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Full text of "Behind the veil"

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First Edition, $00 Copies, August 1906 



BEHIND THE VEIL 



The thanks of the writer are due to the Editors of 
'The Anglo-Saxon Review,' 'The Atlantic Monthly,' 
'The Speaker,' and 'The Week's Survey,' for their 
courtesy in giving permission to republish four of the 
stories included in this Volume. 




,^Z^<^n^c^>^*«oe, 



BEHIND THE VEIL^^^ 



WRITTEN BY 

ETHEL ROLT I.WHEELER 

ILLUSTRATED BY 
AUSTIN O. SPARE 



PUBLISHED AT THE SIGN OF THE PHCENIX 
LONDON, BY DAVID NUTT, 1906 



(^ib?=^ 



CONTENTS 



PAST INCARNATIONS 

THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS- 

THE CURL 

THE WHEELS REVERSED 

AN AUTUMN TRYST 

THE MURKY POOL 

THE LEPER'S WINDOW . 



Page 
3 



43 
55 
69 
83 
88 



PAST INCARNATIONS 




STONE-COLD, STONE -QUIET, THE KING 

OF KINGS SAT ON HIS MARBLE CHAIR 




Page 2 




I CROSS the columns of sunshine, falling on 
the heads of the musicians between the 
columns of stone, I felt the eyes of the 
African weighing like lead upon my quiver- 
ing eyelids. The place of the musicians was 
on the left side of the steps of the throne : 
but by reason of the faint delicacy of the notes of my in- 
strument, my seat was set at the extreme limit of the line 
dividing the slave boundary from the court of the King of 
Kings. As I waited the turn of my five-stringed instrument, 
I could see, through lowered lashes, the rainbow-glimmer 
of those marble throne steps ; sometimes the purple shadow 
of the royal robes seemed to touch with a sombre glory the 
edge of vision; but the eyes of the African weighed like 
lead upon my quivering eyelids, which pulsed fiercely to be 
raised ; though for a slave to look upon the face of the King 
of Kings, bore the penalty of death by torture. 
Day after day, when the gold of afternoon cut its tiger- 
stripes upon the shadowy floors, we passed silent-footed 
through the cool corridors about the Throne-Chamber, into 
the awful silence of the Presence itself. The air thrilled 
with the terrible quiet of power; a fear that was splendid 
because of the mightiness of its cause, wrapped the limbs 



Page 3 



4 PAST INCARNATIONS 

like a garment ; unworthy and forbidden to lift eyes towards 
the blinding majesty of the equal of the gods, yet the mere 
force of so glorious a proximity fluttered the being to its 
depths, and the emotions beat like imprisoned butterflies, 
and like imprisoned butterflies the eyelids quivered to rise. 
Sometimes, because of the languor that comes of extreme 
trembling, my fingers had scarce strength to strike the 
sweetness out of those strings in whose music they were so 
skilled. The note would falter into the stillness, hesitating, 
faint with timidity; and only the sharp realisation of the 
mighty listener could nerve the fingers to their appointed 
task. Then, answering to the memories in my mind, I drew 
from my instrument echo after echo of mountain -music, 
sounds loud as the cataract, and low as the surge of wind 
in grass, that floated into the air, strong and clear and 
pure; and I, who was doomed to walk for ever with bent 
head and with eyes that for ever sought the earth, sent my 
few wild messengers with more than mortal daring to climb 
the great stairs of the throne, and penetrate into the very 
heart of the King. 

I had heard in my distant home, whence they had taken me 
for the music that was in my throat, and in my fingers, that 
the King was a mighty hunter, and loved the sense of open 
spaces. And I deemed he heard my music, because it held 
the call of forces only less splendid than his own ; and in 
the dreadful pauses of silence, when I sat dizzy with 
sickness for the scenes of my lost freedom that I had been 
building into harmonies, the desire to lift my eyes to the 
face of him who so transcended them in majesty, became 



PAST INCARNATIONS 5 

a torture in repression that grew in poignancy with every 
moment. 

Sometimes the anguish of the controlled eyelids became so 
tense, that they must have transgressed my will-power, and 
hurried me to a horrible death, but for the weight that the 
giant African set upon them. He stood at the other end of 
the group of musicians, to keep watch over our glances, 
lest any of them should stray ; but there seemed no moment 
that I was free of his observation. His ugly stolidity of alert- 
ness, though it saved me from the mad promptings of my 
heart, did but increase the torment ; it precluded that half- 
glimpse through half-shut eyelids that I might have thought 
to dare. And with every day the prick of desire became 
more importunate ; with every day more racking the agony 
of control. 

One evening I played late into the sunset, and the large 
metal plates that hung from my belt, interlinked by chains 
into long bands, caught on their surfaces the ruddy glow. 
And as I ceased playing, and began to shift my downward 
glance, a metal plate that lay aslant my knee shone with a 
glory more magnificent than the sun's, — a splash of purple 
radiance, glinting and changing as I stirred,— the very 
splendour of heaven, a reflected light from the purple robes 
of the King of Kings. 

My body seemed to flush through my thin white draperies, 
as with eyes riveted on that royal glow the full tide of 
possibilities coursed through my being. By a little wisdom 
in the calculation of the angle, I should be able without 
fatality to achieve the sum of my desire : resolve the vague 



6 PAST INCARNATIONS 

purple of the disc into lines and folds ; sharpen the floating 
glints of red and green into the jewels of the diadem ; and 
fix that pale halo of light— the blurred image of the King's 
own face — into the definition of his god-like features, on 
whose radiance I might feast unhindered, nor die the 
dreadful death. 

But though I polished the metals until they shone like 
moonlight, my fingers lacked both courage and skill on the 
succeeding day to set the disc, so that it should receive the 
splendid vision. Again and again my hand stole towards 
the appointed plate, sending a mist over its surface, and 
moved the position with infinite terror, lest the chain should 
jangle ; but it cleared to a shining vacancy, or the dull con- 
fusion of stone - reflections, and only once the shadow of 
purple swept darkly across its moving. 
On the afternoon that followed, I set the plate against the 
edge of my instrument, and bending low over it, the whole 
throne suddenly shone on me, minute, as if far away, but 
clear with the clearness of distance in dreams. I saw in the 
silver unreality, remote, but sharp cut as the lines of crisp 
water, the sublime form of him who was the equal of the 
gods, and ruler of the world. He leaned back in his marble 
chair, with his arms resting upon it ; the purple draperies of 
his robes overflowed the steps. There was the calm of a 
terrible indifference about him— a gravity of aloofness, as 
cold as the stars. The dark face, moulded like a god's, 
stone-quiet ; the dose-shut hands, the stillness of the form, 
implied a power the more awful, because of its absolute 
silence. I had known the loftiness of mountains and the 



PAST INCARNATIONS 7 

solitude of wildernesses, but never a loneliness so terrible 
and so remote. It seemed the very pathos of divinity ; and 
while my soul rose in worship before this dreadfulness of 
majesty, I felt my eyes grow dim with tears, that I dared not 
think to be of human pity. 

That far perspective in its silver atmosphere followed me 
through my waking hours and through my dreams, so that 
my mind, rejecting all lesser images, became at last a shrine 
for the holding of one jewel. I set the mirror of my metal 
day after day towards its source of light; I brooded with 
ever-increasing agony of rapture on the changeless immo- 
bility of that awful calm : stone-cold, stone-quiet, the King 
of Kings sat on his marble chair, and all the powers of death 
and the grave lay in his unlifted finger. Against the ice of 
his presence, my body burned as in a fever: a frenzy of 
love, that was half-adoration and half-passion, shook me, as 
though I were an aspen leaf in thrills of wind. 
His was the face of a god, perfect of beauty and of strength. 
At least my madness was a sublime madness, though its 
boldness were sacrilegious ; and yet it was no more than a 
far reflection I worshipped, a tiny surface-combination of 
lines and lights, removed an infinite distance in space, while 
the breathing reality was but a stone's-throw off, for ever, 
even to vision, inaccessible. 

Here was the root of bitterness : for the moment came when 
the throne-reflection seemed thin as a painted image— dis- 
torted and inadequate as the shadow beside the substance. 
My eyelids no longer ached with the stress of mere curiosity ; 
it was the soul that hungered for some nourishment beyond 



8 PAST INCARNATIONS 

the film of dreams. Before, the restlessness of ignorance 
had pricked me ; now the knowledge of my deprivation filled 
me with a vaster anguish. The metal mirror had lit a fire 
that could never cease, and that it could never satisfy ; and 
not the eyes of the African, but a new and overwhelming fear 
lest they should dare, and be blinded with the lightning of 
the gods, set a weight upon my eyelids. 
There came a long pause of war, wherein my being languished 
and flickered as though it would go out. After followed the 
Feast of Victory, and music, late into the night. Torches 
were set in the Throne-Chamber, and my belt threw off their 
flames. They burned still in that crowded stillness, and all 
the air was tense like a string that is strained. The influ- 
ence of his presence that I had lacked so long, more terrible 
and more potent, sent a wild inspiration through my every 
nerve. My notes sprang alive, buoyant, from my fingers, and 
my voice rose like the voice of a winged bird, and I sang the 
chant of victory that they sing to the chiefs in my distant 
home, and the song of the maidens to their lovers who 
return from battle, and of the lovers to their maidens, that 
my lover had once sung to me. Then suddenly I felt the 
fierce fire of the King's eyes burn to my soul, and they called 
to mine for answer, loud, insistent, all-compelling ; and in a 
sublime moment I found our glances fast interlocked, his 
and mine ; in one sublime moment I touched the very core 
of emotion, and saw into the depths of that cold aloofness, 
which was yet human, gloriously human, beyond the shining 
image of my thought. He was not altogether god— he was 
man ; and the human love, winning over the divine, leapt to 



PAST INCARNATIONS 9 

him from my eyes. For sharp rapture of poignancy, the 
moment seemed eternity ; the eyes held me dose,— close, — 
eyes icy in their indifference, terrible in their uncomprehend- 
ing calm. Then a finger lifted, and the African was beside 
me, and my passing from the chamber did not break its 
silence. 





I HE flash of the brook was like a sword. 
Between bank and bank the brook cut 
division, — division of the sword,— for my 
people dwelt on one side, and my lover's 
people on the other, and bitter war was 
between them. But neither here nor 
there was there room for me, for I had left my own house 
at call of the great chief of the enemy's host, and when 
my father would have had me back, I would not come ; and 
now my lover was dead, killed in battle, by treachery as 
I knew, for in arms he was unconquerable; and his folk 
shamed me, the stranger woman, shutting me away from 
the pomp of his obsequies, so that my grief preyed upon 
itself almost to madness, and but for the manchild I had 
borne him, I must have died. Then the great ones of his 
tribe brought me with the baby to the border that they might 
deliver me again to my own people ; and across the brook in 
the fierce light of noon I saw my father's face set like a stone, 
and the hard glint of his eyes. The words between the 
warrior parties were short and sharp, and I was bidden to 
leap the brook. Thrice I hesitated, that if there were pity 



PAST INCARNATIONS ii 

in heaven or earth it might have time to work for me a 
miracle : at last, stung by a taunt, I sprang across. And as 
I sprang, the baby in my arms, a gleaming sword seemed 
with a swish to fall athwart my life, killing my lover in me 
with a yet more terrible pang, killing happiness and youth, 
so that I staggered from the blow, and went up the bank 
feebly like an old woman. My father and the men with him 
had no hand to help me — they let me totter and sway, and 
when I joined them, turned their faces homeward without a 
word. ... So I, that had left my country crowned with the 
superb triumph of love, returned a stricken thing, an outcast, 
accounted a traitor to my kin and to my land. 
Yet I had known an ecstasy beyond the reach of any woman 
in the long stretches of the past : I had been the chosen one 
of the greatest warrior of all time : his son lay in my arms. 
The child was very fair, and for one so young, very strong ; 
he was fierce in temper like his father, — even in the chiefs 
gentler moments there had been the stress, as well as the 
glow, of noon. The same love, which in the man almost hurt 
by reason of its greatness, came sweet beyond words through 
the touch of baby-fingers and the cooing baby-voice. What 
dreams I had dreamed, blazing with light and glory, before 
the child was born ! and after, no dream seemed too wild for 
fulfilment, no hope too remote. 

. . . And now the little hillocks effaced themselves, one after 
the other, like crouching slaves ! — the over-scented air was 
slack and tame ! What place was there for my son amongst 
these keepers of sheep, who fought, not for joy, but for 
necessity ? 



12 PAST INCARNATIONS 

A sharp pang went through me, as I saw the misery of his 
fate, and at the same moment a cry struck the air. Had I 
uttered it, or the child ? He answered me with cry after cry, 
beating his hands with violence, and working himself to a 
passion greater than I had ever seen. I did not seek to 
check this outburst of nature ; the child might have of it 
relief. My father turned uneasily now and again as we 
neared the encampment : at last he hissed,—* You must stop 
the crying.* 

I had been wont to soothe my baby by the singing of lullabies, 
but the low crooning airs were vain against his cries. Striving 
only to dominate his voice, I broke into the fierce, quick strain 
of a war-chant, and then let the notes swell into long wails, 
such as they use in mourning the dead. Presently the loud 
monotony of song overbore the sobbing, and I let myself go 
in a frenzy of abandonment. The grief that had been eating 
into my heart all these black days rushed forth in a tempest 
of music that seemed to storm the world. I felt a sudden 
ease — a sudden lessening of pain. My song rose into the 
air, an agony turned into sound, a wild hymn of triumph 
rooted in the bitterness of defeat— the passion of love with 
death at its core. I walked as one in trance, almost in 
ecstasy : the child ceased crying, and then smiled and then 
laughed. 

So lost was I, that I did not perceive we were passing 
through a line of men and women, until the insult of their 
words became too loud to be ignored. They were muttered 
still, for my father was powerful, but once aware of the 
hostility on either hand, I saw under my lids the rage in 



PAST INCARNATIONS 13 

their eyes that they dared not voice. My song rose into 
defiance as the whispers thickened, until my father turned, 
and scowlingly bade me to cease. One warrior spoke 
roughly, saying it was shame to let me flaunt in their 
faces my grief for their dead enemy — shame for them to 
hearken to the dirge that made their victory : but of him 
and of the others I took little heed, for a terrible weariness 
had come upon me with the flnishing of the song. My limbs 
ached pitifully, and my head was a burning pain. I went a 
short way further, and fell. 

After a month was gone, they forbade my singing of the 
lullaby. It was no lullaby, they said, but some barbaric 
lament that I had learned of the savage tribe among whom 
I had dwelt. The insolence of my woe was a mock to them. 
I had recked little how they took my song ; I had recked 
little that its rapture of anguish left me after it was done 
like a reed beaten by the wind : for I thought that by my fire 
of singing I might nourish the boy with the stress of mighty 
emotions, so that as he grew in years he might grow in 
strength of arm and of spirit to prevail at last in the councils 
and battles of this weak race. Sometimes also I had to use 
the counter violence of my song against the violence of his 
child's passion, which increased in this land which was cruel 
and alien to him. And, therefore, for all reasons I found it 
hard to follow the decree that had gone forth against the 
singing: I felt myself become spiritless without its spur, 
lapsing once more into dull, brooding misery : and the child 
drooped before my eyes. 
Then it became my practice to take him out into the wilder- 



14 PAST INCARNATIONS 

ness, away beyond the hearing of men, and there to sing my 
lullaby under the bare skies and by the blank pools,— to make 
myself empty as a shell and let the sounds of the world pour 
through me, and all the sorrow that has ever been for love 
that is lost, which is held in the core of the wind. The child 
would laugh, and his eyes brighten, and the colour return to 
his cheeks, for he was of that glorious race to whom fierce- 
ness of emotion is a greatness and a joy. With evening we 
would make our way back, he shouting in my arms, I 
staggering under his weight, very weak, but not wholly 
wretched. 

This thing became known, and they followed me, and once 
more forbade the lullaby with cruel threats that if the decree 
were broken again the child and I should be left in the 
wilderness to perish. 

So I let the child pine and fret, and in the watches of the 
night, instead of my singing, the people heard its crying ; and 
once when I went past two women gossiping at the well the 
malice of their whisper reached me — * They will surely die.' 
Then I saw how worn and pale the boy was, and my own 
shadow how thin ; and I wondered if it were better to go out 
like a sick fire, or in one great flash, like the lightning. 
That night I felt my heart breaking with the loneliness and 
longing of love. The child tossed and moaned, and now I 
had pity for him, and I murmured at first a low lullaby, 
hardly above my breath, to soothe him, for it was long — long 
— long — since he had slept. But he took no heed until the 
song increased in force, and even then he did not sleep at 
once ; and by that time the tide of music welled so fiercely in 



PAST INCARNATIONS 15 

me that it was beyond me to control. Once more I abandoned 
myself to the dreadful rapture of the lullaby, uttering the 
misery of us both into the air in one last, desperate agony. 
Now there was movement outside and the clash of arms, and 
I knew that the threshold was passed, and that nothing 
could save us. A great recklessness came upon me, and 
seizing the child in my arms I went out into the night, and 
up and down between the tents, up and down, up and down, 
chanting the war-chant of the enemy, wailing the long notes 
of sorrow for the dead. I saw the glitter of eyes watching 
me everywhere, like the eyes of beasts in a jungle, but all 
the night there was no spring of beast, nor fastening of 
tooth or claw. At dawn men closed in upon me painfully, 
confusedly, and brought me, still carrying the child, with 
horrid din into the open. A bitter way they forced me with 
words and curses : then I remember silence where they left 
me, and the sharpness of stone against my naked feet. I 
stumbled on in a world empty except for the bare skies 
and the blank pools where we had come to die : numbly I 
watched the light flicker from night to day and from day to 
night. . . . 




THE CRUCIFIX GAVE, NIGHT AND DAY, 

A PALE INTERIOR LIGHT 



<5^ 



Page 18 





^•^>^ 




III 

|H£ crucifix gave, night and day, a pale 
interior light, so that I was independent 
of the outer light that only sparsely 
penetrated to me. I had been built into 
my cell, which was within the convent 
church: walls ten feet high were about 
me, and over them flowed in great waves the rolling music 
of the Mass. The atmosphere was heavy and sacred with 
incense: a darkness almost tangible, washed with misty 
gold, reached me when the candles burned on the high 
altar, and the attenuated day came to me a clouded grey, 
that still held at its core some reminiscence of holy colour 
—of blue and of red and of green— out of those great 
stained windows that I could not see, that told the tale of 
the Birth, and the Death, and the Resurrection. 
I had chosen the rule of the anchoress in my order, as being 
the most strict to discipline my weakness, that I might 
receive no distraction from the outer world but the food 
necessary to keep the body in life, and the one word with 
the sister who passed it through the grating. For, when I 
took my vows, the flesh was strong against the spirit, and 
I knew I should find no peace until earthly desires were dug 
out to the very roots and wholly consumed. And so I shut 

Page 19 




20 PAST INCARNATIONS 

away the visible temptations and glories of the world, and 
raised barriers of stone between myself and that possessing 
face, whose fierce and passionate entreaty threatened my sal- 
vation, and whose importunity I found no other way to resist. 
But at first the walls availed me nothing ; the world that I 
had renounced beset my senses with a more sharp intensity ; 
the face that I should never see again recurred and recurred 
in memory, stabbing me with the anguish of irretrievable 
loss. All the impressions of sights and of sounds that I 
had thought would prove evanescent, came tumultuously 
back upon me with a vividness and poignancy exciting 
almost to frenzy. Those few flagstones of holy church 
were turned to a battlefield where the fiends fought for my 
soul; they stuffed my ears with the blare of trumpet at 
tourney, so that for whole days the healing music of the 
Mass went by me unheeded; they filled my eyes with the 
pomp of processions,— the splendour of faces virile with the 
pride of life, — the wonder of rich brocades, — the glitter of 
arms ; nor could even the crucifix prevail against the intoler- 
able movement and brilliance that tortured my imagination. 
Sometimes, at the suggestion of the evil ones, hideous 
blasphemies rose to my lips, and I told my rosary beads to 
curses, or arraigned heaven with madness of imprecation. 
Yet the strength that lay deeper than their power could reach 
never wholly failed, and at last the worst paroxysms gave 
place to an ecstasy of prayer, that partook too much of the 
violence it succeeded,— that strove to clutch at heaven, but 
only in the hope of finding a brief respite from hell. Then 
I would kneel before the crucifix for days together, pressing 



PAST INCARNATIONS 21 

my hands against the nails that nailed the feet to the Cross, 
until the blood flowed from my lacerated palms; and out 
of this pain there grew with the lapse of time an intimate 
mystical comprehension of His sufferings, and my own grew 
less and less as my sympathies slowly widened to embrace 
this Crucified Figure that came to save a crucified world. 
He took upon Himself my anguish, and the salt bitterness 
ebbed away, leaving behind a great radiance of peace, — a 
peace terrible in its sweetness, that led me over heights 
infinitely pale and lonely. And now the music of the chants 
stirred within me visions and emotions more penetrating and 
marvellous than those which arrive through the channels of 
the senses : the clink of the swinging censer, and the sound 
of the bell at the elevation of the Host, lifted me ever higher 
into the unbearable zone of light that is around the throne. 
The sweep of the nuns' dresses over the stones, bringing 
me back to earth, was balm to my immeasurable weakness 
— I needed the sense of gentle human presences after the 
tension of a bliss I could not yet sustain. 
Then followed, one after the other, long years of inter- 
cession and of praise. In periods of trance the days and 
nights flitted by me with the brush of angels' wings — 
flights intricate with silver and shadow, followed by vague 
confusion of golden pinions beating through the dark. Yet 
lest my feeble powers should dissipate in the vast regions 
which were so near to me, and my prayers fall short and lose 
their efficacy, wanting a definite form, I chose to make the 
village near by, which clung about the hill where my father's 
castle stood, the centre of my entreaties, praying for the 



22 PAST INCARNATIONS 

poor and the miserable and the diseased, that I had half- 
seen down foetid alleys as I rode forth to the chase. So for 
these people, for these my people, I importuned Heaven 
with passionate fervour, with persistency of appeal, implor- 
ing pity for their sufferings, forgiveness for their sins; 
imposing upon myself penances for their misdeeds, taking 
upon myself the burdens that oppressed them, bearing for 
their sakes the cross of affliction, and the frequent darkness 
of spiritual despair. So I agonised for them during the 
years ; and ten times the awful masses of Good Friday fell 
upon the soul, monotonous, like the falling of earth upon a 
grave. But after this a strange light began to mingle with 
my vision of the little village ; in the faces of the people, still 
vivid to my imagination, there appeared a new peace; the 
very stones of the streets and the rafters of the houses were 
luminous. Sometimes the hill seemed to uproot itself and 
hang before me suspended, transfigured, in a radiance that 
was not of earth ; and I took this for a sign that my prayers 
had been heard in high heaven, and that the blessing of God 
rested upon the people for whom I so fervently strove. Yet 
my ardour never relaxed, and the music often Easter Sundays 
crowned me with more and more triumphal acclaim. Then 
I heeded time no longer, living above it in the peace that 
passes all understanding. 

Thus the unwonted sounds of the noise of the falling of 
great masses of masonry, the wild cries of the nuns, and 
raucous laughter, beat for some time against my conscious- 
ness before penetrating it. At last I was aware that I was 
in the midst of some horrible tragedy, and thought that hell 



PAST INCARNATIONS 23 

had engulfed us all. Only the outline of my cell in the dim 
light, the roof of the convent church, the shining crucifix, 
forced me to grope back to the realities of material life. 
Now I knew that I had had no food for a long time, and that 
some overwhelming misfortune must have threatened and 
had fallen. Tales came back to me out of the past, of 
convents that were sacked and the nuns carried off: I 
recognised with dreadful certainty that this unthinkable evil 
was actually upon our house, and threw myself before the 
crucifix in anguished prayer for my sisters that were beyond 
all human help, and that God was calling to Himself through 
the most terrible of martyrdoms. My way of death by starva- 
tion would be slower, unless the divine mercy allowed in this 
cataclysm of horror the soul to escape from my quivering 
body that writhed on the stones, helpless, beyond all power 
of spiritual control. 

The glare of red lights began to leap over the walls of the 
cell. I think I must have swooned, for I heard no more, 
until a volume of sound in my very ears roused me. . . . 
They were digging me out of my grave. . . . With a supreme 
effort I dragged myself up from the ground to face them, 
and a horde of men rushed in upon the spot I had made holy 
with my penances and my prayers. In the fierce light of the 
torches they waved before me I caught glimpses of faces 
dreadful, bestial, glutted with lust and with blood. But they 
came no nearer; one laughed loudly, almost wildly; the 
others fell back, and as I staggered towards them, gave me 
way, and I crossed the church, aflare with riot, unmolested, 
and fell somewhere on grass outside. 



24 PAST INCARNATIONS 

Next I foiind myself wandering, dazed and swaying, in a 
little wood. It was daytime; the air struck upon my face 
with a softness so healing and delicious that tears came to 
my eyes: dimly between these there floated before me a 
world exquisite and radiant, and I half deemed myself in 
Paradise. A tiny stream, coloured with the sky, babbled 
along ; the sky itself stood shyly at the top of the slopes 
where the trees opened. The crystal note of a bird seemed 
to buoy itself along reaches of sunshine, and in the branches, 
and in the red leaves on the ground, there was the rustle 
of life. 

Then suddenly there broke through the underwood beyond 
the stream a woman, and after her a man in pursuit ; and I 
remembered all that had passed, and old thoughts came 
back to me, how beauty was but an illusion to snare the 
soul into false delights. The village lay, as I fancied, 
beyond the near hill, and if my strength could attain it, my 
people, to whom I had given my life, would succour my 
distress, and build for me a little cell on the outskirt of the 
wood, where I might see the sky and hear the birds, who 
after all are God's creatures too. 

I could scarce make any way against the weight of my long 
garments, heavy with the dew; a faintness was upon me, 
but my will was strong to see once more before I died, in 
very reality, the little village of my vision, transfigured by 
my prayers, clinging to the hillside in a halo of light. 
Struggling along almost unconscious, with pitiful ache in 
every limb, I perceived at length a landscape of more familiar 
outline ; but I thought the veil of death was already on my 



PAST INCARNATIONS 25 

eyes, for the village was blurred, and swam uncertainly 
before me. The nearness of the goal spurred me to one last 
effort, and I took the smoke that almost blinded me for the 
shadows of the Great Valley. My bare feet felt the cobble- 
stones, — a burning rafter crashed in my path. Instinctively 
I drew within a deep embrasure, and saw, in one flash of 
realisation, the piled corpses in the streets, the wretched 
people driven out by the flames to be slaughtered without 
distinction of age or sex. For these I had agonised, for 
these I had wrestled in prayer, for these I had poured out 
my life-blood before the throne. 

Then, through that red carnage and heat, a cold wind struck 
me, and as I shivered I stiffened. 




THE SEA HAD ALWAYS 

POSSESSED MY THOUGHTS 



Page 28 




LAY along the rocks, and leaned my hand 
over till it reached the waters. The grey 
sky was low upon the grey sea. I shut 
my eyes, and felt the cold, slow movement 
of the waves through all my body. What 
far strands did they touch, these waves, 
remote from the monotony of our shores ? 
The sea had always possessed my thoughts. In childhood 
it was haunted to me by the black and terrifying mystery 
that ever threatened its horizon. For when they took me 
to the little church, and I heard the people praying, ' God, 
deliver us from the wild Northmen ! ' I clamoured to know 
what the prayer meant ; and they told me how at times the 
sea would grow dark with pirate-ships, and part before the 
fierceness of their onslaught ; and how the sea-wolves who 
manned them would bring fire and ruin to quiet places, 
slaying the men, and carrying off the women to slavery. 
These words, not rightly understood, filled me with the huge 
and vague imaginings that make childhood horrible, and 
night was big with indefinable fears. For whole months I 
dared not lift my eyes over the sea lest a still more terrifying 
reality should meet them. Perhaps it was because I avoided 
the sight of the sea, that it claimed an increasing empire 

Pa^e 29 




30 PAST INCARNATIONS 

over my thoughts. As I grew older I used to join with 
passionate, if uncomprehending, fervour in the prayer that 
came straight out of the hearts of the people,—* God, deliver 
us from the wild Northmen 1 ' 

My feeling towards the sea changed, I think, on a day of 
silver, when the calmness quivered a little, and faint clouds 
floated in a high, liquid sky. I remember looking out over 
the waters, half-curious, half-fearful. How wonderful, how 
thrilling, if I were to see the first shadow of one of those 
strange ships, coming, no man knew whence, to return, no 
man knew whither ! I played with the thought, excited and 
trembling. I was yet a child: and to stand ever on the 
threshold of so dreadful a possibility, lent a glamour to the 
long dulness of the empty days. And now the prayer, 
* God, deliver us from the wild Northmen ! ' sent through the 
tedium of the service a sharp emotion; my imagination 
heard shrieks and the din of weapons, and saw flames leap- 
ing in a deep night. 

So I passed from childhood to girlhood; and after long 
freedom from danger the fear of a raid began to fade from 
men's minds. Still they prayed the prayer, but in repetition 
it had grown mechanical ; travellers no more came carrying 
tales of villages destroyed by these devastators, whose force 
and courage was as the sea's in storm; and day followed 
changeless day, and month, month; year grew into year, 
each the exact counterpart of the last. A weariness was 
upon me, because of this endless monotony of shifting time. 
And since the danger was now no more thought of, it 
seemed to me no wrong, as I lay along the rocks, touching 



PAST INCARNATIONS 31 

the waters with my fingers, to dream of those pirates who 
grasped life at its hot intensity, felt the fire and the sting of 
it, and terrible as the elements, roused in men a frenzy of 
fear. I thought of these sea-wolves the more gladly, in that 
our men were tame and spiritless, sunk in lethargy, and only 
to be stirred by the stress of vital peril. And soon a bitter 
impatience was upon me, and I sprang up and scanned the 
clouded horizon. It was darkening towards twilight, and 
the tract of cheerless sea was bare. What did I seek? 
What did I desire ? What shadow did I strive to image in 
the far sea-mist ? 

Night came down upon an empty world. Now I had 
fathomed my being to its depths; and the prayer of the 
people, 'God, deliver us from the wild Northmen!' must 
henceforth be a mockery on my lips ; for I knew that my 
soul cried out for this one supreme moment of ecstasy and 
anguish— my blood craved this last wild gallop of excite- 
ment; I knew that I longed for the coming of the black 
vessels upon the barren line of sea, and for the leaping of 
the pirate-wolves upon our tame strands. Even in child- 
hood this imagination had taken hold of me, turning all my 
terrors in one direction ; and now these terrors had changed 
to a sharp-edged romance. No prisoner had returned out 
of that viking land, to say what manner of place it was : the 
secret of its mystery was dark and unfathomable as the 
grave. These men came, inevitable as death, and went, 
leaving death along their track. I realised how, beside 
this mystery, the common life had come to mean so mono- 
tonous and poor a thing ; I understood wh the men who 



32 PAST INCARNATIONS 

wooed me appeared so thin of substance and so weak of 
spirit. 

Then rumours drifted to us, blown I know not whence, that 
the raids had begun again, fiercer and more daring than 
before. A stillness of terror was upon our village, and in all 
men's faces the strain and pallor of fear. Many planned for 
a flight to the woods at the first certainty of danger, for 
even the boldest hearts deemed resistance to be impossible. 
One night there came a fugitive flying from a village which 
used to stand not thirty miles distant— which stood no 
more, but was marked by smouldering ashes. Of all that 
village he only had escaped ; but power was gone from him 
to make a tale that was clear, or to say what might help to 
wise action the minds of our chief men. But on his story 
many of the villagers fled to the woods, taking with them 
what provisions and goods they could bear; a few others, 
deeming that the pirates might have put again to sea, or 
might not come our way, stayed in the village, and I with 
them. Often now men and women stood on the low line of 
rocks, scanning the horizon ; yet I was the first to see that 
dark shadow, over which I had brooded so long, turn from 
dream into actuality. Some seconds I thrilled to the con- 
sciousness of this supreme danger, swiftly, irrevocably 
approaching upon us ; then with little moans and frightened 
cries the others fled away, and I watched the viking-ship 
alone. Almost I could discern its movement, almost I 
could divine the gleaming helmet-lights, when a hand was 
laid roughly on my shoulder, and turning, I saw him who 
of all others had been most persistent in his wooing. 



PAST INCARNATIONS 33 

' Come ! ' he commanded in a voice that was strange to me ; 
and through my excitement I saw him taller and nobler 
than before — so changed, that I hardly knew him. But 
nevertheless, shaking him off with scorn, I told him I would 
wait the coming of the ship ; for that the soul of me craved 
to see men that were indeed men, and not hares. He grew 
pale at this, and made as if to seize me by force : I sprang 
on the extreme verge of rock, and dared his approach. 
Muttering to himself words, amongst which I heard 

* Death!' and 'Shame!' he came a step closer. 'Not 
shame,' I answered him, 'not shame, — but death!* For 
now, when almost the keel grated upon the strand, my heart 
failed me lest the tragedy should show itself not sublime, as 
I had dreamed it, but only ugly, as I now saw possible ; and 
I was minded to throw myself into the sea. But he was too 
quick for me, and clasping me, drew me from the edge. 

* Death for both, if you will it so, beloved,' he whispered. 
My eyes were drawn to his, and then my wildest dreams, 
my fairest imaginings, were surpassed: I touched the 
highest point of being, and all things were forgotten in an 
eternity that lasted one brief moment. 

Then I saw men running towards us over the sands, and the 
evil of their eyes : my lover's knife gleamed above me, and 
struck. 





]H£ chill light of dawn stole through the 
shutterless window. We had broken up 
the shutters for firewood in the long frost. 
The room looked very dreary. On the 
table were the bits of black bread we had 
tried to eat overnight, but we were both 
too tired, and the hard food choked us. The thimbleful 
of milk I had managed to get for Jean's supper was not 
quite dry on the board where he had knocked it over. 
Neither of us had undressed before going to bed. Through 
the numbness that was upon me after extreme fatigue — 
for I had been working all day in the fields— I felt dimly 
how Jean was tossing and tossing beside me through the 
short night; but my senses were dulled, and till dawn I 
lay in semi - oblivion. But with waking, if waking it 
could be called, came misery. I dragged myself up, my 
limbs trembling and aching beneath me; and to the old 
hopelessness that faced me was added a new horror of 
myself that I should have grown so careless as to lie down 
in my earth-soiled clothes without brushing my hair, or 
setting the room tidy. I had blamed other women when 
hardship had made them abandon their struggles after dean- 

34 



PAST INCARNATIONS 35 

liness and decency ; yet many of these had to see the hunger 
of their children, and to bear the harshness of their 
husbands. We had no children, — and Jean . . . Last 
night, it is true, he was impatient . . . unlike himself; but 
then, he had been doing a long corvee for the lord, and the 
forced labour exhausted his mind with indignation as well 
as his body with fatigue. I went over to the bed. He was 
asleep now, but very restless, muttering words and plucking 
at the clothes. I noticed in the grey light how terribly drawn 
and thin his young face had grown. Well, at least no ugly 
sight should meet his waking : I would put on a fresh dress, 
I would borrow some milk from a neighbour for his break- 
fast. I might leave him to sleep, perhaps, an hour longer ; 
then he must get up, for unless we were to strain every 
muscle, we could not keep starvation at bay. 
A cold mist lay on the land as I took the bucket to the well. 
The wretched harvest, not yet cut, shivered in the low fields. 
All the summer, hailstones and cruel drought had been 
fighting against the earth, and the thin poverty of the rye 
and oats that survived was scarcely life. There was not a 
touch of gold in the colour, and the stretch of fields looked 
bleared and haggard. The water spilled about the well 
nourished a rich growth of nettles and docks, which none 
had the energy to clear. I filled my bucket, but after I had 
carried it a few steps I had to rest. All my strength had 
ebbed out of me. Going very slowly, and with frequent 
pauses, I nearly got it to the cottage. Then I tripped and 
overturned it. I sat down on the bank, and the stupor came 
over me, so that it seemed impossible I should move all day : 



36 PAST INCARNATIONS 

but after what must have been a considerable time I roused 
myself and went again to the well. In lowering the bucket 
my wedding-ring slipped off my finger into the water. I felt 
a pang and a fear, and looked with curiosity at my shrunken 
hand ; but indifference quickly followed, and with a little 
water in the bottom of the bucket I returned home. It was 
with great weariness of effort that I put on a washed dress, 
and made the room tidy. There was no time now to get the 
milk,— the neighbours were a long way off, and Jean must 
not sleep longer. I put my hand softly on his shoulder. 
*Jean, Jean!' I said. He did not answer. I shook him 
gently, and he waked. *Let me be,' he answered sullenly. 
*You must get up,— it is late, — you have slept too long 
already,' I said, but he turned away from me. ' I shall sleep 
all day,' he told me. 

* But the work,— the work ! ' I exclaimed, * I could do so little, 
—and now I can do no more.' ' It 's no use, it 's all over,' he 
muttered. * We 've tried,we 've done our best ; but this is the 
end. Leave me, for God's sake ; I think I can get to sleep.' 
'Dear, it is not the end yet,— it need never be the end. Rouse 
yourself, Jean,— you must, you must 1 ' 
He shook me off. 'It's no use, no use ever again,' he 
murmured, * I meant to tell you last night . . . but I couldn't. 
. . . Can't you see I'm weary to death? Let me get a 
moment of rest . . . while I can.' 

He looked so ill and so worn that a great pity came over me 
for him and a great surge of love. Forgetting all wise and 
practical cares, I laid my cheek against his cheek. It was 
burning with fever. How after that could I make him go 



PAST INCARNATIONS 37 

out into the chill fields? . . . And yet, and yet. . . . We 
should never be able to make good these days. The wolf 
pursued so close behind that even a brief halt would bring 
him up, ready to spring. And then ... it was dreadful to 
me that Jean should stay in bed. So Pierre had stayed in 
bed, since it seemed to him useless to get up, and his wife 
and his children,— and they had died. But that was in the 
winter, and bed at least was a little warm. I remembered 
how in the spring Marcel had stayed in bed ... it meant 
the abandonment of the last hope, the final surrender. And 
now Jean! He was tired, I knew, tired to the point of 
fever ; but if the will once gave, I did not see how it would 
ever be able to resume power. That meant drifting lower 
and lower, until death clutched one. I was not afraid of 
death if I could meet it with self-respect, but to lapse into it 
through self-indulgence, degradation, dirt! . . . Jean must 
get up, he must get up ! 

But now he had fallen into a deep peace. He breathed 
evenly, and there was content in his face. I could not wake 
him again. 

I opened the door. A dim sun flitted like the ghost of itself 
about the fields. It struck a sense of warmth into me, and I 
leaned against the lintel, and allowed myself to taste the 
deliciousness of giving in. No more frantic strain, no more 
spurring the rebellious body to impossible tasks; no more 
hideous cares for the future, but absolute quiescence, un- 
broken rest. The sun's heat still tempered, the sun's light 
still veiled, penetrated my body, soothing it inexpressibly; 
and I fell into a doze, leaning against the lintel of the door. 



38 PAST INCARNATIONS 

I partially awoke to the tonic quality of a voice ringing in my 
ears. It was so full of vigour and of joyous health that even 
to listen to the tone of it sent the blood coursing more 
quickly through the veins. The voices of the neighbours 
were thin, — even the voices of the young men had a 
querulous note : the voice I waked to was in itself a 
stimulant to the senses, and at first I did not hear the words 
that were spoken, but listened immovable to the voice, with 
closed eyes. Another voice broke upon the first— a voice I 
recognised with terror — the voice of the lord's overseer, a 
man who bore upon the poor people with a cruel oppression. 

* It is Jean Bonvoisin's cottage,' the overseer was saying, 

* the man who dared to speak to your lordship yesterday.' 

* The insolent dog who defied me ! ' exclaimed the first voice, 

* and that young woman by the door, — who is she ? ' 
' His wife, seigneur,' replied the overseer. 

' Much too pretty and delicate a flower for a cottage garden,' 
broke in another young man's voice. 'Come, Henri, that 
low-born ruffian deserves some punishment, — let us give his 
charming lady a ride to the castle.' 

* I bade them trample down his field,' said the lord, * but your 
suggested punishment offers promise of better sport. Wake 
her, and bring her to us.* 

... If I were to scream, Jean would come out, and they 
would kill him. I had no knife to kill myself. I opened my 
eyes as the overseer seized me. The lord, as I guessed him 
to be, and another lord, were sitting on horseback in the 
road. It seemed they had just come from the chase, — I 
could hear the distant baying of the hounds. I had never 



PAST INCARNATIONS 39 

seen men so full-blooded and handsome, or such richness of 

dress. I knew a mortal terror. 

'Well, my pretty one,' said the lord, 'this fine husband of 

yours has no doubt told you of his own undoing, and my 

mind was to ruin you both ; but then, I had not guessed how 

graceful a lily flowered under his cottage-roof.' 

'If you will show mercy and pardon him, seigneur,' I 

murmured, though I could hardly speak the words for fear, 

'we will pray for you every day of our lives.' 

' You are the price,' said the lord, ' I pardon your husband 

if you come with me.* 

' Lift her on my horse ! ' cried the other lord, ' to parley on 

these matters is absurd.' 

' I do not go,' I whispered. But the overseer had me in his 

arms. I did not call to Jean. There were three men, and 

he was only one. The end would be the same, but I should 

see him killed first. He must be sleeping very soundly, for 

the lords spoke in loud voices, and the tramping of the 

horses made a sound like thunder. Then the other lord took 

hold of me by the arms to lift me up beside him. With a 

sudden movement I managed to slip from his grasp, and fell 

on the ground under the horse's feet. I think the horse 

bolted, for I heard a cry, and a great whirring of noise : then 

the hoof of the other horse struck my forehead with a heavy 

blow. 



THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 




A LOCK OF HAIR, BROUGHT ME IN THAT 
TENDER WAY BY THE BILL OF A BIRD 




Page 42 





THE CURL 

were sitting on the terrace of an old 
French chateau, sipping coffee and smok- 
ing cigarettes. It was a hot autumn after- 
noon. The tapestries of the woods were 
worked in the faded colours of decay ; they 
rustled with the sentiment of the lost, the 
past, and the dead. The warm sun had raised a wavering 
veil of moisture about them, and in allowing for its influence 
one was inclined to exaggerate the definition of leaf-line 
underneath, — that delicate definition, incident on the sparse- 
ness of autumn, which charges the smiling abundance of 
summer with the first exquisite thinness of renunciation, to 
sharpen later into the hard features of winter asceticism. 
Beneath the tobacco smoke my old friend's face showed 
shrivelled and wrinkled with a like delicacy of line. Its 
sentiment of expression was almost one with the sentiment 
of this essentially French moment of the year. The woods 
were sad, but they were more happy than sad; with them 
it was the time of dreams, and they were haunted by the 
fragile loves of a vanished spring. The sorrow that was in 
them was plaintive, wistful, — almost a tender impersonation : 
theirs was the sentiment of sorrow, its iridescence and play, 
unconscious of any depth or darkness of suffering. 

Page 43 




44 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

It was forty years since I had met Louis de Brissac. In 
Paris, as young men, we had been close friends. I had gone 
over to study in the French capital, and from the very first 
Louis had won me to him by the charming romance of his 
friendship for me. Since that time, during the long years in 
India, men had come near to the fibre and core of me through 
mutual danger and mutual endurance ; I had felt the stir of 
those silent friendships whose most open manifestation is 
a firmer hand-grip, an understanding eye-glance. Beside 
these hidden vital emotions the memories of my Paris friend 
were as pale-coloured as his autumn woods, but yet in these 
far-off memories there was a sweet fragrance which the 
robuster attachments lacked. Louis had written to me 
regularly for years and years : I had whole boxes of letters 
in his fine, pointed handwriting. He was expansive, and 
thought no detail too trivial for my interest : not only was I 
familiar with the administration of his estate down to the 
minutest particular, but also his whole mental life, with all 
its philosophic doubts and conjectures, was laid open before 
me. The letters were written with flow and lucidity ; they 
were full of keen observation and admirable criticism of life 
and books. But partly through lack of time, partly through 
difficulty of composition in the French language, and mostly 
through constitutional self-repression, my replies were, I 
fear, somewhat bald and brief. Then, during a period of 
extended travel, I missed several of his letters, and, having 
no incentive to write to him, I let the correspondence end. 
On my return from India the London doctors advised me 
to try the waters at Vichy, and thither I repaired, intending 



THE CURL 45 

to find out if my old friend still lived in the neighbourhood. 
On the very first evening I came across him unexpectedly. 
I had dropped into the Cercle Priv^ to watch the gambling, 
and amid the grasping and repulsive faces of those present 
my attention was attracted by an old man of great bene- 
volence of aspect. I could not be mistaken. I knew him at 
once, in spite of his white hair and his wrinkles. The 
peculiar charm, the dash of melancholy happiness, that had 
always belonged to Louis, were there still, more marked than 
ever. He was playing the game with a childish pleasure, — 
staking deliberately, but not high. He had evidently set a 
limit to his losses, for presently he came over, with a pleasant 
word to a friend or two, toward the window where I was 
standing. 

* Louis ! ' I said, touching his arm. 

He looked at me for a moment quite blankly. Then his face 
grew irradiated. * Richard ! ' he said, pronouncing the name 
French fashion. * It is Richard,— my friend Richard Wright ! 
My poor Richard, but how you have changed ! ' 
I smiled. ' Well, it is forty years,' I replied. 

* And to meet you here ! ' he continued. * I always dine here 
when I come to Vichy on business. And I play a little. It 
is excitement. If you win, excitement ; if you lose, more 
excitement. . . . My friend Richard Wright ! . . . I am over- 
whelmed! . . . You must come home with me to-night. 
Why, I insist,— I absolutely insist. My carriage is here. 
There is a room ready for you. It is too great happiness to 
have you with me at the Chateau de La Tour.' 

There was no resisting the pressure of his invitation, his 



46 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

faithfulness of friendship. I consented, though quizzically, 
half doubtful what manner of welcome I should receive from 
Madame or Mademoiselle de Brissac. I supposed, of course, 
that Louis had married in the long interval since we had 
ceased to correspond, — that he had children. But I was 
wrong. I found the chateau presided over by an old butler 
and his wife, who superintended the servants. 
And so, on the next day, looking out on that delicate autumn 
landscape, so full of vague and lovely regrets, I felt impelled 
to break our silence with the remark, * So there never was a 
woman in your life ? ' 

A greater sweetness came into my friend's face. 'Yes, 
Richard, there was,— and is,* he replied. *I will tell you 
about her when we go in. You will think it — you may think 
it — rather a delightful story. Perhaps you will only laugh 
at me. . . . And you, my friend, — you have never married 
either? No, no ... do not answer me. I see I have 
touched pain. I would not have you speak out of a sore 
wound. I want to know no more. Forgive me, — forgive 
me!' 

' You are— happy in her ? ' I asked in a low voice. 
* But you must hear the beginning,— you must see,' said 
Louis. * Tell me, did my last letters make mention of any 
hobby of mine ? ' 

I reflected a moment. 'A hobby?' I repeated, a little 
puzzled. 

'Why, yes: one must have a hobby, — birds' eggs,' said 
Louis. ' It is a hobby full of poetry, of romance, of senti- 
ment. When I was young, it took me out into the open 



THE CURL 47 

woods, out in the springtime, out in the early morning. 
Every specimen I collected made me more exquisitely aware 
of the marvels of creation, and woke in me new wonder for 
nature's supreme artistry of colour and curve. Have you ever 
pondered over a bird's egg, Richard, — over the frail brittle- 
ness that encloses the germ of sublime music? As the 
crinkled shell is characteristic of the crisp ocean,— as it is 
thin, but of infinite resistance, and shaded mainly with the 
yellow and red hues of sand, — so the bird's egg is charac- 
teristic of the softer contours of the land, and memories 
of leaves and skies are blended in the greens and blues 
of its shell.' 

'That seems to me . . . just a little fanciful,' I protested; 
'but to tell the truth, I have not given the subject any 
attention.' 

* I will show you my collection presently,' said Louis. ' I 
am arranging and classifying it now. Of course I am too 
old to get any more specimens myself, and I fear to employ 
the village lads, lest they should be lacking in wise dis- 
cretion. But believe me, Richard, on the most bitter 
winter's day my birds' eggs are potent to bring the spring 
vividly before me. Within these fragile cases, I whisper 
to myself, there lives in essence the whole magic of spring 
—its crystal-dear calls, its high and liquid notes, its flash 
of lark mounting into the sky, all its varieties of faint 
flutterings among new leaves. I touch my eggs and say, 
"Thrush, finch, wood-dove": and the pressure of woven 
nests grows round me, and I see the green-cradled baby- 
hood of birds.' 



48 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

' I wonder,' I said, * that you ever found the will to take and 
blow the eggs ? ' 

'Ah,' Louis replied, 'you are too prosaic. I take but one 
egg of many ; with us scientific interest does not necessarily 
kill sentiment. And the birds do not resent it; they have 
been kind to me, kind beyond expression. They have given 
me a gift. I have told you this that you may be in the right 
mood to understand. Come in, now ; I will show you.' 
Together we went into the chateau. It seemed to me 
charged with an atmosphere of old-world sentiment, con- 
ventionalised by the lines of ancient perpendicular wall 
papers, of panels and parquets of oak,— dim hand-worked 
tapestries reproduced within-doors the rapture of autumnal 
decay. A sombre richness had grown about the greens and 
blues of the threads, like an emergent shadow ; there was 
the pallor of exhaustion in the blanched yellows and waning 
whites. Everywhere huge potpourri of roses renewed about 
the corridors the sentiment of the lost, the past, the dead ; 
giving for the passionate beauty of June an attenuated 
sweetness, grown a little sickly in heavy confinement. 
Louis led me up the stone staircase to a long, bare room, 
arranged as a museum, with a number of cases containing 
birds' eggs. It was inconceivable to me how any one could 
extract a dream of springtime from so arid a spectacle. 
Louis drew me over to a table upon which stood a casket 
jewelled with small turquoises : this he opened with a key. 
Within lay a curl of golden hair tied with a piece of faded 
blue ribbon. 
'She is with me always,' he said dreamily; 'her sunny 



THE CURL 49 

presence pervades the house ; I almost think, at times, I see 
her flitting up and down the staircase. Before, I was lonely, 
— lonely and often bitter,— but since she came all has been 
changed.' 

'Your dead wife,' I said reverently, for the moment for- 
getting. 

' No, no ; I was never married. I told you that. But I did 
not tell you why. There was consumption in our family. I 
consulted a doctor after you left Paris. ... I did not think 

I was justified ' 

I grasped Louis' hand. * My friend, my friend, how could I 
guess at so deep a tragedy?' I exclaimed, deeply moved. 
Here indeed was courage, heroism. ' I fancied,— forgive me, 
— I fancied you had not known real suffering. My own 
case ... I have loved too.' 

' But ... let me finish. I think you mistake. I never loved 
... in the flesh,' he interrupted hastily. * That would have 
been terrible, terrible. I could not have conquered a great 
passion. I think I should have killed myself.' He touched 
the curl. ' I never saw her,' he went on. * I found this . . . 
just as it is now . . . tied up with blue ribbon ... in the 
nest of a bird. That is my romance, Richard, — the whole of 
my romance.* 

* But— I don't understand ! ' I gasped. 

* It gave me something tangible to build upon,— a lock of 
hair, brought me in that tender way by the bill of a bird, 
associated with all that is dear and beautiful and wonderful 
to me. I think : this bit of sunshine in the soft moss of a 
nest, a golden pillow for wee feathered things. She would 

G 



50 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

be pretty, with such hair! She has blue eyes and gentle 
ways ; she has changed a little during the long years she has 
been with me, but always she is young, always she is sweet 
and lovable, with golden hair. Her gentle companionship 
has grown dearer to me, and dearer ; her voice is the blended 
voice of all birds, and the lightness of the birds is in her step, 
and their timidity and soft, nestling ways.' 
' But it is a dream ! ' I exclaimed. 

* Perhaps. Still, there is the curl,' he said. Then he put his 
hand on my arm. ' It puzzles you,' he continued, with a 
whimsical smile. ' No Englishman is like that : you are 
material, and must have the substance ; you do not under- 
stand that a dream has as actual an existence as a reality. 
We have the better of you, dear Richard, in this : we have 
found one secret of happiness.' 

' If there had ever really been a woman,' I began. 

* I know. This could not have happened,' he said gravely, 
'it could never have happened in that case, and I should 
have suffered — like you.' 

I took up the curl, examining it curiously. At one time I 
had given some study to physiology. ' But this is not 
woman's hair,' I remarked, without thought. 
Louis grew pale. ' Not woman's hair I ' 
Then I realised the mischief I had done. I cursed myself 
inwardly that in a moment of recklessness I had shattered 
the whole fabric of his life's dream. It is, of course, easy 
enough to tell from a lock of hair the age and sex of the 
owner when it was cut off, and it was quite evident that this 
curl had been taken from the head of a young child. But 



THE CURL 51 

why had I not had the wit to keep the discovery to myself? 
Why must I burst in with my crude science upon this 
delicate, incomprehensible romance ? 
' Not woman's hair ! ' repeated Louis. 

' It is the hair of a child,— of a young child,— about seven 
years old,' I said dully. 'O Louis, I should not have 
spoken." 

He looked dazed, bewildered. The next moment he was 
wringing my hand ecstatically. There were tears in his eyes. 
* Richard, Richard,' he cried, ' I had never thought of that, — 
a child ! We pass the time ... for loving women, and some- 
times I have felt . . . lately . . . that an old grey- haired 
curmudgeon like myself has no right to let his fancies run 
for ever on golden-haired maidens. But a child, a little girl 
— one is never too old to love a child ! It is what the chateau 
wants beyond all else — childish laughter, the patter of 
childish feet. O Richard, think what you have given me— 
a little child, to be with me always till I die ! It is good — 
it is good that you came ! ' 

He leaned on me, almost overcome. But I ... I could not 
understand. Only in my heart was a great void— a pitiful 
cry for that childish laughter, the patter of childish feet, 
which I should never hear. 

It was twilight when we reached the staircase. The wind 
was in the tapestries on the walls. They rustled like a 
shower of falling leaves. Suddenly Louis touched my arm. 
And down at the bottom of the stairs, amid the fantastic 
movings of the hangings, I thought for one moment I saw a 
brief vision of a little golden-haired child. 



HE LOOKED OUT FOR SOME TIME 

INTO THE SILVERING DARKNESS 




Page 54 





THE WHEELS REVERSED 

E have been friends for exactly ten years,' 
said Thornhill Morris in a low voice, * it 
is time to say good-bye.' 
Dr. Wallscourt gazed at him for a mo- 
ment in speechless amazement. 'Look 
here, Thornhill, I'm not fool enough to 
suppose that you want to break with me simply because I 
happened to turn idiotic in our climbing expedition to-day. 
It was a nasty bit, and— well, my nerve isn't what it was. 
... I know I nearly killed you, and myself into the bargain. 
Oh, I am willing readily to accept the lesson. I 'm getting 
old— my forty years are beginning to tell; no more giddy 
heights for me. It's a stage we've all got to come to 
sooner or later, and your cooler head and greater powers of 
endurance hardly justify you in so very blatant a piece of 
cynicism as your remark implies.' 

Morris, who looked a good deal younger than the doctor, 
drew his chair closer to his friend and laid a hand upon his 
arm. He had a grave and pleasing face, which would have 
looked quite ordinary, but for some indefinable quality of 
melancholy, that gave it an elusive, haunting interest. His 
actions were usually marked by a certain old-world stateli- 
ness, but to-night his native dignity had deserted him ;— he 
seemed agitated and restless. 

Page 55 




56 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

'Dear old Edward, don't let's misunderstand each other 
after all these years,' he said, ' I 've not got to tell you that 
your friendship has been . . . just one of the best things in 
my life. As to getting old ... to say truth I envy you your 
every sense of pain, your every ache of stiffness. This I 
don't expect you to understand. But indeed there are 
reasons — cogent reasons — why we should part.' 
' You do not deny that these reasons are connected with the 
question of age,' observed Wallscourt. 
' Not . . . not in the way you mean,' Morris replied. His 
voice faltered ; he got up and went to the window. 
They were in the smoking-room of the hotel at Wast- 
dale Head, which that night they happened to have to 
themselves. 

Morris looked out for some time into the silvering darkness, 
his face working ; then he turned towards his friend. 
* Edward, I want you to take my word on trust,— have faith 
in me, — faith just this once, in my judgment for us both. It 
is better . . . indeed it is essential— that we go separate 
ways.' 

' I take nothing on trust,' answered Wallscourt. His pale 
face, square in build, which gained its character, its expres- 
sion of concentrated force, from the shape and lines of the 
overhanging brow, assumed a sterner aspect; there came 
an alertness of light in the somewhat weary blue eyes. ' I 
take nothing on trust,' he repeated, 'I have the right to 
demand an explanation. I gave you ... all that one man 
can give to another: you had free passage into my most 
secret thoughts. And now — now you suggest airily that it 



THE WHEELS REVERSED 57 

is time to say good-bye. Tell me frankly that you are tired 
of me, that you have outgrown me, and I suppose I must 
shrug my shoulders and accept the somewhat bitter inevit- 
able. But understand, Thornhill, you owe me the truth, — I 
insist upon my right to the truth, the whole truth, and 
nothing but the truth.' 

* Have I not given in equal proportion ? ' asked Thornhill, 

* you know well . . . how much I admire . . . how much I 
love . . .' His voice broke. . . . ' We do not talk of such 
things. . . . But Edward, there are reasons. ... I can- 
not give you the reasons — you would think me mad. . . . 
Has it never occurred to you, never for a moment, that I am 
not quite like other men? Can't you see something . . . 
different about me? Look, look at my face. . . . Don't be 
harsh, old friend, — I am desperately unhappy.' 

He stooped, almost kneeling, beside Wallscourt's chair. 
The doctor scanned his features closely in the lamplight. 
There was a perceptible pause, then Wallscourt spoke : 

* You are talking, you are behaving, like an emotional school- 
boy,' he said brightly, moved by the signs of suffering he 
saw, as well as by a strange, pathetic touch of youthful- 
ness in his friend's expression. 'You are certainly very 
different to-night from the Thornhill I recollect when we met 
here first, by chance, some ten years ago. I was a youngster 
of thirty then, and you awed me by something staid, almost 
Early- Victorian, about your appearance and manner. I took 
you to be a good deal older than myself, I was proud you 
should seek my acquaintance, — your brilliance of conversa- 
tion, your extraordinary range of knowledge, fascinated 



58 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

me. So we became friends, — you were my guide, my ideal. 
Then, with years, we seemed to grow into closer equality ; 
you had lifted me up to your intellectual level, and our 
friendship assumed its rare and perfect intimacy. But lately 
— I suppose I am ageing too rapidly — we have drifted a little 
apart. You have become prey to a curious melancholy; 
you brood, you keep away from your friends. And to-night 
the position is actually reversed. I am the aged wiseacre, 
and you . . . you look like a mere sentimental boy, instead 
of a sober, middle-aged man of at least forty winters. Come, 
Thornhill, what is distressing you ? Why not confide in me ? ' 
Morris stood up. 'Honestly ... I appeared more or less 
like other men ? ' 

'Why, certainly, — a little more in the clouds, a little more 
fastidious, perhaps ; more impatient for change, more hope- 
less of result : yes, no doubt. You stood aloof from all the 
movements of the time; you spoke out of what seemed 
an almost abnormal experience. It was part of your 
magnetism, though you puzzled me occasionally, I confess ; 
and on reflection,— yes, once or twice I was aware of some 
element in your character utterly new and bewildering to 
me. What is the secret, Thornhill, since you allow there 
is one ? ' 

Thornhill Morris went over again to the window. The moon 
had by this time risen over Scawfell. He spoke in a dreamy 
voice, without turning round. ' You were talking just now 
about getting old. I hear a great deal on all sides about the 
fearsomeness of getting old. It is a commonplace of con- 
versation. To lose the fire, the enthusiasm, the wild fresh- 



THE WHEELS REVERSED S9 

ness of morning! To know the keen edge of pleasure 
blunted once for all ! Then gradually for the limbs to grow 
stiff, the faculties to decay,— how sad, how ghastly, how 
gruesome ! . . . You are familiar with all that kind of stuff, 
Edward ? There was a time I uttered such rubbish myself.' 
' Unfortunately, the coming on of age is a sober fact,' said 
the doctor, rather testily. He suspected an artifice in the 
renewal of this subject. 'You can't get away from it by 
calling it bad names.' 

Thornhill faced round. *Have you ever thought how it 
would feel to be getting young instead of getting old ? ' he 
asked. * Will you for a moment try and think of this possi- 
bility, not as a golden impracticability, but as a harsh, 
unavoidable reality? The years as they recede gather about 
them a halo, which is the mere mist of distance ; you would 
realise this quickly enough if you could reverse the dial 
and go backwards. ..." Oh that I were twenty-five ! " . . . 
" Oh that I were twenty ! " sighs the middle-aged world ; but 
would any sane person choose in actuality to live again 
through those periods of acute suffering— suffering unpro- 
portioned, because it has no standard — that imprisons our 
untried faculties in a maze of disillusion and mystery to 
which we have not yet found the key ? Oh, youth has dazzling 
heights too, and we fall from them down, down, down into 
the abyss ! Edward, can you remember when you first came 
to know the evil and the cruelty of the world ? That is the 
most awful moment of life : no individual pain can ever after 
equal the shrinking horror that confronts at that moment 
the naked and trembling soul.' 



6o THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

'What has all this to do with our friendship?' asked 
Wallscourt, after a pause. 

* Let me finish. Try for one moment to credit my supposi- 
tion, admit for one moment the possibility of going back- 
wards; contemplate as a near future the torturing doubts, 
the quivering faiths of youth ; regard as an approaching 
experience the deceptive imaginings, the tortured awaken- 
ings of childhood. It is not so much the tyranny of the 
nursery that daunts, with its puzzling, unmeaning restric- 
tions, the ceaselessness of its petty slavery; what appals 
is the thought of traversing again that impossible child- 
world, that trackless country of vague and impalpable 
perils where we wandered during the first twelve years of 
our lives. To pass from middle-age to old age, is to float 
along a series of fair and gentle slopes towards a securer, 
serener landscape ; but to return to childhood is to plunge 
down precipice after precipice, to change from one Protean 
shape to another, to lose all sense of continuity or identity, 
and to live in a land peopled by childish terrors, compared 
with which the worst visions of delirium are mere graceful 
fancies.* 

' Allowing your proposition to be true,' said Wallscourt, ' I 
hold your statement to be absurdly exaggerated. You are 
imagining the case of an over-sensitive organism, — the 
ordinary healthy child has compensations that far outweigh 
its momentary fears.' 

* I put the case rather strongly, perhaps,' answered Morris, 
'but you will grant that it is nearer truth than "the trailing 
clouds of glory " or the " golden age " representations. It is, 



THE WHEELS REVERSED 6l 

in fact, a great deal nearer. . . . Edward, Edward — thank 

God that age lies before you, not youth,— not childhood,— 

not— infancy ! ' 

There was a drawn look on the doctor's face. ' What has 

put such thoughts into your head ? ' he asked. 

' You said . . . that when you first . . . knew me, I seemed 

older than you were,' faltered Morris, 'and that now the 

position ... is reversed. . . .' 

Wallscourt lifted the lamp and went over to where Morris 

stood. Once more he scrutinised intently his friend's face. 

A mad notion was taking form in his mind— an unheard-of 

absurdity, from which he sought to free himself. He put 

down the lamp. 

' You look barely thirty,' he said abruptly. 

'I am in fact twenty-nine to-night,' breathed Thornhill 

slowly. 

* And when I first met you ? ' 
' I was thirty-nine.' 

' Man ! Impossible ! ' 

* If you calculate by the number of years I have lived, I am 
one hundred and twenty years old.' 

The doctor began pacing the room uneasily, and Thornhill 
went on : — ' If you come to think of it, there 's nothing so 
wonderful in living one hundred and twenty years. Science 
asserts that, if properly treated, the body should be good for, 
at least, twice the term of years it lasts at present. And 
leaving out of account unproved legends, such as that of the 
Wandering Jew, we have almost incontrovertible evidence 
that certain secret societies— the Rosicrucians, for example — 



62 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

discovered the means of prolonging life indefinitely beyond 
the usual limit. Only, in the case of a disciple endowed with 
this quasi-immortality, the growth and the decay of faculty 
and function are arrested ; the world rushes past him with 
its changes of season and of seas, but he remains ever the 
same, growing neither younger nor older, unrestricted by the 
conditions that bind most of us slaves of change and time.' 
'Thornhill, this is hallucination,' interjected the doctor, 
' you are ill. . . .' 

Morris passed his hand wearily across his brow. ' I was 
seventy-five when I discovered the secret,' he continued, 
* it was in the year 1861. But I made some mistake, some 
fatal mistake. Instead of merely attaining to a continuation 
of life, I reversed the life-process; instead of suspending 
the wheels of mortality, by some inexplicable error I caused 
them to work backwards. I have been getting younger 
for the last forty-five years. . . . Edward, you know all the 
horrible conceptions formed of those whose lives have 
been magically, or, if you will, scientifically prolonged, — the 
shock of incongruity that a Rip van Winkle must feel, the 
endless lassitude of the Wandering Jew, the grasping de- 
generacy of the harpies in Gulliver's Travels. But no one 
in his wildest dreams has ever conceived such a tragedy as 
I have to face: the tragedy of losing, one by one, all my 
painfully acquired weapons of defence, all the comfort of 
philosophy and experience,— the tragedy of drifting back 
through chaos into the unknown. I cannot think of it. . . . 
It would be better to kill myself.' 
'What you tell me is incredible,' said the doctor, 'and 



THE WHEELS REVERSED 63 

yet when I look at you ... I remember once . . . you 
spoke, as if from personal knowledge, of certain obscure 
effects of the Napoleonic wars ; you expounded to me some 
medical theories of Coleridge that, wishing to refer to in my 
lectures, I found it impossible to trace. I remember. . . .' 
A whole flood of recollections swept across the doctor's 
mind. He recalled Thornhill's social aloofness, his invari- 
able method of tracing daily events to remote origins, 
his extraordinary intellectual range, and the vitality and 
minutiae in his descriptions of events a century old. It 
struck him now for the first time, that in all their ten 
years of closest intimacy, he had never learned anything 
of his friend's relatives or connections. He knew him to 
be, like himself, without family, and further curiosity never 
occurred to him. But now the realisation came upon him 
with a strange significance. Strongest evidence of all, — 
he had seen Thornhill growing visibly younger before his 
eyes. . . . That very day, when there had nearly been an 
accident in the gully, Thornhill had shown a nerve, a 
reliance upon his muscle, and a power of endurance, surely 
impossible to any one unless in the full prime of early 
manhood. ... 'So you see,' Thornhill broke in upon his 
meditations, *it is time to say good-bye. My friendships 
have all been limited to ten years, else it would have been 
impossible for me to keep my secret: from sixty to fifty, 
from fifty to forty, the alteration in appearance is not so 
very perceptible. But now, from thirty to twenty, I shall 
change yearly, perhaps even more rapidly, and after that . . . 
I have never told any one before ; but our comradeship had 



64 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

been so much more to me than any other . . . and . . . oh, 
this is a sore time ! . . . You forced the confession from me, — 
I could not have you think of me . . . with unkindness. . . .' 
* I cannot believe anything so preposterous,' the doctor said, 
rousing himself, 'but even if it were so, there is all the 
greater reason for continuing our friendship. You will need 
me, my help, my advice even as a young man; you will 
want my protection as a boy. Thornhill, you must not go 
out of my life, you must not face these terrors of youth — 
if such indeed there be — without one near you who under- 
stands. That you exaggerate these troubles is more than 
evident, but to some extent I realise that they exist. Our 
relationship must be altered, I admit, but it will be as close 
as before.' 

Morris grasped the doctor's hand. ' My friend ... my 
father!' he murmured. Then with an almost whimsical 
smile that was full of pathos, he added : * But you don't 
know what you 're undertaking. I may fall in love, — I was 
a gallant in those old days ; and oh, all the miseries I went 
through! We laugh at lovers' pains— in retrospect. . . . 
But if we feared a recurrence ? . . . Reflect, Edward, I shall 
love passionately — it was in my nature — and yet my terrible 
secret must keep me apart from every good woman. I can 
never marry. This mattered nowise in my studious middle 
life, but . . . who can gauge the folly of youth ? I had best 
end it once for all— or shut myself up in a monastery.' 
' Was there ever any one . . . any one that mattered ? ' asked 
Wallscourt with hesitation. 
*Yes; her grave is in the little churchyard outside. It is 



THE WHEELS REVERSED 6S 

dated 1814. Shall I tell you the story? My long, long life 
has been clouded by it. She was only the daughter of a 
farmer. I stayed at her father's farm in those far-off days, 
when I was discovering the climbs that we have since done 
together. We loved each other devotedly. . . . There is no 
question here of the halo of Time. I have never met any one 
like her— any one so high-spirited, so pure-minded She had 
all the virility of the mountains, yet an exquisite grace and 
delicacy, like the passing of cloud shadows over a sun- 
parched landscape. O my friend, is not the tale somewhat 
too stale for you ? It is so old, so trite, so eternal in its 
ruthless recrudescence through all time. . . .' 
* Go on, please,' said the doctor. 

'A mesalliance in those days was almost an impossi- 
bility: besides, I was poor, and practically dependent. I 
lacked courage; to speak more honestly, I was a coward. 
The whole force of family influence was brought to the 
separation of us. I was a dastard, Edward,— a scoundrel, 
a mean cur. ... It was a hundred years ago, my friend, — 
remember that, and have pity on me. Since I might not 
have her as my wife, I asked her ... I insulted her by 
asking ... I shall never forget the look on her face. She 
loved me, and I had killed her soul. I left her without 
another word, and I never saw her again. A year after- 
wards I heard of her death. She was lost upon Great Gable. 
How she fell was never known. I was in Italy at the time- 
but . . . O God! . . . Edward, how it all comes back to 
me . . . the delirium of grief, the anguish of remorse ! . . . 
Must I live through it all again ? ' 



66 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

'As you say yourself, the story is nearly a hundred years 
old/ the doctor reminded him. 

* And I have gone back into the very heart of it, — the wheel 
has come full circle. I was twenty-nine then, I am twenty- 
nine now. The pain is as vital, as fresh, as unbearable. . . . 
Edward, come out, and I will show the very gate where we 
used to meet. The moon is still up ; we can find our way 
through the meadows in spite of the mist. To take you 
there will help to make me realise that the past is truly 
dead . . . will help me to disentangle . . .' He passed his 
hand over his brow with the old movement. . . . 'Come, 
Edward, you are not too tired ? ' 

Wallscourt shook his head, and together they went out into 
the moonlight. The mountains rose dark and indistinct 
against a rapidly clouding sky. The drifts veiled and dis- 
closed the moon alternately, throwing mist-wraiths into the 
valley. The silence and dimness lent to the scene an even 
greater than its wonted mystery, while the hazy mist-move- 
ment distilled an impression of unknown and hostile pre- 
sences lurking close at hand. Wallscourt was several 
times on the point of suggesting a return to the hotel, but 
Morris pressed on, finding his way as if by instinct to a 
rough tree-trunk bridging a stream, which he crossed, and 
then followed a path that led to a ruined gatepost. 
' Come here, Edward, here. This is where we stood by this 
broken gate— she on that side, I here. She met me once 
on just such a night as this. Her grey dress looked silver 
in the moonlight: she wore a large, shady hat tied with 
blue ribbons, and her face was radiant like light upon dark 



THE WHEELS REVERSED (fj 

waters. I remember hearing the rustling of the grass as 
she came towards me. . . . What was that?' Thornhill 
gripped his friend's hand. * You heard ? . . . ' 
Wallscourt nodded. There had been a perfectly distinct 
sound) like the swishing of skirts over grass. The next 
moment, he could almost have sworn he saw the shadowy 
form of a girl flit past on the opposite side of the hedge. . . . 
It was, of course, the misty light, the silent hour, the strange 
tale. . . . 

*You saw it?* whispered Thornhill, tightening his grasp, 
'young as ever, lovely as ever,— ghosts don't get old, you 
know. Well, she hardly thought to find her lover in 
the flesh, waiting at the gate, the same— after a hundred 
years. I too am a ghost, — what else? . . . Look, it is 
coming back ! . . . this way ... at this side of the hedge 
now, you see the grey dress that looks like silver ? . . . you 
hear the rustling ? ' 

'Thornhill, this is folly,— let us go back. We are both 
overwrought, hysterical ... we imagine . . .' 
'She has turned,— she will not meet me, — even her ghost 
disdains me. How it all comes back ! For I love her more 
than ever ! . . . I must speak to her. . . . Yes, yes, I know 
it's only a ghost . . . what matter? ... I must tell her 
that I have suffered . . . that I have been faithful . . . 
always. . . .' 

Before Wallscourt could stop him, he had leapt the barrier. 
Immediately he was engulfed in the darkness, which was by 
this time complete. The doctor followed hastily, calling 
aloud his friend's name. Once or twice he fancied he heard 



68 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

a reply; several times, so quickened was his imagination, 
the swishing robe seemed to brush by him. He stumbled 
on, striking himself against the branches of trees, founder- 
ing in swampy places. Quite unexpectedly he came upon 
the stream, and slipped into one of the shallower pools: 
he managed to scramble out somehow, and going more 
cautiously— still calling to Thornhill— he saw at last the 
welcome light of a lantern, moving over the meadows in his 
direction. 

' My friend ! I have lost my friend ! ' cried the doctor to the 
figure approaching him. He was almost inarticulate with 
anxiety and foreboding, and pointed unconsciously in the 
direction of the lake. The man, who had been sent from 
the hotel to look for the visitors, asked one or two sharp 
questions, to which Wallscourt could only return vague and 
unsatisfactory replies. 

'It's dangerous ground about here at night, I warn you,' 
the man said, and it was decided that Wallscourt, lantern in 
hand, should go back to the hotel, and return with more 
assistance. 

• •••••• 

The white dawn found Wallscourt trailing back weary steps 

in the wake of a search-party whose efforts had been . . . 

vain. 

The mountains flushed faintly in the growing light, but the 

face of the lake was black — inscrutable. . . . Perhaps it was 

the fairer part of childhood, the nobler part of youth, that 

Thornhill was to experience after all. 




AN AUTUMN TRYST 




HE drifted through the woods like a faded leaf. 
The world was lit with the faint, golden 
radiance of autumn. A dim cinnamon flame, 
like the fire in marble, crept through the 
arches of the bracken, that were lifted 
beyond the tree-stems: the leaves of the 
beeches, losing the sap that had made them luminous screens 
to the sun, now burned with a pale light of their own. The 
soul of the year, half-freed from the bondage of material 
things, seemed delicately poised for flight : in the woods the 
sky-spaces opened wider and wider. As yet there had been 
no tussle with the elements, no pangs of dissolution ; and 
the exquisite moment of acquiescence lingered. 
Dr. Eraser leaned against a beech-trunk, and looked im- 
patiently up the glade. He was a man about thirty-five, 
rugged in figure and countenance. His face showed that 
determination which is based on a profound knowledge of 
the certainties of Science. His present eagerness, and a 
certain softness of emotion, sat strangely upon him. 
Presently he saw her approaching down the vista of dead 



70 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

leaves. She wore a brown holland dress— the day was very 
warm — and a drooping hat of brown straw. She came 
swiftly, but there was languor in her movements. 
' Onora I ' They clasped hands. 

Holding her two hands, he looked down into her face. A chill 
went to his heart. Was this indeed the woman he had 
wooed in the spring,— this thin, faded creature? Surely 
some illusion of autumn must be infecting his seeing; his 
eyes, filled with the colour of withering gold, must be trans- 
ferring to her, qualities which belonged instead to the 
landscape and the season. It was impossible that all her 
fresh beauty should have waned, in so short a time, to this 
frail sweetness. 

She led him to a spot where the trees gave a sparse shade, 
and where there was a view of the open. Her dress rustled 
and crackled over the leaves. They sat down under a beech- 
tree, and Onora threw off her hat. Under the flitting leaf- 
shadows, the doctor fancied he saw threads of silver in her 
hair of clouded gold. 

' Dear, tell me,— have you been ill ? ' he asked. 
'You find me different?' she said gravely, 'do I look ill, 
Oliver?' 

*A little pale, a little tired,' he replied. In point of fact, 
she did not look ill. Her eyes retained their vivid blue— the 
same colour as this autumn sky ; her flesh had the delicate 
hue and contour of health, though it was wanting in the 
richer tones, but she looked unaccountably worn — she 
looked almost old. 
' Do you mind that I am changed ? ' she asked. 



AN AUTUMN TRYST 71 

* I want you as I have always known you,' said Dr. Fraser, * I 
mind, of course, if you have been lonely — anxious.' 
'Oliver, I did not think you would notice so soon. . . . 
Perhaps I ought to have told you in the spring, only I fancied 
that love might turn the current of my existence into the 
normal direction.' She began toying with the fallen beech- 
leaves, and then looked out over the undulating bracken. 

* The year is fading,' she said. 

* What can you mean, Onora ? Surely your love for me is 
not altering, is not growing cold ? ' 

' No, no, indeed no. It is the one real thing, the one unmis- 
takable reality. Only my blood runs more feebly at this 
season than at any other; my life wanes, a little, with the 
life of the leaves.' 

'You find it more difficult to love me in autumn than in 
spring?' 

'How can I explain it to you, Oliver? I am sensitive, 
strangely sensitive, to the influences of the earth : spring, 
summer, autumn, and winter go to the very roots of my 
being. In every year I experience youth, and maturity, and 
age.' 

' Dear, you have lived too much alone, in too close contact 
with Nature,' said the doctor, a little uneasily, 'these are 
the fancies born of brooding in solitude.' 
' But you yourself see how the autumn works in me,' said 
the girl, ' only my eyes keep young — the rest of me fades 
like a leaf; and I can show you white hairs that I found last 
winter. In winter I am quite old, my face is pinched— even 
wrinkled. But then winter — this is the compensation, 



72 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

Oliver, for you as well, I think— winter is the most spiritual 
moment of my life. There are no leaves, no earthly screens, 
to keep away the sense of the surrounding sky. I feel 
clothed, more than at other times, with sunlight and starlight 
and moonlight.' 

' Dear, this is a poetical statement, not a physical fact,' began 
the doctor. 

* It is a physical fact, Oliver, capable, I believe, of scientific 
explanation,' said Onora. ' I have inherited from both sides a 
rare sensitiveness that subdues my body to the seasons. My 
mother was a peasant, — for centuries her ancestors had 
lived in close communion with the earth, which had yielded 
its intimate secrets to their dumb keeping. My father was 
a poet, — a great poet, as you know— and there is something 
of him in me, though, like my mother, I have no words. Then 
from my earliest years he gave me loving and peculiar 
insight into the ways of Nature: I feel that the Earth- 
Mother has entered in an unusual degree into my parentage, 
and has given me a right beyond others to claim kinship 
with all these lovely things of the world.* 

* If your hypothesis were true,' said the doctor, 'do you 
realise that your case would stand as a reversion to a primi- 
tive type, and that you would be retrogressing to a point in 
the evolution of humanity that has long been overpassed ? ' 
'You have yet to prove,' said Onora smiling, 'that the 
ancient peoples who lived close to Nature were not wiser 
and happier than ourselves.' 

' The thing is self-evident, Onora. Freedom is the first stage 
of all progress. We have triumphed over Nature,— subdued 



AN AUTUMN TRYST 73 

her, made ourselves independent of her smiles and frowns, 
shaken off the trammels of the seasons. It is only in detach- 
ment that thought can take shape, only in detachment that 
we can attain the undreamed heights of Science and Philo- 
sophy. Why should you pride yourself on the weight of 
chain that drags you to the earth ? ' 

* I believe that in the earth is the only wisdom,' murmured 
Onora, * I am sure that in the earth is the only happiness. 
I am no materialist, Oliver ; but to-day, when all the ancient 
heavens are crumbling around us, I recognise the heaven 
beyond all these imaginings in the daily glory of the world — 
the woods, and the fields, and the skies. Does this seem to 
you fanciful, foolish ? ' 

' That you should find joy in Nature, that you should dis- 
cover the spiritual behind the material, this I can well 
understand ; but not that you should be willing to abnegate 
your personality to the stray impulses of the moment, — not 
that you should choose to submit yourself to the caprice of 
the seasons.' 

* You speak as if the matter were under my control. Oliver, 
Oliver,— you won't let it make any difference to our love? 
You loved me in the spring— surely it was not only the 
spring in me you loved ? ' 

* Dear, I loved you— the you that still exists under all these 
hallucinations.' 

' Hallucinations ! ' 

'I must attribute these fancies to a powerful imagination 
working in solitude. There are many instances of imagina- 
tion working on the physical medium.' 



74 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

'When spring comes, I shall be young again, Oliver, 
fresh as when you first knew me. ... It has always hap- 
pened. I see you dread the fact that every year I must 
grow old. . . .* 

' It is unnatural, Onora, abnormal.' 

' And rather than have me abnormal, you would believe me — 
not quite sane ? ' 

'I simply believe that the poetical impulse carries you a 
little too far.' 

*I had dreamed myself privileged, blessed beyond others,' 
murmured Onora, * I have known such great peace, such 
happiness.' 

* Don't think me hard, unsympathetic. My daily experience 
in cases of hysteria makes me perhaps over-emphasise 
the importance of perfect balance, of the divine average. 
I have always been impatient of mysteries. Dear, it is 
your own sweet personality that is precious to me : I cannot 
reconcile myself to these metamorphoses which transform 
you into a species of hamadryad, or wood-nymph. I feel 
that it requires only an effort of will to free yourself from the 
chains that bind you to the earth, that separate us.' 
' I am neither a hamadryad nor a wood-nymph, Oliver. I am 
a woman — a woman who loves you.' 

She laid her hand upon his arm. The doctor was startled 
by the thrill of passion in her voice. The character of the 
day had changed. 

The sky was filled with hurrying clouds, and from between 
them a fierce storm -light travelled over the landscape. 
The sweep of languorous radiance sharpened into colour- 



AN AUTUMN TRYST 75 

contrasts, deep indigo in shadow, and rust-brown in light. 
The bracken turned from cinnamon to bronze, the beech- 
leaves from yellow to copper. Suddenly, a tide of sunset-red 
flooded land and sky. The world, no longer submissive, was 
summoning its last vitality to fling a bold defiance at Death, 
whose wings could already be heard rustling in the far 
tree-tops. 

Onora sprang up, flushed with a fire that did not seem of 
the sunset. The red glow was in her hair. Her eyes had lost 
their clear morning blue, and were shadowed by dusky flame ; 
a splendour of determination characterised her expression, 
and the voice that had sounded so thin, rang out in clear, 
low notes. 

' I love you, I love you ! ' she cried, * I will break my bonds, as 
you call them,— will do even this, if only so I may reach 
you. But you are sure, Oliver, sure that you would have me 
ordinary, like other women? You are sure that I shall 
lose nothing in your eyes, by shutting off from myself the 
fountainhead of all beauty ? ' 

* It is you that are beautiful, Onora. The fountainhead is in 
yourself,' exclaimed the doctor. * I ask nothing extreme ; but 
— yes — I would have you as other women. At present the 
world of Nature absorbs too much of you ; the fields and the 
sky are my too powerful rivals. I want you to be mine, mine 
alone. Oh, I am not all selfish : it is partly for your sake.* 
' I love you, Oliver ; this is the strongest thing in me,' said 
Onora, ' what need of more words ? Meet me to-morrow 
here at twelve o'clock. . . . No, dear ; I must do what has 
to be done alone. There is peasant-blood in me, remember, 



76 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

and hereditary knowledge of certain rites, which you would 
call superstitions.' 

' Oh, I shall be glad when all this is laid aside, when we can 
meet on common ground!' exclaimed the doctor, a little 
impatiently. 

*You will not have to wait long . . . to-morrow, at twelve 
o'clock.' 

After he had seen her to the gate of the Manor House, the 
doctor paced for a considerable time the twilight woods. It 
irked him that he could not disentangle a clear image of 
Onora from the three distinct impressions she had left upon 
his mind. The picture that had dwelt with him all the 
summer, of a creature of exquisite possibilities, of radiant 
promise, could not be reconciled with the woman of to-day, 
either in her mood of languid quietude, or in her accession of 
passionate splendour. And as he pondered over these later 
manifestations, he came slowly to realise the fulness and 
range of an exceptional temperament — a temperament cap- 
able of vibrating to every variety of emotion. It was her 
naive joy in life, her buoyancy of spirit, that had drawn 
him to her in the spring : then she had captivated his fancy, 
but now the depth and richness of her nature began to work 
upon the more virile stuff of his being. This woman of 
strong and delicate maturity made appeal to a higher man 
than the girl had been able to touch ; and the doctor felt 
exalted in the thought that it was love for him that had 
wrought this change in her. The correspondence of her 
mood with the mood of the year, was probably no more than 
one of those curious coincidences, of which life is so full : 



AN AUTUMN TRYST 77 

intensely sensitive, intensely imaginative, she attributed to 
her body experiences which were only of the mind. The 
doctor could not for a moment admit the possibility that this 
winter should see her old, and the following spring make 
her young again. Love had come to her in the spring, and 
had ripened her personality by the time of autumn; but 
had she loved first in autumn, spring would have brought 
maturity. That she should hold herself free of the seasons 
was greatly to be desired, else they might impose all manner 
of fanciful complications upon their wedded life; and the 
doctor ardently hoped that her foolish * rites ' might prompt 
the initial effort of will necessary to cast off this imagined 
tyranny. 

The next morning was misty and dank. The leaves on the 
ground lay formless in moisture; the leaves on the trees 
huddled shapeless in the wet fog. The doctor shuddered lest 
Onora also should pass under the sway of this chill autumn 
mood. At the first glance he was partially reassured. She 
looked almost as young as she had looked in the spring. 
But she seemed to lack spirit, and came droopingly towards 
him. 

She held up her face to be kissed. The expression was 
diffident, appealing. There had always been a glamour 
about their former meetings, a glamour which had per- 
sisted even under yesterday's first shock of disappointment. 
To-day a painful sense of the commonplace overmastered his 
emotion at seeing her. 

' Are you pleased with me, dearest ? are you satisfied ? ' she 
whispered anxiously. 



78 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

' Always, always,' said the doctor, marvelling at the difficulty 
of speaking with conviction. For she had grown young 
again for him, young as by miracle, yet not young as when 
he had first known her. Then she had been young with the 
poetry, the sentiment of youth ; now she was young only 
through lack of years. 

'Oliver, beloved, you have taken away from me all my old 
supports,' said Onora. * Dear, I have only you now, — only 
you. Your love is my whole life, everything. Tell me that 
you love me, give me something to cling to, I feel so weak, 
so helpless.' 

* I love you, Onora,' murmured the doctor. Where was her 
old charm, the magic of her loveliness ? He looked down at 
the pretty graceful creature clinging to his arm with agitated 
insistence. All that was individual, the grip of independ- 
ence, the vigour of personality, had gone ; and instead there 
was left a colourless entity, sweet and good and gentle, no 
doubt, but with no initiative, no impulse to development, a 
thing to be shaped by circumstance, by environment, by any 
stronger will that chose to mould it. 

' Oliver, speak to me, give me your assurances.* 
' Dear, what need have we of vows and protestations ? ' said 
the doctor miserably, ' have we not always understood . . . 
without words ? ' 

* It is different now, — different, different now ! ' said Onora ; 

* yesterday I had the great Mother-Earth to lean on. I drew 
strength from the character of the day. Your love was an 
episode, oh! the central episode, the great episode, in the 
glorious procession of the year. Now you have emptied 



AN AUTUMN TRYST 79 

my life of everything but you. Oliver, it is terrible, it is 

terrible I ' 

' Why terrible, Onora ? ' 

* It makes your responsibility too great' 

The doctor shuddered. He knew he could never fill the 
void he had made, especially now, when he had only pity to 
give. 'I was never one to shirk responsibility, you know,* 
he said, ' the more so when it is of my own creating. Indeed, 
you distress yourself unnecessarily. . . .' 

* Oh, it is not right for women to love overmuch 1 ' cried 
Onora, 'our roots should be in the heaven or in the earth, 
not in the heart of a fellow-creature. We women have need 
of some other anchorage than a man's love.' 

'Dear, calm yourself: these doubts and fears are strangers 

to you.' 

' I was not less human, I was not less worthy of you, when 

the seasons flowed in my veins,— when I had kinship with 

the beauty and joy of earth. But if it is love you want, 

all there is of me is love for you. So be satisfied,— be 

satisfied.' 

The doctor suppressed a groan as he thought of the vigour 

and glory of personality that might have been his, and that 

through his own fault seemed gone for ever. 

' But, Onora, it is not possible that in one short night you 

should have cut yourself from Nature so absolutely, so 

effectively.' 

* Don't say it was a mistake. Yes, yes, — it is done. I have 
reached that higher point in the evolution of the race, I have 
thrown off the trammels of the seasons. I am become a 



8o THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

shadow to myself, without blood or substance. And oh, you 

look so differently upon me 1 Yet I am as you said you would 

have me, like other women. . . .' 

'You are yourself, that is enough for me,' said the doctor 

bravely, 'and in time you may grow sensitive again to the 

beauty of the world, sensitive to the invigorating influences, 

from which, ignorantly and selfishly, I tore you.' 

Onora shook her head. Then she looked up at him with a 

wistful smile. ' Perhaps,' she said, ' if some day I should 

be drawn very close to the great forces of Death, of Birth — 

who knows? — I might again enter into the spirit of the 

Earth, which is peace and happiness. . . .' 

And in the anticipation of this possibility, the doctor was 

able for one moment to forget the glorious goddess he had 

lost, in the gentle, insignificant woman at his side. 




Page 82 




THE MURKY POOL 




WAS exploring the byways of the Docks 
at Rotherhithe for the purpose of catching 
local colour upon my mental palette, to be 
afterwards transferred to the pages of the 
realistic novel I was engaged upon, 'The 
Submerged Soul.' 
I had chosen an unpropitious night, if I sought for realism. 
The mist, thinned and radiant with moonlight, set a 
haze of beauty over the commonest objects: the prosaic 
glare of infrequent street lamps softened into misty sugges- 
tion; the warehouses were turned to rich darkness, or 
glimmered with silver dreaminess ahead. I passed through 
woodyards whose alleys were lined with straw-coloured 
gold, whose turrets towered into a white immensity. I 
caught, up vistas, the frail lines of mast and rope inter- 
tangling spars in airy crucifixion. It was as if the souls of 
inanimate things had escaped from bondage, and hung, half- 
materialised in the medium of the moon, about the deserted 
wharves and ways. 

I came in my wanderings upon a murky pool, back of the 
river, surrounded on all sides by tall warehouses, except 
where it communicated under a dilapidated bridge with an 
ancient stagnant canal. There was desolation about the 



Page 83 



84 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

place— on all sides the oppressive narrowness of blind walls, 
hemming in a stillness and a darkness as of death. 
As I stood on the parapet looking into the murky water, 
there spread over its face a phosphorescence like the phos- 
phorescence that hovers above decay. It shot from end to 
end, a woven splendour of confused tints, purer and more 
vivid than those we make out of our granular earths. And 
as I watched, the colours sorted themselves into familiar 
combinations. I caught glimpses of the pageant of life, the 
shows of the streets and of spring. A never-ending proces- 
sion of vague flowers shifted before my eyes in the procession 
of the months — snowdrops, violets, primroses, bluebells ; 
then the hues of all these were piled together, glimmering 
from street barrows in fog— then I saw the hurrying of vast 
multitudes, neutral -tinted, and gaudy traffic, half- caught 
suggestions of moor aflame with gorse, of moonlight-crinkled 
sea— the whole a shifting phantasmagoria, indeflnite, confus- 
ing, shallow. 

Above all, shallow. I never lost consciousness of that murky 
pool, whose very murkiness gave cause to this surface-play. 
There seemed some secret lurking in the depth of the water 
which this transient flitting of impressions served only to 
cover. The longer I watched, the more certainly I became 
convinced of this hidden secret. It called to me from the 
bottom of the pool. I felt as if this iridescence were drawing 
a veil between me and some compelling reality. I moved to 
see if it were less disturbing where the shadow fell thickest, 
and so came upon an old man sitting motionless on the 
parapet and gazing intently into the pool. 



THE MURKY POOL 85 

He glanced up as I approached, and addressed me. ' Don't 
you think,' he said, 'that the sense - impressions are 
clearing ? ' 

He looked unearthly in the moonlight,— a small-built man 
with flowing white hair and beard, and an expression of 
such intense wistfulness in his blue eyes that he reminded 
me of elves and faery creatures that yearn after some sublime 
tragedy they can never know. His eyes were again fixed 
on the pool, patient and searching. There was habit in his 
whole attitude,— in the crouching figure, in the poise of the 
head; I knew he must have sat there night after night, 
perhaps for years. 

*The pool is clearing, — it is decidedly clearing,* he murmured. 
* How do you account for the extraordinary phenomenon of 
iridescence ? * I inquired. 

He answered me without moving his eyes. ' You notice,' he 
said, ' the thick murkiness of this pool : it is always in a 
material nature that the sense-impressions are most vivid, 
and I take it that this pool is a tangible symbol of the present 
material age, — perplexed and wearied by a variety of fleeting 
impressions, thin and substanceless as reflections in a mirror. 
Note how the colours change and flash, — how beautiful they 
are, how elusive ! Yet they stifle the real life, the inner 
life, the life of the soul, which exists, which I wait for, which 
I shall one day see. Night after night I watch for the 
symbol of the soul of man to float up out of those murky 
depths . . . night after night . . . night after night.' 
His appearance had not led me to guess that he was mad, 
and I felt the surge of an infinite pity. There is nothing so 



86 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

pathetic as the snapping of chords just because they are 
strung too high in our aim after the subtlest music. The 
strange old man seemed to have in him the instinct both of 
philosopher and poet, but he had gazed too long upon the 
dazzling mystery of the water, and in its glamour reason 
and reality had slowly ebbed away. 

Whether it were that at this moment the moonlight in- 
creased in fervour, or that the fog lifted somewhat, there 
could at least be no doubt that the colours upon the water 
began to pale and grow dim. The old man clutched my arm, 
and a glittering excitement took the place of the still 
patience that had previously shone from his eyes. 
' I am not mistaken . . . the pool is clearing ? ' he whispered 
hoarsely. 

' It is clearing,' I replied. 

At last the colours seemed only as a shimmer of cobweb over 
the glassy water; then they were gone altogether. The 
pool lay before us, blank, dark, inscrutable. 
Something rose from the depths to the surface — something 
that glimmered radiant and white— rose, and sank again. 

* The soul, the soul ! ' murmured the old man. 

* The Submerged Soul. . . .' The title of my book flashed 
involuntarily into my mind ; but aloud I said, ' It is some one 
who has been drowned.' 

* O God, O God ! have we indeed killed our souls ? Is this 
the reading of your allegory?' said the old man, rocking 
himself to and fro on the parapet. ' Is this the revelation of 
the pool? And have I waited hopeful through the years 
only to see a dead thing at the last ? But I will not believe 



THE MURKY POOL 87 

that the soul is dead. What we saw was asleep ... or 
unborn.' 

' Hush ! ' I exclaimed. 

It rose to the surface again. This time it did not seem like 
some one that was drowned. On the contrary, it impressed 
me as some essence of vitality, stripped of colour and form. 
The thing was too dimly seen to attain to the seat of con- 
sciousness through the senses ; but it reached the inner 
vision independently of them, and filled it with a pale, 
spiritual light. Illusion, no doubt, but extraordinary, in- 
explicable. I peered more closely into the water, repeating 
the words of the old man, 'Asleep ... or unborn ?' 
When for the third time it rose, he stood up on the parapet. 
* Bride of the world,' he cried, 'supreme Beauty, hidden too 
long under the tinsel of our earthly shows, wait for me ! I 
come ! ' 

He would have sprung into the water, but I held him back, 
and dragged him struggling from the spot. I do not know 
by what ways we went, but we reached at last a sordid, 
flaring little street, hideous with the noise of the closing of 
public-houses. Here he managed to slip from me ; nor could 
I ever find again the murky pool, to investigate by chemical 
tests the cause of its strange iridescence ; nor did I ever 
obtain tidings of the old man who had sought to elude the 
trammels of the senses, and wed with the submerged soul of 
the human race. 




THE LEPER'S WINDOW 




HE shivered as she entered the church. 
* How chill it strikes ! ' she said. 
They had come into this grey, empty gloom, 
already dusked by the approaching twi- 
light, out of the vivid glory of an autumn 
day. Basil Kent was writing a short mono- 
graph on Milton, and he and Sybilla Deering, to whom he 
was engaged, had planned a country excursion under the 
pretext of visiting Milton's cottage at Chalfont St. Giles and 
the old village church. The walk from the station would be 
for ever memorable to them both. It was as full of enchant- 
ment as the time of Haroun al Raschid ; the distant fields 
opened in great rifts of jewels, emerald and ruby ; the trees 
flapped languidly with ruddy flame that defied the daylight ; 
mystery lurked in the azure and opalescent distances, and 
an autumnal glamour transfigured the veriest grass-blade. 
The changing changelessness of the world carried them back 
in imagination to ancient epochs. They looked upon the 
landscape with eyes borrowed from Saxon, from Plan- 
tagenet, from Tudor times ; they were Crusaders that found 
in the gorgeous colouring reminiscences of the barbaric 
East, or Puritans meditating on divine mysteries as they 

88 



THE LEPER'S WINDOW 89 

walked across the fields to visit Milton. And through all 
these fancies Sybilla saw, as through a halo, the dear reality : 
the keen, sweet face of Basil Kent— a face stern, austere in 
outline, softened and shadowed with the tenderness of love. 
But as she entered the church a chill struck through her — 
a physical sensation that yet affected the mind with some- 
thing like a sense of foreboding. The marvellous glamour 
of the day became in memory ominous ; it seemed like the 
Celtic glow that precedes disaster. She felt as if she had 
been walking upon the fragile edge of a beauty that would 
shatter into winter and death. 

This was the first day that Basil Kent had become fully 
aware of her extreme sensitiveness to impressions. The 
variations in leaf-tint seemed to excite in her subtly differ- 
ing emotions ; she caught the spirit of the past times they 
had chatted about with an exact insight that threw sudden 
illumination on his year-long studies. In Milton's Puritanic 
little room she had closed her eyes that she might enter into 
the soul of the blind poet ; and when she opened them to 
tell him that she had seen visions of divine glory, it did not 
occur to him to suggest the misty gold of autumn lingering 
on the retina: she seemed so near to deep, inexpressible 
things that she might well be able to pierce into the very 
heart of their mystery and meaning. And how potently the 
church impressed her, vague in the dusk, dumb with the 
weight of years ! Her exquisite face, cut against the smooth 
stone pillar, was pale as ivory ; a transient fatigue showed 
upon it vaguely, like the shadows on ivory, and some of the 
light was gone out of her starry eyes. 

M 



90 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

The little old caretaker pointed out to them the ancient 
frescoes on the walls, the brasses, and the tombs. He then 
led them to the chancel and showed them a small window, 
through which could be witnessed, from without, the service 
of the church. Such windows, known as * lepers' squints,' 
have been built into many churches, so that when leprosy was 
common in England its wretched outcasts could, through 
this means, participate distantly in the divine service, and re- 
ceive distantly the Church's forgiveness and blessing. 
At sight of the window Sybilla grew rigid with horror. The 
whole tragedy of a leper's life was borne in suddenly upon 
her mind— its awful loneliness, its frustrate aspirations. 
But her realisation was merely intellectual— emotionally 
the sufferings of such an outcast were beyond the pale of 
her comprehension. Her sympathies went out rather to the 
ignorant people of past ages, possessed with an unreason- 
ing terror and driven to unreasoning cruelty. She under- 
stood their condition of mind, and excused it. She felt that 
thus to refuse her sympathy to a life of such dreadful agony 
was unworthy of her ; she strove to think of the leper as a 
fellow-being, with thoughts and feelings like herself; in 
vain — her reason had lost all power, and she shuddered from 
head to foot. 

She sat down on the altar steps opposite the window, 
trembling and exhausted. ' I am tired, Basil, and will rest 
here a little,' she said. * Will you come back and fetch me 
when you have been round the church and churchyard ? ' 
They left her, and the darkness grew about her. It clung to 
the arches with a shadowy sense of fear. It assumed body 



THE LEPER'S WINDOW 91 

in the darker ingles, developing into lurking shapes. Sybilla 
was in that condition of physical fatigue when the imagina- 
tion is preternaturally active — unless she controlled her 
thoughts she knew they would evolve into horrid presences. 
With an effort of will she forced her mind into other channels 
— she conjured up the ancient celebrations of mass, the 
solemn chantings of other days. The scene grew before 
her: the swinging censers, the tinkling bells, the priest in 
his gorgeous vestments, raising the Host above the kneeling 
worshippers. She wondered if he ever glanced at that 
window — the lepers' window? . . . God in Heaven! there 
was a face there now — a face white as death, white as snow. 
She sprang up terrified. It did not pass away. It was no 
illusion of the brain, no hysterical fancy. The face shone in 
upon her through the gloom with dreadful whiteness — a 
familiar face, but distorted with horror. She grasped the 
altar-rail to save herself from falling. Then it was gone. 
Something had come into the church and was approach- 
ing her. She gave a half-stifled shriek as it loomed nearer. 
Could it be Basil? Was it his face she had seen at the 
window, so horrible, so white ? 

It was too dark now for him to notice her emotion. He 
came quite close up to her and spoke in a low, hoarse voice. 
* Sybilla,' he said, ' I have had a terrible shock. I looked 
in at the leper's window just now — I wanted to put myself in 
the place of a leper, to imagine how a leper felt — and, Sybilla 
— the horror of it ! — the scene was familiar — absolutely 
familiar down to the smallest detail! I recognised the 
curious perspective and angle of pillar, the shape of window, 



92 THROUGH THE MYSTIC DOORS 

the proportion and colour of altar, and reiterated flashes of 
some forgotten existence leaped and leaped through my 
brain. I saw mistily the celebration of a shadowy mass — 
it was a torture of mysteries beyond my comprehension, of 
promises beyond my hope; I experienced a misery which 
even in memory racks my whole being. I knew an exist- 
ence different to its roots from the one I now know; my 
thoughts were many-coloured, limited, grotesque ; my ideas 
strangely concrete. Sybilla, in some past life I must have 
been one of those dreadful outcasts — I must have been a 
leper : think of it, a leper ! . . . Sybilla, are you ill ? ' 
He caught her in his arms as she fell, and carried her, half- 
fainting, into the open air. A new moon cut sharply the 
softness of lingering sunset, and there was sufficient light to 
see the rigidity, the painful tension, of her face. He cursed 
his rash impetuosity that had led him to jar her nerves with 
his horrid tale, knowing how sensitive she was, how easily 
overwrought. She breathed more freely in the fresh air, and 
presently opened her eyes ; then involuntarily shrank away 
from his touch. 

* Are you better, dearest ? ' he asked anxiously. 

A flood of tears came to her relief. She sat down on a 
tombstone and sobbed and sobbed. Kent stood watching 
her in dire distress. He had never seen her other than calm 
and bright, and her agony of emotion alarmed him. He 
knelt beside her and strove to take her hand. 'Sybilla, 
Sybilla ! ' he pleaded. 
She stood up and moved a few paces away from him. 

* Basil, shall I ever be able to explain to you ? ' she 



THE LEPER'S WINDOW 93 

murmured, *I saw you at the window, white — white as 
snow,' she continued, in a low whisper, 'your face, I did not 
know it ; but it was horrible, horrible ! Basil, I shall never 
see you any other way again.' 

' Sybilla, this is madness ! ' cried Kent, ' I was pale and 
horror-stricken because of that strange illusion I told you 
about— the illusion of familiarity; but now, in the clear 
evening light, I am myself again; you must forget that 
ghostly glimpse of me. Come, dearest, say I am forgiven 
for causing you so cruel a fright.' 

* I am very sorry, Basil,' she replied, * but, indeed, it can 
never be the same. I did love you — now, you only inspire 
me with fear. I know, I know. It is foolish, irrational, 
unkind. But it is stronger than I am ; and here I must bid 
you good-bye.' 

'You are still under the influence of the shock,' he said, 

* the terror of it will pass away. In a day, in a week, the 
memory will be dim ; you will forget, you must forget.' 
'Basil, I cannot reason, I can only feel. . . . We must be 
brave, and part here and now.' 

' Sybilla ! ' . . . It was the voice of one who is heartbroken. 

* I want you to get me a carriage at the inn,' she said gently, 
' I am very tired, and I will drive to the station. You must 
not come with me, Basil. ... I must travel by myself.' 



FINIS 




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