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Title: The Poet and The Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale (1929)
Author: G K Chesterton
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900711.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2009
Date most recently updated: September 2009

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Poet and The Lunatics: Episodes in the Life of Gabriel Gale (1929)
Author: G K Chesterton

* * *

CONTENTS

   I THE FANTASTIC FRIENDS
  II THE YELLOW BIRD
 III THE SHADOW OF THE SHARK
  IV THE CRIME OF GABRIEL GALE
   V THE FINGER OF STONE
  VI THE HOUSE OF THE PEACOCK
 VII THE PURPLE JEWEL
VIII THE ASYLUM OF ADVENTURE


* * *



I - THE FANTASTIC FRIENDS


The inn called the Rising Sun had an exterior rather suggesting the
title of the Setting Sun. It stood in a narrow triangle of garden, more
grey than green, with broken-down hedges mingling with the melancholy
reeds of a river; with a few dark and dank arbours, of which the roofs
and the seats had alike collapsed; and a dingy dried-up fountain, with a
weather-stained water-nymph and no water. The house itself seemed rather
devoured by ivy than decorated with it; as if its old bones of brown
brick were slowly broken by the dragon coils of that gigantic parasite.
On the other side it looked on a lonely road leading across the hills
down to a ford across the river; now largely disused since the building
of a bridge lower down. Outside the door was a wooden bench and table,
and above it a wooden sign, much darkened, with the gold of the sun's
disc faded to a brown; and under the sign stood the inn-keeper, gazing
gloomily up the road. His hair was black and flat, and his face, of a
congested purple, had all the sombreness, if not all the beauty, of
sunset.

The only person in the place who exhibited any liveliness was the person
who was leaving it. He was the first and last customer for many months;
a solitary swallow who had conspicuously failed to make a summer; and
the swallow was now flitting. He was a medical man on a holiday; young,
and of an agreeable ugliness, with a humorous hatchet face and red hair;
and the cat-like activity of his movements contrasted with the stagnant
inertia of the inn by the ford. He was strapping up his own bag on the
table under the sign; and neither his host, who stood a yard off, nor
the single servant, who moved heavily and obscurely within, offered to
help him; possibly through sulkiness, possibly merely through dreaminess
and disuse.

The long silence, idle or busy, was broken for the first time by two
sharp and explosive sounds. The first was the abrupt bursting of the
strap which the doctor was tightening round the bag on the table; and
the second was the loud and cheerful "Damn!" which was his comment upon
it.

"Here's a pretty go," observed the medical gentleman, who went by the
name of Garth; "I shall have to tie it up with something. Have you got a
cord or a rope or anything?"

The melancholy inn-keeper turned very slowly and went indoors, coming
out presently with a length of dusty rope in a loop like a halter,
probably for tethering a donkey or a calf.

"That's all I've got," he said; "I'm pretty well at the end of my own
tether anyhow."

"You seem a bit depressed," observed Dr. Garth; "you probably want a
tonic. Perhaps this medicine chest burst open to give you one."

"Prussic acid is the kind of tonic I feel inclined for," answered the
landlord of the Rising Sun.

"I never recommend it," observed the doctor cheerfully. "It's very
pleasant at the moment, no doubt; but I never feel I can guarantee a
complete recovery afterwards. But you certainly seem down in the mouth;
you didn't even brighten up when I indulged in such an eccentricity as
paying my bill."

"Much obliged to you, sir," observed the other gruffly, "but it would
want a lot more bills to keep this rotten old show from going to pot. It
was a good business once, when the right-of-way was open beyond the
river, and everybody used this ford. But the last squire shut up the
path somehow; and now everything goes by the new bridge a mile away.
Nobody comes this way; and, saving your presence, I don't know why
anybody should."

"Well, they say the new squire is nearly bankrupt himself," observed Dr.
Garth. "So history brings its revenges. Westermaine's his name, isn't
it? I'm told there's a brother and sister living in the big house over
there, with precious little to live on. I suppose the whole
countryside's rather gone downhill. But you're wrong about nobody coming
here," he added suddenly, "for there are two men coming over the hill
now."

The road ran across the valley at right angles to the river; beyond the
ford the forgotten right-of-way could be traced more faintly up the
slope to where the ruined gate that marked Westermaine Abbey stood dark
against clouds of a pallor that was faintly lurid, as with a hint of
storm. But on the other side of the valley the sky was clear; and the
early afternoon seemed as bright and brisk as morning. And on this side,
where the white road curved over the hill, two figures were advancing,
which seemed, even when they were hardly more than dots in the distance,
to be markedly dissimilar.

As they came nearer to the inn, the contrast increased, and was
accentuated by the very fact of their air of mutual familiarity; as if
they were almost walking arm in arm. One was comparatively short and
very sturdy; the other unusually tall and slender. They were both fair;
but the blond hair of the shorter man was neatly parted and smoothly
plastered down; while that of the other stood up in erratic wisps and
tufts that looked fantastic. The shorter man had a full square face
sharpened by a very pointed nose, and a pair of bright, bird-like eyes,
that made it look like a small beak. There was something of the cock
sparrow about him; and, indeed, he seemed more of a town bird than a
country bird. His clothes were as neat and commonplace as a clerk's; and
he carried a business-like little bag as if he was going up to the City;
while his tall companion had bundled on his back a loose knapsack, and
what was evidently the paraphernalia of a painter. He had a long,
slightly cadaverous face, with absent-minded eyes; but the chin beneath
jutted forward, almost as if it had formed an unconscious resolution of
its own, of which the blank blue eyes were still unaware. They were both
young; and they both walked without hats, probably through the heat of
walking; for the one held a hard straw hat in his hand, and the other
had a loose grey felt stuffed anyhow into his knapsack.

They came to a halt before the inn; and the shorter man said jovially to
his companion, "Here's a field for your efforts, anyhow."

Then he called out with breezy civility to the inn-keeper, asking him to
bring out two pots of ale; and when that gloomy character had
disappeared into his gloomy place of entertainment, he turned to the
doctor with the same radiant loquacity:

"My friend's a painter," he explained, "but rather a special sort of
painter. You might call him a house-painter; but he's not quite what
most people mean by one. It may surprise you, sir, but he's an R.A., and
not the stuffy sort that sometimes suggests, either. One of the first
among the young geniuses, and exhibits at all their cranky galleries.
But his whole aim and glory in life is to go about repainting inn-signs.
There; you don't meet a genius with that little fancy every day. What's
the name of this pub?"

And he stood on tiptoe, craning and peering at the blackened sign with
an extraordinary contained vivacity in his curiosity.

"The Rising Sun," he commented, turning eagerly again to his silent
friend. "That's what you would call an omen, after what you were saying
this morning about reviving the real inns. My friend is very poetical;
and he said it would make a sunrise all over England."

"Well, they say the sun never sets on the British Empire," observed the
doctor, with a laugh.

"I don't feel it about the Empire so much," said the painter simply,
breaking his silence like one spontaneously thinking aloud. "After all,
one doesn't fancy an English inn on the top of Mount Everest, or
somewhere on the Suez Canal. But one's life would be well spent in
waking up the dead inns of England and making them English and Christian
again. If I could do it, I would do nothing else till I die."

"Of course you can do it," replied his travelling companion. "A picture
by an artist like you, and hung outside a public-house, makes it
fashionable for miles round."

"Is it really true, then," inquired Dr. Garth, "that you employ all your
serious powers on subjects like public-house signs?"

"What finer subjects are there, even as subjects?" asked the painter; he
was now evidently full of his favourite subject and he was one of those
who are either abstractedly silent or ardently argumentative. "Is it
more dignified to paint an Academy portrait of some snobbish mayor in a
gold chain, or some swindling millionaire's wife in a diamond tiara,
than to paint the heads of great English admirals, to be toasted in good
ale? Is it better to paint some nepotistical old noodle wearing his
George and Garter than to paint St. George himself in the very act of
killing the Dragon? I've repainted six old signs of St. George and the
Dragon, or even the Dragon without St. George; a sign called the Green
Dragon is usually very suggestive to anybody with a little imagination;
you can make him a sort of spirit and terror of tropical forests. Even a
Blue Boar is suggestive; something nocturnal with stars like the Great
Bear; like that dim monstrous boar that stood for chaos and old night in
the Celtic mythology."

And he reached for his pewter pot, and applied himself to it with
absorption.

"He's a poet as well as a painter, you know," explained the smaller man,
still regarding his companion with an absurd air of proprietorship, as
if he himself were the keeper and showman of some singular wild animal;
"You've probably heard of the poems of Gabriel Gale, illustrated by
himself? I can get you a copy if you are interested in these things. I'm
his agent and business man; my name's Hurrel...James Hurrel. People
laugh at us and call us the Heavenly Twins, because we're inseparable,
and I never let him out of my sight. Have to look after him...
eccentricities of genius, you know."

The painter took his face off the pewter pot, a face fiery with
controversy.

"Genius oughtn't to be eccentric!" he cried in some excitement. "Genius
ought to be centric. It ought to be in the core of the cosmos, not on
the revolving edges. People seem to think it a compliment to accuse one
of being an outsider, and to talk about the eccentricities of genius.
What would they think, if I said I only wish to God I had the
centricities of genius?"

"I fear they would think it was the beer," replied Dr. Garth, "that had
slightly confused your polysyllables. Well, it may be a romantic idea to
revive the old signs, as you say. Romance is not much in my line."

Mr. Hurrel, the agent, cut in sharply, and even eagerly. "But it isn't
only a romantic idea," he explained; "it's a real, practical idea, too.
I'm a business man, and you may believe me it's really a business
proposition. Not only for us, but for the other people too...for the
inn-keepers and the villagers and the squires, and everybody. Why, look
at this broken-down ale-house they call the Rising Sun. If everyone
would work together, they could have this empty hole humming like a hive
in a year. If the squire would open the old road and let people visit
the ruins, if he'd build a bridge here by the inn and hang out a sign
painted by Gabriel Gale, you'd have all the cultivated sightseers in
Europe stopping here for lunch."

"Hullo!" cried the doctor. "It looks as if they were coming to lunch
already. Really, our pessimistic friend inside talked as if this were a
ruin in the desert; but I begin to believe it does a trade like the
Savoy."

They had all been standing with their backs to the road, looking at the
dark tavern under discussion; but even before the doctor began to speak,
Gabriel Gale, the painter and poet, had become in some odd fashion
conscious of an addition to the company. Perhaps it was because the
elongated shadows of a horse and two human figures had for some little
time rested on the sunny road beside him. He turned his head over his
shoulder, and remained staring at what he saw.

A high dog-cart had drawn up on the other side of the road. The reins
were in the gloved hands of a tall, dark young lady, clad in dark blue
of the tailor-made type, neat but not particularly new. By her side was
a man, perhaps ten years older than herself, but seeming in many ways
much more, for his high-featured face was wasted as with sickness, and
there was a great anxiety in his large grey eyes.

In the momentary silence the clear voice of the girl came like an echo
of the doctor's phrase, saying: "I am sure we can get some lunch here."
She slipped lightly to the ground and stood by the horse's head, while
her companion descended with a little more hesitation. He was dressed in
light tweeds, which seemed somehow slightly incongruous with his invalid
air, and he addressed Hurrel with a rather nervous smile.

"I hope you won't regard me as an eavesdropper, sir; but you were not
exactly speaking as if you were talking secrets."

Hurrel, indeed, had been talking as if he were a cheap-jack dominating
the noise of the fair; and he smiled and answered quite pleasantly:

"I was only saying what anybody might about what a squire might do with
a property like this. I don't in the least mind anybody listening who
happens to be interested."

"I happen to be a little interested," answered the man in tweeds,
"because, as it happens, I am the squire if there are any squires
nowadays."

"I sincerely apologize," answered the agent, still smiling; "but, if you
will play Haroun Alraschid..."

"Oh, I'm not at all offended," answered the other. "To tell the truth,
I'm rather wondering whether you aren't quite right."

Gabriel Gale had been looking at the girl in dark blue rather longer
than was quite polite; but painters and absent-minded persons may
sometimes be excused in such cases. His friend would probably have
infuriated him by calling it one of the eccentricities of genius, but it
might have been disputed whether his admiration was entirely eccentric.
Lady Diana Westermaine would have made a most satisfactory sign for an
inn...a bush worthy of the best wine...or might even have uplifted the
lowly estate of an Academy picture, though it was long since her
unfortunate family could have easily afforded one. She had hair of a
curious dark brown, which in ordinary shades looked black, while the
lights in it looked almost red; her dark eyebrows had a touch of temper
both in the good and the bad sense; her eyes were even larger and greyer
than her brother's, but less filled with mere worry and more with a more
spiritual weariness. Gale had the sense that her soul was more hungry
than her body. But he had also the thought that people are only hungry
because they are healthy. He thought all this in the brief moments
before he remembered his manners, and turned to consider the other
group.

When he had left off looking at her, she began looking at him, but with
a somewhat cooler curiosity.

Meanwhile, Mr. James Hurrel had been working wonders, not to say
miracles. With something more than the tenacity of a tout, with
something of the eloquence of the born diplomatist, he had already wound
round the squire a web of suggestions and proposals and possibilities.
There was really something about him of that imaginative business man of
whom we hear so much and see so little. Affairs which a man like
Westermaine could never normally have conceived as being settled except
by long lawyers' letters extending over several months, seemed to be
arranging themselves before him in several minutes. A new bridge of the
most artistic woodwork seemed already to point across the river to the
open road; a new and higher class of rents seemed already to be dotting
the valley with artistic villages; and a new golden sign of the Rising
Sun, with the signature of Gabriel Gale, already blazed above them, a
symbol that the sun had risen indeed.

Before they knew where they were the whole company had been bustled in
the most friendly fashion through the inn, and set down to a luncheon
that was really a committee round the table in the dreary garden beside
the river. Hurrel was drawing plans on the wooden table and making
calculations on pieces of paper, and reeling off figures and answering
objections and growing every moment more restless and radiant. He had
one piece of magic for making others believe...the fact that he
evidently believed himself; and the squire, who had never met such a
person before, had no weapons with which to fight him, even if it had
been his interest to do so. Amid all this whirl Lady Diana looked across
at Gale, who sat at the opposite corner of the table, somewhat detached
and dreamy.

"What do you think of it, Mr. Gale?" she said; but Mr. Gale's business
adviser answered for him, as he answered for everybody and answered for
everything.

"Oh, it's no good asking him about business," he cried boisterously.
"He's only one of the assets; he brings in all the artistic people. He's
a great painter; but we only want a painter to paint. Lord bless you, he
won't mind my saying that; he never minds what I say, or what anybody
says, for that matter. He doesn't answer a question for about half an
hour, as a rule."

Nevertheless, the painter answered the lady's question under the time
specified; but all he said was, "I think we ought to consult the
inn-keeper."

"Oh, very well," cried the resilient Hurrel, leaping up. "I'll do that
now, if you like. Back in a minute." And he disappeared again through
the dark interior of the inn.

"Our friend is very eager," said the squire, smiling; "but, after all,
those are the sort of people who get things done. I mean practical
things."

The lady was again looking at the painter with a slightly constricted
brow; she seemed to be almost sorry for him in his comparative eclipse;
but he only smiled and said: "No, I'm no good at practical things."

Almost as he spoke a noise like a sort of cry came through the inn from
the road beyond, and Dr. Garth sprang to his feet and stood peering in
at the door. The next moment Gale also seemed to rouse himself with a
sort of sudden agitation; and the moment after that the others were all
following the doctor, who had already started through the house. But
when he came to the front door Gale turned for a moment, barring the
exit with his tall figure, and said:

"Don't let the lady come out."

The squire had already seen over the painter's shoulder a horrible
instantaneous image. It was the black figure of a man hanging from the
signboard of the Rising Sun.

It was only instantaneous; for the next moment Dr. Garth had cut him
down, with the assistance of Hurrel, who had presumably uttered the
first cry of alarm. The man over whom the doctor was bending was the
unfortunate inn-keeper; and this was apparently the form in which he
took his prussic acid.

After being busy in silence for a few moments, the doctor gave a grunt
of relief and said:

"He's not dead; in fact he'll be all right presently." Then he said,
with a sort of disgust: "Why the devil did I leave that rope there
instead of tying up my bag like a tidy professional man? I forgot all
about it in all this fuss. Well, Mr. Hurrel, the sun nearly rose too
late for somebody."

Hurrel and the doctor carried the unfortunate inn-keeper into his inn,
the latter declaring that the would-be suicide would soon be in a
position to be questioned, if questioning was necessary. Gale paced up
and down outside in his aimless fashion, frequently frowning at the sign
that had served as a gallows (and the table that had probably served as
the proverbial stool kicked away) with a frown that seemed not only
pained but puzzled.

"This is a most distressing business," said the squire. "Of course I am
a magistrate and all that, but I should hate to have to trouble the poor
fellow with the police." At the sound of the word, Gabriel Gale swung
round and said in a loud harsh voice:

"Oh, I forgot the police. Of course, he must be locked up in a cell to
show him that life is worth living after all, and the world a bright,
happy place to live in."

He laughed shortly and frowned heavily, and then after ruminating a
moment, said with a certain abruptness:

"Look here, I want to ask you a favour, which may seem an odd one. I
want you to let me question this poor chap when he comes to. Give me ten
minutes alone with him, and I will promise to cure him of suicidal mania
better than a policeman could."

"But why you especially?" asked the doctor, in some natural annoyance.

"Because I am no good at practical things," answered Gale, "and you have
got beyond practical things."

There was another silence, and he spoke again with the same strange air
of authority.

"What you want is an unpractical man. That is what people always want in
the last resort and the worst conditions. What can practical men do
here? Waste their practical time in running after the poor fellow and
cutting him down from one pub sign after another? Waste their practical
lives watching him day and night, to see he doesn't get hold of a rope
or a razor? Do you call that practical? You can only forbid him to die.
Can you persuade him to live? Believe me, that is where we come in. A
man must have his head in the clouds and his wits wool-gathering in
fairyland, before he can do anything so practical as that."

The group felt a growing bewilderment at his new attitude; it seemed to
fill the stage in a strange fashion; nor was it lessened when he
actually or apparently fulfilled his undertaking, coming out of the inn
twenty minutes afterwards, and cheerfully announcing that the inn-keeper
would not hang himself again. The next moment he had jumped on to the
table under the sign with a large piece of chalk in his hand, and was
making sketchy and slashing strokes of design on the brown face of the
Rising Sun.

Lady Diana was looking on at the operation with a dark and watchful
face. She was of a type more intellectual than the others, and she
recognized a real thread of thought running through all that seemed to
them transcendental tomfoolery. She had understood the implied irony of
his first reference to their host; the moral that had come before the
frightful fable. After all, they had certainly been thinking of
everything about the inn except the inn-keeper. She could see there was
an intelligent case, and a practical example, of the occasions when the
poet can be more useful than the policeman. But she was conscious also
of something baffling about him above and beyond all this; of a disquiet
in him with some deeper cause, and something in his eye that belied the
new levity of his manner. His draughtsmanship, however, was proceeding
in the most dashing and even dazzling fashion, when Lady Diana spoke:

"I can't think how you can do it," she said, "on the very place where a
man has hung himself like Judas."

"It was the treason, not the despair of Judas, that was really bad," he
answered. "I was just thinking of something like that for the picture. I
prefer it to Apollo and all that, for a treatment of the sunrise. Look
here, you have a big head blocked in with some shadows, in the centre,"
and he made some bold markings on the sun's disc. "His dark face hidden
in his hands like that, but a burst of golden dawn behind like a glory.
Red bars of level cloud and a red cock, just there. The greatest of
sinners and of saints; his reproach the cock, and his halo the Rising
Sun."

The nameless shadow seemed to have fallen from him as he talked and
worked; and by an almost symbolic coincidence the strong afternoon sun
fell with a strange fullness and splendour upon him and his work, which
shone out against a blackening background of clouds continually
gathering and darkening on the stormy side of the valley, beyond the
ford. Against those masses of sinister purple and indigo, his figure
looked like that of some legendary craftsman clad in gold and painting
the frescoes of a golden chapel. The impression increased as the head
and halo of St. Peter grew under his hand; and the lady was of the sort
not disinclined to dream herself back in some distant period, about
which she did not know too much. She felt herself back among the sacred
arts and crafts of the medieval world; which were all she knew of the
medieval world.

Unfortunately, a shadow came between her and the sun in a shape that did
not remind her of the medieval world. Mr. James Hurrel, the agent, his
stiff hat a little on one side, jumped on to the same table on which the
artist stood, and sat within two yards of him, with dangling legs, and
somewhat aggressive cigar. "Always have to keep an eye on him, your
ladyship, or he'd be giving 'em away," he called out, and somehow his
voice and figure failed to fit in with the picture of pious and
primitive craftsmanship.

Diana Westermaine explained to herself lucidly that she had no sort of
reason to be angry; but she was exceedingly angry. The conversation of
the two had been of no particular intimacy; but its increase to three
had a very practical and painful effect of intrusion. She could not
imagine why the artist, who was a gentleman, should go about with such a
little bounder as his business adviser; and she wanted to hear more
about the picture of St. Peter, or something interesting. As the agent
sat down he had audibly observed something about making room for a
little one. If he, at that moment, had been suddenly suspended from the
sign, it is doubtful if the lady would have cut him down.

At this moment a much quieter voice said in her ear: "Excuse me, but
might I have one word with you?"

She turned and found Dr. Garth, with his bag in his hand, evidently
about to resume his journey at last.

"I'm going," he said, "and I feel I really ought to tell you something
before I go."

He drew her a little way up the road of his departure, and then turned
with an abrupt and hurried air of farewell.

"Doctors are often in delicate situations," he said, "and a troublesome
sense of duty drives me to saying a rather delicate thing. I tell it to
you and not your brother, because I think you have a long way the better
nerve of the two. There is something I suspect about those two men who
go about painting signs."

From where they stood on the higher ground she could still see the sign
itself shining with its new accretion of colours, and the tall, actively
moving figure, shining also with sunlight, and from that distance
altogether dwarfing the small and dingy figure near his feet. There
returned on her still more strongly the vision of a true creator, making
pure colours in the innocent morning of the world.

"They are called the Heavenly Twins," went on the doctor, "because they
are inseparable. Well, there are many kinds of couples that are
inseparable, and many causes for their never separating. But there is
one sort that specially concerns me, and I should be sorry to see mixed
up with you."

"I haven't the least idea what you mean," replied Lady Diana.

"What about a lunatic and his keeper?" said the doctor, and walked on
rapidly along the road, leaving her behind him.

She had the sensation of furiously flinging a suggestion from her, from
the top of a high tower to the bottom of an abyss, combined with the
sensation that the tower was not high enough nor the abyss deep enough;
she even had the novel sensation that there was something weak about her
throwing. While the tower of her mind was still rocking with the effort,
she was interrupted by her brother, who came hastily, and even
excitedly, towards her.

"I've just asked these gentlemen across to our place," he said, "to fix
up this business better. And we'd better be starting, for there's a
storm beating up, and even the ford sometimes gets pretty dicky. As it
is, we shall have to cross two at a time in our own rotten old cart."

It was in a sort of dream that she found herself again untethering the
horse and again taking the reins. It was in a dream that she heard the
voice that irritated her so much saying, "Heavenly Twins, you know,
Heavenly Twins; we mustn't be parted"; and then the voice of the squire
replying, "Oh, it'll only be for a minute, anyhow; she'll send Wilson
back with the dog-cart at once. There's only room for two at a time, I'm
afraid." They stood a little way back in the doorway of the inn as they
talked, and Gabriel Gale had just stepped from the table and was
standing nearer to the dog-cart.

Then there surged up in her suddenly she knew not what movement of
impatience or defiance; and she said in a matter-of-fact tone: "Are you
coming first, Mr. Gale?"

The face of the artist blanched as if he were blasted with white
lightning in the sun-light. He gave one look over his shoulder and then
leapt into the seat beside her, and the horse threw up his head and
began to move towards the ford. The rain must have already fallen
further upstream, for there was already the sensation of water flowing
more deeply about the horse's legs; and, though they were only fording a
river, she had a hazy sensation of crossing a Rubicon.

Enoch Wilson, the groom, one of the small group left at Westermaine
Abbey, died and was gathered to his fathers without having the faintest
notion of the determining part which he played in the dark events of
that night. And his private life, though, like that of other immortal
spirits, of an intense interest, does not in any other point affect this
story. It is enough to say that he was rather deaf, and, like many
grooms, more sympathetic with the moods of horses than of men. Lady
Diana sought him out in the stable, which stood far from the house and
near the river, and told him to take the dog-cart back for the rest of
the party. She spoke hurriedly and told him to hurry, because the rain
would soon make the ford difficult; and her phrases, combined with his
own bias, turned his mind chiefly to a consideration of the horse. He
drove across under the gathering storm, and as he drew near the dark inn
he heard high and excited voices. Mr. Hurrel was evidently hot upon his
hobby or campaign. The groom got the impression that there was a
quarrel; and took a few testy words from his master as meaning that he
was not to be disturbed. So the careful Wilson took the horse back
across the ford and back into the stable, congratulating himself on
having saved the valuable quadruped from the worst inconveniences of
what threatened to be a flood. Then he betook himself to his own
occupations, leaving a trail of destiny behind him.

Meanwhile Diana Westermaine had left the stable and made her way across
the grounds to rejoin the guest who had gone in front of her. As she
went up through a lane of hollyhocks and tall plants, she saw the vast
flying island or continent of rain cloud, with its volcanic hues and
outline, come sailing slowly over the dark, wooded ridge that was the
wall of the valley. There was already something faintly lurid about the
twilight with which it covered the rich colours of the garden; but
higher up the climbing path a strip of lawn was golden in a chance gleam
of sunlight, and against it she saw the figure she had come to seek. She
recognized it by the light-brown clothes that had looked like gold in
the evening light, but there was something very extraordinary about the
shape as distinct from the colour. He seemed to be waving his arms
slowly like branches in a breeze, and she fancied the arms were
unnaturally long. For an instant she had the ugly fancy that the figure
was deformed; and yet the more unearthly fancy that it had no head. Then
the nightmare turned into ordinary nonsense, for the man threw a sort of
cartwheel and alighted on his feet laughing. He had actually been
standing on his head, or rather on his hands.

"Excuse me," he said, "I often do that. It's a very good thing for a
landscape-painter to see the landscape upside down. He sees things then
as they really are; yes, and that's true in philosophy as well as art."
He brooded and then explained explosively.

"It's all very well to talk about being topsy-turvy. But when the angels
hang head downwards, we know they come from above. It's only those that
come from below that always have their noses in the air."

Despite his hilarious manner, she approached him with a certain
sub-conscious fear; which was not lessened when he lowered his voice and
added: "Shall I tell you a secret?"

At the same moment were heard overhead the first heavy movements of the
thunder, through which his voice came, perhaps, with an accidental air
as of loud whispering.

"The world is upside down. We're all upside down. We're all flies
crawling on a ceiling, and it's an everlasting mercy that we don't drop
off."

At that instant the twilight turned to a white blaze of lightning; and
she was shocked to see that his face was quite serious.

She said with a sort of irritation, "You do say such crazy things," and
the next moment her voice was lost in the thronging echoes of the
thunder, which seemed to shake everything, shouting the same word again
and again...crazy, crazy, crazy. She had unconsciously given a word for
the worst thought in her mind.

As yet no rain had fallen on the garden slopes, though the noise of it
was already troubling the river beyond. But even had it done so, she
herself doubted if the man would have noticed it. Even in more normal
moments he seemed to be one who singly pursued a solitary train of
thought, and he was still talking, like a man talking to himself, about
the rationality of topsy-turvydom.

"We were talking about St. Peter," he said; "you remember that he was
crucified upside down. I've often fancied his humility was rewarded by
seeing in death the beautiful vision of his boyhood. He also saw the
landscape as it really is: with the stars like flowers, and the clouds
like hills, and all men hanging on the mercy of God."

Then a heavy drop of rain fell on him; and the effect of it was
indescribable. It seemed to sting him like a wasp and wake him out of a
trance. He started and stared round; and then said in a new and more
natural voice:

"My God, where is Hurrel? What are the others doing? Aren't they here
yet?"

With an impulse not to be analysed, Diana dashed through the swaying
plants to the top of a neighbouring hillock, and looked across the
valley to the inn of the Rising Sun. And she saw flowing between them
and that place a heavier and wider flood, which in that wild moment
looked impassable, like the river of death.

In a strange way it seemed to her a symbol of something greater than the
mere grim realism that would have told her, now only too plainly, that
she was left alone with a lunatic. Somehow it seemed that the lunacy
itself was only a sort of abominable accident and obstacle between her
and something that might have been beautiful and a satisfaction of the
soul. Another dark river was flowing between her and her own fairyland.

At the same moment Gabriel Gale gave a terrible cry; he also had seen
afar off the sundering flood.

"You were right, after all," he said. "You spoke of Judas, when I dared
to speak of Peter. I have blasphemed and done the unpardonable sin. I am
the traitor now." Then he added in lower and heavier tones: "Yes, I am
the man who sold God."

The girl's mind was growing clearer with the cold pain of reality. She
had heard that maniacs sometimes accused themselves of the unpardonable
sin. Something of her natural courage returned also, and she was ready
to do anything, though she did not yet see very clearly what to do. As
she was fighting for a solution, the question was settled for her in
some degree by her companion himself, who started running down the
slope.

"I must get across again if I swim the river," he said. "I ought never
to be away from Hurrel like this. I can never tell what will happen
next."

She followed his descent, and was rather surprised to see him deflect it
to dart towards the stable. Before she knew where she was, he was
struggling with the horse and dragging it out into the shafts; and she
felt an irrational pleasure in the fact that he had the strength of a
man, if it was the strength of a madman. But her own high spirit and
self-respect had returned to her, and there rose in her a furious
refusal to be a passive spectator of what might well be merely a
suicide. After all, however mad he might be, the man was doing the right
thing in trying to rejoin his medical attendant; and she would not have
the last effort of his sanity frustrated by the antics of his disease.

"I'll drive if we must," she said in a ringing tone. "He'll go better
with me."

The sun had set behind the hills opposite, and night was already
deepening the darkness of the storm. As the rocking vehicle splashed up
to the hub of its wheel in the eddying water, she could only faintly see
the long water-rushes streaming with the stream, as if they were indeed
the shades of the underworld hovering without hope beside the Styx. But
she had no longer need to call it, merely in metaphor, a river of death.
Death was driving hard against horse and cart, staggering the insecure
foothold of the one, and swaying the human burden of the other; the
thunder was about their ears, and on their dreadful path scarce any
light but the lightning; and her human companion was a man uttering a
monologue, of which she heard snatches, more shocking than the thunder.
All the reason and realism in her told her that he might at any moment
tear her in pieces. But underneath all such things there was something
else contrary and incredible; something in the need and the
companionship, and the courage and heroism she was showing; and it was
too deep in her dizzy soul for her to know that it was exultation.

The horse almost fell just as they came to the end of the ford, but Gale
sprang from the cart and held it, standing knee-deep in water.

In a lull in the noise of the storm she heard for the first time voices
from the inn beside the river...voices high, and even shrill, as if the
altercation that the groom had heard had risen steadily like the rise of
the storm. Then there came what sounded like the crash of a falling
chair. Gale dragged the horse to land with the energy of a demon, then
dropped the bridle, and set off running towards the inn.

Even as he did so a piercing shriek rose into the night from the doors
of that solitary and sinister tavern by the river. It died away in a
wailing echo along the reedy banks of the river itself, as if the reeds
were indeed the lost spirits by the river of Hades; and the very thunder
seemed to have stopped and held its breath to hear it. Then before the
thunder moved again came one wide flash of lightning, as wide as an
instantaneous daylight, picking out the most minute details of the
distance, of the branches and twigs upon the wooded heights, and the
clover in the flat fields beside the river. And with the same clarity
she saw for an instant something incredible and abominable, and yet not
wholly new or unfamiliar...something that returned in the waking world
as a detested nightmare will return in sleep. It was the black figure of
a man dangling from the painted gallows of the Rising Sun. But it was
not the same man.

Diana was convinced for the moment that she herself had gone mad. She
could only imagine dully that her own mind had snapped under the strain,
and that the dark objects she saw were but dancing dots upon a void. But
one of those black dots had certainly seemed to be the figure of her own
brother thus lassoed to the beam; and the other black dot, literally a
dancing dot, had been the figure of that energetic business man, Mr.
James Hurrel. For just then his energy was taking the form of dancing;
he was hopping and capering with excitement in front of that frightful
signboard.

Darkness followed the flash, and a moment after she heard the great
voice of Gale himself, a larger and louder voice than she had imagined
him to possess, bellowing through the darkness and the stress of wind.
"It's all right...he's quite safe now." Little as she understood of
anything yet, she understood with a cold thrill that they had come just
in time.

She was still dazed when she staggered somehow through the din and
distraction of the tempest into the inn parlour, with a smoky lamp on
the table, and the three figures of that frustrated tragedy around it.
The squire, her brother, in a sort of collapse of convalescence, sat or
lay in an arm-chair with a stiff dose of brandy in front of him. Gabriel
Gale was standing up, like one who had taken command, with a face as
white but as hard as marble. He was speaking to the man named Hurrel in
low level, and quiet tones, but with one finger pointed, as when a man
speaks to a dog.

"Go over there and sit by the window," he said. "You must keep quite
quiet."

The man obeyed, taking a seat at the other end of the room, and looked
out of the window at the storm, without hearing or seeking to hear the
talk of the others.

"What does it all mean?" asked Diana at last. "I thought you...the
truth is Dr. Garth gave me a hint that you were only a lunatic and his
keeper."

"And so we are, as you see," answered Gale; "but the keeper has behaved
far worse than the lunatic."

"But I thought you were the lunatic," she said with simplicity.

"No," he replied; "I am the criminal."

They had drawn nearer to the doorway, and their voices also were covered
by the noise of the elements, so that they were almost as much alone as
when they stood beyond the river. She remembered the earlier dialogue,
and the violent and mysterious language he had used in it; and she said
doubtfully:

"You said things like that and worse over the other side, and that's
what made me think so. I couldn't understand why you should say such
wild things against yourself."

"I suppose I do talk rather wildly," he said. "Perhaps you were not so
wrong, after all, and I have a streak of sympathy with lunatics...and
that's why I can manage them. Anyhow, I happen to be the only person who
can manage this particular lunatic. It's a long story, and perhaps I
shall tell it some day. This poor fellow once did me a great service,
and I feel I can only repay it by looking after him and saving him from
the infernal brutality of officials. You see, the truth is they say I
have a talent for it...a sort of psychological imagination. I generally
know what they're going to do or fancy next. I've known a lot of them,
one way or another...religious maniacs who thought they were divine or
damned, or what not, and revolutionary maniacs, who believed in dynamite
or doing without clothes; or philosophical lunatics, of whom I could
tell you some tall stories, too...men who behaved as if they lived in
another world and under different stars, as I suppose they did. But of
all the maniacs I have tried to manage, the maddest of all maniacs was
the man of business."

He smiled rather sourly, and then the tragedy returned to his face as he
went on:

"As for your other question, I may have talked wildly against myself,
but I didn't talk worse than I deserve. Hadn't I deserted my post, like
a traitor? Didn't I leave my wretched friend in the lurch, like a Judas?
It's true he'd never broken out like this before; but I was sure in my
heart there was one of his antics mixed up with that first affair of the
inn-keeper. But the inn-keeper really was suicidal, and I fancy Hurrel
only helped him, so to speak; but it was that that put the damnable
notion in his head. I never dreamed he would break out against your
brother, or I would...but why do I try to make excuses when there is no
excuse? I followed my own will till it went within an inch of murder;
and it's I who ought to be hanging from the wooden sign, if hanging
weren't too good for me."

"But why..." she began automatically, and then stopped dead, with the
sense of a whole new world surging up against her.

"Ah, why," he repeated with a changed voice; "but I think you know why.
It is not your fault, but you know why. You know what has often made a
sentinel leave his post. You know what brought Troilus out of Troy and
perhaps Adam out of Eden. And I have neither the need nor the right to
tell you."

She stood looking out into the darkness, and her face wore a singular
smile.

"Well, there's the other story you promised to tell some day," she said.
"Perhaps you will tell it me if we meet again." And she held out her
hand in farewell.

The sinister and fantastic partners had set off again next morning when
the sun first shone upon the road; the storm had rolled away along the
valley and the birds were singing after the rain. Stranger things yet
were to happen before he and she should meet again; but for the moment
she had a curious relapse into repose and contemplation. She reminded
herself of the words about the world being upside down; and thought it
had indeed turned upside down many times in that single night. And she
could not analyse the sensation that, in spite of everything, it had
come the right side up.



II - THE YELLOW BIRD


Five men had halted at the top of a hill overlooking a valley beautiful
enough to be called a vision, but too neglected ever to have been
vulgarised by being called a view. They were a sketching club on a
walking tour; but when they had come to that place they did no more
walking, and, strangely enough, very little sketching. It was as if they
had come to some quiet end of the world; that corner of the earth seemed
to have a curious effect on them, varying with their various
personalities, but acting on all as something arresting and vaguely
final. Yet the quality was as nameless as it was unique; there was
nothing definably different from twenty other wooded valleys in those
western shires upon the marches of Wales. Green slopes dived into a
fringe of dark forests that looked black by comparison, but the grey
columns of which were mirrored in the curving river like a long winding
colonnade. Only a little way along, on one side of the river, the bank
was cleared of timber, and formed a platform for old gardens and
orchards, in the midst of which stood an old tall house, of a rich brown
brick with blue shutters, and rather neglected creepers clinging to it,
more like moss to a stone than like flowers to a flower-bed. The roof
was flat, with a chimney near the centre of it, from which a thin thread
of smoke was drawn up into the sky; the only sign that the house was not
wholly deserted. Of the five men who looked down at the landscape, only
one had any special reason for looking at the house.

The eldest of the artists, a dark, active, ambitious man in spectacles,
destined to be famous afterwards under the name of Luke Walton, was
affected by the place in a curious fashion. It seemed to tease him like
a fly or something elusive; he could not please himself with a point of
view, but was perpetually shifting his camp-stool from place to place,
crossing and recrossing the theatre of these events amid the jeers of
his companions. The second, a heavy, fair-haired man named Hutton,
stared at the scene in a somewhat bovine fashion, made a few lines on a
sketching block, and then announced in a loud voice that it was a good
place for a picnic, and that he was going to have his lunch. The third
painter agreed with him; but as he was said to be a poet as well as a
painter, he was expected to show a certain fervour for any opportunities
of avoiding work. Indeed, this particular artist, whose name was Gabriel
Gale, did not seem disposed even to look at the landscape, far less to
paint it; but after taking a bite out of a ham sandwich, and a swig at
somebody else's flask of claret, incontinently lay down on his back
under a tree and stared up at the twilight of twinkling leaves; some
believing him to be asleep, while others more generously supposed him to
be composing poetry. The fourth, a smaller and more alert man named
Garth, could only be regarded as an honorary member of the artistic
group; for he was more interested in science than in art, and carried
not a paint-box but a camera. Nevertheless, he was, not without an
intelligent appreciation of scenery, and he was in the act of fixing up
his photographic apparatus so that it covered the angle of the river
where stood the neglected garden and the distant house. And at that
moment the fifth man, who had not yet moved or spoken, made so abrupt
and arresting a gesture that one might say that he struck up the camera,
like a gun pointed to kill.

"Don't," he said; "it's bad enough when they try to paint it."

"What's the matter?" asked Garth. "Don't you like that house?"

"I like it too much," said the other, "or rather, I love it too much to
like it at all."

The fifth man who spoke was the youngest of the party, but he had
already at least some local success and celebrity; partly because he had
devoted his talent to the landscape and legends of that countryside, and
partly because he came of a family of small squires whose name was
historic in those hills. He was tall, with dark-brown hair and a long
brown face, with a high-bridged nose that looked rather distinguished
than handsome; and there was a permanent cloud of consideration on his
brow that made him seem much older than his years. He alone of all these
men had made no gesture, either of labour or relaxation, on coming to
the crest of the hill. While Walton went to and fro, and Hutton started
cheerfully on his meal, and Gale flung himself on the couch of leaves to
look up into the tree-tops, this man had stood like a statue looking
across the valley to the house, and it was only when Garth pointed his
camera that he had even lifted a hand.

Garth turned on him a humorous face, in spite of its hard angular
features; for the little scientist was a man of admirable good temper.

"I suppose there's a story about it," he said; "you look as if you were
in quite a confidential mood. If you like to tell me, I assure you I can
keep a secret. I'm a medical man and have to keep secrets, especially
those of the insane. That ought to encourage you."

The younger man, whose name was John Mallow, continued to gaze moodily
across the valley, but there was something about him that suggested that
the other had guessed right, and he was about to speak.

"Don't bother about the others," said Garth, "they can't hear; they're
too busy doing nothing. Hutton," he called out in much more strident
tones, "Gale, are you fellows listening?"

"Yes; I'm listening to the birds," came the half-buried voice of Gale
out of his leafy lair.

"Hutton's asleep," observed Garth with satisfaction. "No wonder, after
all that lunch. Are you asleep, Gale?"

"Not asleep, but dreaming," answered the other. "If you look up long
enough, there isn't any more up or down, but a sort of green, dizzy
dream; with birds that might as well be fishes. They're just odd shapes
of different colours against the green, brown and grey, and one of them
looks quite yellow."

"A yellow-hammer, I suppose," remarked Garth.

"It doesn't look like a hammer," said Gale, sleepily; "not such an odd
shape as all that."

"Ass!" said Garth briefly. "Did you expect it to look like an
auctioneer's hammer? You poets who are so strong about Nature are
generally weak in natural history. Well, Mallow," he added, turning to
his companion, "you've nothing to fear from them, if you like to talk in
an ordinary voice. What about this house of yours?"

"It's not mine," said Mallow. "As a matter of fact, it belongs to an old
friend of my mother's, a Mrs. Verney, a widow. The place has very much
run to seed now, as you see, for the Verneys have got poorer and poorer,
and don't know what to do next, which is the beginning of the trouble.
But I have passed happier times there than I shall probably ever have
again."

"Was Mrs. Verney so enchanting a character?" asked his friend softly;
"or may I take the liberty of supposing there was a rising generation?"

"Unfortunately for me, it is a very rising generation," replied Mallow.
"It rises in a sort of small revolution; and it rises rather above my
head." Then, after a silence, he said somewhat abruptly, "Do you believe
in lady doctors?"

"I don't believe in any doctors," answered Garth. "I'm one myself."

"Well, it isn't exactly lady doctors, I believe, but it's something of
that sort," went on Mallow; "study of psychological science, and so on.
Laura has got it very badly, and is helping some Russian psychologist or
other."

"Your narrative style is a little sketchy," remarked Dr. Garth, "but I
suppose I may infer that Laura is a daughter of Mrs. Verney, and also
that Laura has some logical connexion with the happy days that will not
return."

"Suppose it all, and have done with it," replied the young man. "You
know what I mean; but the real point is this. Laura has all the new
ideas, and has persuaded her mother to come down off the high horse of
genteel poverty in all sorts of ways. I don't say she's not right in
that; but as it works out there are some curious complications. For one
thing, Laura not only earns her own living but earns it in the
laboratory of this mysterious Muscovite; and for another, she has
bounced her mother into taking a paying guest. And the paying guest is
the mysterious Muscovite again, who wants a quiet rest in the country."

"And I suppose, I may take it," said the doctor, "that you feel there is
a little too much of the Muscovite in your young life?"

"As a matter of fact, he moved into the house late last night,"
continued Mallow, "and I suppose that's really why I drifted in this
direction this morning, trailing you all at my heels. I said it was a
beautiful place, and so it is; but I don't want to paint it, and I don't
even want to visit it; but all the same, I had a vague sort of feeling I
should like to be somewhere near."

"And, as you couldn't get rid of us, you brought us along," said Garth
with a smile. "Well, I think I can understand all that. Do you know
anything about this Russian professor?"

"I know nothing whatever against him," answered the other. "He is a very
famous man both in science and politics. He escaped from a Siberian
prison in the old days, by blowing up the wall with a bomb of his own
construction; it's quite an exciting story, and he must at least be a
man of courage. He has written a great book called _The Psychology of
Liberty,_ I believe; and Laura is very keen on his views. It's rather an
indescribable thing altogether; she and I are very fond of each other,
and I don't think she mistakes me for a fool, and I don't think I am a
fool. But whenever we have met lately it has been literally like a
meeting on a high road, when two people are going opposite ways. And I
think I know what it is; she is always going outwards, and I am always
going inwards. The more I see of the world, and the more men I meet or
books I read or questions I answer, the more I come back with increased
conviction to those places where I was born or played as a boy,
narrowing my circles like a bird going back to a nest. That seems to me
the end of all travel, and especially of the widest travel...to get
home. But she has another idea in her mind. It's not only that she says
that old brown brick house is like a prison, or that the hills are like
walls shutting her in; I dare say things do get pretty dull in such a
place. There's a theory in it, too, which I suppose she's got from her
psychological friend. She says that even in her own valley, and in her
own garden, the trees only grow because they radiate outwards, which is
only the Latin for branching. She says the very word 'radiant' shows it
is the secret of happiness. There is something in it, I suppose; but I
radiate inwards, so to speak; that is why I paint all my pictures of
this little corner of the world. If I could only paint this valley, I
might go on to paint that garden; and, if only I could paint that
garden, I might be worthy to paint the creeper under her window."

The sleeping Hutton awoke with an uproarious yawn, and lifting himself
from his bed of leaves, wandered away to where the more industrious
Walton had at last settled down to work on the other side of the hill.
But the poet Gale still lay gazing at his topsy-turvydom of tree-tops.
And the only reply he would make to a further challenge from Garth was
to say heavily. "They've driven the yellow one away."

"Who have driven what away?" demanded Mallow, rather irritably.

"The other birds attacked the yellow one and drove it away," said the
poet.

"Regarded it as an undesirable alien, no doubt," said Garth.

"The Yellow Peril," said Gale, and relapsed into his dreams.

Mallow had already resumed his monologue:

"The name of this psychologist is Ivanhov, and he's said to be writing
another great book in his country retreat; I believe she is acting as
his secretary. It is to embody some mathematical theory about the
elimination of limits and..."

"Hullo!" cried Garth. "This moated grange of yours is actually coming to
life. Somebody is actually beginning to open a window."

"You haven't been looking at it as I have," answered Mallow quietly.
"Just round the angle on the left there's a little window that's been
open all the time. That belongs to the little sitting-room out of the
spare bedroom. It used to be Laura's room, and still has a lot of her
things in it; but I think they give it now to their guests."

"Including, doubtless, their paying guest," observed Garth.

"He's a queer sort of guest. I only hope he's a paying one," returned
the other. "That big window where they just opened the shutters is at
the end of the long library; all these windows belong to it. I expect
they'll stick the philosopher in there if he wants to philosophise."

"The philosopher seems to be philosophical about draughts," observed Dr.
Garth; "he or somebody else has opened three more windows, and seems to
be struggling with another."

Even as he spoke the fifth window burst open, and even from where they
stood they could see a creeper that had strayed across it snap and drop
with the gesture. It had the look of the snapping of some green chain
securing the house like a prison. It had almost the look of the breaking
of the seal of a tomb.

For Mallow, against all his prejudices, felt the presence and pressure
of that revolutionary ideal which he recognized as his rival. All along
the shattered façade of the old brown house the windows were opening one
after another like the eyes of an Argus waking from his giant sleep. He
was forced to admit to himself that he had never seen the place thus
coming to life from within, as a plant unfolds itself. The last three
windows were now open to the morning; the long room must already be full
of light, to say nothing of air. Garth had spoken of a philosopher
enduring draughts; but it seemed more as if a pagan priest had been
turned into a temple of the winds. But there was more in that morning
vision than the mere accident of a row of windows open when they were
commonly closed. The same fancy about unfolding life seemed to fill the
whole scene like a new atmosphere. It was as if a fresh air had streamed
out of the windows instead of into them. The sun was already fairly
high, but it came out of the morning mists above the house with
something of the silent explosion of daybreak. The very shapes of the
forest trees, spreading themselves like fans, seemed to repeat the
original word "radiant", which he had thought of almost as a Latin pun.
Sailing over his head, as if sent flying by a sort of centrifugal force,
the clouds still carried into the height of noon the colours of sunrise.
He felt all the fresh things that he feared coming at him by an
irrepressible expansion. Everything seemed to enlarge itself. Even when
his eye fell on a stunted gate-post standing alone in the old garden, he
could fancy that it swelled as he stared at it.

A sharp exclamation from his friend woke him from his unnatural
day-dream, which might rather be called, by a contradiction, a white
nightmare of light.

"By blazes! he's found another window," cried the doctor; "a window in
the roof."

There was, indeed, the gleam of a skylight which caught the sun at an
angle as it was forced upwards, and out of the opening emerged the
moving figure of a man. Little could be seen of him at that distance,
except that he was tall and slim and had yellow hair which looked like
gold in the strong sun. He was dressed in some long, light-coloured
garment, probably a dressing-gown, and he stretched his long limbs as if
with the sleepy exultation of one arisen from sleep.

"Look here!" said Mallow suddenly, an indescribable expression flashing
across his face and vanishing; "I'm going to pay a call."

"I rather thought you might," answered Garth. "Do you want to go alone?"

As he spoke he looked round for the rest of the company, but Walton and
Hutton were still chatting some distance away on the other side of the
hill, and only Gale still lay in the shadow of the thick trees staring
up at the birds, as if he had never stirred. Garth called to him by
name, but it was only after a silence that Gale spoke. What he said was:

"Were you ever an isosceles triangle?

"Very seldom," replied Garth with restraint. "May I ask what the devil
you are talking about?"

"Only something I was thinking about," answered the poet, lifting
himself on to one elbow. "I wondered whether it would be a cramping sort
of thing to be surrounded by straight lines, and whether being in a
circle would be any better. Did anybody ever live in a round prison?"

"Where do you get these cracked notions?" inquired the doctor.

"A little bird told me," Gale said gravely. "Oh, it's quite true."

He had risen to his feet by this time, and came slowly forward to the
brow of the hill, looking across at the house by the river. As he looked
his dreamy blue eyes seemed to wake up, like the windows opening in the
house he gazed at.

"Another bird," he said softly, "like a sparrow on the house-tops. And
that fits in with it exactly."

There was some suggestion of truth in the phrase, for the strange figure
was standing on the very edge of the roof, with space below him and his
hands spread out almost as if he wished to fly. But the last sentence,
and still more the strange manner in which it was spoken, puzzled the
doctor completely.

"Fits in with what?" he asked, rather sharply.

"He's like that yellow bird," said Gale vaguely. "In fact, he is a
yellow bird, with that hair and the sun on him. What did you say you
thought it was...a yellow-hammer?"

"Yellow-hammer yourself," retorted Garth; "you're quite as yellow as he
is. In fact, with your long legs and straw-coloured hair, you're really
rather like him."

Mallow, in his more mystical mood, looked strangely from one to the
other, for indeed there was a certain vague similarity between the two
tall, fair-haired figures, the one on the house and the other on the
hill.

"Perhaps I am rather like him," said Gale quietly. "Perhaps I'm just
sufficiently like him to learn not to be like him, so to speak. We may
both be birds of a feather, the yellow feather; but we don't flock
together, because he likes to flock by himself. And as to being a
hammer, yellow or otherwise, well, that also is an allegory."

"I decline to make head or tail of your allegories," said Dr. Garth
shortly.

"I used to want a hammer to smash things with," continued Gale; "but
I've learnt to do something else with a hammer, which is what a hammer
is meant for; and every now and then I manage to do it."

"What do you mean by that?" inquired the doctor.

"I can hit the right nail on the head," answered the poet.

It was not, in fact, until later in the day that Mallow paid his call at
Mrs. Verney's house. Mrs. Verney was going up to the neighbouring
village for the afternoon; and Mallow had more than one motive for
making his attack when the stranger was alone with his secretary. He had
a general idea of using his friends to detach or detain the stranger
while he himself sought for explanation from the secretary; so he
dragged Garth and Gale along with him to Mrs. Verney's drawing-room; or
rather he would have done so if Gale had been an easy person to drag
successfully anywhere. But Gale had a tendency to get detached from any
such group, and was always being left behind. Large as he was, he had a
way of getting mislaid. His friends forgot him, as they had almost
forgotten him when he was lying under the tree. It was not that he was
unsociable; on the contrary, he was very fond of his friends and very
fond of his opinions, and always delighted to detail the latter to the
former. Strangers would have said that he was very fond of the sound of
his own voice, but friends who were fond of him knew better. They knew
that he had hardly ever heard his own voice, in the sense of listening
to it. What made his movements incalculable was that his thinking or
talking would start from any small thing that seemed to him a large
thing. What are to most men impressions, or half impressions, were to
him incidents; and the chief incidents of the day. Many imaginative
people know what is meant by saying that certain empty rooms or open
doors are suggestive; but he always acted on the suggestion. Most of
them understand that there can be something vaguely inviting about a gap
in a garden hedge, or the abrupt angle of a path; but he always accepted
the invitation. The shape of a hill, or the corner of a house, checked
him like a challenge. He wrestled with it seriously till it had given up
something of its secret, till he could put something like a name to his
nameless fancy; and these things were the active adventures of his life.
Hence it was that he would sometimes follow one train of thought for
hours, as steadily as a bird winging its way homewards. But it might
start anywhere; and hence, in his actual movements, he looked more like
a floating tuft of thistledown caught upon any thorn.

On this occasion his friends lost him, or left him behind, as they
turned the corner of the house just after passing an old-fashioned
bow-window looking out on the garden. Inside the window stood a small
round table on which was a bowl of goldfish; and Gale stopped abruptly
and stared at it as if he had never seen such a thing before. He had
often maintained that the main object of a man's life was to see a thing
as if he had never seen it before. But in this case the twilight of the
little empty room, touched here and there with the late afternoon
sunlight, seemed somehow a subtle but suitable background for the thing
that he saw. The heart of a dark green sphere was alive with little
living flames.

"Why the devil do they call them goldfish?" he asked almost irritably.
"They're a much more gorgeous colour than gold; I've never seen it
anywhere except in very rare red clouds in a sunset. Gold suggests
yellow, and not the best yellow either; not half so good as the clear
lemon yellow of that bird I saw today. They're more like copper than
gold. And copper is twenty times finer than gold. Why isn't copper the
most precious metal, I wonder?"

He paused a moment and then said reflectively:

"Would it do, I wonder, when one changed a cheque into gold, to give a
man coppers instead, and explain that they have more of the rich tones
of sunset?"

His inquiry remained unanswered, for he made it to the empty air. His
companions were deficient in his sense of the importance of goldfish,
and had gone on impatiently to the main entrance of the house, leaving
him lingering by the bowl near the bow-window. He continued to look at
it for a considerable time, and when at last he turned away, it was not
to follow his friends, but to pace the paths of the garden in the
deepening and darkening twilight, revolving in his mind some occult
romance beginning with a bowl of fish.

Meanwhile, his more practical friends, pursuing the main purpose of the
story, had penetrated into the house and found at least some members of
the household. There had been many things in the garden or the gateway
over which Mallow also might have been disposed to linger if his mood
had been merely sentimental; an old swing standing by the corner of the
orchard, the angle of a faded tennis lawn, the fork of a pear-tree, all
of which had stories attached to them. But he was possessed of a
passionate curiosity far too practical for sentiment of the merely
reminiscent sort; he was resolved to run to earth the mystery of the new
man in the old house. He felt that a change had come over everything
with the man's mere presence; and wished to know how far that change had
gone. He half expected to see those familiar rooms swept bare, or filled
with strange furniture where the stranger had passed.

Accident, indeed, gave to their passage through those empty rooms an air
of pursuit, as if something were escaping. For, as they passed from an
outer room into the long library, the stranger, who was at the other end
by the window, emphasized his restless love of the open air by putting
one long leg over the low window-sill and stepping out on to the lawn.
He had evidently, however, no real desire to avoid them, for he stood
there smiling in the sunlight, and uttered some greeting very pleasantly
with a slight foreign accent. He was still wearing the long
lemon-coloured dressing-gown which, along with his yellow hair, had
suggested the comparison of a yellow bird. Under the yellow hair his
brow was broad but not high, and the nose was not only long and
straight, but came down in a single line from the forehead in the manner
that may be seen on many Greek coins and carvings, but which has an
unnatural and even sinister symmetry when seen in real life. There was
nothing else eccentric or exuberant about him; his manners were casual,
but not ungraceful; and nothing contradicted the sunny ease of his
situation and demeanour except, perhaps, a slightly strained look in the
eyes, which were eager and prominent. Until his acquaintances grew
accustomed to it, as a fixed involuntary feature of his face, they
occasionally had a sort of shock when catching his quiet face in shadow
and realizing that the round eyes were standing out of his head.

The first thing the eyes seemed to encounter was Dr. Garth's
hand-camera; and, as soon as introductions and salutations had passed,
he plunged into talk about photography. He prophesied its extension at
the expense of painting, and brushed aside the objection, which even the
doctor offered, that painting had the superiority in colour.

"Colour-photography will soon be completed," he said hastily; "or
rather, it will never be completed, but will always be improved. That is
the point of science. You know more or less finally what can be done,
well or ill, with a draughtsman's chalk or a sculptor's chisel. But with
us the instruments themselves are always changing. That's the real
triumph of a telescope...that it is telescopic."

"Well," said Mallow grimly, "I shall wait for one more change in the
camera as a scientific instrument before I cut up my old easel for
firewood."

"What change is that?" asked the Russian with a kind of eagerness.

"I shall wait till one of those tall cameras walks on its own three legs
along a country lane to pick out the view it likes best."

"Even something like that may be more possible than you think," replied
the other. "In these days when a man has his eyes and ears at the end of
long wires; his own nerves, so to speak, spread over a city in the form
of telephones and telegraphs. A great modern city will become a great
machine with its handle in the human hand. Thus only can a man become a
giant."

John Mallow looked at the man rather darkly for a moment, and then said:

"If you are so very fond of a big modern city," he said, "why do you
hide yourself in such a quiet little hole in the country?"

For a flash the stranger's face seemed to wince and alter in the white
sunlight; but the next instant he was still smiling, though he spoke a
little more apologetically.

"There is certainly more space" he answered. "I confess I like a lot of
space. But even there the science of the city will ultimately provide
its own remedy. The answer is in one word...aviation."

Before the other could reply the speaker went on, his prominent eye
kindling and his whole figure filling out with animation. He made a
movement with his hand like a man throwing a stone into the air.

"It's upwards the new extension will be," he cried. "That road is wide
enough, and that window is always open. The new roads will stand up like
towers. The new harbours will stand far out in that sea above our
heads...a sea you can never find the end of. It would only be a
beginning to conquer the planets and colonize the fixed stars."

"I think," said Mallow, "that you will have conquered the remotest star
before you really conquer this one old corner of the earth. It has a
magic of its own which I think will outlast all such conjuring tricks.
This was the house of Merlin; and, though they say Merlin himself fell
under a spell, it was not that of Marconi."

"No," answered the stranger, still smiling. "We all know the spell under
which Merlin fell."

Mallow knew enough about Russian intellectuals not to be surprised at
the wide knowledge of the poetry and culture of the West; but here it
seemed the almost satiric symbol of a deeper familiarity, and a mocking
whisper told him what might have chained this magician in that western
valley.

Laura Verney was coming across the garden towards them with some papers
in her hand. She was of a red-haired, full-blooded type, handsome in a
fashion which seemed to have a certain pagan exuberance till she came
near enough to show the concentrated seriousness of her clear eyes; she
might be called a pagan with the eyes of a puritan. She saluted her
guests without any change of countenance, and handed the papers to the
professor without any word of comment. Something in her automatic manner
seemed to sting Mallow to a final impatience; and, picking up his hat
from the window-sill, he called out in a loud and careless voice:

"Laura, will you show me the way out of this garden? I've forgotten the
way."

It was some time afterwards, however, that he said any sort of final
farewell to her, under the shadow of the outer wall, and near the
ultimate gate of the garden. In the somewhat bitter intensity of his
mood, he seemed rather to be exaggerating the finality of the farewell;
not only touching herself, but all the things which he had always felt
to be full of her presence.

"You will pull down that old swing, I suppose?" he had said as they went
through the garden, "and put up an electric steel swing that will take
anybody in ten seconds to the moon."

"I can't pull down the moon, anyhow," replied the girl, with a smile,
"and I don't know that I want to."

"That's rather reactionary of you," remarked Mallow. "The moon is a very
extinct volcano, valuable only to old-fashioned romanticists. And I
suppose you'll turn our old lawn-tennis lawn into a place where tennis
can be played by machinery, by pressing buttons a hundred miles away.
I'm not sure whether they've yet finished the plans for a pear-tree that
grows pears by electricity."

"But surely," she replied, looking a little troubled, "the world can go
on without losing the things it seems to leave behind. And, after all,
surely the world must go on; at least, it must go on growing. I think
that's where you misunderstand. It isn't only going on; it's more like
growing outwards.

"It's expansion, that's the word; growing broader, always describing
wider and wider circles; but that only means more self-fulfilment, and
therefore serenity and peace; it means..."

She stopped short, as if at a spoken answer, but it was only because the
moon had flung a new shadow across her. It was from a figure standing on
the wall. The moonshine made a halo of pale yellow round the head; and
for a moment they thought it was the Russian, standing on the wall as he
had stood on the roof. Then Mallow looked more closely at the face in
shadow, and uttered, with some astonishment, the name of Gale.

"You must get away from here at once," said the poet sharply; "everybody
who can must get away from this house. There's no time to explain."

As he spoke, he sprang from the wall and alighted beside them, and his
friend, catching his face in a new light, saw that it was quite pale.

"What's the matter with you?" he demanded. "Have you seen a ghost?"

"The ghost of a fish," answered the poet; "three little grey ghosts of
three little fishes. We must get away at once."

Without turning his head again, he led the way up the rising ground
beyond the garden towards the clump of trees where the party had first
encamped. Both Mallow and the girl pursued him with questions; but to
only one of them did he give any answer. When Laura insisted on knowing
whether her mother had come home yet, he answered shortly, "No; thank
God! I sent Garth off to stop her on the road from the village. She's
all right, anyhow."

But Laura Verney was a lady who could not be indefinitely dragged at the
tail of a total stranger talking in a tone of authority; and by the time
they came to the top of a hill, and the trees in whose shadow the poet
had indulged in his meditations on birds, she halted and resolutely
demanded his reasons.

"I won't go a step farther," she said firmly, "till you've given me some
sort of proofs."

He turned with passion in his pale face.

"Oh, proofs!" he cried; "I know the sort of proofs you want. The
foot-prints of the remarkable boots. The bloody finger-print carefully
compared with the one at Scotland Yard. The conveniently mislaid
matchbox, and the ashes of the unique tobacco. Do you suppose I've never
read any detective stories? Well, I haven't got any proofs...of that
sort. I haven't got any proofs at all, in that sense. If I told you my
reasons, you'd think them the most rambling nonsense in the world. You
must either do as I tell you and thank me afterwards; or you must let me
talk as I like, and as long as I like, and thank your God you've come as
far as this towards safety."

Mallow was looking at the poet in his quiet and intense fashion; and
after a moment's pause, he said:

"You'd better tell us your own reasons in your own way. I know you
generally have pretty good ones, really."

Gale's eyes wandered from the staring face of the girl to that of his
friend, and then to the drift of dead leaves under the tree where he had
once rested.

"I was lying there looking up at the sky, or, rather, the tree-tops," he
said slowly. "I didn't hear what the others were talking about, because
I was listening to the birds and looking at them. You know what happens
when you go on staring at something like that; it turns into a sort of
pattern like a wall-paper; and this was a quiet pattern of green and
grey and brown. It seemed as if the whole world was that pattern; as if
God had never made anything except a world of birds; of tree-tops hung
in space."

Laura made a half-protest that sounded like a laugh, but Mallow said
steadily: "Go on!"

"And then I slowly became conscious that there was a spot of yellow in
the pattern. I slowly realized that it was another bird, and then what
sort of bird. Somebody said it must be a yellow-hammer; but, little as I
knew about it, I knew better than that. It was a canary."

The girl, who had already turned away, looked back at him with her first
flash of interest.

"I wondered vaguely how a canary would get on in the world of birds, and
how it had got there. I didn't think of any human being in particular.
Only I saw in a sort of vision, somewhere against the morning sky, a
window standing open, and the door of a cage standing open. Then I saw
that all the brown birds were trying to kill the yellow one, and that
started my thoughts off as it might anybody's. Is it always kind to set
a bird at liberty? What exactly is liberty? First and foremost, surely,
it is the power of a thing to be itself. In some ways the yellow bird
was free in the cage. It was free to be alone. It was free to sing. In
the forest its feathers would be torn to pieces and its voice choked for
ever. Then I began to think that being oneself, which is liberty, is
itself limitation. We are limited by our brains and bodies; and if we
break out, we cease to be ourselves, and, perhaps, to be anything. That
was when I asked you whether an isosceles triangle felt itself in
prison, and if there were such a thing as a round prison. We shall hear
more of the round prison before this story is over.

"Then I saw the man on the roof, with his hands spread like wings to the
sky. I knew nothing of him; but I knew on the instant that he was the
man who had given a bird its freedom at any risk. As we went down the
hill I heard a little more about him; how he had escaped by blowing up
his prison; and I felt that one fact had filled all his life with a
philosophy of emancipation and escape. Always at the back of his mind, I
was certain, was that one bursting moment when he saw white daylight
shining through the shattered wall. I knew why he let birds out of cages
and why he had written a book on the psychology of liberty. Then I
stopped outside a window to stare at those gorgeous goldfish, merely
because I had a fancy for such things; they coloured my thoughts, so to
speak, with a sort of orange or scarlet, for long afterwards. And long
afterwards I was again passing that window; and I found their colours
were faded and their positions changed. At that time it was already
dark, with a rising moon; and what forms I could see scattered in the
shadow seemed almost grey, and even outlined in lines of grey light,
which might have been moonlight, but I think was the corpse-light of
phosphorescence. They lay scattered at random on the round table; and I
saw by the faint glimmer that the glass bowl was broken. So I found my
romance when I returned to it; for those fantastic fishes had been to me
like the hieroglyphics of a message, which the fiery finger of God had
thus written in red-hot gold. But when I looked again, the finger had
written another lesson in letters of an awful and ashen silver. And what
the new message said was: 'The man is mad.'

"Perhaps you think I am as mad as he; and I have told you that I am at
once like him and unlike him. I am like him because I also can go on the
wild journeys of such wild minds, and have a sympathy with his love of
liberty. I am unlike him because, thank God, I can generally find my way
home again. The lunatic is he who loses his way and cannot return. Now,
almost before my eyes, this man had made the great stride from liberty
to lunacy. The man who opened the bird-cage loved freedom; possibly too
much; certainly very much. But the man who broke the bowl merely because
he thought it a prison for the fish, when it was their only possible
house of life...that man was already outside the world of reason,
raging with a desire to be outside everything. In a most literal and
living sense, he was out of his wits. And there was another thing
revealed to me by the grey ghosts of the fishes. The rise of the
insanity had been very rapid and steep. To send the bird into danger was
only a disputable kindness, to fling the fish to death was a dance of
raving destruction. What would he do next?

"I have spoken of a round prison. After all, to any mind that can move
parallel to a mood like this, there really is a round prison. The sky
itself, studded with stars, the serene arch of what we call infinity..."

As he spoke he staggered, clutched at the air, and fell all his great
length on the grass. At the same moment Mallow was hurled against a
tree, and the girl collapsed against him, clinging to him in a way which
even in that blinding whirl, was an answer to many of his questionings.
It was only when they had picked themselves up and pulled themselves
together that they were fully conscious that the valley was still
resounding with echoes of one hideous and rending uproar; or that the
darkness had just shut down upon a blaze that blinded them like red
lightning. For the instant that it lasted it was a standing glory, like
a great sunrise. There rose to the surface of Mallow's memory only one
word for it; the word radiant.

Mallow found himself reflecting in a dull fashion that it was lighter
than it might have been at that hour, because of a friendly flame that
was licking itself in a lively fashion a few yards away. Then he saw
that it was the smouldering ruin of the blue wooden gate-post at which
he had gazed that morning, flung all the way through the air like a
flaming thunderbolt. They had come just far enough from the house to be
out of danger. Then he looked again at the blue-painted wood curling
with golden flames, and for the first time began to tremble.

The next moment he caught sight of the faces of his other friends,
Walton and Hutton, pale in the flame as they hurried up the road from
the remoter inn to which they had retired for the evening.

"What was it?" Walton was calling out.

"An explosion," said Hutton rather hazily.

"An expansion," replied Mallow, and mastered himself with the effort of
a grim smile.

By this time, more people were running out from remote cottages, and
Gabriel Gale turned his face to something like a small crowd.

"It was only the prison gun," he said, "the signal that a prisoner has
escaped."



III - THE SHADOW OF THE SHARK


It is notable that the late Mr. Sherlock Holmes, in the course of those
inspiring investigations for which we can never be sufficiently grateful
to their ingenious author, seems only twice to have ruled out an
explanation as intrinsically impossible. And it is curious to notice
that in both cases the distinguished author himself has since come to
regard that impossible thing as possible, and even as positively true.
In the first case the great detective declared that he never knew a
crime committed by a flying creature. Since the development of aviation,
and especially the development of German aviation, Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, patriot and war historian, has seen a good many crimes committed
by flying creatures. And in the other case the detective implied that no
deed need be attributed to spirits or supernatural beings; in short, to
any of the agencies to which Sir Arthur is now the most positive and
even passionate witness. Presumably, in his present mood and philosophy,
the Hound of the Baskervilles might well have been a really ghostly
hound; at least, if the optimism which seems to go with spiritualism
would permit him to believe in such a thing as a hell-hound. It may be
worth while to note this coincidence, however, in telling a tale in
which both these explanations necessarily played a part. The scientists
were anxious to attribute it to aviation, and the spiritualists to
attribute it to spirits; though it might be questioned whether either
the spirit or the flying-man should be congratulated on his utility as
an assassin.

A mystery which may yet linger as a memory, but which was in its time a
sensation, revolved round the death of a certain Sir Owen Cram, a
wealthy eccentric, chiefly known as a patron of learning and the arts.
And the peculiarity of the case was that he was found stabbed in the
middle of a great stretch of yielding sand by the sea-shore, on which
there was absolutely no trace of any foot-prints but his own. It was
admitted that the wound could not have been self-inflicted; and it grew
more and more difficult even to suggest how it could have been inflicted
at all. Many theories were suggested, ranging, as we have said, from
that of the enthusiasts for aviation to that of the enthusiasts for
psychical research; it being evidently regarded as a feather in the cap
either of science or spiritualism to have effected so neat an operation.
The true story of this strange business has never been told; it
certainly contained elements which, if not supernatural, were at least
supernormal. But to make it clear, we must go back to the scene with
which it began; the scene on the lawn of Sir Owen's seaside residence,
where the old gentleman acted as a sort of affable umpire in the
disputes of the young students who were his favourite company; the scene
which led up to the singular silence and isolation, and ultimately to
the rather eccentric exit of Mr. Amos Boon.


Mr. Amos Boon had been a missionary, and still dressed like one; at any
rate, he dressed like nothing else. His sturdy, full-bearded figure
carried a broad-brimmed hat combined with a frock-coat; which gave him
an air at once outlandish and dowdy. Though he was no longer a
missionary, he was still a traveller. His face was brown and his long
beard was black; there was a furrow of thought in his brow and a rather
strained look in his eyes, one of which sometimes looked a little larger
than the other, giving a sinister touch to what was in some ways so
commonplace. He had ceased to be a missionary through what he himself
would have called the broadening of his mind. Some said there had been a
broadening of his morals as well as of his mind; and that the South Sea
Islands, where he had lived, had seen not a little of such ethical
emancipation. But this was possibly a malicious misrepresentation of his
very human curiosity and sympathy in the matter of the customs of the
savages; which to the ordinary prejudice was indistinguishable from a
white man going _fantee._ Anyhow, travelling about alone with nothing
but a big Bible, he had learned to study it minutely, first for oracles
and commandments, and afterwards for errors and contradictions; for the
Bible-smasher is only the Bible-worshipper turned upside down. He
pursued the not very arduous task of proving that David and Saul did not
on all occasions merit the Divine favour; and always concluded by
roundly declaring that he preferred the Philistines. Boon and his
Philistines were already a byword of some levity among the young men
who, at that moment, were arguing and joking around him.

At that moment Sir Owen Cram was playfully presiding over a dispute
between two or three of his young friends about science and poetry. Sir
Owen was a little restless man, with a large head, a bristly grey
moustache, and a grey fan of hair like the crest of a cockatoo. There
was something sprawling and splayfooted about his continuous movement
which was compared by thoughtless youth to that of a crab; and it
corresponded to a certain universal eagerness which was really ready to
turn in all directions. He was a typical amateur, taking up hobby after
hobby with equal inconsistency and intensity. He had impetuously left
all his money to a museum of natural history, only to become immediately
swallowed up in the single pursuit of landscape painting; and the groups
around him largely represented the stages of his varied career. At the
moment a young painter, who was also by way of being a poet, was
defending some highly poetical notions against the smiling resistance of
a rising doctor, whose hobby was biology. The data of agreement would
have been difficult to find, and few save Sir Owen could have claimed
any common basis of sympathy; but the important matter just then was the
curious effect of the young men's controversy upon Mr. Boon.

"The subject of flowers is hackneyed, but the flowers are not," the poet
was insisting. "Tennyson was right about the flower in the crannied
wall; but most people don't look at flowers in a wall, but only in a
wall-paper. If you generalize them, they are dull, but if you simply see
them they are always startling. If there's a special providence in a
falling star, there's more in a rising star; and a live star at that."

"Well, I can't see it," said the man of science, good-humouredly; he was
a red-haired, keen-faced youth in pince-nez, by the name of Wilkes. "I'm
afraid we fellows grow out of the way of seeing it like that. You see, a
flower is only a growth like any other, with organs and all that; and
its inside isn't any prettier or uglier than an animal's. An insect is
much the same pattern of rings and radiations. I'm interested in it as I
am in an octopus or any sea-beast you would think a monster."

"But why should you put it that way round?" retorted the poet. "Why
isn't it quite as logical the other way round? Why not say the octopus
is as wonderful as the flower, instead of the flower as ordinary as the
octopus? Why not say that crackens and cuttles and all the sea-monsters
are themselves flowers; fearful and wonderful flowers in that terrible
twilight garden of God. I do not doubt that God can be as fond of a
shark as I am of a buttercup."

"As to God, my dear Gale," began the other quietly, and then he seemed
to change his form of words. "Well, I am only a man...nay, only a
scientific man, which you may think lower than a sea-beast. And the only
interest I have in a shark is to cut him up; always on the preliminary
supposition that I have prevented him from cutting me up."

"Have you ever met a shark?" asked Amos Boon, intervening suddenly.

"Not in society," replied the poet with a certain polite discomposure,
looking round with something like a flush under his fair hair; he was a
long, loose-limbed man named Gabriel Gale, whose pictures were more
widely known than his poems.

"You've seen them in the tanks, I suppose," said Boon; "but I've seen
them in the sea. I've seen them where they are lords of the sea, and
worshipped by the people as great gods. I'd as soon worship those gods
as any other."

Gale the poet was silent, for his mind always moved in a sort of
sympathy with merely imaginative pictures; and he instantly saw, as in a
vision, boiling purple seas and plunging monsters. But another young man
standing near him, who had hitherto been rather primly silent, cut in
quietly; a theological student, named Simon, the deposit of some epoch
of faith in Sir Owen's stratified past. He was a slim man with sleek,
dark hair and darting, mobile eyes, in spite of his compressed lips.
Whether in caution or contempt, he had left the attack on medical
materialism to the poet, who was always ready to plunge into an endless
argument with anybody. Now he intervened merely to say:

"Do they only worship a shark? It seems rather a limited sort of
religion."

"Religion!" repeated Amos Boon, rudely; "what do you people know about
religion? You pass the plate round, and when Sir Owen puts a penny in
it, you put up a shed where a curate can talk to a congregation of
maiden-aunts. These people have got something like a religion. They
sacrifice things to it...their beasts, their babies, their lives. I
reckon you'd turn green with fear if you'd ever so much as caught a
glimpse of Religion. Oh, it's not just a fish in the sea; rather it's
the sea round a fish. The sea is the blue cloud he moves in, or the
green veil or curtain hung about him, the skirts of which trail with
thunder."

All faces were turned towards him, for there was something about him
beyond his speech. Twilight was spreading over the garden, which lay
near the edge of a chalk cliff above the shore, but the last light of
sunset still lay on a part of the lawn, painting it yellow rather than
green, and glowing almost like gold against the last line of the sea,
which was a sombre indigo and violet, changing nearer land to a lurid,
pale green. A long cloud of a jagged shape happened to be trailing
across the sun; and the broad-hatted, hairy man from the South Seas
suddenly pointed at it.

"I know where the shape of that cloud would be called the shadow of the
shark," he cried, "and a thousand men would fall on their faces ready to
fast or fight, or die. Don't you see the great black dorsal fin, like
the peak of a moving mountain? And then you lads discuss him as if he
were a stroke at golf; and one of you says he would cut him up like
birthday cake; and the other says your Jewish Jehovah would condescend
to pat him like a pet rabbit."

"Come, come," said Sir Owen, with a rather nervous waggishness, "we
mustn't have any of your broad-minded blasphemies."

Boon turned on him a baneful eye; literally an eye, for one of his eyes
grew larger till it glowed like the eye of the Cyclops. His figure was
black against the fiery turf, and they could almost hear his beard
bristling.

"Blasphemy!" he cried in a new voice, with a crack in it. "Take care it
is not you who blaspheme."

And then, before anyone could move, the black figure against the patch
of gold had swung round and was walking away from the house, so
impetuously that they had a momentary fear that he would walk over the
cliff. However, he found the little wooden gate that led to a flight of
wooden steps; and they heard him stumbling down the path to the fishing
village below.

Sir Owen seemed suddenly to shake off a paralysis like a fit of slumber.
"My old friend is a little eccentric," he said. "Don't go, gentlemen;
don't let him break up the party. It is early yet."

But growing darkness and a certain social discomfort had already begun
to dissolve the group on the lawn; and the host was soon left with a few
of the most intimate of his guests. Simon and Gale, and his late
antagonist, Dr. Wilkes, were staying to dinner; the darkness drove them
indoors, and eventually found them sitting round a flask of green
Chartreuse on the table; for Sir Owen had his expensive conventions as
well as his expensive eccentricities. The talkative poet, however, had
fallen silent, and was staring at the green liquid in his glass as if it
were the green depth of the sea. His host attacked with animation the
other ordinary topics of the day.

"I bet I'm the most industrious of the lot of you," he said. "I've been
at my easel on the beach all day, trying to paint this blessed cliff,
and make it look like chalk and not cheese."

"I saw you, but I didn't like to disturb you," said Wilkes. "I generally
try to put in an hour or so looking for specimens at high tide: I
suppose most people think I'm shrimping or only paddling and doing it
for my health. But I've got a pretty good nucleus of that museum we were
talking about, or at least the aquarium part of it. I put in most of the
rest of the time arranging the exhibits; so I deny the implication of
idleness. Gale was on the sea-shore, too. He was doing nothing as usual;
and now he's saying nothing, which is much more uncommon."

"I have been writing letters," said Simon, in his precise way, "but
letters are not always trivial. Sometimes they are rather tremendous."

Sir Owen glanced at him for a moment, and a silence followed, which was
broken by a thud and a rattle of glasses as Gale brought his fist down
on the table like a man who had thought of something suddenly.

"Dagon!" he cried, in a sort of ecstasy.

Most of the company seemed but little enlightened; perhaps they thought
that saying "Dagon" was his poetical and professional fashion of saying
"Damn". But the dark eyes of Simon brightened, and he nodded quickly.

"Why, of course you're right," he said. "That must be why Mr. Boon is so
fond of the Philistines."

In answer to a general stare of inquiry, he said smoothly: "The
Philistines were a people from Crete, probably of Hellenic origin, who
settled on the coast of Palestine, carrying with them a worship which
may very well have been that of Poseidon, but which their enemies, the
Israelites, described as that of Dagon. The relevant matter here is that
the carved or painted symbol of the god seems always to have been a
fish."

The mention of the new matter seemed to reawaken the tendency of the
talk to turn into a wrangle between the poet and the professional
scientist.

"From my point of view," said the latter, "I must confess myself
somewhat disappointed with your friend Mr. Boon. He represented himself
as a rationalist like myself, and seemed to have made some scientific
studies of folk-lore in the South Seas. But he seemed a little
unbalanced; and surely he made a curious fuss about some sort of a
fetish, considering it was only a fish."

"No, no, no!" cried Gale, almost with passion. "Better make a fetish of
the fish. Better sacrifice yourself and everybody else on the horrible
huge altar of the fish. Better do anything than utter the star-blasting
blasphemy of saying it is _only_ a fish. It's as bad as saying the other
thing is only a flower."

"All the same, it _is_ only a flower," answered Wilkes, "and the
advantage of looking at these things in a cool and rational way from the
outside is that you can..."

He stopped a moment and remained quite still, as if he were watching
something. Some even fancied that his pale, aquiline face looked paler
as well as sharper.

"What was that at the window?" he asked. "Is anybody outside this
house?"

"What's the matter? What did you see?" asked his host, in abrupt
agitation.

"Only a face," replied the doctor, "but it was not...it was not like a
man's face. Let's get outside and look into this."

Gabriel Gale was only a moment behind the doctor, who had impetuously
dashed out of the room. Despite his lounging demeanour, the poet had
already leapt to his feet with his hand on the back of the chair, when
he stiffened where he stood; for he had seen it. The faces of the others
showed that they had seen it too.

Pressed against the dark window-pane, but only wanly luminous as it
protruded out of the darkness, was a large face looking at first rather
like a green goblin mask in a pantomime. Yet it was in no sense human;
its eyes were set in large circles, rather in the fashion of an owl. But
the glimmering covering that faintly showed on it was not of feathers,
but of scales.

The next moment it had vanished. The mind of the poet, which made images
as rapidly as a cinema, even in a crisis of action, had already imagined
a string of fancies about the sort of creature he saw it to be. He had
thought involuntarily of some great flying fish winging its way across
the foam, and the flat sand and the spire and roofs of the fishing
village. He had half-imagined the moist sea air thickening in some
strange way to a greener and more liquid atmosphere in which the marine
monsters could swim about in the streets. He had entertained the fancy
that the house itself stood in the depths of the sea, and that the great
goblin-headed fishes were nosing round it, as round the cabin windows of
a wreck.

At that moment a loud voice was heard outside crying in distinct
accents:

"The fish has legs."

For that instant, it seemed to give the last touch to the monstrosity.
But the meaning of it came back to them, a returning reality, with the
laughing face of Dr. Wilkes as he reappeared in the doorway, panting.

"Our fish had two legs, and used them," he said. "He ran like a hare
when he saw me coming; but I could see plainly enough it was a man
playing you a trick of some sort. So much for that psychic phenomenon."

He paused and looked at Sir Owen Cram with a smile that was keen and
almost suspicious.

"One thing is very clear to me," he said. "You have an enemy."

The mystery of the human fish, however, did not long remain even a
primary topic of conversation in a social group that had so many topics
of conversation. They continued to pursue their hobbies and pelt each
other with their opinions; even the smooth and silent Simon being
gradually drawn into the discussions, in which he showed a dry and
somewhat cynical dexterity. Sir Owen continued to paint with all the
passion of an amateur. Gale continued to neglect to paint, with all the
nonchalance of a painter. Mr. Boon was presumably still as busy with his
wicked Bible and his good Philistines as Dr. Wilkes with his museum and
his microscopic marine animals, when the little seaside town was shaken
as by an earthquake with the incomprehensible calamity which spread its
name over all the newspapers of the country.


Gabriel Gale was scaling the splendid swell of turf that terminated in
the great chalk cliff above the shore, in a mood consonant to the
sunrise that was storming the skies above him. Clouds haloed with
sunshine were already sailing over his head as if sent flying from a
flaming wheel; and when he came to the brow of the cliff he saw one of
those rare revelations when the sun does not seem to be merely the most
luminous object in a luminous landscape, but itself the solitary focus
and streaming fountain of all light. The tide was at the ebb, and the
sea was only a strip of delicate turquoise over which rose the
tremendous irradiation. Next to the strip of turquoise was a strip of
orange sand, still wet, and nearer the sand was a desert of a more dead
yellow or brown, growing paler in the increasing light. And as he looked
down from the precipice upon that plain of pale gold, he saw two black
objects lying in the middle of it. One was a small easel, still
standing, with a camp-stool fallen beside it; the other was the flat and
sprawling figure of a man.

The figure did not move, but as he stared he became conscious that
another human figure was moving, was walking over the flat sands towards
it from under the shadow of the cliff. Looking at it steadily, he saw
that it was the man called Simon; and in an instant he seemed to realize
that the motionless figure was that of Sir Owen Cram. He hastened to the
stairway down the cliff and so to the sands; and soon stood face to face
with Simon; for they both looked at each other for a moment before they
both looked down at the body. The conviction was already cold in his
heart that it was a dead body. Nevertheless, he said sharply: "We must
have a doctor; where is Dr. Wilkes?"

"It is no good, I fear," said Simon, looking away at the sea.

"Wilkes may only confirm our fears that he is dead," said Gale, "but he
may have something to say about how he died."

"True," said the other, "I will go for him myself." And he walked back
rapidly towards the cliff in the track of his own foot-prints.

Indeed, it was at the foot-prints that Gale was gazing in a bemused
fashion at that moment. The tracks of his own coming were clear enough,
and the tracks of Simon's coming and going; and the third rather more
rambling track of the unmistakable boots of the unfortunate Sir Owen,
leading up to the spot where his easel was planted. And that was all.
The sand was soft, so that the lightest foot would disturb it; it was
well above the tides; and there was not the faintest trace of any other
human being having been near the body. Yet the body had a deep wound
under the angle of the jaw; and there was no sign of any weapon of
suicide.

Gabriel Gale was a believer in commonsense, in theory if not always in
practice. He told himself repeatedly that these things were the
practical clues in such a case; the wound, the weapon or absence of
weapon, the foot-prints or absence of foot-prints. But there was also a
part of his mind which was always escaping from his control and playing
tricks; fixing on his memory meaningless things as if they were symbols,
and then haunting him with them as mysteries. He made no point of it; it
was rather sub-conscious than self-conscious; but the parts of any
living picture that he saw were seldom those that others saw, or that it
seemed sensible to see. And there were one or two details in the tragedy
before him that haunted him then and long afterwards. Cram had fallen
backwards in a rather twisted fashion, with his feet towards the shore;
and a few inches from the left foot lay a starfish. He could not say
whether it was merely the bright orange colour of the creature that
irrationally riveted his eye, or merely some obscure fancy of
repetition, in that the human figure was itself spread and sprawling
flat like a starfish, with four limbs instead of five. Nor did he
attempt to analyse this aesthetic antic of his psychology; it was a
suppressed part of his mind which still repeated that the mystery of the
untrodden sands would turn out to be something quite simple; but that
the starfish possessed the secret.

He looked up to see Simon returning with the doctor, indeed with two
doctors; for there was more than one medical representative in the mob
of Sir Owen's varied interests. The other was a Dr. Garth, a little man
with an angular and humorous face; he was an old friend of Gale's but
the poet's greeting was rather _distrait._ Garth and his colleague,
however, got to work on a preliminary examination, which made further
talk needless. It could not be a full examination till the arrival of
the police, but it was sufficient to extinguish any hope of life, if any
such had lingered. Garth, who was bent over the body in a crouching
posture, spoke to his fellow physician without raising his head.

"There seems to be something rather odd about this wound. It goes almost
straight upwards, as if it was struck from below. But Sir Owen was a
very small man; and it seems queer that he should be stabbed by somebody
smaller still."

Gale's sub-consciousness exploded with a strange note of harsh mockery.

"What," he cried, "you don't think the starfish jumped up and killed
him?"

"No, of course not," said Garth, with his gruff good humour. "What on
earth is the matter with you?"

"Lunacy, I think," said the poet, and began to walk slowly towards the
shore.

As time went on he almost felt disposed to fancy that he had correctly
diagnosed his own complaint. The image began to figure even in his
dreams, but not merely as a natural nightmare about the body on the
sea-shore. The significant sea creature seemed more vivid even than the
body. As he had originally seen the corpse from above, spread flat out
beneath him, he saw it in his visions as something standing, as if
propped against a wall or even merely drawn or graven on a wall.
Sometimes the sandy ground had become a ground of old gold in some
decoration of the Dark Ages, with the figure in the stiff agonies of a
martyr, but the red star always showed like a lamp by his feet.
Sometimes it was a hieroglyphic of a more Eastern sort, as of some stone
god rigidly dancing; but the five-pointed star was always in the same
place below. Sometimes it seemed a rude, red-sandstone sort of drawing;
yet more archaic; but the star was always the reddest spot in it. Now
and again, while the human figure was as dry and dark as a mummy, the
star would seem to be literally alive, waving its flaming fingers as if
it were trying to tell him something. Now and then even the whole figure
was upside down, as if to restore the star to its proper place in the
skies.

"I told Wilkes that a flower was a living star," he said to himself. "A
starfish is more literally a living star. But this is like going crazy.
And if there is one thing I strongly object to, it is going crazy. What
use should I be to all my brother lunatics, if I once really lost my
balance on the tight-rope over the abyss?"

He sat staring into vacancy for some time, trying to fit in this small
and stubborn fancy with a much steadier stream of much deeper thoughts
that were already driving in a certain direction. At last, the light of
a possibility began to dawn in his eyes; and it was evidently something
very simple when it was realized; something which he felt he ought to
have thought of before; for he laughed shortly and scornfully at himself
as he rose to his feet.

"If Boon goes about everywhere introducing his shark and I go into
society always attended by my starfish," he murmured to himself, "we
shall turn the world into an aquarium bigger and better than Dr. Wilkes
is fixing up. I'm going down to make some inquiries in the village."

Returning thence across the sands at evening, after several
conversations with skippers and fishermen, he wore a more satisfied
expression.

"I always did believe," he reflected, "that the foot-print business
would be the simplest thing in the affair. But there are some things in
it that are by no means simple."

Then he looked up, and saw far off on the sands, lonely and dark against
the level evening light, the strange hat and stumpy figure of Amos Boon.

He seemed to consider for a moment the advisability of a meeting; then
he turned away and moved towards the stairway up the cliff. Mr. Boon was
apparently occupied in idly drawing lines on the sand with his shabby
umbrella; like one drawing plans for a child's sand-castle, but
apparently without any such intelligent object or excuse. Gale had often
seen the man mooning about with equally meaningless and automatic
gestures; but as the poet mounted the rocky steps, climbing higher and
higher, he had a return of the irrational feeling of a visionary
vertigo. He told himself again, as if in warning, that it was his whole
duty in life to walk on a tight-rope above a void in which many
imaginative men were swallowed up. Then he looked down again at the drop
of the dizzy cliffs to the flats that seemed to be swimming below him
like a sea. And he saw the long, loose lines drawn in the sand unified
into a shape, as flat as a picture on a wall. He had often seen a child,
in the same fashion, draw on the sand a pig as large as a house. But in
this case he could not shake off his former feeling of something
archaic, like a palaeolithic drawing, about the scratching of the brown
sand. And Mr. Boon had not drawn a pig, but a shark; conspicuous with
its jagged teeth and fin like a horn exalted.

But he was not the only person overlooking this singular decorative
scheme. When he came to the short railings along the brow of the cliff
in which the stairway terminated, he found three figures leaning on it
and looking down; and instantly realized how the case was closing in.
For even in their outlines against the sky he had recognized the two
doctors and an inspector of police.

"Hullo, Gale," observed Wilkes, "may I present you to Inspector Davies;
a very active and successful officer."

Garth nodded. "I understand the inspector will soon make an arrest," he
said.

"The inspector must be getting back to his work and not talking about
it," said that official good-humouredly. "I'm going down to the village.
Anybody coming my way?"

Dr. Wilkes assented and followed him, but Dr. Garth stopped a moment,
being detained by the poet, who caught hold of his sleeve with unusual
earnestness.

"Garth," he said, "I want to apologise. I'm afraid I was wool-gathering
when we met the other day, and didn't hail you as I ought to hail an old
friend. You and I have been in one or two queer affairs together, and I
want to talk to you about this one. Shall we sit down on that seat over
there?"

They seated themselves on an iron seat set up on the picturesque
headland; and Gale added, "I wish you could tell me roughly how you got
as far as you seem to have got."

Garth gazed silently out to sea, and said at last:

"Do you know that man Simon?"

"Yes," replied the poet, "that's the way it works is it?"

"Well, the investigation soon began to show that Simon knew rather more
than he said. He was on the spot before you; and for some time he
wouldn't admit what it was he saw before you turned up. We guessed it
was because he was afraid to tell the truth; and in one sense he was."

"Simon doesn't talk enough," said Gale thoughtfully. "He doesn't talk
about himself enough; so he thinks about himself too much. A man like
that always gets secretive; not necessarily in the sense of being
criminal, or even of being malicious, but merely of being morbid. He is
the sort that is ill-treated at school and never says so. As long as a
thing terrified him, he couldn't talk about it."

"I don't know how you guessed it," said Garth, "but that is something
like the line of discoveries. At first they thought that Simon's silence
was guilt, but it was only a fear of something more than guilt; of some
diabolic destiny and entanglement. The truth is, that when he went up
before you to the cliff-head at daybreak, he saw something that hag-rode
his morbid spirit ever since. He saw the figure of this man Boon poised
on the brink of the precipice, black against the dawn, and waving his
arms in some unearthly fashion as if he were going to fly. Simon thought
the man was talking to himself, and perhaps even singing. Then the
strange creature passed on towards the village and was lost in the
twilight; but when Simon came to the edge of the cliff he saw Sir Owen
lying dead far out on the sands below, beside his easel."

"And ever since, I suppose," observed Gale, "Simon has seen sharks
everywhere."

"You are right again," said the doctor. "He has admitted since that a
shadow on the blind or a cloud on the moon would have the unmistakable
shape of the fish with the fin erect. But, in fact, it is a very
mistakable shape; anything with a triangular top to it would suggest it
to a man in his state of nerves. But the truth is that so long as he
thought Boon had dealt death from a distance by some sort of curse or
spell, we could get nothing out of him. Our only chance was to show him
that Boon might have done it even by natural means. And we did show it,
after all."

"What is your theory, then?" asked the other.

"It is too general to be called a theory yet," replied the doctor; "but,
honestly, I do not think it at all impossible that Boon might have
killed a man on the sands from the top of a cliff, without falling back
on any supernatural stuff. You've got to consider it like this: Boon has
been very deep in the secrets of savages, especially in that litter of
islands that lie away towards Australia. Now, we know that such savages,
for all they are called ignorant, have developed many dexterities and
many unique tools. They have blow-pipes that kill at a considerable
distance; they harpoon and lasso things, and draw them in on a line.
Above all, the Australian savages have discovered the boomerang that
actually returns to the hand. Is it quite so inconceivable that Boon
might know some way of sending a penetrating projectile from a distance,
and even possibly of recovering it in some way? Dr. Wilkes and I, on
examining the wound, found it a very curious one: it was made by some
tapering, pointed tool, with a slight curve; and it not only curved
upwards, but even slightly outwards, as if the curve were returning on
itself. Does not that suggest to you some outlandish weapon of a strange
shape, and possibly with strange properties? And always remember that
such an explanation would explain something else as well, which is
generally regarded as the riddle. It would explain why the murderer left
no foot-prints round the body."

Gale gazed out to sea in silence, as if considering; then he said
simply:

"An extremely shrewd argument. But I know why he left no foot-prints. It
is a much simpler explanation than that."

Garth stared at him for a few moments; and then observed gravely:

"May I then ask, in return, what is your theory?"

"My theory will seem a maze of theories, and nothing else," said Gale.
"It is, as many would say, of such stuff as dreams are made of. Most
modern people have a curious contradiction; they abound in theories, yet
they never see the part that theories play in practical life. They are
always talking about temperament and circumstances and accident; but
most men are what their theories make them; most men go in for murder or
marriage, or mere lounging because of some theory of life, asserted or
assumed. So I can never manage to begin my explanations in that brisk,
pointed, practical way that you doctors and detectives do. I see a man's
mind first, sometimes almost without any particular man attached to it.
I could only begin this business by describing a mental state...which
can't be described. Our murderer or maniac, or whatever you call him, is
certainly affected by some of the elements attributed to him. His view
has reached an insane degree of simplicity, and in that sense of
savagery. But I doubt whether he would necessarily transfer the savagery
from the end to the means. In one sense, indeed, his view might be
compared to the barbaric. He saw every creature and even every object
naked. He did not understand that what clothes a thing is sometimes the
most real part of it. Have you ever noticed how true is that old phrase,
'clothed and in his right mind'? Man is not in his right mind when he is
not clothed with the symbols of his social dignity. Humanity is not even
human when it is naked. But in a lower sense it is so of lesser things,
even of lifeless things. A lot of nonsense is talked about auras; but
this is the truth behind it. Everything has a halo. Everything has a
sort of atmosphere of what it signifies, which makes it sacred. Even the
little creatures he studied had each of them its halo; but he would not
see it."

"But what little creatures did Boon study?" asked Garth in some wonder.
"Do you mean the cannibals?"

"I was not thinking about Boon," replied Gabriel Gale.

"What do you mean?" cried the other, in sudden excitement. "Why, Boon is
almost in the hands of the police."

"Boon is a good man," said Gale, calmly; "he is very stupid; that is why
he is an atheist. There are intelligent atheists, as we shall see
presently; but that stunted, stupid, sort is much commoner, and much
nicer. But he is a good man; his motive is good; he originally talked
all that tosh of the superiority of the savage because he thought he was
the under-dog. He may be a trifle cracked, by now, about sharks and
other things; but that's only because his travels have been too much for
his intellect. They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the
mind. He had a mind for a suburban chapel, and there passed before it
all the panorama of gilded nature-worship and purple sacrifice. He
doesn't know if he's on his head or his heels, any more than a good many
others. But I shouldn't wonder if heaven is largely populated with
atheists of that sort, scratching their heads and wondering where they
are.

"But Boon is a parenthesis; that is all he is. The man I am talking
about is very much the point, and a sharp one at that. He dealt in
something very different from muddled mysticism about human sacrifice.
Human sacrifice is quite a human weakness. He dealt in assassination;
direct, secret, straight from a head as inhuman as hell. And I knew it
when I first talked to him over the tea-cups and he said he saw nothing
pretty in a flower."

"My dear fellow!" remonstrated Dr. Garth.

"I don't mean that a man merely dissecting a daisy must be on the road
to the gallows," conceded the poet, magnanimously, "but I do say that to
mean it as he meant it is to be on a straight road of logic that leads
there if he chooses to follow it. God is inside everything. But this man
wanted to be outside everything; to see everything hung in a vacuum,
simply its own dead self. It's not only not the same, it's almost the
opposite of scepticism in the sense of Boon or the Book of Job. That's a
man overwhelmed by the mysteries; but this man denies that there are any
mysteries. It's not, in the ordinary sense, a matter of theology, but
psychology. Most good pagans and pantheists might talk of the miracles
of nature; but this man denies that there are any miracles, even in the
sense of marvels. Don't you see that dreadful dry light shed on things
must at last wither up the moral mysteries as illusions, respect for
age, respect for property, and that the sanctity of life will be a
superstition? The men in the street are only organisms, with their
organs more or less displayed. For such a one there is no longer any
terror in the touch of human flesh, nor does he see God watching him out
of the eyes of a man."

"He may not believe in miracles, but he seems to work them," remarked
the doctor. "What else was he doing, when he struck a man down on the
sand without leaving a mark to show where he stood?"

"He was paddling," answered Gale.

"As high up on the shore as that?" inquired the other.

Gale nodded. "That was what puzzled me; till something I saw on the sand
started a train of thought that led to my asking the seafaring people
about the tides. It's very simple; the night before we found the body
was a flood-tide, and the sea came up higher than usual; not quite to
where Cram was sitting, but pretty near. So that was the way that the
real human fish came out of the sea. That was the way the divine shark
really devoured the sacrifice. The man came paddling in the foam, like a
child on a holiday."

"Who came?" asked Garth; but he shuddered.

"Who did go dredging for sea-beasts with a sort of shrimping-net along
the shore every evening? Who did inherit the money of the old man for
his ambitious museum and his scientific career? Who did tell me in the
garden that a cowslip was only a growth like a cancer?"

"I am compelled to understand you," said the doctor gloomily. "You mean
that very able young man named Wilkes?"

"To understand Wilkes you must understand a good deal," continued his
friend. "You must reconstruct the crime, as they say. Look out over that
long line of darkening sea and sand, where the last light runs red as
blood; that is where he came dredging every day, in the same bloodshot
dusk, looking for big beasts and small; and in a true sense everything
was fish that came to his net. He was constructing his museum as a sort
of cosmos; with everything traced from the fossil to the flying fish. He
had spent enormous sums on it, and had got quite disinterestedly into
debt; for instance he had had magnificent models made, in wax or papier
maché, of small fish magnified, or extinct fish restored; things that
South Kensington cannot afford, and certainly Wilkes could not afford.
But he had persuaded Cram to leave his money to the museum, as you know;
and for him Cram was simply a silly old fool, who painted pictures he
couldn't paint, and talked of sciences he didn't understand; and whose
only natural function was to die and save the museum. Well, when every
morning Wilkes had done polishing the glass cases of his masks and
models, he came round by the cliff and took a turn at the fossils in the
chalk with his geological hammer; then he put it back in that great
canvas bag of his, and unslung his long shrimping-net and began to wade.
This is where I want you to look at that dark red sand and see the
picture; one never understands anything till one sees the picture. He
went for miles along the shallows of that desolate shore, long inured to
seeing one queer creature or another stranded on the sand; here a
sea-hedgehog, and there a starfish, and then a crab, and then another
creature. I have told you he had reached a stage when he would have
looked at an angel with the eye of an ornithologist. What would he think
of a man, and a man looking like that? Don't you see that poor Cram must
have looked like a crab or a sea-urchin; his dwarfed, hunched figure
seen from behind, with his fan of bristling whiskers, his straggling bow
legs and restless twisting feet all tangled up with the three legs of
his stool; making him look as if he had five limbs like a starfish?
Don't you see he looked like a Common Object of the Sea-shore? And
Wilkes had only to collect this specimen, and all his other specimens
were safe. Everything was fish that came to his net, and...

"He stretched out the long pole in his hand to its full extent, and drew
the net over the old man's head as if he were catching a great grey
moth. He plucked him backwards off his stool so that he lay kicking on
his back on the sand; and doubtless looking more like a large insect
than ever. Then the murderer bent forward, propped by one hand upon his
pole, and the other armed with his geological hammer. With the pick at
the back of that instrument he struck in what he well knew to be a vital
spot. The curve you noticed in the wound is due to that sharp side of
the hammer being shaped like a pickaxe. But the unusual position of it,
and the puzzle of how such a blow could be struck upwards, was due to
the queer posture of the two figures. The murderer struck at a head that
was upside down. It could only occur as a rule if the victim were
standing on his head, a posture in which few persons await the assassin.
But with the flourish and sweep of the great net, I fancy a starfish
caught in it fell out of it, just beyond the dead man's foot. At any
rate, it was that starfish and the accident of its flying so high on the
shore, that set my mind drifting in the general direction of tides; and
the possibility of the murderer having been moving about in the water.
If he made any prints the breakers washed them out; and I should never
have begun to think of it but for that red five-fingered little
monster."

"Then do you mean to tell me," demanded Garth, "that all this business
about the shadow of the shark had nothing to do with it?"

"The shadow of the shark had everything to do with it," replied Gale.
"The murderer hid in the shadow of the shark, and struck from under the
shadow of the shark. I doubt if he would have struck at all, if he had
not had the shadow of that fantastic fin in which to hide. And the proof
is that he himself took the trouble to emphasize and exaggerate the
legend of poor Boon dancing before Dagon. Do you remember that queer
incident of the fish's face at the window? How did anybody merely
playing a practical joke get hold of a fish's face? It was very
life-like; for it was one of the masks modelled for the Wilkes museum;
and Wilkes had left it in the hall in his great canvas bag. It seems
simple, doesn't it, for a man to raise an alarm inside a house, walk out
to see, and instantly put on a mask and look in at a window? That's all
he did; and you can see his idea, from the fact that he proceeded to
warn Sir Owen of an enemy. He wanted all this idolatrous and mystical
murder business worked for all it was worth, that his own highly
reasonable murder might not be noticed. And you see he has succeeded.
You tell me that Boon is in the hands of the police."

Garth sprang to his feet. "What is to be done?" he said.

"You will know what to do," said the poet. "You are a good and just man,
and a practical man, too. I am not a practical man." He rose with a
certain air of apology. "You see, you want an unpractical man for
finding out this sort of thing."

And once more he gazed down from the precipice into the abysses below.



IV - THE CRIME OF GABRIEL GALE


Dr. Butterworth, the famous London physician, was sitting in his
summer-house in his shirt sleeves, for it was a hot day and he had been
playing tennis on the sunny lawns outside. He had a solid face and
figure and carried everywhere an atmosphere of bodily health and good
humour which helped him not a little in his profession; but he was not
serious or self-conscious about it. He was not one of those in whom
health has degenerated into hygiene. He played tennis when he felt
inclined and left off when he felt inclined; as on the present occasion,
when he had retired to smoke a pipe in the shade. He enjoyed a game as
he enjoyed a joke; which was interpreted by some as meaning that he
would never be a player, and by himself as meaning that he would always
be able to play. And he enjoyed a joke very much, even the most minute
and trivial joke that his roving eye encountered; and at this moment it
encountered a quaint detail, which was something of a quaint contrast,
in the glowing garden outside. Framed in the dark doorway of the
summer-house, like a lighted scene on the stage, was the perspective of
a garden path, bordered with very gay and flamboyant beds of tulips,
having something of the gorgeous formality of the borders of a Persian
illumination. And down the centre of the central path was advancing a
figure that looked by comparison almost completely black, with black
top-hat, black clothes and black umbrella; it might have been the
mythical Black Tulip come to life and a walking parody of the tall,
top-heavy garden flowers. The next moment all such fancies had faded
from the doctor's day-dream; for he had recognized a familiar face under
the top-hat; he knew that the contrast was not merely grotesque; and was
shocked with the gravity of the visitor's eyes.

"Hullo, Garth," he said in a hearty manner, "sit down and tell us all
about yourself. You look as if you were going to a funeral."

"So I am," replied Dr. Garth, putting his black hat on a chair; he was a
small, red-haired, shrewd-faced man and he looked pale and harassed.

"I am so sorry," said Butterworth quickly, "if I spoke without thinking.
I'm afraid you're really rather cut up.

"I am going to a queer sort of funeral," said Dr. Garth grimly; "the
sort of funeral where we take special precautions to ensure premature
burial."

"What in the world do you mean?" asked his colleague, staring.

"I mean I've got to bury a man alive," said Garth with a ghastly calm.
"But it's the sort of burial that requires two doctors' certificates
instead of one."

Butterworth stared at the patch of sun-light and sucked in his cheeks
with a soundless whistle. "Oh...I see," he said.

Then he added abruptly: "Of course it's always a sad business; but I'm
afraid it's rather personal for you. A friend of yours?"

"One of my best friends, I think, barring yourself," replied Garth; "and
one of the best and brightest young men of our time as well. I was
afraid something of the sort might happen; but I hoped it wouldn't be so
bad as this." He stopped for an instant and then said almost
explosively:

"It's poor old Gale; and he's done it once too often."

"Done what?" asked Dr. Butterworth.

"It's rather difficult to explain, unless you know him," said Garth.
"Gabriel Gale is a poet, also a painter and other wild things of that
sort; but he has also a wild theory of his own about how to cure
lunatics. In short, the amateur set up as a mad doctor and now the
doctor is really mad. It's a horrid tragedy; but really he was asking
for it."

"I don't yet understand what it's all about," said the other doctor
patiently.

"I tell you he had a theory," said Garth. "He thought he could cure
cracked people by what he called sympathy. But it didn't mean what you
would mean by sympathy; he meant following their thoughts and going
half-way with them, or all the way with them if he could. I used to joke
with him, poor fellow, and say that if a lunatic thought he was made of
glass, Gale would try hard to feel a little transparent. Anyhow, that
was his notion, that he could really look at things to some extent from
the lunatic's point of view; and talk to him in his own language. He
admitted himself that it was a risky business, to walk on the edge of
the precipice like that; and now, as I say, he's done it once too often.
I always distrusted it myself."

"I should think so," said Dr. Butterworth, all his solid sanity
stiffening against the suggestion. "He might as well say that a doctor
ought to limp all the way to cure a lame man, or shut his eyes in order
to help the blind."

"If the blind lead the blind," assented the other gloomily. "Well, he's
fallen into the ditch this time."

"Why especially this time?" asked Butterworth.

"Well, if he doesn't go to an asylum, he'll go to jail," said Garth
grimly. "That's why I'm in such a hurry to have him certified; God knows
I don't like doing that. But he's broken out this time in a way he never
did before. He was always fanciful and eccentric, of course; but I'm
bound to say he had a very sane streak in him somewhere. It's exactly
because he's never done anything like this before that I'm sure the end
has really come. For one thing, he's committed a perfectly crazy assault
and apparently tried to murder a man with a pitchfork. But what hits me
much harder, who knew him, is that he tried to murder a perfectly mild
and shy and inoffensive person; in fact a rather gauche youth from
Cambridge, half developed into a curate. Now that's quite unlike
Gabriel, even at his maddest. The men with whom he wrestled in spirit,
if not in body, were intellectual bullies or mesmerists, the sort of men
who wanted somebody to stand up to them; like that thin-lipped Dr.
Wilkes, or that Russian Professor. I can no more see him savaging
somebody like poor young Saunders than I can see him kicking a crippled
child. And yet I _did_ see him do it. The only explanation is that he
wasn't himself.

"There was another thing which made me sure he wasn't himself. The
weather had been very trying for everybody for some time; hot and stormy
and electric; but it was the first time I've ever known him upset by
such storms. I've known him to do the silliest things; I've known him
stand on his head in the garden; but that was only showing that he was
_not_ affected by the storm. But this time I'm sure these queer
semi-tropical tempests have been too much for him; so that even the very
subject of the storm upset him in some way. For this tragedy arose out
of the most trivial sort of triviality. The whole terrible unnatural
business began with talking about the weather.

"Lady Flamborough said to a guest at her rather damp garden-party, 'You
brought bad weather with you.' Anybody might say that to anybody; but
she did say it to young Herbert Saunders, who is awfully awkward and
shy, one of those long, loose boys with large feet, who seem to have
outgrown their clothes and their wits; the last sort of person who would
want to be singled out by any remark, however trifling. So Saunders only
gaped and gurgled or was dumb, but somehow the lady's remark seemed to
get on Gale's nerves from the first. A little while afterwards Gale met
Lady Flamborough again, at another reception where it was raining, and
he suddenly pointed, like some comic conspirator, at the tall ungainly
figure of Saunders in the distance and said: 'He still brings bad
weather.' Then happened one of those coincidences that are quite natural
but seem to drive madmen really mad. The next time all that set happened
to get together was on a really beautiful afternoon at Mrs. Blakeney's;
with a clear blue sky without a cloud in it, so that old Blakeney went
pottering round and showed all the first comers his gardens and
glasshouses. But after that they all went in to tea, which was served in
the great peacock-green drawing-room in the middle of the house; and so
it happened that Saunders came late and there was a good deal of
laughter as he sat down, much to his embarrassment; because the weather
joke had been repeated and people were quite pleased to see it falsified
for once. Then they all went out into the rooms nearer the entrance; and
Gabriel Gale was walking towards the doorway. Between two pillars he
caught sight of one of the outer windows and stood rooted to the spot,
rigidly pointing with one arm. That gesture alone warned me that
something was really rather wrong with him; but when I looked I could
hardly help sharing his shock of surprise. For the windows that had been
painted blue with summer sky were painted black with rain. On every side
of the house the rain dripped and pattered as dismally as if it had been
raining for a hundred years. And ten minutes before the whole garden had
seemed a garden of gold like the Hesperides. Gale stood staring at this
flying storm from nowhere, that had so suddenly struck the house; then
he turned slowly and looked, with an expression not to be forgotten, at
the man who was standing a few yards away. It was Herbert Saunders.

"You can imagine it's not much in my line to believe in witchcraft or
magicians who control the elements; but there did really seem something
funny about that cloudless day having so rapidly overclouded, with the
coming of the one man whose name was already associated with it, if only
by a jest. It was a mere coincidence, of course; but what worried me was
the possible effect on my friend's already rather rickety psychology. He
and Saunders were both standing and staring out of the same wide window,
looking at the deluge-darkened garden and the swaying and tormented
trees; but Saunder's simple face seemed to express only amiable
bewilderment; indeed, he was smiling vaguely and shyly, as he did when
he received a compliment. For he was one of those whose face after a
compliment always looks as if it has received a buffet. He obviously saw
nothing in it but a repetition of the joke; perhaps he thought that the
English climate was keeping up the joke. And, compared with his face,
the face of Gabriel was like the face of a fiend. So it seemed at least,
as it sprang white out of the growing dark to meet the first white burst
of the lightning; then there followed only thunder and the noise of the
roaring rain; but I knew that he stood there rocking with that
inexplicable excitement. Through the thunder I heard his voice saying,
'It makes one feel like God.'

"Immediately under the windows a little path ran on the edge of some
meadow land attached to the garden, where the Blakeneys had been getting
in their hay; and a moderately large mound of hay looked almost
mountainously dark against that low and lowering sky; a two-pronged
pitchfork lying across it had certainly something grim about its black
outline, which may have captured poor Gale's fancy; for he was always
prone to be taken by odd sights as if they were signals. Anyhow at that
moment the host and hostess and other guests came hurrying by; the old
man lamenting over the ruin of his hay; but the lady of the house
apparently much more concerned about the fate of some highly ornamental
garden-chairs, which had apparently been left out on the lawn just
adjoining the meadow, under the large apple-tree whose boughs were now
tossing and twisting in the storm.

"Gabriel Gale, when in his right mind, is the most chivalrous of men,
and would have regained the lady's chairs at a bound. But now he could
do nothing but glare at the unfortunate Saunders; who awoke trembling to
his social duties, in that agony of self-consciousness in which a man is
afraid to do the right thing and afraid not to do it. At length,
however, he jerked himself forward, fumbled with the door, flung it open
and ran out into the reverberating rain. Then Gale followed him to the
open door and shouted something after him. For most of the company, I
think, it was lost in the din; but even if they had heard it, they
certainly could not have understood it. I heard it; and I thought I
understood it only too well. For what Gale shouted through the storm
was, 'Why don't you call the chairs and they'll come to you.'

"A second or so afterwards he added, as if it were an afterthought, 'You
might as well tell the tree to come here as well.' Naturally there was
no answer; and indeed Saunders, partly by his natural clumsiness and
partly in the distraction of the driving elements, seemed for the moment
to have lost his way and was staggering up the steeper path of the
meadow some way to the left of the tree. I could just see his long
figure and angular awkward elbows traced against the sky. Then followed
the sudden, violent and utterly unintelligible incident. A rope happened
to lie half round one of the swathes in the foreground; and Gale,
leaping out of the door, caught it up and seemed to be knotting it in a
sort of savage haste. The next moment there swept across the sky the
great swirling curves of a noose thrown in the manner of a lasso. And I
could see the wavering figure on the dark ridge alter its attitude and
rear up as against an invisible obstacle, as the rope tightened and
tugged it back.

"I looked round for assistance; and was surprised and somewhat alarmed
to find I was alone. The host and hostess, and the others, having
despatched the obliging Saunders after the chairs, had rushed off to
summon the servants or secure other doors and windows, or look after
other fittings threatened by the weather; and there was no one but
myself to watch the unmeaning and apparently imbecile tragedy outside. I
saw Gale drag Saunders like a sack at the end of a rope along the whole
length of windows and disappear round a corner of the house. But I
turned cold with a new fear when, even as he rushed past, he snatched
the hay-fork from the mound and seemed to disappear brandishing it, like
the fabulous fork of a demon. I rushed after them, but slipping on the
wet stones, hurt my foot and had to limp; the raving storm seemed to
have swallowed up that lunatic and all his antics; and it was not until
some time afterwards that men found how that dance had ended. Herbert
Saunders was found tied to a tree, still alive and even unwounded, but
presenting the appearance of having barely missed a murderous attack;
for the prongs of the pitchfork were driven by sheer fury into the tree
on each side of his neck, holding him pinned there as by an iron ring.
Gabriel Gale was not found for nearly a day, until after the storm was
spent and the sunshine had returned; and he was loitering about in an
adjoining meadow blowing the clocks off dandelions. I have seldom known
him so serene."

There was a short silence. "How is the other fellow...Saunders?" asked
Butterworth, after a pause of frowning consideration. "Was he much
hurt?"

"Had a shock and is still shaky, of course," answered Garth. "Had to go
for a rest-cure or something; but I believe he's all right now. Only you
can hardly expect a harmless person who's been half murdered in a raving
attack like that to feel very friendly or forgiving. So I'm afraid they
will make it a case of attempted murder unless we can get our friend off
on medical grounds. As a matter of fact, I have him waiting outside in
the car."

"Very well," said the London doctor, rising with abrupt composure and
buttoning up his coat. "We had better go along to see him now and get it
over."


The interview between Gale and the two doctors, at an adjacent hotel,
was so short and so extraordinary that they went away with their very
level heads turning like wind-mills. For Gale displayed nothing even of
the merely childish innocence of levity attributed to him in the tale of
the dandelions. He listened with patience, and a humorous and benevolent
mildness which made the two doctors, who were considerably his seniors,
feel as if they were being treated as juniors. When Garth began to break
it to him gently that some sort of rest-cure was required in his own
interests, he laughed heartily and anticipated all such periphrases.

"Don't be nervous, old man," he said, "you mean I ought to be in a
madhouse; and I'm sure you mean well."

"You know I am your friend," said Garth earnestly; "and all your friends
would say what I say."

"Indeed," said Gale, smiling. "Well, if that is the opinion of my
friends, perhaps it would be better to get the opinion of my enemies."

"What do you mean," demanded the other. "Of your enemies?"

"Shall we say of my enemy?" continued Gale in level tones. "Of the man
to whom I have done this perfectly outrageous thing. Well, really, that
is all I ask; that before you lock me up for this outrage, you ask
Herbert Saunders himself what he thinks about it."

"Do you mean," broke in Butterworth rather impatiently, "that we are to
ask him whether he liked being half-throttled and impaled on a
pitchfork?"

"Yes," said Gale nodding, "I want you to ask him whether he liked being
half throttled and impaled on a pitchfork."

He slightly knitted his brows as if considering a new and merely
practical point and then, added:

"I should send him a telegram now...say anything...'How do you like
being lassoed?' or, 'What price pitchforks?' or something playful of
that sort."

"We could telephone, if it comes to that," said Garth.

The poet shook his head. "No," he said, "that sort of man feels much
more free in writing. He will only stammer on the telephone. He won't
stammer anything like what you imagine, even then; but he will stammer.
But writing with his head in one of those little cubicles at the
telegraph office, he will feel as free as in a confessional box."

The two doctors, when they parted in some bewilderment, but tacitly
accepting this suggestion of a respite, lost no time in fulfilling the
condition required. They sent off a carefully worded telegram to
Saunders, who had now returned home to his mother's house, asking him
what were his impressions and views about the extraordinary conduct of
Gabriel Gale. The reply came back with remarkable promptitude; and Garth
came to Butterworth with the open telegram in his hand and a rather
dazed expression on his face. For the exact terms of the message were:

"Can never be sufficiently grateful to Gale for his great kindness which
more than saved my life."

The two doctors looked at each other in silence; and in almost as
complete a silence got into a car and drove across the hills once more
to the Blakeney's house, where Gale was still staying.

They drove across the hilly country and descended into the wide and
shallow valley where stood the house which sheltered that dangerous
character, Mr. Gabriel Gale. Garth could recall, and Butterworth could
imagine, all the irony suggested to the imagination by such a story
about such a scene. The house of the Blakeneys stood high and plain just
beyond the river; it was one of those houses that strike the eye as
old-fashioned and yet not old. Certainly it was not old enough to be
beautiful; but it had everything that recalls, to those that faintly
remember them, the last traditions of Early Victorian lingering into
Mid-Victorian times. The tall pillars looked so very pallid; the long
plain windows looked in dismally upon high-ceilinged rooms; the curtains
that hung parallel with the pillars were strips of dull red; and even
from that distance the humorous Butterworth was certain that they had
heavy and quite useless tassels. It was a strange house to have been the
scene of an incredible crime or lunacy. It was an even stranger house to
have been, as was alleged, the scene of a yet more incredible or
mysterious mercy. All about it lay its ordered gardens and its mown or
unmown meadows; its plantations of trees and deep alleys and
shrubberies; all the things which on that wild night had been given over
to the withering splendour of the lightning and the wind. Now the whole
landscape was laid bare in a golden calm of summer; and the blue heavens
above it were so deep and still that the sound of a humming fly hung
there and was heard as far away as the skylark. Thus glittered in the
sun, all solid and objective, the stage properties of that hideous
farce. Garth saw all the blank and staring windows which he had last
beheld streaming with rain and swept by the wind and the wild dance of
the lunatic and his victim. He saw the forked tree to which the victim
had been bound, still with the two black holes in it where the fork had
pierced it, looking like the hollow eyes of a skull, and making the
whole seem like some horned goblin. There was the heaped up hay, still
to some extent disordered and scattered as by the dizzy dance of a small
cyclone; and beyond it rose the high green wall of the unmown and
standing grass of the next meadow. From the very thick of this mild
jungle or miniature forest, a long thin line of smoke was drawn up into
the sky; as if from a very small fire of weeds. Nothing else human or
alive was visible in the sultry summer landscape; but Garth seemed to
know and recognize the significance of the smoke. He sent a far halloo
across the fields, calling out, "Is that you, Gale?"

Two feet pointed skyward and two long legs upside down rose vertically
out of the tall grass, just beyond the smoke; and waved to them like
arms, as if according to a preconcerted science of signalling. Then the
legs seemed to give a leap and dive and the owner of the legs came the
right side up and rose or surged slowly out of the depths of green,
gazing across at them with a misty and benevolent expression. He was
smoking a long thin cigar: the fire behind the smoke.

He received them and their news with no air of triumph, still less of
surprise. Abandoning his grassy nest, he sat down with them on the
garden-chairs which had also played their part in the mystery; and only
smiled a little as he handed back the telegram.

"Well," he said; "do you still think I am mad?"

"Well," said Butterworth, "I can't help wondering whether he is."

Gale leaned across, showing his first eagerness, and said, "He isn't.
But he jolly nearly was."

Then he leaned slowly back again and stared abstractedly at a daisy on
the lawn, almost as if he had forgotten their presence. When he spoke
again it was in a clear but rather colourless tone, like a lecturer:

"A very large number of young men nearly go mad. But nearly all of them
only nearly do it; and normally they recover the normal. You might
almost say it's normal to have an abnormal period. It comes when there's
a lack of adjustment in the scale of things outside and within. Lots of
those boys, those big healthy schoolboys you hear about, who care for
nothing but cricket or the tuckshop, are bursting with a secret and
swelling morbidity. But in this young man it was rather symbolically
expressed even in the look of him. It was like his growing out of his
clothes, or being too big for his boots. The inside gets too big for the
outside. He doesn't know how to relate the two things; and generally he
doesn't relate them at all. In one way his own mind and self seem to be
colossal and cosmic and everything outside them small or distant. In
another way the world is much too big for him; and his thoughts are
fragile things to be hidden away. There are any number of cases of that
disproportionate secretiveness. You know how silent boys have been about
incredible abuses in bad schools. Whether or no it's false to say a girl
can't keep a secret, it's often really the ruin of a boy that he can
keep a secret.

"Now in that dangerous time, there's a dreadfully dangerous moment; when
the first connexion is made between the subjective and objective: the
first real bridge between the brain and real things. It all depends what
it is; because, while it confirms his self-consciousness, it may happen
to confirm his self-deception. That young man had never really been
noticed by anybody until Lady Flamborough happened to tell him that he
had brought the bad weather. It came just at the moment when his whole
sense of proportions and possibilities had gone wild. I think the first
thing that made me suspect he was....By the way," added Gale abruptly,
"what was it that made you first suspect _me_ of being mad?"

"I think," said Garth slowly, "it was when you were staring out of the
window at the storm."

"The storm? Was there a storm?" asked Gale vaguely. "Oh yes, now I come
to think of it, there was."

"But, hang it all," replied the doctor, "what else could you have been
staring out of the window at, except the storm?"

"I wasn't staring out of the window," answered Gale.

"Really, my dear fellow," remonstrated Dr. Garth.

"I was staring at the window," said the poet. "I often stare at windows.
So few people ever look at windows, unless they are stained
glass-windows. But glass is a very beautiful thing, like diamonds; and
transparency is a sort of transcendental colour. Besides, in this case
there was something else; and something far more awful and thrilling
than a thunderstorm."

"Well, what _were_ you looking at, that was more awful than a
thunderstorm?"

"I was looking at two raindrops running down the pane," said Gale. "And
so was Saunders."

Seeing the others staring at him he continued: "Oh yes, it's quite true;
as the poet says," and he recited with great and unusual gravity:

  "'Little drops of water,
   Little grains of sand,
   Make the soul to stagger
   Till the stars can hardly stand.'

"Haven't I told you a thousand times," he continued with increasing
earnestness and animation, "that I always find myself looking at some
little thing, a stone or a starfish or what not, and that's the only way
I can ever learn anything? But when I looked at Saunders, I saw his eyes
were fixed on the same spot on the window-pane; and I shuddered from
head to foot, for I knew I had guessed right. He was wearing a certain
kind of unobtrusive smile.

"You know that incurable gamblers sometimes bet on a race between two
raindrops. But there is this specially about the sport; that it is
abstract and equal and gives one a sense of impartiality. If you bet on
a dog-fight, you may find you really sympathize with a Scotch terrier
against an Irish terrier, or vice versa; you may like the look of a
billiard player or even the colours of a jockey. Therefore the event may
go _against_ your sympathies; and you will realize your limitations. But
in the case of those two crystal spheres hung in a void of transparency,
there is something like the equal scales of an abstract justice; you
feel that whichever wins might be the one you had chosen. You may
easily, in a certain secret megalomania, persuade yourself it is the one
you have chosen. It is easy to imagine oneself controlling things hung
so evenly. That was when I said to him, to test whether I was following
his train of thought, 'It makes you feel like God.' Did you think I was
talking about the storm? Storm! Pooh! Why should a storm make a man
think he's God? If he'd got any sense it might make him feel he wasn't.
But I knew that Saunders was just at the delicate crisis, where he was
half trying to believe he was. He was half trying to think he had really
changed the weather and might change everything; and a game like that of
the raindrops was just the thing to encourage him. He really felt as if
he were Omnipotence looking at two falling stars: and he was the special
providence in them.

"Remember that there is always something double about morbidity; the
sound old popular phrase said the madman was 'beside himself'. There is
a part of him encouraging itself to go mad; and a part that still
doesn't quite believe in the mania. He would delight in easy self
deceptions, as in the raindrops. He would also sub-consciously _avoid_
tests too decisive. He would avoid _wanting_ to want something
incredible; as that a tree should dance. He would avoid it; partly for
fear it should and partly for fear it shouldn't. And I was suddenly and
furiously certain, with every cell of my brain, that he must stop
himself instantly, violently, by telling the tree to dance; and finding
it wouldn't.

"That was when I shouted to him to tell the chairs and the tree to move.
I was certain that unless he learnt his human limitations sharply and
instantly, something illimitable and inhuman would take hold of him in
that very hour. He took no notice; he rushed out into the garden; he
forgot all about the chairs; he ran up that steep meadow with a leap
like that of a wild goat; and I knew he had broken loose from reality
and was out of the world. He would go careering through waste places,
with the storm within and without; and when he returned from that
country walk he would never be the same again. He would leap and dance
on that lonely road; he would be horribly happy; nothing would stop him.
I was already resolved that something must stop him. It must be
something abrupt, arresting, revealing the limit of real things; the
throttling shock with which a thing comes to the end of its tether. Then
I saw the rope and threw it, catching him back like a wild horse.
Somehow there rose in my imagination the image of the pagan Centaur
rearing backwards, bridled, and rampant against heaven: for the Centaur,
like all paganism, is at once natural and unnatural; a part of
nature-worship and yet a monster.

"I went through with the whole wild business; and I was sure I was
right; as he himself is now sure I was right. Nobody knew but I how far
he had already gone along that road; and I knew that there was nothing
for it but acute, practical, painful discovery that he could not control
matter or the elements; that he could not move trees or remove
pitchforks; that he could struggle for two hours with a rope and a pair
of prongs and still be bound.

"It was certainly rather a desperate remedy; there is really nothing to
be said for it except that it was a remedy. And I believe profoundly
that there was no other remedy. Anything in the nature of soothing or
quieting him would only have made him yet more secretive and yet more
swollen-headed. As for humouring him, it's the very worst thing to do
with people who are losing their sense of humour. No; there was
something he was beginning to believe about himself; and it was still
possible to prove that it wasn't true."

"Do you think," asked Dr. Butterworth, frowning, "that there was really
anything in that theological imagery in the matter? Do you suppose _he_
put it in the form that he could bring the rain and thunder because he
was God Almighty? Of course there are cases of religious mania that are
rather like that."

"You must remember," said Gale, "that he was a theological student and
was going to be a clergyman; and he may have brooded upon doubt and
inspiration and prophecy till they began to work the wrong way. The
worst is always very near the best; there is something much worse than
atheism which is Satanism; otherwise known as Being God. But as a matter
of mere philosophy, apart from theology, the thing is much nearer to the
nerve of all thinking than you might think. That's why it was so
insinuating and so difficult to see or to stop. That's what I mean when
I say I had a sympathy with the young lunatic. After all, it was a very
natural mistake."

"My dear Gale," protested his friend Garth. "You are getting a little
too fond of paradox. A young tadpole of a curate thinks he can control
the skies and uproot trees and call up the thunder and you call it a
natural mistake."

"Have you ever lain on your back in a field and stared at the sky and
kicked your heels in the air?" asked the poet.

"Not in a public or professional way," answered the doctor. "It's not
generally considered the best bedside manner. But suppose I did?"

"If you think like that, and go back to primitive things," said Gale,
"you will find yourself wondering why you can control some things and
not others. After all, your legs look a long way off when you wave them
in the sky. You can wave legs about, but you can't wave trees about. I'm
not sure it's so unnatural, in the abstract, for a man to fancy the
whole material universe is his own body; since it all seems equally, in
one sense, to be outside his own mind. But when he is in hell is when he
fancies it is inside his own mind."

"I'm afraid I don't bother much about all this metaphysical business,"
said Butterworth. "I suppose I really don't understand it. I know what I
mean by a man being outside his mind in the sense of being out of his
mind; and I suppose you're right in saying that Saunders was morbid
enough to be nearly out of his mind. And as for being outside his body,
I know what it means in the sense of his blowing his brains out or his
body being left for dead. And really, to be candid, you seem to have
come precious near to knocking him out of his body to cure him of being
out of his mind. It certainly was an exceedingly desperate remedy; and
though it may have been defensible, I shouldn't much like to have to go
into a law-court as an expert witness to defend it. I can only go by
results, and he certainly seems to be all the better for it. But when it
comes to all your mystical explanations, about how it is hell to have
everything inside your mind, frankly I give up trying to follow. I'm
afraid I'm rather a materialist."

"Afraid!" cried Gale, as if with indignation; "_afraid_ you are a
materialist! You haven't got much notion of what there really is to be
afraid of! Materialists are all right; they are at least near enough to
heaven to accept the earth and not imagine they made it. The dreadful
doubts are not the doubts of the materialist. The dreadful doubts, the
deadly and damnable doubts, are the doubts of the idealist."

"I always imagined you were an idealist," said Garth.

"I use the word idealist in its philosophical sense. I mean the real
sceptic who doubts matter and the minds of others and everything except
his own ego. I have been through it myself; as I have been through
nearly every form of infernal idiocy. That is the only use I am in the
world; having been every kind of idiot. But believe me, the worst and
most miserable sort of idiot is he who seems to create and contain all
things. Man is a creature; all his happiness consists in being a
creature; or, as the Great Voice commanded us, in becoming a child. All
his fun is in having a gift or present; which the child, with profound
understanding, values because it is 'a surprise'. But surprise implies
that a thing comes from outside ourselves; and gratitude that it comes
from someone other than ourselves. It is thrust through the letter-box;
it is thrown in at the window; it is thrown over the wall. Those limits
are the lines of the very plan of human pleasure.

"I also dreamed that I had dreamed of the whole creation. I had given
myself the stars for a gift; I had handed myself the sun and moon. I had
been behind and at the beginning of all things; and without me nothing
was made that was made. Anybody who has been in that centre of the
cosmos knows that it is to be in hell. And there is only one cure for
it. Oh, I know that people have written all kinds of cant and false
comfort about the cause of evil; and of why there is pain in the world.
God forbid that we should add ourselves to such a chattering
monkey-house of moralists. But for all that, this truth is true;
objectively and experimentally true. There is no cure for that nightmare
of omnipotence except pain; because that is the thing a man _knows_ he
would not tolerate if he could really control it. A man must be in some
place from which he would certainly escape if he could, if he is really
to realize that all things do not come from within. That is the meaning
of that mad parable or mystery play you have seen acted here like an
allegory. I doubt whether any of our action is really anything but an
allegory. I doubt whether any truth can be told except in a parable.
There was a man who saw himself sitting in the sky; and his servants the
angels went to and fro in coloured garments of cloud and flame and the
pageant of the seasons; but he was over all and his face seemed to fill
the heavens. And, God forgive me for blasphemy, but I nailed him to a
tree."

He had risen to his feet in a suppressed and very unusual excitement;
and his face was pale in the sunlight. For he spoke indeed in parables;
and the things of which he was thinking were far away from that garden
or even from that tale. There swelled up darkly and mountainously in his
memory the slopes of another garden against another storm. The skeleton
arch of a ruined abbey stood gaunt against the ghastly light, and beyond
the racing river was the low and desolate inn among the reeds; and all
that grey landscape was to him one purple patch of Paradise...and of
Paradise Lost.

"It is the only way," he kept repeating; "it is the only answer to the
heresy of the mystic; which is to fancy that mind is all. It is to break
your heart. Thank God for hard stones; thank God for hard facts; thank
God for thorns and rocks and deserts and long years. At least I know now
that I am not the best or strongest thing in the world. At least I know
now that I have not dreamed of everything."

"You look very strange," said his friend Garth.

"I know it now," said Gale. "For there is one who would be here, if
dreaming could do it."

There was again an utter stillness in which the fly could be heard
buzzing in the blue; and when he spoke again, though in the same
brooding vein, they had an indescribable intuition that a door in his
mind had stood open for an instant and had now again closed finally with
a clang. He said after the long silence:

"We are all tied to trees and pinned with pitchforks. And as long as
these are solid we know the stars will stand and the hills will not melt
at our word. Can't you imagine the huge tide of healthy relief and
thanks, like a hymn of praise from all nature, that went up from that
captive nailed to the tree, when he had wrestled till the dawn and
received at last the great glorious news; the news that he was only a
man?"

Dr. Butterworth was looking across the table with a restrained but
somewhat amused expression; for the poet's eyes were shining like lamps
and he was speaking on a note not often heard in any man speaking prose.

"If I hadn't got a good deal of special knowledge and experience," he
said, rising, "I should think there was a bit of a doubt about you after
all."

Gabriel Gale looked sharply over his shoulder and the note of his voice
changed once more.

"Don't say that," he said rather curtly. "That's the only sort of danger
I really run."

"I don't understand," said Butterworth. "Do you mean the danger of being
certified?"

"Certify me till all is blue," said Gale contemptuously. "Do you suppose
I should particularly mind if you did? Do you suppose I couldn't be
reasonably happy in a lunatic asylum, so long as there was dust in a
sunbeam or shadows on a wall...so long as I could look at ordinary
things and think how extraordinary they are? Do you suppose I couldn't
praise God with tolerable piety for the shape of my keeper's nose or
anything else calculated to give pleasure to a thoughtful mind? I should
imagine that a madhouse would be an excellent place to be sane in. I'd a
long sight rather live in a nice quiet secluded madhouse than in
intellectual clubs full of unintellectual people, all chattering
nonsense about the newest book of philosophy; or in some of those
earnest, elbowing sort of Movements that want you to go in for Service
and help to take away somebody else's toys. I don't much mind to what
place I may wander to think in, before I die; so long as the thoughts do
not wander too much; or wander down the wrong road. And what you said
just now does touch the real danger. It does touch the danger that Garth
was really thinking about, when he suggested that I had reclaimed
lunatics and might myself become a castaway. If people tell me they
really do not understand what I mean...if they say they cannot see so
simple a truth as that it is best for a man to be a man, that it is
dangerous to give oneself divine honours...if they say they do not see
_that_ for themselves, but imagine it to be some sort of mysticism out
of my own head, _then_ I am myself again in peril. I am in peril of
thinking something that may be wilder and worse than thinking I am God
Almighty."

"And still I don't understand," said the smiling physician.

"I shall think I am the only sane man," said Gabriel Gale.

There was a sort of sequel which came to Garth's ears long afterwards;
an epilogue to the crazy comedy of the pitchfork and the apple-tree.
Garth differed from Gale in having a more obvious turn for the rational,
or at least the rationalistic; and he often found himself debating with
the sceptics of various scientific clubs and groups; finding them a very
worthy race, often genuinely hard-headed and sometimes tending rather to
be wooden-headed. In a particular country place, the name of which is
not material, the post of village atheist had become vacant, so to
speak, by the regrettable perversity of the cobbler in being a
Congregationalist. His official functions were performed by a more
prosperous person named Pond, a worthy hatter who was rather more famous
as a cricketer. On the cricket field he was often pitted against another
excellent cricketer, who was Vicar of the parish; indeed they contended
more frequently on the field of cricket than on the field of spiritual
speculation. For the clergyman was one of the type that is uproariously
popular and successful chiefly by his proficiency in such sports. He was
the sort of parson whom people praise by saying he is not a bit like a
parson. He was a big, beefy, jolly man, red-faced and resolute of
manner; still young but the father of a boisterous family of boys, and
in most ways very like a boy himself. Nevertheless, as was natural,
certain passages of chaff, that could hardly be called controversy,
occasionally passed between the parson and the village atheist. There
was no need to commiserate the clergyman upon the pin-pricks of the
scientific materialist; for a pin has no effect on a pachyderm. The
parson was the sort of man who seems to be rolled in layers within
layers of solid substance resisting anything outside his own cheery and
sensible mode of life. But one curious episode had clung to the memory
of Pond, and he recounted it to Garth, in something of the puzzled tone
in which a materialist tells a ghost story. The rival cricketers had
been chipping each other in the usual friendly fashion, which did not go
very much below the surface. The Vicar was doubtless a sincere
Christian, though chiefly what used to be called a muscular Christian.
But it is not unfair to him to say that he was more deeply moved in
saying that some action was not Cricket than in saying it was not
Christianity. On this and other occasions, however, he relied chiefly on
ragging his opponent with rather obvious jokes; such as the oft-repeated
inquiry as to how often the hatter might be expected to do the
hat-trick. Perhaps the repetition of this epigram eventually annoyed the
worthy freethinker; or perhaps there was something in the deeper and
more positive tones with which the parson dealt with more serious
matters, that had the same effect. It was with more than his usual
breeziness that the reverend gentleman on this occasion affirmed the
philosophy of his life. "God wants you to play the game," he said.
"That's all that God wants; people who will play the game."

"How do you know?" asked Mr. Pond rather snappishly and in unusual
irritation. "How do you know what God wants? You never were God, were
you?"

There was a silence; and the atheist was seen to be staring at the red
face of the parson in a somewhat unusual fashion.

"Yes," said the clergyman in a queer quiet voice. "I was God once; for
about fourteen hours. But I gave it up. I found it was too much of a
strain."

With these words the Rev. Herbert Saunders went back to the cricket
tent, where he mingled with Boy Scouts and village girls with all his
usual heartiness and hilarity. But Mr. Pond the atheist, sat for some
time staring, like one who has seen a miracle. And he afterwards
confided to Garth that for a moment the eyes of Saunders had looked out
of his red, good-humoured face as out of a mask; with an instantaneous
memory of something awful and appalling, and at the same time empty;
something the other man could only figure to himself in vague thoughts
of some flat stark building with blank windows in a blind alley; and
peering out of one of the windows the pale face of an idiot.



V - THE FINGER OF STONE


Three young men on a walking tour came to a halt outside the little town
of Carillon, in the south of France; which is doubtless described in the
guide books as famous for its fine old Byzantine monastery, now the seat
of a university; and for having been the scene of the labours of Boyg.
At that name, at least, the reader will be reasonably thrilled; for he
must have seen it in any number of newspapers and novels. Boyg and the
Bible are periodically reconciled at religious conferences; Boyg
broadens and slightly bewilders the minds of numberless heroes of long
psychological stories, which begin in the nursery and nearly end in the
madhouse. The journalist, writing rapidly his recurrent reference to the
treatment meted out to pioneers like Galileo, pauses in the effort to
think of another example, and always rounds off the sentence either with
Bruno or with Boyg. But the mildly orthodox are equally fascinated, and
feel a glow of agnosticism while they continue to say that, since the
discoveries of Boyg, the doctrine of the Homoousian or of the human
conscience does not stand where it did; wherever that was. It is
needless to say that Boyg was a great discoverer, for the public has
long regarded him with the warmest reverence and gratitude on that
ground. It is also unnecessary to say what he discovered; for the public
will never display the faintest curiosity about that. It is vaguely
understood that it was something about fossils, or the long period
required for petrifaction; and that it generally implied those anarchic
or anonymous forces of evolution supposed to be hostile to religion. But
certainly none of the discoveries he made while he was alive was so
sensational, in the newspaper sense, as the discovery that was made
about him when he was dead. And this, the more private and personal
matter, is what concerns us here.

The three tourists had just agreed to separate for an hour, and meet
again for luncheon at the little café opposite; and the different ways
in which they occupied their time and indulged their tastes will serve
for a sufficient working summary of their personalities. Arthur Armitage
was a dark and grave young man, with a great deal of money, which he
spent on a conscientious and continuous course of self-culture,
especially in the matter of art and architecture; and his earnest
aquiline profile was already set towards the Byzantine monastery, for
the exhaustive examination of which he had already prepared himself, as
if he were going to pass an examination rather than to make one. The man
next him, though himself an artist, betrayed no such artistic ardour. He
was a painter who wasted most of his time as a poet; but Armitage, who
was always picking up geniuses, had become in some sense his patron in
both departments. His name was Gabriel Gale; a long, loose, rather
listless man with yellow hair; but a man not easy for any patron to
patronize.

He generally did as he liked in an abstracted fashion; and what he very
often liked to do was nothing. On this occasion he showed a lamentable
disposition to drift towards the café first; and having drunk a glass or
two of wine, he drifted not into the town but out of it, roaming about
the steep bare slope above, with a rolling eye on the rolling clouds;
and talking to himself until he found somebody else to talk to, which
happened when he put his foot through the glass roof of a studio just
below him on the steep incline. As it was an artist's studio, however,
their quarrel fortunately ended in an argument about the future of
realistic art; and when he turned up to lunch, that was the extent of
his acquaintance with the quaint and historic town of Carillon.

The name of the third man was Garth; he was shorter and uglier and
somewhat older than the others, but with a much livelier eye in his
hatchet face; he stepped much more briskly, and in the matter of a
knowledge of the world, the other two were babies under his charge. He
was a very able medical practitioner, with a hobby of more fundamental
scientific inquiry; and for him the whole town, university and studio,
monastery and café, was only the temple of the presiding genius of Boyg.
But in this case the practical instinct of Dr. Garth would seem to have
guided him rightly; for he discovered things considerably more startling
than anything the antiquarian found in the Romanesque arches or the poet
in the rolling clouds. And it is his adventures, in that single hour
before lunch, upon which this tale must turn.

The café tables stood on the pavement under a row of trees opposite the
old round gate in the wall, through which could be seen the white gleam
of the road up which they had just been walking. But the steep hills
were so high round the town that they rose clear above the wall, in a
more enormous wall of smooth and slanting rock, bare except for
occasional clumps of cactus. There was no crack in that sloping
wilderness of stone except the rather shallow and stony bed of a little
stream. Lower down, where the stream reached the level of the valley,
rose the dark domes of the basilica of the old monastery; and from this
a curious stairway of rude stones ran some way up the hill beside the
watercourse, and stopped at a small and solitary building looking little
more than a shed made of stones. Some little way higher the gleam of the
glass roof of the studio, with which Gale had collided in his
unconscious wanderings, marked the last spot of human habitation in all
those rocky wastes that rose about the little town.

Armitage and Gale were already seated at the table when Dr. Garth walked
up briskly and sat down some what abruptly.

"Have you fellows heard the news?" he asked.

He spoke somewhat sharply, for he was faintly annoyed by the attitudes
of the antiquarian and the artist, who were deep in their own dreamier
and less practical tastes and topics. Armitage was saying at the moment:

"Yes, I suppose I've seen today some of the very oldest sculpture of the
veritable Dark Ages. And it's not stiff like some Byzantine work;
there's a touch of the true grotesque you generally get in Gothic."

"Well, I've seen today some of the newest sculpture of the Modern Ages,"
replied Gale, "and I fancy they are the veritable Dark Ages. Quite
enough of the true grotesque up in that studio, I can tell you."

"Have you heard the news, I say?" rapped out the doctor. "Boyg is dead."

Gale stopped in a sentence about Gothic architecture, and said
seriously, with a sort of hazy reverence:

"_Requiescat in pace._ Who was Boyg?"

"Well, really," replied the doctor, "I did think every baby had heard of
Boyg."

"Well, I dare say you've never heard of Paradou," answered Gale. "Each
of us lives in his little cosmos with its classes and degrees. Probably
you haven't heard of the most advanced sculptor, or perhaps of the
latest lacrosse expert or champion chess player."

It was characteristic of the two men that while Gale went on talking in
the air about an abstract subject, till he had finished his own train of
thought, Armitage had a sufficient proper sense of the presence of
something more urgent to relapse into silence. Nevertheless, he
unconsciously looked down at his notes; at the name of the advanced
sculptor he looked up.

"Who is Paradou?" he asked.

"Why, the man I've been talking to this morning," replied Gale. "His
sculpture's advanced enough for anybody. He's no end of a chap; talks
more than I do, and talks very well. Thinks too; I should think he could
do everything except sculpt. There his theories get in his way. As I
told him, this notion of the new realism..."

"Perhaps we might drop realism and attend to reality," said Dr. Garth
grimly. "I tell you Boyg is dead. And that's not the worst either."

Armitage looked up from his notes with something of the vagueness of his
friend the poet. "If I remember right," he said, "Professor Boyg's
discovery was concerned with fossils."

"Professor Boyg's discovery involved the extension of the period
required for petrifaction as distinct from fossilization," replied the
doctor stiffly, "and thereby relegated biological origins to a period
which permits the chronology necessary to the hypothesis of natural
selection. It may affect you as humorous to interject the observation
'loud cheers', but I assure you the scientific world, which happens to
be competent to judge, was really moved with amazement as well as
admiration."

"In fact it was petrified to hear it couldn't be petrified," suggested
the poet.

"I have really no time for your flippancy," said Garth. "I am up against
a great ugly fact."

Armitage interposed in the benevolent manner of a chairman. "We must
really let Garth speak; come, doctor, what is it all about? Begin at the
beginning."

"Very well," said the doctor, in his staccato way. "I'll begin at the
beginning. I came to this town with a letter of introduction to Boyg
himself; and as I particularly wanted to visit the geological museum,
which his own munificence provided for this town, I went there first. I
found all the windows of the Boyg Museum were broken; and the stones
thrown by the rioters were actually lying about the room within a foot
or two of the glass cases, one of which was smashed."

"Donations to the geological museum, no doubt," remarked Gale. "A
munificent patron happens to pass by, and just heaves in a valuable
exhibit through the window. I don't see why that shouldn't be done in
what you call the world of science; I'm sure it's done all right in the
world of art. Old Paradou's busts, and bas-reliefs are just great rocks
chucked at the public and..."

"Paradou may go to...Paradise, shall we say?" said Garth, with
pardonable impatience. "Will nothing make you understand that something
has really happened that isn't any of your ideas and isms? It wasn't
only the geological museum; it was the same everywhere. I passed by the
house Boyg first lived in, where they very properly put up a medallion;
and the medallion was all splashed with mud. I crossed the market-place,
where they put up a statue to him just recently. It was still hung with
wreaths of laurel by his pupils and the party that appreciates him; but
they were half torn away, as if there had been a struggle, and stones
had evidently been thrown, for a piece of the hand was chipped off."

"Paradou's statue, no doubt," observed Gale. "No wonder they threw
things at it."

"I think not," replied the doctor, in the same hard voice. "It wasn't
because it was Paradou's statue, but because it was Boyg's statue. It
was the same business as the museum and the medallion. No, there's been
something like a French Revolution here on the subject; the French are
like that. You remember the riot in the Breton village where Renan was
born, against having a statue of him. You know, I suppose, that Boyg was
a Norwegian by birth, and only settled here because the geological
formation, and the supposed mineral properties of that stream there,
offered the best field for his investigations. Well, besides the fits
the parsons were in at his theories in general, it seems he bumped into
some barbarous local superstition as well; about it being a sacred
stream that froze snakes into ammonites at a wink; a common myth, of
course, for the same was told about St. Hilda at Whitby. But there are
peculiar conditions that made it pretty hot in this place. The
theological students fight with the medical students, one for Rome and
the other for Reason; and they say there's a sort of raving lunatic of a
Peter the Hermit, who lives in that hermitage on the hill over there,
and every now and then comes out waving his arms and setting the place
on fire."

"I heard something about that," remarked Armitage. "The priest who
showed me over the monastery; I think he was the head man there...
anyhow, he was a most learned and eloquent gentleman...told me about a
holy man on the hill who was almost canonized already."

"One is tempted to wish he were martyred already; but the martyrdom, if
any, was not his," said Garth darkly. "Allow me to continue my story in
order. I had crossed the market-place to find Professor Boyg's private
house, which stood at the corner of it. I found the shutters up and the
house apparently empty, except for one old servant, who refused at first
to tell me anything; indeed, I found a good deal of rustic reluctance on
both sides to tell a foreigner anything. But when I had managed to make
the nature of my introduction quite plain to him, he finally broke down;
and told me his master was dead."

There was a pause, and then Gale, who seemed for the first time somewhat
impressed, asked abstractedly:

"Where is his tomb? Your tale is really rather strange and dramatic, and
obviously it must go on to his tomb. Your pilgrimage ought to end in
finding a magnificent monument of marble and gold, like the tomb of
Napoleon, and then finding that even the grave had been desecrated."

"He has no tomb," replied Garth sternly, "though he will have many
monuments. I hope to see the day when he will have a statue in every
town, he whose statue is now insulted in his own town. But he will have
no tomb."

"And why not?" asked the staring Armitage.

"His body cannot be found," answered the doctor; "no trace of him can be
found anywhere."

"Then how do you know he is dead?" asked the other.

There was an instant of silence, and then the doctor spoke out in a
voice fuller and stronger than before:

"Why, as to that," he said, "I think he is dead because I am sure he is
murdered."

Armitage shut his note book, but continued to look down steadily at the
table. "Go on with your story," he said.

"Boyg's old servant," resumed the doctor, "who is a queer, silent,
yellow-faced old card, was at last induced to tell me of the existence
of Boyg's assistant, of whom I think he was rather jealous. The
Professor's scientific helper and right-hand man is a man of the name of
Bertrand, and a very able man, too, eminently worthy of the great man's
confidence, and intensely devoted to his cause. He is carrying on Boyg's
work so far as it can be carried on; and about Boyg's death or
disappearance he knows the little that can be known. It was when I
finally ran him to earth in a little house full of Boyg's books and
instruments, at the bottom of the hill just beyond the town, that I
first began to realize the nature of this sinister and mysterious
business. Bertrand is a quiet man, though he has a little of the
pardonable vanity which is not uncommon in assistants. One would
sometimes fancy the great discovery was almost as much his as his
master's; but that does no harm, since it only makes him fight for his
master's fame almost as if it were his. But in fact he is not only
concerned about the discovery; or rather, he is not only concerned about
that discovery. I had not looked for long at the dark bright eyes and
keen face of that quiet young man before I realized that there was
something else that he is trying to discover. As a matter of fact, he is
no longer merely a scientific assistant, or even a scientific student.
Unless I am much mistaken, he is playing the part of an amateur
detective.

"Your artistic training, my friends, may be an excellent thing for
discovering a poet, or even a sculptor; but you will forgive me for
thinking a scientific training rather better for discovering a murderer.
Bertrand has gone to work in a very workmanlike way, I consider, and I
can tell you in outline what he has discovered so far. Boyg was last
seen by Bertrand descending the hillside by the watercourse, having just
come away from the studio of Gale's friend the sculptor, where he was
sitting for an hour every morning. I may say here, rather for the sake
of logical method than because it is needed by the logical argument,
that the sculptor at any rate had no quarrel with Boyg, but was, on the
contrary, an ardent admirer of him as an advanced and revolutionary
character."

"I know," said Gale, seeming to take his head suddenly out of the
clouds. "Paradou says realistic art must be founded on the modern energy
of science; but the fallacy of that..."

"Let me finish with the facts first before you retire into your
theories," said the doctor firmly. "Bertrand saw Boyg sit down on the
bare hillside for a smoke; and you can see from here how bare a hillside
it is; a man walking for hours on it would still be as visible as a fly
crawling on a ceiling. Bertrand says he was called away to the crisis of
an experiment in the laboratory; when he looked again he could not see
his master, and he has never seen him from that day to this.

"At the foot of the hill, and at the bottom of the flight of steps which
runs up to the hermitage, is the entrance to the great monastic
buildings on the very edge of the town. The very first thing you come to
on that side is the great quadrangle, which is enclosed by cloisters,
and by the rooms or cells of the clerical or semi-clerical students. I
need not trouble you with the tale of the political compromise by which
this part of the institution has remained clerical, while the scientific
and other schools beyond it are now entirely secular. But it is
important to fix in your mind the fact itself: that the monastic part is
on the very edge of the town, and the other part bars its way, so to
speak, to the inside of the town. Boyg could not possibly have gone past
that secular barrier, dead or alive, without being under the eyes of
crowds who were more excited about him than about anything else in the
world. For the whole place was in a fuss, and even a riot for him as
well as against him. Something happened to him on the hillside, or
anyhow before he came to the internal barrier. My friend the amateur
detective set to work to examine the hillside, or all of it that could
seriously count; an enormous undertaking, but he did it as if with a
microscope. Well, he found that rocky field, when examined closely, very
much what it looks even from here. There are no caves or even holes,
there are no chasms or even cracks in that surface of blank stone for
miles and miles. A rat could not be hidden in those few tufts of prickly
pear. He could not find a hiding-place; but for all that, he found a
hint. The hint was nothing more than a faded scrap of paper, damp and
draggled from the shallow bed of the brook, but faintly decipherable on
it were words in the writing of the Master. They were but part of a
sentence, but they included the words, 'will call on you tomorrow to
tell you something you ought to know.'

"My friend Bertrand sat down and thought it out. The letter had been in
the water, so it had not been thrown away in the town, for the highly
scientific reason that the river does not flow uphill. There only
remained on the higher ground the sculptor's studio and the hermitage.
But Boyg would not write to the sculptor to warn him that he was going
to call, since he went to his studio every morning. Presumably the
person he was going to call on was the hermit; and a guess might well be
made about the nature of what he had to say. Bertrand knew better than
anybody that Boyg had just brought his great discovery to a crushing
completeness, with fresh facts and ratifications; and it seems likely
enough that he went to announce it to his most fanatical opponent, to
warn him to give up the struggle."

Gale, who was gazing up into the sky with his eye on a bird, again
abruptly intervened.

"In these attacks on Boyg," he said, "were there any attacks on his
private character?"

"Even these madmen couldn't attack that," replied Garth with some heat.
"He was the best sort of Scandinavian, as simple as a child, and I
really believe as innocent. But they hated him for all that; and you can
see for yourself that their hatred begins to appear on the horizon of
our inquiry. He went to tell the truth in the hour of triumph; and he
never reappeared to the light of the sun."

Armitage's far-away gaze was fixed on the solitary cell half-way up the
hill. "You don't mean seriously," he said, "that the man they talk about
as a saint, the friend of my friend the abbot, or whatever he is, is
neither more nor less than an assassin?"

"You talked to your friend the abbot about Romanesque sculpture,"
replied Garth. "If you had talked to him about fossils, you might have
seen another side of his character. These Latin priests are often
polished enough, but you bet they're pointed as well. As for the other
man on the hill, he's allowed by his superiors to live what they call
the eremitical life; but he's jolly well allowed to do other things,
too. On great occasions he's allowed to come down here and preach, and I
can tell you there is Bedlam let loose when he does. I might be ready to
excuse the man as a sort of a maniac; but I haven't the slightest
difficulty in believing that he is a homicidal maniac."

"Did your friend Bertrand take any legal steps on his suspicions?" asked
Armitage, after a pause.

"Ah, that's where the mystery begins," replied the doctor.

After a moment of frowning silence, he resumed. "Yes, he did make a
formal charge to the police, and the Juge d'Instruction examined a good
many people and so on, and said the charge had broken down. It broke
down over the difficulty of disposing of the body; the chief difficulty
in most murders. Now the hermit, who is called Hyacinth, I believe, was
summoned in due course; but he had no difficulty in showing that his
hermitage was as bare and as hard as the hill-side. It seemed as if
nobody could possibly have concealed a corpse in those stone walls, or
dug a grave in that rocky floor. Then it was the turn of the abbot, as
you call him, Father Bernard of the Catholic College. And he managed to
convince the magistrate that the same was true of the cells surrounding
the college quadrangle, and all the other rooms under his control. They
were all like empty boxes, with barely a stick or two of furniture; less
than usual, in fact, for some of the sticks had been broken up for the
bonfire demonstration I told you of. Anyhow, that was the line of
defence, and I dare say it was well conducted, for Bernard is a very
able man, and knows about many other things besides Romanesque
architecture; and Hyacinth, fanatic as he is, is famous as a persuasive
orator. Anyhow, it was successful, the case broke down; but I am sure my
friend Bertrand is only biding his time, and means to bring it up again.
These difficulties about the concealment of a corpse...Hullo! why here
he is in person."

He broke off in surprise as a young man walking rapidly down the street
paused a moment, and then approached the café table at which they sat.
He was dressed with all the funereal French respectability: his black
stove-pipe hat, his high and stiff black neck-cloth resembling a stock,
and the curious corners of dark beard at the edges of his chin, gave him
an antiquated air like a character out of Gaboriau. But if he was out of
Gaboriau, he was nobody less than Lecocq; the dark eyes in his pale face
might indeed be called the eyes of a born detective. At this moment, the
pale face was paler than usual with excitement, and as he stopped a
moment behind the doctor's chair, he said to him in a low voice:

"I have found out."

Dr. Garth sprang to his feet, his eyes brilliant with curiosity; then,
recovering his conventional manner, he presented M. Bertrand to his
friends, saying to the former, "You may speak freely with us, I think;
we have no interest except an interest in the truth."

"I have found the truth," said the Frenchman, with compressed lips. "I
know now what these murderous monks have done with the body of Boyg."

"Are we to be allowed to hear it?" asked Armitage gravely.

"Everyone will hear it in three days' time," replied the pale Frenchman.
"As the authorities refuse to reopen the question, we are holding a
public meeting in the market-place to demand that they do so. The
assassins will be there, doubtless, and I shall not only denounce but
convict them to their faces. Be there yourself, monsieur, on Thursday at
half-past two, and you will learn how one of the world's greatest men
was done to death by his enemies. For the moment I will only say one
word. As the great Edgar Poe said in your own language, 'Truth is not
always in a well.' I believe it is sometimes too obvious to be seen."

Gabriel Gale, who had rather the appearance of having gone to sleep,
seemed to rouse himself with an unusual animation.

"That's true," he said, "and that's the truth about the whole business."

Armitage turned to him with an expression of quiet amusement.

"Surely you're not playing the detective, Gale," he said. "I never
pictured such a thing as your coming out of fairyland to assist Scotland
Yard."

"Perhaps Gale thinks he can find the body," suggested Dr. Garth
laughing.

Gale lifted himself slowly and loosely from his seat, and answered in
his dazed fashion:

"Why, yes, in a way," he said; "in fact, I'm pretty sure I can find the
body. In fact, in a manner of speaking, I've found it."


Those with any intimations of the personality of Mr. Arthur Armitage
will not need to be told that he kept a diary; and endeavoured to note
down his impressions of foreign travel with atmospheric sympathy and the
_mot juste._ But the pen dropped from his hand, so to speak, or at least
wandered over the page in a mazy desperation, in the attempt to describe
the great mob meeting, or rather the meeting of two mobs, which took
place in the picturesque market-place in which he had wandered alone a
few days before, criticising the style of the statue, or admiring the
sky-line of the basilica. He had read and written about democracy all
his life; and when first he met it, it swallowed him like an earthquake.
One actual and appalling difference divided this French mob in a
provincial market from all the English mobs he had ever seen in Hyde
Park or Trafalgar Square. These Frenchmen had not come there to get rid
of their feelings, but to get rid of their enemies. Something would be
done as a result of this sort of public meeting; it might be murder, but
it would be something.

And although, or rather because, it had this militant ferocity, it had
also a sort of military discipline. The clusters of men voluntarily
deployed into cordons, and in some rough fashion followed the command of
leaders. Father Bernard was there, with a face of bronze, like the mask
of a Roman emperor, eagerly obeyed by his crowd of crusading devotees,
and beside him the wild preacher, Hyacinth, who looked himself like a
dead man brought out of the grave, with a face built out of bones, and
cavernous eye-sockets deep and dark enough to hide the eyes. On the
other side were the grim pallor of Bertrand and the rat-like activity of
the red-haired Dr. Garth; their own anti-clerical mob was roaring behind
them, and their eyes were alight with triumph. Before Armitage could
collect himself sufficiently to make proper notes of any of these
things, Bertrand had sprung upon a chair placed near the pedestal of the
statue, and announced almost without words, by one dramatic gesture,
that he had come to avenge the dead.

Then the words came, and they came thick and fast, telling and terrible;
but Armitage heard them as in a dream till they reached the point for
which he was waiting; the point that would awaken any dreamer. He heard
the prose poems of laudation, the hymn to Boyg the hero, the tale of his
tragedy so far as he knew it already. He heard the official decision
about the impossibility of the clerics concealing the corpse, as he had
heard it already. And then he and the whole crowd leapt together at
something they did not know before; or rather, as in all such riddles,
something they did know and did not understand.

"They plead that their cells are bare and their lives simple," Bertrand
was saying, "and it is true that these slaves of superstition are cut
off from the natural joys of men. But they have their joys; oh, believe
me, they have their festivities. If they cannot rejoice in love, they
can rejoice in hatred. And everybody seems to have forgotten that on the
very day the Master vanished, the theological students in their own
quadrangle burnt him in effigy. In effigy."

A thrill that was hardly a whisper, but was wilder than a cry, went
through the whole crowd; and men had taken in the whole meaning before
they could keep pace with the words that followed.

"Did they burn Bruno in effigy? Did they burn Dolet in effigy?" Bertrand
was saying, with a white, fanatical face. "Those martyrs of the truth
were burned alive for the good of their Church and for the glory of
their God. Oh, yes, progress has improved them; and they did not burn
Boyg alive. But they burned him dead; and that is how they obliterated
the traces of the way they had done him to death. I have said that truth
is not always hidden in a well, but rather high on a tower. And while I
have searched every crevice and cactus bush for the bones of my master,
it was in truth in public, under the open sky, before a roaring crowd in
the quadrangle, that his body vanished from the sight of men."

When the last cheer and howl of a whole hell of such noises had died
away, Father Bernard succeeded in making his voice heard.

"It is enough to say in answer to this maniac charge that the atheists
who bring it against us cannot induce their own atheistic Government to
support them. But as the charge is against Father Hyacinth rather than
against me, I will ask him to reply to it."

There was another tornado of conflicting noises when the eremitical
preacher opened his mouth; but his very tones had a certain power of
piercing, and quelling it. There was something strange in such a voice
coming out of such a skull-and-cross-bones of a countenance; for it was
unmistakably the musical and moving voice that had stirred so many
congregations and pilgrimages. Only in this crisis it had an awful
accent of reality, which was beyond any arts of oratory. But before the
tumult had yet died away Armitage, moved by some odd nervous instinct,
had turned abruptly to Garth and said, "What's become of Gale? He said
he was going to be here. Didn't he talk some nonsense about bringing the
body himself?"

Dr. Garth shrugged his shoulders. "I imagine he's talking some other
nonsense at the top of the hill somewhere else. You mustn't ask poets to
remember all the nonsense they talk."

"My friends," Father Hyacinth was saying, in quiet but penetrating
tones. "I have no answer to give to this charge. I have no proofs with
which to refute it. If a man can be sent to the guillotine on such
evidence, to the guillotine I will go. Do you fancy I do not know that
innocent men have been guillotined? M. Bertrand spoke of the burning of
Bruno, as if it is only the enemies of the Church that have been burned.
Does any Frenchman forget that Joan of Arc was burned; and was she
guilty? The first Christians were tortured for being cannibals, a charge
as probable as the charge against me. Do you imagine because you kill
men now by modern machinery and modern law, that we do not know that you
are as likely to kill unjustly as Herod or Heliogabalus? Do you think we
do not know that the powers of the world are what they always were, that
your lawyers who oppress the poor for hire will shed innocent blood for
gold? If I were here to bandy such lawyer's talk, I could use it against
you more reasonably than you against me. For what reason am I supposed
to have imperilled my soul by such a monstrous crime? For a theory about
a theory; for a hypothesis about a hypothesis, for some thin fantastic
notion that a discovery about fossils threatened the everlasting truth.
I could point to others who had better reasons for murder than that. I
could point to a man who by the death of Boyg has inherited the whole
power and position of Boyg. I could point to one who is truly the heir
and the man whom the crime benefits; who is known to claim much of the
discovery as his own; who has been not so much the assistant as the
rival of the dead. He alone has given evidence that Boyg was seen on the
hill at all on that fatal day. He alone inherits by the death anything
solid, from the largest ambitions in the scientific world, to the
smallest magnifying glass in his collection. The man lives, and I could
stretch out my hand and touch him."

Hundreds of faces were turned upon Bertrand with a frightful expression
of inhuman eagerness; the turn of the debate had been too dramatic to
raise a cry. Bertrand's very lips were pale, but they smiled as they
formed the words:

"And what did I do with the body?"

"God grant you did nothing with it, dead or alive," answered the other.
"I do not charge you; but if ever you are charged as I am unjustly, you
may need a God on that day. Though I were ten times guillotined, God
could testify to my innocence; if it were by bidding me walk these
streets, like St. Denis, with my head in my hand. I have no other proof.
I can call no other witness. He can deliver me if He will."

There was a sudden silence, which was somehow stronger than a pause; and
in it Armitage could be heard saying sharply, and almost querulously:

"Why, here's Gale again, after all. Have you dropped from the sky?"

Gale was indeed sauntering in a clear space round the corner of the
statue with all the appearance of having just arrived at a crowded At
Home; and Bertrand was quick to seize the chance of an anti-climax to
the hermit's oratory.

"This," he cried, "is a gentleman who thinks he can find the body
himself. Have you brought it with you, monsieur?"

The joke about the poet as detective had already been passed round among
many people, and the suggestion received a new kind of applause.
Somebody called out in a high, piping voice, "He's got it in his
pocket"; and another, in deep sepulchral tones, "His waistcoat pocket."

Mr. Gale certainly had his hands in his pockets, whether or no he had
anything else in them; and it was with great nonchalance that he
replied:

"Well, in that sense, I suppose I haven't got it. But you have."

The next moment he had astonished his friends, who were not used to
seeing him so alert, by leaping on the chair, and himself addressing the
crowd in clear tones, and in excellent French:

"Well, my friends," he said, "the first thing I have to do is to
associate myself with everything said by my honourable friend, if he
will allow me to call him so, about the merits and high moral qualities
of the late Professor Boyg. Boyg, at any rate, is in every way worthy of
all the honour you can pay to him. Whatever else is doubtful, whatever
else we differ about, we can all salute in him that search for truth
which is the most disinterested of all our duties to God. I agree with
my friend Dr. Garth that he deserves to have a statue, not only in his
own town, but in every town in the world."

The anti-clericals began to cheer warmly, while their opponents watched
in silence, wondering where this last eccentric development might lead.
The poet seemed to realize their mystification, and smiled as he
continued:

"Perhaps you wonder why I should say that so emphatically. Well, I
suppose you all have your own reasons for recognizing this genuine love
of truth in the late Professor. But I say it because I happen to know
something that perhaps you don't know, which makes me specially certain
about his honesty."

"And what is that?" asked Father Bernard, in the pause that followed.

"Because," said Gale, "he was going to see Father Hyacinth to own
himself wrong."

Bertrand made a swift movement forward that seemed almost to threaten an
assault: but Garth arrested it, and Gale went on, without noticing it.

"Professor Boyg had discovered that his theory was wrong after all. That
was the sensational discovery he had made in those last days and with
those last experiments. I suspected it when I compared the current tale
with his reputation as a simple and kindly man. I did not believe he
would have gone merely to triumph over his worst enemy; it was far more
probable that he thought it a point of honour to acknowledge his
mistake. For, without professing to know much about these things, I am
sure it was a mistake. Things do not, after all, need all those thousand
years to petrify in that particular fashion. Under certain conditions,
which chemists could explain better than I, they do not need more than
one year, or even one day. Something in the properties of the local
water, applied or intensified by special methods, can really in a few
hours turn an animal organism into a fossil. The scientific experiment
has been made; and the proof is before you."

He made a gesture with his hand, and went on, with something more like
excitement:

"M. Bertrand is right in saying that truth is not in a well, but on a
tower. It is on a pedestal. You have looked at it every day. There is
the body of Boyg!"

And he pointed to the statue in the middle of the market-place, wreathed
with laurel and defaced with stones, as it had stood so long in that
quiet square, and looked down at so many casual passers-by.

"Somebody suggested just now," he went on, glancing over a sea of gaping
faces, "that I carried the statue in my waistcoat pocket. Well, I don't
carry all of it, of course, but this is a part of it," and he took out a
small object like a stick of grey chalk; "this is a finger of it knocked
off by a stone. I picked it up by the pedestal. If anybody who
understands these things likes to look at it, he will agree that the
consistency is precisely the same as the admitted fossils in the
geological museum."

He held it out to them, but the whole mob stood still as if it also was
a mob of men turned to stone.

"Perhaps you think I'm mad," he said pleasantly. "Well, I'm not exactly
mad, but I have an odd sort of sympathy with madmen. I can manage them
better than most people can, because I can fancy somehow the wild way
their minds will work. I understand the man who did this. I know he did,
because I talked to him for half the morning; and it's exactly the sort
of thing he would do. And when first I heard talk of fossil shells and
petrified insects and so on, I did the same thing that such men always
do. I exaggerated it into a sort of extravagant vision, a vision of
fossil forests, and fossil cattle, and fossil elephants and camels; and
so, naturally, to another thought: a coincidence that somehow turned me
cold. A Fossil Man.

"It was then that I looked up at the statue; and knew it was not a
statue. It was a corpse petrified by the curious chemistry of your
strange mountain-stream. I call it a fossil as a loose popular term; of
course I know enough geology to know it is not the correct term. But I
was not exactly concerned with a problem of geology. I was concerned
with what some prefer to call criminology and I prefer to call crime. If
that extraordinary erection was the corpse, who and where was the
criminal? Who was the assassin who had set up the dead man to be at once
obvious and invisible; and had, so to speak, hidden him in the broad
daylight? Well, you have all heard the arguments about the stream and
the scrap of paper, and up to a point I have entirely followed them.
Everyone agreed that the secret was somewhere hidden on that bare hill
where there was nothing but the glass-roofed studio and the lonely
hermitage; and suspicion centred entirely upon the hermitage. For the
man in the studio was a fervent friend of the man who was murdered, and
one of those rejoicing most heartily at what he had discovered. But
perhaps you have rather forgotten what he really had discovered. His
real discovery was of the sort that infuriates friends and not foes. The
man who has the courage to say he is wrong has to face the worst hatred;
the hatred of those who think he is right. Boyg's final discovery, like
our final discovery, rather reverses the relations of those two little
houses on the hill. Even if Father Hyacinth had been a fiend instead of
a saint, he had no possible motive to prevent his enemy from offering
him a public apology. It was a believer in Boygism who struck down Boyg.
It was his follower who became his pursuer and persecutor; who at last
turned in unreasonable fury upon him. It was Paradou the sculptor who
snatched up a chisel and struck his philosophical teacher, at the end of
some furious argument about the theory which the artist had valued only
as a wild inspiration, being quite indifferent to the tame question of
its truth. I don't think he meant to kill Boyg; I doubt whether anybody
could possibly prove he did; and even if he did, I rather doubt whether
he can be held responsible for that or for anything else. But though
Paradou may be a lunatic, he is also a logician; and there is one more
interesting logical step in this story.

"I met Paradou myself this morning; owing to my good luck in putting my
leg through his skylight. He also has his theories and controversies;
and this morning he was very controversial. As I say, I had a long
argument with him, all about realism in sculpture. I know many people
will tell you that nothing has ever come out of arguments; and I tell
you that everything has always come out of arguments; and anyhow, if you
want to know what has come out of this, you've got to understand this
argument. Everybody was always jeering at poor old Paradou as a sculptor
and saying he turned men into monsters; that his figures had flat heads
like snakes, or sagging knees like elephants, or humps like human
camels. And he was always shouting back at them, 'Yes, and eyes like
blindworms when it comes to seeing your own hideous selves! This is what
you _do_ look like, you ugly brutes! These are the crooked, clownish,
lumpish attitudes in which you really do stand; only a lot of lying
fashionable portrait-painters have persuaded you that you look like
Graces and Greek gods.' He was at it hammer and tongs with me this
morning; and I dare say I was lucky he didn't finish that argument with
a chisel. But anyhow the argument wasn't started then. It all came upon
him with a rush, when he had committed his real though probably
unintentional killing. As he stood staring at the corpse, there arose
out of the very abyss of his disappointment the vision of a strange
vengeance or reparation. He began to see the vast outlines of a joke as
gigantic as the Great Pyramid. He would set up that grim granite jest in
the market-place, to grin forever at his critics and detractors. The
dead man himself had just been explaining to him the process by which
the water of that place would rapidly petrify organic substances. The
notes and documents of his proof lay scattered about the studio where he
had fallen. His own proof should be applied to his own body, for a
purpose of which he had never dreamed. If the sculptor simply lifted the
body in the ungainly attitude in which it had actually fallen, if he
froze or fixed it in the stream, or set it upon the public pedestal, it
would be the very thing about which he had so bitterly debated; a real
man, in a real posture, held up to the scorn of men.

"That insane genius promised himself a lonely laughter, and a secret
superiority to all his enemies, in hearing the critics discuss it as the
crazy creation of a crank sculptor. He looked forward to the groups that
would stand before the statue, and prove the anatomy to be wrong, and
clearly demonstrate the posture to be impossible. And he would listen,
and laugh inwardly like a true lunatic, knowing that they were proving
the utter unreality of a real man. That being his dream, he had no
difficulty in carrying it out. He had no need to hide the body; he had
it brought down from his studio, not secretly but publicly and even
pompously, the finished work of a great sculptor escorted by the
devotees of a great discoverer. But indeed, Boyg was something more than
a man who made a discovery; and there is, in comparison, a sort of cant
even in the talk of a man having the courage to discover it. What other
man would have had the courage to undiscover it? That monument that
hides a strange sin, hides a much stranger and much rarer virtue. Yes,
you do well to hail it as a true scientific trophy. That is the statue
of Boyg the Undiscoverer. That cold chimera of the rock is not only the
abortion born of some horrible chemical change; it is the outcome of a
nobler experiment, which attests for ever the honour and probity of
science. You may well praise him as a man of science; for he, at least,
in an affair of science, acted like a man. You may well set up statues
to him as a hero of science; for he was more of a hero in being wrong
than he could ever have been in being right. And though the stars have
seen rise, from the soils and substance of our native star, no such
monstrosity as that man of stone, heaven may look down with more wonder
at the man than at the monster. And we of all schools and of all
philosophies can pass it like a funeral procession taking leave of an
illustrious grave and, like soldiers, salute it as we pass."



VI - THE HOUSE OF THE PEACOCK


It happened that some years ago, down a sunny and empty street of
suburban gardens and villas, a young man was walking; a young man in
rather outlandish clothes and almost prehistoric hat; for he was newly
come to London from a very remote and sleepy small town in the West
Country. There was nothing else especially remarkable about him, except
what happened to him; which was certainly remarkable, not to say
regrettable. There cannonaded into him an elderly gentleman running down
the street, breathless, bare-headed, and in festive evening dress, who
immediately caught him by the lapels of his antiquated coat and asked
him to dinner. It would be truer to say that he implored him to come to
dinner. As the bewildered provincial did not know him, or anybody else
for miles round, the situation seemed singular; but the provincial,
vaguely supposing it to be a hospitable ceremony peculiar to London
town, where the streets were paved with gold, finally consented. He went
to the hospitable mansion, which was only a few doors down the road; and
he was never seen again in the land of the living.

None of the ordinary explanations would seem to have fitted the case.
The men were total strangers. The man from the country carried no papers
or valuables or money worth mentioning; and certainly did not look in
the least as if he were likely to carry them. And, on the other hand,
his host had the outward marks of almost offensive prosperity; a gleam
of satin in the linings of his clothes, a glitter of opalescent stones
in his studs and cuff-links, a cigar that seemed to perfume the street.
The guest could hardly have been decoyed with the ordinary motive of
robbery, or of any form of fraud. And indeed the motive with which he
really was decoyed was one of the queerest in the world; so queer that a
man might have a hundred guesses before he hit on it.

It is doubtful whether anyone ever would have hit on it, but for the
extra touch of eccentricity which happened to distinguish another young
man, who happened to be walking down the same street an hour or two
afterwards on the same sunny afternoon. It must not be supposed that he
brought to the problem any of the dexterities of a detective; least of
all of the usual detective of romance, who solves problems by the
closest attention to everything and the promptest presence of mind. It
would be truer to say of this man that he sometimes solved them by
absence of mind. Some solitary object he was staring at would become
fixed in his mind like a talisman, and he stared at it till it began to
speak to him like an oracle. On other occasions a stone, a starfish, or
a canary had thus riveted his eye and seemed to reply to his questions.
On the present occasion his text was less trivial from an ordinary
standpoint; but it was some time before his own standpoint could be
ordinary. He had drifted along the sunny suburban road, drinking in a
certain drowsy pleasure in seeing where the laburnum made lines of gold
in the green, or patches of white or red thorn glowed in the growing
shadows; for the sunshine was taking on the tinge of sunset. But for the
most part he was contented to see the green semicircles of lawn repeat
themselves like a pattern of green moons; for he was not one to whom
repetition was merely monotony. Only in looking over a particular gate
at a particular lawn, he became pleasantly conscious, or half-conscious,
of a new note of colour in the greenness; a much bluer green, which
seemed to change to vivid blue, as the object at which he was gazing
moved sharply, turning a small head on a long neck. It was a peacock.
But he had thought of a thousand things before he thought of the obvious
thing. The burning blue of the plumage on the neck had reminded him of
blue fire, and blue fire had reminded him of some dark fantasy about
blue devils, before he had fully realized even that it was a peacock he
was staring at. And the tail, that trailing tapestry of eyes, had led
his wandering wits away to those dark but divine monsters of the
Apocalypse whose eyes were multiplied like their wings, before he had
remembered that a peacock, even in a more practical sense, was an odd
thing to see in so ordinary a setting.

For Gabriel Gale, as the young man was called, was a minor poet, but
something of a major painter; and, in his capacity of celebrity and
lover of landscape, he had been invited often enough into those larger
landscape gardens of the landed aristocracy, where peacocks as pets are
not uncommon. The very thought of such country seats brought back to him
the memory of one of them, decayed and neglected indeed compared with
most, but having for him the almost unbearable beauty of a lost
paradise. He saw standing for a moment in such glimmering grass a figure
statelier than any peacock, the colours of whose dress burned blue with
a vivid sadness that might indeed be symbolized by a blue devil. But
when intellectual fancies and emotional regrets had alike rolled away,
there remained a more rational perplexity. After all, a peacock was an
unusual thing to see in the front garden of a small suburban villa. It
seemed somehow too big for the place, as if it would knock down the
little trees when it spread its tail. It was like visiting a maiden lady
in lodgings, who might be expected to keep a bird, and finding that she
kept an ostrich.

These more practical reflections in their turn had passed through his
mind before he came to the most practical reflection of all...that for
the last five minutes he had been leaning on somebody else's front gate
with all the air of repose and finality of a rustic leaning on his own
stile. Comment might have been aroused if anybody had come out; but
nobody came out. On the contrary, somebody went in. As the peacock again
turned its tiny crown and trailed away towards the house, the poet
calmly opened the garden gate and stepped across the grass, following in
the track of the bird. The darkening twilight of that garden was
enriched by masses of red may, and altogether the villa had the look of
being cruder and more cockney than the grounds in which it stood.
Indeed, it was either actually unfinished or undergoing some new
alterations and repairs, for a ladder leaned against the wall apparently
to allow workmen to reach an upper storey and, moreover, there were
marks of bushes having been cut or cleared away, perhaps for some new
plan of building. Red bunches thus gathered from the bushes were stacked
on the window-sill of the upper storey, and a few petals seemed to have
dropped on the ladder, indicating that they had been carried up by that
route. All these things the gaze of Gale gradually took in, as he stood
with a rather bewildered air at the foot of the ladder. He felt the
contrast between the unfinished house with the ladder and the rich
garden with the peacock. It was almost as if the aristocratic birds and
bushes had been there before the bourgeois bricks and mortar.

He had a curious innocence which often appeared as impudence. Like other
human beings, he was quite capable of doing wrong knowingly and being
ashamed of it. But so long as he meant no wrong, it never even occurred
to him that there could be anything to be ashamed of. For him burglary
meant stealing; and he might have strolled, so to speak, down the
chimney into a king's bed-chamber, so long as he had no intent to steal.
The invitation of the leaning ladder and the open window was something
almost too obvious even to be called an adventure. He began to mount the
ladder as if he were going up the front steps of an hotel. But when he
came to the upper rungs he seemed to stop a moment, frowned at
something; and, accelerating his ascent, slipped quickly over the
window-sill into the room.

The twilight of the room seemed like darkness after the golden glare of
the evening sunlight, and it was a second or two before the glimmer of
light reflected from a round mirror opposite enabled him to make out the
main features of the interior. The room itself seemed dusty and even
defaced; the dark blue-green hangings, of a peacock pattern, as if
carrying out the same scheme as the living decoration of the garden,
were themselves, nevertheless, a background of dead colours; and,
peering into the dusty mirror, he saw it was cracked. Nevertheless, the
neglected room was evidently partly redecorated for a new festivity, for
a long table was elaborately laid out for a dinner-party. By every plate
was a group of quaint and varied glasses for the wines of every course;
and the blue vases on the table and the mantelpiece were filled with the
same red and white blooms from the garden which he had seen on the
window-sill. Nevertheless, there were odd things about the dinner-table,
and his first thought was that it had already been the scene of some
struggle or stampede, in which the salt-cellar had been knocked over
and, for all he knew, the looking-glass broken. Then he looked at the
knives on the table, and a light was beginning to dawn in his eyes, when
the door opened and a sturdy, grey-haired man came rapidly into the
room.

And at that he came back to common sense like a man flung from a flying
ship into the cold shock of the sea. He remembered suddenly where he was
and how he had got there. It was characteristic of him that, though he
saw a practical point belatedly...and, perhaps, too late...when he did
see it he saw it lucidly in all its logical ramifications. Nobody would
believe in any legitimate reason for entering a strange house by the
window instead of knocking at the door. Also, as it happened, he had no
legitimate reason...or none that he could explain without a lecture on
poetry and philosophy. He even realized the ugly detail that he was at
that very moment fidgeting with the knives on the table, and that a
large number of them were silver. After an instant of hesitation, he put
down the knife and politely removed his hat.

"Well," he said at last, with inconsequent irony, "I shouldn't shoot if
I were you; but I suppose you'll send for the police."

The new-comer, who was apparently the householder, was also fixed for
the moment in a somewhat baffling attitude. When first he opened the
door he had given a convulsive start, had opened his mouth as if to
shout, and shut it again grimly, as if he was not even going to speak.
He was a man with a strong, shrewd face, spoilt by painfully prominent
eyes which gave him a look of perpetual protest. But by some accident it
was not at these accusing eyes that the sleepy blue eyes of the poetical
burglar were directed. The trick by which his rambling eye was so often
riveted by some trivial object led him to look no higher at the moment
than the stud in the old gentleman's shirt-front, which was an unusually
large and luminous opal. Having uttered his highly perverse and even
suicidal remark, the poet smiled as if in relief, and waited for the
other to speak.

"Are you a burglar?" asked the owner of the house at last.

"To make a clean breast of it, I'm not," answered Gale. "But if you ask
me what else I am, I really don't know."

The other man came rapidly round the table towards him, and made a
motion as if offering his hand, or even both his hands.

"Of course you're a burglar," he said; "but it doesn't matter. Won't you
stay to dinner?"

Then, after a sort of agitated pause, he repeated:

"Come, you really must stay to dinner; there's a place laid for you."

Gale looked gravely along the table and counted the number of places
laid for dinner. The number disposed of any final doubts he might have
had about the meaning of this string of eccentricities. He knew why the
host wore opals, and why the mirror had been deliberately broken and why
the salt was spilt, and why the knives shone on the table in a pattern
of crosses, and why the eccentric householder brought may into the
house, and why he decorated it with peacocks' feathers, and even had a
peacock in the garden. He realized that the ladder did not stand where
it did to permit people to climb by it to the window, but merely that
they might pass under it on entering the door. And he realized that he
was the thirteenth man to sit down at that banquet.

"Dinner is just coming in," said the man with the opals with eager
amiability. "I'm just going down to fetch the other fellows up. You'll
find them very interesting company, I assure you; no nonsense about
them; shrewd, sharp fellows out against all this superstitious nonsense.
My name is Crundle. Humphrey Crundle, and I'm pretty well known in the
business world. I suppose I must introduce myself in order to introduce
you to the others."

Gale was vaguely conscious that his absent-minded eye had often rested
on the name of Crundle, associated with some soap or lozenge or
fountain-pen; and, little as he knew of such things, he could imagine
that such an advertiser, though he lived in a little villa, could afford
peacocks and five different kinds of wine. But other thoughts were
already oppressing his imagination, and he looked in a somewhat sombre
fashion out on to the garden of the peacock, where the sunset light was
dying on the lawn.

The members of the Thirteen Club, as they came trooping up the stairs
and settled into their seats, seemed for the most part to be at least
quite ready for their dinner. Most of them had a rather rollicking
attitude, which in some took the more vivid form of vulgarity. A few who
were quite young, clerks and possibly dependents, had foolish and
nervous faces, as if they were doing something a little too daring. Two
of them stood out from the company by the singularity of being obviously
gentlemen. One of these was a little dried-up old gentleman, with a face
that was a labyrinth of wrinkles, on the top of which was perched a very
obvious chestnut wig. He was introduced as Sir Daniel Creed, and was
apparently a barrister of note in his day, though the day seemed a
little distant. The other, who was merely presented as Mr. Noel, was
more interesting: a tall, stalwart man of dubious age but indubitable
intelligence, even in the first glance of his eyes. His features were
handsome in a large and craggy fashion; but the hollows of the temples
and the sunken framework of the eyes gave him a look of fatigue that was
mental and not physical. The poet's impalpable intuitions told him that
the appearance was not misleading...that the man who had thus come into
this odd society had been in many odd societies, probably seeking for
something more odd than he had ever found.

It was some time, however, before any of these guests could show
anything of their quality, owing to the abounding liveliness and
loquacity of their host. Mr. Crundle may, perhaps, have thought it
appropriate in a President of a Thirteen Club to talk thirteen to the
dozen. Anyhow, for some time he talked for the whole company, rolling
about in his chair in radiant satisfaction, like a man who has at last
realized his wildest vision of happiness. Indeed, there was something
almost abnormal about the gaiety and vivacity of this grey-haired
merchant; it seemed to be fed from a fountain within him that owed
nothing to the circumstances of festivity. The remarks with which he
pelted everybody were often rather random, but always uproariously
entertaining to himself. Gale could only dimly speculate on what he
would be like when he had emptied all the five glasses in front of him.
But, indeed, he was destined to show himself in more than one strange
aspect before those glasses were emptied.

It was after one of his repeated assertions that these stories about bad
luck were all the same sort of damned nonsense that the keen though
quavering voice of old Creed got a word in edgeways.

"There, my dear Crundle, I would make a distinction," he said in a legal
manner. "They are all damned nonsense, but they are not all the same
sort of damned nonsense. As a point of historical research, they seem to
me to differ in rather a singular fashion. The origin of some is
obvious, of others highly obscure. The fancies about Friday and thirteen
have probably a religious basis; but what, for instance, can be the
basis of objecting to peacocks' feathers?"

Crundle was replying with a joyful roar that it was some infernal
rubbish or other, when Gale, who had quickly slipped into a seat beside
the man called Noel, interposed in a conversational manner.

"I fancy I can throw a little light on that. I believe I found a trace
of it in looking at some old illuminated manuscripts of the ninth or
tenth century. There is a very curious design, in a stiff Byzantine
style, representing the two armies preparing for the war in heaven. But
St. Michael is handing out spears to the good angels; while Satan is
elaborately arming the rebel angels with peacocks' feathers."

Noel turned his hollow eyes sharply in the direction of the speaker.
"That is really interesting," he said; "you mean it was all that old
theological notion of the wickedness of pride?"

"Well, there's a whole peacock in the garden for you to pluck," cried
Crundle in his boisterous manner, "if any of you want to go out fighting
angels."

"They are not very effective weapons," said Gale gravely, "and I fancy
that is what the artist in the Dark Ages must have meant. There seems to
me to be something that rather hits the wrong imperialism in the right
place, about the contrast in the weapon; the fact that the right side
was arming for a real and therefore doubtful battle, while the wrong
side was already, so to speak, handing out the palms of victory. You
cannot fight anybody with the palms of victory."

Crundle showed a curious restlessness as this conversation proceeded;
and a much less radiant restlessness than before. His prominent eyes
shot questions at the speakers, his mouth worked, and his fingers began
to drum on the table. At last he broke out:

"What's all this mean, eh? One would think you were half on the side of
all the stuff and nonsense...all of you talking about it with those
long faces."

"Pardon me," interposed the old lawyer, with a relish for repeating the
logical point, "my suggestion was very simple, I spoke of causes, not of
justifications. I say the cause of the peacock legend is less apparent
than that of the bad luck of Friday."

"Do you think Friday unlucky?" demanded Crundle, like one at bay,
turning his starting eyes on the poet.

"No, I think Friday lucky," answered Gale. "All Christian people,
whatever their lighter superstitions, have always thought Friday lucky.
Otherwise they would have talked about Bad Friday instead of Good
Friday."

"Oh, Christians be..." began Mr. Crundle with sudden violence; but he
was stopped by something in the voice of Noel that seemed to make his
violence a vain splutter.

"I'm not a Christian," said Noel in a voice like stone. "It is useless
now to wonder whether I wish I were. But it seems to me that Mr. Gale's
point is a perfectly fair one; that such a religion might well actually
contradict such a superstition. And it seems to me also that the truth
might be applied yet further. If I believed in God, I should not believe
in a God who made happiness depend on knocking over a salt-cellar or
seeing a peacock's feather. Whatever Christianity teaches, I presume it
does not teach that the Creator is crazy."

Gale nodded thoughtfully, as if in partial assent, and answered rather
as if he were addressing Noel alone, in the middle of a wilderness.

"In that sense of course you are right," he said. "But I think there is
a little more to be said on the matter. I think most people, as I say,
have really taken these superstitions rather lightly, perhaps more
lightly than you do. And I think they mostly referred to lighter evils,
in that world of rough-and-tumble circumstance which they thought of
rather as connected with elves than with angels. But, after all,
Christians admit more than one kind even of angels; and some of them are
fallen angels...like the people with the peacocks' feathers. Now I have
a feeling that _they_ might really have to do with peacocks' feathers.
Just as lower spirits play low tricks with tables and tambourines, they
might play low tricks with knives and salt-cellars. Certainly our souls
do not depend on a broken mirror; but there's nothing an unclean spirit
would like better than to make us think so. Whether he succeeds depends
on the spirit in which we break it. And I can imagine that breaking the
mirror in a certain moral spirit...as, for instance, a spirit of scorn
and inhumanity...might bring one in touch with lower influences. I can
imagine that a cloud might rest on the house where such a thing was
done, and evil spirits cluster about it."

There was a rather singular silence, a silence that seemed to the
speaker to brood and settle even upon the gardens and streets beyond; no
one spoke; the silence was punctuated at last by the thin and piercing
cry of a peacock.

Then it was that Humphrey Crundle startled them all with his first
outbreak. He had been staring at the speaker with bursting eyeballs; at
length, when he found his voice, it was so thick and hoarse that the
first note of it was hardly more human than the bird's. He stuttered and
stammered with rage, and it was only towards the end of the first
sentence that he was even intelligible. "...Coming here and jabbering
blasted drivel and drinking my burgundy like a lord; talking rubbish
against our whole...against the very first...why don't you pull our
noses as well? Why the hell don't you pull our noses?"

"Come, come," cut in Noel in his trenchant tones, "you are getting
unreasonable, Crundle; I understand that this gentleman came here at
your own invitation, to take the place of one of our friends."

"I understood Arthur Bailey sent a wire that he was detained," observed
the more precise lawyer, "and that Mr. Gale had kindly taken his place."

"Yes," snapped Crundle, "I asked him to sit down as thirteenth man, and
that alone smashes your superstition; for considering how he came in,
he's jolly lucky to get a good dinner."

Noel again interposed with a remonstrance; but Gale had already risen to
his feet. He did not seem annoyed, but rather distrait; and he addressed
himself to Creed and Noel, neglecting his excitable host.

"I am much obliged to you gentlemen," he said, "but I think I shall be
going. It is quite true that I was invited to the dinner, but hardly to
the house...well, I can't help having a curious notion about it."

He played for a moment with the crossed knives on the table; then he
said, looking out into the garden...

"The truth is I'm not sure the thirteenth man has been so lucky after
all."

"What do you mean?" cried his host sharply. "Dare you say you haven't
had a good dinner? You're not going to pretend you've been poisoned."

Gale was still looking out of the window; and he said without moving:

"I am the fourteenth man, and I did not pass under the ladder."

It was characteristic of old Creed that he could only follow the logical
argument in a literal fashion, and missed the symbol and the spiritual
atmosphere which the subtler Noel had already understood. For the first
time the old lawyer in the red wig really looked a little senile. He
blinked at Gale and said querulously: "You don't mean to say you'd
bother to keep all those rules about ladders and things?"

"I'm not sure I should bother to keep them," replied Gale, "but I am
sure I shouldn't bother to break them. One seems to break so many other
things when one begins to break them. There are many things that are
almost as easy to break as a looking-glass." He paused a moment, and
added as if in apology: "There are the Ten Commandments, you know."

There was another abrupt accidental silence, and Noel found himself
listening with irrational rigidity for the ugly voice of the beautiful
bird outside. But it did not speak. He had the sub-conscious and still
more meaningless fancy that it had been strangled in the dark.

Then the poet for the first time turned his face to Humphrey Crundle,
and looked straight into the goggling eyes as he spoke.

"Peacocks may not be unlucky; but pride is unlucky. And it was in
insolence and contempt that you set yourself to trample on the
traditions or the follies of humbler men; so that you have come to
trample on a holier thing at last. Cracked mirrors may not be unlucky;
but cracked brains are unlucky; and you have gone mad on reason and
common sense till you are a criminal lunatic this day. And red may need
not be unlucky; but there is something that is more red and much more
unlucky; and there are spots of it on the window-sill and on the steps
of the ladder. I took it for the red petals myself."

For the first time in his restless hour of hospitality the man at the
head of the table sat perfectly still. Something in his sudden and stony
immobility seemed to startle all the rest into life, and they all sprang
to their feet with a confused clamour of protest and question. Noel
alone seemed to keep his head under the shock.

"Mr. Gale," he said firmly, "you have said too much or too little. A
good many people would say you were talking a lot of lurid nonsense, but
I have a notion that what you talk is not always such nonsense as it
sounds. But if you leave it as it is, it will be simply unsupported
slander. In plain words you say there has been a crime here. Whom do you
accuse; or are we all to accuse each other?"

"I do not accuse you," answered Gale, "and the proof is that if it must
be verified, you had better verify it yourself. Sir Daniel Creed is a
lawyer, and may very properly accompany you. Go and look yourselves at
the marks on the ladder. You will find some more in the grass round the
foot of the ladder, leading away in the direction of that big dust-bin
in the corner of the garden. I think it would be as well if you looked
in the dust-bin. It may be the end of your search."

Old Crundle continued to sit like a graven image; and something told
them that his goggle eyes were now, as it were, turned inward. He was
revolving some enigma of his own which seemed to baffle and blind him,
so that the whole disordered scene broke about him unnoticed. Creed and
Noel left the room and could be heard running down the stairs and
talking in low voices under the window. Then their voices died away in
the direction of the dust-bin; and still the old man sat with the opal
on his breast, as still as an Eastern idol with its sacred gem. Then he
seemed suddenly to dilate and glow as if a monstrous lamp had been lit
within him. He sprang to his feet, brandished his goblet as if for a
toast, and brought it down again on the table so that the glass was
shattered and the wine spilt in a blood-red star.

"I've got it; I was right," he cried in a sort of exaltation. "I was
right; I was right after all. Don't you see, all of you? Don't you see?
That man out there isn't the thirteenth man. He's really the fourteenth
man, and the fellow here is the fifteenth. Arthur Bailey's the real
thirteenth man, and he's all right, isn't he? He didn't actually come to
the house, but why should that matter? Why the devil should that matter?
He's the thirteenth member of the club, isn't he? There can't be any
more thirteenth men afterwards, can there? I don't care a curse about
all the rest; I don't care what you call me or what you do to me. I say
all this fool's poetical stuff goes to pot, because the man in the
dust-bin isn't number thirteen at all, and I challenge anybody..."

Noel and Creed were standing in the room with very grim faces as the man
at the head of the table gabbled on with a frightful volubility. When he
gasped and choked for a moment with the rush of his own words, Noel said
in a voice of steel:

"I am sorry to say that you were right."

"Most horrible thing I ever saw in my life," said old Creed, and sat
down suddenly, lifting a liqueur glass of cognac with a shaking hand.

"The body of an unfortunate man with his throat cut has been concealed
in the dust-bin," went on Noel in a lifeless voice. "By the mark on his
clothes, which are curiously old-fashioned for a comparatively young
man, he seems to have come from Stoke-under-Ham."

"What was he like?" asked Gale with sudden animation.

Noel looked at him curiously. "He was very long and lank, with hair like
tow," he replied. "What do you mean?"

"I guessed he must have looked a little like me," answered the poet.

Crundle had collapsed in his chair again after his last and strangest
outbreak, and made no attempt at explanation or escape. His mouth was
still moving, but he was talking to himself; proving with
ever-increasing lucidity and repetition that the man he had murdered had
no right to the number thirteen. Sir Daniel Creed seemed for the moment
almost as stricken and silent a figure; but it was he who broke the
silence. Lifting his bowed head with its grotesque wig, he said
suddenly: "This blood cries for justice. I am an old man, but I would
avenge it on my own brother."

"I am just going to telephone for the police," said Noel quietly. "I can
see no cause for hesitation." His large figure and features looked
notably less languid, and his hollow eyes had a glow in them.

A big florid man named Bull, of the commercial traveller type, who had
been very noisy and convivial at the other end of the table, now began
to take the stage like the foreman of a jury. It was rather typical of
him that he waited for more educated people to lead, and then proceeded
to lead them.

"No cause for hesitation. No case for sentimentalism," he trumpeted as
healthily as an elephant. "Painful business, of course; old member of
the club and all that. But I say I'm no sentimentalist; and whoever did
this deserves hanging. Well, there's no doubt of who did it. We heard
him practically confess a minute ago, when these gentlemen were out of
the room."

"Always thought he was a bad lot," said one of the clerks; possibly a
clerk with an old score of his own.

"I am all for acting at once," said Noel. "Where is the telephone?"

Gabriel Gale stepped in front of the collapsed figure in the chair, and
turned his face to the advancing crowd.

"Stop," he cried, "let me say a word."

"Well, what is it?" asked Noel steadily.

"I do not like boasting," said the poet, "but unfortunately the argument
can only take that form. I am a sentimentalist, as Mr. Bull would say; I
am by trade a sentimentalist; a mere scribbler of sentimental songs. You
are all very hard-headed, rational, sensible people who laugh at
superstitions; you are practical men, and men of common sense. But your
common sense didn't discover the dead body. You would have smoked your
practical cigars and drunk your practical grog and gone home all over
smiles, leaving it to rot in the dust-bin. _You_ never found out where
your rational sceptical road can lead a man, as it has led that poor
gibbering idiot in the chair. A sentimentalist, a dabbler in moonshine,
found out that for you; perhaps because he was a sentimentalist. For I
really have a streak in me of the moonshine that leads such men astray;
that is why I can follow them. And now the lucky sentimentalist must say
a word for the unlucky one."

"Do you mean for the criminal?" asked Creed in his sharp but shaky
voice.

"Yes," replied Gale. "I discovered him and I defend him."

"So you defend murderers, do you?" demanded Bull.

"Some murderers," answered Gale calmly. "This one was a rather unique
sort of murderer. In fact, I am far from certain that he was a murderer
at all. It may have been an accident. It may have been a sort of
mechanical action, almost like an automaton."

The light of long-lost cross-examinations gleamed in Creed's aged eyes,
and his sharp voice no longer shook.

"You mean to say," he said, "that Crundle read a telegram from Bailey,
realized there was a vacant place, went out into the street and talked
to a total stranger, brought him in here, went somewhere to fetch a
razor or a carving knife, cut his guest's throat, carried the corpse
down the ladder, and carefully covered it with the lid of the dust-bin.
And he did all that by accident, or by an automatic gesture."

"Very well put, Sir Daniel," answered Gale; "and now let me put you a
question, in the same logical style. In your legal language, what about
motive? You say he could not assassinate a total stranger by accident;
but why should he assassinate a total stranger on purpose? On what
purpose? It not only served no end he had in view; it actually ruined
everything he had in view. Why in the world should he want to make a gap
in his Thirteen Club dinner? Why in the name of wonder should _he_ want
to make the thirteenth man a monument of disaster? His own crime was at
the expense of his own creed, or cranky doubt, denial, or whatever you
call it."

"That is true," assented Noel, "and what is the meaning of it all?"

"I do believe," replied Gale, "that nobody can tell you but myself; and
I will tell you why. Do you realize how full life is of awkward
attitudes? You get them in snapshots; I suppose the new ugly schools of
art are trying to snap them; figures leaning stiffly, standing on one
leg, resting unconscious hands on incongruous objects. This is a tragedy
of awkward positions. I can understand it because I myself, this very
afternoon, was in the devil of an awkward position.

"I had climbed in through that window simply out of silly curiosity, and
I was standing at the table like a fool, picking up the knives and
putting them straight. I still had my hat on, but when Crundle came in I
made a movement to take it off with the knife still in my hand; then I
corrected myself and put the knife down first. You know those tiny
confused movements one sometimes has. Now Crundle, when he first saw me,
and before he saw me close, staggered as if I had been God Almighty or
the hangman waiting in his dining-room; and I think I know why. I am
awkward and tall and tow-haired, too; and I was standing there dark
against the daylight where the other had stood. It must have seemed as
if the corpse had lifted the dust-bin lid and crawled back up the
ladder, and taken up his station like a ghost. But meanwhile my own
little irresolute gesture with the half-lifted knife had told me
something. It had told me what really happened.

"When that poor rustic from Somerset strayed into this room he was what
perhaps none of us can be, he was shocked. He came of some old rural
type that really did believe in such omens. He hastily picked up one of
the crossed knives and was putting it straight when he caught sight of
the heap of spilt salt. Possibly he thought his own gesture had spilt
it. At that crucial instant Crundle entered the room, adding to the
confusion of his guest and hastening his hurried attempt at doing two
things at once. The unhappy guest, with fingers still clutched round the
knife-handle, made a grab at the salt and tried to toss some of it over
his shoulder. In the same flash the fanatic in the doorway had leapt
upon him like a panther and was tugging at the lifted wrist.

"For all Crundle's crazy universe was rocking in that instant. You, who
talk of superstitions, have you realized that this house is a house of
spells? Don't you know it is chock full of charms and magic rites, only
they are all done backwards, as the witches said the Lord's Prayer? Can
you imagine how a witch would feel if two words of the prayer came right
by accident? Crundle saw that this clown from the country was reversing
all the spells of his own black art. If salt was once thrown over the
shoulder, all the great work might yet be undone. With all the strength
he could call from hell he hung on to the hand with the knife, caring
only to prevent a few grains of silver dust from drifting to the floor.

"God alone knows if it was an accident. I do not say it as an idle
phrase. That single split second, and all that was really hidden in it,
lies open before God as large and luminous as an eternity. But I am a
man and he is a man; and I will not give a man to the gallows, if I can
help it, for what may have been accidental or automatic or even a sort
of self-defence. But if any of you will take a knife and a pinch of salt
and put yourself in the poor fellow's position, you will see exactly
what happened. All I say is this; that at no time and in no way,
perhaps, could things have been precisely in that posture, and the edge
of a knife been so near to a man's throat without intention on either
side, except by this one particular tangle of trivialities that has led
up to this one particular tragedy. It is strange to think of that poor
yokel setting out from his far-off Somerset village, with his little
handful of local legends, and this brooding eccentric and scoffer
rushing out of this villa full of rage of his hobby, and their ending
locked in this one unique and ungainly grapple, a wrestle between two
superstitions."

The figure at the head of the table had been almost forgotten like a
piece of furniture; but Noel turned his eyes slowly towards it, and said
with a cold patience as if to an exasperating child: "Is all this true?"

Crundle sprang unsteadily to his feet, his mouth still working, and they
saw at the edge of it a touch of foam.

"What I want to know," he began in a resonant voice; and then the voice
seemed to dry up in his throat and he swayed twice and pitched forward
on the table amid the wreck of his own wine and crystal.

"I don't know about a policeman," said Noel; "but we shall have to send
for a doctor."

"You will want two doctors for what will have to be done to him," said
Gale; and walked towards the window by which he had come in.


Noel walked with him to the garden gate, past the peacock and the green
lawn, that looked almost as blue as the peacock under a strong
moonlight. When the poet was outside the gate, he turned and said a last
word.

"You are Norman Noel, the great traveller, I think. You interest me more
than that unfortunate monomaniac did; and I want to ask you a question.
Forgive me if I imagine things for you, so to speak; it is a way I have.
You have studied superstitions all over the world, and you have seen
things compared with which all that talk of salt and table-knives is
like a child's game of consequences. You have been in the dark forests
over which the vampire seems to pass more vast than a dragon; or in the
mountains of the werewolf, where men say a man can see in the face of
his friend or his wife the eyes of a wild beast. You have known people
who had real superstitions; black, towering, terrific superstitions; you
have lived with those people; and I want to ask you a question about
them."

"You seem to know something about them yourself," answered Noel; "but I
will answer any question you like."

"Were they not happier men than you?"

Gale paused a moment as he put the question, and then went on. "Did they
not in fact sing more songs, and dance more dances, and drink wine with
more real merriment? That was because they believed in evil. In evil
spells, perhaps, in evil luck, in evil under all sorts of stupid and
ignorant symbols; but still in something to be fought. They at least
read things in black and white, and saw life as the battlefield it is.
But you are unhappy because you disbelieve in evil, and think it
philosophical to see everything in the same light of grey. And I speak
to you thus tonight; because tonight you have had an awakening. You saw
something worthy of hate and you were happy. A mere murder might not
have done it. If it had been some old man about town, or even some young
man about town, it might never have touched the nerve. But I know what
you felt; there was something shameful beyond speech in the death of
that poor clumsy country cousin."

Noel nodded. "I think it was the shape of his coat-tails," he said.

"I thought so," answered Gale. "Well, that is the road to reality. Good
night."

And he continued his walk along the suburban road, unconsciously taking
in the new tint of the lawns by moonlight. But he did not see any more
peacocks; and it may be accounted probable that he did not want to see
any.



VII - THE PURPLE JEWEL


Gabriel Gale was a painter and poet; he was the last person to pretend
to be even a very private detective. It happened that he had solved
several mysteries; but most of them were the sort of mysteries more
attractive to a mystic. Nevertheless, it also happened once or twice
that he had to step out of the clouds of mysticism into the more brisk
and bracing atmosphere of murder. Sometimes he succeeded in showing that
a murder was a suicide, sometimes that a suicide was a murder; sometimes
he was even involved in the study of lighter occupations like forgery
and fraud. But the connexion was generally a coincidence; it concerned
some point at which his imaginative interest in men's strange motives
and moods happened to lead him, or at any rate them, across the
border-line of legality. And in most cases, as he himself pointed out,
the motives of murderers and thieves are perfectly sane and even
conventional.

"I am no good at such a sensible job," he would say. "The police could
easily make me look a fool in any practical matter such as they discuss
in detective stories. What is the good of asking me to measure the marks
made by somebody's feet all over the ground, to show why he was walking
about, or where he was going? If you will show me the marks of
somebody's hands all over the ground, I will tell you why he was walking
upside down. But I shall find it out in the only way I ever do find out
anything. And that is simply because I am mad, too, and often do it
myself."

A similar brotherhood in folly probably led him into the very baffling
mystery of the disappearance of Phineas Salt, the famous author and
dramatist. Some of the parties involved may have accepted the parallel
of setting a thief to catch a thief, when they set a poet to find a
poet. For the problem did involve, in all probability, some of the
purely poetical motives of a poet. And even practical people admitted
that these might possibly be more familiar to a poet than to a
policeman.

Phineas Salt was the sort of man whose private life was rather a public
life; like that of Byron or D'Annunzio. He was a remarkable man, and
perhaps rather remarkable than respectable. But there was much to be
really admired in him; and there were of course any number of people who
admired even what was not so admirable. The pessimistic critics claimed
him as a great pessimist; and this was widely quoted in support of the
theory that his disappearance was in fact a suicide. But the optimistic
critics had always obstinately maintained that he was a True Optimist
(whatever that may be) and these in their natural rosy rapture of
optimism, dwelt rather on the idea that he had been murdered. So lurid
and romantic had his whole career been made in the eyes of all Europe,
that very few people kept their heads enough to reflect, or summoned
their courage to suggest, that there is no particular principle in the
nature of things to prevent a great poet falling down a well or being
attacked by cramp while swimming at Felixstowe. Most of his admirers,
and all those who were by profession journalists, preferred more sublime
solutions.

He left no family, of the regular sort, except a brother in a small
commercial way in the Midlands, with whom he had had very little to do;
but he left a number of other people who stood to him in conspicuous
spiritual or economic relations. He left a publisher, whose emotions
were of mingled grief and hope in the cessation of his production of
books and the high-class advertisement given to those already produced.
The publisher was himself a man of considerable social distinction, as
such distinctions go today; a certain Sir Walter Drummond, the head of a
famous and well-established firm; and a type of a certain kind of
successful Scotchman who contradicts the common tradition by combining
being business-like with being extremely radiant and benevolent. He left
a theatrical manager in the very act of launching his great poetical
play about Alexander and the Persians; this was an artistic but
adaptable Jew, named Isidore Marx, who was similarly balanced between
the advantages and disadvantages of an inevitable silence following the
cry of "Author". He left a beautiful but exceedingly bad-tempered
leading actress, who was about to gain fresh glory in the part of the
Persian Princess; and who was one of the persons, not indeed few, with
whom (as the quaint phrase goes) his name had been connected. He left a
number of literary friends; some at least of whom were really literary
and a few of whom had really been friendly. But his career had been
itself so much like a sensational drama on the stage that it was
surprising, when it came to real calculations about his probable
conduct, how little anybody seemed to know about the essentials of his
real character. And without any such clue, the circumstances seemed to
make the poet's absence as disturbing and revolutionary as his presence.

Gabriel Gale, who also moved in the best literary circles, knew all this
side of Phineas Salt well enough. He also had been in literary
negotiations with Sir Walter Drummond. He also had been approached for
poetical plays by Mr. Isidore Marx. He had managed to avoid having "his
name connected" with Miss Hertha Hathaway, the great Shakespearean
actress; but he knew her well enough, in a world where everybody knows
everybody. But being somewhat carelessly familiar with these noisy outer
courts of the fame of Phineas, it gave him a mild shock of irony to pass
into the more private and prosaic interior. He owed his connexion with
the case, not to this general knowledge he shared with the world of
letters, but to the accident that his friend, Dr. Garth, had been the
family physician of the Salts. And he could not but be amused, when he
attended a sort of family council of the matter, to discover how very
domestic and even undistinguished the family council was; and how
different from the atmosphere of large rumour and loose reputation that
roared like a great wind without. He had to remind himself that it is
only natural, after all, that anybody's private affairs should be
private. It was absurd to expect that a wild poet would have a wild
solicitor or a strange and fantastic doctor or dentist. But Dr. Garth,
in the very professional black suit he always wore, looked such a very
family physician. The solicitor looked such a very family solicitor. He
was a square-faced, silver-haired gentleman named Gunter; it seemed
impossible that his tidy legal files and strong-boxes could contain such
material as the prolonged scandal of Phineas Salt. Joseph Salt, the
brother of Phineas Salt, come up specially from the provinces, seemed so
very provincial. It was hard to believe that this silent, sandy-haired,
big, embarrassed tradesman, in his awkward clothes, was the one other
remaining representative of such a name. The party was completed by
Salt's secretary, who also seemed disconcertingly secretarial to be
closely connected with such an incalculable character. Again Gale had to
remind himself that even poets can only go mad on condition that a good
many people connected with them remain sane. He reflected, with a faint
and dawning interest, that Byron probably had a butler; and possibly
even a good butler. The disconnected fancy crossed his mind that even
Shelley may have gone to the dentist. He also reflected that Shelley's
dentist was probably rather like any other dentist.

Nevertheless, he did not lose the sense of contrast in stepping into
this inner chamber of immediate and practical responsibilities. He felt
rather out of place in it; for he had no illusions about himself as a
business adviser, or one to settle things with the private secretary and
the family lawyer. Garth had asked him to come, and he sat patiently
looking at Garth; while Gunter, the solicitor, laid the general state of
things before the informal committee.

"Mr. Hatt has been telling us," said the lawyer, glancing for a moment
at the secretary who sat opposite, "that he last saw Mr. Phineas Salt at
his own flat two hours after lunch on Friday last. Until about an hour
ago, I should have said that this interview (which was apparently very
short) was the last occasion on which the missing man had been seen.
Rather more than an hour ago, however, I was rung up by a person, a
complete stranger to me, who declared that he had been with Phineas Salt
for the six or seven hours following on that meeting at the flat and
that he was coming round to this office as soon as possible, to lay all
the facts before us. This evidence, if we find it in any way worthy of
credit, will at least carry the story a considerable stage further and
perhaps provide us with some important hint about Mr. Salt's whereabouts
or fate. I do not think we can say much more about it until he comes."

"I rather fancy he has come," said Dr. Garth. "I heard somebody
answering the door; and that sounds like boots scaling these steep legal
stairs"; for they had met in the solicitor's office in Lincoln's Inn.

The next moment a slim, middle-aged man slipped rather than stepped into
the room; there was indeed something smooth and unobtrusive about the
very look of his quiet grey suit, at once shabby and shiny and yet
carrying something like the last glimmer of satin and elegance. The only
other seizable thing about him was that he not only had rather long dark
hair parted down the middle, but his long olive face was fringed with a
narrow dark beard, which was also parted in the middle, drooping in two
separated strands. But as he entered he laid on a chair a soft black hat
with a very large brim and a very low crown; which somehow called up
instantly to the fancy the cafés and the coloured lights of Paris.

"My name is James Florence," he said in a cultivated accent. "I was a
very old friend of Phineas Salt; and in our younger days I have often
travelled about Europe with him. I have every reason to believe that I
travelled with him on his last journey."

"His last journey," repeated the lawyer, looking at him with frowning
attention; "are you prepared to say that Mr. Salt is dead, or are you
saying this for sensationalism?"

"Well, he is either dead or something still more sensational," said Mr.
James Florence.

"What do you mean?" asked the other sharply. "What could be more
sensational than his death?"

The stranger looked at him with a fixed and very grave expression and
then said simply: "I cannot imagine."

Then, when the lawyer made an angry movement, as if suspecting a joke,
the man added equally gravely: "I am still trying to imagine."

"Well," said Gunter, after a pause, "perhaps you had better tell your
story and we will put the conversation on a regular footing. As you
probably know, I am Mr. Salt's legal adviser; this is his brother, Mr.
Joseph Salt, whom I am advising also; this is Dr. Garth, his medical
adviser. This is Mr. Gabriel Gale."

The stranger bowed to the company and took a seat with quiet confidence.

"I called on my old friend Salt last Friday afternoon about five
o'clock. I think I saw this gentleman leaving the flat as I came in." He
looked across at the secretary, Mr. Hatt, a hard-faced and reticent man,
who concealed with characteristic discretion, the American name of
Hiram; but could not quite conceal a certain American keenness about the
look of his long chin and his spectacles. He regarded the newcomer with
a face of wood, and said nothing as usual.

"When I entered the flat, I found Phineas in a very disordered and even
violent condition, even for him. In fact somebody seemed to have been
breaking the furniture, a statuette was knocked off its pedestal and a
bowl of irises upset; and he was striding up and down the room like a
roaring lion with his red mane rampant and his beard a bonfire. I
thought it might be merely an artistic mood, a fine shade of poetical
feeling; but he told me he had been entertaining a lady. Miss Hertha
Hathaway, the actress, had only just left."

"Here, wait a minute," interposed the solicitor. "It would appear that
Mr. Hatt, the secretary, had also only just left. But I don't think you
said anything about a lady, Mr. Hatt."

"It's a pretty safe rule," said the impenetrable Hiram. "You never asked
me about any lady. I've got my own work to do and I told you how I left
when I'd done it."

"This is rather important, though," said Gunter doubtfully. "If Salt and
the actress threw bowls and statues at each other...well, I suppose we
may cautiously conclude there was some slight difference of opinion."

"There was a final smash-up," said Florence frankly. "Phineas told me he
was through with all that sort of thing and, as far as I could make out,
with everything else as well. He was in a pretty wild state; I think he
had been drinking a little already; then he routed out a dusty old
bottle of absinthe and said that he and I must drink it again in memory
of old days in Paris; for it was the last time, or the last day, or some
expression of that sort. Well, I hadn't drunk it myself for a long time;
but I knew enough about it to know that he was drinking a great deal too
much, and it's not a thing like ordinary wine or brandy; the state it
can get you into is quite extraordinary; more like the clear madness
that comes from hashish. And he finally rushed out of the house with
that green fire in his brain and began to get out his car; starting it
quite correctly and even driving it well, for there is a lucidity in
such intoxication; but driving it faster and faster down the dreary
vistas of the Old Kent Road and out into the country towards the
south-east. He had dragged me with him with the same sort of hypnotic
energy and uncanny conviviality; but I confess I felt pretty
uncomfortable spinning out along the country roads with twilight turning
to dark. We were nearly killed several times; but I don't think he was
trying to be killed...at least not there on the road by an ordinary
motor accident. For he kept on crying out that he wanted the high and
perilous places of the earth; peaks and precipices and towers; that he
would like to take his last leap from some such pinnacle and either fly
like an eagle or fall like a stone. And all that seemed the more blind
and grotesque because we were driving further and further into some of
the flattest country in England, where he certainly would never find any
mountains such as towered and toppled in his dream. And then, after I
don't know how many hours, he gave a new sort of cry; and I saw, against
the last grey strip of the gloaming and all the flat land towards the
east, the towers of Canterbury."

"I wonder," said Gabriel Gale suddenly, like a man coming out of a
dream, "how they did upset the statuette. Surely the woman threw it, if
anybody did. He'd hardly have done a thing like that, even if he was
drunk."

Then he turned his head slowly and stared rather blankly at the equally
blank face of Mr. Hatt; but he said no more and, after a slightly
impatient silence, the man called Florence went on with his narrative.

"Of course I knew that the moment he saw the great Gothic towers of the
cathedral they would mingle with his waking nightmare and in a way
fulfil and crown it. I cannot say whether he had taken that road in
order to reach the cathedral; or whether it was merely a coincidence;
but there was naturally nothing else in all that landscape that could so
fit in with his mood about steep places and dizzy heights. And so of
course he took up his crazy parable again and talked about riding upon
gargoyles, as upon demon horses, or hunting with hell-hounds above the
winds of heaven. It was very late before we reached the cathedral; and
though it stands more deeply embedded in the town than is common in
cathedral cities, it so happened that the houses nearest to us were all
barred and silent and we stood in a deep angle of the building, which
had something of seclusion and was covered with the vast shadow of the
tower. For a strong moon was already brightening behind the cathedral
and I remember the light of it made a sort of ring in Salt's ragged red
hair like a dull crimson fire. It seemed a rather unholy halo; and it is
a detail I remember the more, because he himself was declaiming in
praise of moonshine and especially of the effect of stained-glass
windows seen against the moon rather than the sun, as in the famous
lines in Keats. He was wild to get inside the building and see the
coloured glass, which he swore was the only really successful thing
religion ever did; and when he found the cathedral was locked up (as was
not unusual at that hour) he had a grand final reaction of rage and
scorn and began to curse the dean and chapter and everyone else. Then a
blast of boyish historical reminiscence seemed to sweep through his
changing mind; and he caught up a great ragged stone from the border of
the turf and struck thunderous blows on the door with it, as with a
hammer, and shouted aloud, 'King's men! King's men! Where is the
traitor? We have come to kill the archbishop.' Then he laughed groggily
and said, 'Fancy killing Dr. Randall Davidson....But Becket was really
worth killing. He had lived, by God! He had really made the best of both
worlds, in a bigger sense than they use the phrase for. Not both at once
and both tamely, as the snobs do. But one at a time and both wildly and
to the limit. He went clad in crimson and gold and gained laurels and
overthrew great knights in tournaments; and then suddenly became a
saint, giving his goods to the poor, fasting, dying a martyr. Ah, that
is the right way to do it! The right way to live a Double Life! No
wonder miracles were worked at his tomb.' Then he hurled the heavy flint
from him; and suddenly all the laughter and historical rant seemed to
die out of his face and to leave it rather sad and sober; and as stony
as one of the stone faces carved above the Gothic doors. 'I shall work a
miracle tonight,' he said stolidly, 'after I have died.'

"I asked him what in the world he meant; and he made no answer. But he
began abruptly to talk to me in quite a quiet and friendly and even
affectionate way; thanking me for my companionship on this and many
occasions; and saying that we must part; for his time was come. But when
I asked him where he was going, he only pointed a finger upwards; and I
could not make out at all whether he meant metaphorically that he was
going to heaven or materially that he was going to scale the high tower.
Anyhow, the only stairway for scaling it was inside and I could not
imagine how he could reach it. I tried to question him and he answered,
'I shall ascend...; I shall be lifted up...but no miracles will be
worked at my tomb. For my body will never be found.'

"And then, before I could move, and without a gesture of warning, he
leapt up and caught a stone bracket by the gateway; in another second he
was astride it; in a third standing on it; and in a fourth vanished
utterly in the vast shadow of the wall above. Once again I heard his
voice much higher up and even far away, crying, 'I shall ascend.' Then
all was silence and solitude. I cannot undertake to say whether he did
ascend. I can only say with tolerable certainty that he did not
descend."

"You mean," said Gunter gravely, "that you have never seen him since."

"I mean," answered James Florence equally gravely, "that I doubt whether
anybody on earth has seen him since."

"Did you make inquiries on the spot?" pursued the lawyer.

The man called Florence laughed in a rather embarrassed fashion. "The
truth is," he said, "that I knocked up the neighbours and even
questioned the police; and I couldn't get anybody to believe me. They
said I had had something to drink, which was true enough; and I think
they fancied I had seen myself double, and was trying to chase my own
shadow over the cathedral roofs. I dare say they know better now there
has been a hue and cry in the newspapers. As for me, I took the last
train back to London."

"What about the car?" asked Garth, sharply; and a light of wonder or
consternation came over the stranger's face.

"Why, hang it all!" he cried. "I forgot all about poor Salt's car! We
left it backed into a crack between two old houses just by the
cathedral. I never thought of it again till this minute."

Gunter got up from his desk and went into the inner room in which he was
heard obscurely telephoning. When he came back, Mr. Florence had already
picked up his round black hat in his usual unembarrassed manner and
suggested that he had better be going; for he had told all that he knew
about the affair. Gunter watched him walking away with an interested
expression; as if he were not quite so certain of the last assertion as
he would like to be. Then he turned to the rest of the company and said:

"A curious yarn. A very curious yarn. But there's another curious thing
you ought to know, that may or may not be connected with it." For the
first time he seemed to take notice of the worthy Joseph Salt, who was
present as the nearest surviving relative of the deceased or
disappearing person. "Do you happen to know, Mr. Salt, what was your
brother's exact financial position?"

"I don't," said the provincial shopkeeper shortly, and contrived to
convey an infinite degree of distance and distaste. "Of course you
understand, gentlemen, that I'm here to do anything I can for the credit
of the family. I wish I could feel quite certain that finding poor
Phineas will be for the credit of the family. He and I hadn't much in
common, as you may imagine; and to tell the truth, all these newspaper
stories don't do a man like me very much good. Men may admire a poet for
drinking green fire or trying to fly from a church tower; but they don't
order their lunch from a pastry-cook's shop kept by his brother; they
get a fancy there might be a little too much green fire in the
ginger-ale. And I've only just opened my shop in Croydon; that is, I've
bought a new business there. Also," and he looked down at the table with
an embarrassment rather rustic but not unmanly, "I'm engaged to be
married; and the young lady is very active in church work."

Garth could not suppress a smile at the incongruous lives of the two
brothers; but he saw that there was, after all, a good deal of common
sense in the more obscure brother's attitude.

"Yes," he said, "I quite see that; but you can hardly expect the public
not to be interested."

"The question I wanted to ask," said the solicitor, "has a direct
bearing on something I have just discovered. Have you any notion even a
vague one, of what Phineas Salt's income was, or if he had any capital?"

"Well," said Joseph Salt reflectively, "I don't think he really had much
capital; he may have had the five thousand we each of us got from the
old dad's business. In fact, I think he had; but I think he lived up to
the edge of his income and a bit beyond. He sometimes made big scoops on
a successful play or so; but you know the sort of fellow he was; and the
big scoop went in a big splash. I should guess he had two or three
thousand in the bank when he disappeared."

"Quite so," said the solicitor gravely. "He had two thousand five
hundred in the bank on the day he disappeared. And he drew it all out on
the day he disappeared. And it entirely disappeared on the day he
disappeared."

"Do you think he's bolted to foreign climes or something?" asked the
brother.

"Ah," answered the lawyer, "he may have done so. Or he may have intended
to do so and not done so."

"Then how did the money disappear?" asked Garth.

"It may have disappeared," replied Gunter, "while Phineas was drunk and
talking nonsense to a rather shady Bohemian acquaintance, with a
remarkable gift of narration."

Garth and Gale both glanced sharply across at the speaker; and both,
observant in such different ways, realized that the lawyer's face was a
shade too grim to be called merely cynical.

"Ah," cried the doctor with something like a catch in his breath. "And
you mean something worse than theft."

"I have no right to assert even theft," said the lawyer, without
relaxing his sombre expression; "but I have a right to suspect things
that go rather deep. To begin with, there is some evidence for the start
of Mr. Florence's story, but none for its conclusion. Mr. Florence met
Mr. Hatt; I take it, from the absence of contradiction, that Mr. Hatt
also met Mr. Florence."

On the poker face of Mr. Hatt there was still an absence of
contradiction; that might presumably be taken for confirmation.

"Indeed, I have found some evidence corroborating the story of Salt
starting with Florence in the car. There is no evidence corroborating
all that wild moonlight antic on the roads of Kent; and if you ask me, I
think it very likely that this particular joy-ride ended in some
criminal den in the Old Kent Road. I telephoned a moment ago to ask
about the car left in Canterbury; and they cannot at present find traces
of any such car. Above all, there is the damning fact that this fellow
Florence forgot all about his imaginary car, and contradicted himself by
saying that he went back by train. That alone makes me think his story
is false."

"Does it?" asked Gale, looking at him with childlike wonder. "Why, that
alone makes me think his story is true."

"How do you mean?" asked Gunter; "that alone?"

"Yes," said Gale; "that one detail is so true that I could almost
believe the truth of all the rest, if he'd described Phineas as flying
from the tower on a stone dragon."

He sat frowning and blinking for a moment and then said rather testily:
"Don't you see it's just the sort of mistake that would be made by that
sort of man? A shabby, impecunious man, a man who never travels far
except in trains, is caught up for one wild ride in a rich friend's car,
drugged into a sort of dream of absinthe, dragged into a topsy-turvy
mystery like a nightmare, wakes up to find his friend caught up into the
sky and everybody, in broad daylight, denying that the thing had ever
happened. In that sort of chilly, empty awakening, a poor man talking to
contemptuous policemen, he would no more have remembered any
responsibility for the car than if it had been a fairy chariot drawn by
griffins. It was part of the dream. He would automatically fall back on
his ordinary way of life and take a third-class ticket home. But he
would never make such a blunder in a story he had entirely made up for
himself. The instant I heard him make that howler, I knew he was telling
the truth."

The others were gazing at the speaker in some mild surprise, when the
telephone bell, strident and prolonged, rang in the adjoining office.
Gunter got hastily to his feet and went to answer it, and for a few
moments there was no sound but the faint buzz of his questions and
replies. Then he came back into the room, his strong face graven with a
restrained stupefaction.

"This is a most remarkable coincidence," he said; "and, I must admit, a
confirmation of what you say. The police down there have found the marks
of a car, with tyres and general proportions like Phineas Salt's,
evidently having stood exactly where James Florence professed to have
left it standing. But what is even more odd, it has gone; the tracks
show it was driven off down the road to the south-east by somebody.
Presumably by Phineas Salt."

"To the south-east," cried Gale, and sprang to his feet. "I thought so!"

He took a few strides up and down the room and then said: "But we
mustn't go too fast. There are several things. To begin with, any fool
can see that Phineas would drive to the east; it was nearly daybreak
when he disappeared. Of course, in that state, he would drive straight
into the sunrise. What else could one do? Then, if he was really full of
that craze for crags or towers, he would find himself leaving the last
towers behind and driving into flatter and flatter places; for that road
leads down into Thanet. What would he do? He must make for the chalk
cliffs that look down at least on sea and sand; but I fancy he would
want to look down on people, too; just as he might have looked down on
the people of Canterbury from the cathedral tower....I know that
south-eastern road...."

Then he faced them solemnly and, like one uttering a sacred mystery,
said, "Margate."

"And why?" asked the staring Garth.

"A form of suicide, I suppose," said the solicitor dryly. "What could a
man of that sort want to do at Margate except commit suicide?"

"What could any man want at Margate except suicide?" asked Dr. Garth,
who had a prejudice against such social resorts.

"A good many millions of God's images go there simply for fun," said
Gale; "but it remains to be shown why one of them should be Phineas
Salt...there are possibilities...those black crawling masses seen from
the white cliffs might be a sort of vision for a pessimist; possibly a
dreadful destructive vision of shutting the gates in the cliffs and
inundating them all in the ancient awful sea...or could he have some
cranky notion of making Margate glorious by his creative or destructive
acts; changing the very sound of the name, making it heroic or tragic
for ever? There have been such notions in such men...but wherever this
wild road leads I am sure it ends in Margate."

The worthy tradesman of Croydon was the first to get to his feet after
Gale had risen, and he fingered the lapels of his outlandish coat with
all his native embarrassment. "I'm afraid all this is beyond me,
gentlemen," he said, "gargoyles and dragons and pessimists and such are
not in my line. But it does seem that the police have got a clue that
points down the Margate road; and if you ask me, I think we'd better
discuss this matter again when the police have investigated a little
more."

"Mr. Salt is perfectly right," said the lawyer heartily. "See what it is
to have a business man to bring us back to business. I will go and make
some more inquiries; and soon, perhaps, I may have a little more to tell
you."

If Gabriel Gale was, and felt himself to be, an incongruous figure in
the severe framework of leather and parchment, of law and commerce,
represented by the office of Mr. Gunter, it might well have been
supposed that he would feel even more of a fish out of water in the
scene of the second family council. For it was held at the new
head-quarters of the family, or all that remained of the family; the
little shop in Croydon over which the lost poet's very prosaic brother
was presiding with a mixture of the bustle of a new business and the
last lingering formalities of a funeral. Mr. J. Salt's suburban shop was
a very suburban shop. It was a shop for selling confectionery and
sweetmeats and similar things; with a sort of sideshow of very mild
refreshments, served on little round shiny tables and apparently chiefly
consisting of pale green lemonade. The cakes and sweets were arranged in
decorative patterns in the window, to attract the eye of Croydon youth,
and as the building consisted chiefly of windows, it seemed full of a
sort of cold and discolouring light. A parlour behind, full of neat but
illogical knicknacks and mementoes, was not without a sampler, a
testimonial from a Provident Society and a portrait of George V. But it
was never easy to predict in what place or circumstances Mr. Gale would
find a certain intellectual interest. He generally looked at objects,
not objectively in the sense of seeing them as themselves, but in
connexion with some curious trains of thought of his own; and, for some
reason or other, he seemed to take quite a friendly interest in Mr.
Salt's suburban shop. Indeed, he seemed to take more interest in this
novel scene than in the older and more serious problem which he had come
there to solve. He gazed entranced at the china dogs and pink
pincushions on the parlour mantelpiece; he was with difficulty drawn
away from a rapt contemplation of the diamond pattern of lemon-drops and
raspberry-drops which decorated the window; and he looked even at the
lemonade as if it were as important as that pale green wine of wormwood,
which had apparently played a real part in the tragedy of Phineas Salt.

He had been indeed unusually cheerful all the morning, possibly because
it was a beautiful day, possibly for more personal reasons; and had
drawn near to the rendezvous through the trim suburban avenues with a
step of unusual animation. He saw the worthy confectioner himself,
stepping out of a villa of a social shade faintly superior to his own; a
young woman with a crown of braided brown hair, and a good grave face,
came with him down the garden path. Gale had little difficulty in
identifying the young lady interested in church work. The poet gazed at
the pale squares of lawn and the few thin and dwarfish trees with quite
a sentimental interest, almost as if it were a romance of his own; nor
did his universal good humour fail him even when he encountered, a few
lamp-posts further down the road, the saturnine and somewhat
unsympathetic countenance of Mr. Hiram Hatt. The lover was still
lingering at the garden gate, after the fashion of his kind, and Hatt
and Gale walked more briskly ahead of him towards his home. To Hatt the
poet made the somewhat irrelevant remark: "Do you understand that desire
to be one of the lovers of Cleopatra?"

Mr. Hatt, the secretary, indicated that, had he nourished such a desire,
his appearance on the historical scene would have lacked something of
true American hustle and punctuality.

"Oh, there are plenty of Cleopatras still," answered Gale; "and plenty
of people who have that strange notion of being the hundredth husband of
an Egyptian cat. What could have made a man of real intellect, like that
fellow's brother, break himself all up for a woman like Hertha
Hathaway?"

"Well, I'm all with you there," said Hatt. "I didn't say anything about
the woman, because it wasn't my business; but I tell you, sir, she was
just blue ruin and vitriol. Only the fact that I didn't mention her
seems to have set your friend the solicitor off on another dance of dark
suspicions. I swear he fancies she and I were mixed up in something; and
probably had to do with the disappearance of Phineas Salt."

Gale looked hard at the man's hard face for a moment and then said
irrelevantly: "Would it surprise you to find him at Margate?"

"No; nor anywhere else," replied Hatt. "He was restless just then and
drifted about into the commonest crowds. He did no work lately;
sometimes sat and stared at a blank sheet of paper as if he had no
ideas."

"Or as if he had too many," said Gabriel Gale.

With that they turned in at the confectioner's door: and found Dr. Garth
already in the outer shop, having only that moment arrived. But when
they penetrated to the parlour, they came on a figure that gave them,
indescribably, a cold shock of sobriety. The lawyer was already seated
in that gimcrack room, resolutely and rather rudely, with his top hat on
his head, like a bailiff in possession; but they all sensed something
more sinister, as of the bearer of the bowstring.

"Where is Mr. Joseph Salt?" he asked. "He said he would be home at
eleven."

Gale smiled faintly and began to fiddle with the funny little ornaments
on the mantelpiece. "He is saying farewell," he said. "Sometimes it is
rather a long word to say."

"We must begin without him," said Gunter. "Perhaps it is just as well."

"You mean you have bad news for him?" asked the doctor, lowering his
voice. "Have you the last news of his brother?"

"I believe it may fairly be called the last news," answered the lawyer
dryly. "In the light of the latest discoveries...Mr. Gale, I should be
much obliged if you would leave off fidgeting with those ornaments and
sit down. There is something that somebody has got to explain."

"Yes," replied Gale rather hazily. "Isn't _this_ what he has got to
explain?"

He picked up something from the mantelpiece and put it on the central
table. It was a very absurd object to be stared at thus, as an exhibit
in a grim museum of suicide or crime. It was a cheap, childish, pink and
white mug, inscribed in large purple letters, "A Present from Margate."

"There is a date inside," said Gale, looking down dreamily into the
depths of this remarkable receptacle. "This year. And we're still at the
beginning of the year, you know."

"Well, it may be one of the things," said the solicitor. "But I have got
some other Presents from Margate."

He took a sheaf of papers from his breast-pocket and laid them out
thoughtfully on the table before he spoke.

"Understand, to begin with, that there really is a riddle and the man
really has vanished. Don't imagine a man can easily melt into a modern
crowd; the police have traced his car on the road and could have traced
him, if he had left it. Don't imagine anybody can simply drive down
country roads throwing corpses out of cars. There are always a lot of
fussy people about, who notice a little thing like that. Whatever he
did, sooner or later the explanation would probably be found; and we
have found it."

Gale put down the mug abruptly and stared across, still open-mouthed,
but as it were more dry-throated, coughing and stammering now with a
real eagerness.

"Have you really found out?" he asked. "Do you know all about the Purple
Jewel?"

"Look here!" cried the doctor, as if with a generous indignation; "this
is getting too thick. I don't mind being in a mystery, but it needn't be
a melodrama. Don't say that we are after the Rajah's Ruby. Don't say,
oh, don't say, that it is in the eye of the god Vishnu."

"No," replied the poet. "It is in the eye of the Beholder."

"And who's he?" asked Gunter. "I don't know exactly what you're talking
about, but there may have been a theft involved. Anyhow, there was more
than a theft."

He sorted out from his papers two or three photographs of the sort that
are taken casually with hand-cameras in a holiday crowd. As he did so he
said:

"Our investigations at Margate have not been fruitless; in fact they
have been rather fruitful. We have found a witness, a photographer on
Margate beach, who testifies to having seen a man corresponding to
Phineas Salt, burly and with a big red beard and long hair, who stood
for some time on an isolated crag of white chalk, which stands out from
the cliff, and looked down at the crowds below. Then he descended by a
rude stairway cut in the chalk and, crossing a crowded part of the
beach, spoke to another man who seemed to be an ordinary clerk or
commonplace holiday-maker; and, after a little talk, they went up to the
row of bathing-sheds, apparently for the purpose of having a dip in the
sea. My informant thinks they did go into the sea; but cannot be quite
so certain. What he is quite certain of is that he never saw the
red-bearded man again, though he did see the common-place clean-shaven
man, both when he returned in his bathing-suit and when he resumed his
ordinary, his very ordinary, clothes. He not only saw him, but he
actually took a snapshot of him, and there he is."

He handed the photograph to Garth, who gazed at it with slowly rising
eyebrows. The photograph represented a sturdy man with a bulldog jaw but
rather blank eyes, with his head lifted, apparently staring out to sea.
He wore very light holiday clothes, but of a clumsy, unfashionable cut;
and, so far as he could be seen under the abrupt shadow and rather too
jaunty angle of his stiff straw hat, his hair was of some light colour.
Only, as it happened, the doctor had no need to wait for the development
of colour photography. For he knew exactly what colour it was. He knew
it was a sort of sandy red; he had often seen it, not in the photograph,
but on the head where it grew. For the man in the stiff straw hat was
most unmistakably Mr. Joseph Salt, the worthy confectioner and new
social ornament to the suburb of Croydon.

"So Phineas went down to Margate to meet his brother," said Garth.
"After all, that's natural enough in one way. Margate is exactly the
sort of place his brother would go to."

"Yes; Joseph went there on one of those motor-charabanc expeditions,
with a whole crowd of other trippers, and he seems to have returned the
same night on the same vehicle. But nobody knows when, where or _if_ his
brother Phineas returned."

"I rather gather from your tone," said Garth very gravely, "that you
think his brother Phineas never did return."

"I think his brother never will return," said the lawyer, "unless it
happens (by a curious coincidence) that he was drowned while bathing and
his body is some day washed up on the shore. But there's a strong
current running just there that would carry it far away."

"The plot thickens, certainly," said the doctor. "All this bathing
business seems to complicate things rather."

"I am afraid," said the lawyer, "that it simplifies them very much."

"What," asked Garth sharply. "Simplifies?"

"Yes," said the other, gripping the arms of his chair and rising
abruptly to his feet. "I think this story is as simple as the story of
Cain and Abel. And rather like it".

There was a shocked silence, which was at length broken by Gale, who was
peering into the Present from Margate, crying or almost crowing, in the
manner of a child.

"Isn't it a funny little mug! He must have bought it before he came back
in the charabanc. Such a jolly thing to buy, when you have just murdered
your own brother."

"It does seem a queer business," said Dr. Garth frowning. "I suppose one
might work out some explanation of how he did it. I suppose a man might
drown another man while they were bathing, even off a crowded beach like
that. But I'm damned if I can understand why he did it. Have you
discovered a motive as well as a murder?"

"The motive is old enough and I think obvious enough," answered Gunter.
"We have in this case all the necessary elements of a hatred, of that
slow and corroding sort that is founded on jealousy. Here you had two
brothers, sons of the same insignificant Midland tradesman; having the
same education, environment, opportunities; very nearly of an age, very
much of one type, even of one physical type, rugged, red-haired, rather
plain and heavy, until Phineas made himself a spectacle with that big
Bolshevist beard and bush of hair; not so different in youth but that
they must have had ordinary rivalries and quarrels on fairly equal
terms. And then see the sequel. One of them fills the world with his
name, wears a laurel like the crown of Petrach, dines with kings and
emperors and is worshipped by women like a hero on the films. The
other...isn't it enough to say that the other has had to go on slaving
all his life in a room like this?"

"Don't you like the room?" inquired Gale with the same simple eagerness.
"Why, I think some of the ornaments are so nice!"

"It is not yet quite clear," went on Gunter, ignoring him, "how the
pastry-cook lured the poet down to Margate and a dip in the sea. But the
poet was admittedly rather random in his movements just then, and too
restless to work; and we have no reason to suppose that he knew of the
fraternal hatred or that he in any way reciprocated it. I don't think
there would be much difficulty in swimming with a man beyond the crowd
of bathers and holding him under water, till you could send his body
adrift on a current flowing away from the shore. Then he went back and
dressed and calmly took his place in the charabanc."

"Don't forget the dear little mug," said Gale softly. "He stopped to buy
that and then went home. Well, it's a very able and thorough explanation
and reconstruction of the crime, my dear Gunter, and I congratulate you.
Even the best achievements have some little flaw; and there's only one
trifling mistake in yours. You've got it the wrong way round."

"What do you mean?" asked the other quickly.

"Quite a small correction," explained Gale. "You think that Joseph was
jealous of Phineas. As a matter of fact, Phineas was jealous of Joseph."

"My dear Gale, you are simply playing the goat," said the doctor very
sharply and impatiently. "And let me tell you I don't think it's a
decent occasion for doing it. I know all about your jokes and fancies
and paradoxes, but we're all in a damned hard position, sitting here in
the man's own house, and knowing we're in the house of a murderer."

"I know...it's simply infernal," said Gunter, his stiffness shaken for
the first time; and he looked up with a shrinking jerk, as if he half
expected to see the rope hanging from that dull and dusty ceiling.

At the same moment the door was thrown open and the man they had
convicted of murder stood in the room. His eyes were bright like a
child's over a new toy, his face was flushed to the roots of his fiery
hair, his broad shoulders were squared backwards like a soldier's; and
in the lapel of his coat was a large purple flower, of a colour that
Gale remembered in the garden-beds of the house down the road. Gale had
no difficulty in guessing the reason of this triumphant entry.

Then the man with the buttonhole saw the tragic faces on the other side
of the table and stopped, staring.

"Well," he said at last, in a rather curious tone. "What about your
search?"

The lawyer was about to open his locked lips with some such question as
was once asked of Cain by the voice out of the cloud, when Gale
interrupted him by flinging himself backwards in a chair and emitting a
short but cheery laugh.

"I've given up the search," said Gale gaily. "No need to bother myself
about that any more."

"Because you know you will never find Phineas Salt," said the tradesman
steadily.

"Because I have found him," said Gabriel Gale. Dr. Garth got to his feet
quickly and remained staring at them with bright eyes.

"Yes," said Gale, "because I am talking to him." And he smiled across at
his host, as if he had just been introduced.

Then he said rather more gravely: "Will you tell us all about it, Mr.
Phineas Salt? Or must I guess it for you all the way through?"

There was a heavy silence.

"You tell the story," said the shopkeeeper at last. "I am quite sure you
know all about it."

"I only know about it," answered Gale gently, "because I think I should
have done the same thing myself. It's what some call having a sympathy
with lunatics...including literary men."

"Hold on for a moment," interposed the staring Mr. Gunter. "Before you
get too literary, am I to understand that this gentleman who owns this
shop, actually is the poet, Phineas Salt? In that case, where is his
brother?"

"Making the Grand Tour, I imagine," said Gale. "Gone abroad for a
holiday, anyhow; a holiday which will be not the less enjoyable for the
two thousand five hundred pounds that his brother gave him to enjoy
himself with. His slipping away was easy enough; he only swam a little
bit further along the shore to where they had left another suit of
clothes. Meanwhile our friend here went back and shaved off his beard
and effected the change of appearance in the bathing-tent. He was quite
sufficiently like his brother to go back with a crowd of strangers. And
then, you will doubtless note, he opened a new shop in an entirely new
neighbourhood."

"But _why?_" cried Garth in a sort of exasperation. "In the name of all
the saints and angels, why? That's what I can't make any sense of."

"I will tell you why," said Gabriel Gale, "but you won't make any sense
of it."

He stared at the mug on the table for a moment and then said: "This is
what you would call a nonsense story; and you can only understand it by
understanding nonsense; or, as some politely call it, poetry. The poet
Phineas Salt was a man who had made himself master of everything, in a
sort of frenzy of freedom and omnipotence. He had tried to feel
everything, experience everything, imagine everything that could be or
could not be. And he found, as all such men have found, that that
illimitable liberty is itself a limit. It is like the circle, which is
at once an eternity and a prison. He not only wanted to do everything.
He wanted to be everybody. To the Pantheist God is everybody: to the
Christian He is also Somebody. But this sort of Pantheist will not
narrow himself by a choice. To want everything is to will nothing. Mr.
Hatt here told me that Phineas would sit staring at a blank sheet of
paper; and I told him it was not because he had nothing to write about,
but because he could write about anything. When he stood on that cliff
and looked down on that mazy crowd, so common and yet so complex, he
felt he could write ten thousand tales and then that he could write
none; because there was no reason to choose one more than another.

"Well, what is the step beyond that? What comes next? I tell you there
are only two steps possible after that. One is the step over the cliff;
to cease to be. The other is to _be_ somebody, instead of writing about
everybody. It is to become incarnate as one real human being in that
crowd; to begin all over again as a real person. Unless a man be born
again...

"He tried it and found that this was what he wanted; the things he had
not known since childhood; the silly little lower middle-class things;
to have to do with lollipops and ginger-beer; to fall in love with a
girl round the corner and feel awkward about it; to be young. That was
the only paradise still left virgin and unspoilt enough, in the
imagination of a man who has turned the seven heavens upside down. That
is what he tried as his last experiment, and I think we can say it has
been a success."

"Yes," said the confectioner with a stony satisfaction, "it has been a
great success."

Mr. Gunter, the solicitor, rose also with a sort of gesture of despair.
"Well, I don't think I understand it any better for knowing all about
it," he said; "but I suppose it must be as you say. But how in the world
did you know it yourself?"

"I think it was those coloured sweets in the window that set me off,"
said Gale. "I couldn't take my eyes off them. They were so pretty.
Sweets are better than jewellery: the children are right. For they have
the fun of eating rubies and emeralds. I felt sure they were speaking to
me in some way. And then I realized what they were saying. Those violet
or purple raspberry drops were as vivid and glowing as amethysts, when
you saw them from _inside_ the shop; but from outside, with the light on
them, they would look quite dingy and dark. Meanwhile, there were plenty
of other things, gilded or painted with opaque colours, that would have
looked much more gay in the shop-window, to the customer looking in at
it. Then I remembered the man who said he must break into the cathedral
to see the coloured windows from inside, and I knew it in an instant.
The man who had arranged that shop-window was not a shopkeeper. He was
not thinking of how things looked from the street, but of how they
looked to his own artistic eye from inside. From there he saw purple
jewels. And then, thinking of the cathedral, of course I remembered
something else. I remembered what the poet had said about the Double
Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury; and how when he had all the earthly
glory, he had to have the exact opposite. St. Phineas of Croydon is also
living a Double Life."

"Well," broke out Gunter, heaving with a sort of heavy gasp, "with all
respect to him, if he has done all this, I can only say that he must
have gone mad."

"No," said Gale, "a good many of my friends have gone mad and I am by no
means without sympathy with them. But you can call this the story of
'The Man Who went Sane'."



VIII - THE ASYLUM OF ADVENTURE


A very small funeral procession passed through a very small churchyard
on the rocky coast of Cornwall; carrying a coffin to its grave under the
low and windy wall. The coffin was quite formal and unobtrusive; but the
knot of fishermen and labourers eyed it with the slanted eyes of
superstition; almost as if it had been the misshapen coffin of legend
that was said to contain a monster. For it contained the body of a near
neighbour, who had long lived a stone's throw from them, and whom they
had never seen.

The figure following the coffin, the chief and only mourner, they had
seen fairly often. He had a habit of disappearing into his late friend's
house and being invisible for long periods, but he came and went openly.
No one knew when the dead man had first come, but he probably came in
the night; and he went out in the coffin. The figure following it was a
tall figure in black, bare-headed, with the sea-blast whistling through
his wisps of yellow hair as through the pale sea grasses. He was still
young and none could have said that his mourning suit sat ill upon him;
but some who knew him would have seen it with involuntary surprise and
felt that it showed him in a new phase. When he was dressed, as he
generally was, in the negligent tweeds and stockings of the pedestrian
landscape-painter, he looked merely amiable and absent-minded; but the
black brought out something more angular and fixed about his face. With
his black garb and yellow hair he might have been the traditional
Hamlet; and indeed the look in his eyes was visionary and vague; but the
traditional Hamlet would hardly have had so long and straight a chin as
that which rested unconsciously on his black cravat. After the ceremony,
he left the village church and walked towards the village post office,
gradually lengthening and lightening his stride, like a man who, with
all care for decency, can hardly conceal that he is rid of a duty.

"It's a horrible thing to say," he said to himself, "but I feel like a
happy widower."

He then went in to the post office and sent off a telegram addressed to
a Lady Diana Westermaine, Westermaine Abbey: a telegram that said: "I am
coming tomorrow to keep my promise and tell you the story of a strange
friendship."

Then he went out of the little shop again and walked eastwards out of
the village, with undisguised briskness, till he had left the houses far
behind, and his funeral hat and habit were an almost incongruous black
spot upon great green uplands and the motley forests of autumn. He had
walked for about half a day, lunched on bread and cheese and ale at a
little public-house, and resumed his march with unabated cheerfulness,
when the first event of that strange day befell him. He was threading
his way by a river that ran in a hollow of the green hills; and at one
point his path narrowed and ran under a high stone wall. The wall was
built of very large flat stones of ragged outline, and a row of them ran
along the top like the teeth of a giant. He would not normally have
taken so much notice of the structure of the wall; indeed he did not
take any notice of it at all until after something had happened. Until
(in fact) there was a great gap in the row of craggy teeth, and one of
the crags lay flat at his feet, shaking up dust like the smoke of an
explosion. It had just brushed one of his long wisps of light hair as it
fell.

Looking up, a shade bewildered by the shock of his hairbreadth escape,
he saw for an instant in the dark gap left in the stone-work a face,
peering and malignant. He called out promptly:

"I see you; I could send you to jail for that!"

"No you can't," retorted the stranger, and vanished into the twilight of
trees as swiftly as a squirrel.

The gentleman in black, whose name was Gabriel Gale, looked up
thoughtfully at the wall, which was rather too high and smooth to scale;
besides the fugitive had already far too much of a start. Mr. Gale
finally said aloud, in a reflective fashion: "Now I wonder why he did
that!" Then he frowned with an entirely new sort of gravity, and after a
moment or two of grim silence he added: "But after all its much more odd
and mysterious that he should _say_ that."

In truth, though the three words uttered by the unknown person seemed
trivial enough, they sufficed to lead Gale's memories backwards to the
beginning of the whole business that ended in the little Cornish
churchyard; and as he went briskly on his way he rehearsed all the
details of that old story, which he was to tell to the lady at his
journey's end.


Nearly fourteen years before, Gabriel Gale had come of age and inherited
the moderate debts and the small freehold of a rather unsuccessful
gentleman farmer. But though he grew up with the traditions of a sort of
small squire, he was not the sort of person, especially at that age, to
have no opinions except those traditions. In early youth his politics
were the very reverse of squires' politics; he was very much of a
revolutionary and locally rather a firebrand. He intervened on behalf of
poachers and gipsies: he wrote letters to the local papers which the
editors thought too eloquent to be printed. He denounced the county
magistracy in controversies that had to be impartially adjudged by the
county magistrates. Finding, curiously enough, that all these
authorities were against him, and seemed to be in legal control of all
his methods of self-expression, he invented a method of his own which
gave him great amusement and the authorities great annoyance. He fell,
in fact, to employing a talent for drawing and painting which he was
conscious of possessing, along with another talent for guessing people's
thoughts and getting a rapid grasp of their characters, which he was
less conscious of possessing, but which he certainly possessed. It is a
talent very valuable to a portrait-painter: in this case, however, he
became a rather peculiar sort of portrait-painter. It was not exactly
what is generally called a fashionable portrait-painter. Gale's small
estate contained several outhouses with white-washed walls or palings
abutting on the high road; and whenever a magnate or magistrate did
anything that Gale disapproved of, Gale was in the habit of painting his
portrait in public and on a large scale. His pictures were hardly in the
ordinary sense caricatures, but they were portraits of souls. There was
nothing crude about the picture of the great merchant prince now
honoured with a peerage; the eyes looking up from under lowered brows,
the sleek hair parted low on the forehead, were hardly exaggerated; but
the smiling lips were certainly saying: "And the next article?" One even
knew that it was not really a very superior article. The picture of the
formidable Colonel Ferrars did justice to the distinction of the face,
with its frosty eyebrows and moustaches; but it also very distinctly
discovered that it was the face of a fool, and of one sub-consciously
frightened of being found to be a fool.

With these coloured proclamations did Mr. Gale beautify the countryside
and make himself beloved among his equals. They could not do very much
in the matter; it was not libel, for nothing was said; it was not
nuisance or damage, for it was done on his own property, though in sight
of the whole world. Among those who gathered every day to watch the
painter at work, was a sturdy, red-faced, bushy-whiskered farmer, named
Banks, seemingly one of those people who delight in any event and are
more or less impenetrable by any opinion. He never could be got to
bother his head about the sociological symbolism of Gale's caricatures;
but he regarded the incident with exuberant interest as one of the great
stories calculated to be the glory of the country, like a calf born with
five legs or some pleasant ghost story about the old gallows on the
moor. Though so little of a theorist he was far from being a fool, and
had a whole tangle of tales both humorous and tragic, to show how rich a
humanity was packed within the four corners of his countryside. Thus it
happened that he and his revolutionary neighbour had many talks over the
cakes and ale, and went on many expeditions together to fascinating
graves or historic public-houses. And thus it happened that on one of
these expeditions Banks fell in with two of his other cronies, who made
a party of four, making discoveries not altogether without interest.

The first of the farmer's friends, introduced to Gale under the name of
Starkey, was a lively little man with a short stubbly beard and sharp
eyes, which he was in the habit however of screwing up with a quizzical
smile during the greater part of a conversation. Both he and his friend
Banks were eagerly interested in the story of Gale's political protests,
if they regarded them only too much as practical jokes. And they were
both particularly anxious to introduce a friend of theirs named Wolfe,
always referred to as Sim, who had a hobby, it would seem, in such
matters, and might have suggestions to make. With a sort of sleepy
curiosity which was typical of him, Gale found himself trailed along in
an expedition for the discovery of Sim; and Sim was discovered at a
little obscure hostelry called the Grapes a mile or so up the river. The
three men had taken a boat, with the small Starkey for coxswain; it was
a glorious autumn morning but the river was almost hidden under high
banks and overhanging woods, intersected with great gaps of glowing
sunlight, in one of which the lawns of the little riverside hotel sloped
down to the river. And on the bank over-hanging the river a man stood
waiting for them; a remarkable looking man with a fine sallow face
rather like an actor's and very curly grizzled hair. He welcomed them
with a pleasant smile, and then turned towards the house with something
of a habit of command or at least of direction. "I've ordered something
for you," he said. "If we go in now it will be ready."

As Gabriel Gale brought up the rear of the single file of four men going
up the straight paved path to the inn door, his roaming eye took in the
rest of the garden, and something stirred in his spirit, which was also
prone to roaming, and even in a light sense to a sort of rebellion. The
steep path was lined with little trees, looking like the plan of a
sampler. He did not see why he should walk straight up so very straight
a path, and many things in the garden took his wandering fancy. He would
much rather have had lunch at one of the little weather-stained tables
standing about on the lawn. He would have been delighted to grope in the
dark and tumble-down arbour in the corner, of which he could dimly see
the circular table and semi-circular seat in the shadow of its curtain
of creepers. He was even more attracted by the accident by which an old
children's swing, with its posts and ropes and hanging seat, stood close
up to the bushes of the river bank. In fact, the last infantile
temptation was irresistible; and calling out, "I'm going over here," he
ran across the garden towards the arbour, taking the swing with a sort
of leap on his way. He landed in the wooden seat and swung twice back
and forth, leaving it again with another flying leap. Just as he did so,
however, the rope broke at its upper attachment, and he fell all askew,
kicking his legs in the air. He was on his feet again immediately, and
found himself confronted by his three companions who had followed in
doubt or remonstrance. But the smiling Starkey was foremost, and his
screwed-up eyes expressed good humour and even sympathy.

"Rotten sort of swing of yours," he said. "These things are all falling
to pieces," and he gave the other rope a twitch, bringing that down
also. Then he added: "Want to feast in the arbour, do you? Very well;
you go in first and break the cobwebs. When you've collected all the
spiders, I'll follow you."

Gale dived laughing into the dark corner in question and sat down in the
centre of the crescent-shaped seat. The practical Mr. Banks had
apparently entirely refused to carouse in this leafy cavern; but the
figures of the two other men soon darkened the entrance and they sat
down, one at each horn of the crescent.

"I suppose that was a sudden impulse of yours," said the man named
Wolfe, smiling. "You poets often have sudden impulses, don't you?"

"It's not for me to say it was a poet's impulse," replied Gale; "but I'm
sure it would need a poet to describe it. Perhaps I'm not one; anyhow I
never could describe those impulses. The only way to do it would be to
write a poem about the swing and a poem about the arbour, and put them
both into a longer poem about the garden. And poems aren't produced
quite so quickly as all that, though I've always had a notion that a
real poet would never talk prose. He would talk about the weather in
rolling stanzas like the storm-clouds, or ask you to pass the potatoes
in an impromptu lyric as beautiful as the blue flower of the potato."

"Make it a prose poem, then," said the man whose name was Simeon Wolfe,
"and tell us how you felt about the garden and the garden-swing."

Gabriel Gale was both sociable and talkative; he talked a great deal
about himself because he was not an egoist. He talked a great deal about
himself on the present occasion. He was pleased to find these two
intelligent men interested and attentive; and he tried to put into words
the impalpable impulses to which he was always provoked by particular
shapes or colours or corners of the straggling road of life. He tried to
analyse the attraction of a swing, with its rudiments of aviation; and
how it made a man feel more like a boy, because it made a boy feel more
like a bird. He explained that the arbour was fascinating precisely
because it was a den. He told them at some length of the psychological
truth; that dismal and decayed objects raise a man's spirits higher, if
they really are already high. His two companions talked in turn; and as
luncheon progressed and passed they turned over between them many
strange strata of personal experience, and Gale began to understand
their personalities and their point of view. Wolfe had travelled a great
deal, especially in the East; Starkey's experiences had been more local
but equally curious, and they both had known many psychological cases
and problems about which to compare notes. They both agreed that Gale's
mental processes in the matter, though unusual, were not unique.

"In fact," observed Wolfe, "I think your mind belongs to a particular
class, and one of which I have had some experience. Don't you think so,
Starkey?"

"I quite agree," said the other man, nodding.

It was at that moment that Gale looked out dreamily at the light upon
the lawn, and in the stillness of his inmost mind a light broke on him
like lightning; one of the terrible intuitions of his life.

Against the silver light on the river the dark frame of the forsaken
swing stood up like a gallows. There was no trace of the seat or the
ropes, not merely in their proper place, but even on the ground where
they had fallen. Sweeping his eye slowly and searchingly round the
scene, he saw them at last, huddled and hidden in a heap behind the
bench where Starkey was sitting. In an instant he understood everything.
He knew the profession of the two men on each side of him. He knew why
they were asking him to describe the processes of his mind. Soon they
would be taking out a document and signing it. He would not leave that
arbour a free man.

"So you are both doctors," he observed cheerfully, "and you both think I
am mad."

"The word is really very unscientific," said Simeon Wolfe in a soothing
fashion. "You are of a certain type which friends and admirers will be
wise to treat in a certain way, but it need in no sense be an unfriendly
or uncomfortable way. You are an artist with that form of the artistic
temperament which is necessarily a mode of modified megalomania, and
which expresses itself in the form of exaggeration. You cannot see a
large blank wall without having an uncontrollable appetite for covering
it with large pictures. You cannot see a swing hung in the air without
thinking of flying ships careering through the air. I will venture to
guess that you never see a cat without thinking of a tiger or a lizard
without thinking of a dragon."

"That is perfectly correct," said Gale gravely; "I never do."

Then his mouth twisted a little, as if a whimsical idea had come into
his mind. "Psychology is certainly very valuable," he said. "It seems to
teach us how to see into each other's minds. You, for instance, have a
mind which is very interesting: you have reached a condition which I
think I recognize. You are in that particular attitude in which the
subject, when he thinks of anything, never thinks of the centre of
anything. You see only edges eaten away. Your malady is the opposite to
mine, to what you call making a tiger out of a cat, or what some call
making a mountain out of a molehill. You do not go on and make a cat
more of a cat; you are always trying to work back and prove that it is
less than a cat; that it is a defective cat or a mentally deficient cat.
But a cat is a cat; that is the supreme sanity which is so thickly
clouded in your mind. After all, a molehill is a hill and a mountain is
a hill. But you have got into the state of the mad queen, who said she
knew hills compared with which this was a valley. You can't grasp the
thing called a thing. Nothing for you has a central stalk of sanity.
There is no core to your cosmos. Your trouble began with being an
atheist."

"I have not confessed to being an atheist," said Wolfe staring.

"I have not confessed to being an artist," replied Gale, "or to have
uncontrolled artistic appetites or any of that stuff. But I will tell
you one thing: I can only exaggerate things the way they are going. But
I'm not often wrong about the way they are going. You may be as sleek as
a cat but I knew you were evolving into a tiger. And I guessed this
little lizard could be turned by black magic into a dragon."

As he spoke he was looking grimly at Starkey and out under the dark arch
of the arbour, as out of a closing prison, with these two ghouls sitting
on each side of the gate. Beyond was the gaunt shape like a gallows and
beyond that the green and silver of the garden and the stream shone like
a lost paradise of liberty. But it was characteristic of him that even
when he was practically hopeless, he liked being logically triumphant;
he liked turning the tables on his critics even when, so to speak, they
were as abstract as multiplication tables.

"Why, my learned friends," he went on contemptuously, "do you really
suppose you are any fitter to write a report on my mind than I am on
yours? You can't see any further into me than I can into you. Not half
so far. Didn't you know a portrait-painter has to value people at sight
as much as a doctor? And I do it better than you; I have a knack that
way. That's why I can paint those pictures on the wall; and I could
paint your pictures as big as a house. I know what is at the back of
your mind, Doctor Simeon Wolfe; and it's a chaos of exceptions with no
rule. You could find anything abnormal, because you have no normal. You
could find anybody mad; and as for why you specially want to find me
mad...why that is another disadvantage of being an atheist. You do not
think anything will smite you for the vile treachery you have sold
yourself to do today."

"There is no doubt about your condition now," said Dr. Wolfe with a
sneer.

"You look like an actor, but you are not a very good actor," answered
Gale calmly. "I can see that my guess was correct. These rack-renters
and usurers who oppress the poor, in my own native valley, could not
find any pettifogging law to prevent me from painting the colours of
their souls in hell. So they have bribed you and another cheap doctor to
certify me for a madhouse. I know the sort of man you are. I know this
is not the first dirty trick you have done to help the rich out of a
hole. You would do anything for your paymasters. Possibly the murder of
the unborn."

Wolfe's face was still wrinkled with its Semitic sneer, but his olive
tint had turned to a sort of loathsome yellow. Starkey called out with
sudden shrillness, as abrupt as the bark of a dog.

"Speak more respectfully!"

"There is Dr. Starkey, too," continued the poet lazily. "Let us turn our
medical attention to the mental state of Dr. Starkey."

As he rolled his eyes with ostentatious languor in the new direction, he
was arrested by a change in the scene without. A strange man was
standing under the frame of the swing, looking up at it with his head on
one side like a bird's. He was a small, sturdy figure, quite
conventionally clad; and Gale could only suppose he was a stray guest of
the hotel. His presence did not help very much; for the law was probably
on the side of the doctors; and Gale continued his address to them.

"The mental deficiency of Dr. Starkey," he said, "consists in having
forgotten the truth. You, Starkey, have no sceptical philosophy like
your friend. You are a practical man, my dear Starkey; but you have told
lies so incessantly and from so early an age that you never see anything
as it is, but only as it could be made to look. Beside each thing stands
the unreal thing that is its shadow; and you see the shadow first. You
are very quick in seeing it; you go direct to the deceptive
potentialities of anything; you see at once if anything could be used as
anything else. You are the original man who went straight down the
crooked lane. I could see how quickly you saw that the swing would
provide ropes to tie me up if I were violent; and that going first into
this arbour, I should be cornered, with you on each side of me. Yet the
swing and the arbour were my own idea; and that again is typical of you.
You're not a scientific thinker like the other scoundrel; you have
always picked up other men's ideas, but you pick as swiftly as a
pickpocket. In fact, when you see an idea sticking out of a pocket you
can hardly help picking it. That's where you're mad; you can't resist
being clever, or rather borrowing cleverness. Which means you have
sometimes been too clever to be lucky. You are a shabbier sort of scamp;
and I rather fancy you have been in prison."

Starkey sprang to his feet, snatching up the ropes and throwing them on
the table.

"Tie him up and gag him," he cried; "he is raving."

"There again," observed Gale, "I enter with sympathy into your thoughts.
You mean that I must be gagged at once; for if I were free for half a
day, or perhaps half an hour, I could find out the facts about you and
tear your reputation to rags."

As he spoke he again followed with an interested eye the movements of
the strange man outside. The man had recrossed the garden, calmly
picking up a chair from one of the little tables, and returned carrying
it lightly in the direction of the arbour. To the surprise of all, he
set it down at the round table in the very entrance of that retreat, and
sat down on it with his hands in his pockets, staring at Gabriel Gale.
With his face in shadow, his square head, short hair and bulk of
shoulders took on a new touch of mystery.

"Hope I don't interrupt," he said. "Perhaps it would be more honest to
say I hope I do interrupt. Because I want to interrupt. Honestly, I
think you medical gentlemen would be very unwise to gag your friend
here, or try to carry him off."

"And why?" asked Starkey sharply.

"Only because I should kill you if you did," replied the stranger.

They all stared at him; and Wolfe sneered again as he said: "You might
find it awkward to kill us both at once."

The stranger took his hands out of his pockets; and with the very
gesture there was a double flash of metal. For the hands held two
revolvers which pointed at them, fixed them like two large fingers of
steel.

"I shall only kill you if you run or call out," said the strange
gentleman pleasantly.

"If you do you'll be hanged," cried Wolfe violently.

"Oh, no, I shan't," said the stranger; "not unless two dead men can get
up and hang me on that nursery gallows in the garden. I'm allowed to
kill people. There's a special Act of Parliament permitting me to go
about killing anybody I like. I'm never punished, whatever I do. In
fact, to tell you the truth, I'm the King of England, and the
Constitution says I can do no wrong."

"What are you talking about?" demanded the doctor. "You must be mad."

The stranger uttered a sudden shout of laughter that shook the shed and
the nerves of all three hearers.

"You've hit it first shot," he cried. "He said you were quick, didn't
he? Yes, I'm mad all right; I've just escaped from the same sanatorium
next door, where you want to take your friend to. I escaped in a way of
my own; through the chief doctor's private apartments; and he's kind
enough to keep two pistols in his drawer. I may be recaptured; but I
shan't be hanged. I may be recaptured; but I particularly don't want
your young friend to be captured at all. He's got his life before him; I
don't choose he should suffer as I've suffered. I like the look of him;
I like the way he turned all your medical tomfoolery upside down. So
you'll understand I am at present wielding the power of a perfectly
irresponsible sultan. I shall merely be rounding off a very pleasant
holiday by blowing both your brains out, unless you will sit quite still
and allow your young friend to tie you up with the ropes. That will give
us a good start for our escape."

How he passed through the topsy-turvy transformation scene that followed
Gale could afterwards barely remember; it seemed like a sort of dream
pantomime, but its results were solid enough. Ten minutes later he and
his strange deliverer were walking free in the woods beyond the last
hedge of the garden, leaving the two medical gentlemen behind them in
the arbour, tied up like two sacks of potatoes.

For Gabriel Gale the wood in which he walked was a new world of wonders.
Every tree was a Christmas tree bearing gifts; and every gap in the
woods was like a glimpse through the curtain for a child with a toy
theatre. For a few moments before all these things had nearly
disappeared in the darkness of something worse than death; till heaven
had sent him a guardian angel in the shape of an escaped lunatic.

Gale was very young and his youth had not then found its vent and
vocation by falling in love. There was in him something of those young
Crusaders who made wild vows not to cut their hair till they found the
Holy City. His liberty was looking and longing for something to bind
itself; and at this moment he could think of but one thing in the world.

Two hundred yards along the path by the river he halted and spoke to his
companion:

"It is you who have given me all this," he said. "Under God, and so far
as my life goes, it is you who have created heaven and earth. You set up
along my triumphal way these trees like seven-branched candlesticks with
their grey branches silver in the sun. You spread before my feet these
red leaves that are better than roses. You shaped clouds. You invented
birds. Do you think I could enjoy all these things when I knew you were
back again in the hell that you hate? I should feel I had tricked you
out of everything you have given me. I should feel like a thief who had
stolen the stars. You shan't go back there if I can help it; you saved
me and I am going to save you. I owe you my life and I give it you; I
vow I will share anything you suffer; God do so to me and more also, if
aught but death part thee and me."

Thus were spoken in that wild place the wild words that determined the
life of Gabriel Gale for so many years afterwards; and the walk that
began in that wood turned into a wandering over the whole country by
those two fantastic outlaws. As a matter of fact a sort of armed truce
fell between them and their enemies, for each had something to fear from
the other. Gale did not use all he discovered against the two doctors
lest they should press the pursuit of his friend; and they did not press
it lest he should retaliate with his own revelations. Thus the two came
to roam practically unmolested until the day of that adventure, already
described in the beginning of all these things, when he fell in love,
and his crazy companion fell into a paroxysm which went very near to
murder.

In every sense that dreadful day had changed all. That murderous
outbreak had at last convinced a sadder and wiser Gabriel that he had
other responsibilities besides those of his chivalric vow to his
companion-in-arms; and he concluded that their companionship could only
be rightly continued in some safe and more secluded form. Then it was
that he put his friend into the comfortable and secret house in
Cornwall, and spent most of his own time there, leaving a trustworthy
servant on guard during his brief absences. His companion, whose name
was James Hurrel, had been a business man of great ability and even
audacity, until his schemes grew a little too big for his brain; and he
lived happily enough in Cornwall, covering the tables with prospectuses
and the walls with posters relative to various financial enterprises of
the most promising kind. There he died, to all appearance equally
happily; and Gale walked back from his funeral a free man.

* * * * *

Next morning, after a few hours' walking a rise and change in the
rolling and wooded country told him that he was on the borders of his
enchanted ground. He remembered something in the grouping of the trees,
and how they seemed to huddle and stand on tiptoe with their backs to
him, looking into the happy valley. He came to where the road curved
over the hill, as he had come with his friend in former times; and saw
below him the meadows falling steeply as thatched roofs and flattening
out till they reached the wide and shallow river, and the ford and the
dark inn called the Rising Sun.

The gloomy inn-keeper of old days was gone, having found it less gloomy
to take service in some stables in the neighbourhood; and a brisker
individual with the look of a groom was the recipient of Gale's
expansive praises of the beauty of the scene. Gale was good enough to
inform the inn-keeper of the beauty of the skies in the neighbourhood of
his own inn, telling how he, Gale, had once seen a sunset in that valley
quite peculiar to it and unequalled anywhere in the world; and how even
the storm that had followed the sunset had been something very sublime
in that style. His generalizations however were somewhat checked and
diverted by a note which the inn-keeper put into his hand, a note from
the great house across the river. It was without any formal opening, as
if the writer had hesitated about a form of address; and it ran:

"I want to hear the story and hope you will come over tomorrow
(Thursday). I fear I shall be out today, as I have to go to see a Dr.
Wilson in Wimbledon about some work I have a chance of doing. I suppose
you know we are pretty hard up in these days. D.W."

The whole landscape seemed to him to darken for an instant as he read
the letter, but he did not lose his brisk demeanour and breezy mode of
speech.

"I find I made a mistake," he said, putting the note in his pocket, "and
I must leave here almost at once. I have to visit another spot, if
possible more picturesque and poetical than this one. It is Wimbledon
that has skies of a strange and unique character at the present time.
The sunsets of Wimbledon are famous throughout the world. A storm in
Wimbledon would be an apocalypse. But I hope I shall come back here
again sooner or later. Good-bye."

The proceedings of Mr. Gale after this were rather more calculated and
peculiar. First he sat on a stile and frowned heavily as if thinking
hard. Then he sent off a telegram to a certain Dr. Garth, who was a
friend of his, and one or two other telegrams to persons in rather
responsible positions. When he got to London he went into the offices of
the vulgarest and most sensational newspaper he knew, and looked up the
back files for the details of forgotten crimes. When he got to Wimbledon
he had a long interview with a local house agent and ended up towards
evening, outside a high garden wall with a green door, in a wide but
empty and silent suburban road. He went quietly up to the door and
barely touched it with his finger, as if seeing if the paint were wet.
But the door, which was barred across with bands of decorative metal
work and had every appearance of being shut, immediately fell ajar,
showing the patchy colours of garden beds within. "I thought so," said
Gale to himself and slipped into the garden, leaving the door ajar
behind him.

The suburban family which he was presumably visiting, and with which the
impoverished Diana Westermaine was presumably to take some post as
governess or secretary, was evidently the sort who combined a new
neatness with a certain early Victorian comfort and indifference to
cost. The conservatories were of antiquated pattern, but full of rich
and exotic things; there were things still more old-fashioned, such as a
grey and rather featureless classical statue in the centre. Within a few
yards of it were things so Victorian as croquet hoops and croquet
mallets, as if a game had been in progress, and beyond it under the tree
was a table set out with tea things, for people for whom tea was not a
trifle. All these human things, unused at the moment by human beings,
seemed to emphasize the emptiness of the garden. Or rather, so far as he
was concerned, they emphasized the fact that it was almost empty, save
for the one thing that could so strangely fill it with life. For far
away down one of the paths pointing towards the kitchen garden he saw a
figure moving as yet unconsciously towards him. It came out under an
arch crowned with creepers and there, after so many years, they met.
There seemed something symbolical of seriousness and crisis in the
accident that they were both in black.

He had always been able to call up the memory of her dark vivid eyebrows
and the high-tinted distinction of her face in connexion with corners of
the blue dress she had worn; but when he saw her again he wondered that
the face had not always annihilated all its lesser associations. She
looked at him for a moment with bright motionless eyes and then said:

"Well, really. You seem to be a rather impatient person."

"Possibly," he replied; "and yet I have waited four years."

"They are coming out to tea in a moment," she said somewhat awkwardly.
"I suppose I must introduce you to them. I only accepted the post this
morning; but they asked me to stay. I was going to wire to you."

"Thank God I followed you," he answered. "I doubt if the wire would have
reached me...from this house."

"What do you mean?" she asked, "and how did you follow?"

"I did not like your Wimbledon address," he said: and with that, strange
figures began to fill the garden, and she walked across to the
tea-table. Her face was somewhat paler and more severe than it used to
be, but in her grey eyes there was a light not altogether extinguished,
curiosity still shot with defiance. By the time they reached the table
two or three people had collected round it; and the somewhat irregular
visitor had saluted them in a regular and even punctilious fashion.

The host or hostess had apparently not yet become visible; there were
only three gentlemen, presumably guests and perhaps members of a
house-party. One was introduced as Mr. Wolmer, a young man with a fair
moustache and a tall fine figure that made his head look small; with a
fine bridged nose that ought to have been like a hawk's if the
prominence of the eyes and some deficiency of the chin had not somehow
made it more like a parrot's. The second was a Major Bruce, a very short
man with a very long head streaked with iron grey hair, and an
expression which suggested, truly enough, that he very seldom opened his
mouth. The third was an elderly person with a black skull-cap on his
bald head and a fringe or fan of red beard or whiskers; he was evidently
a person of some importance and known as Professor Patterson.

Gale partook of tea and indulged in polite conversation in quite an
animated fashion, wondering all the time who it was who ought to have
been at the head of the table, where Diana Westermaine was pouring out
the tea. The demeanour of the man named Wolmer was rather restless; and
in a little while he stood up and began, as if from the necessity of
doing something, to knock the croquet balls about on the lawn. Gale, who
was watching him with some interest, followed suit by picking up a
mallet and trying some particular trick of putting two balls through a
hoop. It was a trick which needed a test of some minuteness, for he went
down on his hands and knees to examine the position more closely.

"Going to put your head through the hoop?" asked Wolmer rudely; for he
had been growing more and more impatient, almost as if he had taken a
mysterious dislike to the newcomer.

"Not quite," answered Gale good-humouredly as he rolled the balls away.
"Uncomfortable position, I should think. Like being guillotined."

Wolmer was glaring balefully at the hoop and said something in a thick
voice that sounded like "Serve you right." Then he suddenly whirled his
mallet above his head like a battle-axe and brought it down with a crash
on the hoop, driving it deep into the turf. There was something
indescribably shocking about the pantomime, following instantly on the
image that had just been suggested of a human head in the hoop. They
felt as if an act of decapitation had been done before their very eyes.

"Better put down that mallet now," said the professor in a soothing
voice, putting a rather shaky hand on the other's arm.

"Oh, I'll put it down then," said Wolmer, and slung it away over his
shoulder like a man putting the hammer at the Highland Sports. It flew
through the air like a thunderbolt, striking the forlorn plaster statue
in the centre and breaking it off short at the top. Mr. Wolmer laughed
in a rather uncontrolled fashion; and then strode away into the house.

The girl had been watching these things with her dark brows bent and her
pallor growing somewhat more marked. There was an unpleasant silence,
and then Major Bruce spoke for the first time.

"It's the atmosphere of this place," he said. "It is not very
wholesome."

The atmosphere of the suburban garden as a matter of fact was very
clear, sunny and pleasant, and Diana looked round with a growing and
even creeping mystification at the gay flower-pots and the lawns golden
in the evening light.

"Perhaps it is my own misfortune," resumed the Major reflectively. "The
truth is there is something serious the matter with me. I have a malady
which makes this particular place rather awful."

"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.

There was a short silence and then he answered stolidly.

"I am sane."

Then she looked once more at the warm sunshiny garden and began to
shudder as if with cold. A thousand things came back to her out of the
last few hours. She knew why she had dimly distrusted her new home. She
knew now that there is only one place in the world where men say that
they are sane.

As the little man with the long head walked away as stiffly as a wooden
automaton, she looked round for Gale and found he had vanished. An
appalling emptiness, a vast vacuum of terror, opened around her on every
side. In that moment she had admitted many things to herself that had
been but half conscious: and no one on earth mattered but the man who
had vanished into a void. For the moment she balanced the possibility
that she was really mad against the possibility that nobody else was
sane; when she caught sight, through the gap of a hedge, of figures
moving at the other end of the garden. The old professor in the
skull-cap was moving rapidly but with trepidation, as if running on
tiptoe, his long lean hands flapping like fins and his red chin-beard
wagging in the wind. And behind him following, equally softly and
swiftly, at the distance of a few yards, was the long grey figure of
Gabriel Gale. She could fit together no fancy about what it all meant;
she could only continue to stare across the flower-beds at the
glass-houses full of monstrous flowers and be vaguely conscious of a
sort of symbol in the headless statue in the centre; the god of that
garden of unreason.

The next moment she saw Gale reappear at the other extremity of the long
hedge and come towards her smiling in the sunshine. He stopped when he
saw her white face.

"Do you know what this place is?" she whispered. "It is a madhouse."

"It's a very easy one to escape from," said Gale in a serene manner.
"I've just seen the professor escape from it. He escapes regularly;
probably on Wednesdays and Saturdays."

"This is no time for your jokes," she cried. "I tell you we've been
trapped inside a madhouse."

"And I tell you we shall soon be outside the madhouse," he replied
firmly. "And under those circumstances, I don't mind telling you that I
regret to say it is not a madhouse."

"What do you mean?"

"It is something worse," replied Gale.

"Tell me what you mean," she repeated. "Tell me what you know about this
horrible place."

"For me it will always be a holy place," he said. "Was it not under that
arch there that you appeared out of the abyss of memory? And after all,
it's a beautiful garden and I'm almost sorry to leave it. The house,
too, makes a romantic background; and really we might be very
comfortable here...if only it were a madhouse." And he sighed with
regret.

Then after a pause he added, "I might say all I want to say to you in a
nice, friendly, comfortable lunatic asylum...but not in a place like
this. There are practical things to be done now; and here come the
people who will do them!"

She was never able to fit together again the fragments of that bad dream
and its wilder way of breaking up. To her astonishment she beheld a new
group advancing up the garden path; in front was a red-haired man in a
top hat, whose shrewd and good-humoured features were faintly familiar
to her; behind were two stalwart figures, obviously in "plain clothes",
and between them the unexpected apparition of Professor Patterson in
handcuffs.

"Caught him setting fire to a house," said the red-haired man briefly.
"Valuable documents."

Later in that bewildering stretch of hours, the friends seated
themselves on a garden seat for explanations. "You remember Dr. Garth, I
think," said Gale to the lady. "He has been helping me to clear up this
queer business. The truth is, the police have suspected the nature of
this Wimbledon retreat for some time. No; it is not a lunatic asylum; it
is a den of very accomplished professional criminals. They have hit on
the ingenious idea of being certified as irresponsible by a medical
confederate; so that the worst that can happen is that he may be
censured for laxity in letting them escape. Look up the records, and you
will find them responsible, or irresponsible, for quite a long catalogue
of crimes. I happened to follow the notion up, because I happened to
guess where the notion came from. By the way, I suppose this is the
gentleman who engaged you as a typist."

As he spoke a small alert figure strode out of the house and across the
lawns; his short beard thrust forward with something of the gesture of a
terrier.

"Yes, that is Dr. Wilson; I made arrangements with him only this
morning," answered Diana, still staring.

The doctor came to a halt in front of them, turning his head right and
left in the terrier fashion, and looking at them with wrinkled brows and
lids.

"So this is Dr. Wilson," said Gale politely. "Good day, Dr. Starkey."

Then as the plain-clothes men shifted and closed round the doctor, Gale
added reflectively:

"I knew you would never fail to take a hint."


A street or two away from the strange madhouse there was a sort of toy
park, not much bigger than a back garden, but laid out in ornamental
paths and planted with flowering shrubs, as an oasis for nomadic nurses
trailing about the babies of that suburb. It was also ornamented with
long seats with curly backs, and one of these seats in its turn was
ornamented by a couple clad in black and endeavouring, with some
bewilderment, to appear respectable. Wild as were the events of that
afternoon, they had moved very rapidly and it was barely evening. The
sunset was settling down about the corners of the sky and of the quaint
little public garden, and there was little noise except the shrill but
faint calling of some children lingering over some long-drawn-out-game.

It was here that he told her the whole story of the rash vow and all
that happened between the rescue in the riverside garden and the funeral
in the Cornish churchyard.

"The only thing I don't understand," she said at last, "is why you
thought they had got me to that place; or why you thought there was any
such place."

"Why, because," he said looking at the gravel path with a slight
embarrassment, "because I really was not bragging when I told Starkey at
the beginning that I understood the sort of mind he had, and could
exaggerate it in the way it was going. Starkey never missed a chance of
applying or misapplying an idea, especially anybody else's idea. When
poor Jimmy Hurrel boasted of being free from punishment because he was
an escaped lunatic, I was sure that a seed had been sown in Starkey's
mind that would sprout. I was sure he would follow it up and use it, as
he used my fancy for the swing or the arbour. While Jim was alive he
knew I had a motive for silence; but the moment Jim died he struck. He
was very quick; his mind is like a flash of lightning; quick but
crooked. He sent one of his chartered maniacs to brain me with a stone
on my way to you. He intercepted my telegram, and lured you away before
you could be told the whole story. But what I want to know is what you
think of the whole story."

"The vow was certainly rash enough," she said. "All that time you might
have been painting pictures and doing all sorts of good. It doesn't seem
right that a genius should be tied to a lunatic by a few words."

He sat up very suddenly. "For God's sake don't say that!" he cried.
"Don't say one oughtn't to tie oneself to a lunatic by a few words!
Don't say that's wrong, I implore you, whatever else you say! A shocking
thought! A perfectly foul idea!"

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Why not?"

"Because," he said, "I want you to make a rash vow. I want you to tie
yourself with a few words to a lunatic."

There was a silence, at the end of which she smiled suddenly and put her
hand on his arm.

"No," she said, "only a silly...I always liked you, even when I thought
you really were a lunatic; that day when you stood on your head. But now
I don't think my vow will be so very rash....What on earth are you
doing now?...Oh, I say...for heaven's sake...."

"What else should I do," he answered calmly, "after what you have just
said? I'm going to stand on my head again."

The children in the corner of the little garden gazed with interest at a
gentleman in funeral full-dress behaving in a somewhat unusual manner.



THE END



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