Versione ebook di Readme.it powered by Softwarehouse.it
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
By Gilbert K. Chesterton
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH:
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
IV. THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
V. THE FAD OF THE FISHERMAN
VI. THE HOLE IN THE WALL
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
VIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE STATUE
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
Harold Marchthe rising reviewer and social criticwas walking
vigorously across a great tableland of moors and commons
the horizon of which was fringed with the far-off woods of
the famous estate of Torwood Park. He was a good-looking young
man in tweedswith very pale curly hair and pale clear eyes.
Walking in wind and sun in the very landscape of liberty
he was still young enough to remember his politics and not
merely try to forget them. For his errand at Torwood Park was
a political one; it was the place of appointment named by no less
a person than the Chancellor of the ExchequerSir Howard Horne
then introducing his so-called Socialist budgetand prepared
to expound it in an interview with so promising a penman.
Harold March was the sort of man who knows everything
about politicsand nothing about politicians. He also knew
a great deal about artlettersphilosophyand general culture;
about almost everythingindeedexcept the world he was living in.
Abruptlyin the middle of those sunny and windy flatshe came upon
a sort of cleft almost narrow enough to be called a crack in the land.
It was just large enough to be the water-course for a small stream
which vanished at intervals under green tunnels of undergrowth
as if in a dwarfish forest. Indeedhe had an odd feeling
as if he were a giant looking over the valley of the pygmies.
When he dropped into the hollowhoweverthe impression was lost;
the rocky banksthough hardly above the height of a cottage
hung over and had the profile of a precipice. As he began to wander
down the course of the streamin idle but romantic curiosity
and saw the water shining in short strips between the great gray
boulders and bushes as soft as great green mosseshe fell into
quite an opposite vein of fantasy. It was rather as if the earth
had opened and swallowed him into a sort of underworld of dreams.
And when he became conscious of a human figure dark against
the silver streamsitting on a large boulder and looking rather
like a large birdit was perhaps with some of the premonition's
proper to a man who meets the strangest friendship of his life.
The man was apparently fishing; or at least was fixed in a
fisherman's attitude with more than a fisherman's immobility.
March was able to examine the man almost as if he had
been a statue for some minutes before the statue spoke.
He was a tallfair mancadaverousand a little lackadaisical
with heavy eyelids and a highbridged nose. When his face was shaded
with his wide white hathis light mustache and lithe figure gave
him a look of youth. But the Panama lay on the moss beside him;
and the spectator could see that his brow was prematurely bald;
and thiscombined with a certain hollowness about the eyes
had an air of headwork and even headache. But the most curious
thing about himrealized after a short scrutinywas that
though he looked like a fishermanhe was not fishing.
He was holdinginstead of a rodsomething that might have been
a landing-net which some fishermen usebut which was much
more like the ordinary toy net which children carryand which
they generally use indifferently for shrimps or butterflies.
He was dipping this into the water at intervalsgravely regarding
its harvest of weed or mudand emptying it out again.
No, I haven't caught anything,he remarkedcalmlyas if answering
an unspoken query. "When I do I have to throw it back again;
especially the big fish. But some of the little beasts interest
me when I get 'em."
A scientific interest, I suppose?observed March.
Of a rather amateurish sort, I fear,answered the strange fisherman.
I have a sort of hobby about what they call 'phenomena
of phosphorescence.' But it would be rather awkward to go about
in society crying stinking fish.
I suppose it would,said Marchwith a smile.
Rather odd to enter a drawing-room carrying a large
luminous cod,continued the strangerin his listless way.
How quaint it would, be if one could carry it about
like a lantern, or have little sprats for candles.
Some of the seabeasts would really be very pretty like lampshades;
the blue sea-snail that glitters all over like starlight;
and some of the red starfish really shine like red stars.
But, naturally, I'm not looking for them here.
March thought of asking him what he was looking for; butfeeling unequal
to a technical discussion at least as deep as the deep-sea fishes
he returned to more ordinary topics.
Delightful sort of hole this is,he said. "This little dell
and river here. It's like those places Stevenson talks about
where something ought to happen."
I know,answered the other. "I think it's because the place itself
so to speakseems to happen and not merely to exist.
Perhaps that's what old Picasso and some of the Cubists are trying
to express by angles and jagged lines. Look at that wall like
low cliffs that juts forward just at right angles to the slope
of turf sweeping up to it. That's like a silent collision.
It's like a breaker and the back-wash of a wave."
March looked at the low-browed crag overhanging the green
slope and nodded. He was interested in a man who turned
so easily from the technicalities of science to those of art;
and asked him if he admired the new angular artists.
As I feel it, the Cubists are not Cubist enough,replied the stranger.
I mean they're not thick enough. By making things mathematical they
make them thin. Take the living lines out of that landscape, simplify it
to a right angle, and you flatten it out to a mere diagram on paper.
Diagrams have their own beauty; but it is of just the other sort,
They stand for the unalterable things; the calm, eternal, mathematical
sort of truths; what somebody calls the 'white radiance of'--
He stoppedand before the next word came something had
happened almost too quickly and completely to be realized.
From behind the overhanging rock came a noise and rush like
that of a railway train; and a great motor car appeared.
It topped the crest of cliffblack against the sun
like a battle-chariot rushing to destruction in some wild epic.
March automatically put out his hand in one futile gesture
as if to catch a falling tea-cup in a drawing-room.
For the fraction of a flash it seemed to leave the ledge of rock
like a flying ship; then the very sky seemed to turn over
like a wheeland it lay a ruin amid the tall grasses below
a line of gray smoke going up slowly from it into the silent air.
A little lower the figure of a man with gray hair lay tumbled
down the steep green slopehis limbs lying all at random
and his face turned away.
The eccentric fisherman dropped his net and walked swiftly toward
the spothis new acquaintance following him. As they drew near
there seemed a sort of monstrous irony in the fact that the dead
machine was still throbbing and thundering as busily as a factory
while the man lay so still.
He was unquestionably dead. The blood flowed in the grass
from a hopelessly fatal fracture at the back of the skull;
but the facewhich was turned to the sunwas uninjured
and strangely arresting in itself. It was one of those cases
of a strange face so unmistakable as to feel familiar.
We feelsomehowthat we ought to recognize iteven though we do not.
It was of the broadsquare sort with great jawsalmost like
that of a highly intellectual ape; the wide mouth shut so tight
as to be traced by a mere line; the nose short with the sort
of nostrils that seem to gape with an appetite for the air.
The oddest thing about the face was that one of the eyebrows was
cocked up at a much sharper angle than the other. March thought
he had never seen a face so naturally alive as that dead one.
And its ugly energy seemed all the stranger for its halo of hoary hair.
Some papers lay half fallen out of the pocketand from among them
March extracted a card-case. He read the name on the card aloud.
Sir Humphrey Turnbull. I'm sure I've heard that name somewhere.
His companion only gave a sort of a little sigh and was
silent for a momentas if ruminatingthen he merely said
The poor fellow is quite gone,and added some scientific terms
in which his auditor once more found himself out of his depth.
As things are,continued the same curiously well-informed person
it will be more legal for us to leave the body as it is until
the police are informed. In fact, I think it will be well if nobody
except the police is informed. Don't be surprised if I seem
to be keeping it dark from some of our neighbors round here.
Thenas if prompted to regularize his rather abrupt confidence
he said: "I've come down to see my cousin at Torwood;
my name is Horne Fisher. Might be a pun on my pottering
about heremightn't it?"
Is Sir Howard Horne your cousin?asked March. "I'm going
to Torwood Park to see him myself; only about his public work
of courseand the wonderful stand he is making for his principles.
I think this Budget is the greatest thing in English history.
If it failsit will be the most heroic failure in English history.
Are you an admirer of your great kinsmanMr. Fisher?"
Rather,said Mr. Fisher. "He's the best shot I know."
Thenas if sincerely repentant of his nonchalancehe added
with a sort of enthusiasm:
No, but really, he's a BEAUTIFUL shot.
As if fired by his own wordshe took a sort of leap at
the ledges of the rock above himand scaled them with a sudden
agility in startling contrast to his general lassitude.
He had stood for some seconds on the headland abovewith his
aquiline profile under the Panama hat relieved against the sky
and peering over the countryside before his companion had
collected himself sufficiently to scramble up after him.
The level above was a stretch of common turf on which the tracks
of the fated car were plowed plainly enough; but the brink of it
was broken as with rocky teeth; broken boulders of all shapes
and sizes lay near the edge; it was almost incredible that any
one could have deliberately driven into such a death trap
especially in broad daylight.
I can't make head or tail of it,said March. "Was he blind?
Or blind drunk?"
Neither, by the look of him,replied the other.
Then it was suicide.
It doesn't seem a cozy way of doing it,remarked the man
called Fisher. "BesidesI don't fancy poor old Puggy would
Poor old who?inquired the wondering journalist.Did you know
this unfortunate man?
Nobody knew him exactly,replied Fisherwith some vagueness.
But one KNEW him, of course. He'd been a terror in his time,
in Parliament and the courts, and so on; especially in that row
about the aliens who were deported as undesirables, when he wanted
one of 'em hanged for murder. He was so sick about it that he retired
from the bench. Since then he mostly motored about by himself;
but he was coming to Torwood, too, for the week-end; and I don't see
why he should deliberately break his neck almost at the very door.
I believe Hoggs--I mean my cousin Howard--was coming down specially
to meet him.
Torwood Park doesn't belong to your cousin?inquired March.
No; it used to belong to the Winthrops, you know,replied the other.
Now a new man's got it; a man from Montreal named Jenkins. Hoggs comes
for the shooting; I told you he was a lovely shot.
This repeated eulogy on the great social statesman affected Harold March
as if somebody had defined Napoleon as a distinguished player of nap.
But he had another half-formed impression struggling in this flood
of unfamiliar thingsand he brought it to the surface before
it could vanish.
Jenkins,he repeated. "Surely you don't mean Jefferson Jenkins
the social reformer? I mean the man who's fighting for the new
cottage-estate scheme. It would be as interesting to meet him as any
Cabinet Minister in the worldif you'll excuse my saying so."
Yes; Hoggs told him it would have to be cottages,said Fisher. "He said
the breed of cattle had improved too oftenand people were beginning
to laugh. Andof courseyou must hang a peerage on to something;
though the poor chap hasn't got it yet. Hullohere's somebody else."
They had started walking in the tracks of the car
leaving it behind them in the hollowstill humming horribly
like a huge insect that had killed a man. The tracks took
them to the corner of the roadone arm of which went
on in the same line toward the distant gates of the park.
It was clear that the car had been driven down the long
straight roadand theninstead of turning with the road
to the lefthad gone straight on over the turf to its doom.
But it was not this discovery that had riveted Fisher's eye
but something even more solid. At the angle of the white road a dark
and solitary figure was standing almost as still as a finger post.
It was that of a big man in rough shooting-clothesbareheaded
and with tousled curly hair that gave him a rather wild look.
On a nearer approach this first more fantastic impression faded;
in a full light the figure took on more conventional colors
as of an ordinary gentleman who happened to have come out
without a hat and without very studiously brushing his hair.
But the massive stature remainedand something deep
and even cavernous about the setting of the eyes redeemed.
his animal good looks from the commonplace. But March had no time
to study the man more closelyformuch to his astonishment
his guide merely observedHullo, Jack!and walked past
him as if he had indeed been a signpostand without
attempting to inform him of the catastrophe beyond the rocks.
It was relatively a small thingbut it was only the first
in a string of singular antics on which his new and eccentric
friend was leading him.
The man they had passed looked after them in rather a suspicious fashion
but Fisher continued serenely on his way along the straight road that ran
past the gates of the great estate.
That's John Burke, the traveler,he condescended to explain.
I expect you've heard of him; shoots big game and all that.
Sorry I couldn't stop to introduce you, but I dare say you'll
meet him later on.
I know his book, of course,said Marchwith renewed interest.
That is certainly a fine piece of description, about their being
only conscious of the closeness of the elephant when the colossal
head blocked out the moon.
Yes, young Halkett writes jolly well, I think. What? Didn't you know
Halkett wrote Burke's book for him? Burke can't use anything except
a gun; and you can't write with that. Oh, he's genuine enough in his way,
you know, as brave as a lion, or a good deal braver by all accounts.
You seem to know all about him,observed Marchwith a rather
bewildered laughand about a good many other people.
Fisher's bald brow became abruptly corrugatedand a curious
expression came into his eyes.
I know too much,he said. "That's what's the matter with me.
That's what's the matter with all of usand the whole show; we know
too much. Too much about one another; too much about ourselves.
That's why I'm really interestedjust nowabout one thing that
I don't know."
And that is?inquired the other.
Why that poor fellow is dead.
They had walked along the straight road for nearly a mile
conversing at intervals in this fashion; and March had a
singular sense of the whole world being turned inside out.
Mr. Horne Fisher did not especially abuse his friends and relatives
in fashionable society; of some of them he spoke with affection.
But they seemed to be an entirely new set of men and women
who happened to have the same nerves as the men and women mentioned
most often in the newspapers. Yet no fury of revolt could have seemed
to him more utterly revolutionary than this cold familiarity.
It was like daylight on the other side of stage scenery.
They reached the great lodge gates of the parkandto March's surprise
passed them and continued along the interminable whitestraight road.
But he was himself too early for his appointment with Sir Howard
and was not disinclined to see the end of his new friend's experiment
whatever it might be. They had long left the moorland behind them
and half the white road was gray in the great shadow of the Torwood
pine foreststhemselves like gray bars shuttered against the sunshine
and withinamid that clear noonmanufacturing their own midnight.
Soonhoweverrifts began to appear in them like gleams
of colored windows; the trees thinned and fell away as the road
went forwardshowing the wildirregular copses in which
as Fisher saidthe house-party had been blazing away all day.
And about two hundred yards farther on they came to the first turn
of the road.
At the corner stood a sort of decayed inn with the dingy sign
of The Grapes. The signboard was dark and indecipherable by now
and hung black against the sky and the gray moorland beyond
about as inviting as a gallows. March remarked that it looked
like a tavern for vinegar instead of wine.
A good phrase,said Fisherand so it would be if you were
silly enough to drink wine in it. But the beer is very good,
and so is the brandy.
March followed him to the bar parlor with some wonderand his dim sense
of repugnance was not dismissed by the first sight of the innkeeper
who was widely different from the genial innkeepers of romancea bony
manvery silent behind a black mustachebut with blackrestless eyes.
Taciturn as he wasthe investigator succeeded at last in extracting
a scrap of information from himby dint of ordering beer and talking
to him persistently and minutely on the subject of motor cars.
He evidently regarded the innkeeper as in some singular way an authority
on motor cars; as being deep in the secrets of the mechanism
managementand mismanagement of motor cars; holding the man all
the time with a glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner. Out of all
this rather mysterious conversation there did emerge at last a sort
of admission that one particular motor carof a given description
had stopped before the inn about an hour beforeand that an elderly man
had alightedrequiring some mechanical assistance. Asked if the visitor
required any other assistancethe innkeeper said shortly that the old
gentleman had filled his flask and taken a packet of sandwiches.
And with these words the somewhat inhospitable host had walked hastily
out of the barand they heard him banging doors in the dark interior.
Fisher's weary eye wandered round the dusty and dreary inn parlor
and rested dreamily on a glass case containing a stuffed bird
with a gun hung on hooks above itwhich seemed to be its only ornament.
Puggy was a humorist,he observedat least in his own rather
grim style. But it seems rather too grim a joke for a man to buy
a packet of sandwiches when he is just going to commit suicide.
If you come to that,answered Marchit isn't very usual
for a man to buy a packet of sandwiches when he's just outside
the door of a grand house he's going to stop at.
No . . . no,repeated Fisheralmost mechanically; and then suddenly
cocked his eye at his interlocutor with a much livelier expression.
By Jove! that's an idea. You're perfectly right.
And that suggests a very queer idea, doesn't it?
There was a silenceand then March started with irrational
nervousness as the door of the inn was flung open and another man
walked rapidly to the counter. He had struck it with a coin
and called out for brandy before he saw the other two guests
who were sitting at a bare wooden table under the window.
When he turned about with a rather wild stareMarch had yet
another unexpected emotionfor his guide hailed the man as Hoggs
and introduced him as Sir Howard Horne.
He looked rather older than his boyish portraits in the
illustrated papersas is the way of politicians; his flat
fair hair was touched with graybut his face was almost
comically roundwith a Roman nose whichwhen combined with
his quickbright eyesraised a vague reminiscence of a parrot.
He had a cap rather at the back of his head and a gun under his arm.
Harold March had imagined many things about his meeting with
the great political reformerbut he had never pictured him
with a gun under his armdrinking brandy in a public house.
So you're stopping at Jink's, too,said Fisher. "Everybody seems
to be at Jink's."
Yes,replied the Chancellor of the Exchequer. "Jolly good shooting.
At least all of it that isn't Jink's shooting. I never knew a chap
with such good shooting that was such a bad shot. Mind you
he's a jolly good fellow and all that; I don't say a word against him.
But he never learned to hold a gun when he was packing pork
or whatever he did. They say he shot the cockade off his own
servant's hat; just like him to have cockadesof course.
He shot the weathercock off his own ridiculous gilded summerhouse.
It's the only cock he'll ever killI should think.
Are you coming up there now?"
Fisher saidrather vaguelythat he was following soonwhen he had
fixed something up; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer left the inn.
March fancied he had been a little upset or impatient when he called
for the brandy; but he had talked himself back into a satisfactory state
if the talk had not been quite what his literary visitor had expected.
Fishera few minutes afterwardslowly led the way out of the tavern
and stood in the middle of the roadlooking down in the direction
from which they had traveled. Then he walked back about two hundred
yards in that direction and stood still again.
I should think this is about the place,he said.
What place?asked his companion.
The place where the poor fellow was killed,said Fishersadly.
What do you mean?demanded March.
He was smashed up on the rocks a mile and a half from here.
No, he wasn't,replied Fisher. "He didn't fall on the rocks at all.
Didn't you notice that he only fell on the slope of soft
grass underneath? But I saw that he had a bullet in him already."
Then after a pause he added:
He was alive at the inn, but he was dead long before he came
to the rocks. So he was shot as he drove his car down this strip
of straight road, and I should think somewhere about here.
After that, of course, the car went straight on with nobody
to stop or turn it. It's really a very cunning dodge in its way;
for the body would be found far away, and most people
would say, as you do, that it was an accident to a motorist.
The murderer must have been a clever brute.
But wouldn't the shot be heard at the inn or somewhere?asked March.
It would be heard. But it would not be noticed.
That,continued the investigatoris where he was clever again.
Shooting was going on all over the place all day; very likely
he timed his shot so as to drown it in a number of others.
Certainly he was a first-class criminal. And he was something
else as well.
What do you mean?asked his companionwith a creepy premonition
of something cominghe knew not why.
He was a first-class shot,said Fisher. He had turned
his back abruptly and was walking down a narrowgrassy lane
little more than a cart trackwhich lay opposite the inn and marked
the end of the great estate and the beginning of the open moors.
March plodded after him with the same idle perseverance
and found him staring through a gap in giant weeds and thorns
at the flat face of a painted paling. From behind the paling
rose the great gray columns of a row of poplarswhich filled
the heavens above them with dark-green shadow and shook
faintly in a wind which had sunk slowly into a breeze.
The afternoon was already deepening into eveningand the titanic
shadows of the poplars lengthened over a third of the landscape.
Are you a first-class criminal?asked Fisherin a friendly tone.
I'm afraid I'm not. But I think I can manage to be a sort
of fourth-rate burglar.
And before his companion could reply he had managed to swing
himself up and over the fence; March followed without much
bodily effortbut with considerable mental disturbance.
The poplars grew so close against the fence that they had some
difficulty in slipping past themand beyond the poplars they could
see only a high hedge of laurelgreen and lustrous in the level sun.
Something in this limitation by a series of living walls made him
feel as if he were really entering a shattered house instead of an
open field. It was as if he came in by a disused door or window
and found the way blocked by furniture. When they had circumvented
the laurel hedgethey came out on a sort of terrace of turf
which fell by one green step to an oblong lawn like a bowling green.
Beyond this was the only building in sighta low conservatory
which seemed far away from anywherelike a glass cottage
standing in its own fields in fairyland. Fisher knew that lonely
look of the outlying parts of a great house well enough.
He realized that it is more of a satire on aristocracy than if it
were choked with weeds and littered with ruins. For it is not
neglected and yet it is deserted; at any rateit is disused.
It is regularly swept and garnished for a master who never comes.
Looking over the lawnhoweverhe saw one object which he had
not apparently expected. It was a sort of tripod supporting
a large disk like the round top of a table tipped sideways
and it was not until they had dropped on to the lawn and walked
across to look at it that March realized that it was a target.
It was worn and weatherstained; the gay colors of its concentric
rings were faded; possibly it had been set up in those
far-off Victorian days when there was a fashion of archery.
March had one of his vague visions of ladies in cloudy crinolines
and gentlemen in outlandish hats and whiskers revisiting
that lost garden like ghosts.
Fisherwho was peering more closely at the targetstartled him
by an exclamation.
Hullo!he said. "Somebody has been peppering this thing with shot
after alland quite latelytoo. WhyI believe old Jink's been
trying to improve his bad shooting here."
Yes, and it looks as if it still wanted improving,
answered Marchlaughing. "Not one of these shots is anywhere
near the bull's-eye; they seem just scattered about in
the wildest way."
In the wildest way,repeated Fisherstill peering intently
at the target. He seemed merely to assentbut March fancied
his eye was shining under its sleepy lid and that he straightened
his stooping figure with a strange effort.
Excuse me a moment,he saidfeeling in his pockets.
I think I've got some of my chemicals; and after that we'll
go up to the house.And he stooped again over the target
putting something with his finger over each of the shot-holes
so far as March could see merely a dull-gray smear.
Then they went through the gathering twilight up the long green
avenues to the great house.
Here againhoweverthe eccentric investigator did not enter
by the front door. He walked round the house until he found
a window openandleaping into itintroduced his friend
to what appeared to be the gun-room. Rows of the regular
instruments for bringing down birds stood against the walls;
but across a table in the window lay one or two weapons of a
heavier and more formidable pattern.
Hullo I these are Burke's big-game rifles,said Fisher.
I never knew he kept them here.He lifted one of them
examined it brieflyand put it down againfrowning heavily.
Almost as he did so a strange young man came hurriedly into the room.
He was dark and sturdywith a bumpy forehead and a bulldog jaw
and he spoke with a curt apology.
I left Major Burke's guns here,he saidand he wants them packed up.
He's going away to-night.
And he carried off the two rifles without casting a glance at
the stranger; through the open window they could see his short
dark figure walking away across the glimmering garden.
Fisher got out of the window again and stood looking after him.
That's Halkett, whom I told you about,he said. "I knew he was a sort
of secretary and had to do with Burke's papers; but I never knew he.
had anything to do with his guns. But he's just the sort of silent
sensible little devil who might be very good at anything; the sort
of man you know for years before you find he's a chess champion."
He had begun to walk in the direction of the disappearing secretary
and they soon came within sight of the rest of the house-party talking
and laughing on the lawn. They could see the tall figure and loose
mane of the lion-hunter dominating the little group.
By the way,observed Fisherwhen we were talking about
Burke and Halkett, I said that a man couldn't very well write
with a gun. Well, I'm not so sure now. Did you ever hear
of an artist so clever that he could draw with a gun?
There's a wonderful chap loose about here.
Sir Howard hailed Fisher and his friend the journalist
with almost boisterous amiability. The latter was presented
to Major Burke and Mr. Halkett and also (by way of a parenthesis)
to his hostMr. Jenkinsa commonplace little man in loud tweeds
whom everybody else seemed to treat with a sort of affection
as if he were a baby.
The irrepressible Chancellor of the Exchequer was still talking
about the birds he had brought downthe birds that Burke
and Halkett had brought downand the birds that Jenkins
their hosthad failed to bring down. It seemed to be a sort
of sociable monomania.
You and your big game,he ejaculatedaggressively
to Burke. "Whyanybody could shoot big game. You want to be
a shot to shoot small game."
Quite so,interposed Horne Fisher. "Now if only a hippopotamus
could fly up in the air out of that bushor you preserved flying
elephants on the estatewhythen--"
Why even Jink might hit that sort of bird,cried Sir Howard
hilariously slapping his host on the back. "Even he might hit
a haystack or a hippopotamus."
Look here, you fellows,said Fisher. "I want you to come
along with me for a minute and shoot at something else.
Not a hippopotamus. Another kind of queer animal I've found
on the estate. It's an animal with three legs and one eye
and it's all the colors of the rainbow."
What the deuce are you talking about?asked Burke.
You come along and see,replied Fishercheerfully.
Such people seldom reject anything nonsensicalfor they are always
seeking for somethingnew. They gravely rearmed themselves fromthe
gun-room and trooped along at the tail of their guideSir Howard
only pausingin a sort of ecstasyto point out the celebrated gilt
summerhouse on which the gilt weathercock still stood crooked.
It was dusk turning to dark by the time they reached the remote green
by the poplars and accepted the new and aimless game of shooting
at the old mark.
The last light seemed to fade from the lawnand the poplars
against the sunset were like great plumes upon a purple hearse
when the futile procession finally curved roundand came out
in front of the target. Sir Howard again slapped his host on
the shouldershoving him playfully forward to take the first shot.
The shoulder and arm he touched seemed unnaturally stiff and angular.
Mr. Jenkins was holding his gun in an attitude more awkward
than any that his satiric friends had seen or expected.
At the same instant a horrible scream seemed to come from nowhere.
It was so unnatural and so unsuited to the scene that it might
have been made by some inhuman thing flying on wings above them
or eavesdropping in the dark woods beyond. But Fisher knew that it
had started and stopped on the pale lips of Jefferson Jenkins
of Montrealand no one at that moment catching sight of
Jefferson Jenkins's face would have complained that it was commonplace.
The next moment a torrent of guttural but good-humored oaths came from
Major Burke as he and the two other men saw what was in front of them.
The target stood up in the dim grass like a dark goblin grinning
at themand it was literally grinning. It had two eyes like stars
and in similar livid points of light were picked out the two upturned
and open nostrils and the two ends of the wide and tight mouth.
A few white dots above each eye indicated the hoary eyebrows;
and one of them ran upward almost erect. It was a brilliant
caricature done in bright botted lines and March knew of whom.
It shone in the shadowy grasssmeared with sea fire as if one
of the submarine monsters had crawled into the twilight garden;
but it had the head of a dead man.
It's only luminous paint,said Burke. "Old Fisher's been having
a joke with that phosphorescent stuff of his."
Seems to be meant for old Puggy' observed Sir Howard. "Hits him
off very well."
With that they all laughedexcept Jenkins. When they had all done
he made a noise like the first effort of an animal to laugh
and Horne Fisher suddenly strode across to him and said:
Mr. Jenkins, I must speak to you at once in private.
It was by the little watercourse in the moorson the slope
under the hanging rockthat March met his new friend Fisher
by appointmentshortly after the ugly and almost grotesque
scene that had broken up the group in the garden.
It was a monkey-trick of mine,observed Fishergloomily
putting phosphorus on the target; but the only chance
to make him jump was to give him the horrors suddenly.
And when he saw the face he'd shot at shining on the target
he practiced on, all lit up with an infernal light, he did jump.
Quite enough for my own intellectual satisfaction.
I'm afraid I don't quite understand even now,said March
exactly what he did or why he did it.
You ought to,replied Fisherwith his rather dreary smile
for you gave me the first suggestion yourself. Oh yes, you did;
and it was. a very shrewd one. You said a man wouldn't take
sandwiches with him to dine at a great house. It was quite true;
and the inference was that, though he was going there,
he didn't mean to dine there. Or, at any rate, that he might
not be dining there. It occurred to me at once that he probably
expected the visit to be unpleasant, or the reception doubtful,
or something that would prevent his accepting hospitality.
Then it struck me that Turnbull was a terror to certain shady
characters in the past, and that he had come down to identify
and denounce one of them. The chances at the start pointed
to the host--that is, Jenkins. I'm morally certain now that
Jenkins was the undesirable alien Turnbull wanted to convict
in another shooting-affair, but you see the shooting gentleman
had another shot in his locker.
But you said he would have to be a very good shot,protested March.
Jenkins is a very good shot,said Fisher. "A very good shot
who can pretend to be a very bad shot. Shall I tell you the second
hint I hit onafter yoursto make me think it was Jenkins? It was
my cousin's account of his bad shooting. He'd shot a cockade off
a hat and a weathercock off a building. Nowin facta man must
shoot very well indeed to shoot so badly as that. He must shoot
very neatly to hit the cockade and not the heador even the hat.
If the shots had really gone at randomthe chances are a thousand to one
that they would not have hit such prominent and picturesque objects.
They were chosen because they were prominent and picturesque objects.
They make a story to go the round of society. He keeps the crooked
weathercock in the summerhouse to perpetuate the story of a legend.
And then he lay in wait with his evil eye and wicked gunsafely ambushed
behind the legend of his own incompetence.
But there is more than that. There is the summerhouse itself.
I mean there is the whole thing. There's all that Jenkins
gets chaffed about, the gilding and the gaudy colors and all
the vulgarity that's supposed to stamp him as an upstart.
Now, as a matter of fact, upstarts generally don't do this.
God knows there's enough of 'em in society; and one knows
'em well enough. And this is the very last thing they do.
They're generally only too keen to know the right thing and do it;
and they instantly put themselves body and soul into the hands
of art decorators and art experts, who do the whole thing for them.
There's hardly another millionaire alive who has the moral courage
to have a gilt monogram on a chair like that one in the gun-room.
For that matter, there's the name as well as the monogram.
Names like Tompkins and Jenkins and Jinks are funny without
being vulgar; I mean they are vulgar without being common.
If you prefer it, they are commonplace without being common.
They are just the names to be chosen to LOOK ordinary,
but they're really rather extraordinary. Do you know many people
called Tompkins? It's a good deal rarer than Talbot. It's pretty
much the same with the comic clothes of the parvenu.
Jenkins dresses like a character in Punch. But that's because
he is a character in Punch. I mean he's a fictitious character.
He's a fabulous animal. He doesn't exist.
Have you ever considered what it must be like to be a man who
doesn't exist? I mean to be a man with a fictitious character that
he has to keep up at the expense not merely of personal talents:
To be a new kind of hypocrite hiding a talent in a new kind of napkin.
This man has chosen his hypocrisy very ingeniously; it was really
a new one. A subtle villain has dressed up as a dashing gentleman
and a worthy business man and a philanthropist and a saint; but the loud
checks of a comical little cad were really rather a new disguise.
But the disguise must be very irksome to a man who can really do things.
This is a dexterous little cosmopolitan guttersnipe who can do scores of
thingsnot only shootbut draw and paintand probably play the fiddle.
Now a man like that may find the hiding of his talents useful;
but he could never help wanting to use them where they were useless.
If he can drawhe will draw absent-mindedly on blotting paper.
I suspect this rascal has often drawn poor old Puggy's face on
blotting paper. Probably he began doing it in blots as he afterward
did it in dotsor rather shots. It was the same sort of thing;
he found a disused target in a deserted yard and couldn't resist
indulging in a little secret shootinglike secret drinking.
You thought the shots all scattered and irregularand so
they were; but not accidental. No two distances were alike;
but the different points were exactly where he wanted to put them.
There's nothing needs such mathematical precision as a wild caricature.
I've dabbled a little in drawing myselfand I assure you that to put
one dot where you want it is a marvel with a pen close to a piece
of paper. It was a miracle to do it across a garden with a gun.
But a man who can work those miracles will always itch to work them
if it's only in the dark."
After a pause March observedthoughtfullyBut he couldn't have
brought him down like a bird with one of those little guns.
No; that was why I went into the gun-room,replied Fisher. "He did it
with one of Burke's riflesand Burke thought he knew the sound of it.
That's why he rushed out without a hatlooking so wild. He saw
nothing but a car passing quicklywhich he followed for a little way
and then concluded he'd made a mistake."
There was another silenceduring which Fisher sat on a great
stone as motionless as on their first meetingand watched
the gray and silver river eddying past under the bushes.
Then March saidabruptlyOf course he knows the truth now.
Nobody knows the truth but you and I,answered Fisher
with a certain softening in his voice. "And I don't think you
and I will ever quarrel."
What do you mean?asked Marchin an altered accent.
What have you done about it?
Horne Fisher continued to gaze steadily at the eddying stream.
At last he saidThe police have proved it was a motor accident.
But you know it was not.
I told you that I know too much,replied Fisherwith his eye
on the river. "I know thatand I know a great many other things.
I know the atmosphere and the way the whole thing works.
I know this fellow has succeeded in making himself something
incurably commonplace and comic. I know you can't get up
a persecution of old Toole or Little Tich. If I were to tell
Hoggs or Halkett that old Jink was an assassinthey would
almost die of laughter before my eyes. OhI don't say their
laughter's quite innocentthough it's genuine in its way.
They want old Jinkand they couldn't do without him. I don't say
I'm quite innocent. I like Hoggs; I don't want him to be down
and out; and he'd be done for if Jink can't pay for his coronet.
They were devilish near the line at the last election.
But the only real objection to it is that it's impossible.
Nobody would believe it; it's not in the picture.
The crooked weathercock would always turn it into a joke."
Don't you think this is infamous?asked Marchquietly.
I think a good many things,replied the other. "If you people ever
happen to blow the whole tangle of society to hell with dynamite
I don't know that the human race will be much the worse.
But don't be too hard on me merely because I know what society is.
That's why I moon away my time over things like stinking fish."
There was a pause as he settled himself down again by the stream;
and then he added:
I told you before I had to throw back the big fish.
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
This tale begins among a tangle of tales round a name that is at
once recent and legendary. The name is that of Michael O'Neill
popularly called Prince Michaelpartly because he claimed
descent from ancient Fenian princesand partly because he was
credited with a plan to make himself prince president of Ireland
as the last Napoleon did of France. He was undoubtedly
a gentleman of honorable pedigree and of many accomplishments
but two of his accomplishments emerged from all the rest.
He had a talent for appearing when he was not wanted and a
talent for disappearing when he was wantedespecially when
he was wanted by the police. It may be added that his
disappearances were more dangerous than his appearances.
In the latter he seldom went beyond the sensational--
pasting up seditious placardstearing down official placards
making flamboyant speechesor unfurling forbidden flags.
But in order to effect the former he would sometimes fight for
his freedom with startling energyfrom which men were sometimes
lucky to escape with a broken head instead of a broken neck.
His most famous feats of escapehoweverwere due to dexterity
and not to violence. On a cloudless summer morning he had come down
a country road white with dustandpausing outside a farmhouse
had told the farmer's daughterwith elegant indifference
that the local police were in pursuit of him. The girl's name
was Bridget Roycea somber and even sullen type of beauty
and she looked at him darklyas if in doubtand said
Do you want me to hide you?Upon which he only laughed
leaped lightly over the stone walland strode toward the farm
merely throwing over his shoulder the remarkThank you,
I have generally been quite capable of hiding myself.
In which proceeding he acted with a tragic ignorance of the
nature of women; and there fell on his path in that sunshine
a shadow of doom.
While he disappeared through the farmhouse the girl remained for a few
moments looking up the roadand two perspiring policemen came plowing up
to the door where she stood. Though still angryshe was still silent
and a quarter of an hour later the officers had searched the house
and were already inspecting the kitchen garden and cornfield behind it.
In the ugly reaction of her mood she might have been tempted even to
point out the fugitivebut for a small difficulty that she had no more
notion than the policemen had of where he could possibly have gone.
The kitchen garden was inclosed by a very low walland the cornfield
beyond lay aslant like a square patch on a great green hill on
which he could still have been seen even as a dot in the distance.
Everything stood solid in its familiar place; the apple tree was
too small to support or hide a climber; the only shed stood open
and obviously empty; there was no sound save the droning of summer
flies and the occasional flutter of a bird unfamiliar enough to be
surprised by the scarecrow in the field; there was scarcely a shadow
save a few blue lines that fell from the thin tree; every detail
was picked out by the brilliant day light as if in a microscope.
The girl described the scene laterwith all the passionate realism
of her raceandwhether or no the policemen had a similar eye for
the picturesquethey had at least an eye for the facts of the case
and were compelled to give up the chase and retire from the scene.
Bridget Royce remained as if in a trancestaring at the sunlit
garden in which a man had just vanished like a fairy. She was still
in a sinister moodand the miracle took in her mind a character of
unfriendliness and fearas if the fairy were decidedly a bad fairy.
The sun upon the glittering garden depressed her more than the darkness
but she continued to stare at it. Then the world itself went
half-witted and she screamed. The scarecrow moved in the sun light.
It had stood with its back to her in a battered old black hat and a
tattered garmentand with all its tatters flyingit strode away
across the hill.
She did not analyze the audacious trick by which the man had turned
to his advantage the subtle effects of the expected and the obvious;
she was still under the cloud of more individual complexitiesand she
noticed must of all that the vanishing scarecrow did not even turn to look
at the farm. And the fates that were running so adverse to his fantastic
career of freedom ruled that his next adventurethough it had the same
success in another quartershould increase the danger in this quarter.
Among the many similar adventures related of him in this manner it is also
said that some days afterward another girlnamed Mary Creganfound him
concealed on the farm where she worked; and if the story is trueshe must
also have had the shock of an uncanny experiencefor when she was busy at
some lonely task in the yard she heard a voice speaking out of the well
and found that the eccentric had managed to drop himself into the bucket
which was some little way belowthe well only partly full of water.
In this casehoweverhe had to appeal to the woman to wind up the rope.
And men say it was when this news was told to the other woman that her
soul walked over the border line of treason.
Suchat leastwere the stories told of him in the countryside
and there were many more--as that he had stood insolently in a splendid
green dressing gown on the steps of a great hoteland then led
the police a chase through a long suite of grand apartmentsand finally
through his own bedroom on to a balcony that overhung the river.
The moment the pursuers stepped on to the balcony it broke under them
and they dropped pell-mell into the eddying waterswhile Michael
who had thrown off his gown and divedwas able to swim away.
It was said that he had carefully cut away the props so that
they would not support anything so heavy as a policeman.
But here again he was immediately fortunateyet ultimately
unfortunatefor it is said that one of the men was drowned
leaving a family feud which made a little rift in his popularity.
These stories can now be told in some detailnot because they are
the most marvelous of his many adventuresbut because these alone
were not covered with silence by the loyalty of the peasantry.
These alone found their way into official reportsand it is these
which three of the chief officials of the country were reading
and discussing when the more remarkable part of this story begins.
Night was far advanced and the lights shone in the cottage
that served for a temporary police station near the coast.
On one side of it were the last houses of the straggling village
and on the other nothing but a waste moorland stretching away
toward the seathe line of which was broken by no landmark except
a solitary tower of the prehistoric pattern still found in Ireland
standing up as slender as a columnbut pointed like a pyramid.
At a wooden table in front of the windowwhich normally
looked out on this landscapesat two men in plain clothes
but with something of a military bearingfor indeed they
were the two chiefs of the detective service of that district.
The senior of the twoboth in age and rankwas a sturdy man
with a short white beardand frosty eyebrows fixed in a frown
which suggested rather worry than severity.
His name was Mortonand he was a Liverpool man long
pickled in the Irish quarrelsand doing his duty among
them in a sour fashion not altogether unsympathetic.
He had spoken a few sentences to his companionNolana tall
dark man with a cadaverous equine Irish facewhen he seemed to
remember something and touched a bell which rang in another room.
The subordinate he had summoned immediately appeared with a sheaf
of papers in his hand.
Sit down, Wilson,he said. "Those are the dispositionsI suppose."
Yes,replied the third officer. "I think I've got all there
is to be got out of themso I sent the people away."
Did Mary Cregan give evidence?asked Mortonwith a frown
that looked a little heavier than usual.
No, but her master did,answered the man called Wilson
who had flatred hair and a plainpale facenot without sharpness.
I think he's hanging round the girl himself and is out against a rival.
There's always some reason of that sort when we are told the truth
about anything. And you bet the other girl told right enough.
Well, let's hope they'll be some sort of use,remarked Nolan
in a somewhat hopeless mannergazing out into the darkness.
Anything is to the good,said Mortonthat lets us know
anything about him.
Do we know anything about him?asked the melancholy Irishman.
We know one thing about him,said Wilsonand it's the one thing
that nobody ever knew before. We know where be is.
Are you sure?inquired Mortonlooking at him sharply.
Quite sure,replied his assistant. "At this very minute
he is in that tower over there by the shore. If you go near
enough you'll see the candle burning in the window."
As he spoke the noise of a horn sounded on the road outside
and a moment after they heard the throbbing of a motor car brought
to a standstill before the door. Morton instantly sprang to his feet.
tly sprang to his feet.
Thank the Lord that's the car from Dublin,he said.
I can't do anything without special authority, not if he were
sitting on the top of the tower and putting out his tongue at us.
But the chief can do what he thinks best.
He hurried out to the entrance and was soon exchanging greetings with
a big handsome man in a fur coatwho brought into the dingy little
station the indescribable glow of the great cities and the luxuries
of the great world.
For this was Sir Walter Careyan official of such eminence in
Dublin Castle that nothing short of the case of Prince Michael would
have brought him on such a journey in the middle of the night.
But the case of Prince Michaelas it happenedwas complicated by
legalism as well as lawlessness. On the last occasion he had escaped
by a forensic quibble and notas usualby a private escapade; and it
was a question whether at the moment he was amenable to the law or not.
It might be necessary to stretch a pointbut a man like Sir Walter
could probably stretch it as far as he liked.
Whether he intended to do so was a question to be considered.
Despite the almost aggressive touch of luxury in the fur coat
it soon became apparent that Sir Walter's large leonine head was
for use as well as ornamentand he considered the matter soberly
and sanely enough. Five chairs were set round the plain deal table
for who should Sir Walter bring with him but his young relative
and secretaryHorne Fisher. Sir Walter listened with grave attention
and his secretary with polite boredomto the string of episodes
by which the police had traced the flying rebel from the steps
of the hotel to the solitary tower beside the sea. There at least
he was cornered between the moors and the breakers; and the scout
sent by Wilson reported him as writing under a solitary candle
perhaps composing another of his tremendous proclamations.
Indeedit would have been typical of him to choose it as the place
in which finally to turn to bay. He had some remote claim on it
as on a family castle; and those who knew him thought him capable
of imitating the primitive Irish chieftains who fell fighting
against the sea.
I saw some queer-looking people leaving as I came in,
said Sir Walter Carey. "I suppose they were your witnesses.
But why do they turn up here at this time of night?"
Morton smiled grimly. "They come here by night because they would
be dead men if they came here by day. They are criminals committing
a crime that is more horrible here than theft or murder."
What crime do you mean?asked the otherwith some curiosity.
They are helping the law,said Morton.
There was a silenceand Sir Walter considered the papers before him
with an abstracted eye. At last he spoke.
Quite so; but look here, if the local feeling is as lively
as that there are a good many points to consider. I believe
the new Act will enable me to collar him now if I think it best.
But is it best? A serious rising would do us no good in Parliament,
and the government has enemies in England as well as Ireland. It won't
do if I have done what looks a little like sharp practice,
and then only raised a revolution.
It's all the other way,said the man called Wilsonrather quickly.
There won't be half so much of a revolution if you arrest him
as there will if you leave him loose for three days longer.
But, anyhow, there can't be anything nowadays that the proper
police can't manage.
Mr. Wilson is a Londoner,said the Irish detectivewith a smile.
Yes, I'm a cockney, all right,replied Wilsonand I think I'm
all the better for that. Especially at this job, oddly enough.
Sir Walter seemed slightly amused at the pertinacity of the third officer
and perhaps even more amused at the slight accent with which he spoke
which rendered rather needless his boast about his origin.
Do you mean to say,he askedthat you know more about the business
here because you have come from London?
Sounds funny, I know, but I do believe it,answered Wilson. "I believe
these affairs want fresh methods. But most of all I believe they want
a fresh eye."
The superior officers laughedand the redhaired man went
on with a slight touch of temper:
Well, look at the facts. See how the fellow got away every time,
and you'll understand what I mean. Why was he able to stand
in the place of the scarecrow, hidden by nothing but an old hat?
Because it was a village policeman who knew the scarecrow
was there, was expecting it, and therefore took no notice of it.
Now I never expect a scarecrow. I've never seen one in
the street, and I stare at one when I see it in the field.
It's a new thing to me and worth noticing. And it was just
the same when he hid in the well. You are ready to find a well
in a place like that; you look for a well, and so you don't see it.
I don't look for it, and therefore I do look at it.
It is certainly an idea,said Sir Waltersmilingbut what about
the balcony? Balconies are occasionally seen in London.
But not rivers right under them, as if it was in Venice,replied Wilson.
It is certainly a new idea,repeated Sir Walterwith something
like respect. He had all the love of the luxurious classes for
new ideas. But he also had a critical facultyand was inclined
to thinkafter due reflectionthat it was a true idea as well.
Growing dawn had already turned the window panes from black to gray
when Sir Walter got abruptly to his feet. The others rose also
taking this for a signal that the arrest was to be undertaken.
But their leader stood for a moment in deep thoughtas if conscious
that he had come to a parting of the ways.
Suddenly the silence was pierced by a longwailing cry from the dark
moors outside. The silence that followed it seemed more startling
than the shriek itselfand it lasted until Nolan saidheavily:
'Tis the banshee. Somebody is marked for the grave.
His longlarge-featured face was as pale as a moonand it was easy
to remember that he was the only Irishman in the room.
Well, I know that banshee,said Wilsoncheerfullyignorant as you
think I am of these things. I talked to that banshee myself an hour ago,
and I sent that banshee up to the tower and told her to sing out like
that if she could get a glimpse of our friend writing his proclamation.
Do you mean that girl Bridget Royce?asked Mortondrawing his frosty
brows together. "Has she turned king's evidence to that extent?"
Yes,answered Wilson. "I know very little of these local things
you tell mebut I reckon an angry woman is much the same
in all countries."
Nolanhoweverseemed still moody and unlike himself.
It's an ugly noise and an ugly business altogether,he said.
If it's really the end of Prince Michael it may well be the end
of other things as well. When the spirit is on him he would
escape by a ladder of dead men, and wade through that sea if it
were made of blood.
Is that the real reason of your pious alarms?asked Wilson
with a slight sneer.
The Irishman's pale face blackened with a new passion.
I have faced as many murderers in County Clare as you ever fought
with in Clapham junction, Mr. Cockney,he said.
Hush, please,said Mortonsharply. "Wilsonyou have no
kind of right to imply doubt of your superior's conduct.
I hope you will prove yourself as courageous and trustworthy
as he has always been."
The pale face of the red-haired man seemed a shade paler
but he was silent and composedand Sir Walter went up to Nolan
with marked courtesysayingShall we go outside now,
and get this business done?
Dawn had liftedleaving a wide chasm of white between a great gray
cloud and the great gray moorlandbeyond which the tower was outlined
against the daybreak and the sea.
Something in its plain and primitive shape vaguely
suggested the dawn in the first days of the earthin some
prehistoric time when even the colors were hardly created
when there was only blank daylight between cloud and clay.
These dead hues were relieved only by one spot of gold--
the spark of the candle alight in the window of the lonely tower
and burning on into the broadening daylight. As the group
of detectivesfollowed by a cordon of policemenspread out
into a crescent to cut off all escapethe light in the tower
flashed as if it were moved for a momentand then went out.
They knew the man inside had realized the daylight and blown
out his candle.
There are other windows, aren't there?asked Morton
and a door, of course, somewhere round the corner?
Only a round tower has no corners.
Another example of my small suggestion,observed Wilsonquietly.
That queer tower was the first thing I saw when I came to these parts;
and I can tell you a little more about it--or, at any rate, the outside
of it. There are four windows altogether, one a little way from
this one, but just out of sight. Those are both on the ground floor,
and so is the third on the other side, making a sort of triangle.
But the fourth is just above the third, and I suppose it looks on
an upper floor.
It's only a sort of loft, reached by a ladder, said Nolan. I've played
in the place when I was a child. It's no more than an empty shell."
And his sad face grew sadderthinking perhaps of the tragedy of his
country and the part that he played in it.
The man must have got a table and chair, at any rate,said Wilson
but no doubt he could have got those from some cottage.
If I might make a suggestion, sir, I think we ought
to approach all the five entrances at once, so to speak.
One of us should go to the door and one to each window;
Macbride here has a ladder for the upper window.
Mr. Horne Fisher languidly turned to his distinguished relative
and spoke for the first time.
I am rather a convert to the cockney school of psychology,
he said in an almost inaudible voice.
The others seemed to feel the same influence in different ways
for the group began to break up in the manner indicated.
Morton moved toward the window immediately in front of them
where the hidden outlaw had just snuffed the candle; Nolana little
farther westward to the next window; while Wilsonfollowed by
Macbride with the ladderwent round to the two windows at the back.
Sir Walter Carey himselffollowed by his secretary
began to walk round toward the only doorto demand admittance
in a more regular fashion.
He will be armed, of course,remarked Sir Waltercasually.
By all accounts,replied Horne Fisherhe can do
more with a candlestick than most men with a pistol.
But he is pretty sure to have the pistol, too.
Even as he spoke the question was answered with a tongue of thunder.
Morton had just placed himself in front of the nearest window
his broad shoulders. blocking the aperture. For an instant it was lit
from within as with red firefollowed by a thundering throng of echoes.
The square shoulders seemed to alter in shapeand the sturdy figure
collapsed among the tallrank grasses at the foot of the tower.
A puff of smoke floated from the window like a little cloud.
The two men behind rushed to the spot and raised himbut he was dead.
Sir Walter straightened himself and called out something that was
lost in another noise of firing; it was possible that the police
were already avenging their comrade from the other side.
Fisher had already raced round to the next windowand a new cry
of astonishment from him brought his patron to the same spot.
Nolanthe Irish policemanhad also fallensprawling all his
great length in the grassand it was red with his blood.
He was still alive when they reached himbut there was death
on his faceand he was only able to make a final gesture
telling them that all was over; andwith a broken word and a
heroic effortmotioning them on to where his other comrades
were besieging the back of the tower. Stunned by these rapid
and repeated shocksthe two men could only vaguely obey
the gestureandfinding their way to the other windows at the back
they discovered a scene equally startlingif less final and tragic.
The other two officers were not dead or mortally wounded
but Macbride lay with a broken leg and his ladder on top of him
evidently thrown down from the top window of the tower;
while Wilson lay on his facequite still as if stunned
with his red head among the gray and silver of the sea holly.
In himhoweverthe impotence was but momentaryfor he began
to move and rise as the others came round the tower.
My God! it's like an explosion!cried Sir Walter;
and indeed it was the only word for this unearthly energy
by which one man had been able to deal death or destruction
on three sides of the same small triangle at the same instant.
Wilson had already scrambled to his feet and with splendid
energy flew again at the windowrevolver in hand.
He fired twice into the opening and then disappeared in his
own smoke; but the thud of his feet and the shock of a falling
chair told them that the intrepid Londoner had managed at
last to leap into the room. Then followed a curious silence;
and Sir Walterwalking to the window through the thinning smoke
looked into the hollow shell of the ancient tower.
Except for Wilsonstaring around himthere was nobody there.
The inside of the tower was a single empty roomwith nothing
but a plain wooden chair and a table on which were pens
ink and paperand the candlestick. Halfway up the high wall
there was a rude timber platform under the upper window
a small loft which was more like a large shelf. It was reached
only by a ladderand it seemed to be as bare as the bare walls.
Wilson completed his survey of the place and then went and stared
at the things on the table. Then he silently pointed with
his lean forefinger at the open page of the large notebook.
The writer had suddenly stopped writingeven in the middle
of a word.
I said it was like an explosion,said Sir Walter Carey at last.
And really the man himself seems to have suddenly exploded.
But he has blown himself up somehow without touching the tower.
He's burst more like a bubble than a bomb.
He has touched more valuable things than the tower,
There was a long silenceand then Sir Walter saidseriously:
Well, Mr. Wilson, I am not a detective, and these unhappy
happenings have left you in charge of that branch of the business.
We all lament the cause of this, but I should like to say that I myself
have the strongest confidence in your capacity for carrying on the work.
What do you think we should do next?
Wilson seemed to rouse himself from his depression and acknowledged
the speaker's words with a warmer civility than he had hitherto
shown to anybody. He called in a few of the police to assist
in routing out the interiorleaving the rest to spread themselves
in a search party outside.
I think,he saidthe first thing is to make quite sure about
the inside of this place, as it was hardly physically possible
for him to have got outside. I suppose poor Nolan would have
brought in his banshee and said it was supernaturally possible.
But I've got no use for disembodied spirits when I'm dealing with facts.
And the facts before me are an empty tower with a ladder, a chair,
and a table.
The spiritualists,said Sir Walterwith a smilewould say
that spirits could find a great deal of use for a table.
I dare say they could if the spirits were on the table--in a bottle,
replied Wilsonwith a curl of his pale lip. "The people round here
when they're all sodden up with Irish whiskymay believe in such things.
I think they want a little education in this country."
Horne Fisher's heavy eyelids fluttered in a faint attempt to rise
as if he were tempted to a lazy protest against the contemptuous
tone of the investigator.
The Irish believe far too much in spirits to believe
in spiritualism,he murmured. "They know too much about 'em.
If you want a simple and childlike faith in any spirit that comes
along you can get it in your favorite London."
I don't want to get it anywhere,said Wilsonshortly.
I say I'm dealing with much simpler things than your
simple faith, with a table and a chair and a ladder.
Now what I want to say about them at the start is this.
They are all three made roughly enough of plain wood.
But the table and the chair are fairly new and comparatively clean.
The ladder is covered with dust and there is a cobweb under
the top rung of it. That means that he borrowed the first
two quite recently from some cottage, as we supposed,
but the ladder has been a long time in this rotten old dustbin.
Probably it was part of the original furniture, an heirloom
in this magnificent palace of the Irish kings.
Again Fisher looked at him under his eyelidsbut seemed too sleepy
to speakand Wilson went on with his argument.
Now it's quite clear that something very odd has just happened
in this place. The chances are ten to one, it seems to me,
that it had something specially to do with this place.
Probably he came here because he could do it only here;
it doesn't seem very inviting otherwise. But the man knew it
of old; they say it belonged to his family, so that altogether,
I think, everything points to something in the construction
of the tower itself.
Your reasoning seems to me excellent,said Sir Walter
who was listening attentively. "But what could it be?"
You see now what I mean about the ladder,went on the detective;
it's the only old piece of furniture here and the first thing
that caught that cockney eye of mine. But there is something else.
That loft up there is a sort of lumber room without any lumber.
So far as I can see, it's as empty as everything else; and,
as things are, I don't see the use of the ladder leading to it.
It seems to me, as I can't find anything unusual down here,
that it might pay us to look up there.
He got briskly off the table on which he was sitting
(for the only chair was allotted to Sir Walter) and ran rapidly
up the ladder to the platform above. He was soon followed
by the othersMr. Fisher going lasthoweverwith an appearance
of considerable nonchalance.
At this stagehoweverthey were destined to disappointment;
Wilson nosed in every corner like a terrier and examined the roof
almost in the posture of a flybut half an hour afterward
they had to confess that they were still without a clew.
Sir Walter's private secretary seemed more and more threatened
with inappropriate slumberandhaving been the last to climb up
the ladderseemed now to lack the energy even to climb down again.
Come along, Fisher,called out Sir Walter from belowwhen the others
had regained the floor. "We must consider whether we'll pull the whole
place to pieces to see what it's made of."
I'm coming in a minute,said the voice from the ledge above their heads
a voice somewhat suggestive of an articulate yawn.
What are you waiting for?asked Sir Walterimpatiently.
Can you see anything there?
Well, yes, in a way,replied the voicevaguely. "In fact
I see it quite plain now."
What is it?asked Wilsonsharplyfrom the table on which he sat
kicking his heels restlessly.
Well, it's a man,said Horne Fisher.
Wilson bounded off the table as if he had been kicked off it.
What do you mean?he cried. "How can you possibly see a man?"
I can see him through the window,replied the secretarymildly.
I see him coming across the moor. He's making a bee line across the open
country toward this tower. He evidently means to pay us a visit.
And, considering who it seems to be, perhaps it would be more polite.
if we were all at the door to receive him.And in a leisurely manner
the secretary came down the ladder.
Who it seems to be!repeated Sir Walter in astonishment.
Well, I think it's the man you call Prince Michael,
observed Mr. Fisherairily. "In factI'm sure it is.
I've seen the police portraits of him."
There was a dead silenceand Sir Walter's usually steady brain
seemed to go round like a windmill.
But, hang it all!he said at lasteven supposing his own explosion
could have thrown him half a mile away, without passing through
any of the windows, and left him alive enough for a country walk--
even then, why the devil should he walk in this direction?
The murderer does not generally revisit the scene of his crime
so rapidly as all that.
He doesn't know yet that it is the scene of his crime,
answered Horne Fisher.
What on earth do you mean? You credit him with rather singular
absence of mind.
Well, the truth is, it isn't the scene of his crime,said Fisher
and went and looked out of the window.
There was another silenceand then Sir Walter saidquietly: "What sort
of notion have you really got in your headFisher? Have you developed
a new theory about how this fellow escaped out of the ring round him?"
He never escaped at all,answered the man at the window
without turning round. "He never escaped out of the ring because
he was never inside the ring. He was not in this tower at all
at least not when we were surrounding it."
He turned and leaned back against the windowbutin spite
of his usual listless mannerthey almost fancied that the face
in shadow was a little pale.
I began to guess something of the sort when we were some way from
the tower,he said. "Did you notice that sort of flash or flicker
the candle gave before it was extinguished? I was almost certain it
was only the last leap the flame gives when a candle burns itself out.
And then I came into this room and I saw that."
He pointed at the table and Sir Walter caught his breath with a sort
of curse at his own blindness. For the candle in the candlestick had
obviously burned itself away to nothing and left himmentallyat least
very completely in the dark.
Then there is a sort of mathematical question,went on Fisher
leaning back in his limp way and looking up at the bare walls
as if tracing imaginary diagrams there. "It's not so easy for a
man in the third angle to face the other two at the same moment
especially if they are at the base of an isosceles.
I am sorry if it sounds like a lecture on geometrybut--"
I'm afraid we have no time for it,said Wilsoncoldly.
If this man is really coming back, I must give my orders at once.
I think I'll go on with it, though,observed Fisher
staring at the roof with insolent serenity.
I must ask you, Mr. Fisher, to let me conduct my inquiry on my
own lines,said Wilsonfirmly. "I am the officer in charge now."
Yes,remarked Horne Fishersoftlybut with an accent that somehow
chilled the hearer. "Yes. But why?"
Sir Walter was staringfor he had never seen his rather
lackadaisical young friend look like that before.
Fisher was looking at Wilson with lifted lidsand the eyes
under them seemed to have shed or shifted a filmas do the eyes
of an eagle.
Why are you the officer in charge now?he asked.
Why can you conduct the inquiry on your own lines now?
How did it come about, I wonder, that the elder officers are
not here to interfere with anything you do?
Nobody spokeand nobody can say how soon anyone would have
collected his wits to speak when a noise came from without.
It was the heavy and hollow sound of a blow upon the door
of the towerand to their shaken spirits it sounded strangely
like the hammer of doom.
The wooden door of the tower moved on its rusty hinges under
the hand that struck it and Prince Michael came into the room.
Nobody had the smallest doubt about his identity.
His light clothesthough frayed with his adventures
were of fine and almost foppish cutand he wore a pointed beard
or imperialperhaps as a further reminiscence of Louis Napoleon;
but he was a much taller and more graceful man that his prototype.
Before anyone could speak he had silenced everyone for an instant
with a slight but splendid gesture of hospitality.
Gentlemen,he saidthis is a poor place now, but you
are heartily welcome.
Wilson was the first to recoverand he took a stride toward the newcomer.
Michael O'Neill, I arrest you in the king's name for the murder
of Francis Morton and James Nolan. It is my duty to warn you--
No, no, Mr. Wilson,cried Fishersuddenly. "You shall not commit
a third murder."
Sir Walter Carey rose from his chairwhich fell over with a
crash behind him. "What does all this mean?" he called out
in an authoritative manner.
It means,said Fisherthat this man, Hooker Wilson,
as soon as he had put his head in at that window, killed his
two comrades who had put their heads in at the other windows,
by firing across the empty room. That is what it means.
And if you want to know, count how many times he is supposed
to have fired and then count the charges left in his revolver.
Wilsonwho was still sitting on the tableabruptly put a hand
out for the weapon that lay beside him. But the next movement was
the most unexpected of allfor the prince standing in the doorway
passed suddenly from the dignity of a statue to the swiftness
of an acrobat and rent the revolver out of the detective's hand.
You dog!he cried. "So you are the type of English truthas I am
of Irish tragedy--you who come to kill mewading through the blood
of your brethren. If they had fallen in a feud on the hillside
it would be called murderand yet your sin might be forgiven you.
But Iwho am innocentI was to be slain with ceremony.
There would belong speeches and patient judges listening to my vain
plea of innocencenoting down my despair and disregarding it.
Yesthat is what I call assassination. But killing may be no murder;
there is one shot left in this little gunand I know where
it should go."
Wilson turned quickly on the tableand even as he turned he twisted
in agonyfor Michael shot him through the body where he sat
so that he tumbled off the table like lumber.
The police rushed to lift him; Sir Walter stood speechless;
and thenwith a strange and weary gestureHorne Fisher spoke.
You are indeed a type of the Irish tragedy,he said.
You were entirely in the right, and you have put yourself
in the wrong.
The prince's face was like marble for a space then there
dawned in his eyes a light not unlike that of despair.
He laughed suddenly and flung the smoking pistol on the ground.
I am indeed in the wrong,he said. "I have committed a crime
that may justly bring a curse on me and my children."
Horne Fisher did not seem entirely satisfied with this very
sudden repentance; he kept his eyes on the man and only said
in a low voiceWhat crime do you mean?
I have helped English justice,replied Prince Michael. "I have
avenged your king's officers; I have done the work of his hangman.
For that truly I deserve to be hanged."
And he turned to the police with a gesture that did not so much
surrender to thembut rather command them to arrest him.
This was the story that Horne Fisher told to Harold March
the journalistmany years afterin a littlebut luxurious
restaurant near Picca dilly. He had invited March to dinner
some time after the affair he called "The Face in the Target
and the conversation had naturally turned on that mystery
and afterward on earlier memories of Fisher's life and the way
in which he was led to study such problems as those of
Prince Michael. Horne Fisher was fifteen years older;
his thin hair had faded to frontal baldness, and his long,
thin hands dropped less with affectation and more with fatigue.
And he told the story of the Irish adventure of his youth,
because it recorded the first occasion on which he had ever come
in contact with crime, or discovered how darkly and how terribly
crime can be entangled with law.
Hooker Wilson was the first criminal I ever knewand he was
a policeman explained Fisher, twirling his wine glass.
And all my life has been a mixed-up business of the sort.
He was a man of very real talentand perhaps genius
and well worth studyingboth as a detective and a criminal.
His white face and red hair were typical of himfor he was one
of those who are cold and yet on fire for fame; and he could
control angerbut not ambition. He swallowed the snubs of his
superiors in that first quarrelthough he boiled with resentment;
but when he suddenly saw the two heads dark against the dawn
and framed in the two windowshe could not miss the chance
not only of revengebut of the removal of the two obstacles to
his promotion. He was a dead shot and counted on silencing both
though proof against him would have been hard in any case.
Butas a matter of facthe had a narrow escapein the case
of Nolanwho lived just long enough to say'Wilson' and point.
We thought he was summoning help for his comradebut he was really
denouncing his murderer. After that it was easy to throw down
the ladder above him (for a man up a ladder cannot see clearly
what is below and behind) and to throw himself on the ground
as another victim of the catastrophe.
But there was mixed up with his murderous ambition a real belief,
not only in his own talents, but in his own theories. He did believe
in what he called a fresh eye, and he did want scope for fresh methods.
There was something in his view, but it failed where such things
commonly fail, because the fresh eye cannot see the unseen.
It is true about the ladder and the scarecrow, but not about
the life and the soul; and he made a bad mistake about what
a man like Michael would do when he heard a woman scream.
All Michael's very vanity and vainglory made him rush out at once;
he would have walked into Dublin Castle for a lady's glove.
Call it his pose or what you will, but he would have done it.
What happened when he met her is another story, and one we may never know,
but from tales I've heard since, they must have been reconciled.
Wilson was wrong there; but there was something, for all that,
in his notion that the newcomer sees most, and that the man on the spot
may know too much to know anything. He was right about some things.
He was right about me.
About you?asked Harold March in some wonder.
I am the man who knows too much to know anything, or, at any rate,
to do anything,said Horne Fisher. "I don't mean especially
about Ireland. I mean about England. I mean about the whole way
we are governedand perhaps the only way we can be governed.
You asked me just now what became of the survivors of that tragedy.
WellWilson recovered and we managed to persuade him to retire.
But we had to pension that damnable murderer more magnificently
than any hero who ever fought for England. I managed to save
Michael from the worstbut we had to send that perfectly innocent
man to penal servitude for a crime we know he never committed
and it was only afterward that we could connive in a sneakish way at
his escape. And Sir Walter Carey is Prime Minister of this country
which he would probably never have been if the truth had been told
of such a horrible scandal in his department. It might have done
for us altogether in Ireland; it would certainly have done for him.
And he is my father's old friendand has always smothered
me with kindness. I am too tangled up with the whole thing
you seeand I was certainly never born to set it right.
You look distressednot to say shockedand I'm not at all offended
at it. Let us change the subject by all meansif you like.
What do you think of this Burgundy? It's rather a discovery of mine
like the restaurant itself."
And he proceeded to talk learnedly and luxuriantly on all the wines
of the world; on which subjectalsosome moralists would consider
that he knew too much.
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
A large map of London would be needed to display the wild
and zigzag course of one day's journey undertaken by an uncle
and his nephew; orto speak more trulyof a nephew and his uncle.
For the nephewa schoolboy on a holidaywas in theory the god
in the caror in the cabtramtubeand so onwhile his uncle
was at most a priest dancing before him and offering sacrifices.
To put it more soberlythe schoolboy had something of the
stolid air of a young duke doing the grand tourwhile his
elderly relative was reduced to the position of a courier
who nevertheless had to pay for everything like a patron.
The schoolboy was officially known as Summers Minor
and in a more social manner as Stinksthe only public tribute
to his career as an amateur photographer and electrician.
The uncle was the Rev. Thomas Twyforda lean and lively
old gentleman with a redeager face and white hair.
He was in the ordinary way a country clergymanbut he was
one of those who achieve the paradox of being famous in an
obscure waybecause they are famous in an obscure world.
In a small circle of ecclesiastical archaeologistswho were
the only people who could even understand one another's
discoverieshe occupied a recognized and respectable place.
And a critic might have found even in that day's journey at least
as much of the uncle's hobby as of the nephew's holiday.
His original purpose had been wholly paternal and festive. Butlike many
other intelligent peoplehe was not above the weakness of playing
with a toy to amuse himselfon the theory that it would amuse a child.
His toys were crowns and miters and croziers and swords of state;
and he had lingered over themtelling himself that the boy ought
to see all the sights of London. And at the end of the day
after a tremendous teahe rather gave the game away by winding
up with a visit in which hardly any human boy could be conceived
as taking an interest--an underground chamber supposed to have been
a chapelrecently excavated on the north bank of the Thames
and containing literally nothing whatever but one old silver coin.
But the cointo those who knewwas more solitary and splendid
than the Koh-i-noor. It was Romanand was said to bear the head
of St. Paul; and round it raged the most vital controversies about
the ancient British Church. It could hardly be deniedhowever
that the controversies left Summers Minor comparatively cold.
Indeedthe things that interested Summers Minorand the things that did
not interest himhad mystified and amused his uncle for several hours.
He exhibited the English schoolboy's startling ignorance and
startling knowledge--knowledge of some special classification
in which he can generally correct and confound his elders.
He considered himself entitledat Hampton Court on a holiday
to forget the very names of Cardinal Wolsey or William of Orange;
but he could hardly be dragged from some details about the
arrangement of the electric bells in the neighboring hotel.
He was solidly dazed by Westminster Abbeywhich is not so
unnatural since that church became the lumber room of the larger
and less successful statuary of the eighteenth century.
But he had a magic and minute knowledge of the Westminster omnibuses
and indeed of the whole omnibus system of Londonthe colors
and numbers of which he knew as a herald knows heraldry.
He would cry out against a momentary confusion between a light-green
Paddington and a dark-green Bayswater vehicleas his uncle would
at the identification of a Greek ikon and a Roman image.
Do you collect omnibuses like stamps?asked his uncle.
They must need a rather large album. Or do you keep them
in your locker?
I keep them in my head,replied the nephewwith legitimate firmness.
It does you credit, I admit,replied the clergyman.
I suppose it were vain to ask for what purpose you have
learned that out of a thousand things. There hardly seems
to be a career in it, unless you could be permanently on
the pavement to prevent old ladies getting into the wrong bus.
Well, we must get out of this one, for this is our place.
I want to show you what they call St. Paul's Penny.
Is it like St. Paul's Cathedral?asked the youth with resignation
as they alighted.
At the entrance their eyes were arrested by a singular figure
evidently hovering there with a similar anxiety to enter.
It was that of a darkthin man in a long black robe rather like
a cassock; but the black cap on his head was of too strange a shape
to be a biretta. It suggestedrathersome archaic headdress
of Persia or Babylon. He had a curious black beard appearing only
at the corners of his chinand his large eyes were oddly set in his
face like the flat decorative eyes painted in old Egyptian profiles.
Before they had gathered more than a general impression of him
he had dived into the doorway that was their own destination.
Nothing could be seen above ground of the sunken sanctuary
except a strong wooden hutof the sort recently run up for many
military and official purposesthe wooden floor of which was
indeed a mere platform over the excavated cavity below.
A soldier stood as a sentry outsideand a superior soldier
an Anglo-Indian officer of distinctionsat writing at the desk inside.
Indeedthe sightseers soon found that this particular sight
was surrounded with the most extraordinary precautions.
I have compared the silver coin to the Koh-i-noorand in one sense
it was even conventionally comparablesince by a historical
accident it was at one time almost counted among the Crown jewels
or at least the Crown relicsuntil one of the royal princes publicly
restored it to the shrine to which it was supposed to belong.
Other causes combined to concentrate official vigilance upon it;
there had been a scare about spies carrying explosives in small objects
and one of those experimental orders which pass like waves over
bureaucracy had decreed first that all visitors should change their
clothes for a sort of official sackclothand then (when this method
caused some murmurs) that they should at least turn out their pockets.
Colonel Morristhe officer in chargewas a shortactive man
with a grim and leathery facebut a lively and humorous eye--
a contradiction borne out by his conductfor he at once derided
the safeguards and yet insisted on them.
I don't care a button myself for Paul's Penny, or such things,
he admitted in answer to some antiquarian openings from the clergyman
who was slightly acquainted with himbut I wear the King's coat,
you know, and it's a serious thing when the King's uncle leaves
a thing here with his own hands under my charge. But as for
saints and relics and things, I fear I'm a bit of a Voltairian;
what you would call a skeptic.
I'm not sure it's even skeptical to believe in the royal family
and not in the 'Holy' Family,replied Mr. Twyford. "Butof course
I can easily empty my pocketsto show I don't carry a bomb."
The little heap of the parson's possessions which he left on the table
consisted chiefly of papersover and above a pipe and a tobacco
pouch and some Roman and Saxon coins. The rest were catalogues
of old booksand pamphletslike one entitled "The Use of Sarum
one glance at which was sufficient both for the colonel and
the schoolboy. They could not see the use of Sarum at all.
The contents of the boy's pockets naturally made a larger heap,
and included marbles, a ball of string, an electric torch,
a magnet, a small catapult, and, of course, a large pocketknife,
almost to be described as a small tool box, a complex apparatus
on which he seemed disposed to linger, pointing out that it included
a pair of nippers, a tool for punching holes in wood, and, above all,
an instrument for taking stones out of a horse's hoof.
The comparative absence of any horse he appeared to regard
as irrelevant, as if it were a mere appendage easily supplied.
But when the turn came of the gentleman in the black gown,
he did not turn out his pockets, but merely spread out his hands.
I have no possessions he said.
I'm afraid I must ask you to empty your pockets and make sure
observed the colonel, gruffly.
I have no pockets said the stranger.
Mr. Twyford was looking at the long black gown with a learned eye.
Are you a monk?" he askedin a puzzled fashion.
I am a magus,replied the stranger. "You have heard of
the magiperhaps? I am a magician."
Oh, I say!exclaimed Summers Minorwith prominent eyes.
But I was once a monk,went on the other. "I am what you
would call an escaped monk. YesI have escaped into eternity.
But the monks held one truth at leastthat the highest life should
be without possessions. I have no pocket money and no pockets
and all the stars are my trinkets."
They are out of reach, anyhow,observed Colonel Morris
in a tone which suggested that it was well for them.
I've known a good many magicians myself in India--mango plant
and all. But the Indian ones are all frauds, I'll swear.
In fact, I had a good deal of fun showing them up.
More fun than I have over this dreary job, anyhow. But here comes
Mr. Symon, who will show you over the old cellar downstairs.
Mr. Symonthe official guardian and guidewas a young man
prematurely graywith a grave mouth which contrasted curiously with
a very smalldark mustache with waxed pointsthat seemed somehow
separate from itas if a black fly had settled on his face.
He spoke with the accent of Oxford and the permanent official
but in as dead a fashion as the most indifferent hired guide.
They descended a dark stone staircaseat the floor of which
Symon pressed a button and a door opened on a dark room
orrathera room which had an instant before been dark.
For almost as the heavy iron door swung open an almost
blinding blaze of electric lights filled the whole interior.
The fitful enthusiasm of Stinks at once caught fireand he eagerly
asked if the lights and the door worked together.
Yes, it's all one system,replied Symon. "It was all fitted
up for the day His Royal Highness deposited the thing here.
You seeit's locked up behind a glass case exactly as he left it."
A glance showed that the arrangements for guarding the treasure were
indeed as strong as they were simple. A single pane of glass cut
off one corner of the roomin an iron framework let into the rock
walls and the wooden roof above; there was now no possibility
of reopening the case without elaborate laborexcept by breaking
the glasswhich would probably arouse the night watchman who was
always within a few feet of iteven if he had fallen asleep.
A close examination would have showed many more ingenious safeguards;
but the eye of the Rev. Thomas Twyfordat leastwas already riveted
on what interested him much more--the dull silver disk which shone
in the white light against a plain background of black velvet.
St. Paul's Penny, said to commemorate the visit of St. Paul to Britain,
was probably preserved in this chapel until the eighth century,
Symon was saying in his clear but colorless voice. "In the ninth
century it is supposed to have been carried away by the barbarians
and it reappearsafter the conversion of the northern Goths
in the possession of the royal family of Gothland. His Royal Highness
the Duke of Gothlandretained it always in his own private custody
and when he decided to exhibit it to the publicplaced it here with
his own hand. It was immediately sealed up in such a manner--"
Unluckily at this point Summers Minorwhose attention had
somewhat strayed from the religious wars of the ninth century
caught sight of a short length of wire appearing in a broken
patch in the wall. He precipitated himself at itcalling out
I say, say, does that connect?
It was evident that it did connectfor no sooner had the boy
given it a twitch than the whole room went blackas if they
had all been struck blindand an instant afterward they heard
the dull crash of the closing door.
Well, you've done it now,said Symonin his tranquil fashion.
Then after a pause he addedI suppose they'll miss us sooner or later,
and no doubt they can get it open; but it may take some little time.
There was a silenceand then the unconquerable Stinks observed:
Rotten that I had to leave my electric torch.
I think,said his unclewith restraintthat we are sufficiently
convinced of your interest in electricity.
Then after a pause he remarkedmore amiably: "I suppose if I
regretted any of my own impedimentait would be the pipe.
Thoughas a matter of factit's not much fun smoking in the dark.
Everything seems different in the dark."
Everything is different in the dark,said a third voicethat of
the man who called himself a magician. It was a very musical voice
and rather in contrast with his sinister and swarthy visagewhich was
now invisible. "Perhaps you don't know how terrible a truth that is.
All you see are pictures made by the sunfaces and furniture and
flowers and trees. The things themselves may be quite strange to you.
Something else may be standing now where you saw a table or a chair.
The face of your friend may be quite different in the dark."
A shortindescribable noise broke the stillness.
Twyford started for a secondand then saidsharply:
Really, I don't think it's a suitable occasion for trying
to frighten a child.
Who's a child?cried the indignant Summerswith a voice
that had a crowbut also something of a crack in it.
And who's a funk, either? Not me.
I will be silent, then,said the other voice out of the darkness.
But silence also makes and unmakes.
The required silence remained unbroken for a long time until
at last the clergyman said to Symon in a low voice:
I suppose it's all right about air?
Oh, yes,replied the other aloud; "there's a fireplace and a chimney
in the office just by the door."
A bound and the noise of a falling chair told them that the irrepressible
rising generation had once more thrown itself across the room.
They heard the ejaculation: "A chimney! WhyI'll be--" and the rest
was lost in muffledbut exultantcries.
The uncle called repeatedly and vainlygroped his way at last to
the openingandpeering up itcaught a glimpse of a disk of daylight
which seemed to suggest that the fugitive had vanished in safety.
Making his way back to the group by the glass casehe fell over
the fallen chair and took a moment to collect himself again.
He had opened his mouth to speak to Symonwhen he stopped
and suddenly found himself blinking in the full shock of the white light
and looking over the other man's shoulderhe saw that the door
was standing open.
So they've got at us at last,he observed to Symon.
The man in the black robe was leaning against the wall some yards away
with a smile carved on his face.
Here comes Colonel Morris,went on Twyfordstill speaking
to Symon. "One of us will have to tell him how the light
went out. Will you?"
But Symon still said nothing. He was standing as still as a statue
and looking steadily at the black velvet behind the glass screen.
He was looking at the black velvet because there was nothing else
to look at. St. Paul's Penny was gone.
Colonel Morris entered the room with two new visitors;
presumably two new sightseers delayed by the accident.
The foremost was a tallfairrather languid-looking man with a
bald brow and a high-bridged nose; his companion was a younger
man with lightcurly hair and frankand even innocenteyes.
Symon scarcely seemed to hear the newcomers; it seemed almost
as if he had not realized that the return of the light revealed
his brooding attitude. Then he started in a guilty fashion
and when he saw the elder of the two strangershis pale face
seemed to turn a shade paler.
Why it's Horne Fisher!and then after a pause he said in a low voice
I'm in the devil of a hole, Fisher.
There does seem a bit of a mystery to be cleared up,
observed the gentleman so addressed.
It will never be cleared up,said the pale Symon. "If anybody
could clear it upyou could. But nobody could."
I rather think I could,said another voice from outside the group
and they turned in surprise to realize that the man in the black robe
had spoken again.
You!said the colonelsharply. "And how do you propose
to play the detective?"
I do not propose to play the detective,answered the other
in a clear voice like a bell. "I propose to play the magician.
One of the magicians you show up in IndiaColonel."
No one spoke for a momentand then Horne Fisher surprised everybody
by sayingWell, let's go upstairs, and this gentleman can have a try.
He stopped Symonwho had an automatic finger on the buttonsaying:
No, leave all the lights on. It's a sort of safeguard.
The thing can't be taken away now,said Symonbitterly.
It can be put back,replied Fisher.
Twyford had already run upstairs for news of his vanishing nephewand he
received news of him in a way that at once puzzled and reassured him.
On the floor above lay one of those large paper darts which boys
throw at each other when the schoolmaster is out of the room.
It had evidently been thrown in at the windowand on being
unfolded displayed a scrawl of bad handwriting which ran:
Dear Uncle; I am all right. Meet you at the hotel later on,
and then the signature.
Insensibly comforted by thisthe clergyman found his thoughts
reverting voluntarily to his favorite relicwhich came a good second
in his sympathies to his favorite nephewand before he knew where
he was he found himself encircled by the group discussing its loss
and more or less carried away on the current of their excitement.
But an undercurrent of query continued to run in his mind
as to what had really happened to the boyand what was the boy's
exact definition of being all right.
Meanwhile Horne Fisher had considerably puzzled everybody with his new
tone and attitude. He had talked to the colonel about the military
and mechanical arrangementsand displayed a remarkable knowledge both
of the details of discipline and the technicalities of electricity.
He had talked to the clergymanand shown an equally surprising knowledge
of the religious and historical interests involved in the relic. He had
talked to the man who called himself a magicianand not only surprised
but scandalized the company by an equally sympathetic familiarity with
the most fantastic forms of Oriental occultism and psychic experiment.
And in this last and least respectable line of inquiry he was
evidently prepared to go farthest; he openly encouraged the magician
and was plainly prepared to follow the wildest ways of investigation
in which that magus might lead him.
How would you begin now?he inquiredwith an anxious politeness
that reduced the colonel to a congestion of rage.
It is all a question of a force; of establishing communications
for a force,replied that adeptaffablyignoring some military
mutterings about the police force. "It is what you in the West
used to call animal magnetismbut it is much more than that.
I had better not say how much more. As to setting about it
the usual method is to throw some susceptible person
into a trancewhich serves as a sort of bridge or cord
of communicationby which the force beyond can give him
as it werean electric shockand awaken his higher senses.
It opens the sleeping eye of the mind."
I'm suspectible,said Fishereither with simplicity or
with a baffling irony. "Why not open my mind's eye for me?
My friend Harold March here will tell you I sometimes see things
even in the dark."
Nobody sees anything except in the dark,said the magician.
Heavy clouds of sunset were closing round the wooden hut
enormous cloudsof which only the corners* could be
seen in the little windowlike purple horns and tails
almost as if some huge monsters were prowling round the place.
But the purple was already deepening to dark gray; it would
soon be night.
Do not light the lamp,said the magus with quiet authority
arresting a movement in that direction. "I told you before
that things happen only in the dark."
How such a topsy-turvy scene ever came to be tolerated in
the colonel's officeof all placeswas afterward a puzzle
in the memory of manyincluding the colonel. They recalled it
like a sort of nightmarelike something they could not control.
Perhaps there was really a magnetism about the mesmerist;
perhaps there was even more magnetism about the man mesmerized.
Anyhowthe man was being mesmerizedfor Horne Fisher had collapsed
into a chair with his long limbs loose and sprawling and his eyes staring
at vacancy; and the other man was mesmerizing himmaking sweeping
movements with his darkly draped arms as if with black wings.
The colonel had passed the point of explosionand he dimly
realized that eccentric aristocrats are allowed their fling.
He comforted himself with the knowledge that he had already sent
for the policewho would break up any such masqueradeand with
lighting a cigarthe red end of whichin the gathering darkness
glowed with protest.
Yes, I see pockets,the man in the trance was saying.
I see many pockets, but they are all empty. No; I see one
pocket that is not empty.
There was a faint stir in the stillnessand the magician said
Can you see what is in the pocket?
Yes,answered the other; "there are two bright things.
I think they are two bits of steel. One of the pieces of steel
is bent or crooked."
Have they been used in the removal of the relic from downstairs?
There was another pause and the inquirer addedDo you see anything
of the relic itself?
I see something shining on the floor, like the shadow or the ghost
of it. It is over there in the corner beyond the desk.
There was a movement of men turning and then a sudden stillness
as of their stiffeningfor over in the corner on the wooden floor
there was really a round spot of pale light. It was the only spot
of light in the room. The cigar had gone out.
It points the way,came the voice of the oracle.
The spirits are pointing the way to penitence, and urging
the thief to restitution. I can see nothing more.His voice
trailed off into a silence that lasted solidly for many minutes
like the long silence below when the theft had been committed.
Then it was broken by the ring of metal on the floorand the sound
of something spinning and falling like a tossed halfpenny.
Light the lamp!cried Fisher in a loud and even jovial voice
leaping to his feet with far less languor than usual.
I must be going now, but I should like to see it before I go.
Why, I came on purpose to see it.
The lamp was litand he did see itfor St. Paul's Penny was lying
on the floor at his feet.
Oh, as for that,explained Fisherwhen he was entertaining March
and Twyford at lunch about a month laterI merely wanted to play
with the magician at his own game.
I thought you meant to catch him in his own trap,
said Twyford. "I can't make head or tail of anything yet
but to my mind he was always the suspect. I don't think he was
necessarily a thief in the vulgar sense. The police always seem
to think that silver is stolen for the sake of silverbut a thing
like that might well be stolen out of some religious mania.
A runaway monk turned mystic might well want it for
some mystical purpose."
No,replied Fisherthe runaway monk is not a thief.
At any rate he is not the thief. And he's not altogether
a liar, either. He said one true thing at least that night.
And what was that?inquired March.
He said it was all magnetism. As a matter of fact, it was done by
means of a magnet.Thenseeing they still looked puzzledhe added
It was that toy magnet belonging to your nephew, Mr. Twyford.
But I don't understand,objected March. "If it was done with
the schoolboy's magnetI suppose it was done by the schoolboy."
Well,replied Fisherreflectivelyit rather depends which schoolboy.
What on earth do you mean?
The soul of a schoolboy is a curious thing,Fisher continued
in a meditative manner. "It can survive a great many things
besides climbing out of a chimney. A man can grow gray
in great campaignsand still have the soul of a schoolboy.
A man can return with a great reputation from India and be put
in charge of a great public treasureand still have the soul
of a schoolboywaiting to be awakened by an accident.
And it is ten times more so when to the schoolboy you add
the skepticwho is generally a sort of stunted schoolboy.
You said just now that things might be done by religious mania.
Have you ever heard of irreligious mania? I assure you it
exists very violentlyespecially in men who like showing up
magicians in India. But here the skeptic had the temptation
of showing up a much more tremendous sham nearer home."
A light came into Harold March's eyes as he suddenly saw
as if afar offthe wider implication of the suggestion.
But Twyford was still wrestling with one problem at a time.
Do you really mean,he saidthat Colonel Morris took the relic?
He was the only person who could use the magnet,
replied Fisher. "In factyour obliging nephew left him
a number of things he could use. He had a ball of string
and an instrument for making a hole in the wooden floor--I made
a little play with that hole in the floor in my tranceby the way;
with the lights left on belowit shone like a new shilling."
Twyford suddenly bounded on his chair. "But in that case
he cried, in a new and altered voice, why then of course--
You said a piece of steel--?"
I said there were two pieces of steel,said Fisher. "The bent
piece of steel was the boy's magnet. The other was the relic
in the glass case."
But that is silver,answered the archaeologistin a voice
now almost unrecognizable.
Oh,replied FishersoothinglyI dare say it was painted
with silver a little.
There was a heavy silenceand at last Harold March said
But where is the real relic?
Where it has been for five years,replied Horne Fisher
in the possession of a mad millionaire named Vandam,
in Nebraska. There was a playful little photograph about him
in a society paper the other day, mentioning his delusion,
and saying he was always being taken in about relics.
Harold March frowned at the tablecloth; thenafter an intervalhe said:
I think I understand your notion of how the thing was actually done;
according to that, Morris just made a hole and fished it up with a magnet
at the end of a string. Such a monkey trick looks like mere madness,
but I suppose he was mad, partly with the boredom of watching
over what he felt was a fraud, though he couldn't prove it.
Then came a chance to prove it, to himself at least, and he had what
he called 'fun' with it. Yes, I think I see a lot of details now.
But it's just the whole thing that knocks me. How did it all come
to be like that?
Fisher was looking at him with level lids and an immovable manner.
Every precaution was taken,he said. "The Duke carried the relic
on his own personand locked it up in the case with his own hands."
March was silent; but Twyford stammered. "I don't understand you.
You give me the creeps. Why don't you speak plainer?"
If I spoke plainer you would understand me less,said Horne Fisher.
All the same I should try,said Marchstill without lifting his head.
Oh, very well,replied Fisherwith a sigh; "the plain truth is
of coursethat it's a bad business. Everybody knows it's a bad
business who knows anything about it. But it's always happening
and in one way one can hardly blame them. They get stuck on to a foreign
princess that's as stiff as a Dutch dolland they have their fling.
In this case it was a pretty big fling."
The face of the Rev. Thomas Twyford certainly suggested
that he was a little out of his depth in the seas of truth
but as the other went on speaking vaguely the old gentleman's
features sharpened and set.
If it were some decent morganatic affair I wouldn't say;
but he must have been a fool to throw away thousands on a woman
like that. At the end it was sheer blackmail; but it's
something that the old ass didn't get it out of the taxpayers.
He could only get it out of the Yank, and there you are.
The Rev. Thomas Twyford had risen to his feet.
Well, I'm glad my nephew had nothing to do with it,he said.
And if that's what the world is like, I hope he will never have
anything to, do with it.
I hope not,answered Horne Fisher. "No one knows so well as I
do that one can have far too much to do with it."
For Summers Minor had indeed nothing to do with it;
and it is part of his higher significance that he has really
nothing to do with the storyor with any such stories.
The boy went like a bullet through the tangle of this
tale of crooked politics and crazy mockery and came out
on the other sidepursuing his own unspoiled purposes.
From the top of the chimney he climbed he had caught sight
of a new omnibuswhose color and name he had never known
as a naturalist might see a new bird or a botanist a new flower.
And he had been sufficiently enraptured in rushing after it
and riding away upon that fairy ship.
IV. THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
In an oasisor green islandin the red and yellow seas of sand
that stretch beyond Europe toward the sunrisethere can be found
a rather fantastic contrastwhich is none the less typical of such
ai placesince international treaties have made it an outpost of
the British occupation. The site is famous among archaeologists for
something that is hardly a monumentbut merely a hole in the ground.
But it is a round shaftlike that of a welland probably a part
of some great irrigation works of remote and disputed date
perhaps more ancient than anything in that ancient land.
There is a green fringe of palm and prickly pear round the black
mouth of the well; but nothing of the upper masonry remains except
two bulky and battered stones standing like the pillars of a gateway
of nowherein which some of the more transcendental archaeologists
in certain moods at moonrise or sunsetthink they can trace the faint
lines of figures or features of more than Babylonian monstrosity;
while the more rationalistic archaeologistsin the more rational
hours of daylightsee nothing but two shapeless rocks. It may have
been noticedhoweverthat all Englishmen are not archaeologists.
Many of those assembled in such a place for official and military
purposes have hobbies other than archaeology. And it is a solemn
fact that the English in this Eastern exile have contrived to make
a small golf links out of the green scrub and sand; with a comfortable
clubhouse at one end of it and this primeval monument at the other.
They did not actually use this archaic abyss as a bunkerbecause it was
by tradition unfathomableand even for practical purposes unfathomed.
Any sporting projectile sent into it might be counted most literally
as a lost ball. But they often sauntered round it in their interludes
of talking and smoking cigarettesand one of them had just come
down from the clubhouse to find another gazing somewhat moodily
into the well.
Both the Englishmen wore light clothes and white pith helmets
and puggreesbut therefor the most parttheir resemblance ended.
And they both almost simultaneously said the same wordbut they
said it on two totally different notes of the voice.
Have you heard the news?asked the man from the club. "Splendid."
Splendid,replied the man by the well. But the first man
pronounced the word as a young man might say it about a woman
and the second as an old man might say it about the weather
not without sinceritybut certainly without fervor.
And in this the tone of the two men was sufficiently typical of them.
The firstwho was a certain Captain Boylewas of a bold and
boyish typedarkand with a sort of native heat in his face
that did not belong to the atmosphere of the Eastbut rather
to the ardors and ambitions of the West. The other was an older man
and certainly an older residenta civilian official--Horne Fisher;
and his drooping eyelids and drooping light mustache expressed
all the paradox of the Englishman in the East. He was much too hot
to be anything but cool.
Neither of them thought it necessary to mention what it
was that was splendid. That would indeed have been
superfluous conversation about something that everybody knew.
The striking victory over a menacing combination of Turks
and Arabs in the northwon by troops under the command
of Lord Hastingsthe veteran of so many striking victories
was already spread by the newspapers all over the Empire
let alone to this small garrison so near to the battlefield.
Now, no other nation in the world could have done a thing like that,
cried Captain Boyleemphatically.
Horne Fisher was still looking silently into the well;
a moment later he answered: "We certainly have the art
of unmaking mistakes. That's where the poor old Prussians
went wrong. They could only make mistakes and stick to them.
There is really a certain talent in unmaking a mistake."
What do you mean,asked Boylewhat mistakes?
Well, everybody knows it looked like biting off more than he could chew,
replied Horne Fisher. It was a peculiarity of Mr. Fisher that
he always said that everybody knew things which about one person
in two million was ever allowed to hear of. "And it was certainly
jolly lucky that Travers turned up so well in the nick of time.
Odd how often the right thing's been done for us by the second
in commandeven when a great man was first in command.
Like Colborne at Waterloo."
It ought to add a whole province to the Empire,observed the other.
Well, I suppose the Zimmernes would have insisted on it as far
as the canal,observed Fisherthoughtfullythough everybody
knows adding provinces doesn't always pay much nowadays.
Captain Boyle frowned in a slightly puzzled fashion.
Being cloudily conscious of never having heard of the Zimmernes
in his lifehe could only remarkstolidly:
Well, one can't be a Little Englander.
Horne Fisher smiledand he had a pleasant smile.
Every man out here is a Little Englander,he said.
He wishes he were back in Little England.
I don't know what you're talking about, I'm afraid,
said the younger manrather suspiciously. "One would think
you didn't really admire Hastings or--or--anything."
I admire him no end,replied Fisher. "He's by far the best man for
this post; he understands the Moslems and can do anything with them.
That's why I'm all against pushing Travers against himmerely because
of this last affair."
I really don't understand what you're driving at,
said the otherfrankly.
Perhaps it isn't worth understanding,answered Fisherlightly
and, anyhow, we needn't talk politics. Do you know the Arab legend
about that well?
I'm afraid I don't know much about Arab legends,
said Boylerather stiffly.
That's rather a mistake,replied Fisherespecially from
your point of view. Lord Hastings himself is an Arab legend.
That is perhaps the very greatest thing he really is.
If his reputation went it would weaken us all over Asia
and Africa. Well, the story about that hole in the ground,
that goes down nobody knows where, has always fascinated me, rather.
It's Mohammedan in form now, but I shouldn't wonder if the tale
is a long way older than Mohammed. It's all about somebody they
call the Sultan Aladdin, not our friend of the lamp, of course,
but rather like him in having to do with genii or giants or something
of that sort. They say he commanded the giants to build him
a sort of pagoda, rising higher and higher above all the stars.
The Utmost for the Highest, as the people said when they built
the Tower of Babel. But the builders of the Tower of Babel
were quite modest and domestic people, like mice, compared with
old Aladdin. They only wanted a tower that would reach heaven--
a mere trifle. He wanted a tower that would pass heaven and rise
above it, and go on rising for ever and ever. And Allah cast
him down to earth with a thunderbolt, which sank into the earth,
boring a hole deeper and deeper, till it made a well that was
without a bottom as the tower was to have been without a top.
And down that inverted tower of darkness the soul of the proud
Sultan is falling forever and ever.
What a queer chap you are,said Boyle. "You talk as if a fellow
could believe those fables."
Perhaps I believe the moral and not the fable,answered Fisher.
But here comes Lady Hastings. You know her, I think.
The clubhouse on the golf links was usedof course
for many other purposes besides that of golf. It was
the only social center of the garrison beside the strictly
military headquarters; it had a billiard room and a bar
and even an excellent reference library for those officers
who were so perverse as to take their profession seriously.
Among these was the great general himselfwhose head of silver
and face of bronzelike that of a brazen eaglewere often
to be found bent over the charts and folios of the library.
The great Lord Hastings believed in science and study
as in other severe ideals of lifeand had given much paternal
advice on the point to young Boylewhose appearances
in that place of research were rather more intermittent.
It was from one of these snatches of study that the young man
had just come out through the glass doors of the library on
to the golf links. Butabove allthe club was so appointed
as to serve the social conveniences of ladies at least as much
as gentlemenand Lady Hastings was able to play the queen
in such a society almost as much as in her own ballroom.
She was eminently calculated andas some saideminently inclined
to play such a part. She was much younger than her husband
an attractive and sometimes dangerously attractive lady;
and Mr. Horne Fisher looked after her a little sardonically
as she swept away with the young soldier. Then his rather dreary
eye strayed to the green and prickly growths round the well
growths of that curious cactus formation in which one thick
leaf grows directly out of the other without stalk or twig.
It gave his fanciful mind a sinister feeling of a blind growth
without shape or purpose. A flower or shrub in the West
grows to the blossom which is its crownand is content.
But this was as if hands could grow out of hands or legs grow out
of legs in a nightmare. "Always adding a province to the Empire
he said, with a smile, and then added, more sadly, but I doubt
if I was rightafter all!"
A strong but genial voice broke in on his meditations and
he looked up and smiledseeing the face of an old friend.
The voice wasindeedrather more genial than the facewhich was
at the first glance decidedly grim. It was a typically legal face
with angular jaws and heavygrizzled eyebrows; and it belonged
to an eminently legal characterthough he was now attached
in a semimilitary capacity to the police of that wild district.
Cuthbert Grayne was perhaps more of a criminologist than either
a lawyer or a policemanbut in his more barbarous surroundings
he had proved successful in turning himself into a practical
combination of all three. The discovery of a whole series of
strange Oriental crimes stood to his credit. But as few people
were acquainted withor attracted tosuch a hobby or branch
of knowledgehis intellectual life was somewhat solitary.
Among the few exceptions was Horne Fisherwho had a curious
capacity for talking to almost anybody about almost anything.
Studying botany, or is it archaeology?inquired Grayne. "I shall
never come to the end of your interestsFisher. I should say
that what you don't know isn't worth knowing."
You are wrong,replied Fisherwith a very unusual abruptness 'and
even bitterness. "It's what I do know that isn't worth knowing.
All the seamy side of thingsall the secret reasons and rotten
motives and bribery arid blackmail they call politics.
I needn't be so proud of having been down all these sewers that I
should brag about it to the little boys in the street."
What do you mean? What's the matter with you?asked his friend.
I never knew you taken like this before.
I'm ashamed of myself,replied Fisher. "I've just been throwing
cold water on the enthusiasms of a boy."
Even that explanation is hardly exhaustive,
observed the criminal expert.
Damned newspaper nonsense the enthusiasms were, of course,
continued Fisherbut I ought to know that at that age illusions
can be ideals. And they're better than the reality, anyhow.
But there is one very ugly responsibility about jolting a young
man out of the rut of the most rotten ideal.
And what may that be?inquired his friend.
It's very apt to set him off with the same energy in a much
worse direction,answered Fisher; "a pretty endless sort of direction
a bottomless pit as deep as the bottomless well."
Fisher did not see his friend until a fortnight laterwhen he found
himself in the garden at the back of the clubhouse on the opposite
side from the linksa garden heavily colored and scented
with sweet semitropical plants in the glow of a desert sunset.
Two other men were with himthe third being the now celebrated
second in commandfamiliar to everybody as Tom Traversa lean
dark manwho looked older than his yearswith a furrow in his brow
and something morose about the very shape of his black mustache.
They had just been served with black coffee by the Arab now officiating
as the temporary servant of the clubthough he was a figure
already familiarand even famousas the old servant of the general.
He went by the name of Saidand was notable among other Semites
for that unnatural length of his yellow face and height of his narrow
forehead which is sometimes seen among themand gave an irrational
impression of something sinisterin spite of his agreeable smile.
I never feel as if I could quite trust that fellow,said Grayne
when the man had gone away. "It's very unjustI take it
for he was certainly devoted to Hastingsand saved his life
they say. But Arabs are often like thatloyal to one man.
I can't help feeling he might cut anybody else's throat
and even do it treacherously."
Well,said Traverswith a rather sour smileso long as he leaves
Hastings alone the world won't mind much.
There was a rather embarrassing silencefull of memories
of the great battleand then Horne Fisher saidquietly:
The newspapers aren't the world, Tom. Don't you worry about them.
Everybody in your world knows the truth well enough.
I think we'd better not talk about the general just now,
remarked Graynefor he's just coming out of the club.
He's not coming here,said Fisher. "He's only seeing his wife
to the car."
As he spokeindeedthe lady came out on the steps of the club
followed by her husbandwho then went swiftly in front of her
to open the garden gate. As he did so she turned back and spoke
for a moment to a solitary man still sitting in a cane chair
in the shadow of the doorwaythe only man left in the deserted
club save for the three that lingered in the garden.
Fisher peered for a moment into the shadowand saw that it
was Captain Boyle.
The next momentrather to their surprisethe general reappeared and
remounting the stepsspoke a word or two to Boyle in his turn.
Then he signaled to Saidwho hurried up with two cups of coffee
and the two men re-entered the clubeach carrying his cup in his hand.
The next moment a gleam of white light in the growing darkness showed
that the electric lamps had been turned on in the library beyond.
Coffee and scientific researches,said Traversgrimly.
All the luxuries of learning and theoretical research.
Well, I must be going, for I have my work to do as well.
And he got up rather stifflysaluted his companionsand strode
away into the dusk.
I only hope Boyle is sticking to scientific researches,
said Horne Fisher. "I'm not very comfortable about him myself.
But let's talk about something else."
They talked about something else longer than they probably
imagineduntil the tropical night had come and a splendid
moon painted the whole scene with silver; but before it
was bright enough to see by Fisher had already noted that
the lights in the library had been abruptly extinguished.
He waited for the two men to come out by the garden entrance
but nobody came.
They must have gone for a stroll on the links,he said.
Very possibly,replied Grayne. "It's going to be a beautiful night."
A moment or two after he had spoken they heard a voice hailing them
out of the shadow of the clubhouseand were astonished to perceive
Travers hurrying toward themcalling out as he came:
I shall want your help, you fellows,he cried.
There's something pretty bad out on the links.
They found themselves plunging through the club smoking room and
the library beyondin complete darknessmental as well as material.
But Horne Fisherin spite of his affectation of indifference
was a person of a curious and almost transcendental sensibility
to atmospheresand he already felt the presence of something
more than an accident. He collided with a piece of furniture
in the libraryand almost shuddered with the shockfor the thing
moved as he could never have fancied a piece of furniture moving.
It seemed to move like a living thingyielding and yet striking back.
The next moment Grayne had turned on the lightsand he saw he had
only stumbled against one of the revolving bookstands that had swung
round and struck him; but his involuntary recoil had revealed to him
his own subconscious sense of something mysterious and monstrous.
There were several of these revolving bookcases standing here
and there about the library; on one of them stood the two cups
of coffeeand on another a large open book. It was Budge's book
on Egyptian hieroglyphicswith colored plates of strange birds
and godsand even as he rushed pasthe was conscious of something
odd about the fact that thisand not any work of military science
should be open in that place at that moment. He was even conscious
of the gap in the well-lined bookshelf from which it had been taken
and it seemed almost to gape at him in an ugly fashionlike a gap
in the teeth of some sinister face.
A run brought them in a few minutes to the other side of the ground
in front of the bottomless welland a few yards from it
in a moonlight almost as broad as daylightthey saw what they
had come to see.
The great Lord Hastings lay prone on his facein a posture
in which there was a touch of something strange and stiff
with one elbow erect above his bodythe arm being doubled
and his bigbony hand clutching the rank and ragged grass.
A few feet away was Boylealmost as motionlessbut supported on
his hands and kneesand staring at the body. It might have been
no more than shock and accident; but there was something ungainly
and unnatural about the quadrupedal posture and the gaping face.
It was as if his reason had fled from him. Behindthere was nothing
but the clear blue southern skyand the beginning of the desert
except for the two great broken stones in front of the well.
And it was in such a light and atmosphere that men could fancy
they traced in them enormous and evil faceslooking down.
Horne Fisher stooped and touched the strong hand that was
still clutching the grassand it was as cold as a stone.
He knelt by the body and was busy for a moment applying other tests;
then he rose againand saidwith a sort of confident despair:
Lord Hastings is dead.
There was a stony silenceand then Travers remarkedgruffly:
This is your department, Grayne; I will leave you to question
Captain Boyle. I can make no sense of what he says.
Boyle had pulled himself together and risen to his feetbut his face
still wore an awful expressionmaking it like a new mask or the face
of another man.
I was looking at the well,he saidand when I turned
he had fallen down.
Grayne's face was very dark. "As you saythis is my affair he said.
I must first ask you to help me carry him to the library and let me
examine things thoroughly."
When they had deposited the body in the libraryGrayne turned to Fisher
and saidin a voice that had recovered its fullness and confidence
I am going to lock myself in and make a thorough examination first.
I look to you to keep in touch with the others and make a preliminary
examination of Boyle. I will talk to him later. And just telephone
to headquarters for a policeman, and let him come here at once and stand
by till I want him.
Without more words the great criminal investigator went into the lighted
libraryshutting the door behind himand Fisherwithout replying
turned and began to talk quietly to Travers. "It is curious he said,
that the thing should happen just in front of that place."
It would certainly be very curious,replied Traversif the place
played any part in it.
I think,replied Fisherthat the part it didn't play is
more curious still.
And with these apparently meaningless words he turned to the shaken
Boyle andtaking his armbegan to walk him up and down in the moonlight
talking in low tones.
Dawn had begun to break abrupt and white when Cuthbert Grayne
turned out the lights in the library and came out on to the links.
Fisher was lounging about alonein his listless fashion;
but the police messenger for whom he had sent was standing
at attention in the background.
I sent Boyle off with Travers,observed Fishercarelessly; "he'll look
after himand he'd better have some sleepanyhow."
Did you get anything out of him?asked Grayne. "Did he tell
you what he and Hastings were doing?"
Yes,answered Fisherhe gave me a pretty clear account, after all.
He said that after Lady Hastings went off in the car the general
asked him to take coffee with him in the library and look up
a point about local antiquities. He himself was beginning
to look for Budge's book in one of the revolving bookstands
when the general found it in one of the bookshelves on the wall.
After looking at some of the plates they went out, it would seem,
rather abruptly, on to the links, and walked toward the old well;
and while Boyle was looking into it he heard a thud behind him,
and turned round to find the general lying as we found him.
He himself dropped on his knees to examine the body,
and then was paralyzed with a sort of terror and could not come
nearer to it or touch it. But I think very little of that;
people caught in a real shock of surprise are sometimes found
in the queerest postures.
Grayne wore a grim smile of attentionand saidafter a short silence:
Well, he hasn't told you many lies. It's really a creditably
clear and consistent account of what happened, with everything
of importance left out.
Have you discovered anything in there?asked Fisher.
I have discovered everything,answered Grayne.
Fisher maintained a somewhat gloomy silenceas the other resumed
his explanation in quiet and assured tones.
You were quite right, Fisher, when you said that young fellow was
in danger of going down dark ways toward the pit. Whether or no,
as you fancied, the jolt you gave to his view of the general had anything
to do with it, he has not been treating the general well for some time.
It's an unpleasant business, and I don't want to dwell on it;
but it's pretty plain that his wife was not treating him well, either.
I don't know how far it went, but it went as far as concealment, anyhow;
for when Lady Hastings spoke to Boyle it was to tell him she had hidden
a note in the Budge book in the library. The general overheard,
or came somehow to know, and he went straight to the book and found it.
He confronted Boyle with it, and they had a scene, of course.
And Boyle was confronted with something else; he was confronted
with an awful alternative, in which the life of one old man meant
ruin and his death meant triumph and even happiness.
Well,observed Fisherat lastI don't blame him for not telling you
the woman's part of the story. But how do you know about the letter?
I found it on the general's body,answered Grayne
but I found worse things than that. The body had stiffened
in the way rather peculiar to poisons of a certain Asiatic sort.
Then I examined the coffee cups, and I knew enough
chemistry to find poison in the dregs of one of them.
Now, the General went straight to the bookcase, leaving his
cup of coffee on the bookstand in the middle of the room.
While his back was turned, and Boyle was pretending to examine
the bookstand, he was left alone with the coffee cup.
The poison takes about ten minutes to act, and ten minutes'
walk would bring them to the bottomless well.
Yes,remarked Fisherand what about the bottomless well?
What has the bottomless well got to do with it?asked his friend.
It has nothing to do with it,replied Fisher. "That is what I find
utterly confounding and incredible."
And why should that particular hole in the ground have anything
to do with it?
It is a particular hole in your case,said Fisher. "But I won't
insist on that just now. By the waythere is another thing I ought
to tell you. I said I sent Boyle away in charge of Travers. It would
be just as true to say I sent Travers in charge of Boyle."
You don't mean to say you suspect Tom Travers?cried the other. her.
He was a deal bitterer against the general than Boyle ever was,
observed Horne Fisherwith a curious indifference.
Man, you're not saying what you mean,cried Grayne. "I tell
you I found the poison in one of the coffee cups."
There was always Said, of course,added Fishereither for hatred
or hire. We agreed he was capable of almost anything.
And we agreed he was incapable of hurting his master,retorted Grayne.
Well, well,said FisheramiablyI dare say you are right;
but I should just like to have a look at the library and
the coffee cups.
He passed insidewhile Grayne turned to the policeman in attendance
and handed him a scribbled noteto be telegraphed from headquarters.
The man saluted and hurried off; and Graynefollowing his friend into
the libraryfound him beside the bookstand in the middle of the room
on which were the empty cups.
This is where Boyle looked for Budge, or pretended to look for him,
according to your account,he said.
As Fisher spoke he bent down in a half-crouching attitude
to look at the volumes in the lowrevolving shelffor the whole
bookstand was not much higher than an ordinary table.
The next moment he sprang up as if he had been stung.
Oh, my God!he cried.
Very few peopleif anyhad ever seen Mr. Horne Fisher behave
as he behaved just then. He flashed a glance at the door
saw that the open window was nearerwent out of it with a
flying leapas if over a hurdleand went racing across the turf
in the track of the disappearing policeman. Graynewho stood
staring after himsoon saw his tallloose figurereturning
restored to all its normal limpness and air of leisure.
He was fanning himself slowly with a piece of paperthe telegram
he had so violently intercepted.
Lucky I stopped that,he observed. "We must keep this affair as quiet
as death. Hastings must die of apoplexy or heart disease."
What on earth is the trouble?demanded the other investigator.
The trouble is,said Fisherthat in a few days we should
have had a very agreeable alternative--of hanging an innocent
man or knocking the British Empire to hell.
Do you mean to say,asked Graynethat this infernal crime
is not to be punished?
Fisher looked at him steadily.
It is already punished,he said.
After a moment's pause he went on. "You reconstructed the crime
with admirable skillold chapand nearly all you said was true.
Two men with two coffee cups did go into the library and did put
their cups on the bookstand and did go together to the well
and one of them was a murderer and had put poison in the other's cup.
But it was not done while Boyle was looking at the revolving bookcase.
He did look at itthoughsearching for the Budge book with the note
in itbut I fancy that Hastings had already moved it to the shelves on
the wall. It was part of that grim game that he should find it first.
Now, how does a man search a revolving bookcase? He does not
generally hop all round it in a squatting attitude, like a frog.
He simply gives it a touch and makes it revolve.
He was frowning at the floor as he spokeand there was
a light under his heavy lids that was not often seen there.
The mysticism that was buried deep under all the cynicism
of his experience was awake and moving in the depths.
His voice took unexpected turns and inflectionsalmost as if
two men were speaking.
That was what Boyle did; he barely touched the thing,
and it went round as elasily as the world goes round.
Yes, very much as the world goes round, for the hand that turned
it was not his. God, who turns the wheel of all the stars,
touched that wheel and brought it full circle, that His dreadful
justice might return.
I am beginning,said Grayneslowlyto have some hazy and horrible
idea of what you mean.
It is very simple,said Fisherwhen Boyle straightened himself from
his stooping posture, something had happened which he had not noticed,
which his enemy had not noticed, which nobody had noticed.
The two coffee cups had exactly changed places.
The rocky face of Grayne seemed to have sustained a shock
in silence; not a line of it alteredbut his voice when it
came was unexpectedly weakened.
I see what you mean,he saidand, as you say,
the less said about it the better. It was not the lover
who tried to get rid of the husband, but--the other thing.
And a tale like that about a man like that would ruin us here.
Had you any guess of this at the start?
The bottomless well, as I told you,answered Fisherquietly;
that was what stumped me from the start. Not because it had
anything to do with it, because it had nothing to do with it.
He paused a momentas if choosing an approachand then went on:
When a man knows his enemy will be dead in ten minutes, and takes him
to the edge of an unfathomable pit, he means to throw his body into it.
What else should he do? A born fool would have the sense to do it,
and Boyle is not a born fool. Well, why did not Boyle do it?
The more I thought of it the more I suspected there was some mistake
in the murder, so to speak. Somebody had taken somebody there
to throw him in, and yet he was not thrown in. I had already
an ugly, unformed idea of some substitution or reversal of parts;
then I stooped to turn the bookstand myself, by accident, and I
instantly knew everything, for I saw the two cups revolve once more,
like moons in the sky.
After a pauseCuthbert Grayne saidAnd what are we to say
to the newspapers?
My friend, Harold March, is coming along from Cairo to-day,
said Fisher. "He is a very brilliant and successful journalist.
But for all that he's a thoroughly honorable manso you must
not tell him the truth."
Half an hour later Fisher was again walking to and fro in front
of the clubhousewith Captain Boylethe latter by this time
with a very buffeted and bewildered air; perhaps a sadder
and a wiser man.
What about me, then?he was saying. "Am I cleared?
Am I not going to be cleared?"
I believe and hope,answered Fisherthat you are not going
to be suspected. But you are certainly not going to be cleared.
There must be no suspicion against him, and therefore no suspicion
against you. Any suspicion against him, let alone such a story
against him, would knock us endways from Malta to Mandalay. He was
a hero as well as a holy terror among the Moslems. Indeed, you
might almost call him a Moslem hero in the English service.
Of course he got on with them partly because of his own little dose
of Eastern blood; he got it from his mother, the dancer from Damascus;
everybody knows that.
Oh,repeated Boylemechanicallystaring at him with round eyes
everybody knows that.
I dare say there was a touch of it in his jealousy and
ferocious vengeance,went on Fisher. "Butfor all that
the crime would ruin us among the Arabsall the more
because it was something like a crime against hospitality.
It's been hateful for you and it's pretty horrid for me.
But there are some things that damned well can't be done
and while I'm alive that's one of them."
What do you mean?asked Boyleglancing at him curiously.
Why should you, of all people, be so passionate about it?
Horne Fisher looked at the young man with a baffling expression.
I suppose,he saidit's because I'm a Little Englander.
I can never make out what you mean by that sort of thing,
Do you think England is so little as all that?said Fisher
with a warmth in his cold voicethat it can't hold a man across
a few thousand miles. You lectured me with a lot of ideal patriotism,
my young friend; but it's practical patriotism now for you and me,
and with no lies to help it. You talked as if everything always went
right with us all over the world, in a triumphant crescendo culminating
in Hastings. I tell you everything has gone wrong with us here,
except Hastings. He was the one name we had left to conjure with,
and that mustn't go as well, no, by God! It's bad enough that a gang
of infernal Jews should plant us here, where there's no earthly English
interest to serve, and all hell beating up against us, simply because
Nosey Zimmern has lent money to half the Cabinet. It's bad enough
that an old pawnbroker from Bagdad should make us fight his battles;
we can't fight with our right hand cut off. Our one score was
Hastings and his victory, which was really somebody else's victory.
Tom Travers has to suffer, and so have you.
Thenafter a moment's silencehe pointed toward the bottomless
well and saidin a quieter tone:
I told you that I didn't believe in the philosophy of the Tower
of Aladdin. I don't believe in the Empire growing until it reaches
the sky; I don't believe in the Union Jack going up and up eternally
like the Tower. But if you think I am going to let the Union Jack go
down and down eternally, like the bottomless well, down into the blackness
of the bottomless pit, down in defeat and derision, amid the jeers
of the very Jews who have sucked us dry--no I won't, and that's flat;
not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by twenty millionaires with their
gutter rags, not if the Prime Minister married twenty Yankee Jewesses,
not if Woodville and Carstairs had shares in twenty swindling mines.
If the thing is really tottering, God help it, it mustn't be we who
tip it over.
Boyle was regarding him with a bewilderment that was almost fear
and had even a touch of distaste.
Somehow,he saidthere seems to be something rather horrid
about the things you know.
There is,replied Horne Fisher. "I am not at all
pleased with my small stock of knowledge and reflection.
But as it is partly responsible for your not being hanged
I don't know that you need complain of it."
Andas if a little ashamed of his first boasthe turned and strolled
away toward the bottomless well.
V. THE FAD OF THE FISHERMAN
A thing can sometimes be too extraordinary to be remembered.
If it is clean out of the course of thingsand has apparently
no causes and no consequencessubsequent events do not recall it
and it remains only a subconscious thingto be stirred by some
accident long after. It drifts apart like a forgotten dream;
and it was in the hour of many dreamsat daybreak and very soon
after the end of darkthat such a strange sight was given
to a man sculling a boat down a river in the West country.
The man was awake; indeedhe considered himself rather wide awake
being the political journalistHarold Marchon his way to
interview various political celebrities in their country seats.
But the thing he saw was so inconsequent that it might have
been imaginary. It simply slipped past his mind and was lost
in later and utterly different events; nor did he even recover
the memory till he had long afterward discovered the meaning.
Pale mists of morning lay on the fields and the rushes along
one margin of the river; along the other side ran a wall of tawny
brick almost overhanging the water. He had shipped his oars
and was drifting for a moment with the streamwhen he turned
his head and saw that the monotony of the long brick wall was
broken by a bridge; rather an elegant eighteenth-century sort
of bridge with little columns of white stone turning gray.
There had been floods and the river still stood very high
with dwarfish trees waist deep in itand rather a narrow arc
of white dawn gleamed under the curve of the bridge.
As his own boat went under the dark archway he saw another boat
coming toward himrowed by a man as solitary as himself.
His posture prevented much being seen of himbut as he neared
the bridge he stood up in the boat and turned round.
He was already so close to the dark entryhoweverthat his whole
figure was black against the morning lightand March could
see nothing of his face except the end of two long whiskers
or mustaches that gave something sinister to the silhouette
like horns in the wrong place. Even these details March would
never have noticed but for what happened in the same instant.
As the man came under the low bridge he made a leap at it and hung
with his legs danglingletting the boat float away from under him.
March had a momentary vision of two black kicking legs;
then of one black kicking leg; and then of nothing except
the eddying stream and the long perspective of the wall.
But whenever he thought of it againlong afterwardwhen he understood
the story in which it figuredit was always fixed in that one
fantastic shape--as if those wild legs were a grotesque graven
ornament of the bridge itselfin the manner of a gargoyle.
At the moment he merely passedstaringdown the stream.
He could see no flying figure on the bridgeso it must have
already fled; but he was half conscious of some faint significance
in the fact that among the trees round the bridgehead opposite
the wall he saw a lamp-post; andbeside the lamp-postthe broad
blue back of an unconscious policeman.
Even before reaching the shrine of his political pilgrimage
he had many other things to think of besides the odd incident
of the bridge; for the management of a boat by a solitary
man was not always easy even on such a solitary stream.
And indeed it was only by an unforeseen accident that he was solitary.
The boat had been purchased and the whole expedition planned
in conjunction with a friendwho had at the last moment been
forced to alter all his arrangements. Harold March was to have
traveled with his friend Horne Fisher on that inland voyage to
Willowood Placewhere the Prime Minister was a guest at the moment.
More and more people were hearing of Harold Marchfor his striking
political articles were opening to him the doors of larger
and larger salons; but he had never met the Prime Minister yet.
Scarcely anybody among the general public had ever heard of
Horne Fisher; but he had known the Prime Minister all his life.
For these reasonshad the two taken the projected
journey togetherMarch might have been slightly disposed
to hasten it and Fisher vaguely content to lengthen it out.
For Fisher was one of those people who are born knowing the
Prime Minister. The knowledge seemed to have no very exhilarant
effectand in his case bore some resemblance to being born tired.
But he was distinctly annoyed to receivejust as he was doing
a little light packing of fishing tackle and cigars for the journey
a telegram from Willowood asking him to come down at once
by trainas the Prime Minister had to leave that night.
Fisher knew that his friend the journalist could not possibly
start till the next dayand he liked his friend the journalist
and had looked forward to a few days on the river.
He did not particularly like or dislike the Prime Minister
but he intensely disliked the alternative of a few hours
in the train. Neverthelesshe accepted Prime Ministers
as he accepted railway trains--as part of a system which he
at leastwas not the revolutionist sent on earth to destroy.
So he telephoned to Marchasking himwith many apologetic curses
and faint damnsto take the boat down the river as arranged
that they might meet at Willowood by the time settled; then he went
outside and hailed a taxicab to take him to the railway station.
There he paused at the bookstall to add to his light luggage
a number of cheap murder storieswhich he read with great pleasure
and without any premonition that he was about to walk into
as strange a story in real life.
A little before sunset he arrivedwith his light suitcase
in handbefore the gate of the long riverside gardens of
Willowood Placeone of the smaller seats of Sir Isaac Hook
the master of much shipping and many newspapers. He entered
by the gate giving on the roadat the opposite side to the river
but there was a mixed quality in all that watery landscape
which perpetually reminded a traveler that the river was near.
White gleams of water would shine suddenly like swords or
spears in the green thickets. And even in the garden itself
divided into courts and curtained with hedges and high garden trees
there hung everywhere in the air the music of water.
The first of the green courts which he entered appeared to be
a somewhat neglected croquet lawnin which was a solitary
young man playing croquet against himself. Yet he was not an
enthusiast for the gameor even for the garden; and his sallow
but well-featured face looked rather sullen than otherwise.
He was only one of those young men who cannot support the burden
of consciousness unless they are doing somethingand whose
conceptions of doing something are limited to a game of some kind.
He was dark and well. dressed in a light holiday fashion
and Fisher recognized him at once as a young man named James Bullen
calledfor some unknown reasonBunker. He was the nephew
of Sir Isaac; butwhat was much more important at the moment
he was also the private secretary of the Prime Minister.
Hullo, Bunker!observed Horne Fisher. "You're the sort of man
I wanted to see. Has your chief come down yet?"
He's only staying for dinner,replied Bullenwith his eye on
the yellow ball. "He's got a great speech to-morrow at Birmingham
and he's going straight through to-night. He's motoring himself there;
driving the carI mean. It's the one thing he's really proud of."
You mean you're staying here with your uncle, like a good boy?
replied Fisher. "But what will the Chief do at Birmingham without
the epigrams whispered to him by his brilliant secretary?"
Don't you start ragging me,said the young man
called Bunker. "I'm only too glad not to go trailing after him.
He doesn't know a thing about maps or money or hotels
or anythingand I have to dance about like a courier.
As for my uncleas I'm supposed to come into the estate
it's only decent to be here sometimes."
Very proper,replied the other. "WellI shall see you later on
and, crossing the lawn, he passed out through a gap in the hedge.
He was walking across the lawn toward the landing stage on the river,
and still felt all around him, under the dome of golden evening,
an Old World savor and reverberation in that riverhaunted garden.
The next square of turf which he crossed seemed at first sight
quite deserted, till he saw in the twilight of trees in one corner
of it a hammock and in the hammock a man, reading a newspaper
and swinging one leg over the edge of the net.
Him also he hailed by name, and the man slipped to the ground
and strolled forward. It seemed fated that he should feel
something of the past in the accidents of that place,
for the figure might well have been an early-Victorian ghost
revisiting the ghosts of the croquet hoops and mallets.
It was the figure of an elderly man with long whiskers that looked
almost fantastic, and a quaint and careful cut of collar and cravat.
Having been a fashionable dandy forty years ago, he had
managed to preserve the dandyism while ignoring the fashions.
A white top-hat lay beside the Morning Post in the hammock behind him.
This was the Duke of Westmoreland, the relic of a family really
some centuries old; and the antiquity was not heraldry but history.
Nobody knew better than Fisher how rare such noblemen are in fact,
and how numerous in fiction. But whether the duke owed the general
respect he enjoyed to the genuineness of his pedigree or to
the fact that he owned a vast amount of very valuable property
was a point about which Mr. Fisher's opinion might have been
more interesting to discover.
You were looking so comfortable said Fisher, that I thought
you must be one of the servants. I'm looking for somebody
to take this bag of mine; I haven't brought a man down
as I came away in a hurry."
Nor have I, for that matter,replied the dukewith some pride.
I never do. If there's one animal alive I loathe it's a valet.
I learned to dress myself at an early age and was supposed to do
it decently. I may be in my second childhood, but I've not go
so far as being dressed like a child.
The Prime Minister hasn't brought a valet; he's brought
a secretary instead,observed Fisher. "Devilish inferior job.
Didn't I hear that Harker was down here?"
He's over there on the landing stage,replied the dukeindifferently
and resumed the study of the Morning Post.
Fisher made his way beyond the last green wall of the garden on to a sort
of towing path looking on the river and a wooden island opposite.
Thereindeedhe saw a leandark figure with a stoop almost like
that of a vulturea posture well known in the law courts as that of
Sir John Harkerthe Attorney-General. His face was lined with headwork
for alone among the three idlers in the garden he was a man who had made
his own way; and round his bald brow and hollow temples clung dull
red hairquite flatlike plates of copper.
I haven't seen my host yet,said Horne Fisherin a slightly
more serious tone than he had used to the othersbut I suppose
I shall meet him at dinner.
You can see him now; but you can't meet him,answered Harker.
He nodded his head toward one end of the island oppositeand
looking steadily in the same directionthe other guest could
see the dome of a bald head and the top of a fishing rod
both equally motionlessrising out of the tall undergrowth
against the background of the stream beyond. The fisherman
seemed to be seated against the stump of a tree and facing
toward the other bankso that his face could not be seen
but the shape of his head was unmistakable.
He doesn't like to be disturbed when he's fishing,
continued Harker. "It's a sort of fad of his to eat nothing
but fishand he's very proud of catching his own. Of course
he's all for simplicitylike so many of these millionaires.
He likes to come in saying he's worked for his daily bread
like a laborer."
Does he explain how he blows all the glass and stuffs all
the upholstery,asked Fisherand makes all the silver forks,
and grows all the grapes and peaches, and designs all the patterns
on the carpets? I've always heard he was a busy man.
I don't think he mentioned it,answered the lawyer.
What is the meaning of this social satire?
Well, I am a trifle tired,said Fisherof the Simple Life
and the Strenuous Life as lived by our little set.
We're all really dependent in nearly everything, and we
all make a fuss about being independent in something.
The Prime Minister prides himself on doing without a chauffeur,
but he can't do without a factotum and Jack-of-all-trades;
and poor old Bunker has to play the part of a universal genius,
which God knows he was never meant for. The duke prides
himself on doing without a valet, but, for all that, he must
give a lot of people an infernal lot of trouble to collect
such extraordinary old clothes as he wears. He must have them
looked up in the British Museum or excavated out of the tombs.
That white hat alone must require a sort of expedition fitted
out to find it, like the North Pole. And here we have old
Hook pretending to produce his own fish when he couldn't
produce his own fish knives or fish forks to eat it with.
He may be simple about simple things like food, but you bet he's
luxurious about luxurious things, especially little things.
I don't include you; you've worked too hard to enjoy
playing at work.
I sometimes think,said Harkerthat you conceal a horrid secret
of being useful sometimes. Haven't you come down here to see Number One
before he goes on to Birmingham?
Horne Fisher answeredin a lower voice: "Yes; and I
hope to be lucky enough to catch him before dinner.
He's got to see Sir Isaac about something just afterward."
Hullo!exclaimed Harker. "Sir Isaac's finished his fishing.
I know he prides himself on getting up at sunrise and going
in at sunset."
The old man on the island had indeed risen to his feet
facing round and showing a bush of gray beard with rather small
sunken featuresbut fierce eyebrows and keencholeric eyes.
Carefully carrying his fishing tacklehe was already making his
way back to the mainland across a bridge of flat stepping-stones
a little way down the shallow stream; then he veered round
coming toward his guests and civilly saluting them.
There were several fish in his basket and he was in a good temper.
Yes,he saidacknowledging Fisher's polite expression
of surpriseI get up before anybody else in the house, I think.
The early bird catches the worm.
Unfortunately,said Harkerit is the early fish that
catches the worm.
But the early man catches the fish,replied the old mangruffly.
But from what I hear, Sir Isaac, you are the late man, too,
interposed Fisher. "You must do with very little sleep."
I never had much time for sleeping,answered Hookand I shall
have to be the late man to-night, anyhow. The Prime Minister
wants to have a talk, he tells me, and, all things considered,
I think we'd better be dressing for dinner.
Dinner passed off that evening without a word of politics and little
enough but ceremonial trifles. The Prime MinisterLord Merivale
who was a longslim man with curly gray hairwas gravely complimentary
to his host about his success as a fisherman and the skill and patience
he displayed; the conversation flowed like the shallow stream
through the stepping-stones.
It wants patience to wait for them, no doubt,said Sir Isaac
and skill to play them, but I'm generally pretty lucky at it.
Does a big fish ever break the line and get away?
inquired the politicianwith respectful interest.
Not the sort of line I use,answered Hookwith satisfaction.
I rather specialize in tackle, as a matter of fact.
If he were strong enough to do that, he'd be strong enough
to pull me into the river.
A great loss to the community,said the Prime Ministerbowing.
Fisher had listened to all these futilities with inward impatience
waiting for his own opportunityand when the host rose he sprang
to his feet with an alertness he rarely showed. He managed to catch
Lord Merivale before Sir Isaac bore him off for the final interview.
He had only a few words to saybut he wanted to get them said.
He saidin a low voice as he opened the door for the PremierI have
seen Montmirail; he says that unless we protest immediately on behalf
of Denmark, Sweden will certainly seize the ports.
Lord Merivale nodded. "I'm just going to hear what Hook has to say
about it he said.
I imagine said Fisher, with a faint smile, that there is very little
doubt what he will say about it."
Merivale did not answerbut lounged gracefully toward the library
whither his host had already preceded him. The rest drifted
toward the billiard roomFisher merely remarking to the lawyer:
They won't be long. We know they're practically in agreement.
Hook entirely supports the Prime Minister,assented Harker.
Or the Prime Minister entirely supports Hook,said Horne Fisher
and began idly to knock the balls about on the billiard table.
Horne Fisher came down next morning in a late and leisurely fashion
as was his reprehensible habit; he had evidently no appetite
for catching worms. But the other guests seemed to have felt
a similar indifferenceand they helped themselves to breakfast
from the sideboard at intervals during the hours verging upon lunch.
So that it was not many hours later when the first sensation
of that strange day came upon them. It came in the form of a young
man with light hair and a candid expressionwho came sculling down
the river and disembarked at the landing stage. It wasin fact
no other than Mr. Harold Marchwhose journey had begun far away
up the river in the earliest hours of that day. He arrived late
in the afternoonhaving stopped for tea in a large riverside town
and he had a pink evening paper sticking out of his pocket.
He fell on the riverside garden like a quiet and well-behaved thunderbolt
but he was a thunderbolt without knowing it.
The first exchange of salutations and introductions was
commonplace enoughand consistedindeedof the inevitable
repetition of excuses for the eccentric seclusion of the host.
He had gone fishing againof courseand must not be disturbed
till the appointed hourthough he sat within a stone's throw
of where they stood.
You see it's his only hobby,observed Harkerapologetically
and, after all, it's his own house; and he's very hospitable
in other ways.
I'm rather afraid,said Fisherin a lower voicethat it's
becoming more of a mania than a hobby. I know how it is when a man
of that age begins to collect things, if it's only collecting
those rotten little river fish. You remember Talbot's uncle with
his toothpicks, and poor old Buzzy and the waste of cigar ashes.
Hook has done a lot of big things in his time--the great deal
in the Swedish timber trade and the Peace Conference at Chicago--
but I doubt whether he cares now for any of those big things
as he cares for those little fish.
Oh, come, come,protested the Attorney-General. "You'll
make Mr. March think he has come to call on a lunatic.
Believe meHook only does it for funlike any other sport
only he's of the kind that takes his fun sadly.
But I bet if there were big news about timber or shipping
he would drop his fun and his fish all right."
Well, I wonder,said Horne Fisherlooking sleepily at the island
in the river.
By the way, is there any news of anything?asked Harker
of Harold March. "I see you've got an evening paper; one of
those enterprising evening papers that come out in the morning."
The beginning of Lord Merivale's Birmingham speech,
replied Marchhanding him the paper. "It's only a paragraph
but it seems to me rather good."
Harker took the paperflapped and refolded itand looked at
the "Stop Press" news. It wasas March had saidonly a paragraph.
But it was a paragraph that had a peculiar effect on
Sir John Harker. His lowering brows lifted with a flicker and his
eyes blinkedand for a moment his leathery jaw was loosened.
He looked in some odd fashion like a very old man.
Thenhardening his voice and handing the paper to Fisher
without a tremorhe simply said:
Well, here's a chance for the bet. You've got your big news
to disturb the old man's fishing.
Horne Fisher was looking at the paperand over his more languid
and less expressive features a change also seemed to pass.
Even that little paragraph had two or three large headlines
and his eye encounteredSensational Warning to Sweden,
andWe Shall Protest.
What the devil--he saidand his words softened first to a whisper
and then a whistle.
We must tell old Hook at once, or he'll never forgive us,
said Harker. "He'll probably want to see Number One instantly
though it may be too late now. I'm going across to him at once.
I bet I'll make him forget his fishanyhow." Andturning his back
he made his way hurriedly along the riverside to the causeway
of flat stones.
March was staring at Fisherin amazement at the effect his pink
paper had produced.
What does it all mean?he cried. "I always supposed we should
protest in defense of the Danish portsfor their sakes and our own.
What is all this botheration about Sir Isaac and the rest of you?
Do you think it bad news?"
Bad news!repeated Fisherwith a sort of soft emphasis
Is it as bad as all that?asked his friendat last.
As bad as all that?repeated Fisher. "Why of course it's
as good as it can be. It's great news. It's glorious news!
That's where the devil of it comes into knock us all silly.
It's admirable. It's inestimable. It is also quite incredible."
He gazed again at the gray and green colors of the island and the river
and his rather dreary eye traveled slowly round to the hedges
and the lawns.
I felt this garden was a sort of dream,he saidand I suppose
I must be dreaming. But there is grass growing and water moving;
and something impossible has happened.
Even as he spoke the dark figure with a stoop like a vulture appeared
in the gap of the hedge just above him.
You have won your bet,said Harkerin a harsh and almost
croaking voice. "The old fool cares for nothing but fishing.
He cursed me and told me he would talk no politics."
I thought it might be so,said Fishermodestly. "What are you
going to do next?"
I shall use the old idiot's telephone, anyhow,replied the lawyer.
I must find out exactly what has happened. I've got to speak for
the Government myself to-morrow.And he hurried away toward the house.
In the silence that followeda very bewildeing silence so far as March
was concernedthey saw the quaint figure of the Duke of Westmoreland
with his white hat and whiskersapproaching them across the garden.
Fisher instantly stepped toward him with the pink paper in his hand
andwith a few wordspointed out the apocalyptic paragraph.
The dukewho had been walking slowlystood quite stilland for some
seconds he looked like a tailor's dummy standing and staring outside
some antiquated shop. Then March heard his voiceand it was high
and almost hysterical:
But he must see it; he must be made to understand.
It cannot have been put to him properly.Thenwith a certain
recovery of fullness and even pomposity in the voiceI shall
go and tell him myself.
Among the queer incidents of that afternoonMarch always remembered
something almost comical about the clear picture of the old
gentleman in his wonderful white hat carefully stepping from stone
to stone across the riverlike a figure crossing the traffic
in Piccadilly. Then he disappeared behind the trees of the island
and March and Fisher turned to meet the Attorney-Generalwho was
coming out of the house with a visage of grim assurance.
Everybody is saying,he saidthat the Prime Minister has
made the greatest speech of his life. Peroration and loud
and prolonged cheers. Corrupt financiers and heroic peasants.
We will not desert Denmark again.
Fisher nodded and turned away toward the towing path
where he saw the duke returning with a rather dazed expression.
In answer to questionhe saidin a husky and confidential voice:
I really think our poor friend cannot be himself. He refused
to listen; he--ah--suggested that I might frighten the fish.
A keen ear might have detected a murmur from Mr. Fisher on the subject
of a white hatbut Sir John Harker struck it more decisively:
Fisher was quite right. I didn't believe it myself, but it's quite
clear that the old fellow is fixed on this fishing notion by now.
If the house caught fire behind him he would hardly move till sunset.
Fisher had continued his stroll toward the higher embanked ground
of the towing pathand he now swept a long and searching gaze
not toward the islandbut toward the distant wooded heights
that were the walls of the valley. An evening sky as clear as that
of the previous day was settling down all over the dim landscape
but toward the west it was now red rather than gold; there was
scarcely any sound but the monotonous music of the river.
Then came the sound of a half-stifled exclamation from Horne Fisher
and Harold March looked up at him in wonder.
You spoke of bad news,said Fisher. "Wellthere is really
bad news now. I am afraid this is a bad business."
What bad news do you mean?asked his friendconscious of something
strange and sinister in his voice.
The sun has set,answered Fisher.
He went on with the air of one conscious of having said something fatal.
We must get somebody to go across whom he will really listen to.
He may be mad, but there's method in his madness. There nearly always
is method in madness. It's what drives men mad, being methodical.
And he never goes on sitting there after sunset, with the whole
place getting dark. Where's his nephew? I believe he's really fond
of his nephew.
Look!cried Marchabruptly. "Whyhe's been across already.
There he is coming back."
Andlooking up the river once morethey sawdark against
the sunset reflectionsthe figure of James Bullen
stepping hastily and rather clumsily from stone to stone.
Once he slipped on a stone with a slight splash. When he rejoined
the group on the bank his olive face was unnaturally pale.
The other four men had already gathered on the same spot and almost
simultaneously were calling out to himWhat does he say now?
Nothing. He says--nothing.
Fisher looked at the young man steadily for a moment;
then he started from his immobility. andmaking a motion to
March to follow himhimself strode down to the river crossing.
In a few moments they were on the little beaten track that ran round
the wooded islandto the other side of it where the fisherman sat.
Then they stood and looked at himwithout a word.
Sir Isaac Hook was still sitting propped up against the stump
of the treeand that for the best of reasons. A length of his
own infallible fishing line was twisted and tightened twice round
his throat and then twice round the wooden prop behind him.
The leading investigator ran forward and touched the fisherman's hand
and it was as cold as a fish.
The sun has set,said Horne Fisherin the same terrible tones
and he will never see it rise again.
Ten minutes afterward the five menshaken by such a shock
were again together in the gardenlooking at one another with white
but watchful faces. The lawyer seemed the most alert of the group;
he was articulate if somewhat abrupt.
We must leave the body as it is and telephone for the police,he said.
I think my own authority will stretch to examining the servants and
the poor fellow's papers, to see if there is anything that concerns them.
Of course, none of you gentlemen must leave this place.
Perhaps there was something in his rapid and rigorous
legality that suggested the closing of a net or trap.
Anyhowyoung Bullen suddenly broke downor perhaps blew up
for his voice was like an explosion in the silent garden.
I never touched him,he cried. "I swear I had nothing to do with it!"
Who said you had?demanded Harkerwith a hard eye.
Why do you cry out before you're hurt?
Because you all look at me like that,cried the young manangrily.
Do you think I don't know you're always talking about my damned
debts and expectations?
Rather to March's surpriseFisher had drawn away from this first
collisionleading the duke with him to another part of the garden.
When he was out of earshot of the others he saidwith a curious
simplicity of manner:
Westmoreland, I am going straight to the point.
Well?said the otherstaring at him stolidly.
You have a motive for killing him,said Fisher.
The duke continued to starebut he seemed unable to speak.
I hope you had a motive for killing him,continued Fishermildly.
You see, it's rather a curious situation. If you have a motive
for murdering, you probably didn't murder. But if you hadn't
any motive, why, then perhaps, you did.
What on earth are you talking about?demanded the dukeviolently.
It's quite simple,said Fisher. "When you went across he was either
alive or dead. If he was aliveit might be you who killed him
or why should you have held your tongue about his death?
But if he was deadand you had a reason for killing him
you might have held your tongue for fear of being accused."
Then after a silence he addedabstractedly: "Cyprus is a
beautiful placeI believe. Romantic scenery and romantic people.
Very intoxicating for a young man."
The duke suddenly clenched his hands and saidthicklyWell, I
had a motive.
Then you're all right,said Fisherholding out his hand with an
air of huge relief. "I was pretty sure you wouldn't really do it;
you had a fright when you saw it doneas was only natural.
Like a bad dream come truewasn't it?"
While this curious conversation was passingHarker had gone into
the housedisregarding the demonstrations of the sulky nephew
and came back presently with a new air of animation and a sheaf
of papers in his hand.
I've telephoned for the police,he saidstopping to speak
to Fisherbut I think I've done most of their work for them.
I believe I've found out the truth. There's a paper here--
He stoppedfor Fisher was looking at him with a singular expression;
and it was Fisher who spoke next:
Are there any papers that are not there, I wonder?
I mean that are not there now?After a pause he added:
Let us have the cards on the table. When you went through his papers
in such a hurry, Harker, weren't you looking for something to--
to make sure it shouldn't be found?
Harker did not turn a red hair on his hard headbut he looked
at the other out of the corners of his eyes.
And I suppose,went on Fishersmoothlythat is
why you, too, told us lies about having found Hook alive.
You knew there was something to show that you might have killed him,
and you didn't dare tell us he was killed. But, believe me,
it's much better to be honest now.
Harker's haggard face suddenly lit up as if with infernal flames.
Honest,he criedit's not so damned fine of you fellows
to be honest. You're all born with silver spoons in your mouths,
and then you swagger about with everlasting virtue because
you haven't got other people's spoons in your pockets.
But I was born in a Pimlico lodging house and I had to make my spoon,
and there'd be plenty to say I only spoiled a horn or an honest man.
And if a struggling man staggers a bit over the line in his youth,
in the lower parts of the law which are pretty dingy, anyhow,
there's always some old vampire to hang on to him all his
life for it.
Guatemalan Golcondas, wasn't it?said Fishersympathetically.
Harker suddenly shuddered. Then he saidI believe you must
know everything, like God Almighty.
I know too much,said Horne Fisherand all the wrong things.
The other three men were drawing nearer to thembut before they came
too nearHarker saidin a voice that had recovered all its firmness:
Yes, I did destroy a paper, but I really did find a paper, too; and I
believe that it clears us all.
Very well,said Fisherin a louder and more cheerful tone;
let us all have the benefit of it.
On the very top of Sir Isaac's papers,explained Harkerthere was
a threatening letter from a man named Hugo. It threatens to kill our
unfortunate friend very much in the way that he was actually killed.
It is a wild letter, full of taunts; you can see it for yourselves; but it
makes a particular point of poor Hook's habit of fishing from the island.
Above all, the man professes to be writing from a boat. And, since we
alone went across to him,and he smiled in a rather ugly fashion
the crime must have been committed by a man passing in a boat.
Why, dear me!cried the dukewith something almost amounting
to animation. "WhyI remember the man called Hugo quite well!
He was a sort of body servant and bodyguard of Sir Isaac. You see
Sir Isaac was in some fear of assault. He was--he was not very popular
with several people. Hugo was discharged after some row or other;
but I remember him well. He was a great big Hungarian fellow
with great mustaches that stood out on each side of his face."
A door opened in the darkness of Harold March's memoryorrather
oblivionand showed a shining landscapelike that of a lost dream.
It was rather a waterscape than a landscapea thing of flooded
meadows and low trees and the dark archway of a bridge.
And for one instant he saw again the man with mustaches like dark
horns leap up on to the bridge and disappear.
Good heavens!he cried. "WhyI met the murderer this morning!"
Horne Fisher and Harold March had their day on the river
after allfor the little group broke up when the police arrived.
They declared that the coincidence of March's evidence had
cleared the whole companyand clinched the case against
the flying Hugo. Whether that Hungarian fugitive would ever
be caught appeared to Horne Fisher to be highly doubtful;
nor can it be pretended that he displayed any very demoniac
detective energy in the matter as he leaned back in the boat
cushionssmokingand watching the swaying reeds slide past.
It was a very good notion to hop up on to the bridge,he said.
An empty boat means very little; he hasn't been seen to land
on either bank, and he's walked off the bridge without walking
on to it, so to speak. He's got twenty-four hours' start;
his mustaches will disappear, and then he will disappear.
I think there is every hope of his escape.
Hope?repeated Marchand stopped sculling for an instant.
Yes, hope,repeated the other. "To begin withI'm not
going to be exactly consumed with Corsican revenge because
somebody has killed Hook. Perhaps you may guess by this
time what Hook was. A damned blood-sucking blackmailer
was that simplestrenuousself-made captain of industry.
He had secrets against nearly everybody; one against poor old
Westmoreland about an early marriage in Cyprus that might have put
the duchess in a queer position; and one against Harker about some
flutter with his client's money when he was a young solicitor.
That's why they went to pieces when they found him murdered
of course. They felt as if they'd done it in a dream.
But I admit I have another reason for not wanting our Hungarian
friend actually hanged for the murder."
And what is that?asked his friend.
Only that he didn't commit the murder,answered Fisher.
Harold March laid down the oars and let the boat drift for a moment.
Do you know, I was half expecting something like that,he said.
It was quite irrational, but it was hanging about in the atmosphere,
like thunder in the air.
On the contrary, it's finding Hugo guilty that's irrational,
replied Fisher. "Don't you see that they're condemning him
for the very reason for which they acquit everybody else?
Harker and Westmoreland were silent because they found him murdered
and knew there were papers that made them look like the murderers.
Wellso did Hugo find him murderedand so did Hugo know
there was a paper that would make him look like the murderer.
He had written it himself the day before."
But in that case,said Marchfrowningat what sort of
unearthly hour in the morning was the murder really committed?
It was barely daylight when I met him at the bridge, and that's
some way above the island.
The answer is very simple,replied Fisher. "The crime was
not committed in the morning. The crime was not committed
on the island."
March stared at the shining water without replyingbut Fisher
resumed like one who had been asked a question:
Every intelligent murder involves taking advantage of some one
uncommon feature in a common situation. The feature here was
the fancy of old Hook for being the first man up every morning,
his fixed routine as an angler, and his annoyance at being disturbed.
The murderer strangled him in his own house after dinner on
the night before, carried his corpse, with all his fishing tackle,
across the stream in the dead of night, tied him to the tree,
and left him there under the stars. It was a dead man who sat
fishing there all day. Then the murderer went back to the house,
or, rather, to the garage, and went off in his motor car.
The murderer drove his own motor car.
Fisher glanced at his friend's face and went on. "You look horrified
and the thing is horrible. But other things are horribletoo.
If some obscure man had been hag-ridden by a blackmailer and had
his family life ruinedyou wouldn't think the murder of his
persecutor the most inexcusable of murders. Is it any worse
when a whole great nation is set free as well as a family?
By this warning to Sweden we shall probably prevent war and not
precipitate itand save many thousand lives rather more valuable
than the life of that viper. OhI'm not talking sophistry
or seriously justifying the thingbut the slavery that held
him and his country was a thousand times less justifiable.
If I'd really been sharp I should have guessed it from his smooth
deadly smiling at dinner that night. Do you remember that
silly talk about how old Isaac could always play his fish?
In a pretty hellish sense he was a fisher of men."
Harold March took the oars and began to row again.
I remember,he saidand about how a big fish might break the line
and get away.
VI. THE HOLE IN THE WALL
Two menthe one an architect and the other an archaeologist
met on the steps of the great house at Prior's Park; and their host
Lord Bulmerin his breezy waythought it natural to introduce them.
It must be confessed that he was hazy as well as breezyand had no
very clear connection in his mindbeyond the sense that an architect
and an archaeologist begin with the same series of letters.
The world must remain in a reverent doubt as to whether he would
on the same principleshave presented a diplomatist to a dipsomaniac or a
ratiocinator to a rat catcher. He was a bigfairbull-necked young man
abounding in outward gesturesunconsciously flapping his gloves
and flourishing his stick.
You two ought to have something to talk about,he saidcheerfully.
Old buildings and all that sort of thing; this is rather
an old building, by the way, though I say it who shouldn't.
I must ask you to excuse me a moment; I've got to go and see
about the cards for this Christmas romp my sister's arranging.
We hope to see you all there, of course. Juliet wants it
to be a fancy-dress affair--abbots and crusaders and all that.
My ancestors, I suppose, after all.
I trust the abbot was not an ancestor,said the archaeological
gentlemanwith a smile.
Only a sort of great-uncle, I imagine,answered the otherlaughing;
then his rather rambling eye rolled round the ordered landscape in front
of the house; an artificial sheet of water ornamented with an antiquated
nymph in the center and surrounded by a park of tall trees now gray
and black and frostyfor it was in the depth of a severe winter.
It's getting jolly cold,his lordship continued.
My sister hopes we shall have some skating as well as dancing.
If the crusaders come in full armor,said the otheryou must
be careful not to drown your ancestors.
Oh, there's no fear of that,answered Bulmer;
this precious lake of ours is not two feet deep anywhere.
And with one of his flourishing gestures he stuck his
stick into the water to demonstrate its shallowness.
They could see the short end bent in the waterso that he seemed
for a moment to lean his large weight on a breaking staff.
The worst you can expect is to see an abbot sit down rather suddenly,
he addedturning away. "Wellau revoir; I'll let you know
about it later."
The archaeologist and the architect were left on the great stone
steps smiling at each other; but whatever their common interests
they presented a considerable personal contrastand the fanciful might
even have found some contradiction in each considered individually.
The formera Mr. James Haddowcame from a drowsy den in
the Inns of Courtfull of leather and parchmentfor the law
was his profession and history only his hobby; he was indeed
among other thingsthe solicitor and agent of the Prior's Park estate.
But he himself was far from drowsy and seemed remarkably wide awake
with shrewd and prominent blue eyesand red hair brushed
as neatly as his very neat costume. The latterwhose name
was Leonard Cranecame straight from a crude and almost cockney
office of builders and house agents in the neighboring suburb
sunning itself at the end of a new row of jerry-built houses with
plans in very bright colors and notices in very large letters.
But a serious observerat a second glancemight have seen
in his eyes something of that shining sleep that is called vision;
and his yellow hairwhile not affectedly longwas unaffectedly untidy.
It was a manifest if melancholy truth that the architect was an artist.
But the artistic temperament was far from explaining him;
there was something else about him that was not definable
but which some even felt to be dangerous. Despite his dreaminess
he would sometimes surprise his friends with arts and even sports apart
from his ordinary lifelike memories of some previous existence.
On this occasionneverthelesshe hastened to disclaim any authority
on the other man's hobby.
I mustn't appear on false pretences,he saidwith a smile.
I hardly even know what an archaeologist is, except that a rather rusty
remnant of Greek suggests that he is a man who studies old things.
Yes,replied Haddowgrimly. "An archaeologist is a man who studies
old things and finds they are new."
Crane looked at him steadily for a moment and then smiled again.
Dare one suggest,he saidthat some of the things we have been
talking about are among the old things that turn out not to be old?
His companion also was silent for a momentand the smile on his rugged
face was fainter as he repliedquietly:
The wall round the park is really old. The one gate in it is Gothic,
and I cannot find any trace of destruction or restoration.
But the house and the estate generally--well the romantic ideas read
into these things are often rather recent romances, things almost
like fashionable novels. For instance, the very name of this place,
Prior's Park, makes everybody think of it as a moonlit mediaeval abbey;
I dare say the spiritualists by this time have discovered the ghost
of a monk there. But, according to the only authoritative study
of the matter I can find, the place was simply called Prior's as any
rural place is called Podger's. It was the house of a Mr. Prior,
a farmhouse, probably, that stood here at some time or other and was
a local landmark. Oh, there are a great many examples of the same thing,
here and everywhere else. This suburb of ours used to be a village,
and because some of the people slurred the name and pronounced
it Holliwell, many a minor poet indulged in fancies about a Holy Well,
with spells and fairies and all the rest of it, filling the suburban
drawing-rooms with the Celtic twilight. Whereas anyone acquainted
with the facts knows that 'Hollinwall' simply means 'the hole
in the wall,' and probably referred to some quite trivial accident.
That's what I mean when I say that we don't so much find old things
as we find new ones.
Crane seemed to have grown somewhat inattentive to the little
lecture on antiquities and noveltiesand the cause of his
restlessness was soon apparentand indeed approaching.
Lord Bulmer's sisterJuliet Braywas coming slowly across the lawn
accompanied by one gentleman and followed by two others.
The young architect was in the illogical condition of mind
in which he preferred three to one.
The man walking with the lady was no other than the eminent
Prince Borodinowho was at least as famous as a distinguished
diplomatist ought to bein the interests of what is called
secret diplomacy. He had been paying a round of visits at various
English country housesand exactly what he was doing for diplomacy
at Prior's Park was as much a secret as any diplomatist could desire.
The obvious thing to say of his appearance was that he would
have been extremely handsome if he had not been entirely bald.
Butindeedthat would itself be a rather bald way of putting it.
Fantastic as it soundsit would fit the case better to say that people
would have been surprised to see hair growing on him; as surprised
as if they had found hair growing on the bust of a Roman emperor.
His tall figure was buttoned up in a tight-waisted fashion that
rather accentuated his potential bulkand he wore a red flower
in his buttonhole. Of the two men walking behind one was also bald
but in a more partial and also a more premature fashion
for his drooping mustache was still yellowand if his eyes
were somewhat heavy it was with languor and not with age.
It was Horne Fisherand he was talking as easily and idly about
everything as he always did. His always did. His companion
was a more strikingand even more companion was a more striking
and even more sinisterfigureand he had the added importance
of being Lord Bulmer's oldest and most intimate friend.
He was generally known with a severe simplicity as Mr. Brain;
but it was understood that he had been a judge and police
official in Indiaand that he had enemieswho had represented
his measures against crime as themselves almost criminal.
He was a brown skeleton of a man with darkdeepsunken eyes
and a black mustache that hid the meaning of his mouth.
Though he had the look of one wasted by some tropical disease
his movements were much more alert than those of his lounging companion.
It's all settled,announced the ladywith great animation
when they came within hailing distance. "You've all got
to put on masquerade things and very likely skates as well
though the prince says they don't go with it; but we don't
care about that. It's freezing alreadyand we don't often
get such a chance in England."
Even in India we don't exactly skate all the year round,
observed Mr. Brain.
And even Italy is not primarily associated with ice,
said the Italian.
Italy is primarily associated with ices,remarked Mr. Horne Fisher.
I mean with ice cream men. Most people in this country imagine that
Italy is entirely populated with ice cream men and organ grinders.
There certainly are a lot of them; perhaps they're an invading
army in disguise.
How do you know they are not the secret emissaries of our diplomacy?
asked the princewith a slightly scornful smile. "An army of organ
grinders might pick up hintsand their monkeys might pick up all
sort of things."
The organs are organized in fact,said the flippant
Mr. Fisher. "WellI've known it pretty cold before now in Italy
and even in Indiaup on the Himalayan slopes. The ice on our
own little round pond will be quite cozy by comparison."
Juliet Bray was an attractive lady with dark hair and eyebrows
and dancing eyesand there was a geniality and even generosity
in her rather imperious ways. In most matters she could command
her brotherthough that noblemanlike many other men of vague ideas
was not without a touch of the bully when he was at bay. She could
certainly command her guestseven to the extent of decking out the most
respectable and reluctant of them with her mediaeval masquerade.
And it really seemed as if she could command the elements also
like a witch. For the weather steadily hardened and sharpened;
that night the ice of the lakeglimmering in the moonlight
was like a marble floorand they had begun to dance and skate
on it before it was dark.
Prior's Parkormore properlythe surrounding district of Holinwall
was a country seat that had become a suburb; having once had only
a dependent village at its doorsit now found outside all its doors
the signals of the expansion of London. Mr. Haddowwho was engaged
in historical researches both in the library and the locality
could find little assistance in the latter. He had already realized
from the documentsthat Prior's Park had originally been something
like Prior's Farmnamed after some local figurebut the new social
conditions were all against his tracing the story by its traditions.
Had any of the real rustics remainedhe would probably have found
some lingering legend of Mr. Priorhowever remote he might be.
But the new nomadic population of clerks and artisansconstantly
shifting their homes from one suburb to anotheror their children
from one school to anothercould have no corporate continuity.
They had all that forgetfulness of history that goes everywhere
with the extension of education.
Neverthelesswhen he came out of the library next morning and saw
the wintry trees standing round the frozen pond like a black forest
he felt he might well have been far in the depths of the country.
The old wall running round the park kept that inclosure itself
still entirely rural and romanticand one could easily imagine
that the depths of that dark forest faded away indefinitely into
distant vales and hills. The gray and black and silver of the wintry
wood were all the more severe or somber as a contrast to the colored
carnival groups that already stood on and around the frozen pool.
For the house party had already flung themselves impatiently into
fancy dressand the lawyerwith his neat black suit and red hair
was the only modern figure among them.
Aren't you going to dress up?asked Julietindignantly shaking
at him a horned and towering blue headdress of the fourteenth
century which framed her face very becominglyfantastic as it was.
Everybody here has to be in the Middle Ages. Even Mr. Brain
has put on a sort of brown dressing gown and says he's a monk;
and Mr. Fisher got hold of some old potato sacks in the kitchen
and sewed them together; he's supposed to be a monk, too.
As to the prince, he's perfectly glorious, in great crimson
robes as a cardinal. He looks as if he could poison everybody.
You simply must be something.
I will be something later in the day,he replied.
At present I am nothing but an antiquary and an attorney.
I have to see your brother presently, about some legal business
and also some local investigations he asked me to make.
I must look a little like a steward when I give an account
of my stewardship.
Oh, but my brother has dressed up!cried the girl. "Very much so.
No endif I may say so. Why he's bearing down on you now in
all his glory."
The noble lord was indeed marching toward them in a magnificent
sixteenth-century costume of purple and goldwith a gold-hilted
sword and a plumed capand manners to match. Indeedthere was
something more than his usual expansiveness of bodily
action in his appearance at that moment. It almost seemed
so to speakthat the plumes on his hat had gone to his head.
He flapped his greatgold-lined cloak like the wings of a fairy
king in a pantomime; he even drew his sword with a flourish
and waved it about as he did his walking stick. In the light
of after events there seemed to be something monstrous and ominous
about that exuberancesomething of the spirit that is called fey.
At the time it merely crossed a few people's minds that he might
possibly be drunk.
As he strode toward his sister the first figure he passed
was that of Leonard Craneclad in Lincoln green
with the horn and baldrick and sword appropriate to Robin Hood;
for he was standing nearest to the ladywhereindeedhe might
have been found during a disproportionate part of the time.
He had displayed one of his buried talents in the matter of skating
and now that the skating was over seemed disposed to prolong
the partnership. The boisterous Bulmer playfully made a pass
at him with his drawn swordgoing forward with the lunge in
the proper fencing fashionand making a somewhat too familiar
Shakespearean quotation about a rodent and a Venetian coin.
Probably in Crane also there was a subdued excitement just then;
anyhowin one flash he had drawn his own sword and parried;
and then suddenlyto the surprise of everyoneBulmer's weapon
seemed to spring out of his hand into the air and rolled away
on the ringing ice.
Well, I never!said the ladyas if with justifiable indignation.
You never told me you could fence, too.
Bulmer put up his sword with an air rather bewildered than annoyed
which increased the impression of something irresponsible in his mood
at the moment; then he turned rather abruptly to his lawyersaying:
We can settle up about the estate after dinner; I've missed
nearly all the skating as it is, and I doubt if the ice will hold
till to-morrow night. I think I shall get up early and have
a spin by myself.
You won't be disturbed with my company,said Horne Fisher
in his weary fashion. "If I have to begin the day with ice
in the American fashionI prefer it in smaller quantities.
But no early hours for me in December. The early bird
catches the cold."
Oh, I sha'n't die of catching a cold,answered Bulmerand laughed.
A considerable group of the skating party had consisted of the guests
staying at the houseand the rest had tailed off in twos and threes
some time before most of the guests began to retire for the night.
Neighborsalways invited to Prior's Park on such occasions
went back to their own houses in motors or on foot; the legal
and archeoological gentleman had returned to the Inns of Court
by a late trainto get a paper called for during his consultation
with his client; and most of the other guests were drifting
and lingering at various stages on their way up to bed.
Horne Fisheras if to deprive himself of any excuse for
his refusal of early risinghad been the first to retire
to his room; butsleepy as he lookedhe could not sleep.
He had picked up from a table the book of antiquarian topography
in which Haddow had found his first hints about the origin of
the local nameandbeing a man with a quiet and quaint capacity
for being interested in anythinghe began to read it steadily
making notes now and then of details on which his previous reading
left him with a certain doubt about his present conclusions.
His room was the one nearest to the lake in the center
of the woodsand was therefore the quietestand none of
the last echoes of the evening's festivity could reach him.
He had followed carefully the argument which established
the derivation from Mr. Prior's farm and the hole in the wall
and disposed of any fashionable fancy about monks and magic wells
when he began to be conscious of a noise audible in the frozen
silence of the night. It was not a particularly loud noise
but it seemed to consist of a series of thuds or heavy blows
such as might be struck on a wooden door by a man seeking to enter.
They were followed by something like a faint creak or crack
as if the obstacle had either been opened or had given way.
He opened his own bedroom door and listenedbut as he heard
talk and laughter all over the lower floorshe had no reason
to fear that a summons would be neglected or the house left
without protection. He went to his open windowlooking out
over the frozen pond and the moonlit statue in the middle
of their circle of darkling woodsand listened again.
But silence had returned to that silent placeandafter
straining his ears for a considerable timehe could hear
nothing but the solitary hoot of a distant departing train.
Then he reminded himself how many nameless noises can be heard
by the wakeful during the most ordinary nightand shrugging
his shoulderswent wearily to bed.
He awoke suddenly and sat up in bed with his ears filled
as with thunderwith the throbbing echoes of a rending cry.
He remained rigid for a momentand then sprang out of bed
throwing on the loose gown of sacking he had worn all day.
He went first to the windowwhich was openbut covered with
a thick curtainso that his room was still completely dark;
but when he tossed the curtain aside and put his head out
he saw that a gray and silver daybreak had already appeared
behind the black woods that surrounded the little lake
and that was all that he did see. Though the sound had
certainly come in through the open window from this direction
the whole scene was still and empty under the morning light
as under the moonlight. Then the longrather lackadaisical hand
he had laid on a window sill gripped it tighteras if to master
a tremorand his peering blue eyes grew bleak with fear.
It may seem that his emotion was exaggerated and needless
considering the effort of common sense by which he had conquered
his nervousness about the noise on the previous night.
But that had been a very different sort of noise.
It might have been made by half a hundred things
from the chopping of wood to the breaking of bottles.
There was only one thing in nature from which could come
the sound that echoed through the dark house at daybreak.
It was the awful articulate voice of man; and it was something worse
for he knew what man.
He knew also that it had been a shout for help.
It seemed to him that he had heard the very word; but the word
short as it washad been swallowed upas if the man
had been stifled or snatched away even as he spoke.
Only the mocking reverberations of it remained even in his memory
but he had no doubt of the original voice. He had no doubt
that the great bull's voice of Francis BrayBaron Bulmer
had been heard for the last time between the darkness and
the lifting dawn.
How long he stood there he never knewbut he was startled
into life by the first living thing that he saw stirring
in that half-frozen landscape. Along the path beside the lake
and immediately under his windowa figure was walking slowly
and softlybut with great composure--a stately figure in robes
of a splendid scarlet; it was the Italian princestill in his
cardinal's costume. Most of the company had indeed lived
in their costumes for the last day or twoand Fisher himself
had assumed his frock of sacking as a convenient dressing gown;
but there seemedneverthelesssomething unusually finished and formal
in the way of an early birdabout this magnificent red cockatoo.
It was as if the early bird had been up all night.
What is the matter?he calledsharplyleaning out of the window
and the Italian turned up his great yellow face like a mask of brass.
We had better discuss it downstairs,said Prince Borodino.
Fisher ran downstairsand encountered the greatred-robed figure
entering the doorway and blocking the entrance with his bulk.
Did you hear that cry?demanded Fisher.
I heard a noise and I came out,answered the diplomatist
and his face was too dark in the shadow for its expression
to be read.
It was Bulmer's voice,insisted Fisher. "I'll swear it
was Bulmer's voice."
Did you know him well?asked the other.
The question seemed irrelevantthough it was not illogical
and Fisher could only answer in arandom fashion that he knew
Lord Bulmer only slightly.
Nobody seems to have known him well,continued the Italian
in level tones. "Nobody except that man Brain. Brain is rather
older than Bulmerbut I fancy they shared a good many secrets."
Fisher moved abruptlyas if waking from a momentary trance
and saidin a new and more vigorous voiceBut look here,
hadn't we better get outside and see if anything has happened.
The ice seems to be thawing,said the otheralmost with indifference.
When they emerged from the housedark stains and stars in the gray
field of ice did indeed indicate that the frost was breaking up
as their host had prophesied the day beforeand the very memory
of yesterday brought back the mystery of to-day.
He knew there would be a thaw,observed the prince.
He went out skating quite early on purpose. Did he call out
because he landed in the water, do you think?
Fisher looked puzzled. "Bulmer was the last man to bellow like that
because he got his boots wet. And that's all he could do here;
the water would hardly come up to the calf of a man of his size.
You can see the flat weeds on the floor of the lakeas if it were through
a thin pane of glass. Noif Bulmer had only broken the ice he wouldn't
have said much at the momentthough possibly a good deal afterward.
We should have found him stamping and damning up and down this path
and calling for clean boots."
Let us hope we shall find him as happily employed,
remarked the diplomatist. "In that case the voice must have
come out of the wood."
I'll swear it didn't come out of the house,said Fisher;
and the two disappeared together into the twilight of wintry trees.
The plantation stood dark against the fiery colors of sunrise
a black fringe having that feathery appearance which makes
trees when they are bare the very reverse of rugged.
Hours and hours afterwardwhen the same densebut delicate
margin was dark against the greenish colors opposite the sunset
the search thus begun at sunrise had not come to an end.
By successive stagesand to slowly gathering groups of the company
it became apparent that the most extraordinary of all gaps
had appeared in the party; the guests could find no trace
of their host anywhere. The servants reported that his bed had
been slept in and his skates and his fancy costume were gone
as if he had risen early for the purpose he had himself avowed.
But from the top of the house to the bottomfrom the walls round
the park to the pond in the centerthere was no trace of Lord Bulmer
dead or alive. Horne Fisher realized that a chilling premonition
had already prevented him from expecting to find the man alive.
But his bald brow was wrinkled over an entirely new and
unnatural problemin not finding the man at all.
He considered the possibility of Bulmer having gone off of his own accord
for some reason; but after fully weighing it he finally dismissed it.
It was inconsistent with the unmistakable voice heard at daybreak
and with many other practical obstacles. There was only one
gateway in the ancient and lofty wall round the small park;
the lodge keeper kept it locked till late in the morning
and the lodge keeper had seen no one pass. Fisher was fairly sure
that he had before him a mathematical problem in an inclosed space.
His instinct had been from the first so attuned to the tragedy
that it would have been almost a relief to him to find the corpse.
He would have been grievedbut not horrifiedto come on
the nobleman's body dangling from one of his own trees as from
a gibbetor floating in his own pool like a pallid weed.
What horrified him was to find nothing.
He soon become conscious that he was not alone even in his most
individual and isolated experiments. He often found a figure
following him like his shadowin silent and almost secret clearings
in the plantation or outlying nooks and corners of the old wall.
The dark-mustached mouth was as mute as the deep eyes were mobile
darting incessantly hither and thitherbut it was clear that Brain of the
Indian police had taken up the trail like an old hunter after a tiger.
Seeing that he was the only personal friend of the vanished man
this seemed natural enoughand Fisher resolved to deal frankly with him.
This silence is rather a social strain,he said. "May I
break the ice by talking about the weather?--whichby the way
has already broken the ice. I know that breaking the ice
might be a rather melancholy metaphor in this case."
I don't think so,replied Brainshortly. "I don't fancy the ice
had much to do with it. I don't see how it could."
What would you propose doing?asked Fisher.
Well, we've sent for the authorities, of course, but I hope to find
something out before they come,replied the Anglo-Indian. "I
can't say I have much hope from police methods in this country.
Too much red tapehabeas corpus and that sort of thing.
What we want is to see that nobody bolts; the nearest we could get
to it would be to collect the company and count themso to speak.
Nobody's left latelyexcept that lawyer who was poking
about for antiquities."
Oh, he's out of it; he left last night,answered the other.
Eight hours after Bulmer's chauffeur saw his lawyer off by the train
I heard Bulmer's own voice as plain as I hear yours now.
I suppose you don't believe in spirits?said the man
from India. After a pause he added: "There's somebody else I
should like to findbefore we go after a fellow with an alibi
in the Inner Temple. What's become of that fellow in green--
the architect dressed up as a forester? I haven't seem him about."
Mr. Brain managed to secure his assembly of all the distracted company
before the arrival of the police. But when he first began to coment
once more on the young architect's delay in putting in an appearance
he found himself in the presence of a minor mysteryand a psychological
development of an entirely unexpected kind.
Juliet Bray had confronted the catastrophe of her brother's disappearance
with a somber stoicism in which there wasperhapsmore paralysis
than pain; but when the other question came to the surface she was both
agitated and angry.
We don't want to jump to any conclusions about anybody,Brain was saying
in his staccato style. "But we should like to know a little more about
Mr. Crane. Nobody seems to know much about himor where he comes from.
And it seems a sort of coincidence that yesterday he actually
crossed swords with poor Bulmerand could have stuck himtoo
since he showed himself the better swordsman. Of coursethat may be
an accident and couldn't possibly be called a case against anybody;
but then we haven't the means to make a real case against anybody.
Till the police come we are only a pack of very amateur sleuthhounds."
And I think you're a pack of snobs,said Juliet. "Because Mr. Crane
is a genius who's made his own wayyou try to suggest he's
a murderer without daring to say so. Because he wore a toy
sword and happened to know how to use ityou want us to believe
he used it like a bloodthirsty maniac for no reason in the world.
And because he could have hit my brother and didn'tyou
deduce that he did. That's the sort of way you argue.
And as for his having disappearedyou're wrong in that as you
are in everything elsefor here he comes."
Andindeedthe green figure of the fictitious Robin Hood
slowly detached itself from the gray background of the trees
and came toward them as she spoke.
He approached the group slowlybut with composure; but he was
decidedly paleand the eyes of Brain and Fisher had already taken
in one detail of the green-clad figure more clearly than all the rest.
The horn still swung from his baldrickbut the sword was gone.
Rather to the surprise of the companyBrain did not follow up
the question thus suggested; butwhile retaining an air of leading
the inquiryhad also an appearance of changing the subject.
Now we're all assembled,he observedquietlythere is a
question I want to ask to begin with. Did anybody here actually
see Lord Bulmer this morning?
Leonard Crane turned his pale face round the circle of faces till
he came to Juliet's; then he compressed his lips a little and said:
Yes, I saw him.
Was he alive and well?asked Brainquickly. "How was he dressed?"
He appeared exceedingly well,replied Cranewith a curious intonation.
He was dressed as he was yesterday, in that purple costume copied
from the portrait of his ancestor in the sixteenth century.
He had his skates in his hand.
And his sword at his side, I suppose,added the questioner.
Where is your own sword, Mr. Crane?
I threw it away.
In the singular silence that ensuedthe train of thought in many minds
became involuntarily a series of colored pictures.
They had grown used to their fanciful garments looking more gay
and gorgeous against the dark gray and streaky silver of the forest
so that the moving figures glowed like stained-glass saints walking.
The effect had been more fitting because so many of them had idly
parodied pontifical or monastic dress. But the most arresting attitude
that remained in their memories had been anything but merely monastic;
that of the moment when the figure in bright green and the other in vivid
violet had for a moment made a silver cross of their crossing swords.
Even when it was a jest it had been something of a drama; and it was
a strange and sinister thought that in the gray daybreak the same figures
in the same posture might have been repeated as a tragedy.
Did you quarrel with him?asked Brainsuddenly.
Yes,replied the immovable man in green. "Or he quarreled with me."
Why did he quarrel with you?asked the investigator;
and Leonard Crane made no reply.
Horne Fishercuriously enoughhad only given half his attention to this
crucial cross-examination. His heavy-lidded eyes had languidly followed
the figure of Prince Borodinowho at this stage had strolled away
toward the fringe of the wood; andafter a pauseas of meditation
had disappeared into the darkness of the trees.
He was recalled from his irrelevance by the voice of Juliet Bray
which rang out with an altogether new note of decision:
If that is the difficulty, it had best be cleared up.
I am engaged to Mr. Crane, and when we told my brother he did
not approve of it; that is all.
Neither Brain nor Fisher exhibited any surprisebut the
Except, I suppose, that he and your brother went off into
the wood to discuss it, where Mr. Crane mislaid his sword,
not to mention his companion.
And may I ask,inquired Cranewith a certain flicker of mockery
passing over his pallid featureswhat I am supposed to have done
with either of them? Let us adopt the cheerful thesis that I am
a murderer; it has yet to be shown that I am a magician. If I ran
your unfortunate friend through the body, what did I do with the body?
Did I have it carried away by seven flying dragons, or was it merely
a trifling matter of turning it into a milk-white hind?
It is no occasion for sneering,said the Anglo-Indian judge
with abrupt authority. "It doesn't make it look better for you
that you can joke about the loss."
Fisher's dreamyand even drearyeye was still on the edge
of the wood behindand he became conscious of masses of dark red
like a stormy sunset cloudglowing through the gray network
of the thin treesand the prince in his cardinal's robes
reemerged on to the pathway. Brain had had half a notion
that the prince might have gone to look for the lost rapier.
But when he reappeared he was carrying in his handnot a sword
but an ax.
The incongruity between the masquerade and the mystery had created
a curious psychological atmosphere. At first they had all felt horribly
ashamed at being caught in the foolish disguises of a festival
by an event that had only too much the character of a funeral.
Many of them would have already gone back and dressed
in clothes that were more funereal or at least more formal.
But somehow at the moment this seemed like a second masquerade
more artificial and frivolous than the first. And as they reconciled
themselves to their ridiculous trappingsa curious sensation had
come over some of themnotably over the more sensitivelike Crane
and Fisher and Julietbut in some degree over everybody except
the practical Mr. Brain. It was almost as if they were the ghosts
of their own ancestors haunting that dark wood and dismal lake
and playing some old part that they only half remembered.
The movements of those colored figures seemed to mean something
that had been settled long beforelike a silent heraldry.
Actsattitudesexternal objectswere accepted as an allegory
even without the key; and they knew when a crisis had come
when they did not know what it was. And somehow they knew
subconsciously that the whole tale had taken a new and terrible turn
when they saw the prince stand in the gap of the gaunt trees
in his robes of angry crimson and with his lowering face of bronze
bearing in his hand a new shape of death. They could not have named
a reasonbut the two swords seemed indeed to have become toy swords
and the whole tale of them broken and tossed away like a toy.
Borodino looked like the Old World headsmanclad in terrible red
and carrying the ax for the execution of the criminal.
And the criminal was not Crane.
Mr. Brain of the Indian police was glaring at the new objectand it
was a moment or two before he spokeharshly and almost hoarsely.
What are you doing with that?he asked. "Seems to be
a woodman's chopper."
A natural association of ideas,observed Horne Fisher. "If you meet
a cat in a wood you think it's a wildcatthough it may have just strolled
from the drawing-room sofa. As a matter of factI happen to know
that is not the woodman's chopper. It's the kitchen chopperor meat ax
or something like thatthat somebody has thrown away in the wood.
I saw it in the kitchen myself when I was getting the potato sacks
with which I reconstructed a mediaeval hermit."
All the same, it is not without interest,remarked the princeholding
out the instrument to Fisherwho took it and examined it carefully.
A butcher's cleaver that has done butcher's work.
It was certainly the instrument of the crime,assented Fisher
in a low voice.
Brain was staring at the dull blue gleam of the ax head with
fierce and fascinated eyes. "I don't understand you he said.
There is no--there are no marks on it."
It has shed no blood,answered Fisherbut for all that it
has committed a crime. This is as near as the criminal came
to the crime when he committed it.
What do you mean?
He was not there when he did it,explained Fisher. "It's a poor
sort of murderer who can't murder people when he isn't there."
You seem to be talking merely for the sake of mystification,
said Brain. "If you have any practical advice to give you
might as well make it intelligible."
The only practical advice I can suggest,said Fisherthoughtfully
is a little research into local topography and nomenclature. They say
there used to be a Mr. Prior, who had a farm in this neighborhood.
I think some details about the domestic life of the late Mr. Prior
would throw a light on this terrible business.
And you have nothing more immediate than your topography to offer,
said Brainwith a sneerto help me avenge my friend?
Well,said FisherI should find out the truth about the Hole
in the Wall.
That nightat the close of a stormy twilight and under a strong
west wind that followed the breaking of the frostLeonard Crane
was wending his way in a wild rotatory walk round and round
the highcontinuous wall that inclosed the little wood.
He was driven by a desperate idea of solving for himself
the riddle that had clouded his reputation and already even
threatened his liberty. The police authoritiesnow in charge
of the inquiryhad not arrested himbut he knew well enough
that if he tried to move far afield he would be instantly arrested.
Horne Fisher's fragmentary hintsthough he had refused to expand
them as yethad stirred the artistic temperament of the architect
to a sort of wild analysisand he was resolved to read
the hieroglyph upside down and every way until it made sense.
If it was something connected with a hole in the wall
he would find the hole in the wall; butas a matter of fact
he was unable to find the faintest crack in the wall.
His professional knowledge told him that the masonry was all of one
workmanship and one dateandexcept for the regular entrance
which threw no light on the mysteryhe found nothing
suggesting any sort of hiding place or means of escape.
Walking a narrow path between the winding wall and the wild
eastward bend and sweep of the gray and feathery trees
seeing shifting gleams of a lost sunset winking almost like lightning
as the clouds of tempest scudded across the sky and mingling
with the first faint blue light from a slowly strengthened
moon behind himhe began to feel his head going round as his
heels were going round and round the blind recurrent barrier.
He had thoughts on the border of thought; fancies about a fourth
dimension which was itself a hole to hide anythingof seeing
everything from a new angle out of a new window in the senses;
or of some mystical light and transparencylike the new rays
of chemistryin which he could see Bulmer's bodyhorrible and
glaringfloating in a lurid halo over the woods and the wall.
He was haunted also with the hintwhich somehow seemed
to be equally horrifyingthat it all had something to do with
Mr. Prior. There seemed even to be something creepy in the fact
that he was always respectfully referred to as Mr. Prior
and that it was in the domestic life of the dead farmer that
he had been bidden to seek the seed of these dreadful things.
As a matter of facthe had found that no local inquiries had
revealed anything at all about the Prior family.
The moonlight had broadened and brightenedthe wind had driven
off the clouds and itself died fitfully awaywhen he came
round again to the artificial lake in front of the house.
For some reason it looked a very artificial lake; indeedthe whole
scene was like a classical landscape with a touch of Watteau;
the Palladian facade of the house pale in the moon
and the same silver touching the very pagan and naked marble
nymph in the middle of the pond. Rather to his surprise
he found another figure there beside the statuesitting almost
equally motionless; and the same silver pencil traced the wrinkled
brow and patient face of Horne Fisherstill dressed as a hermit
and apparently practicing something of the solitude of a hermit.
Neverthelesshe looked up at Leonard Crane and smiled
almost as if he had expected him.
Look here,said Craneplanting himself in front of him
can you tell me anything about this business?
I shall soon have to tell everybody everything about it,
replied Fisherbut I've no objection to telling you
something first. But, to begin with, will you tell me something?
What really happened when you met Bulmer this morning?
You did throw away your sword, but you didn't kill him.
I didn't kill him because I threw away my sword,said the other.
I did it on purpose--or I'm not sure what might have happened.
After a pause he went onquietly: "The late Lord Bulmer was
a very breezy gentlemanextremely breezy. He was very genial
with his inferiorsand would have his lawyer and his architect
staying in his house for all sorts of holidays and amusements.
But there was another side to himwhich they found out when
they tried to be his equals. When I told him that his sister
and I were engagedsomething happened which I simply can't
and won't describe. It seemed to me like some monstrous upheaval
of madness. But I suppose the truth is painfully simple.
There is such a thing as the coarseness of a gentleman.
And it is the most horrible thing in humanity."
I know,said Fisher. "The Renaissance nobles of the Tudor time
were like that."
It is odd that you should say that,Crane went on.
For while we were talking there came on me a curious feeling
that we were repeating some scene of the past, and that I
was really some outlaw, found in the woods like Robin Hood,
and that he had really stepped in all his plumes and purple
out of the picture frame of the ancestral portrait.
Anyhow, he was the man in possession, and he neither feared God
nor regarded man. I defied him, of course, and walked away.
I might really have killed him if I had not walked away.
Yes,said Fishernoddinghis ancestor was in possession
and he was in possession, and this is the end of the story.
It all fits in.
Fits in with what?cried his companionwith sudden impatience.
I can't make head or tail of it. You tell me to look for the secret
in the hole in the wall, but I can't find any hole in the wall.
There isn't any,said Fisher. "That's the secret."
After reflecting a momenthe added: "Unless you call it
a hole in the wall of the world. Look here; I'll tell you
if you likebut I'm afraid it involves an introduction.
You've got to understand one of the tricks of the modern mind
a tendency that most people obey without noticing it.
In the village or suburb outside there's an inn with the sign
of St. George and the Dragon. Now suppose I went about telling
everybody that this was only a corruption of King George and
the Dragoon. Scores of people would believe itwithout any inquiry
from a vague feeling that it's probable because it's prosaic.
It turns something romantic and legendary into something recent
and ordinary. And that somehow makes it sound rationalthough it
is unsupported by reason. Of course some people would have the sense
to remember having seen St. George in old Italian pictures and
French romancesbut a good many wouldn't think about it at all.
They would just swallow the skepticism because it was skepticism.
Modern intelligence won't accept anything on authority.
But it will accept anything without authority. That's exactly
what has happened here.
When some critic or other chose to say that Prior's Park
was not a priory, but was named after some quite modern
man named Prior, nobody really tested the theory at all.
It never occurred to anybody repeating the story to ask if there
WAS any Mr. Prior, if anybody had ever seen him or heard of him.
As a matter of fact, it was a priory, and shared the fate
of most priories--that is, the Tudor gentleman with the plumes
simply stole it by brute force and turned it into his own
private house; he did worse things, as you shall hear.
But the point here is that this is how the trick works,
and the trick works in the same way in the other part of the tale.
The name of this district is printed Holinwall in all the best
maps produced by the scholars; and they allude lightly,
not without a smile, to the fact that it was pronounced
Holiwell by the most ignorant and old-fashioned of the poor.
But it is spelled wrong and pronounced right.
Do you mean to say,asked Cranequicklythat there really
was a well?
There is a well,said Fisherand the truth lies at the bottom of it.
As he spoke he stretched out his hand and pointed toward the sheet
of water in front of him.
The well is under that water somewhere,he said
and this is not the first tragedy connected with it.
The founder of this house did something which his fellow
ruffians very seldom did; something that had to be hushed
up even in the anarchy of the pillage of the monasteries.
The well was connected with the miracles of some saint,
and the last prior that guarded it was something like a
saint himself; certainly he was something very like a martyr.
He defied the new owner and dared him to pollute the place,
till the noble, in a fury, stabbed him and flung his body
into the well, whither, after four hundred years, it has been
followed by an heir of the usurper, clad in the same purple
and walking the world with the same pride.
But how did it happen,demanded Cranethat for the first time
Bulmer fell in at that particular spot?
Because the ice was only loosened at that particular spot,
by the only man who knew it,answered Horne Fisher. "It was
cracked deliberatelywith the kitchen chopperat that special place;
and I myself heard the hammering and did not understand it.
The place had been covered with an artificial lakeif only because
the whole truth had to be covered with an artificial legend. But don't
you see that it is exactly what those pagan nobles would have done
to desecrate it with a sort of heathen goddessas the Roman Emperor
built a temple to Venus on the Holy Sepulchre. But the truth could
still be traced outby any scholarly man determined to trace it.
And this man was determined to trace it."
What man?asked the otherwith a shadow of the answer in his mind.
The only man who has an alibi,replied Fisher. "James Haddow
the antiquarian lawyerleft the night before the fatality
but he left that black star of death on the ice. He left abruptly
having previously proposed to stay; probablyI think
after an ugly scene with Bulmerat their legal interview.
As you know yourselfBulmer could make a man feel pretty murderous
and I rather fancy the lawyer had himself irregularities
to confessand was in danger of exposure by his client.
But it's my reading of human nature that a man will cheat
in his tradebut not in his hobby. Haddow may have been a
dishonest lawyerbut he couldn't help being an honest antiquary.
When he got on the track of the truth about the Holy Well
he had to follow it up; he was not to be bamboozled with
newspaper anecdotes about Mr. Prior and a hole in the wall;
he found out everythingeven to the exact location of the well
and he was rewardedif being a successful assassin can be
regarded as a reward."
And how did you get on the track of all this hidden history?
asked the young architect.
A cloud came across the brow of Horne Fisher. "I knew only too much
about it already he said, andafter allit's shameful for me
to be speaking lightly of poor Bulmerwho has paid his penalty;
but the rest of us haven't. I dare say every cigar I smoke and every
liqueur I drink comes directly or indirectly from the harrying
of the holy places and the persecution of the poor. After all
it needs very little poking about in the past to find that hole
in the wallthat great breach in the defenses of English history.
It lies just under the surface of a thin sheet of sham information
and instructionjust as the black and blood-stained well
lies just under that floor of shallow water and flat weeds.
Ohthe ice is thinbut it bears; it is strong enough to support us
when we dress up as monks and dance on itin mockery of the dear
quaint old Middle Ages. They told me I must put on fancy dress;
so I did put on fancy dressaccording to my own taste and fancy.
I put on the only costume I think fit for a man who has inherited
the position of a gentlemanand yet has not entirely lost
the feelings of one."
In answer to a look of inquiryhe rose with a sweeping
and downward gesture.
Sackcloth,he said; "and I would wear the ashes as well if they
would stay on my bald head."
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
Harold March and the few who cultivated the friendship of Horne Fisher
especially if they saw something of him in his own social setting
were conscious of a certain solitude in his very sociability. They seemed
to be always meeting his relations and never meeting his family.
Perhaps it would be truer to say that they saw much of his family
and nothing of his home. His cousins and connections ramified like a
labyrinth all over the governing class of Great Britainand he seemed
to be on goodor at least on good-humoredterms with most of them.
For Horne Fisher was remarkable for a curious impersonal information
and interest touching all sorts of topicsso that one could sometimes
fancy that his culturelike his colorlessfair mustache and pale
drooping featureshad the neutral nature of a chameleon.
Anyhowhe could always get on with viceroys and Cabinet Ministers
and all the great men responsible for great departmentsand talk
to each of them on his own subjecton the branch of study with
which he was most seriously concerned. Thus he could converse with
the Minister for War about silkwormswith the Minister of Education
about detective storieswith the Minister of Labor about Limoges enamel
and with the Minister of Missions and Moral Progress (if that be his
correct title) about the pantomime boys of the last four decades.
And as the first was his first cousinthe second his second cousin
the third his brother-in-lawand the fourth his uncle by marriage
this conversational versatility certainly served in one sense to create
a happy family. But March never seemed to get a glimpse of that
domestic interior to which men of the middle classes are accustomed
in their friendshipsand which is indeed the foundation of friendship
and love and everything else in any sane and stable society.
He wondered whether Horne Fisher was both an orphan and an only child.
It wasthereforewith something like a start that he found
that Fisher had a brothermuch more prosperous and powerful
than himselfthough hardlyMarch thoughtso entertaining.
Sir Henry Harland Fisherwith half the alphabet after his name
was something at the Foreign Office far more tremendous than
the Foreign Secretary. Apparentlyit ran in the familyafter all;
for it seemed there was another brotherAshton Fisherin India
rather more tremendous than the Viceroy. Sir Henry Fisher was a heavier
but handsomer edition of his brotherwith a brow equally bald
but much more smooth. He was very courteousbut a shade patronizing
not only to Marchbut evenas March fanciedto Horne Fisher as well.
The latter gentlemanwho had many intuitions about the half-formed
thoughts of othersglanced at the topic himself as they came away
from the great house in Berkeley Square.
Why, don't you know,he observed quietlythat I am the fool
of the family?
It must be a clever family,said Harold Marchwith a smile.
Very gracefully expressed,replied Fisher; "that is
the best of having a literary training. Wellperhaps it
is an exaggeration to say I am the fool of the family.
It's enough to say I am the failure of the family."
It seems queer to me that you should fail especially,
remarked the journalist. "As they say in the examinations
what did you fail in?"
Politics,replied his friend. "I stood for Parliament when I
was quite a young man and got in by an enormous majority
with loud cheers and chairing round the town. Since then
of courseI've been rather under a cloud."
I'm afraid I don't quite understand the 'of course,'
That part of it isn't worth understanding,said Fisher. "But as
a matter of factold chapthe other part of it was rather odd
and interesting. Quite a detective story in its wayas well
as the first lesson I had in what modern politics are made of.
If you likeI'll tell you all about it." And the following
recast in a less allusive and conversational manneris the story
that he told.
Nobody privileged of late years to meet Sir Henry Harland Fisher
would believe that he had ever been called Harry. Butindeed
he had been boyish enough when a boyand that serenity
which shone on him through lifeand which now took the form
of gravityhad once taken the form of gayety. His friends
would have said that he was all the more ripe in his maturity
for having been young in his youth. His enemies would have said
that he was still light mindedbut no longer light hearted.
But in any casethe whole of the story Horne Fisher had to tell
arose out of the accident which had made young Harry Fisher
private secretary to Lord Saltoun. Hence his later connection
with the Foreign Officewhich hadindeedcome to him as a sort
of legacy from his lordship when that great man was the power behind
the throne. This is not the place to say much about Saltoun
little as was known of him and much as there was worth knowing.
England has had at least three or four such secret statesmen.
An aristocratic polity produces every now and then an aristocrat
who is also an accidenta man of intellectual independence
and insighta Napoleon born in the purple. His vast work
was mostly invisibleand very little could be got out of him
in private life except a crusty and rather cynical sense of humor.
But it was certainly the accident of his presence at a family
dinner of the Fishersand the unexpected opinion he expressed
which turned what might have been a dinner-table joke into a sort
of small sensational novel.
Save for Lord Saltounit was a family party of Fishers
for the only other distinguished stranger had just departed
after dinnerleaving the rest to their coffee and cigars.
This had been a figure of some interest--a young Cambridge
man named Eric Hughes who was the rising hope of the party
of Reformto which the Fisher familyalong with their
friend Saltounhad long been at least formally attached.
The personality of Hughes was substantially summed up in the fact
that he talked eloquently and earnestly through the whole dinner
but left immediately after to be in time for an appointment.
All his actions had something at once ambitious and conscientious;
he drank no winebut was slightly intoxicated with words.
And his face and phrases were on the front page of all the
newspapers just thenbecause he was contesting the safe seat
of Sir Francis Verner in the great by-election in the west.
Everybody was talking about the powerful speech against squirarchy
which he had just delivered; even in the Fisher circle everybody
talked about it except Horne Fisher himself who sat in a corner
lowering over the fire.
We jolly well have to thank him for putting some new life into the
old party,Ashton Fisher was saying. "This campaign against the old
squires just hits the degree of democracy there is in this county.
This act for extending county council control is practically his bill;
so you may say he's in the government even before he's in the House."
One's easier than the other,said Harrycarelessly. "I bet
the squire's a bigger pot than the county council in that county.
Verner is pretty well rooted; all these rural places are what you
call reactionary. Damning aristocrats won't alter it."
He damns them rather well,observed Ashton. "We never had
a better meeting than the one in Barkingtonwhich generally
goes Constitutional. And when he said'Sir Francis may boast
of blue blood; let us show we have red blood' and went on to talk
about manhood and libertythe room simply rose at him."
Speaks very well,said Lord Saltoungrufflymaking his only
contribution to the conversation so far.
Then the almost equally silent Horne Fisher suddenly spokewithout
taking his brooding eyes off the fire.
What I can't understand,he saidis why nobody is ever slanged
for the real reason.
Hullo!remarked Harryhumorouslyyou beginning to take notice?
Well, take Verner,continued Horne Fisher. "If we want to attack
Vernerwhy not attack him? Why compliment him on being a romantic
reactionary aristocrat? Who is Verner? Where does he come from?
His name sounds oldbut I never heard of it beforeas the man
said of the Crucifixion. Why talk about his blue blood?
His blood may be gamboge yellow with green spotsfor all anybody knows.
All we know is that the old squireHawkersomehow ran through his money
(and his second wife'sI supposefor she was rich enough)
and sold the estate to a man named Verner. What did he make his
money in? Oil? Army contracts?"
I don't know,said Saltounlooking at him thoughtfully.
First thing I ever knew you didn't know,cried the exuberant Harry.
And there's more, besides,went on Horne Fisherwho seemed
to have suddenly found his tongue. "If we want country people
to vote for uswhy don't we get somebody with some notion about
the country? We don't talk to people in Threadneedle Street
about nothing but turnips and pigsties. Why do we talk
to people in Somerset about nothing but slums and socialism?
Why don't we give the squire's land to the squire's tenants
instead of dragging in the county council?"
Three acres and a cow,cried Harryemitting what the Parliamentary
reports call an ironical cheer.
Yes,replied his brotherstubbornly. "Don't you think
agricultural laborers would rather have three acres and a
cow than three acres of printed forms and a committee?
Why doesn't somebody start a yeoman party in politics
appealing to the old traditions of the small landowner?
And why don't they attack men like Verner for what they are
which is something about as old and traditional as an
American oil trust?"
You'd better lead the yeoman party yourself,laughed Harry. "Don't you
think it would be a jokeLord Saltounto see my brother and his
merry menwith their bows and billsmarching down to Somerset all
in Lincoln green instead of Lincoln and Bennet hats?"
No,answered Old SaltounI don't think it would be a joke.
I think it would be an exceedingly serious and sensible idea.
Well, I'm jiggered!cried Harry Fisherstaring at him.
I said just now it was the first fact you didn't know,
and I should say this is the first joke you didn't see.
I've seen a good many things in my time,said the old man
in his rather sour fashion. "I've told a good many lies
in my timetooand perhaps I've got rather sick of them.
But there are lies and liesfor all that. Gentlemen used to lie
just as schoolboys liebecause they hung together and partly
to help one another out. But I'm damned if I can see why we
should lie for these cosmopolitan cads who only help themselves.
They're not backing us up any more; they're simply crowding us out.
If a man like your brother likes to go into Parliament as a yeoman
or a gentleman or a Jacobite or an Ancient BritonI should say
it would be a jolly good thing."
In the rather startled silence that followed Horne Fisher sprang
to his feet and all his dreary manner dropped off him.
I'm ready to do it to-morrow,he cried. "I suppose none of you
fellows would back me up."
Then Harry Fisher showed the finer side of his impetuosity.
He made a sudden movement as if to shake hands.
You're a sport,he saidand I'll back you up,
if nobody else will. But we can all back you up, can't we?
I see what Lord Saltoun means, and, of course, he's right.
He's always right.
So I will go down to Somerset,said Horne Fisher.
Yes, it is on the way to Westminster,said Lord Saltoun
with a smile.
And so it happened that Horne Fisher arrived some days later
at the little station of a rather remote market town in the west
accompanied by a light suitcase and a lively brother.
It must not be supposedhoweverthat the brother's cheerful tone
consisted entirely of chaff. He supported the new candidate with hope
as well as hilarity; and at the back of his boisterous partnership
there was an increasing sympathy and encouragement. Harry Fisher
had always had an affection for his more quiet and eccentric brother
and was now coming more and more to have a respect for him.
As the campaign proceeded the respect increased to ardent admiration.
For Harry was still youngand could feel the sort of enthusiasm
for his captain in electioneering that a schoolboy can feel for his
captain in cricket.
Nor was the admiration undeserved. As the new three-cornered contest
developed it became apparent to others besides his devoted kinsman
that there was more in Horne Fisher than had ever met the eye.
It was clear that his outbreak by the family fireside had been but the
culmination of a long course of brooding and studying on the question.
The talent he retained through life for studying his subject
and even somebodys else's subjecthad long been concentrated on
this idea of championing a new peasantry against a new plutocracy.
He spoke to a crowd with eloquence and replied to an individual
with humortwo political arts that seemed to come to him naturally.
He certainly knew much more about rural problems than either Hughes
the Reform candidateor Vernerthe Constitutional candidate.
And he probed those problems with a human curiosityand went
below the surface in a way that neither of them dreamed of doing.
He soon became the voice of popular feelings that are never found
in the popular press. New angles of criticismarguments that had
never before been uttered by an educated voicetests and comparisons
that had been made only in dialect by men drinking in the little
local public housescrafts half forgotten that had come down
by sign of hand and tongue from remote ages when their fathers
were free all this created a curious and double excitement.
It startled the well informed by being a new and fantastic idea
they had never encountered. It startled the ignorant by being
an old and familiar idea they never thought to have seen revived.
Men saw things in a new lightand knew not even whether it was
the sunset or the dawn.
Practical grievances were there to make the movement formidable.
As Fisher went to and fro among the cottages and country inns
it was borne in on him without difficulty that Sir Francis Verner
was a very bad landlord. Nor was the story of his acquisition
of the land any more ancient and dignified than he had supposed;
the story was well known in the county and in most respects
was obvious enough. Hawkerthe old squirehad been a loose
unsatisfactory sort of personhad been on bad terms with his
first wife (who diedas some saidof neglect)and had then
married a flashy South American Jewess with a fortune.
But he must have worked his way through this fortune also with
marvelous rapidityfor he had been compelled to sell the estate
to Verner and had gone to live in South Americapossibly on his
wife's estates. But Fisher noticed that the laxity of the old
squire was far less hated than the efficiency of the new squire.
Verner's history seemed to be full of smart bargains and financial
flutters that left other people short of money and temper.
But though he heard a great deal about Vernerthere was one
thing that continually eluded him; something that nobody knew
that even Saltoun had not known. He could not find out how Verner
had originally made his money.
He must have kept it specially dark,said Horne Fisher to himself.
It must be something he's really ashamed of. Hang it all! what IS
a man ashamed of nowadays?
And as he pondered on the possibilities they grew darker
and more distorted in his mind; he thought vaguely of things
remote and repulsivestrange forms of slavery or sorcery
and then of ugly things yet more unnatural but nearer home.
The figure of Verner seemed to be blackened and transfigured
in his imaginationand to stand against varied backgrounds
and strange skies.
As he strode up a village streetbrooding thushis eyes encountered
a complete contrast in the face of his other rivalthe Reform candidate.
Eric Hugheswith his blown blond hair and eager undergraduate face
was just getting into his motor car and saying a few final words
to his agenta sturdygrizzled man named Gryce. Eric Hughes waved
his hand in a friendly fashion; but Gryce eyed him with some hostility.
Eric Hughes was a young man with genuine political enthusiasmsbut
he knew that political opponents are people with whom one may have to dine
any day. But Mr. Gryce was a grim little local Radicala champion of
the chapeland one of those happy people whose work is also their hobby.
He turned his back as the motor car drove awayand walked briskly up
the sunlit high street of the little townwhistlingwith political
papers sticking out of his pocket.
Fisher looked pensively after the resolute figure for a moment
and thenas if by an impulsebegan to follow it.
Through the busy market placeamid the baskets and barrows
of market dayunder the painted wooden sign of the Green Dragon
up a dark side entryunder an archand through a tangle
of crooked cobbled streets the two threaded their way
the squarestrutting figure in front and the lean
lounging figure behind himlike his shadow in the sunshine.
At length they came to a brown brick house with a brass plate
on which was Mr. Gryce's nameand that individual turned
and beheld his pursuer with a stare.
Could I have a word with you, sir?asked Horne Fisherpolitely.
The agent stared still morebut assented civillyand led the other
into an office littered with leaflets and hung all round with highly
colored posters which linked the name of Hughes with all the higher
interests of humanity.
Mr. Horne Fisher, I believe,said Mr. Gryce. "Much honored
by the callof course. Can't pretend to congratulate you
on entering the contestI'm afraid; you won't expect that.
Here we've been keeping the old flag flying for freedom and reform
and you come in and break the battle line."
For Mr. Elijah Gryce abounded in military metaphors and
in denunciations of militarism. He was a square-jawed
blunt-featured man with a pugnacious cock of the eyebrow.
He had been pickled in the politics of that countryside from boyhood
he knew everybody's secretsand electioneering was the romance
of his life.
I suppose you think I'm devoured with ambition,said Horne Fisher
in his rather listless voiceaiming at a dictatorship and all that.
Well, I think I can clear myself of the charge of mere selfish ambition.
I only want certain things done. I don't want to do them.
I very seldom want to do anything. And I've come here to say that I'm
quite willing to retire from the contest if you can convince me that we
really want to do the same thing.
The agent of the Reform party looked at him with an odd
and slightly puzzled expressionand before he could reply
Fisher went on in the same level tones:
You'd hardly believe it, but I keep a conscience concealed
about me; and I am in doubt about several things.
For instance, we both want to turn Verner out of Parliament,
but what weapon are we to use? I've heard a lot of gossip
against him, but is it right to act on mere gossip?
Just as I want to be fair to you, so I want to be fair to him.
If some of the things I've heard are true he ought to be turned
out of Parliament and every other club in London. But I don't
want to turn him out of Parliament if they aren't true.
At this point the light of battle sprang into Mr. Gryce's eyes
and he became volublenot to say violent. Heat any rate
had no doubt that the stories were true; he could testify
to his own knowledgethat they were true. Verner was not only a
hard landlordbut a mean landlorda robber as well as a rackrenter;
any gentleman would be justified in hounding him out.
He had cheated old Wilkins out of his freehold by a trick fit
for a pickpocket; he had driven old Mother Biddle to the workhouse;
he had stretched the law against Long Adamthe poacher
till all the magistrates were ashamed of him.
So if you'll serve under the old banner,concluded Mr. Gryce
more geniallyand turn out a swindling tyrant like that,
I'm sure you'll never regret it.
And if that is the truth,said Horne Fisherare you going
to tell it?
What do you mean? Tell the truth?demanded Gryce.
I mean you are going to tell the truth as you have just told it,
replied Fisher. "You are going to placard this town with
the wickedness done to old Wilkins. You are going to fill
the newspapers with the infamous story of Mrs. Biddle. You are
going to denounce Verner from a public platformnaming him
for what he did and naming the poacher he did it to.
And you're going to find out by what trade this man made the money
with which he bought the estate; and when you know the truth
as I said beforeof course you are going to tell it.
Upon those terms I come under the old flagas you call it
and haul down my little pennon."
The agent was eying him with a curious expressionsurly but not
entirely unsympathetic. "Well he said, slowly, you have to do
these things in a regular wayyou knowor people don't understand.
I've had a lot of experienceand I'm afraid what you say wouldn't do.
People understand slanging squires in a general waybut those
personalities aren't considered fair play. Looks like hitting
below the belt."
Old Wilkins hasn't got a belt, I suppose,replied Horne Fisher.
Verner can hit him anyhow, and nobody must say a word.
It's evidently very important to have a belt. But apparently you
have to be rather high up in society to have one. Possibly,he added
thoughtfully--"possibly the explanation of the phrase 'a belted earl'
the meaning of which has always escaped me."
I mean those personalities won't do,returned Gryce
frowning at the table.
And Mother Biddle and Long Adam, the poacher, are not personalities,
said Fisherand suppose we mustn't ask how Verner made all the money
that enabled him to become--a personality.
Gryce was still looking at him under lowering brows
but the singular light in his eyes had brightened.
At last he saidin another and much quieter voice:
Look here, sir. I like you, if you don't mind my saying so.
I think you are really on the side of the people and I'm sure
you're a brave man. A lot braver than you know, perhaps.
We daren't touch what you propose with a barge pole;
and so far from wanting you in the old party, we'd rather
you ran your own risk by yourself. But because I like you
and respect your pluck, I'll do you a good turn before we part.
I don't want you to waste time barking up the wrong tree.
You talk about how the new squire got the money to buy,
and the ruin of the old squire, and all the rest of it.
Well, I'll give you a hint about that, a hint about something
precious few people know.
I am very grateful,said Fishergravely. "What is it?"
It's in two words,said the other. "The new squire was quite poor
when he bought. The old squire was quite rich when he sold."
Horne Fisher looked at him thoughtfully as he turned away
abruptly and busied himself with the papers on his desk.
Then Fisher uttered a short phrase of thanks and farewell
and went out into the streetstill very thoughtful.
His reflection seemed to end in resolutionandfalling into
a more rapid stridehe passed out of the little town along
a road leading toward the gate of the great parkthe country
seat of Sir Francis Verner. A glitter of sunlight made the early
winter more like a late autumnand the dark woods were touched
here and there with red and golden leaveslike the last rays of a
lost sunset. From a higher part of the road he had seen the long
classical facade of the great house with its many windows
almost immediately beneath himbut when the road ran down under
the wall of the estatetopped with towering trees behind
he realized that it was half a mile round to the lodge gates
After walking for a few minutes along the lanehoweverhe came
to a place where the wall had cracked and was in process of repair.
As it wasthere was a great gap in the gray masonry
that looked at first as black as a cavern and only showed
at a second glance the twilight of the twinkling trees.
There was something fascinating about that unexpected gate
like the opening of a fairy tale.
Horne Fisher had in him something of the aristocratwhich is very near
to the anarchist. It was characteristic of him that he turned into
this dark and irregular entry as casually as into his own front door
merely thinking that it would be a short cut to the house.
He made his way through the dim wood for some distance and with
some difficultyuntil there began to shine through the trees a
level lightin lines of silverwhich he did not at first understand.
The next moment he had come out into the daylight at the top of a
steep bankat the bottom of which a path ran round the rim of a large
ornamental lake. The sheet of water which he had seen shimmering
through the trees was of considerable extentbut was walled in on
every side with woods which were not only darkbut decidedly dismal.
At one end of the path was a classical statue of some nameless nymph
and at the other end it was flanked by two classical urns;
but the marble was weather-stained and streaked with green and gray.
A hundred other signssmaller but more significanttold him that he had
come on some outlying corner of the grounds neglected and seldom visited.
In the middle of the lake was what appeared to be an island
and on the island what appeared to be meant for a classical temple
not open like a temple of the windsbut with a blank wall between
its Doric pillars. We may say it only seemed like an island
because a second glance revealed a low causeway of flat stones
running up to it from the shore and turning it into a peninsula.
And certainly it only seemed like a templefor nobody knew better
than Horne Fisher that no god had ever dwelt in that shrine.
That's what makes all this classical landscape gardening
so desolate,he said to himself. "More desolate than Stonehenge
or the Pyramids. We don't believe in Egyptian mythology
but the Egyptians did; and I suppose even the Druids believed
in Druidism. But the eighteenth-century gentleman who built these
temples didn't believe in Venus or Mercury any more than we do;
that's why the reflection of those pale pillars in the lake
is truly only the shadow of a shade. They were men of the age
of Reason; theywho filled their gardens with these stone nymphs
had less hope than any men in all history of really meeting
a nymph in the forest."
His monologue stopped aruptly with a sharp noise like a
thundercrack that rolled in dreary echoes round the dismal mere.
He knew at once what it was--somebody had fired off a gun.
But as to the meaning of it he was momentarily staggered
and strange thoughts thronged into his mind. The next moment
he laughed; for he saw lying a little way along the path below
him the dead bird that the shot had brought down.
At the same momenthoweverhe saw something else
which interested him more. A ring of dense trees ran round the back
of the island templeframing the facade of it in dark foliage
and he could have sworn he saw a stir as of something moving
among the leaves. The next moment his suspicion was confirmed
for a rather ragged figure came from under the shadow of the temple
and began to move along the causeway that led to the bank.
Even at that distance the figure was conspicuous by its great height
and Fisher could see that the man carried a gun under his arm.
There came back into his memory at once the name Long Adamthe poacher.
With a rapid sense of strategy he sometimes showedFisher sprang from the
bank and raced round the lake to the head of the little pier of stones.
If once a man reached the mainland he could easily vanish into the woods.
But when Fisher began to advance along the stones toward the island
the man was cornered in a blind alley and could only back
toward the temple. Putting his broad shoulders against it
he stood as if at bay; he was a comparatively young manwith fine
lines in his lean face and figure and a mop of ragged red hair.
The look in his eyes might well have been disquieting to anyone left
alone with him on an island in the middle of a lake.
Good morning,said Horne Fisherpleasantly. "I thought
at first you were a murderer. But it seems unlikelysomehow
that the partridge rushed between us and died for love of me
like the heroines in the romances; so I suppose you are a poacher."
I suppose you would call me a poacher,answered the man;
and his voice was something of a surprise coming from such a scarecrow;
it had that hard fastidiousness to be found in those who have
made a fight for their own refinement among rough surroundings.
I consider I have a perfect right to shoot game in this place.
But I am well aware that people of your sort take me for a thief,
and I suppose you will try to land me in jail.
There are preliminary difficulties,replied Fisher. "To begin with
the mistake is flatteringbut I am not a gamekeeper. Still less am I
three gamekeeperswho would beI imagineabout your fighting weight.
But I confess I have another reason for not wanting to jail you."
And what is that?asked the other.
Only that I quite agree with you,answered Fisher. "I don't
exactly say you have a right to poachbut I never could
see that it was as wrong as being a thief. It seems to me
against the whole normal notion of property that a man
should own something because it flies across his garden.
He might as well own the windor think he could write his
name on a morning cloud. Besidesif we want poor people
to respect property we must give them some property to respect.
You ought to have land of your own; and I'm going to give you
some if I can."
Going to give me some land!repeated Long Adam.
I apologize for addressing you as if you were a public meeting,
said Fisherbut I am an entirely new kind of public
man who says the same thing in public and in private.
I've said this to a hundred huge meetings throughout the country,
and I say it to you on this queer little island in this dismal pond.
I would cut up a big estate like this into small estates for everybody,
even for poachers. I would do in England as they did in Ireland--
buy the big men out, if possible; get them out, anyhow.
A man like you ought to have a little place of his own.
I don't say you could keep pheasants, but you might keep chickens.
The man stiffened suddenly and he seemed at once to blanch and flame
at the promise as if it were a threat.
Chickens!he repeatedwith a passion of contempt.
Why do you object?asked the placid candidate.
Because keeping hens is rather a mild amusement for a poacher?
What about poaching eggs?
Because I am not a poacher,cried Adamin a rending voice that rang
round the hollow shrines and urns like the echoes of his gun.
Because the partridge lying dead over there is my partridge.
Because the land you are standing on is my land. Because my own land
was only taken from me by a crime, and a worse crime than poaching.
This has been a single estate for hundreds and hundreds of years,
and if you or any meddlesome mountebank comes here and talks
of cutting it up like a cake, if I ever hear a word more of you
and your leveling lies--
You seem to be a rather turbulent public,observed Horne Fisher
but do go on. What will happen if I try to divide this estate
decently among decent people?
The poacher had recovered a grim composure as he replied.
There will be no partridge to rush in between.
With that he turned his backevidently resolved to say no more
and walked past the temple to the extreme end of the islet
where he stood staring into the water. Fisher followed him
butwhen his repeated questions evoked no answerturned back
toward the shore. In doing so he took a second and closer look
at the artificial templeand noted some curious things about it.
Most of these theatrical things were as thin as theatrical scenery
and he expected the classic shrine to be a shallow thinga mere
shell or mask. But there was some substantial bulk of it behind
buried in the treeswhich had a graylabyrinthian look
like serpents of stoneand lifted a load of leafy towers to the sky.
But what arrested Fisher's eye was that in this bulk of gray-white
stone behind there was a single door with greatrusty bolts outside;
the boltshoweverwere not shot across so as to secure it.
Then he walked round the small buildingand found no other opening
except one small grating like a ventilatorhigh up in the wall.
He retraced his steps thoughtfully along the causeway to the banks
of the lakeand sat down on the stone steps between the two sculptured
funeral urns. Then he lit a cigarette and smoked it in ruminant manner;
eventually he took out a notebook and wrote down various phrases
numbering and renumbering them till they stood in the following order:
(1) Squire Hawker disliked his first wife. (2) He married his second
wife for her money. (3) Long Adam says the estate is really his.
(4) Long Adam hangs round the island temple, which looks like a prison.
(5) Squire Hawker was not poor when he gave up the estate.
(6) Verner was poor when he got the estate.
He gazed at these notes with a gravity which gradually
turned to a hard smilethrew away his cigarette
and resumed his search for a short cut to the great house.
He soon picked up the path whichwinding among clipped hedges
and flower bedsbrought him in front of its long Palladian facade.
It had the usual appearance of beingnot a private house
but a sort of public building sent into exile in the provinces.
He first found himself in the presence of the butlerwho really
looked much older than the buildingfor the architecture was
dated as Georgian; but the man's faceunder a highly unnatural
brown wigwas wrinkled with what might have been centuries.
Only his prominent eyes were alive and alertas if with protest.
Fisher glanced at himand then stopped and said:
Excuse me. Weren't you with the late squire, Mr. Hawker?
'Yessirsaid the mangravely. "Usher is my name.
What can I do for you?"
Only take me into Sir Francis Verner,replied the visitor.
Sir Francis Verner was sitting in an easy chair beside a small table
in a large room hung with tapestries. On the table were a small flask
and glasswith the green glimmer of a liqueur and a cup of black coffee.
He was clad in a quiet gray suit with a moderately harmonious purple tie;
but Fisher saw something about the turn of his fair mustache and the lie
of his flat hair--it suddenly revealed that his name was Franz Werner.
You are Mr. Horne Fisher,he said. "Won't you sit down?"
No, thank you,replied Fisher. "I fear this is not a friendly
occasionand I shall remain standing. Possibly you know that I
am already standing--standing for Parliamentin fact--"
I am aware we are political opponents,replied Verner
raising his eyebrows. "But I think it would be better if we
fought in a sporting spirit; in a spirit of English fair play."
Much better,assented Fisher. "It would be much better if you
were English and very much better if you had ever played fair.
But what I've come to say can be said very shortly. I don't quite know
how we stand with the law about that old Hawker storybut my chief
object is to prevent England being entirely ruled by people like you.
So whatever the law would sayI will say no more if you will retire
from the election at once."
You are evidently a lunatic,said Verner.
My psychology may be a little abnormal,replied Horne Fisher
in a rather hazy manner. "I am subject to dreamsespecially day-dreams.
Sometimes what is happening to me grows vivid in a curious double way
as if it had happened before. Have you ever had that mystical feeling
that things have happened before?"
I hope you are a harmless lunatic,said Verner.
But Fisher was still staring in an absent fashion at the golden
gigantic figures and traceries of brown and red in the tapestries
on the walls; then he looked again at Verner and resumed:
I have a feeling that this interview has happened before, here in this
tapestried room, and we are two ghosts revisiting a haunted chamber.
But it was Squire Hawker who sat where you sit and it was you
who stood where I stand.He paused a moment and then added
with simplicityI suppose I am a blackmailer, too.
If you are,said Sir FrancisI promise you you shall go to jail.
But his face had a shade on it that looked like the reflection
of the green wine gleaming on the table. Horne Fisher regarded him
steadily and answeredquietly enough:
Blackmailers do not always go to jail. Sometimes they
go to Parliament. But, though Parliament is rotten
enough already, you shall not go there if I can help it.
I am not so criminal as you were in bargaining with crime.
You made a squire give up his country seat. I only ask you
to give up your Parliamentary seat.
Sir Francis Verner sprang to his feet and looked about for one
of the bell ropes of the old-fashionedcurtained room.
Where is Usher?he criedwith a livid face.
And who is Usher?said Fishersoftly. "I wonder how much
Usher knows of the truth."
Verner's hand fell from the bell rope andafter standing for
a moment with rolling eyeshe strode abruptly from the room.
Fisher went but by the other doorby which he had enteredand
seeing no sign of Usherlet himself out and betook himself again
toward the town.
That night he put an electric torch in his pocket and set out
alone in the darkness to add the last links to his argument.
There was much that he did not know yet; but he thought he knew
where he could find the knowledge. The night closed dark and
stormy and the black gap in the wall looked blacker than ever;
the wood seemed to have grown thicker and darker in a day.
If the deserted lake with its black woods and gray urns and images
looked desolate even by daylightunder the night and the growing
storm it seemed still more kke the pool of Acheron in the land
of lost souls. As he stepped carefully along the jetty stones
he seemed to be traveling farther and farther into the abyss
of nightand to have left behind him the last points from
which it would be possible to signal to the land of the living.
The lake seemed to have grown larger than a seabut a sea
of black and slimy waters that slept with abominable serenity
as if they had washed out the world. There was so much
of this nightmare sense of extension and expansion that he was
strangely surprised to come to his desert island so soon.
But he knew it for a place of inhuman silence and solitude;
and he felt as if he had been walking for years.
Nerving himself to a more normal moodhe paused under one of the dark
dragon trees that branched out above himandtaking out his torch
turned in the direction of the door at the back of the temple.
It was unbolted as beforeand the thought stirred faintly
in him that it was slightly openthough only by a crack.
The more he thought of ithoweverthe more certain he grew
that this was but one of the common illusions of light coming from
a different angle. He studied in a more scientific spirit the details
of the doorwith its rusty bolts and hingeswhen he became
conscious of something very near him--indeednearly above his head.
Something was dangling from the tree that was not a broken branch.
For some seconds he stood as still as a stoneand as cold.
What he saw above him were the legs of a man hanging
presumably a dead man hanged. But the next moment he knew better.
The man was literally alive and kicking; and an instant after he had
dropped to the ground and turned on the intruder. Simultaneously three
or four other trees seemed to come to life in the same fashion.
Five or six other figures had fallen on their feet from these
unnatural nests. It was as if the place were an island of monkeys.
But a moment after they had made a stampede toward himand when they
laid their hands on him he knew that they were men.
With the electric torch in his hand he struck the foremost of them
so furiously in the face that the man stumbled and rolled over
on the slimy grass; but the torch was broken and extinguished
leaving everything in a denser obscurity. He flung another man
flat against the temple wallso that he slid to the ground;
but a third and fourth carried Fisher off his feet and began to
bear himstrugglingtoward the doorway. Even in the bewilderment
of the battle he was conscious that the door was standing open.
Somebody was summoning the roughs from inside.
The moment they were within they hurled him upon a sort of bench
or bed with violencebut no damage; for the setteeor whatever
it wasseemed to be comfortably cushioned for his reception.
Their violence had in it a great element of hasteand before
he could rise they had all rushed for the door to escape.
Whatever bandits they were that infested this desert islandthey were
obviously uneasy about their job and very anxious to be quit of it.
He had the flying fancy that regular criminals would hardly be
in such a panic. The next moment the great door crashed to and
he could hear the bolts shriek as they shot into their place
and the feet of the retreating men scampering and stumbling
along the causeway. But rapidly as it happenedit did not
happen before Fisher had done something that he wanted to to.
Unable to rise from his sprawling attitude in that flash of time
he had shot out one of his long legs and hooked it round
the ankle of the last man disappearing through the door.
The man swayed and toppled over inside the prison chamber
and the door closed between him and his fleeing companions.
Clearly they were in too much haste to realize that they had
left one of their company behind.
The man sprang to his feet again and hammered and kicked furiously at
the door. Fisher's sense of humor began to recover from the struggle
and he sat up on his sofa with something of his native nonchalance.
But as he listened to the captive captor beating on the door of
the prisona new and curious reflection came to him.
The natural course for a man thus wishing to attract his friends'
attention would be to call outto shout as well as kick.
This man was making as much noise as he could with his feet and hands
but not a sound came from his throat. Why couldn't he speak?
At first he thought the man might be gaggedwhich was manifestly absurd.
Then his fancy fell back on the ugly idea that the man was dumb.
He hardly knew why it was so ugly an ideabut it affected his
imagination in a dark and disproportionate fashion. There seemed
to be something creepy about the idea of being left in a dark room
with a deaf mute. It was almost as if such a defect were a deformity.
It was almost as if it went with other and worse deformities.
It was as if the shape he could not trace in the darkness were some
shape that should not see the sun.
Then he had a flash of sanity and also of insight.
The explanation was very simplebut rather interesting.
Obviously the man did not use his voice because he did not wish
his voice to be recognized. He hoped to escape from that dark
place before Fisher found out who he was. And who was he?
One thing at least was clear. He was one or other of the four
or five men with whom Fisher had already talked in these parts
and in the development of that strange story.
Now I wonder who you are,he saidaloudwith all his old
lazy urbanity. "I suppose it's no use trying to throttle you
in order to find out; it would be displeasing to pass the night
with a corpse. Besides I might be the corpse. I've got no
matches and I've smashed my torchso I can only speculate.
Who could you benow? Let us think."
The man thus genially addressed had desisted from drumming on the door
and retreated sullenly into a corner as Fisher continued to address
him in a flowing monologue.
Probably you are the poacher who says he isn't a poacher.
He says he's a landed proprietor; but he will permit
me to inform him that, whatever he is, he's a fool.
What hope can there ever be of a free peasantry in England if
the peasants themselves are such snobs as to want to be gentlemen?
How can we make a democracy with no democrats? As it is,
you want to be a landlord and so you consent to be a criminal.
And in that, you know, you are rather like somebody else.
And, now I think of it, perhaps you are somebody else.
There was a silence broken by breathing from the corner and the murmur
of the rising stormthat came in through the small grating above
the man's head. Horne Fisher continued:
Are you only a servant, perhaps, that rather sinister
old servant who was butler to Hawker and Verner? If so,
you are certainly the only link between the two periods.
But if so, why do you degrade yourself to serve this dirty foreigner,
when you at least saw the last of a genuine national gentry?
People like you are generally at least patriotic.
Doesn't England mean anything to you, Mr. Usher? All of which
eloquence is possibly wasted, as perhaps you are not Mr. Usher.
More likely you are Verner himself; and it's no good
wasting eloquence to make you ashamed of yourself.
Nor is it any good to curse you for corrupting England; nor are
you the right person to curse. It is the English who deserve
to be cursedand are cursedbecause they allowed such vermin
to crawl into the high places of their heroes and their kings.
I won't dwell on the idea that you're Verneror the throttling
might beginafter all. Is there anyone else you could be?
Surely you're not some servant of the other rival organization.
I can't believe you're Grycethe agent; and yet Gryce
had a spark of the fanatic in his eyetoo; and men will do
extraordinary things in these paltry feuds of politics.
Or if not the servantis it the . . . NoI can't believe
it . . . not the red blood of manhood and liberty . . . not
the democratic ideal . . ."
He sprang up in excitementand at the same moment
a growl of thunder came through the grating beyond.
The storm had brokenand with it a new light broke on his mind.
There was something else that might happen in a moment.
Do you know what that means?he cried. "It means that God
himself may hold a candle to show me your infernal face."
Then next moment came a crash of thunder; but before the thunder
a white light had filled the whole room for a single split second.
Fisher had seen two things in front of him. One was the black-and-white
pattern of the iron grating against the sky; the other was the face
in the corner. It was the face of his brother.
Nothing came from Horne Fisher's lips except a Christian name
which was followed by a silence more dreadful than the dark.
At last the other figure stirred and sprang upand the voice
of Harry Fisher was heard for the first time in that horrible room.
You've seen me, I suppose,he saidand we may as well
have a light now. You could have turned it on at any time,
if you'd found the switch.
He pressed a button in the wall and all the details of that room
sprang into something stronger than daylight. Indeedthe details
were so unexpected that for a moment they turned the captive's
rocking mind from the last personal revelation. The room
so far from being a dungeon cellwas more like a drawing-roomeven
a lady's drawing-roomexcept for some boxes of cigars and bottles
of wine that were stacked with books and magazines on a side table.
A second glance showed him that the more masculine fittings were
quite recentand that the more feminine background was quite old.
His eye caught a strip of faded tapestrywhich startled him into speech
to the momentary oblivion of bigger matters.
This place was furnished from the great house,he said.
Yes,replied the otherand I think you know why.
I think I do,said Horne Fisherand before I go on to more
extraordinary things I will, say what I think. Squire Hawker played
both the bigamist and the bandit. His first wife was not dead
when he married the Jewess; she was imprisoned on this island.
She bore him a child here, who now haunts his birthplace under
the name of Long Adam. A bankruptcy company promoter named
Werner discovered the secret and blackmailed the squire into
surrendering the estate. That's all quite clear and very easy.
And now let me go on to something more difficult.
And that is for you to explain what the devil you are doing
kidnaping your born brother.
After a pause Henry Fisher answered:
I suppose you didn't expect to see me,he said. "Butafter all
what could you expect?"'
I'm afraid I don't follow,said Horne Fisher.
I mean what else could you expect, after making such a muck of it?
said his brothersulkily. "We all thought you were so clever.
How could we know you were going to be--wellreallysuch
a rotten failure?"
This is rather curious,said the candidatefrowning. "Without vanity
I was not under the impression that my candidature was a failure.
All the big meetings were successful and crowds of people have
promised me votes."
I should jolly well think they had,said' Henrygrimly.
You've made a landslide with your confounded acres and a cow,
and Verner can hardly get a vote anywhere. Oh, it's too
rotten for anything!
What on earth do you mean?
Why, you lunatic,cried Henryin tones of ringing sincerity
you don't suppose you were meant to WIN the seat, did you?
Oh, it's too childish! I tell you Verner's got to get in.
Of course he's got to get in. He's to have the Exchequer next session,
and there's the Egyptian loan and Lord knows what else.
We only wanted you to split the Reform vote because accidents
might happen after Hughes had made a score at Barkington.
I see,said Fisherand you, I think, are a pillar and ornament
of the Reform party. As you say, I am not clever.
The appeal to party loyalty fell on deaf ears; for the pillar
of Reform was brooding on other things. At last he said
in a more troubled voice:
I didn't want you to catch me; I knew it would be a shock.
But I tell you what, you never would have caught me if I
hadn't come here myself, to see they didn't ill treat you
and to make sure everything was as comfortable as it could be.
There was even a sort of break in his voice as he added
I got those cigars because I knew you liked them.
Emotions are queer thingsand the idiocy of this concession suddenly
softened Horne Fisher like an unfathomable pathos.
Never mind, old chap,he said; "we'll say no more about it.
I'll admit that you're really as kind-hearted and affectionate
a scoundrel and hypocrite as ever sold himself to ruin his country.
ThereI can't say handsomer than that. Thank you for the cigars
old man. I'll have one if you don't mind."
By the time that Horne Fisher had ended his telling of this story
to Harold March they had come out into one of the public parks
and taken a seat on a rise of ground overlooking wide green spaces
under a blue and empty sky; and there was something incongruous
in the words with which the narration ended.
I have been in that room ever since,said Horne Fisher. "I am
in it now. I won the electionbut I never went to the House. My life
has been a life in that little room on that lonely island.
Plenty of books and cigars and luxuriesplenty of knowledge
and interest and informationbut never a voice out of that tomb
to reach the world outside. I shall probably die there."
And he smiled as he looked across the vast green park to
the gray horizon.
VIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE STATUE
It was on the sunny veranda of a seaside hoteloverlooking a pattern
of flower beds and a strip of blue seathat Horne Fisher and Harold March
had their final explanationwhich might be called an explosion.
Harold March had come to the little table and sat down at it with
a subdued excitement smoldering in his somewhat cloudy and dreamy
blue eyes. In the newspapers which he tossed from him on to the table
there was enough to explain some if not all of his emotion.
Public affairs in every department had reached a crisis.
The government which had stood so long that men were used
to itas they are used to a hereditary despotismhad begun
to be accused Of blunders and even of financial abuses.
Some said that the experiment of attempting to establish
a peasantry in the west of Englandon the lines of an
early fancy of Horne Fisher'shad resulted in nothing
but dangerous quarrels with more industrial neighbors.
There had been particular complaints of the ill treatment
of harmless foreignerschiefly Asiaticswho happened to be
employed in the new scientific works constructed on the coast.
Indeedthe new Power which had arisen in Siberia
backed by Japan and other powerful allieswas inclined
to take the matter up in the interests of its exiled subjects;
and there had been wild talk about ambassadors and ultimatums.
But something much more seriousin its personal interest
for March himselfseemed to fill his meeting with his friend
with a mixture of embarrassment and indignation.
Perhaps it increased his annoyance that there was a certain unusual
liveliness about the usually languid figure of Fisher. The ordinary image
of him in March's mind was that of a pallid and bald-browed gentleman
who seemed to be prematurely old as well as prematurely bald.
He was remembered as a man who expressed the opinions of a pessimist
in the language of a lounger. Even now March could not be certain
whether the change was merely a sort of masquerade of sunshineor that
effect of clear colors and clean-cut outlines that is always visible on
the parade of a marine resortrelieved against the blue dado of the sea.
But Fisher had a flower in his buttonholeand his friend could have sworn
he carried his cane with something almost like the swagger of a fighter.
With such clouds gathering over Englandthe pessimist seemed to be
the only man who carried his own sunshine.
Look here,said Harold Marchabruptlyyou've been no end
of a friend to me, and I never was so proud of a friendship before;
but there's something I must get off my chest. The more I
found out, the less I understood how y ou could stand it.
And I tell you I'm going to stand it no longer.
Horne Fisher gazed across at him gravely and attentively
but rather as if he were a long way off.
You know I always liked you,said Fisherquietlybut I
also respect you, which is not always the same thing.
You may possibly guess that I like a good many people I
don't respect. Perhaps it is my tragedy, perhaps it is my fault.
But you are very different, and I promise you this:
that I will never try to keep you as somebody to be liked,
at the price of your not being respected.
I know you are magnanimous,said March after a silence
and yet you tolerate and perpetuate everything that is mean.
Then after another silence he added: "Do you remember when we first met
when you were fishing in that brook in the affair of the target?
And do you remember you said thatafter allit might do no harm if I
could blow the whole tangle of this society to hell with dynamite."
Yes, and what of that?asked Fisher.
Only that I'm going to blow it to hell with dynamite,said Harold March
and I think it right to give you fair warning. For a long time
I didn't believe things were as bad as you said they were.
But I never felt as if I could have bottled up what you knew,
supposing you really knew it. Well, the long and the short of it is
that I've got a conscience; and now, at last, I've also got a chance.
I've been put in charge of a big independent paper, with a free hand,
and we're going to open a cannonade on corruption.
That will be--Attwood, I suppose,said Fisherreflectively.
Timber merchant. Knows a lot about China.
He knows a lot about England,said Marchdoggedlyand now
I know it, too, we're not going to hush it up any longer.
The people of this country have a right to know how they're ruled--
or, rather, ruined. The Chancellor is in the pocket of the money lenders
and has to do as he is told; otherwise he's bankrupt, and a bad sort
of bankruptcy, too, with nothing but cards and actresses behind it.
The Prime Minister was in the petrol-contract business; and deep
in it, too. The Foreign Minister is a wreck of drink and drugs.
When you say that plainly about a man who may send thousands
of Englishmen to die for nothing, you're called personal.
If a poor engine driver gets drunk and sends thirty or forty
people to death, nobody complains of the exposure being personal.
The engine driver is not a person.
I quite agree with you,said Fishercalmly. "You are perfectly right."
If you agree with us,, why the devil don't you act with us?
demanded his friend. "If you think it's rightwhy don't you
do what's right? It's awful to think of a man of your abilities
simply blocking the road to reform."
We have often talked about that,replied Fisher
with the same composure. "The Prime Minister is my
father's friend. The Foreign Minister married my sister.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is my first cousin. I mention
the genealogy in some detail just now for a particular reason.
The truth is I have a curious kind of cheerfulness at the moment.
It isn't altogether the sun and the seasir. I am enjoying
an emotion that is entirely new to me; a happy sensation I
never remember having had before."
What the devil do you mean?
I am feeling proud of my family,said Horne Fisher.
Harold March stared at him with round blue eyesand seemed too much
mystified even to ask a question. Fisher leaned back in his chair
in his lazy fashionand smiled as he continued.
Look here, my dear fellow. Let me ask a question in turn. You imply
that I have always known these things about my unfortunate kinsmen.
So I have. Do you suppose that Attwood hasn't always known them?
Do you suppose he hasn't always known you as an honest man who
would say these things when he got a chance? Why does Attwood
unmuzzle you like a dog at this moment, after all these years?
I know why he does; I know a good many things, far too many things.
And therefore, as I have the honor to remark, I am proud of my
family at last.
But why?repeated Marchrather feebly.
I am proud of the Chancellor because he gambled and the Foreign Minister
because he drank and the Prime Minister because he took a commission
on a contract,said Fisherfirmly. "I am proud of them because they
did these thingsand can be denounced for themand know they can
be denounced for themand are STANDING FIRM FOR ALL THAT. I take off
my hat to them because they are defying blackmailand refusing to smash
their country to save themselves. I salute them as if they were going
to die on the battlefield."
After a pause he continued: "And it will be a battlefield
tooand not a metaphorical one. We have yielded to foreign
financiers so long that now it is war or ruinEven the people
even the country peopleare beginning to suspect that they
are being ruined. That is the meaning of the regrettable
incidents in the newspapers."
The meaning of the outrages on Orientals?asked March.
The meaning of the outrages on Orientals,replied Fisher
is that the financiers have introduced Chinese labor into this
country with the deliberate intention of reducing workmen
and peasants to starvation. Our unhappy politicians have made
concession after concession; and now they are asking concessions
which amount to our ordering a massacre of our own poor.
If we do not fight now we shall never fight again. They will
have put England in an economic position of starving in a week.
But we are going to fight now; I shouldn't wonder if there
were an ultimatum in a week and an.invasion in a fortnight.
All the past corruption and cowardice is hampering us,
of course; the West country is pretty stormy and doubtful
even in a military sense; and the Irish regiments there,
that are supposed to support us by the new treaty, are pretty
well in mutiny; for, of course, this infernal coolie capitalism
is being pushed in Ireland, too. But it's to stop now;
and if the government message of reassurance gets through to them
in time, they may turn up after all by the time the enemy lands.
For my poor old gang is going to stand to its guns at last.
Of course it's only natural that when they have been whitewashed
for half a century as paragons, their sins should come back
on them at the very moment when they are behaving like men for
the first time in their lives. Well, I tell you, March, I know
them inside out; and I know they are behaving like heroes.
Every man of them ought to have a statue, and on the pedestal words
like those of the noblest ruffian of the Revolution: 'Que mon
nom soit fletri; que la France soit libre.'
Good God!cried Marchshall we never get to the bottom
of your mines and countermines?
After a silence Fisher answered in a lower voicelooking his friend
in the eyes.
Did you think there was nothing but evil at the bottom of them?
he askedgently. "Did you think I had found nothing but filth
in the deep seas into which fate has thrown me? Believe me
you never know the best about men till you know the worst about them.
It does not dispose of their strange human souls to know that they
were exhibited to the world as impossibly impeccable wax works
who never looked after a woman or knew the meaning of a bribe.
Even in a palacelife can be lived well; and even in a Parliament
life can be lived with occasional efforts to live it well.
I tell you it is as true of these rich fools and rascals as it
is true of every poor footpad and pickpocket; that only God knows
how good they have tried to be. God alone knows what the conscience
can surviveor how a man who has lost his honor will still try
to save his soul."
There was another silenceand March sat staring at the table
and Fisher at the sea. Then Fisher suddenly sprang to his feet
and caught up his hat and stick with all his new alertness
and even pugnacity.
Look here, old fellow,he criedlet us make a bargain.
Before you open your campaign for Attwood come down and stay
with us for one week, to hear what we're really doing.
I mean with the Faithful Few, formerly known as the Old Gang,
occasionally to be described as the Low Lot. There are
really only five of us that are quite fixed, and organizing
the national defense; and we're living like a garrison in a
sort of broken-down hotel in Kent. Come and see what we're
really doing and what there is to be done, and do us justice.
And after that, with unalterable love and affection for you,
publish and be damned.
Thus it came about that in the last week before warwhen events
moved most rapidlyHarold March found himself one of a sort
of small house party of the people he was proposing to denounce.
They were living simply enoughfor people with their tastes
in an old brown-brick inn faced with ivy and surrounded by rather
dismal gardens. At the back of the building the garden ran
up very steeply to a road along the ridge above; and a zigzag
path scaled the slope in sharp anglesturning to and fro amid
evergreens so somber that they might rather be called everblack.
Here and there up the slope were statues having all the cold
monstrosity of such minor ornaments of the eighteenth century;
and a whole row of them ran as on a terrace along the last bank
at the bottomopposite the back door. This detail fixed itself
first in March's mind merely because it figured in the first
conversation he had with one of the cabinet ministers.
The cabinet ministers were rather older than he had expected
to find them. The Prime Minister no longer looked like a boy
though he still looked a little like a baby. But it was one of
those old and venerable babiesand the baby had soft gray hair.
Everything about him was softto his speech and his way of walking;
but over and above that his chief function seemed to be sleep.
People left alone with him got so used to his eyes being
closed that they were almost startled when they realized in
the stillness that the eyes were wide openand even watching.
One thing at least would always make the old gentleman open his eyes.
The one thing he really cared for in this world was his hobby
of armored weaponsespecially Eastern weaponsand he would
talk for hours about Damascus blades and Arab swordmanship.
Lord James Herriesthe Chancellor of the Exchequerwas a short
darksturdy man with a very sallow face and a very sullen manner
which contrasted with the gorgeous flower in his buttonhole
and his festive trick of being always slightly overdressed.
It was something of a euphemism to call him a well-known man about town.
There was perhaps more mystery in the question of how a man who
lived for pleasure seemed to get so little pleasure out of it.
Sir David Archerthe Foreign Secretarywas the only one of them who was
a self-made manand the only one of them who looked like an aristocrat.
He was tall and thin and very handsomewith a grizzled beard;
his gray hair was very curlyand even rose in front in two
rebellious ringlets that seemed to the fanciful to tremble like
the antennae of some giant insector to stir sympathetically
with the restless tufted eyebrows over his rather haggard eyes.
For the Foreign Secretary made no secret of his somewhat
nervous conditionwhatever might be the cause of it.
Do you know that mood when one could scream because a mat is crooked?
he said to Marchas they walked up and down in the back garden below
the line of dingy statues. "Women get into it when they've worked
too hard; and I've been working pretty hard latelyof course.
It drives me mad when Herries will wear his hat a little crooked--
habit of looking like a gay dog. Sometime I swear I'll knock it off.
That statue of Britannia over there isn't quite straight;
it sticks forward a bit as if the lady were going to topple over.
The damned thing is that it doesn't topple over and be done with it.
Seeit's clamped with an iron prop. Don't be surprised if I get up
in the middle of the night to hike it down."
They paced the path for a few moments in silence and then he continued.
It's odd those little things seem specially big when there are bigger
things to worry about. We'd better go in and do some work.
Horne Fisher evidently allowed for all the neurotic possibilities
of Archer and the dissipated habits of Herries; and whatever his faith
in their present firmnessdid not unduly tax their time and attention
even in the case of the Prime Minister. He had got the consent
of the latter finally to the committing of the important documents
with the orders to the Western armiesto the care of a less
conspicuous and more solid person--an uncle of his named Horne Hewitt
a rather colorless country squire who had been a good soldier
and was the military adviser of the committee. He was charged
with expediting the government pledgealong with the concerted
military plansto the half-mutinous command in the west;
and the still more urgent task of seeing that it did not fall into
the hands of the enemywho might appear at any moment from the east.
Over and above this military officialthe only other person present
was a police officiala certain Doctor Princeoriginally a police
surgeon and now a distinguished detectivesent to be a bodyguard
to the group. He was a square-faced man with big spectacles and a
grimace that expressed the intention of keeping his mouth shut.
Nobody else shared their captivity except the hotel proprietor
a crusty Kentish man with a crab-apple faceone or two of his servants
and another servant privately attached to Lord James Herries. He was
a young Scotchman named Campbellwho looked much more
distinguished than his bilious-looking masterhaving chestnut
hair and a long saturnine face with large but fine features.
He was probably the one really efficient person in the house.
After about four days of the informal councilMarch had come
to feel a sort of grotesque sublimity about these dubious figures
defiant in the twilight of dangeras if they were hunchbacks
and cripples left alone to defend a town. All were working hard;
and he himself looked up from writing a page of memoranda
in a private room to see Horne Fisher standing in the doorway
accoutered as if for travel. He fancied that Fisher looked
a little pale; and after a moment that gentleman shut the door
behind him and saidquietly:
Well, the worst has happened. Or nearly the worst.
The enemy has landed,cried Marchand sprang erect out of his chair.
Oh, I knew the enemy would land,said Fisherwith composure.
Yes, he's landed; but that's not the worst that could happen.
The worst is that there's a leak of some sort, even from
this fortress of ours. It's been a bit of a shock to me,
I can tell you; though I suppose it's illogical. After all,
I was full of admiration at finding three honest men in politics.
I ought not to be full of astonishment if I find only two.
He ruminated a moment and then saidin such a fashion that March
could hardly tell if he were changing the subject or no:
It's hard at first to believe that a fellow like Herries, who had
pickled himself in vice like vinegar, can have any scruple left.
But about that I've noticed a curious thing. Patriotism is not
the first virtue. Patriotism rots into Prussianism when you pretend
it is the first virtue. But patriotism is sometimes the last virtue.
A man will swindle or seduce who will not sell his country.
But who knows?
But what is to be done?cried Marchindignantly.
My uncle has the papers safe enough,replied Fisher
and is sending them west to-night; but somebody is trying
to get at them from out. side, I fear with the assistance
of somebody in. side. All I can do at present is to try
to head off the man outside; and I must get away now and do it.
I shall be back in about twenty-four hours. While I'm away I want
you to keep an eye on these people and find out what you can.
Au revoir.He vanished down the stairs; and from the window
March could see him mount a motor cycle and trail away toward
the neighboring town.
On the following morningMarch was sitting in the window seat of the old
inn parlorwhich was oak-paneled and ordinarily rather dark; but on
that occasion it was full of the white light of a curiously clear morning--
the moon had shone brilliantly for the last two or three nights.
He was himself somewhat in shadow in the corner of the window seat;
and Lord James Herriescoming in hastily from the garden behind
did not see him. Lord James clutched the back of a chairas if to
steady himselfandsitting down abruptly at the tablelittered with
the last mealpoured himself out a tumbler of brandy and drank it.
He sat with his back to Marchbut his yellow face appeared in a round
mirror beyon and the tinge of it was like that of some horrible malady.
As March moved he started violently and faced round.
My God!he criedhave you seen what's outside?
Outside?repeated the otherglancing over his shoulder
at the garden.
Oh, go and look for yourself,cried Herries in a sort of fury.
Hewitt's murdered and his papers stolen, that's all.
He turned his back again and sat down with a thud; his square
shoulders were shaking. Harold March darted out of the doorway
into the back garden with its steep slope of statues.
The first thing he saw was Doctor Princethe detective
peering through his spectacles at something on the ground;
the second was the thing he was peering at. Even after the
sensational news he had heard insidethe sight was something
of a sensation.
The monstrous stone image of Britannia was lying prone and face downward
on the garden path; and there stuck out at random from underneath it
like the legs of a smashed flyan arm clad in a white shirt sleeve
and a leg clad in a khaki trouserand hair of the unmistakable
sandy gray that belonged to Horne Fisher's unfortunate uncle.
There were pools of blood and the limbs were quite stiff in death.
Couldn't this have been an accident?said Marchfinding words at last.
Look for yourself, I say,repeated the harsh voice of Herries
who had followed him with restless movements out of the door.
The papers are gone, I tell you. The fellow tore the coat
off the corpse and cut the papers out of the inner pocket.
There's the coat over there on the bank, with the great
slash in it.
But wait a minute,said the detectivePrincequietly.
In that case there seems to be something of a mystery.
A murderer might somehow have managed to throw the statue down
on him, as he seems to have done. But I bet he couldn't easily
have lifted it up again. I've tried; and I'm sure it would
want three men at least. Yet we must suppose, on that theory,
that the murderer first knocked him down as he walked past,
using the statue as a stone club, then lifted it up again,
took him out and deprived him of his coat, then put him back
again in the posture of death and neatly replaced the statue.
I tell you it's physically impossible. And how else could
he have unclothed a man covered with that stone monument?
It's worse than the conjurer's trick, when a man shuffles a coat
off with his wrists tied.
Could he have thrown down the statue after he'd stripped
the corpse?asked March.
And why?asked Princesharply. "If he'd killed his
man and got his papershe'd be away like the wind.
He wouldn't potter about in a garden excavating the pedestals
of statues. Besides--Hullowho's that up there?"
High on the ridge above themdrawn in dark thin lines against the sky
was a figure looking so long and lean as to be almost spidery.
The dark silhouette of the head showed two small tufts like horns;
and they could almost have sworn that the horns moved.
Archer!shouted Herrieswith sudden passionand called to him
with curses to come down. The figure drew back at the first cry
with an agitated movement so abrupt as almost to be called an antic.
The next moment the man seemed to reconsider and collect himself
and began to come down the zigzag garden pathbut with
obvious reluctancehis feet falling in slower and slower rhythm.
Through March's mind were throbbing the phrases that this man himself
had usedabout going mad in the middle of the night and wrecking
the stone figure. just sohe could fancythe maniac who had done
such a thing might climb the crest of the hillin that feverish
dancing fashionand look down on the wreck he had made.
But the wreck he had made here was not only a wreck of stone.
When the man emerged at last on to the garden pathwith the full
light on his face and figurehe was walking slowly indeed
but easilyand with no appearance of fear.
This is a terrible thing,he said. "I saw it from above;
I was taking a stroll along the ridge."
Do you mean that you saw the murder?demanded Marchor the accident?
I mean did you see the statue fall?
No,said ArcherI mean I saw the statue fallen.
Prince seemed to be paying but little attention; his eye was riveted
on an object lying on the path a yard or two from the corpse.
It seemed to be a rusty iron bar bent crooked at one end.
One thing I don't understand,' he said, is all this blood.
The poor fellow's skull isn't smashed; most likely his neck is broken;
but blood seems to have spouted as if all his arteries were severed.
I was wondering if some other instrument . . . that iron thing
for instance; but I don't see that even that is sharp enough.
I suppose nobody knows what it is."
I know what it is,said Archer in his deep but somewhat shaky voice.
I've seen it in my nightmares. It was the iron clamp or prop on
the pedestal, stuck on to keep the wretched image upright when it began
to wabble, I suppose. Anyhow, it was always stuck in the stonework there;
and I suppose it came out when the thing collapsed.
Doctor Prince noddedbut he continued to look down at the pools
of blood and the bar of iron.
I'm certain there's something more underneath all this,
he said at last. "Perhaps something more underneath the statue.
I have a huge sort of hunch that there is. We are four men
now and between us we can lift that great tombstone there."
They all bent their strength to the business; there was a silence save
for heavy breathing; and thenafter an instant of the tottering and
staggering of eight legsthe great carven column of rock was rolled away
and the body lying in its shirt and trousers was fully revealed.
The spectacles of Doctor Prince seemed almost to enlarge with a restrained
radiance like great eyes; for other things were revealed also.
One was that the unfortunate Hewitt had a deep gash across the jugular
which the triumphant doctor instantly identified as having been made
with a sharp steel edge like a razor. The other was that immediately
under the bank lay littered three shining scraps of steeleach nearly
a foot longone pointed and another fitted into a gorgeously jeweled
hilt or handle. It was evidently a sort of long Oriental knife
long enough to be called a swordbut with a curious wavy edge;
and there was a touch or two of blood on the point.
I should have expected more blood, hardly on the point,
observed Doctor Princethoughtfullybut this is certainly
the instrument. The slash was certainly made with a weapon shaped
like this, and probably the slashing of the pocket as well.
I suppose the brute threw in the statue, by way of giving him
a public funeral.
March did not answer; he was mesmerized by the strange stones
that glittered on the strange sword hilt; and their possible
significance was broadening upon him like a dreadful dawn.
It was a curious Asiatic weapon. He knew what name was
connected in his memory with curious Asiatic weapons.
Lord James spoke his secret thought for himand yet it startled
him like an irrelevance.
Where is the Prime Minister?Herries had criedsuddenlyand somehow
like the bark of a dog at some discovery.
Doctor Prince turned on him his goggles and his grim face;
and it was grimmer than ever.
I cannot find him anywhere,he said. "I looked for him
at onceas soon as I found the papers were gone.
That servant of yoursCampbellmade a most efficient search
but there are no traces."
There was a long silenceat the end of which Herries uttered another cry
but upon an entirely new note.
Well, you needn't look for him any longer,he saidfor here
he comes, along with your friend Fisher. They look as if they'd
been for a little walking tour.
The two figures approaching up the path were indeed those of Fisher
splashed with the mire of travel and carrying a scratch
like that of a bramble across one side of his bald forehead
and of the great and gray-haired statesman who looked like a
baby and was interested in Eastern swords and swordmanship.
But beyond this bodily recognitionMarch could make neither
head nor tail of their presence or demeanorwhich seemed
to give a final touch of nonsense to the whole nightmare.
The more closely he watched themas they stood listening
to the revelations of the detectivethe more puzzled he was by
their attitude--Fisher seemed grieved by the death of his uncle
but hardly shocked at it; the older man seemed almost openly
thinking about something elseand neither had anything to suggest
about a further pursuit of the fugitive spy and murdererin spite
of the prodigious importance of the documents he had stolen.
When the detective had gone off to busy himself with that
department of the businessto telephone and write his report
when Herries had gone backprobably to the brandy bottle
and the Prime Minister had blandly sauntered away toward
a comfortable armchair in another part of the garden
Horne Fisher spoke directly to Harold March.
My friend,he saidI want you to come with me at once;
there is no one else I can trust so much as that. The journey
will take us most of the day, and the chief business cannot be done
till nightfall. So we can talk things over thoroughly on the way.
But I want you to be with me; for I rather think it is my hour.
March and Fisher both had motor bicycles; and the first half
of their day's journey consisted in coasting eastward amid
the unconversational noise of those uncomfortable engines.
But when they came out beyond Canterbury into the flats
of eastern KentFisher stopped at a pleasant little public
house beside a sleepy stream; and they sat down to cat
and to drink and to speak almost for the first time.
It was a brilliant afternoonbirds were singing in the wood behind
and the sun shone full on their ale bench and table;
but the face of Fisher in the strong sunlight had a gravity
never seen on it before.
Before we go any farther,he saidthere is something
you ought to know. You and I have seen some mysterious
things and got to the bottom of them before now; and it's
only right that you should get to the bottom of this one.
But in dealing with the death of my uncle I must begin
at the other end from where our old detective yarns began.
I will give you the steps of deduction presently, if you want
to listen to them; but I did not reach the truth of this by steps
of deduction. I will first of all tell you the truth itself,
because I knew the truth from the first. The other cases I
approached from the outside, but in this case I was inside.
I myself was the very core and center of everything.
Something in the speaker's pendent eyelids and grave gray eyes
suddenly shook March to his foundations; and he crieddistractedly
I don't understand!as men do when they fear that they do understand.
There was no sound for a space but the happy chatter of the birds
and then Horne Fisher saidcalmly:
It was I who killed my uncle. If you particularly want more,
it was I who stole the state papers from him.
Fisher!cried his friend in a strangled voice.
Let me tell you the whole thing before we part,
continued the otherand let me put it, for the sake of clearness,
as we used to put our old problems. Now there are two things
that are puzzling people about that problem, aren't there?
The first is how the murderer managed to slip off the dead man's coat,
when he was already pinned to the ground with that stone incubus.
The other, which is much smaller and less puzzling,
is the fact of the sword that cut his throat being slightly
stained at the point, instead of a good deal more stained at
the edge. Well, I can dispose of the first question easily.
Horne Hewitt took off his own coat before he was killed.
I might say he took off his coat to be killed.
Do you call that an explanation?exclaimed March. "The words
seem more meaninglessthan the facts."
Well, let us go on to the other facts,continued Fisherequably.
The reason that particular sword is not stained at the edge with Hewitt's
blood is that it was not used to kill Hewitt.
But the doctor protested March, declared distinctly that the wound
was made by that particular sword."
I beg your pardon,replied Fisher. "He did not declare that it
was made by that particular sword. He declared it was made by a sword
of that particular pattern."
But it was quite a queer and exceptional pattern,argued March;
surely it is far too fantastic a coincidence to imagine--
It was a fantastic coincidence,reflected Horne Fisher.
It's extraordinary what coincidences do sometimes occur.
By the oddest chance in the world, by one chance in
a million, it so happened that another sword of exactly
the same shape was in the same garden at the same time.
It may be partly explained, by the fact that I brought them
both into the garden myself . . . come, my dear fellow;
surely you can see now what it means. Put those two things together;
there were two duplicate swords and he took off his coat for himself.
It may assist your speculations to recall the fact that I am
not exactly an assassin.
A duel!exclaimed Marchrecovering himself. "Of course I ought
to have thought of that. But who was the spy who stole the papers?"
My uncle was the spy who stole the papers,replied Fisher
or who tried to steal the papers when I stopped him--in the only
way I could. The papers, that should have gone west to reassure
our friends and give them the plans for repelling the invasion,
would in a few hours have been in the hands of the invader.
What could I do? To have denounced one of our friends at this moment
would have been to play into the hands of your friend Attwood,
and all the party of panic and slavery. Besides, it may be that a
man over forty has a subconscious desire to die as he has lived,
and that I wanted, in a sense, to carry my secrets to the grave.
Perhaps a hobby hardens with age; and my hobby has been silence.
Perhaps I feel that I have killed my mother's brother, but I
have saved my mother's name. Anyhow, I chose a time when I knew
you were all asleep, and he was walking alone in the garden.
I saw all the stone statues standing in the moonlight;
and I myself was like one of those stone statues walking.
In a voice that was not my own, I told him of his treason and
demanded the papers; and when he refused, I forced him to take
one of the two swords. The swords were among some specimens sent
down here for the Prime Minister's inspection; he is a collector,
you know; they were the only equal weapons I could find.
To cut an ugly tale short, we fought there on the path in front
of the Britannia statue; he was a man of great strength, but I
had somewhat the advantage in skill. His sword grazed my forehead
almost at the moment when mine sank into the joint in his neck.
He fell against the statue, like Caesar against Pompey's,
hanging on to the iron rail; his sword was already broken.
When I saw the blood from that deadly wound, everything else
went from me; I dropped my sword and ran as if to lift him up.
As I bent toward him something happened too quick for me to follow.
I do not know whether the iron bar was rotted with rust and came
away in his hand, or whether he rent it out of the rock with his
apelike strength; but the thing was in his hand, and with his dying
energies he swung it over my head, as I knelt there unarmed beside him.
I looked up wildly to avoid the blow, and saw above us the great
bulk of Britannia leaning outward like the figurehead of a ship.
The next instant I saw it was leaning an inch or two more than usual,
and all the skies with their outstanding stars seemed to be leaning
with it. For the third second it was as if the skies fell;
and in the fourth I was standing in the quiet garden, looking down on
that flat ruin of stone and bone at which you were looking to-day.
He had plucked out the last prop that held up the British goddess,
and she had fallen and crushed the traitor in her fall.
I turned and darted for the coat which I knew to contain the package,
ripped it up with my sword, and raced away up the garden
path to where my motor bike was waiting on the road above.
I had every reason for haste; but I fled without looking back
at the statue and the. body; and I think the thing I fled from
was the sight of that appalling allegory.
Then I did the rest of what I had to do. All through the night
and into the daybreak and the daylight I went humming through
the villages and markets of South England like a traveling bullet
till I came to the headquarters in the West where the trouble was.
I was just in time. I was able to placard the placeso to speak
with the news that the government had not betrayed themand that they
would find supports if they would push eastward against the enemy.
There's no time to tell you all that happened; but I tell you it
was the day of my life. A triumph like a torchlight procession
with torchlights that might have been firebrands. The mutinies
simmered down; the men of Somerset and the western counties came
pouring into the market places; the men who died with Arthur
and stood firm with Alfred. The Irish regiments rallied to them
after a scene like a riotand marched eastward out of the town
singing Fenian songs. There was all that is not understood
about the dark laughter of that peoplein the delight with which
even when marching with the English to the defense of England
they shouted at the top of their voices'High upon the gallows
tree stood the noble-hearted three . . . With England's cruel cord
about them cast.' Howeverthe chorus was 'God save Ireland'
and we could all have sung that just thenin one sense or another.
But there was another side to my mission. I carried the plans
of the defense; and to a great extent, luckily, the plans
of the invasion also. I won't worry you with strategics;
but we knew where the enemy had pushed forward the great battery
that covered all his movements; and though our friends from the West
could hardly arrive in time to intercept the main movement,
they might get within long artillery range of the battery
and shell it, if they only knew exactly where it was.
They could hardly tell that unless somebody round about here
sent up some sort of signal. But, somehow, I rather fancy
that somebody will.
With that he got up from the tableand they remounted their
machines and went eastward into the advancing twilight of evening.
The levels of the landscape Were repeated in flat strips of
floating cloud and the last colors of day clung to the circle
of the horizon. Reced. ing farther and farther behind them
was the semicircle of the last hills; and it was quite suddenly
that they saw afar off the dim line of the sea. It was not a strip
of bright blue as they had seen it from the sunny verandabut of
a sinister and smoky violeta tint that seemed ominous and dark.
Here Horne Fisher dismounted once more.
We must walk the rest of the way,he saidand the last bit
of all I must walk alone.
He bent down and began to unstrap something from his bicycle.
It was something that had puzzled his companion all the way in spite
of what held him to more interesting riddles; it appeared to be
several lengths of pole strapped together and wrapped up in paper.
Fisher took it under his arm and began to pick his way across
the turf. The ground was growing more tum. bled and irregular
and he was walking toward a mass of thickets and small woods;
night grew darker every moment. "We must not talk any more
said Fisher. I shall whisper to you when you are to halt.
Don't try to follow me thenfor it will only spoil the show;
one man can barely crawl safely to the spotand two would
certainly be caught."
I would follow you anywhere,replied Marchbut I would halt, too,
if that is better.
I know you would,said his friend in a low voice.
Perhaps you're the only man I ever quite trusted in this world.
A few paces farther on they came to the end of a great ridge or mound
looking monstrous against the dim sky; and Fisher stopped with a gesture.
He caught his companion's hand and wrung it with a violent tenderness
and then darted forward into the darkness. March could faintly see his
figure crawling along under the shadow of the ridgethen he lost sight
of itand then he saw it again standing on another mound two hundred
yards away. Beside him stood a singular erection made apparently
of two rods. He bent over it and there was the flare of a light;
all March's schoolboy memories woke in himand he knew what it was.
It was the stand of a rocket. The confusedincongruous memories still
possessed him up to the very moment of a fierce but familiar sound;
and an instant after the rocket left its perch and went up into endless
space like a starry arrow aimed at the stars. March thought suddenly
of the signs of the last days and knew he was looking at the apocalyptic
meteor of something like a Day of judgment.
Far up in the infinite heavens the rocket drooped and sprang into
scarlet stars. For a moment the whole landscape out to the sea and back
to the crescent of the wooded hills was like a lake of ruby light
of a red strangely rich and gloriousas if the world were steeped
in wine rather than bloodor the earth were an earthly paradise
over which paused forever the sanguine moment of morning.
God save England!cried Fisherwith a tongue like the peal
of a trumpet. "And now it is for God to save."
As darkness sank again over land and seathere came another sound;
far away in the passes of the hills behind them the guns spoke
like the baying of great hounds. Something that was not a rocket
that came not hissing but screamingwent over Harold March's
head and expanded beyond the mound into light and deafening din
staggering the brain with unbearable brutalities of noise.
Another cameand then anotherand the world was full of uproar
and volcanic vapor and chaotic light. The artillery of the West
country and the Irish had located the great enemy battery
and were pounding it to pieces.
In the mad excitement of that moment March peered through the storm
looking again for the long lean figure that stood beside the stand
of the rocket. Then another flash lit up the whole ridge.
The figure was not there.
Before the fires of the rocket had faded from the sky
long before the first gun had sounded from the distant hills
a splutter of rifle fire had flashed and flickered all around from
the hidden trenches of the enemy. Something lay in the shadow at
the foot of the ridgeas stiff as the stick of the fallen rocket;
and the man who knew too much knew what is worth knowing.