a shrill and terrible shriek, and then, in a young girl's
voice, a more terrible song. It was not like anything the child had
ever heard, but as the man recalled it to his memory, he knew to what
song it might be compared--to a certain chant indeed that summons the
angels and archangels to assist in the great Sacrifice. But as this
song chants of the heavenly army, so did that seem to summon all the
hierarchy of evil, the hosts of Lilith and Samael; and the words that
rang out with such awful modulations--neumata inferorum--were in some
unknown tongue that few men have even heard on earth.

The women glared at one another with horror in their eyes, and he saw
one or two of the oldest of them clumsily making an old sign upon
their breasts. Then they began to speak again, and he remembered
fragments of their talk.

'She has been up there,' said one, pointing vaguely oven her shoulder.

'She'd never know the way,' answered another. 'They be all gone that
went there.'

'There be nought there in these days.'

'How can you tell that, Gwenllian? 'Tis not for us to say that.'

'My great-grandmother did know some that had been there,' said a very
old woman. 'She told me how they was taken afterwards.'

And then his uncle appeared at the door, and they went their way as
they had come. Edward Darnell never heard any more of it, nor whether
the girl died or recovered from her strange attack; but the scene had
haunted his mind in boyhood, and now the recollection of it came to
him with a certain note of warning, as a symbol of dangers that might
be in the way.

It would be impossible to carry on the history of Edward Darnell and
of Mary his wife to a greater length, since from this point their
legend is full of impossible events, and seems to put on the semblance
of the stories of the Graal. It is certain, indeed, that in this world
they changed their lives, like King Arthur, but this is a work which
no chronicler has cared to describe with any amplitude of detail.
Darnell, it is true, made a little book, partly consisting of queer
verse which might have been written by an inspired infant, and partly
made up of 'notes and exclamations' in an odd dog-Latin which he had
picked up from the 'Iolo MSS.', but it is to be feared that this work,
even if published in its entirety, would cast but little light on a
perplexing story. He called this piece of literature 'In Exitu
Israel,' and wrote on the title page the motto, doubtless of his own
composition, 'Nunc certe scio quod omnia legenda; omnes
historiæ, omnes fabulæ, omnis Scriptura sint de ME
narrata.' It is only too evident that his Latin was not learnt at the
feet of Cicero; but in this dialect he relates the great history of
the 'New Life' as it was manifested to him. The 'poems' are even
stranger. One, headed (with an odd reminiscence of old-fashioned
books) 'Lines written on looking down from a Height in London on a
Board School suddenly lit up by the Sun' begins thus:--

     One day when I was all alone
     I found a wondrous little stone,
     It lay forgotten on the road
     Far from the ways of man's abode.
     When on this stone mine eyes I cast
     I saw my Treasure found at last.
     I pressed it hard against my face,
     I covered it with my embrace,
     I hid it in a secret place.
     And every day I went to see
     This stone that was my ecstasy;
     And worshipped it with flowers rare,
     And secret words and sayings fair.
     O stone, so rare and red and wise
     O fragment of far Paradise,
     O Star, whose light is life! O Sea,
     Whose ocean is infinity!
     Thou art a fire that ever burns,
     And all the world to wonder turns;
     And all the dust of the dull day
     By thee is changed and purged away,
     So that, where'er I look, I see
     A world of a Great Majesty.
     The sullen river rolls all gold,
     The desert park's a faery wold,
     When on the trees the wind is borne
     I hear the sound of Arthur's horn
     I see no town of grim grey ways,
     But a great city all ablaze
     With burning torches, to light up
     The pinnacles that shrine the Cup.
     Ever the magic wine is poured,
     Ever the Feast shines on the board,
     Ever the song is borne on high
     That chants the holy Magistry--

    Etc. etc. etc.

From such documents as these it is clearly impossible to gather any
very definite information.

But on the last page Darnell has written--'So I awoke from a dream of
a London suburb, of daily labour, of weary, useless little things; and
as my eyes were opened I saw that I was in an ancient wood, where a
clear well rose into grey film and vapour beneath a misty, glimmering
heat. And a form came towards me from the hidden places of the wood,
and my love and I were united by the well.'



THE END


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