Actions and Reactions
An Habitation Enforced
IT CAME without warning, at the very hour his hand was outstretched to crumple the Holz and Gunsberg Combine. The New York doctors called it overwork, and he lay in a darkened room, one ankle crossed above the other, tongue pressed into palate, wondering whether the next brain-surge of prickly fires would drive his soul from all anchorages. At last they gave judgment. With care he might in two years return to the arena, but for the present he must go across the water and do no work whatever. He accepted the terms. It was capitulation; but the Combine that had shivered beneath his knife gave him all the honours of war: Gunsberg himself, full of condolences, came to the steamer and filled the Chapins’ suite of cabins with overwhelming flower-works.
He looked at himself in the mirror, surprised that his face had not been branded by the hells of the past three months. The noise of the decks worried him, and he lay down, his tongue only a little pressed against his palate.
They drifted about Europe for months—sometimes alone, sometimes with chance-met gipsies of their own land. From the North Cape to the Blue Grotto at Capri they wandered, because the next steamer headed that way, or because some one had set them on the road. The doctors had warned Sophie that Chapin was not to take interest even in other men’s interests; but a familiar sensation at the back of the neck after one hour’s keen talk with a Nauheimed railway magnate saved her any trouble. He nearly wept.
“Between four and five million. But it isn’t the money. You know it isn’t. It’s the principle. How could you respect me? You never did, the first year after we married, till I went to work like the others. Our tradition and upbringing are against it. We can’t accept those ideals.”
In England they missed the alien tongues of Continental streets that reminded them of their own polyglot cities. In England all men spoke one tongue, speciously like American to the ear, but on cross-examination unintelligible.,
“Ah, but you have not seen England,” said a lady with iron-grey hair. They had met her in Vienna, Bayreuth, and Florence, and were grateful to find her again at Claridge’s, for she commanded situations, and knew where prescriptions are most carefully made up. “You ought to take an interest in the home of our ancestors as I do.”
Mrs. Shonts smiled, and took them in hand. She wrote widely and telegraphed far on their behalf till, armed with her letter of introduction, she drove them into that wilderness which is reached from an ash-barrel of a station called Charing Cross. They were to go to Rockett’s—the farm of one Cloke, in the southern counties—where, she assured them, they would meet the genuine England of folklore and song.
Rocketts they found after some hours, four miles from a station, and, so far as they could, judge in the bumpy darkness, twice as many from a road. Trees, kine, and the outlines of barns showed shadowy about them when they alighted, and Mr. and Mrs. Cloke, at the open door of a deep stone-floored kitchen, made them shyly welcome. They lay in an attic beneath a wavy whitewashed ceiling, and, because it rained, a wood fire was made in an iron basket on a brick hearth, and they fell asleep to the chirping of mice and the whimper of flames.
But there was no rest for the alien soul till he had made sure of the telegraph office. He asked the Clokes’ daughter, laying breakfast, while Sophie plunged her face in the lavender bush outside the low window.
“Go to the stile a-top o’ the Barn field,” said Mary, “and look across Pardons to the next spire. It’s directly under. You can’t miss it—not if you keep to the footpath. My sister’s the telegraphist there. But you’re in the three-mile radius, sir. The boy delivers telegrams directly to this door from Pardons village.”
“What’s the matter with it?” she said. “Telegrams delivered to the Vale of Avalon, of course,” and she beckoned in an earnest-eyed hound of engaging manners and no engagements, who answered, at times, to the name of Rambler. He led them, after breakfast, to the rise behind the house where the stile stood against the skyline, and, “I wonder what we shall find now,” said Sophie, frankly prancing with joy on the grass.
It was a slope of gap-hedged fields possessed to their centres by clumps of brambles. Gates were not, and the rabbit-mined, cattle-rubbed posts leaned out and in. A narrow path doubled among the bushes, scores of white tails twinkled before the racing hound, and a hawk rose, whistling shrilly.
They walked toward it through an all abandoned land. Here they found the ghost of a patch of lucerne that had refused to die: there a harsh fallow surrendered to yard-high thistles; and here a breadth of rampant kelk feigning to be lawful crop. In the ungrazed pastures swaths of dead stuff caught their feet, and the ground beneath glistened with sweat. At the bottom of the valley a little brook had undermined its footbridge, and frothed in the wreckage. But there stood great woods on the slopes beyond—old, tall, and brilliant, like unfaded tapestries against the walls of a ruined house.
“All this within a hundred miles of London,” he said. “Looks as if it had had nervous prostration, too.” The, footpath turned the shoulder of a slope, through a thicket of rank rhododendrons, and crossed what had once been a carriage drive, which ended in the shadow of two gigantic holm-oaks.
Behind the blue-green of the twin trees rose a dark-bluish brick Georgian pile, with a shell-shaped fan-light over its pillared door. The hound had gone off on his own foolish quests. Except for some stir it the branches and the flight of four startled magpies; there was neither life nor sound about the square house, but it looked out of its long windows most friendlily.
“I must look!” Sophie tiptoed to a window, and shaded her eyes with her hand. “Oh, this room’s half-full of cotton-bales—wool, I suppose! But I can see a bit of the mantelpiece. George, do come! Isn’t that some one?”
She fell back behind her husband. The front door opened slowly, to show the hound, his nose white with milk, in charge of an ancient of days clad in a blue linen ephod curiously gathered on breast and shoulders.
The hound broke from him, and he tottered after him down the drive. They entered the hall—just such a high light hall as such a house should own. A slim-balustered staircase, wide and shallow and once creamy-white, climbed out of it under a long oval window. On either side delicately moulded doors gave on to wool-lumbered rooms, whose sea-green mantelpieces were adorned with nymphs, scrolls, and Cupids in low relief.
“What’s the firm that makes these things?” cried Sophie, enraptured. “Oh, I forgot! These must be the originals. Adams, is it? I never dreamed of anything like that steel-cut fender. Does he mean us to go everywhere?”
The stairs never creaked beneath their feet. From the broad landing they entered a long, green-panelled room lighted by three full-length windows, which overlooked the forlorn wreck of a terraced garden, and wooded slopes beyond.
“The drawing-room, of course.” Sophie swam up and down it. “That mantelpiece—Orpheus and Eurydice—is the best of them all. Isn’t it marvellous? Why, the room seems furnished with nothing in it! How’s that, George?”
“I saw a Heppelwhite couch once”—Sophie laid her finger to her flushed cheek and considered. “With, two of them—one on each side—you wouldn’t need anything else. Except—there must be one perfect mirror over that mantelpiece.”
“No; it’s a Morland—a parody of a Morland. But about that couch, George. Don’t you think Empire might be better than Heppelwhite? Dull gold against that pale green? It’s a pity they don’t make spinets nowadays.”
“Now about servants. Oh!” She had darted up the last stairs to the chequered darkness of the top floor, where loose tiles lay among broken laths, and the walls were scrawled with names, sentiments, and hop records. “They’ve been keeping pigeons here,” she cried.
“Tis with housen as teeth,” he replied. “Let ’em go too far, and there’s nothing to be done. Time was they was minded to sell her, but none would buy. She was too far away along from any place. Time was they’d ha’ lived here theyselves, but they took and died.”
“Nah—none dies here excep’ falling off ricks and such. In London they died.” He plucked a lock of wool from his blue smock. “They was no staple—neither the Elphicks nor the Moones. Shart and brittle all of ’em. Dead they be seventeen year, for I’ve been here caretakin’ twenty-five.”
“To the estate. I’ll show you the back parts if ye like. You’re from America, ain’t ye? I’ve had a son there once myself.” They followed him down the main stairway. He paused at the turn and swept one hand toward the wall. “Plenty room, here for your coffin to come down. Seven foot and three men at each end wouldn’t brish the paint. If I die in my bed they’ll ’ave to up-end me like a milk-can. ’Tis all luck, dye see?”
He led them on and on, through a maze of back kitchens, dairies, larders, and sculleries, that melted along covered ways into a farm-house, visibly older than the main building, which again rambled out among barns, byres, pig-pens, stalls and stables to the dead fields behind.
George looked at long stone walls upholding reaches of silvery-oak weather-boarding; buttresses of mixed flint and bricks; outside stairs, stone upon arched stone; curves of thatch where grass sprouted; roundels of house-leeked tiles, and a huge paved yard populated by two cows and the repentant Rambler. He had not thought of himself or of the telegraph office for two and a half hours.
The Clokes were more communicative. That evening and thereafter for a week they gave the Chapins the official history, as one gives it to lodgers, of Friars Pardon the house and its five farms. But Sophie asked so many questions, and George was so humanly interested, that, as confidence in the strangers grew, they launched, with observed and acquired detail, into the lives and deaths and doings of the Elphicks and the Moones and their collaterals, the Haylings and the Torrells. It was a tale told serially by Cloke in the barn, or his wife in the dairy, the last chapters reserved for the kitchen o’ nights by the big fire, when the two had been half the day exploring about the house, where old Iggulden, of the blue smock, cackled and chuckled to see them. The motives that swayed the characters were beyond their comprehension; the fates that shifted them were gods they had never met; the sidelights Mrs. Cloke threw on act and incident were more amazing than anything in the record. Therefore the Chapins listened delightedly, and blessed Mrs. Shonts.
“Poor old thing!” They had been walking round the farms as usual before tea. “No wonder they loved it. Think of the sacrifices they made for it. Jane Elphick married the younger Torrell to keep it in the family. The octagonal room with the moulded ceiling next to the big bedroom was hers. Now what did he tell you while he was feeding the pigs?” said Sophie.
In due time George and Sophie asked each other that question, and put it aside. They argued that the climate—a pearly blend, unlike the hot and cold ferocities of their native land—suited them, as the thick stillness of the nights certainly suited George. He was saved even the sight of a metalled road, which, as presumably leading to business, wakes desire in a man; and the telegraph office at the village of Friars Pardon, where they sold picture post-cards and pegtops, was two walking miles across the fields and woods.
For all that touched his past among his fellows, or their remembrance of him, he might have been in another planet; and Sophie, whose life had been very largely spent among husbandless wives of lofty ideals, had no wish to leave this present of God. The unhurried meals, the foreknowledge of deliciously empty hours to follow, the breadths of soft sky under which they walked together and reckoned time only by their hunger or thirst; the good grass beneath their feet that cheated the miles; their discoveries, always together, amid the farms—Griffons, Rocketts, Burnt House, Gale Anstey, and the Home Farm, where Iggulden of the blue smock-frock would waylay them, and they would ransack the old house once more; the long wet afternoons when, they tucked up their feet on the bedroom’s deep window-sill over against the apple-trees, and talked together as never till then had they found time to talk—these things contented her soul, and her body throve.
“I must have. I didn’t think about them. Yes, I have. Six months ago I should have fretted myself sick. Remember at Cairo? I’ve only had two or three bad times. Am I getting better, or is it senile decay?”
“Black Chinese furniture and yellow silk brocade,” she answered, and ran downhill. She scattered a few cows at a gap with a flourish of a ground-ash that Iggulden had cut for her a week ago, and singing as she passed under the holmoaks, sought the farm-house at the back of Friars Pardon. The old man was not to be found, and she knocked at his half-opened door, for she needed him to fill her idle forenoon. A blue-eyed sheep-dog, a new friend, and Rambler’s old enemy, crawled out and besought her to enter.
Iggulden sat in his chair by the fire, a thistle-spud between his knees, his head drooped. Though she had never seen death before, her heart, that missed a beat, told her that he was dead. She did not speak or cry, but stood outside the door, and the dog licked her hand. When he threw up his nose, she heard herself saying: “Don’t howl! Please don’t begin to howl, Scottie, or I shall run away!”
She held her ground while the shadows in the rickyard moved toward noon; sat after a while on the steps by the door, her arms round the dog’s neck, waiting till some one should come. She watched the smokeless chimneys of Friars Pardon slash its roofs with shadow, and the smoke of Iggulden’s last lighted fire gradually thin and cease. Against her will she fell to wondering how many Moones, Elphicks, and Torrells had been swung round the turn of the broad Mall stairs. Then she remembered the old man’s talk of being “up-ended like a milk-can,” and buried her face on Scottie’s neck. At last a horse’s feet clinked upon flags, rustled in the old grey straw of the rickyard, and she found herself facing the vicar—a figure she had seen at church declaiming impossibilities (Sophie was a Unitarian) in an unnatural voice.
“I’ll sit with him now till the doctor comes. D’you think you could tell him, and—yes, Mrs. Betts in the cottage with the wistaria next the blacksmith’s? I’m afraid this has been rather a shock to you.”
Sophie nodded, and fled toward the village. Her body failed her for a moment; she dropped beneath a hedge, and looked back at the great house. In some fashion its silence and stolidity steadied her for her errand.
“Yiss, yiss, of course. Dear me! Well, Iggulden he had had his day in my father’s time. Muriel, get me my little blue bag, please. Yiss, ma’am. They come down like ellum-branches in still weather. No warnin’ at all. Muriel, my bicycle’s be’ind the fowlhouse. I’ll tell Dr. Dallas, ma’am.”
“It’s all quite natural for them,” she gasped. “They come down like ellum-branches in still weather. Yiss, ma’am.’ No, there wasn’t anything in the least horrible, only—only—Oh, George, that poor shiny stick of his between his poor, thin knees! I couldn’t have borne it if Scottie had howled. I didn’t know the vicar was so—so sensitive. He said he was afraid it was ra—rather a shock. Mrs. Betts told me to go home, and I wanted to collapse on her floor. But I didn’t disgrace myself. I—I couldn’t have left him—could I?”
A little before dusk a woman in grey, striding like a foot-soldier, and bearing on her arm a long pole, crashed through the orchard calling for food. George, upon whom the unannounced English worked mysteriously, fled to the parlour; but Mrs. Cloke came forward beaming. Sophie could not escape.
“No. I’m soaked from the knees down. If I hang about I shall get chilled. A cup of tea, Mrs. Cloke, and I can eat one of your sandwiches as I go.” She wiped her weather-worn face with a green and yellow silk handkerchief.
“Our land marches with Pardons for a mile on the south,” she explained, waving the full cup, “but one has quite enough to do with one’s own people without poachin’. Still, if I’d known, I’d have sent Dora, of course. Have you seen her this afternoon, Mrs. Cloke? No? I wonder whether that girl did sprain her ankle. Thank you.” It was a formidable hunk of bread and bacon that Mrs. Cloke presented. “As I was sayin’, Pardons is a scandal! Lettin’ people die like dogs. There ought to be people there who do their duty. You’ve done yours, though there wasn’t the faintest call upon you. Good night. Tell Dora, if she comes, I’ve gone on.”
Mrs. Cloke, shocked at their levity, told them that it was Lady Conant, wife of Sir Walter Conant, Baronet, a large landholder in the neighbourhood; and if not God; at least His visible Providence. George made her talk of that family for an hour.
“The only thing that worries me is what happened this morning. I want to know how you feel about it. If it’s on your nerves in the least we can have the old farm at the back of the house pulled down, or perhaps it has spoiled the notion for you?”
“Pull it down?” she cried. “You’ve no business faculty. Why, that’s where we could live while we’re putting the big house in order. It’s almost under the same roof. No! What happened this morning seemed to be more of a—of a leading than anything else. There ought to be people at Pardons. Lady Conant’s quite right.”
“Friars Pardon—Friars Pardon!” Sophie chanted rapturously, her dark gray eyes big with delight. “All the farms? Gale Anstey, Burnt House, Rocketts, the Home Farm, and Griffons? Sure you’ve got ’em all?”
“Mrs. Cloke’s oven must be mended first thing, and the kitchen roof. I think I’ll have all this whitewashed,” Sophie broke in, pointing to the ceiling. “The whole place is a scandal. Lady Conant is quite right. George, when did you begin to fall in love with the house? In the greenroom— that first day? I did.”
“That wouldn’t keep me away. Only, they made such a fuss about the watching”—she caught her breath—“it might be ostentatious from that point of view, too. Oh, George”—she reached for his hand—“we’re two little orphans moving in worlds not realized, and we shall make some bad breaks. But we’re going to have the time of our lives.”
They went. They suffered many things ere they returned across the fields in a fly one Saturday night, nursing a two by two-and-a-half box of deeds and maps—lawful owners of Friars Pardon and the five decayed farms therewith.
“We couldn’t ’elp noticing,” said Cloke slowly, “from the times you walked there, that you an’ your lady was drawn to it, but—but I don’t know as we ever precisely thought—“ His wife’s glance checked him.
“I don’t know as I’ve ever heard Pardons was ever anything but wheat an’ wool. Only some gentlemen say that parks are less trouble than tenants.” He laughed nervously. “But the gentry, o’ course, they keep on pretty much as they was used to.”
Now the news of the purchase was told to Mr. and Mrs. Cloke alone at 8 p.m. of a Saturday. None left the farm till they set out for church next morning. Yet when they reached the church and were about to slip aside into their usual seats, a little beyond the font, where they could see the red-furred tails of the bellropes waggle and twist at ringing time, they were swept forward irresistibly, a Cloke on either flank (and yet they had not walked with the Clokes), upon the ever-retiring bosom of a black-gowned verger, who ushered them into a room of a pew at the head of the left aisle, under the pulpit.
“When the wicked man turneth away.” The strong, alien voice of the priest vibrated under the hammer-beam roof, and a loneliness unfelt before swamped their hearts, as they searched for places in the unfamiliar Church of England service. The Lord’s Prayer “Our Father, which art”—set the seal on that desolation. Sophie found herself thinking how in other lands their purchase would long ere this have been discussed from every point of view in a dozen prints, forgetting that George for months had not been allowed to glance at those black and bellowing head-lines. Here was nothing but silence—not even hostility! The game was up to them; the other players hid their cards and waited. Suspense, she felt, was in the air, and when her sight cleared, saw, indeed, a mural tablet of a footless bird brooding upon the carven motto, “ Wayte awhyle—wayte awhyle.”
At the Litany George had trouble with an unstable hassock, and drew the slip of carpet under the pewseat. Sophie pushed her end back also, and shut her eyes against a burning that felt like tears. When she opened them she was looking at her mother’s maiden name, fairly carved on a blue flagstone on the pew floor: ‘Ellen Lashmar. ob. 1796. aetat 27’.
“Perhaps. But it makes me feel better,” and she smiled and winked away a tear on her lashes, and took his hand while they prayed for “all women labouring of child”—not “in the perils of childbirth”; and the sparrows who had found their way through the guards behind the glass windows chirped above the faded gilt and alabaster family tree of the Conants.
A group of families, the Clokes a little apart, opened to let them through. The men saluted with jerky nods, the women with remnants of a curtsey. Only Iggulden’s son, his mother on his arm, lifted his hat as Sophie passed.
“I oughtn’t to have done it,” said Lady Conant apologetically, “but there has been no one at Pardons for so long that you’ll forgive my poaching. Now, can’t you lunch with us? The vicar usually comes too. I don’t use the horses on a Sunday”—she glanced at the Brazilian’s silver-plated chariot. “It’s only a mile across the fields.”
“My dear,” the compelling tone dropped to a soothing gurgle, “d’you suppose I don’t know how it feels to come to a strange county—country I should say—away from one’s own people? When I first left the Shires—I’m Shropshire, you know—I cried for a day and a night. But fretting doesn’t make loneliness any better. Oh, here’s Dora. She did sprain her leg that day.”
Sir Walter had already led off George, and the vicar came up on the other side of Sophie. There was no escaping the swift procession or the leisurely lunch, where talk came and went in low-voiced eddies that had the village for their centre. Sophie heard the vicar and Sir Walter address her husband lightly as Chapin! (She also remembered many women known in a previous life who habitually addressed their husbands as Mr. Such-an-one.) After lunch Lady Conant talked to her explicitly of maternity as that is achieved in cottages and farm-houses remote from aid, and of the duty thereto of the mistress of Pardons.
“I want your hand, please,” said Sophie as soon as they were safe among the beech boles and the lawless hollies. “D’you remember the old maid in ‘Providence and the Guitar’ who heard the Commissary swear, and hardly reckoned herself a maiden lady afterward? Because I’m a relative of hers. Lady Conant is—”
“I didn’t ask. I’m going to write to Aunt Sydney about it first. Oh, Lady Conant said something at lunch about their having bought some land from some Lashmars a few years ago. I found it was at the beginning of last century.”
“I said, ‘Really, how interesting!’ Like that. I’m not going to push myself forward. I’ve been hearing about Mr. Sangres’s efforts in that direction. And you? I couldn’t see you behind the flowers. Was it very deep water, dear?”
They passed slowly from one bracken-dotted field to the next—flushed with pride of ownership, plotting alterations and restorations at each turn; halting in their tracks to argue, spreading apart to embrace two views at once, or closing in to consider one. Couples moved out of their way, but smiling covertly.
The repairing and moving into Friars Pardon was business of the most varied and searching, but all done English fashion, without friction. Time and money alone were asked. The rest lay in the hands of beneficent advisers from London, or spirits, male and female, called up by Mr. and Mrs. Cloke from the wastes of the farms. In the centre stood George and Sophie, a little aghast, their interests reaching out on every side.
“I ain’t sayin’ anything against Londoners,” said Cloke, self-appointed clerk of the outer works, consulting engineer, head of the immigration bureau, and superintendent of woods and forests; “but your own people won’t go about to make more than a fair profit out of you.”
“Five years from now, or so on, maybe, you’ll be lookin’ over your first year’s accounts, and, knowin’ what you’ll know then, you’ll say: ‘Well, Billy Beartup’—or Old Cloke as it might be—‘did me proper when I was new.’ No man likes to have that sort of thing laid up against him.”
“Yes, that’s my work,” said Sophie. (Billy Beartup of Griffons, a woodman by training and birth, a tenant farmer by misfortune of marriage, had laid his broad axe at her feet a month before.) “Sorry if I’ve committed you to another eternity.”
“And we shan’t even know where we’ve gone wrong with your new carriage drive before that time either,” said Cloke, ever anxious to keep the balance true with an ounce or two in Sophie’s favour. The past four months had taught George better than to reply. The carriage road winding up the hill was his present keen interest. They set off to look at it, and the imported American scraper which had blighted the none too sunny soul of “Skim” Winsh, the carter.
After the loud laugh, old Whybarne of Gale Anstey piped feebly, “Well, dirt or no dirt, there’s no denyin’ Chapin knows a good job when he sees it. ’E don’t build one day and dee-stroy the next, like that nigger Sangres.”
The others looked at him scornfully. Skim was always a day behind the fair. Iggulden rested from his labours. “She’s a Lashmar right enough. I started up to write to my uncle—at once—the month after she said her folks came from Veering Holler.”
“My uncle he married an American woman for his second, and she took it up like a like the coroner. She’s a Lashmar out of the old Lashmar place, ’fore they sold to Conants. She ain’t no Toot Hill Lashmar, nor any o’ the Crayford lot. Her folk come out of the ground here, neither chalk nor forest, but wildishers. They sailed over to America—I’ve got it all writ down by my uncle’s woman—in eighteen hundred an’ nothing. My uncle says they’re all slow begetters like.”
“Nah—there’s no gentry in America, no matter how long you’re there. It’s against their law. There’s only rich and poor allowed. They’ve been lawyers and such like over yonder for a hundred years but she’s a Lashmar for all that.”
“An’ they write too, from yonder—my uncle’s woman writes—that you can still tell ’em by headmark. Their hair’s foxy-red still—an’ they throw out when they walk. He’s in-toed—treads like a gipsy; but you watch, an’ you’ll see ’er throw, out—like a colt.”
She had been less fortunate in her inquiries than Iggulden, for her Aunt Sydney of Meriden (a badged and certificated Daughter of the Revolution to boot) answered her inquiries with a two-paged discourse on patriotism, the leaflets of a Village Improvement Society, of which she was president, and a demand for an overdue subscription to a Factory Girls’ Reading Circle. Sophie burned it all in the Orpheus and Eurydice grate, and kept her own counsel.
“Oh, no; I haven’t been conscious of myself all winter.” He looked at his brown English gaiters and smiled. “It’s all behind me now. I believe I could sit down and think of all that—those months before we sailed.”
She set off afoot, for within the three main roads that bounded the blunt triangle of the estate (even by night one could scarcely hear the carts on them), wheels were not used except for farm work. The footpaths served all other purposes. And though at first they had planned improvements, they had soon fallen in with the customs of their hidden kingdom, and moved about the soft-footed ways by woodland, hedgerow, and shaw as freely as the rabbits. Indeed, for the most part Sophie walked bareheaded beneath her helmet of chestnut hair; but she had been plagued of late by vague toothaches, which she explained to Mrs. Cloke, who asked some questions. How it came about Sophie never knew, but after a while behold Mrs. Cloke’s arm was about her waist, and her head was on that deep bosom behind the shut kitchen door.
“My dear! My dear!” the elder woman almost sobbed. “An’ d’you mean to tell me you never suspicioned? Why—why—where was you ever taught anything at all? Of course it is. It’s what we’ve been only waitin’ for, all of us. Time and again I’ve said to Lady—” she checked herself. “An’ now we shall be as we should be.”
“Time enough yet.” The fingers tapped thoughtfully on the broad knee. “But—they must be strange-minded folk over yonder with you! Have you thought to send for your mother? She dead? My dear, my dear! Never mind! She’ll be happy where she knows. ’Tis God’s work. An’ we was only waitin’ for it, for you’ve never failed in your duty yet. It ain’t your way. What did you say about my Mary’s doings?” Mrs. Cloke’s face hardened as she pressed her chin on Sophie’s forehead. “If any of your girls thinks to be’ave arbitrary now, I’ll—But they won’t, my dear. I’ll see they do their duty too. Be sure you’ll ’ave no trouble.”
When Sophie walked back across the fields heaven and earth changed about her as on the day of old Iggulden’s death. For an instant she thought of the wide turn of the staircase, and the new ivory-white paint that no coffin corner could scar, but presently, the shadow passed in a pure wonder and bewilderment that made her reel. She leaned against one of their new gates and looked over their lands for some other stay.
Of a sudden the house they had bought for a whim stood up as she had never seen it before, low-fronted, broad-winged, ample, prepared by course of generations for all such things. As it had steadied her when it lay desolate, so now that it had meaning from their few months of life within, it soothed and promised good. She went alone and quickly into the hall, and kissed either door-post, whispering: “Be good to me. You know! You’ve never failed in your duty yet.”
George was forced to soothe himself with linking Friars Pardon to the telegraph system of Great Britain by telephone—three-quarters of a mile of poles, put in by Whybarne and a few friends. One of these was a foreigner from the next parish. Said he when the line was being run: “There’s an old ellum right in our road. Shall us throw her?”
“Toot Hill parish folk, neither grace nor good luck, God help ’em.” Old Whybarne shouted the local proverb from three poles down the line. “We ain’t goin’ to lay any axe-iron to coffin-wood here not till we know where we are yet awhile. Swing round ’er, swing round!”
To this day, then, that sudden kink in the straight line across the upper pasture remains a mystery to Sophie and George. Nor can they tell why Skim Winsh, who came to his cottage under Dutton Shaw most musically drunk at 10.45 p.m. of every Saturday night, as his father had done before him, sang no more at the bottom of the garden steps, where Sophie always feared he would break his neck. The path was undoubtedly an ancient right of way, and at 10.45 p.m. on Saturdays Skim remembered it was his duty to posterity to keep it open—till Mrs. Cloke spoke to him once. She spoke likewise to her daughter Mary, sewing maid at Pardons, and to Mary’s best new friend, the five-foot-seven imported London house-maid, who taught Mary to trim hats, and found the country dullish.
But there was no noise—at no time was there any noise—and when Sophie walked abroad she met no one in her path unless she had signified a wish that way. Then they appeared to protest that all was well with them and their children, their chickens, their roofs, their water-supply, and their sons in the police or the railway service.
“Isn’t that what I’m doing my best to remedy? Don’t you worry. I like it—like it to the marrow of my little bones. You don’t realize what her house means to a woman. We thought we were living in it last year, but we hadn’t begun to. Don’t you rejoice in your study, George?”
“I’ll come and see to-morrow. Oh, please open the door, dear. I want to look down the passage. Isn’t that corner by the stair-head lovely where the sun strikes in?” She looked through half-closed eyes at the vista of ivory-white and pale green all steeped in liquid gold.
“There’s a step out of Jane Elphick’s bedroom,” she went on—“and his first step in the world ought to be up. I shouldn’t wonder if those people hadn’t put it there on purpose. George, will it make any odds to you if he’s a girl?”
This was a bold, brazen little black-browed woman—a widow for choice—who on Sophie’s death was guilefully to marry George for his wealth and ruin him in a year. George being busy, Sophie had invented her some two years after her marriage, and conceived she was alone among wives in so doing.
“The beasts!” she went on. “They’d be sure to build a red-brick lodge at the gates, and cut the lawn up for bedding out. You must leave instructions in your will that he’s never to do that, George, won’t you?”
Friars Pardon stood faithful to its tradition. At the appointed time was born, not that third in their party to whom Sophie meant to be so kind, but a godling; in beauty, it was manifest, excelling Eros, as in wisdom Confucius; an enhancer of delights, a renewer of companionships and an interpreter of Destiny. This last George did not realise till he met Lady Conant striding through Dutton Shaw a few days after the event.
“My dear fellow,” she cried, and slapped him heartily on the back, “I can’t tell you how glad we all are. Oh, she’ll be all right. (There’s never been any trouble over the birth of an heir at Pardons.) Now where the dooce is it?” She felt largely in her leather-boundskirt and drew out a small silver mug. “I sent a note to your wife about it, but my silly ass of a groom forgot to take this. You can save me a tramp. Give her my love.” She marched off amid her guard of grave Airedales.
—mother’s brother, sold his place to Walter’s family. We seem to have acquired some of your household gods at that time, but nothing survives except the mug and the old cradle, which I found in the potting-shed and am having put in order for you. I hope little George—Lashmar, he will be too, won’t he?—will live to see his grandchildren cut their teeth on his mug.
Sophie’s eyes sparkled. “I’ve thought that out too. We’ve got back at the English at last. Can’t you see that she thought that we thought my mother’s being a Lashmar was one of those things we’d expect the English to find out for themselves, and that’s impressed her?” She turned the mug in her white hands, and sighed happily. “‘Wayte awhyle—wayte awhyle.’ That’s not a bad motto, George. It’s been worth it.”
“The minute I get well I shall find out from Mrs. Cloke what every Lashmar gives in doles (that’s nicer than tips) every time a Lashmite is born. I’ve done my duty thus far, but there’s much expected of me.”
Entered here Mrs. Cloke, and hung worshipping over the cot. They showed her the mug and her face shone. “Oh, now Lady Conant’s sent it, it’ll be all proper, ma’am, won’t it? ‘George’ of course he’d have to be, but seein’ what he is we was hopin’—all your people was hopin’—it ’ud be ‘Lashmar’ too, and that ’ud just round it out. A very ’andsome mug quite unique, I should imagine. ‘Wayte awhyle—wayte awhyle.’ That’s true with the Lashmars, I’ve heard. Very slow to fill their houses, they are. Most like Master George won’t open ’is nursery till he’s thirty.”
Mrs. Cloke thought deeply. “I’m sure I can’t quite say, ma’am, but I’ve a belief likely that it was something you may have let drop to young Iggulden when you was at Rocketts. That may have been what give us an inkling. An’ so it came out, one thing in the way o’ talk leading to another, and those American people at Veering Holler was very obligin’ with news, I’m told, ma’am.”
“Yiss,” Mrs. Cloke went on. “An’ Cloke was only wonderin’ this afternoon—your pillow’s slipped my dear, you mustn’t lie that a-way—just for the sake o’ sayin’ something, whether you wouldn’t think well now of getting the Lashmar farms back, sir. They don’t rightly round off Sir Walter’s estate. They come caterin’ across us more. Cloke, ’e ’ud be glad to show you over any day.”
“We can find out from his bailiff, sir, but”—with cold contempt—“I think that trained nurse is just comin’ up from her dinner, so ‘m afraid we’ll ’ave to ask you, sir ... Now, Master George—Ai-ie! Wake a litty minute, lammie!”
A few months later the three of them were down at the brook in the Gale Anstey woods to consider the rebuilding of a footbridge carried away by spring floods. George Lashmar Chapin wanted all the bluebells on God’s earth that day to eat, and—Sophie adored him in a voice like to the cooing of a dove; so business was delayed.
“An’ I’ve nothin’ to say against larch—If you want to make a temp’ry job of it. I ain’t ’ere to tell you what isn’t so, sir; an’ you can’t say I ever come creepin’ up on you, or tryin’ to lead you further in than you set out—”
“All I say is that you can put up larch and make a temp’ry job of it; and by the time the young master’s married it’ll have to be done again. Now, I’ve brought down a couple of as sweet six-by-eight oak timbers as we’ve ever drawed. You put ’em in an’ it’s off your mind or good an’ all. T’other way—I don’t say it ain’t right, I’m only just sayin’ what I think—but t’other way, he’ll no sooner be married than we’ll ’ave it all to do again. You’ve no call to regard my words, but you can’t get out of that.”
ONE night, a very long time ago, I drove to an Indian military cantonment called Mian Mir to see amateur theatricals. At the back of the Infantry barracks a soldier, his cap over one eye, rushed in front of the horses and shouted that he was a dangerous highway robber. As a matter of fact, he was a friend of mine, so I told him to go home before any one caught him; but he fell under the pole, and I heard voices of a military guard in search of some one.
The driver and I coaxed him into the carriage, drove home swiftly, undressed him and put him to bed, where he waked next morning with a sore headache, very much ashamed. When his uniform was cleaned and dried, and he had been shaved and washed and made neat, I drove him back to barracks with his arm in a fine white sling, and reported that I had accidentally run over him. I did not tell this story to my friend’s sergeant, who was a hostile and unbelieving person, but to his lieutenant, who did not know us quite so well.
Three days later my friend came to call, and at his heels slobbered and fawned one of the finest bull-terriers—of the old-fashioned breed, two parts bull and one terrier—that I had ever set eyes on. He was pure white, with a fawn-coloured saddle just behind his neck, and a fawn diamond at the root of his thin whippy tail. I had admired him distantly for more than a year; and Vixen, my own fox-terrier, knew him too, but did not approve.
He sat on his haunches and turned his head sharp to the right. At a sign he rose and barked thrice. Then he shook hands with his right paw and bounded lightly to my shoulder. Here he made himself into a necktie, limp and lifeless, hanging down on either side of my neck. I was told to pick him up and throw him in the air. He fell with a howl, and held up one leg.
Still limping, the dog hobbled to the garden-edge, dug a hole and lay down in it. When told that he was cured, he jumped out, wagging his tail, and whining for applause. He was put through half-a-dozen other tricks, such as showing how he would hold a man safe (I was that man, and he sat down before me, his teeth bared, ready to spring), and how he would stop eating at the word of command. I had no more than finished praising him when my friend made a gesture that stopped the dog as though he had been shot, took a piece of blue-ruled canteen-paper from his helmet, handed it to me and ran away, while the dog looked after him and howled. I read: ‘ Sir—I give you the dog because of what you got me out of. He is the best I know, for I made him myself, and he is as good as a man. Please do not give him too much to eat, and please do not give him back to me, for I’m not going to take him, if you will keep him. So please do not try to give him back any more. I have kept his name back, so you can call him anything and he will answer. But please do not give him back. He can kill a man as easy as anything, but please do not give him too much meat. He knows more than a man.’
Vixen sympathetically joined her shrill little yap to the bull-terrier’s despairing cry, and I was annoyed, for I knew that a man who cares for dogs is one thing, but a man who loves one dog is quite another. Dogs are at the best no more than verminous vagrants, self-scratchers, foul feeders, and unclean by the law of Moses and Mohammed; but a dog with whom one lives alone for at least six months in the year; a free thing, tied to you so strictly by love that without you he will not stir or exercise; a patient, temperate, humorous, wise soul, who knows your moods before you know them yourself, is not a dog under any ruling.
I had Vixen, who was all my dog to me; and I felt what my friend must have felt, at tearing out his heart in this style and leaving it in my garden. However, the dog understood clearly enough that I was his master, and did not follow the soldier. As soon as he drew breath I made much of him, and Vixen, yelling with jealousy, flew at him. Had she been of his own sex, he might have cheered himself with a fight, but he only looked worriedly when she nipped his deep iron sides, laid his heavy head on my knee, and howled anew. I meant to dine at the Club that night; but as darkness drew in, and the dog snuffed through the empty house like a child trying to recover from a fit of sobbing, I felt that I could not leave him to suffer his first evening alone. So we fed at home, Vixen on one side, and the stranger-dog on the other; she watching his every mouthful, and saying explicitly what she thought of his table manners, which were much better than hers.
It was Vixen’s custom, till the weather grew hot, to sleep in my bed, her head on the pillow like a Christian; and when morning came I would always find that the little thing had braced her feet against the wall and pushed me to the very edge of the cot. This night she hurried to bed purposefully, every hair up, one eye on the stranger, who had dropped on a mat in a helpless, hopeless sort of way, all four feet spread out, sighing heavily. She settled her head on the pillow several times, to show her little airs and graces, and struck up her usual whiney sing-song before slumber. The stranger-dog softly edged toward me. I put out my hand and he licked it. Instantly my wrist was between Vixen’s teeth, and her warning aaarh! said as plainly as speech, that if I took any further notice of the stranger she would bite.
She understood perfectly, but the minute I released her she mouthed my right wrist once more, and waited with her ears back and all her body flattened, ready to bite. The big dog’s tail thumped the floor in a humble and peace-making way.
I grabbed Vixen a second time, lifted her out of bed like a rabbit (she hated that and yelled), and, as I had promised, set her out in the verandah with the bats and the moonlight. At this she howled. Then she used coarse language—not to me, but to the bull-terrier—till she coughed with exhaustion. Then she ran round the house trying every door. Then she went off to the stables and barked as though some one were stealing the horses, which was an old trick of hers. Last she returned, and her snuffing yelp said, “I’ll be good! Let me in and I’ll’ be good!”
She was admitted and flew to her pillow. When she was quieted I whispered to the other dog, “You can lie on the foot of the bed.” The bull jumped up at once, and though I felt Vixen quiver with rage, she knew better than to protest. So we slept till the morning, and they had early breakfast with me, bite for bite, till the horse came round and we went for a ride. I don’t think the bull had ever followed a horse before. He was wild with excitement, and Vixen, as usual, squealed and scuttered and scooted, and took charge of the procession.
The bull was ploughing along in the dust, fifty yards behind, rolling in his run, and smiling as bull-terriers will. I heard Vixen squeal; half a dozen of the curs closed in on her; a white streak came up behind me; a cloud of dust rose near Vixen, and, when it cleared, I saw one tall pariah with his back broken, and the bull wrenching another to earth. Vixen retreated to the protection of my whip, and the bull paddled back smiling more than ever, covered with the blood of his enemies. That decided me to call him “Garm of the Bloody Breast,” who was a great person in his time, or “Garm” for short; so, leaning forward, I told him what his temporary name would be. He looked up while I repeated it, and then raced away. I shouted “Garm!” He stopped, raced back, and came up to ask my will.
Then I saw that my soldier friend was right, and that that dog knew and was worth more than a man. At the end of the ride I gave an order which Vixen knew and hated: “Go away and get washed!” I said. Garm understood some part of it, and Vixen interpreted the rest, and the two trotted off together soberly. When I went to the back verandah Vixen had been washed snowy-white, and was very proud of herself, but the dog-boy would not touch Garm on any account unless I stood by. So I waited while he was being scrubbed, and Garm, with the soap creaming on the top of his broad head, looked at me to make sure that this was what I expected him to endure. He knew perfectly that the dog-boy was only obeying orders.
I knew that Garm understood. Indeed, next washing-day, when Vixen as usual fled under my bed, Garm stared at the doubtful dog-boy in the verandah, stalked to the place where he had been washed last time, and stood rigid in the tub.
But the long days in my office tried him sorely. We three would drive off in the morning at half-past eight and come home at six or later. Vixen knowing the routine of it, went to sleep under my table; but the confinement ate into Garm’s soul. He generally sat on the verandah looking out on the Mall; and well I knew what he expected.
Sometimes a company of soldiers would move along on their way to the Fort, and Garm rolled forth to inspect them; or an officer in uniform entered into the office, and it was pitiful to see poor Garm’s welcome to the cloth—not the man. He would leap at him, and sniff and bark joyously, then run to the door and back again. One afternoon I heard him bay with a full throat—a thing I had never heard before—and he disappeared. When I drove into my garden at the end of the day a soldier in white uniform scrambled over the wall at the far end, and the Garm that met me was a joyous dog. This happened twice or thrice a week for a month.
I pretended not to notice, but Garm knew and Vixen knew. He would glide homewards from the office about four o’clock, as though he were only going to look at the scenery, and this he did so quietly that but for Vixen I should not have noticed him. The jealous little dog under the table would give a sniff and a snort, just loud enough to call my attention to the flight. Garm might go out forty times in the day and Vixen would never stir, but when he slunk off to see his true master in my garden she told me in her own tongue. That was the one sign she made to prove that Garm did not altogether belong to the family. They were the best of friends at all times, but, Vixen explained that I was never to forget Garm did not love me as she loved me.
I never expected it. The dog was not my dog could never be my dog—and I knew he was as miserable as his master who tramped eight miles a day to see him. So it seemed to me that the sooner the two were reunited the better for all. One afternoon I sent Vixen home alone in the dog-cart (Garm had gone before), and rode over to cantonments to find another friend of mine, who was an Irish soldier and a great friend of the dog’s master.
“It’s his penance he’s set himself. I told him by way of a joke, afther you’d run over him so convenient that night, whin he was drunk—I said if he was a Catholic he’d do penance. Off he went wid that fit in his little head an’ a dose of fever, an nothin’ would suit but givin’ you the dog as a hostage.”
“If ’twas only that I need not care. Ye can take the pledge for three months on an’ off. He sez he’ll never see the dog again, an’ so mark you, he’ll keep straight for evermore. Ye know his fits? Well, this is wan of them. How’s the dog takin’ it ?”
It is the custom in India to send a certain number of invalids from each regiment up to stations in the Himalayas for the hot weather; and though the men ought to enjoy the cool and the comfort, they miss the society of the barracks down below, and do their best to come back or to avoid going. I felt that this move would bring matters to a head, so I left Terrence hopefully, though he called after me “He won’t take the dog, sorr. You can lay your month’s pay on that. Ye know his fits.”
That summer the invalids of the regiment to which my friend belonged were ordered off to the Hills early, because the doctors thought marching in the cool of the day would do them good. Their route lay south to a place called Umballa, a hundred and twenty miles or more. Then they would turn east and march up into the hills to Kasauli or Dugshai or Subathoo. I dined with the officers the night before they left—they were marching at five in the morning. It was midnight when I drove into my garden, and surprised a white figure flying over the wall.
“I did not tell him to go away because he has been here many times before, and because the dog-boy told me that if I told him to go away, that great dog would immediately slay me. He did not wish to speak to the Protector of the Poor, and he did not ask for anything to eat or drink.”
Garm slept ill that night and whimpered in his dreams. Once he sprang up with a clear, ringing bark, and I heard him wag his tail till it waked him and the bark died out in a howl. He had dreamed he was with his master again, and I nearly cried. It was all Stanley’s silly fault.
The first halt which the detachment of invalids made was some miles from their barracks, on the Amritsar road, and ten miles distant from my house. By a mere chance one of the officers drove back for another good dinner at the Club (cooking on the line of march is always bad), and there I met him. He was a particular friend of mine, and I knew that he knew how to love a dog properly. His pet was a big fat retriever who was going up to the Hills for his health, and, though it was still April, the round, brown brute puffed and panted in the Club verandah as though he would burst.
“It’s amazing,” said the officer, “what excuses these invalids of mine make to get back to barracks. There’s a man in my company now asked me for leave to go back to cantonments to pay a debt he’d forgotten. I was so taken by the idea I let him go, and he jingled off in an ekka as pleased as Punch. Ten miles to pay a debt! Wonder what it was really?”
“I was wondering where that brute had gone to. He’s the best dog in the regiment,” said my friend. “I offered the little fellow twenty rupees for him a month ago. But he’s a hostage, you say, for Stanley’s good conduct. Stanley’s one of the best men I have when he chooses.”
We drove in quietly at the far end of the garden, and crept round the house. There was a place close to the wall all grown about with tamarisk trees, where I knew Garm kept his bones. Even Vixen was not allowed to sit near it. In the full Indian moonlight I could see a white uniform bending over the dog.
“Good-bye, old man,” we could not help hearing Stanley’s voice. “For ’Eving’s sake don’t get bit and go mad by any measly pi-dog. But you can look after yourself, old man. You don’t get drunk an’ run about ’ittin’ your friends. You takes your bones an’ you eats your biscuit, an’ you kills your enemy like a gentleman. I’m goin’ away—don’t ’owl—I’m goin’ off to Kasauli, where I won’t see you no more.”
So she was—under my feet—and, had she been missing, food and wages would have stopped in my house till her return. But some people grow fond of dogs not worth a cut of the whip. My friend had to drive away at last with Stanley in the back seat; and then the dog-boy said to me:
“He has no face,” said the dog-boy scornfully. “He is a punniar-kooter (a spaniel). He never tried to get that cloth off his jaws when his master called. Now Vixen-baba would have jumped through the window, and that Great Dog would have slain me with his muzzled mouth. It is true that there are many kinds of dogs.”
Next evening who should turn up but Stanley. The officer had sent him back fourteen miles by rail with a note begging me to return the retriever if I had found him, and, if I had not, to offer huge rewards. The last train to camp left at half-past ten, and Stanley, stayed till ten talking to Garm. I argued and entreated, and even threatened to shoot the bull-terrier, but the little man was as firm as a rock, though I gave him a good dinner and talked to him most severely. Garm knew as well as I that this was the last time he could hope to see his man, and followed Stanley like a shadow. The retriever said nothing, but licked his lips after his meal and waddled off without so much as saying “Thank you” to the disgusted dog-boy.
So that last meeting was over, and I felt as wretched as Garm, who moaned in his sleep all night. When we went to the office he found a place under the table close to Vixen, and dropped flat till it was time to go home. There was no more running out into the verandahs, no slinking away for stolen talks with Stanley. As the weather grew warmer the dogs were forbidden to run beside the cart, but sat at my side on the seat, Vixen with her head under the crook of my left elbow, and Garm hugging the left handrail.
Here Vixen was ever in great form. She had to attend to all the moving traffic, such as bullock-carts that blocked the way, and camels, and led ponies; as well as to keep up her dignity when she passed low friends running in the dust. She never yapped for yapping’s sake, but her shrill, high bark was known all along the Mall, and other men’s terriers ki-yied in reply, and bullock-drivers looked over their shoulders and gave us the road with a grin.
But Garm cared for none of these things. His big eyes were on the horizon and his terrible mouth was shut. There was another dog in the office who belonged to my chief. We called him “Bob the Librarian,” because he always imagined vain rats behind the bookshelves, and in hunting for them would drag out half the old newspaper-files. Bob was a well-meaning idiot, but Garm did not encourage him. He would slide his head round the door panting, “Rats! Come along Garm!” and Garm would shift one forepaw over the other, and curl himself round, leaving Bob to whine at a most uninterested back. The office was nearly as cheerful as a tomb in those days.
Once, and only once, did I see Garm at all contented with his surroundings. He had gone for an unauthorised walk with Vixen early one Sunday morning, and a very young and foolish artilleryman (his battery had just moved to that part of the world) tried to steal them both. Vixen, of course, knew better than to take food from soldiers, and, besides, she had just finished her breakfast. So she trotted back with a large piece of the mutton that they issue to our troops, laid it down on my verandah, and looked up to see what I thought. I asked her where Garm was, and she ran in front of the horse to show me the way.
About a mile up the road we came across our artilleryman sitting very stiffly on the edge of a culvert with a greasy handkerchief on his knees. Garm was in front of him, looking rather pleased. When the man moved leg or hand, Garm bared his teeth in silence. A broken string hung from his collar, and the other half of, it lay, all warm, in the artilleryman’s still hand. He explained to me, keeping his eyes straight in front of him, that he had met this dog (he called him awful names) walking alone, and was going to take him to the Fort to be killed for a masterless pariah.
I said that Garm did not seem to me much of a pariah, but that he had better take him to the Fort if he thought best. He said he did not care to do so. I told him to go to the Fort alone. He said he did not want to go at that hour, but would follow my advice as soon as I had called off the dog. I instructed Garm to take him to the Fort, and Garm marched him solemnly up to the gate, one mile and a half under a hot sun, and I told the quarter-guard what had happened; but the young artilleryman was more angry than was at all necessary when they began to laugh. Several regiments, he was told, had tried to steal Garm in their time.
That month the hot weather shut down in earnest, and the dogs slept in the bathroom on the cool wet bricks where the bath is placed. Every morning, as soon as the man filled my bath the two jumped in, and every morning the man filled the bath a second time. I said to him that he might as well fill a small tub specially for the dogs. “Nay,” said he smiling, “it is not their custom. They would not understand. Besides, the big bath gives them more space.”
The punkah-coolies who pull the punkahs day and night came to know Garm intimately. He noticed that when the swaying fan stopped I would call out to the coolie and bid him pull with a long stroke. If the man still slept I would wake him up. He discovered, too, that it was a good thing to lie in the wave of air under the punkah. Maybe Stanley had taught him all about this in barracks. At any rate, when the punkah stopped, Garm would first growl and cock his eye at the rope, and if that did not wake the man it nearly always did—he would tiptoe forth and talk in the sleeper’s ear. Vixen was a clever little dog, but she could never connect the punkah and the coolie; so Garm gave me grateful hours of cool sleep. But—he was utterly wretched—as miserable as a human being; and in his misery he clung so closely to me that other men noticed it, and were envious. If I moved from one room to another Garm followed; if my pen stopped scratching, Garm’s head was thrust into my hand; if I turned, half awake, on the pillow, Garm was up and at my side, for he knew that I was his only link with his master, and day and night, and night and day, his eyes asked one question—“When is this going to end?”
Living with the dog as I did, I never noticed that he was more than ordinarily upset by the hot weather, till one day at the Club a man said: “That dog of yours will die in a week or two. He’s a shadow.” Then I dosed Garm with iron and quinine, which he hated; and I felt very anxious. He lost his appetite, and Vixen was allowed to eat his dinner under his eyes. Even that did not make him swallow, and we held a consultation on him, of the best man-doctor in the place; a lady-doctor, who cured the sick wives of kings; and the Deputy Inspector-General of the veterinary service of all India. They pronounced upon his symptoms, and I told them his story, and Garm lay on a sofa licking my hand.
The best man-doctor in the place wrote a prescription, and the veterinary Deputy Inspector-General went over it afterwards to be sure that the drugs were in the proper dog-proportions; and that was the first time in his life that our doctor ever allowed his prescriptions to be edited. It was a strong tonic, and it put the dear boy on his feet for a week or two; then he lost flesh again. I asked a man I knew to take him up to the Hills with him when he went, and the man came to the door with his kit packed on the top of the carriage. Garm took in the situation at one red glance. The hair rose along his back; he sat down in front of me and delivered the most awful growl I have ever heard in the jaws of a dog. I shouted to my friend to get away at once, and as soon as the carriage was out of the garden Garm laid his head on my knee and whined. So I knew his answer, and devoted myself to getting Stanley’s address in the Hills.
My turn to go to the cool came late in August. We were allowed thirty days’ holiday in a year, if no one fell sick, and we took it as we could be spared. My chief and Bob the Librarian had their holiday first, and when they were gone I made a calendar, as I always did, and hung it up at the head of my cot, tearing off one day at a time till they returned. Vixen had gone up to the Hills with me five times before; and she appreciated the cold and the damp and the beautiful wood fires there as much as I did.
“Garm,” I said, “we are going back to Stanley at Kasauli. Kasauli—Stanley; Stanley Kasauli.” And I repeated it twenty times. It was not Kasauli really, but another place. Still I remembered what Stanley had said in my garden on the last night, and I dared not change the name. Then Garm began to tremble; then he barked; and then he leaped up at me, frisking and wagging his tail.
“Not now,” I said, holding up my hand. “When I say ‘Go,’ we’ll go, Garm.” I pulled out the little blanket coat and spiked collar that Vixen always wore up in the Hills to protect her against sudden chills and thieving leopards, and I let the two smell them and talk it over. What they said of course I do not know; but it made a new dog of Garm. His eyes were bright; and he barked joyfully when I spoke to him. He ate his food, and he killed his rats for the next three weeks, and when he began to whine I had only to say “Stanley—Kasauli; Kasauli—Stanley,” to wake him up. I wish I had thought of it before.
My chief came back, all brown with living in the open air, and very angry at finding it so hot in the plains. That same afternoon we three and Kadir Buksh began to pack for our month’s holiday, Vixen rolling in and out of the bullock-trunk twenty times a minute, and Garm grinning all over and thumping on the floor with his tail. Vixen knew the routine of travelling as well as she knew my office-work. She went to the station, singing songs, on the front seat of the carriage, while Garm sat with me. She hurried into the railway carriage, saw Kadir Buksh make up my bed for the night, got her drink of water, and curled up with her black-patch eye on the tumult of the platform. Garm followed her (the crowd gave him a lane all to himself) and sat down on the pillows with his eyes blazing, and his tail a haze behind him.
We came to Umballa in the hot misty dawn, four or five men, who had been working hard for eleven months, shouting for our dales—the two-horse travelling carriages that were to take us up to Kalka at the foot of the Hills. It was all new to Garm. He did not understand carriages where you lay at full length on your bedding, but Vixen knew and hopped into her place at once; Garm following. The Kalka Road, before the railway was built, was about forty-seven miles long, and the horses were changed every eight miles. Most of them jibbed, and kicked, and plunged, but they had to go, and they went rather better than usual for Garm’s deep bay in their rear.
There was a river to be forded, and four bullocks pulled the carriage, and Vixen stuck her head out of the sliding-door and nearly fell into the water while she gave directions. Garm was silent and curious, and rather needed reassuring about Stanley and Kasauli. So we rolled, barking and yelping, into Kalka for lunch, and Garm ate enough for two.
After Kalka the road wound among the hills, and we took a curricle with half-broken ponies, which were changed every six miles. No one dreamed of a railroad to Simla in those days, for it was seven thousand feet up in the air. The road was more than fifty miles long, and the regulation pace was just as fast as the ponies could go. Here, again, Vixen led Garm from one carriage to the other; jumped into the back seat, and shouted. A cool breath from the snows met us about five miles out of Kalka, and she whined for her coat, wisely fearing a chill on the liver. I had had one made for Garm too, and, as we climbed to the fresh breezes, I put it on, and Garm chewed it uncomprehendingly, but I think he was grateful.
“Hi-yi-yi-yi!” sang Vixen as we shot round the curves; “Toot-toot-toot!” went the driver’s bugle at the dangerous places, and “yow! yow!” bayed Garm. Kadir Buksh sat on the front seat and smiled. Even he was glad to get away from the heat of the Plains that stewed in the haze behind us. Now and then we would meet a man we knew going down to his work again, and he would say: “What’s it like below?” and I would shout: “Hotter than cinders. What’s it like up above?” and he would shout back: “Just perfect!” and away we would go.
Suddenly Kadir Buksh said, over his shoulder: “Here is Solon”; and Garm snored where he lay with his head on my knee. Solon is an unpleasant little cantonment, but it has the advantage of being cool and healthy. It is all bare and windy, and one generally stops at a rest-house nearby for something to eat. I got out and took both dogs with me, while Kadir Buksh made tea. A soldier told, us we should find Stanley “out there,” nodding his head towards a bare, bleak hill.
When we climbed to the top we spied that very Stanley, who had given me all this trouble, sitting on a rock with his face in his hands, and his overcoat hanging loose about him. I never saw anything so lonely and dejected in my life as this one little man, crumpled up and thinking, on the great gray hillside.
He departed without a word, and, so far as I could see, without moving his legs. He flew through the air bodily, and I heard the whack of him as he flung himself at Stanley, knocking the little man clean over. They rolled on the ground together, shouting, and yelping, and hugging. I could not see which was dog and which was man, till Stanley got up and whimpered.
He told me that he had been suffering from fever at intervals, and was very weak. He looked all he said, but even while I watched, both man and dog plumped out to their natural sizes, precisely as dried apples swell in water. Garm was on his shoulder, and his breast and feet all at the same time, so that Stanley spoke all through a cloud of Garm—gulping, sobbing, slavering Garm. He did not say anything that I could understand, except that he had fancied he was going to die, but that now he was quite well, and that he was not going to give up Garm any more to anybody under the rank of Beelzebub.
We went down to tea at the rest-house, where Stanley stuffed himself with sardines and raspberry jam, and beer, and cold mutton and pickles, when Garm wasn’t climbing over him; and then Vixen and I went on.
Garm saw how it was at once. He said good-bye to me three times, giving me both paws one after another, and leaping on to my shoulder. He further escorted us, singing Hosannas at the top of his voice, a mile down the road. Then he raced back to his own master.
Vixen never opened her mouth, but when the cold twilight came, and we could see the lights of Simla across the hills, she snuffled with her nose at the breast of my ulster. I unbuttoned it, and tucked her inside. Then she gave a contented little sniff, and fell fast asleep, her head on my breast, till we bundled out at Simla, two of the four happiest people in all the world that night.
IF THE stock had not been old and overcrowded, the Wax-moth would never have entered; but where bees are too thick on the comb there must be sickness or parasites. The heat of the hive had risen with the June honey-flow, and though the farmers worked, until their wings ached, to keep people cool, everybody suffered.
The little grey Wax-moth, pressed close in a crack in the alighting-board, had waited this chance all day. She scuttled in like a ghost, and, knowing the senior bees would turn her out at once, dodged into a brood-frame, where youngsters who had not yet seen the winds blow or the flowers nod discussed life. Here she was safe, for young bees will tolerate any sort of stranger. Behind her came the bee who had been slanged by the Guard.
“What is the world like, Melissa?” said a companion. “Cruel! I brought in a full load of first-class stuff, and the Guard told me to go and be foul-brooded!” She sat down in the cool draught across the combs.
“My dear child, I give you my most solemn word of honour those aren’t eggs. Those are my principles, and I am ready to die for them.” She raised her voice a little above the rustle and tramp round her. “If you’d like to kill me, pray do.”
Laying at every sob, the Wax-moth backed into a crowd of young bees, and left Melissa bewildered and annoyed. So she lifted up her little voice in the darkness and cried, “Stores!” till a gang of cell-fillers hailed her, and she left her load with them.
“There’s a rumour of Death’s Head Moths about. Send a gang of youngsters to the Gate, and tell them to narrow it in with a couple of stout scrap-wax pillars. It’ll make the Hive hot, but we can’t have Death’s Headers in the middle of our honey-flow.”
“My Only Wings! I should think not!” Melissa had all a sound bee’s hereditary hatred against the big, squeaking, feathery Thief of the Hives. “Tumble out!” she called across the youngsters’ quarters. “All you who aren’t feeding babies, show a leg. Scrap-wax pillars for the Ga-ate!” She chanted the order at length.
“That’s nonsense,” a downy, day-old bee answered. “In the first place, I never heard of a Death’s Header coming into a hive. People don’t do such things. In the second, building pillars to keep ’em out is purely a Cypriote trick, unworthy of British bees. In the third, if you trust a Death’s Head, he will trust you. Pillar-building shows lack of confidence. Our dear sister in grey says so.”
“You misunderstand me, as usual, love. Work’s the essence of life; but to expend precious unreturning vitality and real labour against imaginary danger, that is heartbreakingly absurd! If I can only teach a—a little toleration—a little ordinary kindness here toward that absurd old bogey you call the Death’s Header, I shan’t have lived in vain.”
The young bees trooped down the frame, whispering. “What’s the matter with ’em?” said the oldster. “Why do they call each other ‘ducky’ and ‘darling’? Must be the weather.” She sniffed suspiciously. “Horrid stuffy smell here. Like stale quilts. Not Wax-moth, I hope, Melissa?”
“Not to my knowledge,” said Melissa, who, of course, only knew the Wax-moth as a lady with principles, and had never thought to report her presence. She had always imagined Wax-moths to be like blood-red dragon-flies.
“You had better fan out this corner for a little,” said the old bee and passed on. Melissa dropped her head at once, took firm hold with her fore-feet, and fanned obediently at the regulation stroke three hundred beats to the second. Fanning tries a bee’s temper, because she must always keep in the same place where she never seems to be doing any good, and, all the while, she is wearing out her only wings. When a bee cannot fly, a bee must not live; and a bee knows it. The Wax-moth crept forth, and caressed Melissa again.
It takes some time for a sound bee to realize a malignant and continuous lie. “She’s very sweet and feathery,” was all that Melissa thought, “but her talk sounds like ivy honey tastes. I’d better get to my field-work again.”
Before a bee can make wax she must fill herself with honey. Then she climbs to safe foothold and hangs, while other gorged bees hang on to her in a cluster. There they wait in silence till the wax comes. The scales are either taken out of the maker’s pockets by the workers, or tinkle down on the workers while they wait. The workers chew them (they are useless unchewed) into the all-supporting, all-embracing Wax of the Hive.
“Make it, then,” said the bee she had grappled. The spoken word snapped the current through the cluster. It shook and glistened like a cat’s fur in the dark. “Unhook!” it murmured. “No wax for any one to-day.”
“Not by a whole comb,” cried the young bee who had broken the cluster. “Listen here! I’ve studied the question more than twenty minutes. It’s as simple as falling off a daisy. You’ve heard of Cheshire, Root and Langstroth?”
“Those three know all that there is to be known about making hives. One or t’other of ’em must have made ours, and if they’ve made it, they’re bound to look after it. Ours is a ‘Guaranteed Patent Hive.’ You can see it on the label behind.”
“Ah, perhaps that’s true, but think how delicate my position is, sister. I’ve a magnificent appetite, and I don’t like working. It’s bad for the mind. My instinct tells me that I can act as a restraining influence on others. They would have been worse, but for me.”
“Grey Sister—that fluffy one, I mean—she came and said we ought to be out in the sunshine gathering honey, because life was short. She said any old bee could attend to our babies, and some day old bees would. That isn’t true, Melissa, is it? No old bees can take us away from our babies, can they?”
“We told her so! We told her so; but she only waved her feelers, and said we could all lay eggs like Queens if we chose. And I’m afraid lots of the weaker sisters believe her, and are trying to do it. So unsettling!”
“Come along, precious!” she murmured, and thinned the frail top from the other side. A pale, damp, creased thing hoisted itself feebly on to the comb. Sacharissa’s note changed at once. “No time to waste! Go up the frame and preen yourself!” she said. “Report for nursing-duty in my ward to-morrow evening at six. Stop a minute. What’s the matter with your third right leg?”
But we’re hatching out drones with workers’ stomachs; workers with drones’ stomachs; and albinoes and mixed-leggers who can’t pack pollen—like that poor little beast yonder. I don’t mind dwarf drones any more than you do (they all die in July), but this steady hatch of oddities frightens me, Melissa!”
“How narrow of you! They are all so delightfully clever and unusual and interesting,” piped the Wax-moth from a crack above them. “Come here, you dear, downy duck, and tell us all about your feelings.”
“That is the truth,” said the Queen’s voice behind them. They had not heard the heavy royal footfall which sets empty cells vibrating. Sacharissa offered her food at once. She ate and dragged her weary body forward. “Can you suggest a remedy?” she said.
“It would save us, but—I know the Hive! You shall see for yourself.” The old Queen cried the Swarming Cry, which to a bee of good blood should be what the trumpet was to Job’s war-horse. In spite of her immense age (three, years), it rang between the canon-like frames as a pibroch rings in a mountain pass; the fanners changed their note, and repeated it up in every gallery; and the broad-winged drones, burly and eager, ended it on one nerve-thrilling outbreak of bugles: “La Reine le veult! Swarm! Swar-rm! Swar-r-rm!”
“Swarm? What for? Catch me leaving a good bar-frame Hive, with fixed foundations, for a rotten, old oak out in the open where it may rain any minute! We’re all right! It’s a ‘Patent Guaranteed Hive.’ Why do they want to turn us out? Swarming be gummed! Swarming was invented to cheat a worker out of her proper comforts. Come on off to bed!”
“You speak truth for once,” the Queen said suddenly, for she recognized the Wax-moth. “That Light will break into the top of the Hive. A Hot Smoke will follow it, and your children will not be able to hide in any crevice.”
“It is no legend,” the old Queen answered. “I had it from my mother, and she had it from hers. After the Wax-moth has grown strong, a Shadow will fall across the gate; a Voice will speak from behind a Veil; there will be Light, and Hot Smoke, and earthquakes, and those who live will see everything that they have done, all together in one place, burned up in one great fire.” The old Queen was trying to tell what she had been told of the Bee Master’s dealings with an infected hive in the apiary, two or three seasons ago; and, of course, from her point of view the affair was as important as the Day of Judgment.
There were. When her eggs hatched, the wax was riddled with little tunnels, coated with the dirty clothes of the caterpillars. Flannelly lines ran through the honey-stores, the pollen-larders, the foundations, and, worst of all, through the babies in their cradles, till the Sweeper Guards spent half their time tossing out useless little corpses. The lines ended in a maze of sticky webbing on the face of the comb. The caterpillars could not stop spinning as they walked, and as they walked everywhere, they smarmed and garmed everything. Even where it did not hamper the bees’ feet, the stale, sour smell of the stuff put them off their work; though some of the bees who had taken to egg laying said it encouraged them to be mothers and maintain a vital interest in life.
When the caterpillars became moths, they made friends with the ever-increasing Oddities—albinoes, mixed-leggers, single-eyed composites, faceless drones, halfqueens and laying sisters; and the ever-dwindling band of the old stock worked themselves bald and fray-winged to feed their queer charges. Most of the Oddities would not, and many, on account of their malformations, could not, go through a day’s field-work; but the Wax-moths, who were always busy on the brood-comb, found pleasant home occupations for them. One albino, for instance, divided the number of pounds of honey in stock by the number of bees in the Hive, and proved that if every bee only gathered honey for seven and three quarter minutes a day, she would have the rest of the time to herself, and could accompany the drones on their mating flights. The drones were not at all pleased.
Another, an eyeless drone with no feelers, said that all brood-cells should be perfect circles, so as not to interfere with the grub or the workers. He proved that the old six-sided cell was solely due to the workers building against each other on opposite sides of the wall, and that if there were no interference, there would be no angles. Some bees tried the new plan for a while, and found it cost eight times more wax than the old six sided specification; and, as they never allowed a cluster to hang up and make wax in peace, real wax was scarce. However, they eked out their task with varnish stolen from new coffins at funerals, and it made them rather sick. Then they took to cadging round sugar-factories and breweries, because it was easiest to get their material from those places, and the mixture of glucose and beer naturally fermented in store and blew the store-cells out of shape, besides smelling abominably. Some of the sound bees warned them that ill-gotten gains never prosper, but the Oddities at once surrounded them and balled them to death. That was a punishment they were almost as fond of as they were of eating, and they expected the sound bees to feed them. Curiously enough the age-old instinct of loyalty and devotion towards the Hive made the sound bees do this, though their reason told them they ought to slip away and unite with some other healthy stock in the apiary.
“A Princess might help us in the time of the Voice behind the Veil that the Queen talks of. And anything is better than working for Oddities that chirrup about work that they can’t do, and waste what we bring home.”
There is no room to tell how the experienced Melissa found a far-off frame so messed and mishandled by abandoned cell-building experiments that, for very shame, the bees never went there. How in that ruin she blocked out a Royal Cell of sound wax, but disguised by rubbish till it looked like a kopje among deserted kopjes. How she prevailed upon the hopeless Queen to make one last effort and lay a worthy egg. How the Queen obeyed and died. How her spent carcass was flung out on the rubbish heap, and how a multitude of laying sisters went about dropping drone-eggs where they listed, and said there was no more need of Queens. How, covered by this confusion, Sacharissa educated certain young bees to educate certain new-born bees in the almost lost art of making Royal Jelly. How the nectar for it was won out of hours in the teeth of chill winds. How the hidden egg hatched true—no drone, but Blood Royal. How it was capped, and how desperately they worked to feed and double-feed the now swarming Oddities, lest any break in the food-supplies should set them to instituting inquiries, which, with songs about work, was their favourite amusement. How in an auspicious hour, on a moonless night, the Princess came forth a Princess indeed, and how Melissa smuggled her into a dark empty honey-magazine, to bide her time; and how the drones, knowing she was there, went about singing the deep disreputable love-songs of the old days—to the scandal of the laying sisters, who do not think well of drones. These things are, written in the Book of Queens, which is laid up in the hollow of the Great Ash Ygdrasil.
After a few days the weather changed again and became glorious. Even the Oddities would now join the crowd that hung out on the alighting-board, and would sing of work among the merry, merry blossoms till an untrained ear might have received it for the hum of a working hive. Yet, in truth, their store-honey had been eaten long ago. They lived from day to day on the efforts of the few sound bees, while the Wax-moth fretted and consumed again their already ruined wax. But the sound bees never mentioned these matters. They knew, if they did, the Oddities would hold a meeting and ball them to death.
“More than that,” chanted the Oddities in the sunshine; “you have created a new heaven and a new earth. Heaven, cloudless and accessible” (it was a perfect August evening) “and Earth teeming with the merry, merry blossoms, waiting only our honest toil to turn them all to good. The—er—Aster, and the Crocus, and the—er—Ladies’ Smock in her season, the Chrysanthemum after her kind, and the Guelder Rose bringing forth abundantly withal.”
“Really, you are too archaic for words,” said an Oddity in an alley-way. “A cloud, I admit, may have crossed the sun; but why hysterics? Above all, why Princesses so late in the day? Are you aware it’s the Hival Tea-time? Let’s sing grace.”
Melissa clawed past him with all six legs. Sacharissa had run to what was left of the fertile brood-comb. “Down and out!” she called across the brown breadth of it. “Nurses, guards, fanners, sweepers—out! Never mind the babies. They’re better dead.—Out, before the Light and the Hot Smoke!”
Sacharissa rounded up her rearguard, which dropped headlong off the frame, and joined the Princess’s detachment thrusting toward the Gate. Now panic was in full blast, and each sound bee found herself embraced by at least three Oddities. The first instinct of a frightened bee is to break into the stores and gorge herself with honey; but there were no stores left, so the Oddities fought the sound bees.
“You must feed us, or we shall die!” they cried, holding and clutching and slipping, while the silent scared earwigs and little spiders twisted between their legs. “Think of the Hive, traitors! The Holy Hive!”
The Princess left the alighting-board, circled once, flung herself at the lowest branch of the Old Oak, and her little loyal swarm—you could have covered it with a pint mug—followed, hooked, and hung.
The Hive was half hidden by smoke, and Figures moved through the smoke. They heard a frame crack stickily, saw it heaved high and twirled round between enormous hands—a blotched, bulged, and perished horror of grey wax, corrupt brood, and small drone-cells, all covered with crawling Oddities, strange to the sun.
“Aren’t you confusing post hoc with propter hoc?” said the Bee Master. “Wax-moth only succeed when weak bees let them in.” A third frame crackled and rose into the light. “All this is full of laying workers’ brood. That never happens till the stock’s weakened. Phew!”
The little swarm shivered as they watched the dwarf drone-grubs squirm feebly on the grass. Many sound bees had nursed on that frame, well knowing their work was useless; but the actual sight of even useless work destroyed disheartens a good worker.
“But it’s tucked away among—What on earth has come to the little wretches? They seem to have lost the instinct of cell-building.” The father held up the frame where the bees had experimented in circular cell-work. It looked like the pitted head, of a decaying toadstool.
As frame after frame followed it, the swarm beheld the upheaval, exposure, and destruction of all that had been well or ill done in every cranny of their Hive for generations past. There was black comb so old that they had forgotten where it hung; orange, buff, and ochre-varnished store-comb, built as bees were used to build before the days of artificial foundations; and there was a little, white, frail new work. There were sheets on sheets of level, even brood-comb that had held in its time unnumbered thousands of unnamed workers; patches of obsolete drone-comb, broad and high-shouldered, showing to what marks the male grub was expected to grow; and two-inch deep honey-magazines, empty, but still magnificent, the whole gummed and glued into twisted scrap-work, awry on the wires; half-cells, beginnings abandoned, or grandiose, weak-walled, composite cells pieced out with rubbish and capped with dirt.
The Figures stooped, lifted the Hive and shook it upside down over the pyre. A cascade of Oddities, chips of broken comb, scale, fluff, and grubs slid out, crackled, sizzled, popped a little, and then the flames roared up and consumed all that fuel.
The shell of the Hive was returned to its place, a light was set in its sticky emptiness, tier by tier the Figures built it up, closed the entrance, and went away. The swarm watched the light leaking through the cracks all the long night. At dawn one Wax-moth came by, fluttering impudently.
With the Night Mail
A Story of 2000 A.D.
(Together with extracts from the magazine in which it appeared)
A NINE O’CLOCK of a gusty winter night I stood on the lower stages of one of the G.P.O. outward mail towers. My purpose was a run to Quebec in “Postal Packet 162 or such other as may be appointed”; and the Postmaster-General himself countersigned the order. This talisman opened all doors, even those in the despatching-caisson at the foot of the tower, where they were delivering the sorted Continental mail. The bags lay packed close as herrings in the long grey underbodies which our G.P.O. still calls “coaches.” Five such coaches were filled as I watched, and were shot up the guides to be locked on to their waiting packets three hundred feet nearer the stars.
From the despatching-caisson I was conducted by a courteous and wonderfully learned official Mr. L.L. Geary, Second Despatcher of the Western Route—to the Captains’ Room (this wakes an echo of old romance), where the mail captains come on for their turn of duty. He introduces me to the captain of “162”—Captain Purnall, and his relief, Captain Hodgson. The one is small and dark; the other large and red; but each has the brooding sheathed glance characteristic of eagles and aeronauts. You can see it in the pictures of our racing professionals, from L.V. Rautsch to little Ada Warrleigh—that fathomless abstraction of eyes habitually turned through naked space.
On the notice-board in the Captains’ Room, the pulsing arrows of some twenty indicators register, degree by geographical degree, the progress of as many homeward-bound packets. The word “Cape” rises across the face of a dial; a gong strikes: the South African mid-weekly mail is in at the Highgate Receiving Towers. That is all. It reminds one comically of the traitorous little bell which in pigeon-fanciers’, lofts notifies the return of a homer.
“Time for us to be on the move,” says Captain Purnall, and we are shot up by the passenger-lift to the top of the despatch-towers. “Our coach will lock on when it is filled and the clerks are aboard.”
“No. 162” waits for us in Slip E of the topmost stage. The great curve of her back shines frostily under the lights, and some minute alteration of trim makes her rock a little in her holding-down slips.
Captain Purnall frowns and dives inside. Hissing softly, “162” comes to rest as level as a rule. From her North Atlantic Winter nose-cap (worn bright as diamond with boring through uncounted leagues of hail, snow, and ice) to the inset of her three built out propeller-shafts is some two hundred and forty feet. Her extreme diameter, carried well forward, is thirty-seven. Contrast this with the nine hundred by ninety-five of any crack liner, and you will realize the power that must drive a hull through all weathers at more than the emergency speed of the Cyclonic!
The eye detects no joint in her skin plating save the sweeping hair-crack of the bow-rudder—Magniac’s rudder that assured us the dominion of the unstable air and left its inventor penniless and half-blind. It is calculated to Castelli’s “gullwing” curve. Raise a few feet of that all but invisible plate three-eighths of an inch and she will yaw five miles to port or starboard ere she is under control again. Give her full helm and she returns on her track like a whip-lash. Cant the whole forward—a touch on the wheel will suffice—and she sweeps at your good direction up or down. Open the complete circle and she presents to the air a mushroom-head that will bring her up all standing within a half mile.
“Yes,” says Captain Hodgson, answering my thought, “Castelli thought he’d discovered the secret of controlling aeroplanes when he’d only found out how to steer dirigible balloons. Magniac invented his rudder to help war-boats ram each other; and war went out of fashion and Magniac he went out of his mind because he said he couldn’t serve his country any more. I wonder if any of us ever know what we’re really doing.”
“If you want to see the coach locked you’d better go aboard. It’s due now,” says Mr. Geary. I enter through the door amidships. There is nothing here for display. The inner skin of the gas-tanks comes down to within a foot or two of my head and turns over just short of the turn of the bilges. Liners and yachts disguise their tanks with decoration, but the G.P.O. serves them raw under a lick of grey official paint. The inner skin shuts off fifty feet of the bow and as much of the stern, but the bow-bulkhead is recessed for the lift-shunting apparatus as the stern is pierced for the shaft-tunnels. The engine-room lies almost amidships. Forward of it, extending to the turn of the bow tanks, is an aperture—a bottomless hatch at present—into which our coach will be locked. One looks down over the coamings three hundred feet to the despatching-caisson whence voices boom upward. The light below is obscured to a sound of thunder, as our coach rises on its guides. It enlarges rapidly from a postage-stamp to a playing-card; to a punt and last a pontoon. The two clerks, its crew, do not even look up as it comes into place. The Quebec letters fly under their fingers and leap into the docketed racks, while both captains and Mr. Geary satisfy them selves that the coach is locked home. A clerk passes the way-bill over the hatch coaming. Captain Purnall thumb-marks and passes it to Mr. Geary. Receipt has been given and taken. “Pleasant run,” says Mr. Geary, and disappears through the door which a foot high pneumatic compressor locks after him.
Captain Hodgson opens the great colloid underbody porthole through which I watch over-lighted London slide eastward as the gale gets hold of us. The first of the low winter clouds cuts off the well-known view and darkens Middlesex. On the south edge of it I can see a postal packet’s light ploughing through the white fleece. For an instant she gleams like a star ere she drops toward the Highgate Receiving Towers. “The Bombay Mail,” says Captain Hodgson, and looks at his watch. “She’s forty minutes late.”
The bridge (let us ever praise the G.P.O. as a repository of ancientest tradition!) is represented by a view of Captain Hodgson’s legs where he stands on the Control Platform that runs thwart-ships overhead. The bow colloid is unshuttered and Captain Purnall, one hand on the wheel, is feeling for a fair slant. The dial shows 4300 feet. “It’s steep to-night,” he mutters, as tier on tier of cloud drops under. “We generally pick up an easterly draught below three thousand at this time o’ the year. I hate slathering through fluff.”
“So does Van Cutsem. Look at him huntin’ for a slant!” says Captain Hodgson. A foglight breaks cloud a hundred fathoms below. The Antwerp Night Mail makes her signal and rises between two racing clouds far to port, her flanks blood-red in the glare of Sheerness Double Light. The gale will have us over the North Sea in half-an-hour, but Captain Purnall lets her go composedly—nosing to every point of the compass as she rises.
“Five thousand-six, six thousand eight hundred”—the dip-dial reads ere we find the easterly drift, heralded by a flurry of snow at the thousand fathom level. Captain Purnall rings up the engines and keys down the governor on the switch before him. There is no sense in urging machinery when Eolus himself gives you good knots for nothing. We are away in earnest now—our nose notched home on our chosen star. At this level the lower clouds are laid out, all neatly combed by the dry fingers of the East. Below that again is the strong westerly blow through which we rose. Overhead, a film of southerly drifting mist draws a theatrical gauze across the firmament. The moonlight turns the lower strata to silver without a stain except where our shadow underruns us. Bristol and Cardiff Double Lights (those statelily inclined beams over Severnmouth) are dead ahead of us; for we keep the Southern Winter Route. Coventry Central, the pivot of the English system, stabs upward once in ten seconds its spear of diamond light to the north; and a point or two off our starboard bow The Leek, the great cloud-breaker of Saint David’s Head, swings its unmistakable green beam twenty-five degrees each way. There must be half a mile of fluff over it in this weather, but it does not affect The Leek.
“Our planet’s over-lighted if anything,” says Captain Purnall at the wheel, as Cardiff-Bristol slides under. “I remember the old days of common white verticals that ’ud show two or three hundred feet up in a mist, if you knew where to look for ’em. In really fluffy weather they might as well have been under your hat. One could get lost coming home then, an’ have some fun. Now, it’s like driving down Piccadilly.”
He points to the pillars of light where the cloud-breakers bore through the cloud-floor. We see nothing of England’s outlines: only a white pavement pierced in all directions by these manholes of variously coloured fire—Holy Island’s white and red—St. Bee’s interrupted white, and so on as far as the eye can reach. Blessed be Sargent, Ahrens, and the Dubois brothers, who invented the cloud-breakers of the world whereby we travel in security!
“Are you going to lift for The Shamrock?” asks Captain Hodgson. Cork Light (green, fixed) enlarges as we rush to it. Captain Purnall nods. There is heavy traffic hereabouts—the cloud-bank beneath us is streaked. with running fissures of flame where the Atlantic boats are hurrying Londonward just clear of the fluff. Mail-packets are supposed, under the Conference rules, to have the five-thousand-foot lanes to themselves, but the foreigner in a hurry is apt to take liberties with English air. “No. 162” lifts to a long-drawn wail of the breeze in the fore-flange of the rudder and we make Valencia (white, green, white) at a safe 7000 feet, dipping our beam to an incoming Washington packet.
There is no cloud on the Atlantic, and faint streaks of cream round Dingle Bay show where the driven seas hammer the coast. A big S.A.T.A. liner (Societe Anonyme des Transports Aeriens) is diving and lifting half a mile below us in search of some break in the solid west wind. Lower still lies a disabled Dane she is telling the liner all about it in International. Our General Communication dial has caught her talk and begins to eavesdrop. Captain Hodgson makes a motion to shut it off but checks himself. “Perhaps you’d like to listen,” he says.
The liner acknowledges and recommends inverting the bearings. The Argol answers that she has already done so without effect, and begins to relieve her mind about cheap German enamels for collar-bearings. The Frenchman assents cordially, cries “Courage, mon ami,” and switches off.
“That’s one of Lundt & Bleamers’ boats,” says Captain Hodgson. “Serves ’em right for putting German compos in their thrust-blocks. She won’t be in Fayal to-night! By the way, wouldn’t you like to look round the engine-room?”
I have been waiting eagerly for this invitation and I follow Captain Hodgson from the control-platform, stooping low to avoid the bulge of the tanks. We know that Fleury’s gas can lift anything, as the world-famous trials of ’89 showed, but its almost indefinite powers of expansion necessitate vast tank room. Even in this thin air the lift-shunts are busy taking out one-third of its normal lift, and still “162” must be checked by an occasional downdraw of the rudder or our flight would become a climb to the stars. Captain Purnall prefers an overlifted to an underlifted ship; but no two captains trim ship alike. “When I take the bridge,” says Captain Hodgson, “you’ll see me shunt forty per cent of the lift out of the gas and run her on the upper rudder. With a swoop upward instead of a swoop downward, as you say. Either way will do. It’s only habit. Watch our dip-dial! Tim fetches her down once every thirty knots as regularly as breathing.”
So is it shown on the dip-dial. For five or six minutes the arrow creeps from 6700 to 7300. There is the faint “szgee” of the rudder, and back slides the arrow to 6000 on a falling slant of ten or fifteen knots.
“In heavy weather you jockey her with the screws as well,” says Captain Hodgson, and, unclipping the jointed bar which divides the engine-room from the bare deck, he leads me on to the floor. Here we find Fleury’s Paradox of the Bulk-headed Vacuum—which we accept now without thought—literally in full blast. The three engines are H.T.&T. assisted-vacuo Fleury turbines running from 3000 to the Limit—that is to say, up to the point when the blades make the air “bell”—cut out a vacuum for themselves precisely as over-driven marine propellers used to do. “162’s” Limit is low on account of the small size of her nine screws, which, though handier than the old colloid Thelussons, “bell” sooner. The midships engine, generally used as a reinforce, is not running; so the port and starboard turbine vacuum-chambers draw direct into the return-mains.
The turbines whistle reflectively. From the low-arched expansion-tanks on either side the valves descend pillarwise to the turbine-chests, and thence the obedient gas whirls through the spirals of blades with a force that would whip the teeth out of a power saw. Behind, is its own pressure held in leash of spurred on by the lift-shunts; before it, the vacuum where Fleury’s Ray dances in violet-green bands and whirled turbillons of flame. The jointed U-tubes of the vacuum-chamber are pressure-tempered colloid (no glass would endure the strain for an instant) and a junior engineer with tinted spectacles watches the Ray intently. It is the very heart of the machine—a mystery to this day. Even Fleury who begat it and, unlike Magniac, died a multi-millionaire, could not explain how the restless little imp shuddering in the U-tube can, in the fractional fraction of a second, strike the furious blast of gas into a chill greyish-green liquid that drains (you can hear it trickle) from the far end of the vacuum through the eduction-pipes and the mains back to the bilges. Here it returns to its gaseous, one had almost written sagacious, state and climbs to work afresh. Bilge-tank, upper tank, dorsal-tank, expansion-chamber, vacuum, main-return (as a liquid), and bilge-tank once more is the ordained cycle. Fleury’s Ray sees to that; and the engineer with the tinted spectacles sees to Fleury’s Ray. If a speck of oil, if even the natural grease of the human finger touch the hooded terminals, Fleury’s Ray will wink and disappear and must be laboriously built up again. This means half a day’s work for all hands and an expense of, one hundred and seventy-odd pounds to the G.P.O. for radium-salts and such trifles.
“Now look at our thrust-collars. You won’t find much German compo there. Full-jewelled, you see,” says Captain Hodgson as the engineer shunts open the top of a cap. Our shaft-bearings are C.M.C. (Commercial Minerals Company) stones, ground with as much care as the lens of a telescope. They cost £837 apiece. So far we have not arrived at their term of life. These bearings came from “No. 97,” which took them over from the old Dominion of Light which had them out of the wreck of the Persew aeroplane in the years when men still flew wooden kites over oil engines!
They are a shining reproof to all low-grade German “ruby” enamels, so-called “boort” facings, and the dangerous and unsatisfactory alumina compounds which please dividend-hunting owners and turn skippers crazy. The rudder-gear and the gas lift-shunt, seated side by side under the engine-room dials, are the only machines in visible motion. The former sighs from time to time as the oil plunger rises and falls half an inch. The latter, cased and guarded like the U-tube aft, exhibits another Fleury Ray, but inverted and more green than violet. Its function is to shunt the lift out of the gas, and this it will do without watching. That is all! A tiny pump-rod wheezing and whining to itself beside a sputtering green lamp. A hundred and fifty feet aft down the flat-topped tunnel of the tanks a violet light, restless and irresolute. Between the two, three white-painted turbine-trunks, like eel-baskets laid on their side, accentuate the empty perspectives. You can hear the trickle of the liquefied gas flowing from the vacuum into the bilge-tanks and the soft gluck-glock of gaslocks closing as Captain Purnall brings “162” down by the head. The hum of the turbines and the boom of the air on our skin is no more than a cotton-wool wrapping to the universal stillness. And we are running an eighteen-second mile.
I peer from the fore end of the engine-room over the hatch-coamings into the coach. The mail-clerks are sorting the Winnipeg, Calgary, and Medicine Hat bags; but there is a pack of cards ready on the table.
Suddenly a bell thrills; the engineers run to the turbine-valves and stand by; but the spectacled slave of the Ray in the U-tube never lifts his head. He must watch where he is. We are hard-braked and going astern; there is language from the Control Platform.
Captain Purnall is not the suave man we left half an hour since, but the embodied authority of the G.P.O. Ahead of us floats an ancient, aluminum-patched, twin-screw tramp of the dingiest, with no more right to the 5000-foot lane than has a horse-cart to a modern road. She carries an obsolete “barbette” conning tower—a six-foot affair with railed platform forward—and our warning beam plays on the top of it as a policeman’s lantern flashes on the area sneak. Like a sneak-thief, too, emerges a shock-headed navigator in his shirt-sleeves. Captain Purnall wrenches open the colloid to talk with him man to man. There are times when Science does not satisfy.
“What under the stars are you doing here, you sky-scraping chimney-sweep?” he shouts as we two drift side by side. “Do you know this is a Mail-lane? You call yourself a sailor, sir? You ain’t fit to peddle toy balloons to an Esquimaux. Your name and number! Report and get down, and be—!”
Then the stranger bellows: “Look at my propellers! There’s been a wulli-wa down below that has knocked us into umbrella-frames! We’ve been blown up about forty thousand feet! We’re all one conjuror’s watch inside! My mate’s arm’s broke; my engineer’s head’s cut open; my Ray went out when the engines smashed; and ... and ... for pity’s sake give me my height, Captain! We doubt we’re dropping.”
“She’s sinking like a log,” says Captain Purnall in an undertone. “Call up the Banks Mark Boat, George.” Our dip-dial shows that we, keeping abreast the tramp, have dropped five hundred feet the last few minutes.
“Wants to know if there’s any danger to traffic. Says she’s in a bit of weather herself, and can’t quit station. I’ve turned in a General Call, so even if they don’t see our beam some one’s bound to help—or else we must. Shall I clear our slings? Hold on! Here we are! A Planet liner, too! She’ll be up in a tick!”
A Planet liner, east bound, heaves up in a superb spiral and takes the air of us humming. Her underbody colloid is open land her transporter-slings hang down like tentacles. We shut off our beam as she adjusts herself—steering to a hair—over the tramp’s conning-tower. The mate comes up, his arm strapped to his side, and stumbles into the cradle. A man with a ghastly scarlet head follows, shouting that he must go back and build up his Ray. The mate assures him that he will find a nice new Ray all ready in the liner’s engine-room. The bandaged head goes up wagging excitedly. A youth and a woman follow. The liner cheers hollowly above us, and we see the passengers’ faces at the saloon colloid.
The skipper comes up, still appealing to us to stand by and see him fetch St. John’s. He dives below and returns—at which we little human beings in the void cheer louder than ever—with the ship’s kitten. Up fly the liner’s hissing slings; her underbody crashes home and she hurtles away again. The dial shows less than 3000 feet. The Mark Boat signals we must attend to the derelict, now whistling her death-song, as she falls beneath us in long sick zigzags.
“Keep our beam on her and send out a General Warning,” says Captain Purnall, following her down. There is no need. Not a liner in air but knows the meaning of that vertical beam and gives us and our quarry a wide berth.
“But she’ll drown in the water, won’t she?” I ask. “Not always,” is his answer. “I’ve known a derelict up-end and sift her engines out of herself and flicker round the Lower Lanes for three weeks on her forward tanks only. We’ll run no risks. Pith her, George, and look sharp. There’s weather ahead.”
Captain Hodgson opens the underbody colloid, swings the heavy pithing-iron out of its rack which in liners is generally cased as a smoking-room settee, and at two hundred feet releases the catch. We hear the whir of the crescent-shaped arms opening as they descend. The derelict’s forehead is punched in, starred across, and rent diagonally. She falls stern first, our beam upon her; slides like a lost soul down that pitiless ladder of light, and the Atlantic takes her.
The thought had crossed my mind, too. What if that wavering carcass had been filled with the men of the old days, each one of them taught (that is the horror of it!) that, after death he would very possibly go for ever to unspeakable torment?
We hurry into the heavy rubber suits—the engineers are already dressed—and inflate at the air-pump taps. G.P.O. inflators are thrice as thick as a racing man’s “flickers,” and chafe abominably under the armpits. George takes the wheel until Tim has blown himself up to the extreme of rotundity. If you kicked him off the c. p. to the deck he would bounce back. But it is “162” that will do the kicking.
“The Mark Boat’s mad—stark ravin’ crazy,” he snorts, returning to command. “She says there’s a bad blow-out ahead and wants me to pull over to Greenland. I’ll see her pithed first! We wasted half an hour fussing over that dead duck down under, and now I’m expected to go rubbin’ my back all round the Pole. What does she think a Postal packet’s made of? Gummed silk? Tell her we’re coming on straight, George.”
George buckles him into the Frame and switches on the Direct Control. Now under Tim’s left toe lies the port-engine Accelerator; under his left heel the Reverse, and so with the other foot. The lift-shunt stops stand out on the rim of the steering-wheel where the fingers of his left hand can play on them. At his right hand is the midships engine lever ready to be thrown into gear at a moment’s notice. He leans forward in his belt, eyes glued to the colloid, and one ear cocked toward the General Communicator. Henceforth he is the strength and direction of “162,” through whatever may befall.
The Banks Mark Boat is reeling out pages of A.B.C. Directions to the traffic at large. We are to secure all “loose objects”; hood up our Fleury Rays; and “on no account to attempt to clear snow from our conning-towers till the weather abates.” Under-powered craft, we are told, can ascend to the limit of their lift, mail-packets to look out for them accordingly; the lower lanes westward are pitting very badly, “with frequent blow-outs, vortices, laterals, etc.”
Still the clear dark holds up unblemished. The only warning is the electric skin-tension (I feel as though I were a lace-maker’s pillow) and an irritability which the gibbering of the General Communicator increases almost to hysteria.
Very far to the west an elongated blur of red, low down, shows us the North Banks Mark Boat. There are specks of fire round her rising and falling—bewildered planets about an unstable sun—helpless shipping hanging on to her light for company’s sake. No wonder she could not quit station.
The pits of gloom about us begin to fill with very faintly luminous films—wreathing and uneasy shapes. One forms itself into a globe of pale flame that waits shivering with eagerness till we sweep by. It leaps monstrously across the blackness, alights on the precise tip of our nose, pirouettes there an instant, and swings off. Our roaring bow sinks as though that light were lead—sinks and recovers to lurch and stumble again beneath the next blow-out. Tim’s fingers on the lift-shunt strike chords of numbers—1:4:7:—2:4:6:—7:5:3, and so on; for he is running by his tanks only, lifting or lowering her against the uneasy air. All three engines are at work, for the sooner we have skated over this thin ice the better. Higher we dare not go. The whole upper vault is charged with pale krypton vapours, which our skin friction may excite to unholy manifestations. Between the upper and lower levels—5000 and 7000, hints the Mark Boat—we may perhaps bolt through if ... Our bow clothes itself in blue flame and falls like a sword. No human skill can keep pace with the changing tensions. A vortex has us by the beak and we dive down a two-thousand foot slant at an angle (the dip-dial and my bouncing body record it) of thirty-five. Our turbines scream shrilly; the propellers cannot bite on the thin air; Tim shunts the lift out of five tanks at once and by sheer weight drives her bullet wise through the maelstrom till she cushions with jar on an up-gust, three thousand feet below.
She comes up nobly, but the laterals buffet her left and right like the pinions of angry angels. She is jolted off her course four ways at once, and cuffed into place again, only to be swung aside and dropped into a new chaos. We are never without a corposant grinning on our bows or rolling head over heels from nose to midships, and to the crackle of electricity around and within us is added once or twice the rattle of hail—hail that will never fall on any sea. Slow we must or we may break our back, pitch-poling.
He is less than just to the good element. If one intrudes on the Heavens when they are balancing their volt-accounts; if one disturbs the High Gods’ market-rates by hurling steel hulls at ninety knots across tremblingly adjusted electric tensions, one must not complain of any rudeness in the reception. Tim met it with an unmoved countenance, one corner of his under lip caught up on a tooth, his eyes fleeting into the blackness twenty miles ahead, and the fierce sparks flying from his knuckles at every turn of the hand. Now and again he shook his head to clear the sweat trickling from his eyebrows, and it was then that George, watching his chance, would slide down the life-rail and swab his face quickly with a big red handkerchief. I never imagined that a human being could so continuously labour and so collectedly think as did Tim through that Hell’s half-hour when the flurry was at its worst. We were dragged hither and yon by warm or, frozen suctions, belched up on the tops of wulii-was, spun down by vortices and clubbed aside by laterals under a dizzying rush of stars in the, company of a drunken moon.
I heard the rushing click of the midship-engine-lever sliding in and out, the low growl of the lift-shunts, and, louder than the yelling winds without, the scream of the bow-rudder gouging into any lull that promised hold for an instant. At last we began to claw up on a cant, bow-rudder and port-propeller together; only the nicest balancing of tanks saved us from spinning like the rifle-bullet of the old days.
The Mark Boat was below and a little to the sou’west of us, fluctuating in the centre of her distraught galaxy. The air was thick with moving lights at every level. I take it most of them were trying to lie head to wind, but, not being hydras, they failed. An under-tanked Moghrabi boat had risen to the limit of her lift, and, finding no improvement, had dropped a couple of thousand. There she met a superb wulli-wa, and was blown up spinning like a dead leaf. Instead of shutting off she went astern and, naturally, rebounded as from a wall almost into the Mark Boat, whose language (our G.C. took it in) was humanly simple.
“If they’d only ride it out quietly it ’ud be better,” said George in a calm, while we climbed like a bat above them all. “But some skippers will navigate without enough lift. What does that Tad-boat think she is doing, Tim?”
“Playin’ kiss in the ring,” was Tim’s unmoved reply. A Trans-Asiatic Direct liner had found a smooth and butted into it full power. But there was a vortex at the tail of that smooth, so the T.A.D. was flipped out like a pea from off a finger-nail, braking madly as she fled down and all but over-ending.
“Now I hope she’s satisfied,” said Tim. “I’m glad I’m not a Mark Boat . . . Do I want help?” The General Communicator dial had caught his ear. “George, you may tell that gentleman with my love—love, remember, George—that I do not want help. Who is the officious sardine-tin?”
A long-beaked, bright steel ninety-footer floated at ease for one instant within hail of us, her slings coiled ready for rescues, and a single hand in her open tower. He was smoking. Surrendered to the insurrection of the airs through which we tore our way, he lay in absolute peace. I saw the smoke of his pipe ascend untroubled ere his boat dropped, it seemed, like a stone in a well.
We had just cleared the Mark Boat and her disorderly neighbours when the storm ended as suddenly as it had begun. A shooting-star to northward filled the sky with the green blink of a meteorite dissipating itself in our atmosphere.
Said George: “That may iron out all the tensions.” Even as he spoke, the conflicting winds came to rest; the levels filled; the laterals died out in long, easy swells; the air-ways were smoothed before us. In less than three minutes the covey round the Mark Boat had shipped their power-lights and whirred away upon their businesses.
We dropped from ten to six thousand and got rid of our clammy suits. Tim shut off and stepped out of the Frame. The Mark Boat was coming up behind us. He opened the colloid in that heavenly stillness and mopped his face.
“I’d be the last man to deny it,” the captain of the Mark Boat replies softly. “The way you handled her just now—I’m a pretty fair judge of traffic in a volt-hurry—it was a thousand revolutions beyond anything even I’ve ever seen.”
There is some talk overhead of “coming round to tea on Friday,” a brief report of the derelict’s fate, and Tim volunteers as he descends: “For an A.B.C. man young Williams is less of a high-tension fool than some. Were you thinking of taking her on, George? Then I’ll just have a look round that port-thrust seems to me it’s a trifle warm—and we’ll jog along.”
The Mark Boat hums off joyously and hangs herself up in her appointed eyrie. Here she will stay a shutterless observatory; a life-boat station; a salvage tug; a court of ultimate appeal-cum-meteorological bureau for three hundred miles in all directions, till Wednesday next when her relief slides across the stars to take her buffeted place. Her black hull, double conning-tower, and ever-ready slings represent all that remains to the planet of that odd old word authority. She is responsible only to the Aerial Board of Control the A.B.C. of which Tim speaks so flippantly. But that semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score of persons of both sexes, controls this planet. “Transportation is Civilisation,” our motto runs. Theoretically, we do what we please so long as we do not interfere with the traffic and all it implies. Practically , the A.B.C. confirms or annuls all international arrangements and, to judge from its last report, finds our tolerant, humorous, lazy little planet only too ready to shift the whole burden of public administration on its shoulders.
I discuss this with Tim, sipping mate on the c.p. while George fans her along over the white blur of the Banks in beautiful upward curves of fifty miles each. The dip-dial translates them on the tape in flowing freehand.
A postal packet’s dip-dial records every yard of every run. The tapes then go to the A.B.C., which collates and makes composite photographs of them for the instruction of captains. Tim studies his irrevocable past, shaking his head.
George may not have Captain Purnall’s catlike swiftness, but he is all an artist to the tips of the broad fingers that play on the shunt-stops. The delicious flight-curves come away on the tape with never a waver. The Mark Boat’s vertical spindle of light lies down to eastward, setting in the face of the following stars. Westward, where no planet should rise, the triple verticals of Trinity Bay (we keep still to the Southern route) make a low-lifting haze. We seem the only thing at rest under all the heavens; floating at ease till the earth’s revolution shall turn up our landing-towers.
The engine-room is hot and stuffy; the clerks in the coach are asleep, and the Slave of the Ray is ready to follow them. Tim slides open the aft colloid and reveals the curve of the world—the ocean’s deepest purple—edged with fuming and intolerable gold.
“Squirrels in a cage,” he mutters. “That’s all we are. Squirrels in a cage! He’s going twice as fast as us. Just you wait a few years, my shining friend, and we’ll take steps that will amaze you. We’ll Joshua you!”
Yes, that is our dream: to turn all earth into the Yale of Ajalon at our pleasure. So far, we can drag out the dawn to twice its normal length in these latitudes. But some day—even on the Equator—we shall hold the Sun level in his full stride.
Now we look down on a sea thronged with heavy traffic. A big submersible breaks water suddenly. Another and another follows with a swash and a suck and a savage bubbling of relieved pressures. The deep-sea freighters are rising to lung up after the long night, and the leisurely ocean is all patterned with peacock’s eyes of foam.
“We’ll lung up, too,” says Tim, and when we return to the c.p. George shuts off, the colloids are opened, and the fresh air sweeps her out. There is no hurry. The old contracts (they will be revised at the end of the year) allow twelve hours for a run which any packet can put behind her in ten. So we breakfast in the arms of an easterly slant which pushes us along at a languid twenty.
To enjoy life, and tobacco, begin both on a sunny morning half a mile or so above the dappled Atlantic cloud-belts and after a volt-flurry which has cleared and tempered your nerves. While we discussed the thickening traffic with the superiority that comes of having a high level reserved to ourselves, we heard (and I for the first time) the morning hymn on a Hospital boat.
She was cloaked by a skein of ravelled fluff beneath us and we caught the chant before she rose into the sunlight. “Oh, ye Winds of God,” sang the unseen voices: “bless ye the Lord! Praise Him and magnify Him for ever!”
We slid off our caps and joined in. When our shadow fell across her great open platforms they looked up and stretched out their hands neighbourly while they sang. We could see the doctors and the nurses and the white-button-like faces of the cot-patients. She passed slowly beneath us, heading northward, her hull, wet with the dews of the night, all ablaze in the sunshine. So took she the shadow of a cloud and vanished, her song continuing. “Oh, ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord! Praise Him and magnify Him for ever.”
“She’s a public lunger or she wouldn’t have been singing the Benedicite; and she’s a Greenlander or she wouldn’t have snow-blinds over her colloids,” said George at last. “She’ll be bound for Frederikshavn or one of the Glacier sanatoriums for a month. If she was an accident ward she’d be hung up at the eight-thousand-foot level. Yes—consumptives.”
“Funny how the new things are the old thing I’ve read in books,” Tim answered, “that savages used to haul their sick and wounded up to the tops of hills because microbes were fewer there. We hoist ’em in sterilized air for a while. Same idea. How much do the doctors say we’ve added to the average life of man?”
We held a good lift to clear the coastwise and Continental shipping; and we had need of it. Though our route is in no sense a populated one, there is a steady trickle of traffic this way along. We met Hudson Bay furriers out of the Great Preserve, hurrying to make their departure from Bonavista with sable and black fox for the insatiable markets. We overcossed Keewatin liners, small and cramped; but their captains, who see no land between Trepassy and Lanco, know what gold they bring back from West Erica. Trans-Asiatic Directs we met, soberly ringing the world round the Fiftieth Meridian at an honest seventy knots; and white-painted Ackroyd & Hunt fruiters out of the south fled beneath us, their ventilated hulls whistling like Chinese kites. Their market is in the North among the northern sanatoria where you can smell their grape-fruit and bananas across the cold snows. Argentine beef boats we sighted too, of enormous capacity and unlovely outline. They, too, feed the northern health stations in icebound ports where submersibles dare not rise.
Yellow-bellied ore-flats and Ungava petrol-tanks punted down leisurely out of the north, like strings of unfrightened wild duck. It does not pay to “fly” minerals and oil a mile farther than is necessary; but the risks of transhipping to submersibles in the ice pack off Nain or Hebron are so great that these heavy freighters fly down to Halifax direct, and scent the air as they go. They are the biggest tramps aloft except the Athabasca grain-tubs. But these last, now that the wheat is moved, are busy, over the world’s shoulder, timber-lifting in Siberia.
We held to the St. Lawrence (it is astonishing how the old water-ways still pull us children of the air), and followed his broad line of black between its drifting iceblocks, all down the Park that the wisdom of our fathers—but every one knows the Quebec run.
We dropped to the Heights Receiving Towers twenty minutes ahead of time, and there hung at ease till the Yokohama Intermediate Packet could pull out and give us our proper slip. It was curious to watch the action of the holding-down clips all along the frosty river front as the boats cleared or came to rest. A big Hamburger was leaving Pont Levis and her crew, unshipping the platform railings, began to sing “Elsinore”—the oldest of our chanteys. You know it of course:
The clips parted with a gesture of indignant dismissal, as though Quebec, glittering under her snows, were casting out these light and unworthy lovers. Our signal came from the Heights. Tim turned and floated up, but surely then it was with passionate appeal that the great tower arms flung open—or did I think so because on the upper staging a little hooded figure also opened her arms wide toward her father?
In ten seconds the coach with its clerks clashed down to the receiving-caisson; the hostlers displaced the engineers at the idle turbines, and Tim, prouder of this than all, introduced me to the maiden of the photograph on the shelf. “And by the way,” said he to her, stepping forth in sunshine under the hat of civil life, “I saw young Williams in the Mark Boat. I’ve asked him to tea on Friday.”
- Cape Verde—
- Week ending Dec. 18. Verde inclined guide-light changes from 1st proximo to triple flash—green white green—in place of occulting red as heretofore. The warning light for Harmattan winds will be continuous vertical glare (white) on all oases of trans-Saharan N. E. by E. Main Routes.
- Invercargil (N.Z.)—
- From 1st prox.: extreme southerly light (double red) will exhibit white beam inclined 45 degrees on approach of Southerly Buster. Traffic flies high off this coast between April and October.
- Table Bay—
- Devil’s Peak Glare removed to Simonsberg. Traffic making Table Mountain coastwise keep all lights from Three Anchor Bay at least two thousand feet under, and do not round to till East of E. shoulder Devil’s Peak.
- Sandheads Light -
- Green triple vertical marks new private landing-stage for Bay and Burma traffic only.
- Snaefell Jokul—
- White occulting light withdrawn for winter.
- No summer light south Cape Pilar. This includes Staten Island and Port Stanley.
- C. Navarin—
- Quadruple fog flash (white), one minute intervals (new).
- East Cape—
- Fog—flash -single white with single bomb, 30 sec. intervals (new).
- Malayan Archipelago—
- Lights unreliable owing eruptions. Lay from Cape Somerset to Singapore direct, keeping highest levels.
- Sable Island—
- Green single barbette-tower freighter, number indistinguishable, up-ended, and fore-tank pierced after collision, passed 300-ft. level Q P. as. Dec. 15th. Watched to water and pithed by Mark Boat.
- N. F. Banks—
- Postal Packet 162 reports Halma freighter (Fowey—St. John’s) abandoned, leaking after weather, 46 151 N. 50 15’ W. Crew rescued by Planet liner Asteroid. Watched to water and pithed by Postal Packet, Dec. 14th.
- Mark Boat reports last call from Cymena freighter (Gayer Tong Huk & Co.) taking water and sinking in snow-storm South McDonald Islands. No wreckage recovered. Messages and wills of crew at all A. B. C. offices.
- T.A.D. freighter Ulema taken ground during Harmattan on Akakus Range. Under plates strained. Crew at Ghat where repairing Dec. 13th.
- Mark Boat reports Caducci (Valandingham Line) slightly spiked in western gorge Point de Benasdue. Passengers transferred Andorra (Fulton Line). Barcelona Mark Boat salving cargo Dec. 12th.
- Mark Boat—Wreck of unknown racing-plane, Parden rudder, wire-stiffened xylonite vans, and Harliss engine-seating, sighted and salved 7 20’ S. 18 41’ W. Dec. 15th. Photos at all A.B.C. offices.
- High-Level Sleet
The Northern weather so far shows no sign of improvement. From all quarters come complaints of the unusual prevalence of sleet at the higher levels. Racing planes and digs alike have suffered severely—the former from unequal deposits of half-frozen slush on their vans (and only those who have “held up” a badly balanced plane in a cross-wind know what that means), and the latter from loaded bows and snow-cased bodies. As a consequence, the Northern and North-western upper levels have been practically abandoned, and the high fliers have returned to the ignoble security of the Three, Five, and Six hundred foot levels. But there remain a few undaunted sun-hunters who, in spite of frozen stays and ice-jammed connecting-rods, still haunt the blue empyrean.
- Bat-Boat Racing
The scandals of the past few years have at last moved the yachting world to concerted action in regard to “bat” boat racing. We have been treated to the spectacle of what are practically keeled racing-planes driven a clear five foot or more above the water, and only eased down to touch their so-called “native element” as they near the line. Judges and starters have been conveniently blind to this absurdity, but the public demonstration off St. Catherine’s Light at the Autumn Regattas has borne ample, if tardy, fruit. In the future the “bat” is to be a boat, and the long-unheeded demand of the true sportsman for “no daylight under mid-keel in smooth water” is in a fair way to be conceded. The new rule severely restricts plane area and lift alike. The gas compartments are permitted both fore and aft, as in the old type, but the water-ballast central tank is rendered obligatory. These things work, if not for perfection, at least for the evolution of a sane and wholesome waterborne cruiser. The type of rudder is unaffected by the new rules, so we may expect to see the Long-Davidson make (the patent on which has just expired) come largely into use henceforward, though the strain on the sternpost in turning at speeds over forty miles an hour is admittedly very severe. But bat-boat racing has a great future before it.
- Crete and the A.B.C.
The story of the recent Cretan crisis, as told in the A.B.C. Monthly Report, is not without humour. Till the 25th October Crete, as all our planet knows, was the sole surviving European repository of “autonomous institutions,” “local self-government,” and the rest of the archaic lumber devised in the past for the confusion of human affairs. She has lived practically on the tourist traffic attracted by her annual pageants of Parliaments, Boards, Municipal Councils, etc., etc. Last summer the islanders grew wearied, as their premier explained, of “playing at being savages for pennies,” and proceeded to pull down all the landing-towers on the island and shut off general communication till such time as the A.B.C. should annex them. For side-splitting comedy we would refer our readers to the correspondence between the Board of Control and the Cretan premier during the “war.” However, all’s well that ends well. The A.B.C. have taken over the administration of Crete on normal lines; and tourists must go elsewhere to witness the “debates,” “resolutions,” and “popular movements” of the old days. The only people to suffer will be the Board of Control, which is grievously overworked already. It is easy enough to condemn the Cretans for their laziness; but when one recalls the large, prosperous, and presumably public-spirited communities which during the last few years have deliberately thrown themselves into the hands of the A.B.C., one, cannot be too hard upon St. Paul’s old friends.
To the Editor: Only last week, while crossing the Equator (W. 26-15), I became aware of a furious and irregular cannonading some fifteen or twenty knots S. 4 E. Descending to the 500 ft. level, I found a party of Transylvanian tourists engaged in exploding scores of the largest pattern atmospheric bombs (A.B.C. standard) and, in the intervals of their pleasing labours, firing bow and stern smoke-ring swivels. This orgie—I can give it no other name—went on for at least two hours, and naturally produced violent electric derangements. My compasses, of course, were thrown out, my bow was struck twice, and I received two brisk shocks from the lower platform-rail. On remonstrating, I was told that these “professors” were engaged in scientific experiments. The extent of their “scientific” knowledge, may be judged by the fact that they expected to produce (I give their own words) “a little blue sky” if “they went on long enough.” This in the heart of the Doldrums at 450 feet! I have no objection to any amount of blue sky in its proper place (it can be found at the 4000 level for practically twelve months out of the year), but I submit, with all deference to the educational needs of Transylvania, that “skylarking” in the centre of a main-travelled road where, at the best of times, electricity literally drips off one’s stanchions and screw blades, is unnecessary. When my friends had finished, the road was seared, and blown, and pitted with unequal pressure layers, spirals, vortices, and readjustments for at least an hour. I pitched badly twice in an upward rush—solely due to these diabolical throw-downs—that came near to wrecking my propeller. Equatorial work at low levels is trying enough in all conscience without the added terrors of scientific hooliganism in the Doldrums. Rhyl. J. Vincent Mathen.
[We entirely sympathize with Professor Mathen’s views, but till the Board sees fit to further regulate the Southern areas in which scientific experiments may be conducted, we shall always be exposed to the risk which our correspondent describes. Unfortunately, a chimera bombinating in a vacuum is, nowadays, only too capable of producing secondary causes.- Editor.]
Vigilans—The Laws of Auroral Derangements are still imperfectly understood. Any overheated motor may of course “seize” without warning; but so many complaints have reached us of accidents similar to yours while shooting the Aurora that we are inclined to believe with Lavalle that the upper strata of the Aurora Borealis are practically one big electric “leak,” and that the paralysis of your engines was due to complete magnetization of all metallic parts. Low-flying planes often “glue up” when near the Magnetic Pole, and there is no reason in science why the same disability should not be experienced at higher levels when the Auroras are “delivering” strongly.
Indignant—On your own showing, you were not under control. That you could not hoist the necessary N.U.C. lights on approaching a traffic-lane because your electrics had short-circuited is a misfortune which might befall any one. The A.B.C., being responsible for the planet’s traffic, cannot, however, make allowance for this kind of misfortune. A reference to the Code will show that you were fined on the lower scale.
Planiston—(1) The Five Thousand Kilometre (overland) was won last year by L. V. Rautsch; R. M. Rautsch, his brother, in the same week pulling off the Ten Thousand (oversea). R. M.’s average worked out at a fraction over 500 kilometres per hour, thus constituting a record. (2) Theoretically, there is no limit to the lift of a dirigible. For commercial and practical purposes 15,000 tons is accepted as the most manageable.
Paterfamilias—None whatever. He is liable for direct damage both to your chimneys and any collateral damage caused by fall of bricks into garden, etc., etc. Bodily inconvenience and mental anguish may be included, but the average courts are not, as a rule, swayed by sentiment. If you can prove that his grapnel removed any portion of your roof, you had better rest your case on decoverture of domicile (see Parkins v. Duboulay). We sympathize with your position, but the night of the 14th was stormy and confused, and—you may have to anchor on a stranger’s chimney yourself some night. Verbum sap!
Aldebaran—(1) war, as a paying concern, ceased in 1987. (2) The Convention of London expressly reserves to every nation the right of waging war so long as it does not interfere with the traffic and all that implies. (3) The A.B.C. was constituted in 1949.
L.M.P.—(1) Keep her full head-on at half power, taking advantage of the lulls to speed up and creep into it. She will strain much less this way than in quartering across a gale. (2) Nothing is to be gained by reversing into a following gale, and there is always risk of a turnover. (3) The formulae for stun’sle brakes are uniformly unreliable, and will continue to be so as long as air is compressible.
Pulmonar—(1) For the symptoms you describe, try the Gobi Desert Sanatoria. The low levels of most of the Saharan Sanatoria are against them except at the outset of the disease. (2) We do not recommend boarding-houses or hotels in this column.
Beginner—On still days the air above a large inhabited city being slightly warmer—i.e., thinner—than the atmosphere of the surrounding country, a plane drops a little on entering the rarefied area, precisely as a ship sinks a little in fresh water. Hence the phenomena of “jolt” and your “inexplicable collisions” with factory chimneys. In air, as on earth, it is safest to fly high.
New Era—It is not etiquette to overcross an A.B.C. official’s boat without asking permission. He is one of the body responsible for the planet’s traffic, and for that reason must not be interfered with. You, presumably, are out on your own business or pleasure, and must leave him alone. For humanity’s sake don’t try to be “democratic.”
Ten years ago Lavalle, “that imperturbable dreamer of the heavens,” as Lazareff hailed him, gathered together the fruits of a lifetime’s labour, and gave it, with well-justified contempt, to a world bound hand and foot to Barald’s Theory of Vertices and “compensating electric nodes.” “They shall see,” he wrote—in that immortal postscript to The Heart of the Cyclone—“the Laws whose existence they derided written in fire beneath them.”
“But even here,” he continues, “there is no finality. Better a thousand times my conclusions should be discredited than that my dead name should lie across the threshold of the temple of Science—a bar to further inquiry.”
If I choose thus to be banal, it is only to remind you that Collier’s theories are today as exploded as the ludicrous deductions of the Spanish school. In the place of their fugitive and warring dreams we have, definitely, Lavalle’s Law of the Cyclone which he surprised in darkness and cold at the foot of the overarching throne of the Aurora Borealis. It is there that I, intent on my own investigations, have passed and re-passed a hundred times the worn leonine face, white as the snow beneath him, furrowed with wrinkles like the seams and gashes upon the North Cape; the nervous hand, integrally a part of the mechanism of his flighter; and above all, the wonderful lambent eyes turned to the zenith.
The immense egotism of youth forced me on my own path, but (cry of the human always!) had I known—if I had known—I would many times have bartered my poor laurels for the privilege, such as Tinsley and Herrera possess, of having aided him in his monumental researches.
It is to the filial piety of Victor Lavalle that we owe the two volumes consecrated to the ground-life of his father, so full of the holy intimacies of the domestic hearth. Once returned from the abysms of the utter North to that little house upon the outskirts of Meudon, it was not the philosopher, the daring observer, the man of iron energy that imposed himself on his family, but a fat and even plaintive jester, a farceur incarnate and kindly, the co-equal of his children, and, it must be written, not seldom the comic despair of Madame Lavalle, who, as she writes five years after the marriage, to her venerable mother, found “in this unequalled intellect whose name I bear the abandon of a large and very untidy boy.” Here is her letter:
“Xavier returned from I do not know where at midnight, absorbed in calculations on the eternal question of his Aurora—la belle Aurore, whom I begin to hate. Instead of anchoring,—I had set out the guide-light above our roof, so he had but to descend and fasten the plane—he wandered, profoundly distracted, above the town with his anchor down! Figure to yourself, dear mother, it is the roof of the mayor’s house that the grapnel first engages! That I do not regret, for the mayor’s wife and I are not sympathetic; but when Xavier uproots my pet araucaria and bears it across the garden into the conservatory I protest at the top of my voice. Little Victor in his night-clothes runs to the window, enormously amused at the parabolic flight without reason, for it is too dark to see the grapnel, of my prized tree. The Mayor of Meudon, thunders at our door in the name of the Law, demanding, I suppose, my husband’s head. Here is the conversation through the megaphone—Xavier is two hundred feet above us:
“My faith, he raised one then! All Meudon attended in the streets, and my Xavier, after a long time comprehending what he had done, excused himself in a thousand apologies. At last the reconciliation was effected in our house over a supper at two in the morning—Julie in a wonderful costume of compromises, and I have her and the mayor pacified in bed in the blue room.”
And on the next day, while the mayor rebuilds his roof, her Xavier departs anew for the Aurora Borealis, there to commence his life’s work. M. Victor Lavalle tells us of that historic collision (en plane) on the flank of Hecla between Herrera, then a pillar of the Spanish school, and the man destined to confute his theories and lead him intellectually captive. Even through the years, the immense laugh of Lavalle as he sustains the Spaniard’s wrecked plane, and cries: “Courage! I shall not fall till I have found Truth, and I hold you fast!” rings like the call of trumpets. This is that Lavalle whom the world, immersed in speculations of immediate gain, did not know nor suspect—the Lavalle whom they adjudged to the last a pedant and a theorist.
The human, as apart from the scientific, side (developed in his own volumes) of his epoch-making discoveries is marked with a simplicity, clarity, and good sense beyond praise. I would specially refer such as doubt the sustaining influence of ancestral faith upon character and will to the eleventh and nineteenth chapters, in which are contained the opening and consummation of the Tellurionical Records extending over nine years. Of their tremendous significance be sure that the modest house at Meudon knew as little as that the Records would one day be the planet’s standard in all official meteorology. It was enough for them that their Xavier—this son, this father, this husband—ascended periodically to commune with powers, it might be angelic, beyond their comprehension, and that they united daily in prayers for his safety.
To the last Lavalle was a Catholic of the old school, accepting—he who had looked into the very heart of the lightnings—the dogmas of papal infallibility, of absolution, of confession—of relics great and small. Marvellous—enviable contradiction!
The completion of the Tellurionical Records closed what Lavalle himself was pleased to call the theoretical side of his labours—labours from which the youngest and least impressionable planeur might well have shrunk. He had traced through cold and heat, across the deeps of the oceans, with instruments of his own invention, over the inhospitable heart of the polar ice and the sterile visage of the deserts, league by league, patiently, unweariedly, remorselessly, from their ever-shifting cradle under the magnetic pole to their exalted death-bed in the utmost ether of the upper atmosphere each one of the Isoconical Tellurions Lavalle’s Curves, as we call them today. He had disentangled the nodes of their intersections, assigning to each its regulated period of flux and reflux. Thus equipped, he summons Herrera and Tinsley, his pupils, to the final demonstration as calmly as though he were ordering his flighter for some mid-day journey to Marseilles.
“I have proved my thesis,” he writes. “It remains now only that you should witness the proof. We go to Manila to-morrow. A cyclone will form off the Pescadores S. 17 E. in four days, and will reach its maximum intensity twenty-seven hours after inception. It is there I will show you the Truth.”
I will not destroy its simplicity or its significance by any attempt to quote. Note well, though, that Herrera’s preoccupation throughout that day and night of superhuman strain is always for the Master’s bodily health and comfort.
“At such a time,” he writes, “I forced the Master to take the broth”; or “I made him put on the fur coat as you told me.” Nor is Tinsley (see pp. 184, 85) less concerned. He prepares the nourishment. He cooks eternally, imperturbably, suspended in the chaos of which the Master interprets the meaning. Tinsley, bowed down with the laurels of both hemispheres, raises himself to yet nobler heights in his capacity of a devoted chef. It is almost unbelievable! And yet men write of the Master as cold, aloof, self-contained. Such characters do not elicit the joyous and unswerving devotion which Lavalle commanded throughout life. Truly, we have changed very little in the course of the ages! The secrets of earth and sky and the links that bind them, we felicitate ourselves we are on the road to discover; but our neighbours’ heart and mind we misread, we misjudge, we condemn now as ever. Let all, then, who love a man read these most human, tender, and wise volumes.
REQUIRED IMMEDIATELY, FOR East Africa, a thoroughly competent Plane and Dirigible Driver, acquainted with Petrol Radium and Helium motors and generators. Low-level work only, but must understand heavy-weight digs.
FAMILY DIRIGIBLE. A COMPETENT, steady man wanted for slow speed, low level Tangye dirigible. No night work, no sea trips. Must be member of the Church of England, and make himself useful in the garden.
HALLIWELL’S ILLUMINATED STAR MAP, with clockwork attachment, giving apparent motion of heavens, boxed, complete with clamps for binnacle, 36 inch size, only £2. 2. 0. Invaluable for night work.) With A.B.C. certificate. £3. 10s. 0d.
Hansen’s air-kits are down in all respects. Tremendous reductions in prices previous to winter stocking. Pure para kit with cellulose seat and shoulder-pads, weighted to balance. Unequalled for all drop-work.
Our Synthetical Mineral BEARINGS are chemically and crystallogically identical with the minerals whose names they bear. Any size, any surface. Diamond, Rock-Crystal, Agate and Ruby Bearings — cups, caps and collars for the higher speeds.
The above are well known on the South Coast as sound, wholesome knockabout boats, with ample cruising accommodation. Griselda carries spare set of Hofman racing vans and can be lied three foot clear in smooth water with ballast-tank swung aft. The others do not lift, clear of water, and are recommended for beginners.
Also, by private treaty, racing B.B. Tarpon (76 winning flags) 120 knt., 60 ft.; Long-Davidson double under-rake rudder, new this season and unstrained. 850 nom. Maginnis motor, Radium relays and Pond generator. Bronze breakwater forward, and treble reinforced forefoot and entry. Talfourd rockered keel: Triple set of Hofman vans, giving maximum lifting surface of 5327 sq. ft.
I AM NOT CONCERNED WITH YOUR 'PLANE AFTER IT LEAVES MY GUIDES, BUT TILL THEN I HOLD MYSELF PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LIFE, SAFETY, AND COMFORT. MY HYDRAULIC BUFFER-STOP CANNOT RELEASE TILL THE MOTORS ARE WORKING UP TO BEARING SPEED, THUS SECURING A SAFE AND GRACEFUL FLIGHT WITHOUT PITCHING.
- All heights from 50 to 15,000 feet £2 10 0
- With Aerial Board of Control certificate £3 11 0
- Foot and Hand Foghoms; Sirens toned to any club note; with air-chest belt-driven horn motor £6 8 0
- Wireless installations syntonised to A.B.C. requirements, in neat mahogany case, hundred mile range £3 3 0
A Deal in Cotton
LONG and long ago, when Devadatta was King of Benares, I wrote some tales concerning Strickland of the Punjab Police (who married Miss Youghal), and Adam, his son. Strickland has finished his Indian Service, and lives now at a place in England called Weston-super-Mare, where his wife plays the organ in one of the churches. Semi-occasionally he comes up to London, and occasionally his wife makes him visit his friends. Otherwise he plays golf and follows the harriers for his figure’s sake.
If you remember that Infant who told a tale to Eustace Cleever the novelist, you will remember that he became a baronet with a vast estate. He has, owing to cookery, a little lost his figure, but he never loses his friends. I have found a wing of his house turned into a hospital for sick men, and there I once spent a week in the company of two dismal nurses and a specialist in “Sprue.” Another time the place was full of schoolboys—sons of Anglo-Indians whom the Infant had collected for the holidays, and they nearly broke his keeper’s heart.
But my last visit was better. The Infant called me up by wire, and I fell into the arms of a friend of mine, Colonel A.L. Corkran, so that the years departed from us, and we praised Allah, who had not yet terminated the Delights, nor separated the Companions.
“Anyhow, he’s as rotten full of fever as the rest of you,” said the Infant, at length on the big divan. “And he’s bringing a native servant with him. Stalky be an athlete, and tell Ipps to put him in the stable room.”
“These I added for the sake of honour when I came to England,” said Imam Din Adam smiled the ghost of a little smile that I began to remember, and we put him on the big couch for refreshments. Stalky asked him how much leave he had, and he said “Six months.”
Now, marigolds to us mean hot weather, discomfort, parting, and death. That smell in our nostrils, and Adam’s servant in waiting, we naturally fell back more and more on the old slang, recalling at each glass those who had gone before. We did not sit at the big table, but in the bay window overlooking the park, where they were carting the last of the hay. When twilight fell we would not have candles, but waited for the moon, and continued our talk in the dusk that makes one remember.
Young Adam was not interested in our past except where it had touched his future. I think his mother held his hand beneath the table. Imam Din—shoeless, out of respect to the floors—brought him his medicine, poured it drop by drop, and asked for orders.
“I’m glad of that. Because I’ve heard from other quarters” Stalky’s sentence burned like a slow match, but the explosion was not long delayed. “Other quarters!” Adam threw out a thin hand. “Every dog has his fleas. If you listen to them, of course!” The shake of his head was as I remembered it among his father’s policemen twenty years before, and his mother’s eyes shining through the dusk called on me to adore it. I kicked Stalky on the shin. One must not mock a young man’s first love or loyalty.
“It’s—it’s only an experiment,” he said. “We’re such awful paupers we can’t even pay for a mailcart in my District. We use a biscuit-box on two bicycle wheels. I only got the money for that”—he patted the stuff—“by a pure fluke.”
She lifted the boy’s hand lightly to her lips, and tripped across the acres of glimmering floor to the music-room that had been the Infant’s ancestors’ banqueting hall. Her grey and silver dress disappeared under the musicians’ gallery; two electrics broke out, and she stood backed against the lines of gilded pipes.
“It’s nothing much. Only the belt of cotton-soil my chief showed me ran right into the Sheshaheli country. We haven’t been able to prove cannibalism against that tribe in the courts; but when a Sheshaheli offers you four pounds of woman’s breast, tattoo marks and all, skewered up in a plantain leaf before breakfast, you—”
Adam shook his head. “No troops,” he sighed. “I told my Chief about it, and he said we must wait till they chopped a white man. He advised me if ever I felt like it not to commit a—a barren felo de se, but to let the Sheshaheli do it. Then he could report, and then we could mop ’em up!”
“None. The name was taken in talk.” Adam abolished him with a turn of the finger. “I couldn’t make a casus belli of it just then, because my Chief had taken all the troops to hammer a gang of slave kings up north. Did you ever hear of our war against Ibn Makarrah? He precious nearly lost us the Protectorate at one time, though he’s an ally of ours now.”
“Well, his nickname all through the country was ‘The Merciful,’ and he didn’t get that for nothing. None of our people ever breathed his proper name. They said ‘He’ or ‘That One,’ and they didn’t say it aloud, either. He fought us for eight months.”
“There’s no market for Sheshaheli. People would as soon buy crocodiles. I believe, before we annexed the country, Ibn Makarrah dropped down on ’em once—to train his young men—and simply hewed ’em in pieces. The bulk of my people are agriculturists just the right stamp for cotton-growers. What’s Mother playing?—‘Once in royal’?”
“They got converted to civilization after my Chief smashed Ibn Makarrah—just at the time I wanted ’em. You see my Chief had promised me in writing that if I could scrape up a surplus he would not bag it for his roads this time, but I might have it for my cotton game. I only needed two hundred pounds. Our revenues didn’t run to it.”
“Well, I thought that was fair. They howled so. We were rather strict on fines. I worked up my native clerk—Bulaki Ram—to a ferocious pitch of enthusiasm. He used to calculate the profits of our cotton-scheme to three points of decimals, after office. I tell you I envied your magistrates here hauling money out of motorists every week I had managed to make our ordinary revenue and expenditure just about meet, and I was crazy to get the odd two hundred pounds for my cotton. That sort of thing grows on a chap when he’s alone—and talks aloud!”
“Yes. Used to spout what I could remember of ‘Marmion’ to a tree, sir. Well then my luck turned. One evening an English-speaking nigger came in towing a corpse by the feet. (You get used to little things like that.) He said he’d found it, and please would I identify, because if it was one of Ibn Makarrah’s men there might be a reward. It was an old Mohammedan, with a strong dash of Arab—a smallboned, bald-headed chap, and I was just wondering how it had kept so well in our climate when it sneezed. You ought to have seen the nigger! He fetched a howl and bolted like—like the dog in Tom Sawyer when he sat on the what’s-its-name beetle. He yelped as he ran, and the corpse went on sneezing. I could see it had been sarkied. (That’s a sort of gum-poison, pater, which attacks the nerve centres. Our chief medical officer is writing a monograph about it.) So Imam Din and I emptied out the corpse one time, with my shaving soap and trade gunpowder, and hot water.
“I’d seen a case of sarkie before; so when the skin peeled off his feet, and he stopped sneezing, I knew he’d live. He was bad, though; lay like a log for a week while Imam Din and I massaged the paralysis out of him. Then he told us he was a Hajji—had been three times to Mecca—come in from French Africa, and that he’d met the nigger by the wayside—just like a case of thuggee, in India—and the nigger had poisoned him. That seemed reasonable enough by what I knew of Coast niggers.”
“There was no reason I shouldn’t. The nigger never came back, and the old man stayed with me for two months,” Adam returned. “You know what the best type of a Mohammedan gentleman can be, pater? He was that.”
“He’d been to Bombay; he knew French Africa inside out; he could quote poetry and the Koran all day long. He played chess—you don’t know what that meant to me—like a master. We used to talk about the regeneration of Turkey and the Sheik-ul-Islam between moves. Oh, everything under the sun we talked about! He was awfully open-minded. He believed in slavery, of course, but he quite saw that it would have to die out. That’s why he agreed with me about developing the resources of the district by cotton-growing, you know.”
“Yes. It must have been dead against his convictions too. He brought me news when I was down with fever at Dupe that one of Ibn Makarrah’s men was parading through my District with a bunch of slaves—in the Fork!”
“Local etiquette, sir,” he replied, too earnest to notice Stalky’s atrocious pun. “If a slaver runs slaves through British territory he ought to pretend that they’re his servants. Hawkin’ ’em about in the Fork—the forked stick that you put round their necks, you know—is insolence—same as not backing your topsails in the old days. Besides, it unsettles the District.”
“They don’t. But my Chief was smoking ’em out of the North all that season, and they were bolting into French territory any road they could find. My orders were to take no notice so long as they circulated, but open slave-dealing in the Fork, was too much. I couldn’t go myself, so I told a couple of our Makalali police and Imam Din to make talk with the gentleman one time. It was rather risky, and it might have been expensive, but it turned up trumps. They were back in a few days with the slaver (he didn’t show fight) and a whole crowd of witnesses, and we tried him in my bedroom, and fined him properly. Just to show you how demoralized the brute must have been (Arabs often go dotty after a defeat), he’d snapped up four or five utterly useless Sheshaheli, and was offering ’em to all and sundry along the road. Why, he offered ’em to you, didn’t he, Imam Din?”
“As far as I remember—but I had a temperature of 104 degrees at the time—he’d mistaken the meridians of longitude. Thought he was in French territory. Said he’d never do it again, if we’d let him off with a fine. I could have shaken hands with the brute for that. He paid up cash like a motorist and went off one time.”
“Assuredly the Sahib both saw and spoke to the slaver. And the Sahib also made a speech to the man-eaters when he freed them, and they swore to supply him with labour for all his cotton-play. The Sahib leaned on his own servant’s shoulder the while.”
“I remember something of that. I remember Bulaki Ram giving me the papers to sign, and I distinctly remember him locking up the money in the safe—two hundred and ten beautiful English sovereigns. You don’t know what that meant to me! I believe it cured my fever; and as soon as I could, I staggered off with the Hajji to interview the Sheshaheli about labour. Then I found out why they had been so keen to work! It wasn’t gratitude. Their big village had been hit by lightning and burned out a week or two before, and they lay flat in rows around me asking me for a job. I gave it ’em.”
“By Jove, I was happy!” Adam yawned. “Now if any one,” he looked at the Infant, “cares to put a little money into the scheme, it’ll be the making of my District. I can’t give you figures, sir, but I assure—”
Agnes leaned forward, her rounded elbows on his shoulders, hands joined across his dark hair, and “Isn’t he a darling?” she said to us, with just the same heart-rending lift to the left eyebrow and the same break of her voice as sent Strickland mad among the horses in the year ’84. We were quiet when they were gone. We waited till Imam Din returned to us from above and coughed at the door, as only dark-hearted Asia can.
“When the fever came on our Sahib in our roofed house at Dupe,” he began, “the Hajji listened intently to his talk. He expected the names of women; though I had already told him that Our virtue was beyond belief or compare, and that Our sole desire was this cotton-play. Being at last convinced, the Hajji breathed on our Sahib’s forehead, to sink into his brain news concerning a slave-dealer in his district who had made a mock of the law. Sahib,” Imam Din turned to Strickland, “our Sahib answered to those false words as a horse of blood answers to the spur. He sat up. He issued orders for the apprehension of the slave-dealer. Then he fell back. Then we left him.”
“There was an old woman which belonged to the Hajji. She had come in with the Hajji’s money-belt. The Hajji told her that if our Sahib died, she would die with him. And truly our Sahib had given me orders to depart.”
“What could we do, Sahib? This cotton-play was his heart’s desire. He talked of it in his fever. Therefore it was his heart’s desire that the Hajji went to fetch. Doubtless the Hajji could have given him money enough out of hand for ten cottonplays; but in this respect also our Sahib’s virtue was beyond belief or compare. Great Ones do not exchange moneys. Therefore the Hajji said—and I helped with my counsel—that we must make arrangements to get the money in all respects conformable with the English Law. It was great trouble to us, but—the Law is the Law. And the Hajji showed the old woman the knife by which she would die if our Sahib died. So I accompanied the Hajji.”
“No! Fearing the man. A virtue went out from him overbearing the virtue of lesser persons. The Hajji told Bulaki Ram the clerk to occupy the seat of government at Dupe till our return. Bulaki Ram feared the Hajji, because the Hajji had often gloatingly appraised his skill in figures at five thousand rupees upon any slave-block. The Hajji then said to me: ‘Come, and we will make the man-eaters play the cotton-game for my delight’s delight’ The Hajji loved our Sahib with the love of a father for his son, of a saved for his saviour, of a Great One for a Great One. But I said: ‘We cannot go to that Sheshaheli place without a hundred rifles. We have here five.’ The Hajji said: ‘I have untied as knot in my head-handkerchief which will be more to us than a thousand.’ I saw that he had so loosed it that it lay flagwise on his shoulder. Then I knew that he was a Great One with virtue in him.
“We came to the highlands of the Sheshaheli on the dawn of the second day—about the time of the stirring of the cold wind. The Hajji walked delicately across the open place where their filth is, and scratched upon the gate which was shut. When it opened I saw the man-eaters lying on their cots under the eaves of the huts. They rolled off: they rose up, one behind the other the length of the street, and the fear on their faces was as leaves whitening to a breeze. The Hajji stood in the gate guarding his skirts from defilement. The Hajji said: ‘I am here once again. Give me six and yoke up.’ They zealously then pushed to us with poles six, and yoked them with a heavy tree. The Hajji then said: “Fetch fire from the morning hearth, and come to windward.’ The wind is strong on those headlands at sunrise, so when each had emptied his crock of fire in front of that which was before him, the broadside of the town roared into flame, and all went. The Hajji then said: ‘At the end of a time there will come here the white man ye once chased for sport. He will demand labour to plant such and such stuff. Ye are that labour, and your spawn after you.’ They said, lifting their heads a very little from the edge of the ashes: ‘ We are that labour, and our spawn after us.’ The Hajji said: ‘What is also my name?’ They said: ‘Thy name is also The Merciful’ The Hajji said: ‘Praise then my mercy’; and while they did this, the Hajji walked away, I following.”
“About noon one of our six fell dead. Fright only frights Sahib! None had—none could—touch him. Since they were in pairs, and the other of the Fork was mad and sang foolishly, we waited for some heathen to do what was needful. There came at last Angari men with goats. The Hajji said: ‘What do ye see? They said: ‘Oh, our Lord, we neither see nor hear.’ The Hajji said: ‘But I command ye to see and to hear and to say.’ They said: ‘Oh, our Lord, it is to our commanded eyes as though slaves stood in a Fork.’ The Hajji said: ‘So testify before the officer who waits you in the town of Dupe.’ They said: ‘What shall come to us after?’ The Hajji said: ‘The just reward for the informer. But if ye do not testify, then a punishment which shall cause birds, to fall from the trees in terror and monkeys to scream for pity.’ Hearing this, the Angari men hastened to Dupe. The Hajji then said to me: ‘Are those things sufficient to establish our case, or must I drive in a village full?’ I said that three witnesses amply established any case, but as yet, I said, the Hajji had not offered his slaves for sale. It is true, as our Sahib said just now, there is one fine for catching slaves, and yet another for making to sell them. And it was the double fine that we needed, Sahib, for our Sahib’s cotton-play. We had fore-arranged all this with Bulaki Ram, who knows the English Law, and, I thought the Hajji remembered, but he grew angry, and cried out: ‘O God, Refuge of the Afflicted, must I, who am what I am, peddle this’ dog’s meat by the roadside to gain his delight for my heart’s delight?” None the less, he admitted it was the English Law, and so he offered me the six—five—in a small voice, with an averted head. The Sheshaheli do not smell of sour milk as heathen should. They smell like leopards, Sahib. This is because they eat men.”
“What could we do, Sahib? There was the Hajji’s reputation to consider. We could not have called in a heathen witness for such a thing. And, moreover, the Sahib forgets that the defendant himself was making this case. He would not contest his own evidence. Otherwise, I know the law of evidence well enough.
“So then we went to Dupe, and while Bulaki Ram waited among the Angari men, ‘I ran to see our Sahib in bed. His eyes were very bright, and his mouth was full of upside-down orders, but the old woman had not loosened her hair for death. The Hajji said: ‘Be quick with my trial. I am not Job!’ The Hajji was a learned man. We made the trial swiftly to a sound of soothing voices round the bed. Yet—yet, because no man can be sure whether a Sahib of that blood sees, or does not see, we made it strictly in the manner of the forms of the English Law. Only the witnesses and the slaves and the prisoner we kept without for his nose’s sake.”
“I stood by to shackle up an Angari in case he should demand it, but by God’s favour he was too far fevered to ask for one. It is quite true he signed the papers. It is quite true he saw the money put away in the safe—two hundred and ten English pounds and it is quite true that the gold wrought on him as a strong cure. But as to his seeing the prisoner, and having speech with the man-eaters—the Hajji breathed all that on his forehead to sink into his sick brain. A little, as ye have heard, has remained . . . . Ah, but when the fever broke, and our Sahib called for the fine-book, and the thin little picture-books from Europe with the pictures of ploughs and hoes, and cotton mills—ah, then he laughed as he used to laugh, Sahib. It was his heart’s desire, this cotton-play. The Hajji loved him, as who does not? It was a little, little arrangement, Sahib, of which—is it necessary to tell all the world?”
“Not for a certainty till he and our Sahib had returned from their visit to the Sheshaheli country. It is quite true as our Sahib says, the man-eaters lay, flat around his feet, and asked for spades to cultivate cotton. That very night, when I was cooking the dinner, the Hajji said to me: ‘I go to my own place, though God knows whether the Man with the Stone Eyes have left me an ox, a slave, or a woman.’ I said: ‘Thou art then That One?’ The Hajji said: ‘I am ten thousand rupees reward into thy hand. Shall we make another law-case and get more cotton machines for the boy?’ I said: ‘What dog am I to do this? May God prolong thy life a thousand years!’ The Hajji said: ‘Who has seen to-morrow? God has given me as it were a son in my old age, and I praise Him. See that the breed is not lost!’
“He walked then from the cooking-place to our Sahib’s office-table under the tree, where our Sahib held in his hand a blue envelope of Service newly come in by runner from the North. At this, fearing evil news for the Hajji, I would have restrained him, but he said: ‘We be both Great Ones. Neither of us will fail.’ Our Sahib looked up to invite the Hajji to approach before he opened the letter, but the Hajji stood off till our Sahib had well opened and well read the letter. Then the Hajji said: ‘Is it permitted to say farewell?’ Our Sahib stabbed the letter on the file with a deep and joyful breath and cried a welcome. The Hajji said: ‘I go to my own place,’ and he loosed from his neck a chained heart of ambergris set in soft gold and held it forth. Our Sahib snatched it swiftly in the closed fist, down turned, and said ‘If thy name be written hereon, it is needless, for a name is already engraved on my heart.’ The Hajji said: ‘And on mine also is a name engraved; but there is no name on the amulet.’ The Hajji stooped to our Sahib’s feet, but our Sahib raised and embraced him, and the Hajji covered his mouth with his shoulder-cloth, because it worked, and so he went away.”
“I am a poor man. Who can say what a Sahib of that get knows or does not know? But the Hajji is right. The breed should not be lost. It is not very hot for little children in Dupe, and as regards nurses, my sister’s cousin at Jull—”
“Assuredly,” said Imam Din. “On the night before our Sahib went down to the sea, the Great Sahib—the Man with the Stone Eyes—dined with him in his camp, I being in charge of the table. They talked a long while and the Great Sahib said: ‘What didst thou think of That One?’ (We do not say Ibn Makarrah yonder.) Our Sahib said: ‘Which one?’ The Great Sahib said: ‘That One which taught thy man-eaters to grow cotton for thee. He was in thy District three months to my certain knowledge, and I looked by every runner that thou wouldst send me in his head.’ Our Sahib said: ‘If his head had been needed, another man should have been appointed to govern my District, for he was my friend.’ The Great Sahib laughed and said: ‘If I had needed a lesser man in thy place be sure I would have sent him, as, if I had needed the head of That One, be sure I would have sent men to bring it to me. But tell me now, by what means didst thou twist him to thy use and our profit in this cotton-play?’ Our Sahib said: ‘By God, I did not use that man in any fashion whatever. He was my friend.’ The Great Sahib said: ‘ ’Toh Vac! (Bosh!) Tell!’ Our Sahib shook his head as he does—as he did when a child—and they looked at each other like sword-play men in the ring at a fair. The Great Sahib dropped his eyes first and he said: ‘So be it. I should perhaps have answered thus in my youth. No matter. I have made treaty with That One as an ally of the State. Some day he shall tell me the tale.’ Then I brought in fresh coffee, and they ceased. But I do not think That One will tell the Great Sahib more than our Sahib told him.”
“Because they are both Great Ones, and I have observed in my life that Great Ones employ words very little between each other in their dealings; still less when they speak to a third concerning those dealings. Also they profit by silence . . . . Now I think that the mother has come down from the room, and I will go rub his feet till he sleeps.”
I HAD not seen Penfentenyou since the Middle Nineties, when he was Minister of Ways and Woodsides in De Thouar’s first Administration. Last summer, though he nominally held the same portfolio, he was his Colony’s Premier in all but name, and the idol of his own province, which is two and a half times the size of England. Politically, his creed was his growing country; and he came over to England to develop a Great Idea in her behalf.
That he was chased to my door by his own Agent-General in a motor; that they turned my study into a Cabinet Meeting which I was not invited to attend; that the local telegraph all but broke down beneath the strain of hundred word coded cables; and that I practically broke into the house of a stranger to get him telephonic facilities on a Sunday, are things I overlook. What I objected to was his ingratitude, while I thus tore up England to help him. So I said: “Why on earth didn’t you see your Opposite Number in Town instead of bringing your office work here?”
It seemed that he had called twice on the gentleman, but without an appointment—(“I thought if I wasn’t big enough, my business was”)—and each time had found him engaged. A third party intervening, suggested that a meeting might be arranged if due notice were given.
“Ah! They’d probably mislaid the papers,” I said, and I told him the story of a three-million pound insurrection caused by a deputy Under-Secretary sitting upon a mass of green-labelled correspondence instead of reading it.
The Agent-General arrived two hours later, a patient and expostulating person, visibly torn between the pulling Devil of a rampant Colony, and the placid Baker of a largely uninterested England. But with Penfentenyou behind him he had worked; for he told us that Lord Lundie—the Law Lord was the final authority on the legal and constitutional aspects of the Great Idea, and to him it must be referred.
“What you need is to pay for your own protection,” I cut in when he drew breath, and I showed him a yellowish paper, supplied gratis by Government, which is called Schedule D. To my merciless delight he had never seen the thing before, and I completed my victory over him and all the Colonies with a Brassey’s Naval Annual and a Statesman’s Year Book.
At ten o’clock I got him and his correspondence into the motor, and he had the decency to ask whether he had been unpolished over-night. I replied that I waited an apology. This he made excuse for renewed arguments, and used wayside shows as illustrations of the decadence of England.
For example we burst a tyre within a mile of Credence Green, and, to save time, walked into the beautifully kept little village. His eye was caught by a building of pale-blue tin, stencilled “Calvinist Chapel,” before whose shuttered windows an Italian organ-grinder .with a petticoated monkey was playing “Dolly Grey—”
“Yes. That’s it!” snapped the egoist. “That’s a parable of the general situation in England. And look at those brutes!” A huge household removals van was halted at a public-house. The men in charge were drinking beer from blue and white mugs. It seemed to me a pretty sight, but Penfentenyou said it represented Our National Attitude.
Lord Lundie’s summer resting-place we learned was a farm, a little out of the village, up a hill round which curled a high hedged road. Only an initiated few spend their holidays at Credence Green, and they have trained the householders to keep the place select. Penfentenyou made a grievance of this as we walked up the lane, followed at a distance by the organ-grinder.
Just at that minute we found ourselves opposite an empty villa. Its roof was of black slate, with bright unweathered ridge-tiling; its walls were of blood-coloured brick, cornered and banded with vermiculated stucco work, and there was cobalt, magenta, and purest apple-green window-glass on either side of the front door. The whole was fenced from the road by a low, brick-pillared, flint wall, topped with a cast-iron Gothic rail, picked out in blue and gold.
Tight beds of geranium, calceolaria, and lobelia speckled the glass-plat, from whose centre rose one of the finest araucarias (its other name by the way is “monkey-puzzler”), that it has ever been my lot to see. It must have been full thirty feet high, and its foliage exquisitely answered the iron railings. Such bijou ne plus ultras, replete with all the amenities, do not, as I pointed out to Penfentenyou, transpire outside of England.
A hedge, swinging sharp right, flanked the garden, and above it on a slope of daisy-dotted meadows we could see Lord Lundie’s tiled and half-timbered summer farmhouse. Of a sudden we heard voices behind the tree—the fine full tones of the unembarrassed English, speaking to their equals—that tore through the hedge like sleet through rafters.
“I submit, me lud, that the name implies that it might, could, would, or should be ascended by a monkey, and not that the ascent is a physical impossibility. I believe one of our South American spider monkeys wouldn’t hesitate . . . By Jove, it might be worth trying, if—”
There was a sound of scuffling, broken by squeaks from Jimmy of the high voice. I turned back and drew Penfentenyou into the side of the flanking hedge. I remembered to have read in a society paper that Lord Lundie’s lesser name was “Bubbles.”
“Here’s a discovery,” said Jimmy. “The singing part of this organ comes off the wheels.” He spoke volubly to the proprietor. “Oh, it’s so as Guiseppe can take it to his room o’ nights. And play it. D’you hear that? The organ-grinder, after his day’s crime, plays his accursed machine for love. For love, Chris! And Michael Angelo was one of ’em!”
“I see,” said Jimmy, capering like a springbuck. “Upward and onward, eh? First, he’ll reach out for—how infernal prickly these leaves are!—this biscuit. Next we’ll lure him on—(that’s about the reach of his arm)—with the marron glacé, and then he’ll open out this orange. How human! How like your ignoble career, Bubbles!”
“He’s throwing himself on the mercy of the Court, me lud,” said Jimmy. “No—now he’s interested. Now he’s reaching after higher things. What wouldn’t I give to have here” (he mentioned a name not unhonoured in British Art). “Ambition plucking apples of Sodom!” (the monkey had pricked himself and was swearing). “Genius hampered by Convention? Oh, there’s a whole bushelful of allegories in it!”
The three closed round the monkey,—hanging on his every motion with an earnestness almost equal to ours. The great judge’s head—seamed and vertical forehead, iron mouth, and pike-like under-jaw, all set on that thick neck rising out of the white flannelled collar—was thrown against the puckered green silk of the organ-front as it might have been a cameo of Titus. Jimmy, with raised eyes and parted lips, fingered his grizzled chestnut beard, and I was near enough to-note, the capable beauty of his hands. Sir Christopher stood a little apart, his arms folded behind his back, one heavy brown boot thrust forward, chin in as curbed, and black eyebrows lowered to shade the keen eyes.
Guiseppe’s dark face between flashing earrings, a twisted rag of red and yellow silk round his throat, turned from the reaching yearning monkey to the pink and white biscuits spiked on the bronzed leafage. And upon them all fell the serious and workmanlike sun of an English summer forenoon.
“Fils de Saint Louis, montez au ciel!” said Lord Lundie suddenly in a voice that made me think of Black Caps. I do not know what the monkey thought, because at that instant he leaped off the organ and disappeared.
The monkey’s face, distorted with passion, appeared at an upper window of the house, and a starred hole in the stained-glass window to the left of the front door showed the first steps of his upward path.
“Wait a moment, Chris,” said Jimmy the interpreter; “ Guiseppe says he may answer to the music of his infancy. Guiseppe, therefore, will go in with the organ. Orpheus with his lute, you know. Avante, Orpheus! There’s no Neapolitan for bathroom, but I fancy your friend is there.”
“I’m not going into another man’s house with a, hurdy-gurdy,” said Lord Lundie, recoiling, as Guiseppe unshipped the working mechanism of the organ (it developed a hang-down leg) from its wheels, slipped a strap round his shoulders, and gave the handle a twist.
With a whoop, a buzz, and a crash, the organ sprang to life under the hand of Guiseppe, and the procession passed through the rained-to-imitate-walnut front door. A moment later we saw the monkey ramping on the roof.
“He’ll be all over the township in a minute if we don’t head him,” said Penfentenyou, leaping to his feet, and crashing into the garden. We headed him with pebbles till he retired through a window to the tuneful reminder that he had left a lot of little things behind him. As we passed the front door it swung open, and showed Jimmy the artist sitting at the bottom of a newly-cleaned staircase. He waggled his hands at us, and when we entered we saw that the man was stricken speechless. His eyes grew red—red like a ferret’s—and what little breath he had whistled shrilly. At first we thought it was a fit, and then we saw that it was mirth—the inopportune mirth of the Artistic Temperament.
The house palpitated to an infamous melody punctuated by the stump of the barrel-organ’s one leg, as Guiseppe, above, moved from room to room after his rebel slave. Now and again a floor shook a little under the combined rushes of Lord Lundie and Sir Christopher Tomling, who gave many and contradictory orders. But when they could they cursed Jimmy with splendid thoroughness.
The chase reverberated over our heads, from the attics to the first floor and back again. Bodies and Voices met in collision and argument, and once or twice the organ hit walls and doors. Then it broke forth in a new manner.
A household removals van, in charge of four men, had halted at the gate. A husband and his wife householders beyond question—quavered irresolutely up the path. He looked tired. She was certainly cross. In all this haphazard world the last couple to understand a scientific experiment.
“There’s always a modus vivendi,” Penfentenyou murmured, and tiptoed along the hall to a back door, which he opened quite silently. We passed into a tangle of gooseberry bushes where, at his statesmanlike example, we crawled on all fours, and regained the hedge.
Lord Lundie was rapidly improving in technique, though organ-grinding, unlike the Law, is more of a calling than a trade, and he hung occasionally on a dead centre. Guiseppe, I think, was singing, but I could not understand the drift of Sir Christopher’s remarks. They were Spanish.
Edward took one short step forward, and sighed “Hullo!” in the direction of the turbulent house. The woman walked up and down, the very figure of Domestic Tragedy. The furniture men swayed a little on their heels, and—
“Got him!” The shout rang through all the windows at once. It was followed by a blood-hound-like bay from Sir Christopher, a maniacal prestissimo on the organ, and loud cries, for Jimmy. But Jimmy, at my side, rolled his congested eyeballs, owl-wise.
The front, door opened, and the three came forth to short-lived triumph. I had never before seen a Law Lord dressed as for tennis, with a stump-leg barrel-organ strapped to his shoulder. But it is a shy bird in this plumage. Lord Lundie strove to disembarrass himself of his accoutrements much as an ill-trained Punch and Judy dog tries to escape backwards through his frilled collar. Sir Christopher, covered with limewash, cherished a bleeding thumb, and the almost crazy monkey tore at Guiseppe’s hair.
“Then we’re not a minute too soon. That monkey escaped. It was a very dangerous beast. ’Might have frightened your children into fits. All the organ-grinder’s fault! A most lucky thing these gentlemen caught it when they did. I hope you aren’t badly mauled, Sir Christopher?” Shaken as I was (I wanted to get away and laugh) I could not but admire the scoundrel’s consummate tact in leading his second highest trump. An ass would have introduced Lord Lundie and they would not have believed him.
“Not in the least,” said Lord Lundie. “Anybody—any father would have done as much, and pray don’t apologize your mistake was quite natural.” A furniture man sniggered here, and Lord Lundie rolled an Eye of Doom on their ranks. “By the way, if you have trouble with these persons—they seem to have taken as much as is good for them—please let me know. Er—Good morning!”
“Heavens!” said Jimmy, brushing himself down. “Who’s that real man with the real head?” and we hurried after them, for they were running unsteadily, squeaking like rabbits as they ran. We overtook them in a little nut wood half a mile up the road, where they had turned aside, and were rolling. So we rolled with them, and ceased not till we had arrived at the extremity of exhaustion.
Summa. Penfentenyou’s Great Idea has gone through, a little chipped at the edges, but in fine and far-reaching shape. His Opposite Number worked at it like a mule—a bewildered mule, beaten from behind, coaxed from in front, and propped on either soft side by Lord Lundie of the compressed mouth and the searing tongue.
Sir Christopher Tomling has been ravished from the Argentine, where, after all, he was but preparing trade-routes for hostile peoples, and now adorns the forefront of Penfentenyou’s Advisory Board. This was an unforeseen extra, as was Jimmy’s gratis full-length—(it will be in this year’s Academy) of Penfentenyou, who has returned to his own place.
Now and again, from afar off, between the slam and bump of his shifting scenery, the glare of his manipulated limelight, and the controlled rolling of his thunder-drums, I catch his voice, lifted in encouragement and advice to his fellow-countrymen. He is quite sound on Ties of Sentiment, and—alone of Colonial Statesmen ventures to talk of the Ties of Common Funk.
A Tale of the Gihon Hunt
A FOX came out of his earth on the banks of the Great River Gihon, which waters Ethiopia. He saw a white man riding through the dry dhurra-stalks, and, that his destiny might be fulfilled, barked at him.
When he had lowered his right forefinger from behind his right ear, the villagers talked to him of their crops—barley, dhurrah, millet, onions, and the like. The Governor stood in his stirrups. North he looked up a strip of green cultivation a few hundred yards wide that lay like a carpet between the river and the tawny line of the desert. Sixty miles that strip stretched before him, and as many behind. At every half-mile a groaning water-wheel lifted the soft water from the river to the crops by way of a mud-built aqueduct. A foot or so wide was the water-channel; five foot or more high was the bank on which it ran, and its base was broad in proportion. Abu Hussein, misnamed the Father of Cunning, drank from the river below his earth, and his shadow was long in the low sun. He could not understand the loud cry which the Governor had cried.
Encouraged by that smile, the Sheikh continued. “When crops fail it is necessary to remit taxation. Then it is a good thing, O Excellency Our Governor, that you come and see the crops which have failed, and discover that we have not lied.”
An ancient and still bullet-speckled stern-wheel steamer, with a barge lashed to her side, came round the river bend. She whistled to tell the Governor his dinner was ready, and the horse, seeing his fodder piled on the barge, whinnied back.
“Moreover,” the Sheikh added, “in the days of the Oppression the Emirs and their creatures dispossessed many people of their lands. All up and down the river our people are waiting to return to their lawful fields.”
The Governor nodded. It was a year since he had seen the Emirs stretched close and still round the reddened sheepskin where lay El Mahdi, the Prophet of God. Now there remained no trace of their dominion except the old steamer, once part of a Dervish flotilla, which was his house and office. She sidled into the shore, lowered a plank, and the Governor followed his horse aboard.
It was four, as a matter of fact, ere a steamer with a melodious bargeful of hounds anchored at that landing. The Inspector leaped down among them, and the homesick wanderers received him as a brother.
“Everybody fed ’em everything on board ship, but they’re real dainty hounds at bottom,” the Governor explained. “That’s Royal you’ve got hold of—the pick of the bunch—and the bitch that’s got, hold of you—she’s a little excited—is May Queen. Merriman, out of Cottesmore Maudlin, you know.”
Abu Hussein, under the high bank, went about his night’s work. An eddy carried his scent to the barge, and three villages heard the crash of music that followed. Even then Abu Hussein did not know better than to bark in reply.
“Not so bad,” the Inspector answered, with Royal’s head between his knees. “Of course, all the villages want remission of taxes, but, as far as I can see, the whole country’s stinkin’ with foxes. Our trouble will be choppin’ ’em in cover. I’ve got a list of the only villages entitled to any remission. What d’you call this flat-sided, blue-mottled beast with the jowl?”
They began at sunrise. The pack flew off the barge in every direction, and, after gambols, dug like terriers at Abu Hussein’s many earths. Then they drank themselves pot-bellied on Gihon water while the Governor and the Inspector chastised them with whips. Scorpions were added; for May Queen nosed one, and was removed to the barge lamenting. Mystery (a puppy, alas!) met a snake, and the blue-mottled Beagle-boy (never a dainty hound) ate that which he should have passed by. Only Royal, of the Belvoir tan head and the sad, discerning eyes, made any attempt to uphold the honour of England before the watching village.
“Talkin’ of chances,” said the Governor, “this Sheikh lies about his barley bein’ a failure. If it’s high enough to hide a hound at this time of year, it’s all right. And he wants a fifty per cent remission, you said?”
The next meet, then, was some twenty miles down the river, and the pack were not enlarged till they were fairly among the fields. Abu Hussein was there in force—four of him. Four delirious hunts of four minutes each—four hounds per fox—ended in four earths just above the river. All the village looked on.
“Henceforward I will give one dollar to the man on whose land Abu Hussein is found. And another dollar”—he held up the coin—“to the man on whose land these dogs shall kill him. But to the man on whose land Abu Hussein shall run into a hole such as is this hole, I will give not dollars, but a most unmeasurable beating. Is it understood?”
As a river-reach changes beneath a slant of the sun, that which had been a scattered mob changed to a court of most ancient justice. The hounds tore and sobbed at Abu Hussein’s hearthstone, all unnoticed among the legs of the witnesses, and Gihon, also accustomed to laws, purred approval.
“No!” shouted all the village save the man who had first asked to be beaten. “We will abide by Our Excellency’s decision. Let Our Excellency turn out the creatures of the Emirs who stole our land in the days of the Oppression.”
“No need. Thy own mouth condemns thee!” the Governor cried. “No man lawfully entitled to his land would wait one hour before entering upon it. Stand aside!” The man, fell back, and the village jeered him.
Gihon, that had seen many sports, learned to know the Hunt barge well. He met her rounding his bends on grey December dawns to music wild and lamentable as the almost forgotten throb of Dervish drums, when, high above Royal’s tenor bell, sharper even than lying Beagle-boy’s falsetto break, Farag chanted deathless war against Abu Hussein and all his seed. At sunrise the river would shoulder her carefully into her place, and listen to the rush and scutter of the pack fleeing up the gang-plank, and the tramp of the Governor’s Arab behind them. They would pass over the brow into the dewless crops where Gihon, low and shrunken, could only guess what they were about when Abu Hussein flew down the bank to scratch at a stopped earth, and flew back into the barley again. As Farag had foretold, it was evil days for Abu Hussein ere he learned to take the necessary steps and to get away crisply. Sometimes Gihon saw the whole procession of the Hunt silhouetted against the morning-blue, bearing him company for many merry miles. At every half mile the horses and the donkeys jumped the water-channels—up, on, change your leg, and off again like figures in a zoetrope, till they grew small along the line of waterwheels. Then Gibon waited their rustling return through the crops, and took them to rest on his bosom at ten o’clock. While the horses ate, and Farag slept with his head on Royal’s flank, the Governor and his Inspector worked for the good of the Hunt and his Province.
After a little time there was no need to beat any man for neglecting his earths. The steamer’s destination was telegraphed from waterwheel to waterwheel, and the villagers stopped out and put to according. If an earth were overlooked, it meant some dispute as to the ownership of the land, and then and there the Hunt checked and settled it in this wise: The Governor and the Inspector side by side, but the latter half a horse’s length to the rear; both bare-shouldered claimants well in front; the villagers half-mooned behind them, and Farag with the pack, who quite understood the performance, sitting down on the left. Twenty minutes were enough to settle the most complicated case, for, as the Governor said to a judge on the steamer, “One gets at the truth in a hunting-field a heap quicker than in your lawcourts.”
The Sheikhs on horseback—the lesser folk on clever donkeys—the children so despised by Farag soon understood that villages which repaired their waterwheels and channels stood highest in the Governor’s favour. He bought their barley, for his horses.
“The wheel shall be built, but, O Our Excellency, if by God’s favour the pups grow to be well-smelters, not filth-eaters, not unaccustomed to their names, not lawless, who will do them and me justice at the time of judging the young dogs?”
There is no instance of any default on the Governor’s personal and unauthorized loans, for which they called him the Father of Waterwheels. But the first puppyshow at the capital needed enormous tact and the presence of a black battalion ostentatiously drilling in the barrack square to prevent trouble after the prize-giving.
But who can chronicle the glories of the Gihon Hunt—or their shames? Who remembers the kill in the market-place, when the Governor bade the assembled sheikhs and warriors observe how the hounds would instantly devour the body of Abu Hussein; but how, when he had scientifically broken it up, the weary pack turned from it in loathing, and Farag wept because he said the world’s face had been blackened? What men who have not yet ridden beyond the sound of any horn recall the midnight run which ended—Beagleboy leading—among tombs; the hasty whip-off, and the oath, taken Abo e bones, to forget the worry? The desert run, when Abu Hussein forsook the cultivation, and made a six-mile point to earth in a desolate khor—when strange armed riders on camels swooped out of a ravine, and instead of giving battle, offered to take the tired hounds home on their beasts. Which they did, and vanished.
Above all, who remembers the death of Royal, when a certain Sheikh wept above the body of the stainless hound as it might have been his son’s—and that day the Hunt rode no more? The badly-kept log-book says little of this, but at the end of their second season (forty-nine brace) appears the dark entry: “New blood badly wanted. They are beginning to listen to beagle-boy.”
“Remember,” said the Governor, “you must get us the best blood in England—real, dainty hounds—expense no object, but don’t trust your own judgment. Present my letters of introduction, and take what they give you.
The Inspector presented his letters in a society where they make much of horses, more of hounds, and are tolerably civil to men who can ride. They passed him from house to house, mounted him according to his merits, and fed him, after five years of goat chop and Worcester sauce, perhaps a thought too richly.
The seat or castle where he made his great coup does not much matter. Four Masters of Foxhounds were at table, and in a mellow hour the Inspector told them stories of the Gihon Hunt. He ended: “Ben said I wasn’t to trust my own judgment about hounds, but I think there ought to be a special tariff for Empire-makers.”
“You mustn’t think we’re careless about our earthstoppers. We’ve a Hunt fund for hot tar. Tar’s a splendid dressing if the toe-nails aren’t beaten off. But huntin’ as large a country as we do, we mayn’t be back at that village for a month, and if the dressings ain’t renewed, and gangrene sets in, often as not you find your man pegging about on his stumps. We’ve a well-known local name for ’em down the river. We call ’em the Mudir’s Cranes. You see, I persuaded the Governor only to bastinado on one foot.”
From a too well-stocked memory the Inspector drew one short adhesive word which surprises by itself even unblushing Ethiopia. He spelt it out, saw the large man write it down on his cuff and withdraw. Then the Inspector translated a few of its significations and implications to the four Masters of Foxhounds. He left three days later with eight couple of the best hounds in England—a free and a friendly and an ample gift from four packs to the Gihon Hunt. He had honestly meant to undeceive the large blue mottled man, but somehow forgot about it.
The new draft marks a new chapter in the Hunt’s history. From an isolated phenomenon in a barge it became a permanent institution with brick-built kennels ashore, and an influence social, political, and administrative, co-terminous with the boundaries of the province. Ben, the Governor, departed to England, where he kept a pack of real dainty hounds, but never ceased to long for the old lawless lot. His successors were ex-officio Masters of the Gihon Hunt, as all Inspectors were Whips. For one reason; Farag, the kennel huntsman, in khaki and puttees, would obey nothing under the rank of an Excellency, and the hounds would obey no one but Farag; for another, the best way of estimating crop returns and revenue was by riding straight to hounds; for a third, though Judges down the river issued signed and sealed land-titles to all lawful owners, yet public opinion along the river never held any such title valid till it had been confirmed, according to precedent, by the Governor’s hunting crop in the hunting field, above the wilfully neglected earth. True, the ceremony had been cut down to three mere taps on the shoulder, but Governors who tried to evade that much found themselves and their office compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses who took up their time with lawsuits and, worse still, neglected the puppies. The older sheikhs, indeed, stood out for the unmeasurable beatings of the old days—the sharper the punishment, they argued, the surer the title; but here the hand of modern progress was against them, and they contented themselves with telling tales of Ben the first Governor, whom they called the Father of Waterwheels, and of that heroic age when men, horses, and hounds were worth following.
This same Modern Progress which brought dog biscuit and brass water-taps to the kennels was at work all over the world. Forces, Activities, and Movements sprang into being, agitated themselves, coalesced, and, in one political avalanche, overwhelmed a bewildered, and not in the least intending it, England. The echoes of the New Era were borne into the Province on the wings of inexplicable cables. The Gihon Hunt read speeches and sentiments, and policies which amazed them, and they thanked God, prematurely, that their Province was too far off, too hot, and too hard worked to be reached by those speakers or their policies. But they, with others, under-estimated the scope and purpose of the New Era.
One by one, the Provinces of the Empire were hauled up and baited, hit and held, lashed under the belly, and forced back on their haunches for the amusement of their new masters in the parish of Westminster. One by one they fell away, sore and angry, to compare stripes with each other at the ends of the uneasy earth. Even so the Gihon Hunt, like Abu Hussein in the old days, did not understand. Then it reached them through the Press that they habitually flogged to death good revenue-paying cultivators who neglected to stop earths; but that the few, the very few who did not die under hippohide whips soaked in copperas, walked about on their gangrenous ankle-bones, and were known in derision as the Mudir’s Cranes. The charges were vouched for in the House of Commons by a Mr. Lethabie Groombride, who had formed a Committee, and was disseminating literature: The Province groaned; the Inspector—now an Inspector of Inspectors—whistled. He had forgotten the gentleman who sputtered in people’s faces.
It was a pamphlet, signed on behalf of a Committee by a lady secretary, but composed by some person who thoroughly understood the language of the Province. After telling the tale of the beatings, it recommended all the beaten to institute criminal proceedings against their Governor, and, as soon as might be, to rise against English oppression and tyranny. Such documents were new in Ethiopia in those days.
“The Imperial Government’s behind him. Perhaps you’d like to look at my orders.” The Governor laid down an uncoded cable. The whiplash to it ran: “You will afford Mr. Groombride every facility for his inquiry, and will be held responsible that no obstacles are put in his way to the fullest possible examination of any witnesses which he may consider necessary. He will be accompanied by his own interpreter, who must not be tampered with.”
There tramped aboard sheikhs and villagers to the number of seventeen. In each man’s hand was a copy of the pamphlet; in each man’s eye terror and uneasiness of the sort that Governors spend and are spent to clear away. Farag’s uncle, now Sheikh of the village, spoke: “It is written in this book, Excellency, that the beatings whereby we hold our lands are all valueless. It is written that every man who received such a beating from the Father of Waterwheels who slow the Emirs, should instantly begin a lawsuit, because the title to his land is not valid.”
“Not in those very words, but if we leave an earth unstopped, it is the same as though we wished to save Abu Hussein from the hounds. These writings say: ‘Abolish your rulers.’ How can we abolish except we kill? We hear rumours of one who comes from down the river soon to lead us to kill.”
“Listen,” said the Inspector smoothly. “I know who caused the writings to be written and sent. He is a man of a blue-mottled jowl, in aspect like Bigglebai who ate unclean matters. He will come up the river and will give tongue about the beatings.”
“Thy own mouth hath answered thee.” The Inspector laughed. “It is with men as it is with dogs. God afflicts some with a madness. It is no fault of ours if such men run about in the sun and froth at the mouth. The man who is coming will emit spray from his mouth in speaking, and will always edge and push in towards his hearers. When ye see and hear him ye will understand that he is afflicted of God: being mad. He is in God’s hands.”
“The Inspector hath said it,” cried the Governor. “Ye will see when the man comes. O sheikhs and men, have we ridden together and walked puppies together, and bought and sold barley for the horses that after these years we should run riot on the scent of a madman—an afflicted of God?”
“Aahh! ’Ware riot!” The Governor’s hunting-crop cracked like a three-pounder. “By Allah,” he thundered, “if the afflicted of God come to any harm at your hands, I myself will shoot every hound and every puppy, and the Hunt shall ride no more. On your heads be it. Go in peace, and tell the others.”
“The Hunt shall ride no more,” said Farag’s uncle. “Then how can the land be governed? No—no, O Excellency Our Governor, we will not harm a hair on the head of the afflicted of God. He shall be to us as is Abu Hussein’s wife in the breeding season.”
“O Excellency,” said the smooth voice of Farag, laying the Field and Country Life square on the table, “is the afflicted of God who resembles Bigglebai one with the man whom the Inspector met in the great house in England, and to whom he told the tale of the Mudir’s Cranes?”
“I have often heard the Inspector tell the tale to Our Excellency at feeding-time in the kennels; but since I am in the Government service I have never told it to my people. May I loose that tale among the villages?”
The details of Mr. Groombride’s arrival, with his interpreter, whom he proposed should eat with him at the Governor’s table, his allocution to the Governor on the New Movement, and the sins of Imperialism, I purposely omit. At three in the afternoon Mr. Groombride said: “I will go out now and address your victims in this village.”
Mr. Groombride’s large, loose lips set. “That,” he replied pointedly, “would be enough to decide me. I fear you have not quite mastered your instructions. May I ask you to send for my interpreter? I hope he has not been tampered with by your subordinates.”
He did not guess how his path had been prepared. The village was widely awake. Farag, in loose, flowing garments, quite unlike a kennel huntsman’s khaki and puttees, leaned against the wall of his uncle’s house. “Come and see the afflicted of God,” he cried musically, “whose face, indeed, resembles that of Bigglebai.”
“He says you are not to be frightened,” Abdul explained. A child here sputtered with laughter. “Refrain from mirth,” Farag cried. “The afflicted of God is the guest of The Excellency Our Governor. We are responsible for every hair of his head.”
“Approach! Look! Listen!” Abdul chanted. “The afflicted of God will now make sport. Presently he will speak in your tongue, and will consume you with mirth. I have been his servant for three weeks. I will tell you about his undergarments and his perfumes for his head.”
“Ask him,” said Farag’s uncle, “what he knows about our land-titles. Ye young men are all alike.” He waved a pamphlet. Mr. Groombride smiled to see how the seed sown in London had borne fruit by Gihon. Lo! All the seniors held copies of the pamphlet.
“Tell them,” he cried, “that if a hair of any one of their heads is touched by any official on any account whatever, all England shall ring with it. Good God! What callous oppression! The dark places of the earth are full of cruelty.” He wiped his face, and throwing out his arms cried: “Tell them, oh! tell the poor, serfs not to be afraid of me. Tell them I come to redress their wrongs—not, heaven knows, to add to their burden.”
“Well. We here are all witnesses to what he has said. Now go forward with the sport.” Farag’s uncle smoothed his garments. “How diversely hath Allah made His creatures! On one He bestows strength to slay Emirs; another He causes to go mad and wander in the sun, like the afflicted sons of Melik-meid.”
“I think,” Abdul plucked at Mr. Groombride’s sleeves, “I think perhaps it is better now, Sar, if you give your fine little native speech. They not understanding English, but much pleased at your condescensions.”
“Condescensions?” Mr. Groombride spun round. “If they only knew how I felt towards them in my heart! If I could express a tithe of my feelings! I must stay here and learn the language. Hold up the umbrella, Abdull I think my little speech will show them I know something of their vie intime.”
It was a short, simple; carefully learned address, and the accent, supervised by Abdul on the steamer, allowed the hearers to guess its meaning, which was a request to see one of the Mudir’s Cranes; since the desire of the speaker’s life, the object to which he would consecrate his days, was to improve the condition of the Mudir’s Cranes. But first he must behold them with his own eyes. Would, then, his brethren, whom he loved, show him a Mudir’s Crane whom he desired to love?
Once, twice, and again in his peroration he repeated his demand, using always—that they might see he was acquainted with their local argot—using always, I say, the word which the Inspector had given him in England long ago—the short, adhesive word which, by itself, surprises even unblushing Ethiopia.
There are limits to the sublime politeness of an ancient people. A bulky, blue-chinned man in white clothes, his name red-lettered across his lower shirtfront, spluttering from under a green-lined umbrella almost tearful appeals to be introduced to the Unintroducible; naming loudly the Unnameable; dancing, as it seemed, in perverse joy at mere mention of the Unmentionable—found those limits. There was a moment’s hush, and then such mirth as Gihon through his centuries had never heard—a roar like to the roar of his own cataracts in flood. Children cast themselves on the ground, and rolled back and forth cheering and whooping; strong men, their faces hidden in their clothes, swayed in silence, till the agony became insupportable, and they threw up their heads and bayed at the sun; women, mothers and virgins, shrilled shriek upon mounting shriek, and slapped their thighs as it might have been the roll of musketry. When they tried to draw breath, some half-strangled voice would quack out the word, and the riot began afresh. Last to fall was the city-trained Abdul. He held on to the edge of apoplexy, then collapsed, throwing the umbrella from him.
Mr. Groombride should not be judged too harshly. Exercise and strong emotion under a hot sun, the shock of public ingratitude, for the moment rued his spirit. He furled the umbrella, and with it beat the prostrate Abdul, crying that he had been betrayed. In which posture the Inspector, on horseback, followed by the Governor, suddenly found him.
“That’s all very well,” said the Inspector, when he had taken Abdul’s dramatically dying depositions on the steamer, “but you can’t hammer a native merely because he laughs at you. I see nothing for it but the law to take its course.”
“It’s the publicity that I fear,” he wailed. “Is there no possible means of hushing up the affair? You don’t know what a question—a single question in the House means to a man of my position—the ruin of my political career, I assure you.”
“Yes, that had to come too,” he said to himself. “Well, look here. If I tell this man of yours to withdraw the charge against you, you can go to Gehenna for aught I care. The only condition I make is that if you write—I suppose that’s part of your business about your travels, you don’t praise me!”
The House Surgeon
ON AN evening after Easter Day, I sat at a table in a homeward bound steamer’s smoking-room, where half a dozen of us told ghost stories. As our party broke up a man, playing Patience in the next alcove, said to me: “I didn’t quite catch the end of that last story about the Curse on the family’s first-born.”
“It’s—it’s nothing worse than a little depression. And the odd part is that there hasn’t been a death in the house since it was built—in 1863. The lawyer said so. That decided me—my good lady, rather and he made me pay an extra thousand for it.”
“Yes; ain’t it? It was built for three sisters—Moultrie was the name—three old maids. They all lived together; the eldest owned it. I bought it from her lawyer a few years ago, and if I’ve spent a pound on the place first and last, I must have spent five thousand. Electric light, new servants’ wing, garden—all that sort of thing. A man and his family ought to be happy after so much expense, ain’t it?” He looked at me through the bottom of his glass.
“My good lady—she’s a Greek, by the way—and myself are middle-aged. We can bear up against depression; but it’s hard on my little girl. I say little; but she’s twenty. We send her visiting to escape it. She almost lived at hotels and hydros, last year, but that isn’t pleasant for her. She used to be a canary—a perfect canary—always singing. You ought to hear her. She doesn’t sing now. That sort of thing’s unwholesome for the young, ain’t it?”
“My tale is true. If you would do me the pleasure to come down and spend a night at my little place, you’d learn more than you would if I talked till morning. Very likely ’twouldn’t touch your good self at all. You might be—immune, ain’t it? On the other hand, if this influenza,—influence does happen to affect you, why, I think it will be an experience.”
“Far from it, I assure you. I can meet you next Saturday afternoon anywhere in London you choose to name, and I’ll be only too happy to motor you down. It ought to be a delightful run at this time of year the rhododendrons will be out. I mean it. You don’t know how truly I mean it. Very probably—it won’t affect you at all. And—I think I may say I have the finest collection of narwhal tusks in the world. All the best skins and horns have to go through London, and L. Maxwell M’Leod, he knows where they come from, and where they go to. That’s his business.”
For the rest of the voyage up-channel Mr. M’Leod talked to me of the assembling, preparation, and sale of the rarer furs; and told me things about the manufacture of fur-lined coats which quite shocked me. Somehow or other, when we landed on Wednesday, I found myself pledged to spend that week-end with him at Holmescroft.
On Saturday he met me with a well-groomed motor, and ran me out, in an hour and a half, to an exclusive residential district of dustless roads and elegantly designed country villas, each standing in from three to five acres of perfectly appointed land. He told me land was selling at eight hundred pounds the acre, and the new golf links, whose Queen Anne pavilion we passed, had cost nearly twenty-four thousand pounds to create.
Holmescroft was a large, two-storied, low, creeper-covered residence. A verandah at the south side gave on to a garden and two tennis courts, separated by a tasteful iron fence from a most park-like meadow of five or six acres, where two Jersey cows grazed. Tea was ready in the shade of a promising copper beech, and I could see groups on the lawn of young men and maidens appropriately clothed, playing lawn tennis in the sunshine.
“A pretty scene, ain’t it?” said Mr. M’Leod. “My good lady’s sitting under the tree, and that’s my little girl in pink on the far court. But I’ll take you to your room, and you can see ’em all later.”
He led me through a wide parquet-floored hall furnished in pale lemon, with huge Cloisonnee vases, an ebonized and gold grand piano, and banks of pot flowers in Benares brass bowls, up a pale oak staircase to a spacious landing, where there was a green velvet settee trimmed with silver. The blinds were down, and the light lay in parallel lines on the floors.
He showed me my room, saying cheerfully: “You may be a little tired. One often is without knowing it after a run through traffic. Don’t come down till you feel quite restored. We shall all be in the garden.”
My room was rather warm, and smelt of perfumed soap. I threw up the window at once, but it opened so close to the floor and worked so clumsily that I came within an ace of pitching out, where I should certainly have ruined a rather lop-sided laburnum below. As I set about washing off the journey’s dust, I began to feel a little tired. But, I reflected, I had not come down here in this weather and among these new surroundings to be depressed; so I began to whistle.
And it was just then that I was aware of a little grey shadow, as it might have been a snowflake seen against the light, floating at an immense distance in the background of my brain. It annoyed me, and I shook my head to get rid of it. Then my brain telegraphed that it was the forerunner of a swift-striding gloom which there was yet time to escape if I would force my thoughts away from it, as a man leaping for life forces his body forward and away from the fall of a wall. But the gloom overtook me before I could take in the meaning of the message. I moved toward the bed, every nerve already aching with the foreknowledge of the pain that was to be dealt it, and sat down, while my amazed and angry soul dropped, gulf by gulf, into that horror of great darkness which is spoken of in the Bible, and which, as auctioneers say, must be experienced to be appreciated.
Despair upon despair, misery upon misery, fear after fear, each causing their distinct and separate woe, packed in upon me for an unrecorded length of time, until at last they blurred together, and I heard a click in my brain like the click in the ear when one descends in a diving bell, and I knew that the pressures were equalised within and without, and that, for the moment, the worst was at an end. But I knew also that at any moment the darkness might come down anew; and while, I dwelt on this speculation precisely as a man torments a raging tooth with his tongue, it ebbed away into the little grey shadow on the brain of its first coming, and once more I heard my brain, which knew what would recur, telegraph to every quarter fox help, release or diversion.
The door opened, and M’Leod reappeared. I thanked him politely, saying I was charmed with my room, anxious to meet Mrs. M’Leod, much refreshed with my wash, and so on and so forth. Beyond a little stickiness at the corners of my mouth, it seemed to me that I was managing my words admirably; the while that I myself cowered at the bottom of unclimbable pits. M’Leod laid his hand on my shoulder, and said “You’ve got it now already, ain’t it?”
She was a fat woman in an apricot-coloured gown, with a heavily powdered face, against which her black long-lashed eyes showed like currants in dough. I was introduced to many fine ladies and gentlemen of those parts. Magnificently appointed landaus and covered motors swept in and out of the drive, and the air was gay with the merry outcries of the tennis players.
As twilight drew on they all went away, and I was left alone with Mr. and Mrs. M’Leod, while tall menservants and maidservants took away the tennis and tea things. Miss M’Leod had walked a little down the drive with a light-haired young man, who apparently knew everything about every South American railway stock. He had told me at tea that these were the days of financial specialisation.
She nodded. “Yes, I know; and you know too, don’t you? I saw your face when you came to shake hands with mamma. You felt the depression very soon. It is simply frightful in that bedroom sometimes. What do you think it is—bewitchment? In Greece, where I was a little girl, it might have been; but not in England, do you think? Or do you?”
We were silent again, and, in a few seconds it must have been, a live grief beyond words—not ghostly dread or horror, but aching, helpless grief—overwhelmed us, each, I felt, according to his or her nature, and held steady like the beam of a burning glass. Behind that pain I was conscious there was a desire on somebody’s part to explain something on which some tremendously important issue hung.
Meantime I rolled bread pills and remembered my sins; M’Leod considered his own reflection in a spoon; his wife seemed to be praying, and the girl fidgetted desperately with hands and feet, till the darkness passed on—as though the malignant rays of a burning-glass had been shifted from us.”
He lifted a dish-cover, and helped his wife and daughter. His face was lined and fallen like an old man’s after debauch, but his hand did not shake, and his voice was clear. As he worked to restore us by speech and action, he reminded me of a grey-muzzled collie herding demoralised sheep.
After dinner we sat round the dining-room fire the drawing-room might have been under the Shadow for aught we knew talking with the intimacy of gipsies by the wayside, or of wounded comparing notes after a skirmish. By eleven o’clock the three between them had given me every name and detail they could recall that in any way bore on the house, and what they knew of its history.
We went to bed in a fortifying blaze of electric light. My one fear was that the blasting gust of depression would return—the surest way, of course, to bring it. I lay awake till dawn, breathing quickly and sweating lightly, beneath what De Quincey inadequately describes as “the oppression of inexpiable guilt.” Now as soon as the lovely day was broken, I fell into the most terrible of all dreams—that joyous one in which all past evil has not only been wiped out of our lives, but has never been committed; and in the very bliss of our assured innocence, before our loves shriek and change countenance, we wake to the day we have earned.
It was a coolish morning, but we preferred to breakfast in the south verandah. The forenoon we spent in the garden, pretending to play games that come out of boxes, such as croquet and clock golf. But most of the time we drew together and talked. The young man who knew all about South American railways took Miss M’Leod for a walk in the afternoon, and at five M’Leod thoughtfully whirled us all up to dine in town.
Looking at myself in the restaurant’s mirrors, it seemed to me that I had not much benefited by my week-end. Next morning I wrote out all my Holmescroft notes at fullest length, in the hope that by so doing I could put it all behind me. But the experience worked on my mind, as they say certain imperfectly understood rays work on the body.
I am less calculated to make a Sherlock Holmes than any man I know, for I lack both method and patience, yet the idea of following up the trouble to its source fascinated me. I had no theory to go on, except a vague idea that I had come between two poles of a discharge, and had taken a shock meant for some one else. This was followed by a feeling of intense irritation. I waited cautiously on myself, expecting to be overtaken by horror of the supernatural, but my self persisted in being humanly indignant, exactly as though it had been the victim of a practical joke. It was in great pains and upheavals—that I felt in every fibre but its dominant idea, to put it coarsely, was to get back a bit of its own. By this I knew that I might go forward if I could find the way.
After a few days it occurred to me to go to the office of Mr. J.M.M. Baxter—the solicitor who had sold Holmescroft to M’Leod. I explained I had some notion of buying the place. Would he act for me in the matter?
He did not gulp as untrained men do when they lie, but his jaws moved stickily, and his eyes, turning towards the deed boxes on the wall, dulled. I counted seconds, one, two, three—one, two, three up to ten. A man, I knew, can live through ages of mental depression in that time.
“Naturally. I fancied it must have been something of that kind. One doesn’t associate the Staffordshire Moultries” (my Demon of Irresponsibility at that instant created ’em), “with—with being hard up.”
I give this talk at length, because I am so proud of my first attempt at detective work. When I left him, twenty minutes later, with instructions to move against the owner of Holmescroft, with a view to purchase, I was more bewildered than any Doctor Watson at the opening of a story.
Why should a middle-aged solicitor turn plovers’ egg colour and drop his jaw when reminded of so innocent and festal a matter as that no death had ever occurred in a house that he had sold? If I knew my English vocabulary at all, the tone in which he said the youngest sister “fell ill” meant that she had gone out of her mind. That might explain his change of countenance, and it was just possible that her demented influence still hung about Holmescroft; but the rest was beyond me.
Before a fortnight was over, Baxter admitted ruefully that M’Leod was better than most firms in the business: We buyers were coy, argumentative, shocked at the price of Holmescroft, inquisitive, and cold by turns, but Mr. M’Leod the seller easily met and surpassed us; and Mr. Baxter entered every letter, telegram, and consultation at the proper rates in a cinematograph-film of a bill. At the end of a month he said it looked as though M’Leod, thanks to him, were really going to listen to reason. I was many pounds out of pocket, but I had learned something of Mr. Baxter on the human side. I deserved it. Never in my life have I worked to conciliate, amuse, and flatter a human being as I worked over my solicitor.
It appeared that he golfed. Therefore, I was an enthusiastic beginner, anxious to learn. Twice I invaded his office with a bag (M’Leod lent it) full of the spelicans needed in this detestable game, and a vocabulary to match. The third time the ice broke, and Mr. Baxter took me to his links, quite ten miles off, where in a maze of tramway lines, railroads, and nursery-maids, we skelped our divotted way round nine holes like barges plunging through head seas. He played vilely and had never expected to meet any one worse; but as he realised my form, I think he began to like me, for he took me in hand by the two hours together. After a fortnight he could give me no more than a stroke a hole, and when, with this allowance, I once managed to beat him by one, he was honestly glad, and assured me that I should be a golfer if I stuck to it. I was sticking to it for my own ends, but now and again my conscience pricked me; for the man was a nice man. Between games he supplied me with odd pieces of evidence, such as that he had known the Moultries all his life, being their cousin, and that Miss Mary, the eldest, was an unforgiving woman who would never let bygones be. I naturally wondered what she might have against him; and somehow connected him unfavourably with mad Agnes.
“Hanged? People have been supposed to be eternally lost on it,” his face turned grey again. “I don’t know how it is with you, but my consolation is that God must know. He must! Things that seem on the face of ’em like murder, or say suicide, may appear different to God. Heh?”
“I have expressed myself clumsily as usual. The facts as God knows ’em—may be different—even after the most clinching evidence. I’ve always said that—both as a lawyer and a man, but some people won’t—I don’t want to judge ’em—we’ll say they can’t—believe it; whereas I say there’s always a working chance—a certainty—that the worst hasn’t happened.” He stopped and cleared his throat. “Now, let’s come on! This time next week I shall be taking my holiday.”
“A potty little nine-hole affair at a hydro in the Midlands. My cousins stay there. Always will. Not but what the fourth and the seventh holes take some doing. You could manage it, though,” he said encouragingly. “You’re doing much better. It’s only your approach shots that are weak.”
“Look here,” he began. “I don’t know, your engagements, but I’ve no one to play with at Burry Mills. Never have. Why couldn’t you take a few days off and join me there? I warn you it will be rather dull. It’s a throat and gout place-baths, massage, electricity, and so forth. But the fourth and the seventh holes really take some doing.”
“That’s the proper spirit. As their lawyer I must ask you not to say anything to my cousins about Holmescroft. It upsets ’em. Always did. But speaking as man to man, it would be very pleasant for me if you could see your way to—”
I saw it as soon as decency permitted, and thanked him sincerely. According to my now well-developed theory he had certainly misappropriated his aged cousins’ monies under power of attorney, and had probably driven poor Agnes Moultrie out of her wits, but I wished that he was not so gentle, and good-tempered, and innocent eyed.
Before I joined him at Burry Mills Hydro, I spent a night at Holmescroft. Miss M’Leod had returned from her Hydro, and first we made very merry on the open lawn in the sunshine over the manners and customs of the English resorting to such places. She knew dozens of hydros, and warned me how to behave in them, while Mr. and Mrs. M’Leod stood aside and adored her.
We had the house to face through the evening, and there we neither laughed nor sung. The gloom fell on us as we entered, and did not shift till ten o’clock, when we crawled out, as it were, from beneath it.
So then we waited about the small fire, and the dead air in the room presently filled and pressed down upon us with the sensation (but words are useless here) as though some dumb and bound power were striving against gag and bond to deliver its soul of an articulate word. It passed in a few minutes, and I fell to thinking about Mr. Baxter’s conscience and Agnes Moultrie, gone mad in the well-lit bedroom that waited me. These reflections secured me a night during which I rediscovered how, from purely mental causes, a man can be physically sick; but the sickness was bliss compared to my dreams when the birds waked. On my departure, M’Leod gave me a beautiful narwhal’s horn, much as a nurse gives a child sweets for being brave at a dentist’s.
“There’s no duplicate of it in the world,” he said, “else it would have come to old Max M’Leod;” and he tucked it into the motor. Miss M’Leod on the far side of the car whispered, “Have you found out anything, Mr. Perseus?”
I went straight from that house to Burry Mills Hydro, keen for the first time in my life on playing golf, which is guaranteed to occupy the mind. Baxter had taken me a room communicating with his own, and after lunch introduced me to a tall, horse-headed elderly lady of decided manners, whom a white-haired maid pushed along in a bath-chair through the park-like grounds of the Hydro. She was Miss Mary Moultrie, and she coughed and cleared her throat just like Baxter. She suffered—she told me it was a Moultrie castemark—from some obscure form of chronic bronchitis, complicated with spasm of the glottis; and, in a dead, flat voice, with a sunken eye that looked and saw not, told me what washes, gargles, pastilles, and inhalations she had proved most beneficial. From her I was passed on to her younger sister, Miss Elizabeth, a small and withered thing with twitching lips, victim, she told me, to very much the same sort of throat, but secretly devoted to another set of medicines. When she went away with Baxter and the bath-chair, I fell across a major of the Indian army with gout in his glassy eyes, and a stomach which he had taken all round the Continent. He laid everything before me; and him I escaped only to be confided in by a matron with a tendency to follicular tonsilitis and eczema. Baxter waited hand and foot on his cousins till five o’clock, trying, as I saw, to atone for his treatment of the dead sister. Miss Mary ordered him about like a dog.
“You see,” he said huskily, “there was the youngest—Agnes. Before she fell ill, you know. But she didn’t like leaving her sisters. Never would.” He hurried on with his odd-shaped load and left me among the ruins of my black theories. The man with that face had done Agnes Moultrie no wrong.
We never played our game. I was waked between two and three in the morning from my hygienic bed by Baxter in an ulster over orange and white pyjamas, which I should never have suspected from his character.
So I came quickly, and led by the white-haired Arthurs in a jacket and petticoat, entered a double-bedded room reeking with steam and Friar’s Balsam. The electrics were all on. Miss Mary—I knew her by her height—was at the open window, wrestling with Miss Elizabeth, who gripped her round the knees.
“My God! Has she cut her throat?” the maid cried out, and with no warning rolled over in a faint. Baxter pushed her under the wash-basins, and leaped to hold the gaunt woman who crowed and whistled as she struggled toward the window. He took her by the shoulder, and she struck out wildly:
While I got that he pushed her backward. Her strength seemed almost as great as his. I swabbed at her throat when I could, and found no mark; then helped him to control her a little. Miss Elizabeth leaped back to bed, wailing like a child.
Miss Mary applied herself to the mouth of the kettle, and between indraws of steam said: “The spasm came on just now, while I was asleep. I was nearly choking to death. So I went to the window I’ve done it often before, without, waking any one. Bessie’s such an old maid about draughts. I tell you I was choking to death. I couldn’t manage the catch, and I nearly fell out. That window opens too low. I cut my hand trying to save myself. Who has tied it up in this filthy handkerchief? I wish you had had my throat, Bessie. I never was nearer dying!” She scowled on us all impartially, while her sister sobbed.
Then Baxter, seated by the side of the bed, began to cross-examine in a voice I scarcely recognised. No one could for an instant have doubted the genuine rage of Miss Mary against her sister, her cousin, or her maid; and that a doctor should have been called in for she did me the honour of calling me doctor—was the last drop. She was choking with her throat; had rushed to the window for air; had near pitched out, and in catching at the window bars had cut her hand. Over and over she made this clear to the intent Baxter. Then she turned on her sister and tongue-lashed her savagely.
“You hear that, Mary? Mary, do you hear What this gentleman says? Won’t you believe that what nearly happened to you must have happened to poor Aggie that night? For God’s sake—for her sake—Mary, won’t you believe?”
Baxter motioned to me, and I crept away to my room, and lay awake till morning, thinking more specially of the dumb Thing at Holmescroft which wished to explain itself. I hated Miss Mary as perfectly as though I had known her for twenty years, but I felt that, alive or dead, I should not like her to condemn me.
“Now that you know all about it,” said Baxter aside, after the first strangeness of our meeting was over, “it’s only fair to tell you that my poor cousin did not die in Holmescroft at all. She was dead when they found her under the window in the morning. Just dead.”
“Exactly. She broke the tree in falling. But no death has ever taken place in the house, so far as we were concerned. You can make yourself quite easy on that point. Mr. M’Leod’s extra thousand for what you called the ‘clean bill of health’ was something toward my cousins’ estate when we sold. It was my duty as their lawyer to get it for them—at any cost to my own feelings.”
“No, thank God! Never have! And after what happened to Mary last night, I see perfectly what happened to poor Aggie. She had the family throat too. By the way, Mary thinks you are a doctor. Otherwise she wouldn’t like your having been in her room.”
“She’d give anything to be able to believe it, but she’s a hard woman, and brooding along certain lines makes one groovy. I have sometimes been afraid of her reason—on the religious side, don’t you know. Elizabeth doesn’t matter. Brain of a hen. Always had.”
“But, my dear Miss Moultrie, I only know what I’ve seen, of course, but it seems to me that what you thought was a tragedy in your sister’s case, turns out, on your own evidence, so to speak, to have been an accident—a dreadfully sad one—but absolutely an accident.”
“But you must,” I said. “If you go there in the spirit the greater need for you to go there in the flesh. Go to your sister’s room once more, and see the window—I nearly fell out of it myself. It’s—it’s awfully low and dangerous. That would convince you,” I pleaded.
“You are lying,” she said quite quietly. “You don’t want me to come down to see a window. It is something else. I warn you we are Evangelicals. We don’t believe in prayers for the dead. ‘As the tree falls—’”
Arthurs at the bath-chair spoke up: “Oh, Miss Mary! you would ’ave it from the first that poor Miss Aggie ’ad made away with herself; an’, of course, Miss Bessie took the notion from you: Only Master—Mister John stood out,—and—and I’d ’ave taken my Bible oath you was making away with yourself last night.”
“I’ll risk it,” I answered. Remembering what torment the mere reflection of her torments had cast on Holmescroft, and remembering, above all, the dumb Thing that filled the house with its desire to speak, I felt that there might be worse things.
Baxter was amazed at the proposed visit, but at a nod from that terrible woman went off to make arrangements. Then I sent a telegram to M’Leod bidding him and his vacate Holmescroft for that afternoon. Miss Mary should be alone with her dead, as I had been alone.
I expected untold trouble in transporting her, but to do her justice, the promise given for the journey, she underwent it without murmur, spasm, or unnecessary word. Miss Bessie, pressed in a corner by the window, wept behind her veil, and from time to time tried to take hold of her sister’s hand. Baxter wrapped himself in his newly found happiness as selfishly as a bridegroom, for he sat still and smiled.
We led her out on to the platform like a blind woman, and so got her into the fly. The half-hour crawl to Holmescroft was the most racking experience of the day. M’Leod had obeyed my instructions. There was no one visible in the house or the gardens; and the front door stood open.
“Restful?” I began, but stopped of a sudden, for I felt all over my bruised soul that Baxter was speaking truth. It was a light, spacious, airy house, full of the sense of well-being and peace—above all things, of peace. I ventured into the dining-room where the thoughtful M’Leod’s had left a small fire. There was no terror there, present or lurking; and in the drawing-room, which for good reasons we had never cared to enter, the sun and the peace and the scent of the flowers worked together as is fit in an inhabited house. When I returned to the hall, Baxter was sweetly asleep on a couch, looking most unlike a middle-aged solicitor who had spent a broken night with an exacting cousin.
There was ample time for me to review it all—to felicitate myself upon my magnificent acumen (barring some errors about Baxter as a thief and possibly a murderer), before the door above opened, and Baxter, evidently a light sleeper, sprang awake.
But it was. I had never before been privileged to see the Shadow turned backward on the dial—the years ripped bodily off poor human shoulders—old sunken eyes filled and alight—harsh lips moistened and human.
“You never offered me proof, John. Now, thank God, it will not be the same any more. I can think henceforward of Aggie without sorrow.” She tripped, absolutely tripped, across the hall. “What ideas these Jews have of arranging furniture!” She spied me behind a big Cloisonnee vase. “I’ve seen the window,” she said remotely. “You took a great risk in advising me to undertake such a journey. However, as it turns out ... I forgive you, and I pray you may never know what mental anguish means! Bessie! Look at this peculiar piano! Do you suppose, Doctor, these people would offer one tea? I miss mine.”
“Tea for three, quick,” I said. “If you ask me any questions now, I shall have a fit!” So Mrs. M’Leod got it, and I was butler, amid murmured apologies from Baxter, still smiling and self-absorbed, and the cold disapproval of Miss Mary, who thought the pattern of the china vulgar. However, she ate well, and even asked me whether I would not like a cup of tea for myself.
They went away in the twilight—the twilight that I had once feared. They were going to an hotel in London to rest after the fatigues of the day, and as their fly turned down the drive, I capered on the door step, with the all-darkened house behind me.
Then I heard the uncertain feet of the M’Leods and bade them not to turn on the lights, but to feel—to feel what I had done; for the Shadow was gone, with the dumb desire in the air. They drew short, but afterwards deeper, breaths, like bathers entering chill water, separated one from the other, moved about the hall, tiptoed upstairs, raced down, and then Miss M’Leod, and I believe her mother, though she denies this, embraced me. I know M’Leod did.
It was a disgraceful evening. To say we rioted through the house is to put it mildly. We played a sort of Blind Man’s Buff along the darkest passages, in the unlighted drawing-room, and little dining-room, calling cheerily to each other after each exploration that here, and here, and here, the trouble had removed itself. We came up to the bedroom—mine for the night again—and sat, the women on the bed, and we men on chairs, drinking in blessed draughts of peace and comfort and cleanliness of soul, while I told them my tale in full, and received fresh praise, thanks, and blessings.
When the servants, returned from their day’s outing, gave us a supper of cold fried fish, M’Leod had sense enough to open no wine. We had been practically drunk since nightfall, and grew incoherent on water and milk.
“Now tell me,” said Mrs. M’Leod—“that tall one, I saw out of the scullery window—did she tell you she was always here in the spirit? I hate her. She made all this trouble. It was not her house after she had sold it. What do you think?”
“I suppose,” I answered, “she brooded over what she believed was her sister’s suicide night and day—she confessed she did—and her thoughts being concentrated on this place, they felt like a—like a burning glass.”