Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

Arnold Smith: The Face in the Fresco ( via Ghosts and Scholars)

Juni 22, 2017

Mr Jones was an elementary schoolmaster and a bachelor of shy, retiring disposition. An early disappointment in love was responsible for a lonely existence which custom had made natural to him. At the time of his extraordinary adventure he had become so accustomed to the pleasures of solitude that he preferred to take even his Saturday afternoon walks – his sole recreation – without a companion. This accounts for the fact that he was alone on the occasion of his visit to Godstanely, where he intended to see the recently discovered twelfth-century frescoes in the old church, which stands about a mile from the modern village.

Although Godstanely is only about fifteen miles from the metropolis and is not more than two-and-a-half miles from Hopton, the nearest station on the London and South Eastern Railway, it is for all practical purposes very remote. The stream of traffic between London and the south coast passes along the main road at the foot of the Downs, unheeding the steep and narrow lane which toils tortuously upwards to Godstanely through some lovely country, hitherto undesecrated by motor-bus and charabanc. The cyclist must follow this lane and make a long detour to reach the site of ancient Godstanely and its church, but the pedestrian can get to it by a steep path straight over Terrible Down. It may be added that the train service to Hopton is entirely worthy of the railway company to which the station belongs; the reader will, therefore, feel little surprise when he is told that the tripper rarely find his way to Godstanely.

Mr Jones, however, enjoyed rambling to out-of-the-way places, and with the help of his ordnance map he soon discovered the path over the Down. After traversing a muddy field of clay and stubble he began to climb the billows of smooth green that hide the chalk, till, three-quarters of the way up, the path intersected the long line of yews which marks the reputed site of the Pilgrims‘ Way. Here he paused and took off his hat; the day was warm for December. He looked back to the trees which hid Hopton from his view and saw, beyond, a wreath of smoke marking the passage of a train through the quiet country, and, farther still, dark pine-clad slopes, silhouetted against the fainter background of a distant ridge. A deep sense of peace stole into his heart. The noisy class-room in which he taught, the uncomfortable flat to which he returned when the day’s work was done, seemed very far away. Nobody was in sight. He felt himself in touch with Nature and with the Past. Here was the Pilgrims‘ Way; the Old Road along which, centuries before the pilgrims – centuries, indeed, before the Romans came, the men of the Stone Age had passed on their long journeys to celebrate mysterious rites at Stonehenge. What secrets might not lie hidden beneath the sombre shade of these ancient yews, what discoveries might here await the spade of the archaeologist? Imagination could people that ancient track with strange presences. Mr Jones shivered in the twilight of the dark over-hanging boughs; he was beginning to grow cold. Some elusive memory seemed struggling into consciousness, casting its shadow before: the memory of something unfamiliar, and somehow unpleasant. The fluttering of a large bird in the branches of one of the yews startled him out of his reverie. He resumed his climb.

At the top of the hill he found two paths. As he stood consulting his ordnance map he became aware of an approaching rustic who greeted him with a civil „Nice day, sir.“

„Is this the way to Godstanely church?“ asked Mr Jones.

„Yes, follow the lane, and when you comes to the cross-roads, go straight down, and then up past the vicarage. I’m going that way myself; I’ll show you if you like.“

Mr Jones accepted the offer and continued the conversation. „Do you think I can get into the church? I want to see the frescoes. Or shall I have to go to the vicarage and ask for the key?“

„Vicar, he aren’t been over willing to let strangers into the church since he found them painted things. Mostly it’s kept locked; but bein‘ ‚as it’s Saturday there might be the woman as does the cleanin‘ about somewhere.“

„Perhaps I ought to call at the vicarage first, and ask permission?“

„Well, that’s as might be. Vicar aren’t best pleased with folks as interrupts him Saturday.“

„Isn’t the vicar glad to find people taking an interest in his discovery and coming to see the church?“

„Well, Mrs Gant – that’s Vicar’s housekeeper, him bein‘ a widower – she says to me, bein‘ her second cousin like, ‚I dunno what’s come over him,‘ she says; ‚first he was pleased as Punch when chaps as writes for the papers comes and asks him about them picters, and now he’s as cranky as I never did see. Comes of shuttin‘ hisself up with them ‚orrors,‘ she says. ‚Porin‘ over them and goin‘ without his food regular – and there at nights, too!'“

„Ah!“ said Mr Jones, „I understand that the fresco represents a crude but vigorous conception of Hell.“

„Well, it aren’t what I calls right, sir – that picter.“

„Not right? In the old times when the fresco was painted the clergy used to think such representations very good for you. People couldn’t read or write, you know. No education in those days as there is now! They tried to frighten people into goodness by showing them what would happen to sinners hereafter.“

„May be, but it aren’t to my way of thinkin‘, sir, beggin‘ pardon for the liberty of contradictin‘, and it weren’t to the way of thinkin‘ of them as put plaster over the thing. Best have left the devils under the whitewash.“

„The mediaeval artists and poets painted hell in lurid colours and we prefer it whitewashed, sic tempora mutantur,“ said Mr Jones sententiously.

„Well, here’s the vicarage, sir, and there’s the church. And darn me if that aren’t Mrs Harris, the cleaner, comin‘ out of the gate. She’ll let you in all right. Good afternoon.“

„Good-bye, and thanks!“ said Mr Jones, going quickly to overtake Mrs Harris and explain to her his desire to look over the church. She had finished her cleaning and was just going home; she demurred at first to Mr Jones‘ proposal that she should leave him the key on condition that he brought it back presently to her cottage. „Do you get teas?“ he said, „Perhaps you could accommodate me with some. In the meantime please let me give you this for your trouble.“ A sixpence changed hands. Mrs Harris expressed herself satisfied that Mr Jones was a person to whom the key might be entrusted, and explained the way to her cottage. He promised to be with her in about half-an-hour.

Mrs Harris’s cottage was some distance away, and out of sight. Apart from the vicarage, which stood in its own grounds not far off, there was no house in the immediate vicinity of the church. All trace of the ancient town of Godstanely except its medieval church had long since disappeared, and even the church, as far as its exterior was concerned, had been so much restored that Mr Jones was not inclined to linger outside. He was struck, however, by the site of the edifice. It stood on a circular mound and, except on one side, where the path led up to the gate, was surrounded by a ditch. Could the mound be a tumulus? Mr Jones did not remember that this had been mentioned in the account he had read of the finding of the frescoes. Were churches ever built, he wondered, on prehistoric burial-grounds? He must remember to look up that point when he got home; at any rate it was well-known that churches were built sometimes on the sites of heathen temples, the temples themselves being sometimes consecrated to Christian worship. He was thinking of this as he proceeded through the porch. He unlocked the door and, leaving the key in the lock, entered the church.

The interior was very small, with ancient beams overhead, and several old-fashioned high-backed pews round the pulpit; but Mr Jones had no attention to spare for these. The whole of the western wall was covered by a very remarkable fresco. It was extraordinary that it had not been destroyed by some zealous Protestant vicar of the past, and that, instead, it had been covered up and then forgotten, thus being preserved for the curious of a later age. The work was crude but vigorous; twelfth-century certainly, but of less artistic merit than is usual in the frescoes of that period. The upper section represented the weighing of the good and evil deeds of the dead, and the joy of those souls that were saved; the lower section, separated from the upper by a band decorated with what looked like cinerary urns, showed the torments of the damned. Intersecting the band at right angles so as to form with it a cross, a ladder stretched from heaven to hell; from its lower half diminutive human figures were tumbling in spite of frantic efforts to clutch the rungs, or, clinging vainly to these, were plucked off by gigantic demons with malignant enjoyment, and carried on pitchforks to a boiling cauldron and other forms of punishment. The leering faces of the devils, their hanging tongues, animal ears, huge eyes, and claw-like feet showed gruesome imagination on the part of the artist. Mr Jones bent down to examine the painting more closely. Some of the figures were less distinct than others, and the occupations in which they were engaged were not always quite clear. In one corner especially the details were vague and blurred. Something or other was being done by a figure – apparently a demon – whose face was turned away and whose hand held some kind of weapon, while other demons, squatting on their haunches, looked on. Upon the back of the first demon was painted distinctly a neat little quatrefoil in a triple ring. „The dedication cross,“ muttered Mr Jones to himself. As he said this he was again aware of the feeling that he was on the point of remembering something which he had unaccountably forgotten. He bent down to look at the cross more closely. The plaster on which it was painted and a fragment of stone underneath seemed half detached from the wall. Without thinking what he was doing Mr Jones put out his hand and touched it. Immediately the fragment fell to the ground, revealing a narrow but apparently deep hole.

Mr Jones was horrified by his unintentional act of vandalism. He felt like a child who has broken some valuable ornament which he has been told not to touch, and at the same time the repressed memory which had been beating vainly against the barriers of consciousness grew more insistent, colouring his emotional tone. It was a memory of something that had happened in his childhood, he felt sure – something connected with the dark: perhaps a dream. Yes, it must have been a dream. He did not want to remember it. He felt frightened lest it should come back.

Then his eyes became riveted to the hole. It was a queer elongated sort of hole. Darkness seemed to be pouring out of it, filling the church. With curiosity and alarm he struck a match and bent down to examine the hole more closely. Thus he became aware of a change in the figure of the demon into whose vitals it seemed to lead. Surely the colours were more distinct! The hole itself – he had not noticed the face before – had a curious likeness to a mouth. This perception gave the clue to other lines and markings. It was a mouth. There, at the lower end of the demon’s back was a face – a horrible face – malignant, bestial, with greedy eyes and lustful lips. Mr Jones gazed upon it fascinated. Then the veil that had rested on his memory quivered and lifted. His senses swam. The hole appeared to be rapidly enlarging and contracting like a horrible sucker. The match burnt his fingers and he dropped it; this restored to him his powers of movement; he fled and left the church.

Jackie Cosstick, a half-witted urchin of twelve, who had been on an errand for his mother and was returning along the lane past Godstanely church, had that December afternoon the fright of his life. It was nearly dark in the lane, which was overshadowed by elms on both sides. Up the lane came dashing a gentleman, coat-tails flying. „Go it!“ shouted Jackie with the irreverence of youth, „you’ll catch him.“ „Stick it, mister!“ he yelled after the retreating figure. At that moment he was aware of a rustling in the hedge behind him, and picking up a stone he threw it in the direction of the sound. Then something bounded out of the ditch, something that might have been a big dog but for its extraordinary mode of progress; for it went suddenly up a tree, moving by bringing its hindquarters to its head and then elongating its body swiftly, just as if it were released by a spring, „like them caterpillars,“ thought Jackie afterwards, „a-goin‘ up bluebells, but, ’struth, what a size!“ He stared up into the branches. Then he caught sight of two eyes looking down at him – two luminous awful eyes. He darted off in the opposite direction to the path of Mr Jones’s flight and never ceased running till he reached his mother’s cottage in New Godstanely.

Mr Jones had instinctively run in the direction of Hopton, looking fearfully on either side. He saw nothing, but he was conscious of some terrible danger from something which was tracking him, keeping pace with him behind the hedgerows. Yet he had an odd sort of assurance that he was invisible to it, that he and his pursuer were engaged in a psychic game of hide and seek, and that he might escape its notice if he did not commit some false move. Physically he was running away; mentally he was dodging down byways of the spirit, instinctively making use of occult means of protection. He was in two separate modes of existence at once. The danger would come if these existences were unified and his enemy became aware of him on the physical plane.

Suddenly he reached the main road to Hopton, and the sight of some other pedestrians brought him sharply over the border-line into the world of everyday life. In a short time he reached the railway station and found himself in due course in the train for home.

There were several people in the compartment, a third smoker. „How close it is this evening,“ said a lady to her husband. „I hadn’t noticed it; yes, now you mention it, it does seem stuffy,“ the husband replied. „Shockin‘ bad, these carriages on the South-Eastern,“ said another passenger, addressing the company generally, „smell always bad, though I’ve never noticed one worse than this.“ „Sulphur – so many tunnels – terrible amount of smoke!“ remarked another.

Mr Jones said nothing. He was conscious of an oppressiveness in the atmosphere. He looked at the faces of his companions; they all showed signs of nervous tension. A grimly unattractive female in the corner was regarding him with disapproval.

The train stopped at the next station, and everybody got out immediately except the unattractive female and Mr Jones. A stout middle-aged man was on the point of entering when the lady jumped up exclaiming, „I want to get out, let me get out, please.“ The stout man made way for her and then took his seat. „She don’t like travelling with young fellows like you and me,“ he said roguishly to Mr Jones. „Perhaps she doesn’t like travelling in a smoker,“ Mr Jones protested feebly. „She’s got into a smoker next door,“ was the answer. The stout man chuckled and then sniffed. His expression changed. The puzzled look had not left his face when the train drew up at the Junction and Mr Jones got out.

He did not go straight to his flat. His daily housekeeper regularly took her evening out on Saturdays, not putting in an appearance again till Sunday morning in time to prepare breakfast. He first went to a Lyons‘ restaurant for some tea. In the brilliant glare of the streets his fantastic experience began to fade into unreality. Could he have been the victim of an hallucination? Had he been working too hard, and was his odd feeling the result of over-wrought nerves? What he wanted was amusement. The ‚Pictures‘? No, a rattling good farce – something to make him forget: that was the best way of spending the evening. He boarded a motor-bus for the Hilarity.

In the pleasure of witnessing the performance Mr Jones for a time completely lost his burden of fear; and, afterwards, at a restaurant, he did justice to a nice little supper. Like Tam O’Shanter he sallied forth little caring for the miles that separated him from home; but the courage with which he mounted the bus had nearly evaporated by the time he got off at the nearest point to his destination and thought of his cold and cheerless home-coming. Unhappy bachelor! Better an irate spouse, „nursing her wrath to keep it warm,“ than the empty flat, reached by five flights of stairs and unlit by any glow of welcome, where he must get for himself such comfort as a man needs after an hour’s ride on a bus in winter, or go uncomforted straight to bed. The electric light on the staircase in the block of flats where he lived, pretentiously styled Duke’s Mansion, was always switched off at 11 p.m., and it was now past midnight.

Mr Jones picked his way up the staircase with the help of matches, which he struck one after another, and kept alight as long as he could. There were anxious intervals between the going out of one match and the lighting of the next. What if something were awaiting him at the top and were even now peering down at him over the balustrade? He with difficulty refrained from looking upwards. Instead, he fell to doing odd things to protect himself from the unseen terror – odd occult things, prompted (who knows?) by inherited memories: the sort of things children do in dread of the dark. He crossed his fingers in an odd fashion; it was difficult to do this properly while holding the matchbox. Then, he must put his foot down on the staircase linoleum on a particular portion of the pattern. And he must touch every third banister. Above all, he must reach the landing at the top of each flight with his right foot first. All these difficulties he surmounted, with a consciousness of his cleverness in outwitting his antagonist. He had never before counted the number of stairs in each flight. Odd or even? The even number would be lucky. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Thank Heaven there wasn’t a thirteenth! He reached his front door safely; but what might lie behind it? He inserted his key softly in the lock, the match in his left hand lasting just long enough for him to do this; for a few seconds he listened in the darkness; then, taking a deep breath – which he must hold until he reached the safety of his room – he threw the door open to its full extent and rushed for the switch of the electric light in the hall. In another second he was panting and safe behind the locked door of his study.

Mr Jones was a student of German, and it happened that Goethe’s Faust was lying on the table and that it caught his eye. He remembered the scene in which Faust conjures the spirits, and thought of the magical symbols of the pentagram, or Solomon’s Seal – a symbol ever potent to protect the student of the Black Art from the perils of his calling. In a moment he was down on his knees, drawing on the floor with a piece of chalk which he providentially had with him in his waistcoat pocket. He moved about while doing this, in order that he might have a fortification large enough to lie down in. He was very careful about the join of the angles and about seeing that no part of himself projected beyond the figure whilst he drew. During the time that he was engaged in this work he became conscious of a growing oppressiveness of the atmosphere: a dark cloud seemed to be forming between himself and the electric light. Suddenly, while he was putting the finishing touch to the last apex, the light went out. He was aware of a faint luminosity near the door. He watched it from his knees. Then it seemed to contract and grow less vague; gradually it took shape – the shape of the face that had glared at him from the fresco. Something seemed to snap in his brain and he swooned.

It was daylight when he came back to consciousness out of a particularly vivid dream of dramatic intensity, in which he had figured as the principal actor. He had been in a procession of youths and maidens, who sang as they danced round him and by his side. He knew, and the knowledge made him proud, that he was the central figure of the procession and an object of reverence to his companions. The procession was approaching Godstanely church. Then the church disappeared and in its stead there was a mound on which stood the white-robed figures of old men with long snowy beards; they were grouped around a great slab of stone, which was supported by two others. One of the white-robed figures, wearing a mask, advanced, and kneeling, proffered him with both hands a goblet from which he was to drink, but to which he was reluctant to put his lips. Then he was suddenly seized from behind, and at this moment the mask fell off and revealed the leering countenance of the devil in the fresco. He struggled in vain. The face came nearer with protruding tongue, which quivered with eagerness. He was suffocated by the monster’s foul breath. Then a drum began to beat, and the sound got louder and louder, till suddenly he was awake and the tapping resolved itself into a repeated knocking at the door.

„Are you there, Mr Jones?“ It was the voice of his housekeeper. „Whatever is the matter, sir? The front door’s wide open and the electric light left on.“

„I came in late and forgot,“ said Mr Jones, opening the door of his room. „The fact is,“ he went on, noticing that his housekeeper was looking at him with surprise, „I had a fit or something – No, I’m all right now; get me some breakfast as soon as you can.“

„That I will, sir; you look as if you had seen a ghost. And the damp has got in terrible; look at the marks on the walls. It gave me a turn, it did, when I came in; I thought it was burglars.“

While having breakfast Mr Jones reflected. He felt that he was in deep waters spiritually, and that he must obtain advice. What better person before whom to lay his peculiar experiences than the vicar of Godstanely? He would explain to him what had happened in the church and offer to make such reparation as was possible. He would tell him of his supernatural visitant – if indeed the thing were not an hallucination; in the latter case he must see a brain specialist.

Mr Jones ascertained from a timetable that there was an early train on Sunday mornings to Hopton. As he breakfasted at 8.30 he reckoned that he could just catch it, and that he would have time enough to get to Godstanely for the morning service. He left with this object, after giving his housekeeper, who begged him to stay at home and rest, certain instructions.

The journey was uneventful. He arrived just as the service was about to begin. As he entered the church he glanced nervously at the fresco, his eyes seeking the spot where the dedication cross had been. The light was too dim for him to distinguish any details, but he thought that there was some difference between the fresco as it was and as it had been when he had last seen it. He had no time for close observation while he was conducted to a pew.

As the service droned its way along, the small size of the church enabled Mr Jones to study the vicar’s appearance attentively. He was a smallish man with deeply-lined face; he might have been fifty years of age or more. He had a noble forehead, but a cast in his left eye rendered his appearance unprepossessing. His expression was both haughty and furtive. It reminded the schoolmaster oddly of a colleague he had once had – a secretive sort of man whom he had disliked, and who, as it turned out, had a guilty secret. By the time the sermon began Mr Jones felt that it would be difficult to approach such a person as the vicar on the subject of his visit. The sermon itself, however, was to give him an opening.

The text was from II Samuel: „He hath cut off those that have familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land“, and the preacher, apropos of Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor, spoke of the long-continued efforts of mankind to obtain knowledge of the future by consulting the dead. It was clear that he had studied necromancy deeply; indeed, he spoke as one having a first-hand knowledge of the subject. So interspersed, however, was his sermon with Latin quotations and references to cabalistic writings that it almost certainly remained unintelligible to his rustic congregation. He was like a man soliloquizing rather than preaching, and his delivery, moreover, was faulty, so that, had it not been for Mr Jones‘ intense interest in the subject matter, he would probably have failed to follow the thread. On happening to look round he saw from their vacant expressions that few people besides himself were listening to the preacher. One passage struck Mr Jones particularly. It concerned the visibility of spirits to some persons while they remained invisible to others who were present, and it offered an explanation of the general invisibility of the spirit world. The explanation was mathematical and involved the fourth dimension. We ourselves are unable even to imagine an object which has not three dimensions. We may, however, by analogy, obtain some notion of the way in which the spirit world, which is of four dimensions, can, exceptionally, become visible. If, for example, there were a two-dimensional world – a world in which there existed length and breadth but no thickness – the inhabitants of this world would clearly be unable to perceive the existence of such a world as ours. A three-dimensional object, though quite close, would remain invisible unless it happened to impinge on their two-dimensional world, and, if it did so, it would itself appear as an object of two dimensions. Hence, a four-dimensional object impinging on our world would appear as a thing of three dimensions, though at the same time, since it belonged to a Space which was not ours, it would remain what we call immaterial. Only those people who were attuned, as it were, by some mental twist to this unseen world would in certain circumstances obtain sight of it. The preacher went on to speak of the important scientific knowledge and power which might be obtained by such persons, and he hinted darkly at ways by which the ‚twist‘ might be naturally or artificially produced. The secret of the method had been known to certain adepts in the Middle Ages, but the Church had set her face against such researches, the more so as they involved propitiation by sacrifice. In this connection the symbols of religion were of cosmic significance and implied meanings which even the most learned could not understand. At this point Mr Jones thought the preacher glanced in the direction of the fresco, but, as if recalling his wandering attention, he then continued in a more conventional manner. He wound up his discourse with an appeal to his congregation to observe a Christian humility and to accept Divine Providence without seeking curiously to enquire into matters too deep for human understanding.

At the end of the service Mr Jones waited till the rest of the congregation had dispersed and then knocked at the door of the vestry, which, upon an invitation to come in, he entered. „Might I presume to have a word with you, sir?“ he asked in a faltering voice. He met an answering look of surprise.

„It is about the fresco…“

„Surely this is hardly a time…“

„I beg your pardon for my intrusion, but it is in connection with your sermon; I want to explain that I was in the church yesterday and something happened – an accident.“

„An accident?“ said the vicar in astonishment.

„I touched the fresco; I don’t know why; I really had not the least intention of…“

„What! you touched the fresco?“ interrupted the vicar, with rising wrath. „You dared to lay your finger on a priceless, on a unique piece of work of the most sacred, I say, sir, of the most sacred…“ his indignation choked his utterance.

„I am very sorry,“ said Mr Jones lamely.

„What damage did you do?“ said the vicar, restraining himself with an effort. „Come with me.“ He hurried out of the vestry into the church, followed by Mr Jones, and went up to the fresco, at which he gazed with anxious enquiry. „You see, it was like this,“ said Mr Jones, plunging into this story, „the cross on the back of the demon was somehow loose – that demon there.“ He pointed to the thin gap, hardly noticeable to the casual eye. Then he started back in amazement. Where was the demon? Around the hole the fresco was a blank. There was no sign of any further injury, but the figure, so clearly visible yesterday, with its unspeakable hinder face, had simply vanished as if it had never been. „It’s gone; it got out and followed me,“ said Mr Jones, clutching at the vicar’s arm, „Oh! what is to be done? Hell is loose!“ The vicar was staring in the direction indicated by the schoolmaster’s outstretched finger. „This is very curious,“ he said in an altered tone, „Very curious indeed,“ he repeated, looking now at Mr Jones and now at the fresco. Then the tide of his anger welled up. „You meddling idiot,“ he exclaimed, „you sacrilegious fool; you have removed the Seal. Where is it? What have you done with it?“

„The Seal? The Cross?“ said Mr Jones.

He stooped and picked up from the corner a small piece of stone, turning it over as he did so. „Here it is, look!“ he cried, showing the quatrefoil on the back. He placed it in the outstretched hand of the vicar; it seemed strangely heavy for such an object. No sooner had the latter touched it than he let it fall as if it had been of molten metal. Fury blazed in his eyes. He seemed about to strike Mr Jones. „Damn the thing!“ he shouted, „out of my presence, impostor! Your story is a lie; there was nothing – nothing, I tell you – nothing!“ He pushed Mr Jones out of the church, locked the door, and hurried in the direction of his house, leaving the schoolmaster even more puzzled than frightened in the porch. „Mad!“ he whispered to himself, „stark mad! And he cursed the Cross!“ He looked round fearfully.

Mr Jones retraced his steps slowly along the lane and over the Down till he reached the Pilgrims‘ Way. A line from Lycidas kept repeating itself in his mind: „The golden opes, the iron shuts amain.“ The iron shuts amain: the key of Hell! Who should shut it again, if once it were opened? „He called it the Seal,“ he muttered. He sat down under the shadow of the same yew beneath which he had rested the day before. His hand mechanically sought his pocket for his pipe and encountered a packet of sandwiches which his housekeeper had pressed upon him when he left the flat; she had also handed him his flask. He ate the food and quenched his thirst. The flask was very welcome. He noticed to his surprise that he felt much easier than he had before his interview with the vicar. The danger seemed to have receded. Might there not be some occult means of preventing its return? Atonement – propitiation – had not the vicar said something about propitiation in his sermon? He looked about him, at the dark foliage overhead and the thick twisted roots at his feet, with flints lying here and there in the soft mould. He picked up some and examined them curiously.

Late that afternoon Mr Jones returned to Godstanely churchyard. How he spent his time after his lunch and what he did that evening in the churchyard were matters which he could never afterwards clearly remember. He moved as one in a dream. Indeed it was the memory of his previous night’s dream that apparently prompted his actions, and when subsequently he tried to disentangle the dream vision from the reality the two got fantastically mixed. There was a dragging of stones together, and the building of a sort of altar on a spot surrounded by trees. Then there was a ritual which the moon shone upon through the branches. There were shadowy spectators and shadowy helpers. Ultimately he found himself in a dazed condition at the railway station. On his way home the cloud upon his intelligence gradually lifted; but for the rest of that evening and the whole of the next day he felt like one who is convalescing after an illness, too weak for mental exertion and disinclined to face the unpleasant. Nevertheless he went to school on Monday, and routine carried him through his work. Naturally he said nothing to anybody about his experiences during the week-end. He turned upon them a blind eye. If the subject recurred to him, he told himself that he had been the victim of his imagination.

On Tuesday morning, however, as he read his newspaper at breakfast, he experienced a great shock. A paragraph headed „Mysterious Death of a Clergyman“ caught his eye. What he read was as follows:

An unfortunate and up to the present inexplicable tragedy has cast a gloom over the village of Godstanely, near Hopton, where for the last twenty-two years the Rev. Augustine B. Brandon, M.A. (Oxon.) has been the esteemed incumbent of the parish. It will be remembered in archaeological circles that a short while since the reverend gentleman earned the gratitude of all virtuosos by discovering on the wall of Godstanely church an exquisite fresco said to belong to the twelfth century, and which he munificently restored at his own expense. Early yesterday morning the body of the unfortunate clergyman was found by a parishioner not far from the sacred edifice. Dr Boodle, who is the nearest medical practitioner, was immediately sent for, and on his arrival pronounced life to be extinct. It transpired that the deceased had left the vicarage at 9 p.m. on the previous evening, apparently for a stroll as was his wont, telling his housekeeper not to sit up for him should he return after ten. When found, the body was adjacent to a slab of stone over which, it is believed, the elderly vicar had stumbled in the dark, thus injuring his head upon an ancient implement known to antiquarians as a ‚celt‘ which was lying by his side. The learned archaeologist possessed several such curiosities in his collection and it is surmised he was carrying the instrument in his hand, though for what purpose is beyond conjecture. As to whether his death, however, was the result of an accident of this nature has been discredited by some. Our special correspondent learns that a village lad named John Cosstick deposes to having seen on Saturday evening in the vicinity of the church a large animal which he took to be a mad dog and from which he narrowly escaped. The torn condition of the deceased gentleman’s clothes and the trampled state of the adjacent ground might lend foundation to the hypothesis that Mr Brandon was the victim of a ferocious attack by an animal of this description; the theory however has not gained credence with the guardians of law and order. It was found that the features of the corpse were much contorted, and it is feared that the unfortunate gentleman suffered great pain as he lay in extremis. It would be beyond the limits of our space to adequately portray the consternation into which the tragedy has plunged the erstwhile happy village of Godstanely.

Mr Jones sat staring at his paper, while his bacon and eggs grew colder and colder, unheeded, on his plate.

Emma S. Duffin: The House Party ( via Ghosts and Scholars)

Juni 22, 2017

It was Saturday morning. Bella, the new housemaid at Stamford Court, was going from room to room with trays of tea, pulling up blinds, leaving cans of hot water, nervously trying to make as little noise as possible, but the tea-things had an unfortunate way of sliding on the tray in her shaking hand, the blinds eluded her grasp and sprang with an alarming rattle up the windows, and the brass cans clanged against the basins as she deposited them on the washstands. Some of the occupants of the beds opened half-awake and slightly irritated eyes; others yawned and turned sleepily on their pillows.

She gave a sigh of relief as she closed the last door, then stood doubtfully regarding another at the end of the corridor. Was she in charge of that room too? This big house was so confusing, and Alice, the head housemaid, was so snubbing that she did not like to ask. Yes, she supposed she must be. How dreadful if she had forgotten it… She hastily returned to the pantry and prepared another tray.

Ten minutes later she knocked at the door of the bedroom. There was no reply, but few of the week-end guests troubled to reply, so she opened the door quietly. The room was dark and bitterly cold; as she crossed the threshold she felt as if she had stepped into an ice-cold fog; it smelt musty, too – like a cellar. A feeling of unreasoning terror seized her and froze her blood. Between the door and the window she paused, feeling as if her shaking limbs could carry her no farther. The tray in her hand shook so that the tea-things rattled. She stood at the foot of the old-fashioned four-poster bed and unwillingly, as if mesmerised, turned her head in its direction.

In the dim light of the dark winter morning she could not discern whether the occupant were a man or a woman. Above the bed clothes a pair of eyes seemed to glow as a cat’s eyes glow in the dark, and to pierce through to her very brain. It was only with a terrible effort of will that she deposited the tray on the bedside table; then hastily pulling up the blinds, reckless of – indeed, reassured by – the noise she was making, she hurried from the room, not daring to cast another glance at the bed lest she should see – what? – she asked herself wildly as she stood with panting breath and flying pulse in the corridor. But her unspoken question remained unanswered.

As she descended the backstairs, a smell of coffee and frying bacon reached her nostrils; from below came the cheerful clatter of breakfast preparations. She heaved a sigh of relief as she heard the homely sounds.

After breakfast she emptied basins, made up beds and dusted rooms, leaving what she in her own mind designated ‚the room‘ till the last.

When she entered it her fears seemed absurd. The sun shone through the windows, the bed stood empty, but its late occupant seemed to have spent an uneasy night: the sheets were twisted into ropes, the pillows crushed so that she had to put clean covers on them. Strange, too, the water in the basin was dyed a rusty red and one of the towels was stained with blood. Even as she told herself that the guest must have cut himself shaving, a feeling of indescribable horror crept over Bella, but she put the room to rights and went about her other duties.

The next morning found her, in spite of good resolutions, shaking from top to toe as she stood outside the door and knocked with a trembling hand. As before, no voice answered; again, as she crossed the threshold, a chill seemed to penetrate to her very bones. She had decided that she would on no account look at the bed or its occupant; so, putting the tray hastily down, she crossed to the window and pulled up the blinds, but she felt that the eyes from the bed were watching her and that something worse than a wild animal was crouching to spring. She stumbled from the room in a panic, shutting the door with a bang that reverberated down the corridor. Rushing to the backstairs, she leaned half-fainting against the bannisters.

At breakfast in the servants‘ hall she looked round the staff with tragic eyes, seeking someone in whom she could confide; but they were all strangers to her and her courage failed. When she went upstairs again the room door lay open, the room was empty, but as before in confusion, the basin filled with that sinisterly dyed water, the towel again blood-stained. Tremblingly she once more put it to rights.

Monday morning – thank God the house-party would break up today. This was the last time she need enter that ghastly room! She comforted herself with this thought as she knocked at ‚the door‘.

Three hours later, Mrs Grieves, the housekeeper, was inspecting the empty bedrooms with Alice, the head housemaid, to see that all was left in order.

„You needn’t inspect the haunted room,“ Alice said, sarcastically; „nobody slept in it. Her Ladyship gave orders nobody was to be put in it again.“

Nevertheless, Mrs Grieves conscientiously opened the door. The furniture was shrouded in linen covers, the hearthrug rolled back, the curtains of the four-poster looped up; but what was that? A figure on the bed. Mrs Grieves and Alice approached, and a cry of horror and dismay burst simultaneously from their lips. Across the bed lay the figure of a girl. One hand clutched the bed curtain, the other arm was thrown up as if to ward off something, and the crooked elbow partially concealed the face. But as they looked down they recognised in the twisted features, the staring eyes, the half-open mouth, Bella, the new housemaid. She was dead.

Agatha Christie: Philomel Cottage

Juni 19, 2017
„Good-bye, darling.“
„Good-bye, sweetheart.“
Alix Martin stood leaning over the small rustic gate, watching the retreating figure of her husband, as he walked down the road in the direction of the village.
Presently he turned a bend and was lost to sight, but Alix still stayed in the same position, absent-mindedly smoothing a lock of the rich brown hair which had blown across her face, her eyes far-away and dreamy.
Alix Martin was not beautiful, nor even, strictly speaking, pretty. But her face, the face of a woman no longer in her first youth, was irradiated and softened until her former colleagues of the old office days would hardly have recognized her. Miss Alix King had been a trim business-like young woman, efficient, slightly brusque in manner, obviously capable and matter-of-fact.
Alix had graduated in a hard school. For fifteen years, from the age of eighteen until she was thirty-three, she had kept herself (and for seven years of the time, an invalid mother) by her work as a shorthand-typist. It was the struggle for existence which had hardened the soft lines of her girlish face.
True, there had been romance – of a kind – Dick Windyford, a fellow-clerk. Very much of a woman at heart, Alix had always known without seeming to know that he cared. Outwardly they had been friends, nothing more. Out of his slender salary, Dick had been hard put to it to provide for the schooling of a younger brother. For the moment, he could not think of marriage.
And then suddenly deliverance from daily toil had come to the girl in the most unexpected manner. A distant cousin had died leaving her money to Alix – a few thousand pounds, enough to bring in a couple of hundred a year. To Alix, it was freedom, life, independence. Now she and Dick need wait no longer.
Nevertheless, when Alix envisaged the future, it was with the half acknowledged certainty that she would one day be Dick’s wife. They cared for one another, so she would have put it, but they were both sensible people. Plenty of time, no need to do anything rash. So the years had gone on.
But Dick reacted unexpectedly. He had never directly spoken of his love to Alix, now he seemed less inclined to do so than ever. He avoided her, became morose and gloomy. Alix was quick to realize the truth.
She had become a woman of means. Delicacy and pride stood in the way of Dick’s asking her to be his wife.
She liked him none the worse for it and was indeed deliberating as to whether herself might not take the first step when for the second time the unexpected descended upon her.
She met Gerald Martin at a friend’s house. He fell violently in love with her and within a week they were engaged. Alix, who had always considered herself „not the falling-in-love kind,“ was swept clean off her feet.
Unwittingly she had found the way to arouse her former lover. Dick Windyford had come to her stammering with rage and anger.
„The man’s a perfect stranger to you! You know nothing about him!“
„I know that I love him.“
„How can you know – in a week?“
„It doesn’t take everyone eleven years to find out that they’re in love with a girl,“ cried Alix angrily.
His face went white.
„I’ve cared for you ever since I met you. I thought that you cared also.“
Alix was truthful.
„I thought so, too,“ she admitted, „But that was because I didn’t know what love was.“
Then Dick had burst out again. Prayers, entreaties, even threats. Threats against the man who had supplanted him. It was amazing to Alix to see the volcano that existed beneath the reserved exterior of the man she thought she knew so well.
Her thoughts had gone back to that interview now, on this sunny morning, as she leaned on the gate of the cottage. She had been married a month, and she was idyllically happy. Yet, in the momentary absence of the husband who was everything to her, a tinge of anxiety invaded her perfect happiness, and the cause of that anxiety was Dick Windyford.
Three times since her marriage she had dreamed the same dream. The environment differed, but the main facts were always the same.
She saw her husband lying dead and Dick Windyford standing over him, and she
knew clearly and distinctly that his was the hand which had dealt the fatal blow.
But horrible though that was, there was something more horrible still – horrible that was, on awakening, for in the dream it seemed perfectly natural and inevitable.
She, Alix Martin, was glad that her husband was dead – she stretched out grateful hands to the murderer, sometimes she thanked him. The dream always ended the same way, with herself clasped in Dick Windyford’s arms.
She had said nothing of this dream to her husband, but secretly it had perturbed her more than she liked to admit. Was it a warning – a warning against Dick Windyford?
Alix was roused from her thoughts by the sharp ringing of the telephone bell from within the house. She entered the cottage, and picked up the receiver. Suddenly she swayed, and put out a hand against the wall.
„Who did you say was speaking?“
„Why, Alix, what’s the matter with your voice? I wouldn’t have known it. It’s Dick.“
„Oh!“ said Alix. „Oh! Where – are you?“
„At the Traveller’s Arms – that’s the right name, isn’t it? Or don’t you even know of the existence of your village pub? I’m on my holiday – doing a bit of fishing here. Any objection to my looking you two good people up this evening after dinner?“
„No,“ said Alix sharply. „You mustn’t come.“
There was a pause, and Dick’s voice, with a subtle alteration in it, spoke again.
„I beg your pardon,“ he said formally. „Of course I won’t bother you – „
Alix broke in hastily. Of course he must think her behaviour too extraordinary. It was extraordinary. Her nerves must be all to pieces.
„I only meant that we were – engaged tonight,“ she explained, trying to make her voice sound as natural as possible. „Won’t you – won’t you come to dinner tomorrow night?“
But Dick evidently noticed the lack of cordiality in her tone.
„Thanks very much,“ he said, in the same formal voice. „But I may be moving on any time. Depends upon whether a pal of mine turns up or not. Good-bye, Alix.“ He paused, and then added hastily, in a different tone: „Best of luck to you, my dear.“
Alix hung up the receiver with a feeling of relief.
„He mustn’t come here,“ she repeated to herself. „He mustn’t come here. Oh! what a fool I am! To imagine myself into a state like this. All the same, I’m glad he’s not coming.“
She caught up a rustic rush hat from a table, and passed out into the garden again, pausing to look up at the name carved over the porch: Philomel Cottage.
„Isn’t it a very fanciful name?“ she had said to Gerald once before they were married. He had laughed.
„You little Cockney,“ he had said, affectionately. „I don’t believe you have ever heard a nightingale. I’m glad you haven’t. Nightingales should sing only for lovers. We’ll hear them together on a summer’s evening outside our own home.“
And at the remembrance of how they had indeed heard them, Alix, standing in the doorway of her home, blushed happily.
It was Gerald who had found Philomel Cottage. He had come to Alix bursting with excitement. He had found the very spot for them – unique – a gem – the chance of a lifetime. And when Alix had seen it, she too was captivated. It was true that the situation was rather lonely – they were two miles from the nearest village – but the cottage itself was so exquisite with its Old World appearance, and its solid comfort of bathrooms, hot-
water system, electric light and telephone, that she fell a victim to its charm immediately. And then a hitch occurred. The owner, a rich man who had made it his whim, declined to rent it. He would only sell.
Gerald Martin, though possessed of a good income, was unable to touch his capital. He could raise at most a thousand pounds. The owner was asking three. But Alix, who had set her heart on the place, came to the rescue. Her own capital was easily realized, being in bearer bonds. She would contribute half of it to the purchase of the home. So Philomel Cottage became their choice. It was true that servants did not appreciate the rural solitude – indeed at the moment they had none at all – but Alix, who had been starved of domestic life, thoroughly enjoyed cooking dainty little meals and looking after the house.
The garden, which was magnificently stocked with flowers, was attended to by an old man from the village who came twice a week.
As she rounded the corner of the house, Alix was surprised to see the old gardener in question busy over the flower beds. She was surprised because his days for work were Mondays and Fridays, and today was Wednesday.
„Why, George, what are you doing here?“ she asked, as she came towards him.
The old man straightened up with a chuckle, touching the brim of an aged cap.
„I thought as how you’d be surprised, ma’am. But ‚tis this way. There be a fête over to Squire’s on Friday, and I sez to myself, I sez, neither Mr. Martin nor yet his good lady won’t take it amiss if I comes for once on a Wednesday instead of a Friday.“
„That’s quite all right,“ said Alix. „I hope you’ll enjoy yourself at the fête.“
„I reckon to,“ said George simply. „It’s a fine thing to be able to eat your fill and know all the time as it’s not you as is paying for it. Squire allus has a proper sit-down tea for ‚is tenants. Then I thought too, ma’am, as I might as well see you before you goes away so as to learn your wishes for the borders. You’ll have no idea when you’ll be back, ma’am, I suppose?“
„But I’m not going away.“
George stared at her.
„Bain’t you going to Lunnon tomorrow?“
„No. What put such an idea into your head?“
George jerked his head over his shoulder.
„Met Maister down to village yesterday. He told me you was both going away to Lunnon tomorrow, and it was uncertain when you’d be back again.“
„Nonsense,“ said Alix, laughing. „You must have misunderstood him.“
All the same, she wondered exactly what it could have been that Gerald had said to lead the old man into such a curious mistake. Going to London? She never wanted to go to London again.
„I hate London,“ she said suddenly and harshly.
„Ah!“ said George placidly. „I must have been mistook somehow, and et he said it plain enough it seemed to me. I’m glad you’re stopping on here – I don’t hold with all this gallivanting about, and I don’t think nothing of Lunnon.
I’ve never needed to go there. Too many moty cars – that’s the trouble nowadays. Once people have got a moty car, blessed if they can stay still anywheres. Mr. Ames, wot used to have this house – nice peaceful sort of gentleman he was until he bought one of them things. Hadn’t’ad it a month before he put up this cottage for sale. A tidy lot he’d spent on it, too, with taps in all the bedrooms, and the electric light and all. ‚You’ll never see your money back,‘ I sez to him. ‚It’s not everyone as’ll have your fad for washing themselves in every room in the house, in a manner of speaking. ‚But ‚George,‘ he sez to me, ‚I’ll get every penny of two thousand pounds for this house.‘ And sure enough, he did.“
„He got three thousand,“ said Alix, smiling.
„Two thousand,“ repeated George. „The sum he was asking was talked of at the time. And a very high figure it was thought to be.“
„It really was three thousand,“ said Alix.
„Ladies never understand figures,“ said George, unconvinced. „You’ll not tell me that Mr. Ames had the face to stand up to you, and say three thousand brazen like in a loud voice.“
„He didn’t say it to me,“ said Alix. „He said it to my husband.“
George stooped again to his flower bed.
„The price was two thousand,“ he said obstinately.
Alix did not trouble to argue with him. Moving to one of the further beds, she began to pick an armful of flowers.
As she moved with her fragrant posy towards the house, Alix noticed a small dark green object, peeping from between some leaves in one of the beds. She stooped and picked it up, recognizing it for her husband’s pocket diary. It must have fallen from his pocket when he was weeding.
She opened it, scanning the entries with some amusement. Almost from the beginning of their married life, she had realised that the impulsive and emotional Gerald had the uncharacteristic virtues of neatness and method. He was extremely fussy about meals being punctual, and always planned his day ahead with the accuracy of a timetable.
Looking through the diary, she was amused to notice the entry on the date of May 14th. „marry Alix St. Peter’s 2:30.“
„The big silly,“ murmured Alix to herself, turning the pages. Suddenly she stopped.
„Thursday, June 18th – why that’s today.“
In the space for that day was written in Gerald’s neat precise hand: „9 p.m.“ Nothing else. What had Gerald planned to do at 9 p.m.? Alix wondered. She smiled to herself as she realised that had this been a story, like those she had so often read, the diary would doubtless have furnished her with some sensational revelation. It would have had in it for certain the name of another woman. She fluttered the back pages idly. There were
dates, appointments, cryptic references to business deals, but only one woman’s name – her own.
Yet as she slipped the book into her pocket and went on with her flowers to the house, she was aware of a vague uneasiness. Those words of Dick Windyford’s recurred to her, almost as though he had been at her elbow repeating them: „The man’s a perfect stranger to you. You know nothing about him.“
It was true. What did she know about him. After all, Gerald was forty. In forty years there must have been women in his life …
Alix shook herself impatiently. She must not give way to these thoughts. She had a far more instant preoccupation to deal with. Should she, or should she not, tell her husband that Dick Windyford had rung her up?
There was the possibility to be considered that Gerald might have already run across him in the village. But in that case he would be sure to mention it to her immediately upon his return and matters would be taken out of her hands. Otherwise – what? Alix was aware of a distinct desire to say nothing about it.
If she told him, he was sure to suggest asking Dick Windyford to Philomel Cottage. Then she would have to explain that Dick had proposed it himself, and that she had made an excuse to prevent his coming. And when he asked her why she had done so, what could she say? Tell him her dream? But he would laugh – or worse, see that she attached an importance to it which he did not.
In the end, rather shamefacedly, Alix decided to say nothing. It was the first secret she had ever kept from her husband, and the consciousness of it made her feel ill at ease.
When she heard Gerald returning from the village shortly before lunch, she hurried into the kitchen and pretended to be busy with the cooking so as to hide her confusion.
It was evident at once that Gerald had been nothing of Dick Windyford. Alix felt at once relieved and embarrassed. She was definitely committed now to a policy of concealment.
It was not until after their simple evening meal, when they were sitting in the oak beamed living room with the windows thrown open to let in the sweet night air scented with the perfume of the mauve and white stocks that grew outside, that Alix remembered the pocket diary.
„Here’s something you’ve been watering the flowers with,“ she said, and threw it into his lap.
„Dropped it in the border, did I?“
„Yes; I know all your secrets now.“
„Not guilty,“ said Gerald, shaking his head.
„What about your assignation at nine o’clock tonight?“
„Oh! that – “ he seemed taken back for a moment, then he smiled as though something afforded him particular amusement. „It’s an assignation with a particularly nice girl, Alix. She’s got brown hair and blue eyes and she’s particularly like you.“
„I don’t understand,“ said Alix, with mock severity. „You’re evading the point.“
„No, I’m not. As a matter of fact, that’s a reminder that I’m going to develop some negatives tonight, and I want you to help me.“
Gerald Martin was an enthusiastic photographer. He had a somewhat old-fashioned camera, but with an excellent lens, and he developed his own plates in a small cellar which he had fitted up as a dark room.
„And it must be done at nine o’clock precisely,“ said Alix teasingly.
Gerald looked a little vexed.
„My dear girl,“ he said, with a shade of testiness in his manner, „one should always plan a thing for a definite time. Then one gets through one’s work properly.“
Alix sat for a minute or two in silence watching her husband as he lay in his chair smoking, his dark head flung back and the clear-cut lines of his clean-shaven face showing up against the sombre background. And suddenly, from some unknown source, a wave of panic surged over her, so that she cried out before she could stop herself. „Oh! Gerald, I wish I knew more about you.“
Her husband turned an astonished face upon her.
„But, my dear Alix, you do know all about me. I’ve told you of my boyhood in Northumberland, of my life in South Africa, and these last ten years in Canada which have brought me success.“
„Oh, business!“
Gerald laughed suddenly.
„I know what you mean – love affairs. You women are all the same. Nothing interests you but the personal element.“
Alix felt her throat go dry, as she muttered indistinctly: „Well, but there must have been – love affairs. I mean – If I only knew – „
There was silence again for a minute or two. Gerald Martin was frowning, a look of indecision on his face.
When he spoke, it was gravely, without a trace of his former bantering manner.
„Do you think it wise, Alix – this – Bluebeard’s chamber business? There have been women in my life, yes. I don’t deny it. You wouldn’t believe me if I did deny it. But I can swear to you truthfully that not one of them meant anything to me.“
There was a ring of sincerity in his voice which comforted the listening wife.
„Satisfied, Alix?“ he asked, with a smile. Then he looked at her with a shade of curiosity.
„What has turned you mind onto these unpleasant subjects tonight of all nights? You never mentioned them before.“
Alix got up and began to walk about restlessly.
„Oh! I don’t know,“ she said. „I’ve been nervy all day.“
„That’s odd,“ said Gerald, in a low voice, as though speaking to himself. „That’s very odd.“
„Why is it odd?“
„Oh, my dear girl, don’t flash out at me so. I only said it was odd because as a rule you’re so sweet and serene.“
Alix forced a smile.
„Everything’s conspired to annoy me today,“ she confessed. „Even old George had got some ridiculous idea into his head that we were going away to London. He said you had told him so.“
„Where did you see him?“ asked Gerald sharply.
„He came to work today instead of Friday.“
„Damned old fool,“ said Gerald angrily.
Alix stared in surprise. Her husband’s face was convulsed with rage. She had never seen him so angry.
Seeing her astonishment, Gerald made an effort to regain control of himself.
„Well, he is a damned old fool,“ he protested.
„What can you have said to make him think that?“
„I? I never said anything. At least – Oh, yes, I remember. I made some weak joke about being ‚off to London in the morning‘ and I suppose he took it seriously. Or else he didn’t hear properly. You undeceived him, of course?“
He waited anxiously for her reply.
„Of course, but he’s the sort of old man who if once he gets an idea in his head – well, it isn’t so easy to get it out again.“
Then she told him of the gardener’s insistence on the sum asked for the cottage.
Gerald was silent for a minute or two, then he said slowly:
„Ames was willing to take two thousand in cash and the remaining thousand on mortgage. That’s the origin of that mistake, I fancy.“
„Very likely,“ agreed Alix.
Then she looked up at the clock, and pointed to it with a mischievous finger.
„We ought to be getting down to it, Gerald. Five minutes behind schedule.“
A very peculiar smile came over Gerald Martin’s face.
„I’ve changed my mind, he said quietly. „I shall not do any photography tonight.“
A woman’s mind is a curious thing. When she went to bed that Thursday night, Alix’s mind was contented and at rest. Her momentarily assailed happiness reasserted itself, triumphant as of yore.
But by the evening of the following day, she realised that some subtle forces were at work undermining it.
Dick Windyford had not rung up again, nevertheless, she felt what she supposed to be his influence at work.
Again and again those words of his recurred to her.
„The man’s a perfect stranger. You know nothing about him.“
And with them came the memory of her husband’s face, photographed clearly on her brain as she said:
„‚Do you think it wise, Alix, this – Bluebeard’s chamber business?“ Why had he said that?
There had been warning in them – a hint of menace. It was as though he had said in effect – „You had better not pry into my life, Alix. You may get a nasty shock if you do.“ True, a few minutes later, he had sworn to her that there had been no woman in his life that mattered – but Alix tried in vain to recapture her sense of his sincerity: Was he not bound to swear that?
By Friday morning, Alix had convinced herself that there had been a woman in Gerald’s life – a Bluebeard’s chamber that he had sedulously sought to conceal from her. Her jealousy, slow to awaken, was now rampant.
Was it a woman he had been going to meet that night, at 9 p.m.? Was his story of photographs to develop a lie invented upon the spur of the moment?
Three days ago she would have sworn that she knew her husband through and through. Now it seemed to her that he was a stranger of whom she knew nothing. She remembered his unreasonable anger against old George, so at variance with his usual good-tempered manner. A small thing, perhaps, but it showed her that she did not really know the man who was her husband.
There were several little things required on Friday from the village to carry them over the week-end. In the afternoon Alix suggested that she should go for them whilst Gerald remained in the garden, but somewhat to her surprise he opposed this plan vehemently, and insisted on going himself whilst she remained at home.
Alix was forced to give way to him, but his insistence surprised and alarmed her. Why was he so anxious to prevent her going to the village?
Suddenly an explanation suggested itself to her which made the whole thing clear. Was it not possible that, whilst saying nothing to her, Gerald had indeed come across Dick Windyford? Her own jealousy, entirely dormant at the time of their marriage, had only developed afterwards. Might it not be the same with Gerald?
Might he not be anxious to prevent her seeing Dick Windyford again? This explanation was so consistent with the facts, and so comforting to Alix’s perturbed mind, that she embraced it eagerly.
Yet when tea-time had come and past, she was restless and ill at ease. She was struggling with a temptation that had assailed her ever since Gerald’s departure. Finally, pacifying her conscience with the assurance that the room did need a thorough tidying, she went upstairs to her husband’s dressing room. She took a duster with her to keep up the pretence of housewifery.
„If I were only sure,“ she repeated to herself. „If I could only be sure.“
In vain she told herself that anything compromising would have been destroyed ages ago. Against that she argued that men do sometimes keep the most damning piece of evidence through an exaggerated sentimentality.
In the end Alix succumbed. Her cheeks burning with the shame of her action, she hunted breathlessly through packets of letters and documents, turned out the drawers, even went through the pockets of her husband’s clothes. Only two drawers eluded her – the lower drawer of the chest of drawers and the small right-hand drawer of the writing desk were both locked. But Alix was by now lost to all shame. In one of those drawers she was convinced that she would find evidence of this imaginary woman of the past who
obsessed her.
She remembered that Gerald had left his keys lying carelessly on the sideboard downstairs. She fetched them and tried them one by one. The third key fitted the writing-table drawer. Alix pulled it open eagerly. There was a cheque-book and a wallet well stuffed with notes, and at the back of the drawer a packet of letters tied up with a piece of tape.
Her breath coming unevenly, Alix untied the tape. Then a deep burning blush overspread her face, and she dropped the letters back into the drawer, closing and relocking it. For the letters were her own, written to Gerald Martin before she married him.
She turned now to the chest of drawers, more with a wish to feel that she had left nothing undone, than from any expectation of finding what she sought.
To her annoyance none of the keys on Gerald’s bunch fitted the drawer in question. Not to be defeated, Alix went into the other rooms and brought back a selection of keys with her. To her satisfaction, the key of the spare room wardrobe also fitted the chest of drawers. She unlocked the drawer and pulled it open. But there was nothing in it but a roll of newspaper clippings already dirt and discoloured with age.
Alix breathed a sigh of relief. Nevertheless she glanced at the clippings, curious to know what subject had interested Gerald so much that he had taken the trouble to keep the dusty roll. They were nearly all American papers, dated some seven years ago, and dealing with the trail of the notorious swindler and bigamist, Charles Lemaitre. Lemaitre had been suspected of doing away with his women victims. A skeleton had been
found beneath the floor of one of the houses he had rented, and most of the women he had „married“ had never been heard of again.
He had defended himself from the charge with consummate skill, aided by some of the best legal talent in the United States. The Scottish verdict of „Non proven“ might perhaps have stated the case best. In its absence, he was found Not Guilty on the capital charge, though sentenced to a long term of imprisonment on the other charges preferred against him.
Alix remembered the excitement caused by the case at the time, and also the sensation aroused by the escape of Lemaitre some three years later. He had never been recaptured. The personality of the man and his extraordinary power over women had been discussed at great length in the English papers at the time, together with an account of his excitability in court, his passionate protestations, and his occasional sudden
physical collapses, due to the fact that he had a weak heart, though the ignorant accredited it to his dramatic powers.
There was a picture of him in one of the clippings Alix held, and she studied it with some interest – a long- bearded scholarly-looking gentleman.
Who was it the face reminded her of? Suddenly, with a shock, she realised that it was Gerald himself. The eyes and brows bore a strong resemblance to him. Perhaps he had kept the cutting for that reason. Her eyes went on to the paragraph beside the picture. Certain dates, it seemed, had been entered in the accused’s pocket-book, and it was contended that these were dates when he had done away with his victims. Then a
woman gave evidence and identified the prisoner positively by the fact that he had a mole on his left wrist, just below the palm of the left hand.
Alix dropped the papers from a nerveless hand, and swayed as she stood.
On his left wrist, just below the palm, Gerald had a small scar …
The room whirled round her. Afterwards it struck her as strange that she should have leaped at once to such absolute certainty. Gerald Martin was Charles Lemaitre! She knew it and accepted it in a flash. Disjointed fragments whirled through her brain, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting into place.
The money paid for the house – her money – her money only; the bearer bonds she had entrusted to his keeping. Even her dream appeared in its true significance. Deep down in her, her subconscious self had always feared Gerald Martin and wished to escape from him. And it was to Dick Windyford this self of hers had looked for help. That, too, was why she was able to accept the truth so easily, without doubt or hesitation. She was to have been another of Lemaitre’s victims. Very soon, perhaps …
A half cry escaped her as she remembered something.
Wednesday 9 p.m.
The cellar, with the flagstones thatwere so easily raised! Once before, he had buried one of his victims in a cellar.
It had been all planned for Thursday night. But to write it down beforehand in that methodical manner – insanity!
No, it was logical.
Gerald always made a memorandum of his engagements – murder was, to him, a business proposition like any other.
But what had saved her? What could possibly have saved her? Had she relented at the last minute? No – in a flash the answer came to her.
Old George.
She understood now her husband’s uncontrollable anger. Doubtless he had paved the way by telling everyone he met that they were going to London the next day. Then George had come to work unexpectedly, had mentioned London to her, and she had contradicted the story. Too risky to do away with her that night, with old George repeating that conversation. But what an escape! If she had not happened to mention that trivial matter – Alix shuddered.
And then she stayed motionless as though frozen to stone. She had heard the creak of the gate into the road.
Her husband had returned.
For a moment Alix stayed as though petrified, then she crept on tiptoe to the window, looking out from behind the shelter of the curtain.
Yes, it was her husband. He was smiling to himself and humming a little tune. In his hand he held an object which almost made the terrified girl’s heart stop beating. It was a brand-new spade.
Alix leaped to a knowledge born of instinct.
It was to be tonight …
But there was still a chance. Gerald, still humming his little tune, went round to the back of the house.
Without hesitating a moment, she ran down the stairs and out of the cottage. But just as she emerged from the door, her husband came round the other side of the house.
„Hallo,“ he said. „Where are you running off to in such a hurry?“
Alix strove desperately to appear calm and as usual. Her chance was gone for the moment, but if she was careful not to arouse his suspicions, it would come again later. Even now, perhaps …
„I was going to walk to the end of the lane and back,“ she said, in a voice that sounded weak and uncertain to her own ears.
„Right,“ said Gerald, „I’ll come with you.“
„No – please, Gerald. I’m – nervy, headachy – I’d rather go alone.“
He looked at her attentively. She fancied a momentary suspicion gleamed in his eye.
„What’s the matter with you, Alix? You’re pale – trembling.“
„Nothing,“ she forced herself to be brusque – smiling. „I’ve got a headache, that’s all. A walk will do me good.“
„Well, it’s no good you’re saying you don’t want me,“ declared Gerald with his easy laugh. „I’m coming whether you want me or not.“
She dared not protest further. If he suspected that she knew…
With an effort she managed to regain something of her normal manner. Yet she had an uneasy feeling that he looked at her sideways every now and then, as though not quite satisfied. She felt that his suspicions were not completely allayed.
When they returned to the house, he insisted on her lying down, and brought some eau-de-Cologne to bathe her temples. He was, as ever, the devoted husband, yet Alix felt herself as helpless as though bound hand and foot in a trap.
Not for a minute would he leave her alone. He went with her into the kitchen and helped her to bring in the simple cold dishes she had already prepared. Supper was a meal that choked her, yet she forced herself to eat, and even to appear gay and natural. She knew now that she was fighting for her life. She was alone with this man, miles from help, absolutely at his mercy. Her only chance was so to lull his suspicions that he would
leave her alone for a few moments – long enough for her to get to the telephone in the hall and summon assistance. That was her only hope now.
A momentary hope flashed over her as she remembered how he had abandoned his plan before. Suppose she told him that Dick Windyford was coming up to see them that evening?
The words trembled on her lips – then she rejected them hastily. This man would not be balked a second time.
There was a determination, an elation underneath his calm bearing that sickened her. She would only precipitate the crime. He would murder her there and then, and calmly ring up Dick Windyford with a tale of having been suddenly called away. Oh! if only Dick Windyford were coming to the house this evening. If Dick …
A sudden idea flashed into her mind. She looked sharply sideways at her husband as though she feared that he might read her mind. With the forming of a plan, her courage was reinforced. She became so completely natural in manner that she marvelled at herself.
She made the coffee and took it out to the porch where they often sat on fine evenings.
„By the way,“ said George suddenly, „we’ll do those photographs later.“
Alix felt a shiver run through her, but she replied nonchalantly, „Can’t you manage alone? I’m rather tired tonight.“
„It won’t take long.“ He smiled to himself. „And I can promise you you won’t be tired afterwards.“
The words seemed to amuse him. Alix shuddered. Now or never was the time to carry out her plan.
She rose to her feet.
„I’m just going to telephone to the butcher,“ she announced nonchalantly. „Don’t you bother to move.“
„To the butcher? At this time of night?“
„His shop’s shut, of course, silly. But he’s in his house all right. And tomorrow’s Saturday, and I want him to bring me some veal cutlets early, before someone else grabs them from him. The old dear will do anything for me.“
She passed quickly into the house, closing the door behind her. She heard Gerald say, „Don’t shut the door,“ and was quick with her light reply. „It keeps the moths out. I hate moths. Are you afraid I’m going to make love to the butcher, silly?“
Once inside she snatched down the telephone receiver and gave the number of the Traveller’s Arms. She was put through at once.
„Mr. Windyford? Is he still there? May I speak to him?“
Then her heart gave a sickening thump. The door was pushed open and her husband came into the hall.
„Do go away, Gerald,“ she said pettishly. „I hate anyone listening when I’m telephoning.“
He merely laughed and threw himself into a chair.
„Sure it really is the butcher you’re telephoning to?“ he quizzed.
Alix was in despair. Her plan had failed. In a minute Dick Windyford would come to the phone. Should she risk all and cry out an appeal for help?
And then, as she nervously depressed and released the little key in the receiver she was holding, which permits the voice to be heard or not heard at the other end, another plan flashed into her head.
„It will be difficult,“ she thought. „It means keeping my head, and thinking of the right words, and not faltering for a moment, but I believe I could do it. I must do it.“
And at that minute she heard Dick Windyford’s voice at the other end of the phone.
Alix drew a deep breath. Then she depressed the key firmly and spoke.
„Mrs. Martin speaking – from Philomel Cottage. Please come (she released the key) tomorrow morning with six nice veal cutlets (she released the key again) It’s very important (she released the key) Thank you so much, Mr. Hexworthy: you don’t mind my ringing you up so late, I hope, but those veal cutlets are really a matter of (she depressed the key again) life or death (she released it) Very well – tomorrow morning – (she
depressed it) as soon as possible.“
She replaced the receiver on the hook and turned to face her husband, breathing hard.
„So that’s how you talk to your butcher, is it?“ said Gerald.
„It’s the feminine touch,“ said Alix lightly.
She was simmering with excitement. He had suspected nothing. Surely Dick, even if he didn’t understand, would come.
She passed into the sitting room and switched on the electric light. Gerald followed her.
„You seem very full of spirits now,“ he said, watching her curiously.
„Yes,“ said Alix, „my headache’s gone.“
She sat down in her usual seat and smiled at her husband, as he sank into his own chair opposite her. She was saved. It was only five and twenty past eight. Long before nine o’clock Dick would have arrived.
„I didn’t think much of that coffee you gave me,“ complained Gerald. „It tasted very bitter.“
„It’s a new kind I was trying. We won’t have it again if you don’t like it, dear.“
Alix took up a piece of needlework and began to stitch. Gerald read a few pages of his book. Then he glanced up at the clock and tossed the book away.
„Half-past eight. Time to go down to the cellar and start work.“
The sewing slipped from Alix’s fingers.
„Oh, not yet. Let us wait until nine o’clock.“
„No, my girl – half-past eight. That’s the time I fixed. You’ll be able to get to bed all the earlier.“
„But I’d rather wait until nine.“
„You know when I fix a time, I always stick to it. Come along, Alix. I’m not going to wait a minute longer.“
Alix looked up at him, and in spite of herself she felt a wave of terror slide over her. The mask had been lifted. Gerald’s hands were twitching; his eyes were shining with excitement; he was continually passing his tongue over his dry lips. He no longer cared to conceal his excitement.
Alix thought: „It’s true – he can’t wait – he’s like a madman.“
He strode over to her, and jerked her onto her feet with a hand on her shoulder.
„Come on, my girl – or I’ll carry you there.“
His tone was gay, but there was an undisguised ferocity behind it that appalled her. With a supreme effort she jerked herself free and clung cowering against the wall. She was powerless. She couldn’t get away – she couldn’t do anything – and he was coming towards her.
„Now, Alix – „
„No – no.“
She screamed, her hands held out impotently to ward him off.
„Gerald – stop – I’ve got something to tell you, something to confess – „
He did stop.
„To confess?“ he said curiously.
„Yes, to confess.“ She went on desperately, seeking to hold his arrested attention.
A look of contempt swept over his face. The spell was broken.
„A former lover, I suppose,“ he sneered.
„No,“ said Alix. „Something else. You’d call it, I expect – yes, you’d call it a crime.“
And at once she saw that she had struck the right note. Again his attention was arrested, held. Seeing that, her nerve came back to her. She felt mistress of the situation once more.
„You had better sit down again,“ she said quietly.
She herself crossed the room to her old chair and sat down. She even stooped and picked up her needlework.
But behind her calmness she was thinking and inventing feverishly. For the story she invented must hold his interest until help arrived.
„I told you,“ she said, „that I had been a short-hand-typist for fifteen years. That was not entirely true. There were two intervals. The first occurred when I was twenty-two. I came across a man, an elderly man with a little property. He fell in love with me and asked me to marry him. I accepted.“ She paused. „I induced him to insure his life in my favour.“
She saw a sudden keen interest spring up in her husband’s face, and went on with renewed assurance.
„During the war I worked for a time in a Hospital Dispensary. There I had the handling of all kinds of rare drugs and poisons. Yes, poisons.“
She paused reflectively. He was keenly interested now, not a doubt of it. The murderer is bound to have an interest in murder. She had gambled on that, and succeeded. She stole a glance at the clock. It was five and twenty to nine.
„There is one poison – it is a little white powder. A pinch of it means death. You know something about poisons perhaps?“
She put the question in some trepidation. If he did, she would have to be careful.
„No,“ said Gerald, „I know very little about them.“
She drew a breath of relief.
„You have heard of hyoscine, of course? This is a drug that acts much the same way, but it is absolutely untraceable. Any doctor would give a certificate of heart failure. I stole a small quantity of this drug and kept it by me.“
She paused, marshalling her forces.
„Go on,“ said Gerald.
„No. I’m afraid. I can’t tell you. Another time.“
„Now,“ he said impatiently. „I want to hear.“
„We had been married a month. I was very good to my elderly husband, very kind and devoted. He spoke in praise of me to all the neighbours. Everyone knew what a devoted wife I was. I always made his coffee myself every evening. One evening, when we were alone together, I put a pinch of the deadly alkaloid in his cup – „
Alix paused, and carefully re-threaded her needle. She, who had never acted in her life, rivalled the greatest actress in the world at this moment. She was actually living the part of the cold-blooded poisoner.
„It was very peaceful. I sat watching him. Once he gasped a little and asked for air. I opened the window.
Then he said he could not move from his chair.
Presently he died.“
She stopped, smiling. It was a quarter to nine. Surely they would come soon.
„How much,“ said Gerald, „was the insurance money?“
„About two thousand pounds. I speculated with it, and lost it. I went back to my office work. But I never meant to remain there long. Then I met another man. I had stuck to my maiden name at the office. He didn’t know I had been married before. He was a younger man, rather good-looking, and quite well off. We were married quietly in Sussex. He didn’t want to insure his life, but of course he made a will in my favour. He
liked me to make his coffee myself also, just as my first husband had done.“
Alix smiled reflectively, and added simply, „I make very good coffee.“
Then she went on.
„I had several friends in the village where we were living. They were very sorry for me, with my husband dying suddenly of heart failure one evening after dinner. I didn’t quite like the doctor. I don’t think he suspected me, but he was certainly very surprised at my husband’s sudden death. I don’t quite know why I drifted back to the office again. Habit, I suppose. My second husband left about four thousand pounds. I didn’t speculate with it this time. I invested it. Then, you see – „
But she was interrupted. Gerald Martin, his face suffused with blood, half-choking, was pointing a shaking forefinger at her.
„The coffee – my God! the coffee!“
She stared at him.
„I understand now why it was bitter. You devil! You’ve been up to your tricks again.“
His hands gripped the arms of his chair. He was ready to spring upon her.
„You’ve poisoned me.“
Alix had retreated from him to the fireplace. Now, terrified, she opened her lips to deny – and then paused. In another minute he would spring upon her. She summoned all her strength. Her eyes held his steadily, compellingly.
„Yes,“ she said, „I poisoned you. Already the poison is working. At this minute you can’t move from your chair – you can’t move – „
If she could him three – even a few minutes …
Ah! what was that? Footsteps on the road. The creak of the gate. Then footsteps on the path outside. The outer door opening.
„You can’t move,“ she said again.
Then she slipped past him and fled headlong from the room to fall, half fainting, into Dick Windyford’s arms.
„My God! Alix!“ he cried.
Then he turned to the man with him, a tall stalwart figure in policeman’s uniform.
„Go and see what’s been happening in that room.“
He laid Alix carefully down on a couch and bent over her.
„My little girl,“ he murmured. „My poor little girl. What have they been doing to you?“
Her eyelids fluttered and her lips just murmured his name.
Dick was aroused from tumultuous thoughts by the policeman’s touching him on the arm.
„There’s nothing in that room, sir, but a man sitting in a chair. Looks as though he’d had some kind of bad fright, and – „
„Yes?“
„Well, sir, he’s – dead.“
They were startled by hearing Alix’s voice. She spoke as though in some kind of dream, her eyes still closed.
„And presently,“ she said, almost as though she were quoting from something, „he died – „

Brian Evenson: A Collapse of Horses

Juni 19, 2017


 

I am certain nobody in my family survived. I am certain they burned, that their faces blackened and bubbled, just as did my own. But in their case they did not recover, but perished. You are not one of them, you cannot be, for if you were you would be dead. Why you choose to pretend to be, and what you hope to gain from it: this is what interests me.

 

 

Now it is your turn to listen to me, to listen to my proofs, though I know you will not be convinced. Imagine this: walking through the countryside one day you come across a paddock. Lying there on their sides, in the dust, unnaturally still, are four horses. All four are prone, with no horses standing. They do not breathe and do not, as far as you can see, move. They are, to all appearances, dead. And yet, on the edge of the paddock, not twenty yards distant, a man fills their trough with water. Are the horses alive and appearances deceptive? Has the man simply not yet turned to see that the horses are dead? Or has he been so shaken by what he has seen that he doesn’t know what to do but proceed as if nothing has happened?

If you turn and walk hurriedly on, leaving before anything decisive happens, what do the horses become for you? They remain both alive and dead, which makes them not quite alive, nor quite dead.

And what, in turn, carrying that paradoxical knowledge in your head, does that make you?

 

 

I do not think of myself as special, as anything but ordinary. I completed a degree at a third-tier university housed in the town where I grew up. I graduated safely ensconced in the middle of my class. I found passable employment in the same town. I met a woman, married her, had children with her—three or perhaps four, there is some disagreement on that score—and then the two of us fell gradually and gently out of love.

Then came an incident at work, an accident, a so-called freak one. It left me with a broken skull and, for a short time, a certain amount of confusion. I awoke in an unfamiliar place to find myself strapped down. It seemed to me—I will admit this too—it seemed for some time, hours at least, perhaps even days, that I was not in a hospital at all, but in a mental facility.

But my wife, faithful and everpresent, slowly soothed me into a different understanding of my circumstances. My limbs, she insisted, were restrained simply because I had been delirious. Now that I no longer was, the straps could be loosened. Not quite yet, but soon. There was nothing to worry about. I just had to calm down. Soon, everything would return to normal.

 

 

 

In some ways, I suppose everything did. Or at least tried to. After the accident, I received some minor compensation from my employer, and was sent out to pasture. Such was the situation. Myself, my wife, my children, at the beginning of a hot and sweltering summer, crammed in the house together with nowhere to go.

I would awaken each day to find the house different from how it had been the day before. A door was in the wrong place, a window had stretched a few inches longer than it had been when I had gone to bed the night before, the light switch, I was certain, had been forced half an inch to the right. Always just a small thing, almost nothing at all, just enough for me to notice.

In the beginning, I tried to point these changes out to my wife. She seemed puzzled at first, and then she became somewhat evasive in her responses. For a time, part of me believed her responsible: perhaps she had developed some deft technique for quickly changing and modifying the house. But another part of me felt certain, or nearly so, that this was impossible. And as time went on, my wife’s evasiveness took on a certain wariness, even fear. This convinced me that not only was she not changing the house, but that daily her mind simply adjusted to the changed world and dubbed it the same. She literally could not see the differences I saw.

Just as she could not see that sometimes we had three children and sometimes four. No, she could only ever see three. Or perhaps four. To be honest, I don’t remember how many she saw. But the point was, as long as we were in the house there were sometimes three children and sometimes four. But that was due to the idiosyncrasies of the house as well. I would not know how many children there would be until I went from room to room. Sometimes the room at the end of the hall was narrow and had one bed in it, other times it had grown large in the night and had two. I would count the number of beds each morning when I woke up and sometimes there would be three, sometimes four. From there, I could extrapolate how many children I had, and I found this a more reliable method than trying to count the children themselves. I would never know how much of a father I was until I counted beds.

I could not discuss this with my wife. When I tried to lay out my proofs for her, she thought I was joking. Quickly, however, she decided it was an indication of a troubled mental state, and insisted I seek treatment—which under duress I did. To little avail. The only thing the treatment convinced me of was that there were certain things that one shouldn’t say even to one’s spouse, things that they are just not ready—and may never be ready—to hear.

My children were not ready for it either. The few times I tried to fulfill my duties as a father and sit them down to tell them the sobering truth, that sometimes one of them didn’t exist, unless it was that sometimes one of them existed twice, I got nowhere. Or less than nowhere: confusion, tears, panic. And, after they reported back to my wife, more threats of treatment.

 

 

What, then, was the truth of the situation? Why was I the only one who could see the house changing? What were my obligations to my family in terms of helping them see and understand? How was I to help them if they did not desire to be helped?

Being a sensible man, a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if what I was experiencing had any relation to reality at all. Perhaps there was something wrong with me. Perhaps, I tried to believe, the accident had changed me. I did try my level best, or nearly so, to see things their way. I tried to ignore the lurch reality took each morning, the way the house was not exactly the house it had been the night before, as if someone had moved us to a similar but not quite identical house as we slept. Perhaps they had. I tried to believe that I had three, not four, children. And when that did not work, that I had four, not three, children. And when that didn’t work, that there was no correlation between children and beds, to turn a blind eye to that room at the end of the hall and the way it kept expanding out or collapsing in like a lung. But nothing seemed to work. I could not believe.

 

 

 

Perhaps if we moved, things would be different. Perhaps the house was, in some manner or other, alive. Or haunted maybe. Or just wrong. But when I raised the idea of moving with my wife, she coughed out a strange barking laugh before enumerating all the reasons this was a bad idea. There was no money and little prospect of any coming in now that I’d had my accident and lost my job. We’d bought the house recently enough that we would take a substantial loss if we sold it. We simply could not afford to move. And besides, what was wrong with the house? It was a perfectly good house.

How could I argue with this? From her perspective of course she was right, there was no reason to leave. For her there was nothing wrong with the house—how could there be? Houses don’t change on their own, she told me indignantly: this was not something that reason could allow.

But for me that was exactly the problem. The house, for reasons I didn’t understand, wasn’t acting like a house.

 

 

I spent days thinking, mulling over what to do. To get away from the house, I wandered alone in the countryside. If I walked long enough, I could return home sufficiently exhausted to sleep rather than spending much of the night on watch, trying to capture the moment when parts of the house changed. For a long time I thought that might be enough. That if I spent as little time in the house as possible and returned only when exhausted, I could bring myself not to think about how unsound the house was. That I would wake up sufficiently hazy to no longer care what was where and how it differed from before.

That might have gone on for a long time—even forever or the equivalent. But then in my walks I stumbled upon, or perhaps was led to, something. It was a paddock. I saw horses lying in the dirt, seemingly dead. They couldn’t be dead, could they? I looked to see if I could tell if they were breathing and found I could not. I could not say honestly if they were dead or alive, and I still cannot say. I noticed a man on the far side of the paddock filling their trough with water, facing away from them, and wondered if he had seen the horses behind him, and if not, when he turned, whether he would be as unsettled as I. Would he approach them and determine they were dead, or would his approach startle them to life? Or had he seen them dead already and had his mind been unable to take it in?

For a moment I waited. But at the time, in the moment, there seemed something more terrible to me about the idea of knowing for certain that the horses were dead than there was about not knowing whether they were dead or alive. And so I hastily left, not realizing that to escape a moment of potential discomfort I was leaving them forever in my head as not quite dead but, in another sense, nearly alive. That to leave as I had was to assume the place of the man beside the trough, but without ever being able to turn and learn the truth.

 

In the days that followed, that image haunted me. I turned it over, scrutinized it, peered at every facet of it, trying to see if there was something I had missed, if there was a clue that would sway me toward believing the horses were alive or believing they were dead. If there was a clue to reveal to me that the man beside the trough knew more than I had believed. To no avail. The problem remained insolubly balanced. If I went back, I couldn’t help asking myself, would anything have changed? Would the horses still, even now, be lying there? If they were, would they have begun to decay in a way that would prove them dead? Or would they be exactly as I had last seen them, including the man still filling the trough? What a terrifying thought.

Since I’d stumbled upon the paddock, I didn’t know exactly where it was. Every walk I went on, even every step I took away from the house, I risked stumbling onto it again. I began walking slower, stopping frequently, scrutinizing my surroundings and shying away from any area that might remotely harbor a paddock. But after a while I deemed even that insufficiently safe, and I found myself hardly able to leave the house.

And yet with the house always changing, I couldn’t remain there either. There was, I gradually realized, a simple choice: either I would have to steel myself and return and confront the horses or I would have to confront the house.

Either horse or house, either house or horse—but what sort of choice was that really? The words were hardly different, pronounced more or less the same, with one letter only having accidentally been dialed up too high or too low in the alphabet. No, I came to feel, by going out to avoid the house and finding the horses I had, in a manner of speaking, simply found again the house. It was, it must be, that the prone horses were there for me, to teach a lesson to me, that they were meant to tell me something about their near namesake, the house.

The devastation of that scene, the collapse of the horses, gnawed on me. It was telling me something. Something I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear.

 

 

At first, part of me resisted the idea. No, I told myself, it was too extreme a step. Lives were at stake. The lives of my wife and of at least three children. The risks were too great.

But what was I to do? In my mind I kept seeing the collapsed horses and I felt my thoughts again churn over their state. Were they alive or were they dead? I kept imagining myself there at the trough, paralyzed, unable to turn and look, and it came to seem to me my perpetual condition. In my worst moments, it seemed the state not only of me but of the whole world, with all of us on the verge of turning around and finding the dead behind us. And from there, I slipped back to the house—which, like the horses, seemed in a sort of suspended state: I knew it was changing, that something strange was happening, I was sure of that at least, but I didn’t know how or what the changes meant, and I couldn’t make anyone else see them. When it came to the house, I tried to convince myself, I could see what others could not, but the rest of the world was like the man filling the horse trough, unable to see the fallen horses.

Thinking this naturally led me away from the idea of the house and back instead to the horses. What I should have done, I told myself, was to have thrown a rock. I should have stooped and scraped the dirt until my fingers closed around a stone, and then shied it at one of the horses, waiting either for the meaty thud of dead flesh or the shudder and annoyed whicker of a struck living horse. Not knowing is something you can only suspend yourself in for the briefest moment. No, even if what you have to face is horrible, is an inexplicably dead herd of horses, even an explicably dead family, it must be faced.

And so I turned away from the house and went back to look for the paddock, steeling myself for whatever I would find. I was ready, rock in hand. I would find out the truth about the horses, and I would accept it, no matter what it was.

Or at least I would have. But no matter how hard I looked, no matter how long I walked, I could not find the paddock. I walked for miles, days even. I took every road, known and unknown, but it simply wasn’t there.

Was something wrong with me? Had the paddock existed at all? I wondered.

Was it simply something my mind had invented to cope with the problem of the house?

House, horse—horse, house: almost the same word. For all intents and purposes, in this case, it was the same word. I would still throw a rock, so to speak, I told myself, but I would throw that so-called rock not at a horse, but at a house.

 

 

But still I hesitated, thinking, planning. Night after night I sat imagining coils of smoke writhing around me and then the rising of flames. In my head, I watched myself waiting patiently, calmly, until the flames were at just the right height, and then I began to call out to my family, awakening them, urging them to leave the house. In my head we unfurled sheets through windows and shimmied nimbly to safety. We reached safety every time. I saw our escape so many times in my head, rendered in just the same way, that I realized it would take the smallest effort on my part to jostle it out of the realm of imagination and into the real world. Then the house would be gone and could do me no more damage, and both myself and my family would be safe.

 

 

I had had enough unpleasant interaction with those who desired to give me treatment since my accident, however, that I knew to take steps to protect myself. I would have to make the fire look like an accident. For this purpose, I took up smoking.

I planned carefully. I smoked for a few weeks, just long enough to accustom my wife and children to the idea. They didn’t care for it, but did not try to stop me. Since my accident, they had been shy of me, and rarely tried to stop me from doing anything.

Seemingly as a concession to my wife, I agreed not to smoke in the bedroom. I promised to smoke only outside the house. With the proviso that, if it was too cold to smoke outside I might do so downstairs, near an open window.

During the third, or perhaps fourth, week after I took up smoking, with my wife and children asleep, it was indeed too cold—or at least I judged that I could argue it to have been such if confronted after the fact. So I cracked open the window near the couch and prepared the images in my mind. I would, I told myself, allow my arm to droop, the tip of my cigarette to nudge against the fabric of the couch. And then I would allow first the couch and then the drapes to begin to smoke and catch fire. I would wait until the moment when, in my fantasies, I was myself standing and calling for my wife and children, and then I would do just that and all would be as I had envisioned. Soon my family and I would be safe, and the house would be destroyed.

Once that was done, I thought, perhaps I would find the paddock again as well, with the horses standing this time and clearly alive.

And yet, the fabric of the couch did not catch fire, instead only smoldering and stinking, and soon I pressed the cigarette in too deeply and it died. I found and lit another, and when the result was the same I gave up on both the couch and the cigarette.

I turned instead to matches and used them to ignite the drapes. As it turned out, these burned much better, going up all at once and lighting my hair and clothing along with them.

By the time I’d flailed about enough to extinguish my body, the whole room was aflame. Still, I continued with my plan. I tried to call to my wife and children but when I took a breath to do so, my lungs filled with smoke and, choking, I collapsed.

 

I do not know how I lived through the fire. Perhaps my wife dragged me out and then went back for the children and perished only then. When I awoke, I was here, unsure of how I had arrived. My face and body were badly burned, and the pain was excruciating. I asked about my family but the nurse dodged the question, shushed me and only told me I should sleep. This was how I knew my family was dead, that they had been lost in the fire, and that the nurse didn’t know how to tell me. My only consolation was that the house, too, the source of all our problems, had burnt to the ground.

For a time I was kept alone, drugged. How long, I cannot say. Perhaps days, perhaps weeks. Long enough in any case for my burns to slough and heal, for the skin grafts that I must surely have needed to take effect, for my hair to grow fully back. The doctors must have worked very hard on me, for I must admit that except to the most meticulous eye I look exactly as I had before the fire.

 

 

So, you see, I have the truth straight in my mind and it will not be easy to change. There is little point in you coming to me with these stories, little point in pretending once again that my house remains standing and was never touched by flame. Little point coming here pretending to be my wife, claiming that there was no fire, that you found me lying on the floor in the middle of our living room with my eyes staring fixedly into the air, seemingly unharmed.

No, I have accepted that I am the victim of a tragedy, one of my own design. I know that my family is gone, and though I do not yet understand why you would want to convince me that you are my wife, what you hope to gain, eventually I will. You will let something slip and the game will be over. At worst, you are deliberately trying to deceive me so as to gain something from me. But what? At best, someone has decided this might lessen the blow, that if I can be made to believe my family is not dead, or even just mostly dead and not quite alive, I might be convinced not to surrender to despair.

Trust me, whether you wish me good or ill, I do hope you succeed. I would like to be convinced, I truly would. I would love to open my eyes and suddenly see my family surrounding me, safe and sound. I would even tolerate the fact that the house is still standing, that unfinished business remains between it and myself, that somewhere horses still lie collapsed and waiting to be either alive or dead, that we will all in some senses remain like the man at the trough with our backs turned. I understand what I might have to gain from it, but you, I still do not understand.

 

 

 

But do your worst: disrupt my certainty, try to fool me, make me believe. Get me to believe there is nothing dead behind me. If you can make that happen, I think we both agree, then anything is possible.

D.H. Lawrence: The Rocking-Horse Winner

Juni 19, 2017
There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. They looked at her coldly, as if they were finding fault with her. And hurriedly she felt she must cover up some fault in herself. Yet what it was that she must cover up she never knew. Nevertheless, when her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard. This troubled her, and in her manner she was all the more gentle and anxious for her children, as if she loved them very much. Only she herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody. Everybody else said of her: „She is such a good mother. She adores her children.“ Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was not so. They read it in each other’s eyes.
There were a boy and two little girls. They lived in a pleasant house, with a garden, and they had discreet servants, and felt themselves superior to anyone in the neighbourhood.
Although they lived in style, they felt always an anxiety in the house. There was never enough money. The mother had a small income, and the father had a small income, but not nearly enough for the social position which they had to keep up. The father went into town to some office. But though he had good prospects, these prospects never materialised. There was always the grinding sense of the shortage of money, though the style was always kept up.
At last the mother said: „I will see if I can’t make something.“ But she did not know where to begin. She racked her brains, and tried this thing and the other, but could not find anything successful. The failure made deep lines come into her face. Her children were growing up, they would have to go to school. There must be more money, there must be more money. The father, who was always very handsome and expensive in his tastes, seemed as if he never would be able to do anything worth doing. And the mother, who had a great belief in herself, did not succeed any better, and her tastes were just as expensive.
And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money! The children could hear it all the time though nobody said it aloud. They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining modern rocking-horse, behind the smart doll’s house, a voice would start whispering: „There must be more money! There must be more money!“ And the children would stop playing, to listen for a moment. They would look into each other’s eyes, to see if they had all heard. And each one saw in the eyes of the other two that they too had heard. „There must be more money! There must be more money!“
It came whispering from the springs of the still-swaying rocking-horse, and even the horse, bending his wooden, champing head, heard it. The big doll, sitting so pink and smirking in her new pram, could hear it quite plainly, and seemed to be smirking all the more self-consciously because of it. The foolish puppy, too, that took the place of the teddy-bear, he was looking so extraordinarily foolish for no other reason but that he heard the secret whisper all over the house: „There must be more money!“
Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: „We are breathing!“ in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.
„Mother,“ said the boy Paul one day, „why don’t we keep a car of our own? Why do we always use uncle’s, or else a taxi?“
„Because we’re the poor members of the family,“ said the mother.
„But why are we, mother?“
„Well – I suppose,“ she said slowly and bitterly, „it’s because your father has no luck.“
The boy was silent for some time.
„Is luck money, mother?“ he asked, rather timidly.
„No, Paul. Not quite. It’s what causes you to have money.“
„Oh!“ said Paul vaguely. „I thought when Uncle Oscar said filthy lucker, it meant money.“
„Filthy lucre does mean money,“ said the mother. „But it’s lucre, not luck.“
„Oh!“ said the boy. „Then what is luck, mother?“
„It’s what causes you to have money. If you’re lucky you have money. That’s why it’s better to be born lucky than rich. If you’re rich, you may lose your money. But if you’re lucky, you will always get more money.“
„Oh! Will you? And is father not lucky?“
„Very unlucky, I should say,“ she said bitterly.
The boy watched her with unsure eyes.
„Why?“ he asked.
„I don’t know. Nobody ever knows why one person is lucky and another unlucky.“
„Don’t they? Nobody at all? Does nobody know?“
„Perhaps God. But He never tells.“
„He ought to, then. And are’nt you lucky either, mother?“
„I can’t be, it I married an unlucky husband.“
„But by yourself, aren’t you?“
„I used to think I was, before I married. Now I think I am very unlucky indeed.“
„Why?“
„Well – never mind! Perhaps I’m not really,“ she said.
The child looked at her to see if she meant it. But he saw, by the lines of her mouth, that she was only trying to hide something from him.
„Well, anyhow,“ he said stoutly, „I’m a lucky person.“
„Why?“ said his mother, with a sudden laugh.
He stared at her. He didn’t even know why he had said it.
„God told me,“ he asserted, brazening it out.
„I hope He did, dear!“, she said, again with a laugh, but rather bitter.
„He did, mother!“
„Excellent!“ said the mother, using one of her husband’s exclamations.
The boy saw she did not believe him; or rather, that she paid no attention to his assertion. This angered him somewhere, and made him want to compel her attention.
He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to ‚luck‘. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him.
When he had ridden to the end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright.
„Now!“ he would silently command the snorting steed. „Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!“
And he would slash the horse on the neck with the little whip he had asked Uncle Oscar for. He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he forced it. So he would mount again and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get there.
„You’ll break your horse, Paul!“ said the nurse.
„He’s always riding like that! I wish he’d leave off!“ said his elder sister Joan.
But he only glared down on them in silence. Nurse gave him up. She could make nothing of him. Anyhow, he was growing beyond her.
One day his mother and his Uncle Oscar came in when he was on one of his furious rides. He did not speak to them.
„Hallo, you young jockey! Riding a winner?“ said his uncle.
„Aren’t you growing too big for a rocking-horse? You’re not a very little boy any longer, you know,“ said his mother.
But Paul only gave a blue glare from his big, rather close-set eyes. He would speak to nobody when he was in full tilt. His mother watched him with an anxious expression on her face.
At last he suddenly stopped forcing his horse into the mechanical gallop and slid down.
„Well, I got there!“ he announced fiercely, his blue eyes still flaring, and his sturdy long legs straddling apart.
„Where did you get to?“ asked his mother.
„Where I wanted to go,“ he flared back at her.
„That’s right, son!“ said Uncle Oscar. „Don’t you stop till you get there. What’s the horse’s name?“
„He doesn’t have a name,“ said the boy.
„Get’s on without all right?“ asked the uncle.
„Well, he has different names. He was called Sansovino last week.“
„Sansovino, eh? Won the Ascot. How did you know this name?“
„He always talks about horse-races with Bassett,“ said Joan.
The uncle was delighted to find that his small nephew was posted with all the racing news. Bassett, the young gardener, who had been wounded in the left foot in the war and had got his present job through Oscar Cresswell, whose batman he had been, was a perfect blade of the ‚turf‘. He lived in the racing events, and the small boy lived with him.
Oscar Cresswell got it all from Bassett.
„Master Paul comes and asks me, so I can’t do more than tell him, sir,“ said Bassett, his face terribly serious, as if he were speaking of religious matters.
„And does he ever put anything on a horse he fancies?“
„Well – I don’t want to give him away – he’s a young sport, a fine sport, sir. Would you mind asking him himself? He sort of takes a pleasure in it, and perhaps he’d feel I was giving him away, sir, if you don’t mind.
Bassett was serious as a church.
The uncle went back to his nephew and took him off for a ride in the car.
„Say, Paul, old man, do you ever put anything on a horse?“ the uncle asked.
The boy watched the handsome man closely.
„Why, do you think I oughtn’t to?“ he parried.
„Not a bit of it! I thought perhaps you might give me a tip for the Lincoln.“
The car sped on into the country, going down to Uncle Oscar’s place in Hampshire.
„Honour bright?“ said the nephew.
„Honour bright, son!“ said the uncle.
„Well, then, Daffodil.“
„Daffodil! I doubt it, sonny. What about Mirza?“
„I only know the winner,“ said the boy. „That’s Daffodil.“
„Daffodil, eh?“
There was a pause. Daffodil was an obscure horse comparatively.
„Uncle!“
„Yes, son?“
„You won’t let it go any further, will you? I promised Bassett.“
„Bassett be damned, old man! What’s he got to do with it?“
„We’re partners. We’ve been partners from the first. Uncle, he lent me my first five shillings, which I lost. I promised him, honour bright, it was only between me and him; only you gave me that ten-shilling note I started winning with, so I thought you were lucky. You won’t let it go any further, will you?“
The boy gazed at his uncle from those big, hot, blue eyes, set rather close together. The uncle stirred and laughed uneasily.
„Right you are, son! I’ll keep your tip private. How much are you putting on him?“
„All except twenty pounds,“ said the boy. „I keep that in reserve.“
The uncle thought it a good joke.
„You keep twenty pounds in reserve, do you, you young romancer? What are you betting, then?“
„I’m betting three hundred,“ said the boy gravely. „But it’s between you and me, Uncle Oscar! Honour bright?“
„It’s between you and me all right, you young Nat Gould,“ he said, laughing. „But where’s your three hundred?“
„Bassett keeps it for me. We’re partner’s.“
„You are, are you! And what is Bassett putting on Daffodil?“
„He won’t go quite as high as I do, I expect. Perhaps he’ll go a hundred and fifty.“
„What, pennies?“ laughed the uncle.
„Pounds,“ said the child, with a surprised look at his uncle. „Bassett keeps a bigger reserve than I do.“
Between wonder and amusement Uncle Oscar was silent. He pursued the matter no further, but he determined to take his nephew with him to the Lincoln races.
„Now, son,“ he said, „I’m putting twenty on Mirza, and I’ll put five on for you on any horse you fancy. What’s your pick?“
„Daffodil, uncle.“
„No, not the fiver on Daffodil!“
„I should if it was my own fiver,“ said the child.
„Good! Good! Right you are! A fiver for me and a fiver for you on Daffodil.“
The child had never been to a race-meeting before, and his eyes were blue fire. He pursed his mouth tight and watched. A Frenchman just in front had put his money on Lancelot. Wild with excitement, he flayed his arms up and down, yelling „Lancelot!, Lancelot!“ in his French accent.
Daffodil came in first, Lancelot second, Mirza third. The child, flushed and with eyes blazing, was curiously serene. His uncle brought him four five-pound notes, four to one.
„What am I to do with these?“ he cried, waving them before the boys eyes.
„I suppose we’ll talk to Bassett,“ said the boy. „I expect I have fifteen hundred now; and twenty in reserve; and this twenty.“
His uncle studied him for some moments.
„Look here, son!“ he said. „You’re not serious about Bassett and that fifteen hundred, are you?“
„Yes, I am. But it’s between you and me, uncle. Honour bright?“
„Honour bright all right, son! But I must talk to Bassett.“
„If you’d like to be a partner, uncle, with Bassett and me, we could all be partners. Only, you’d have to promise, honour bright, uncle, not to let it go beyond us three. Bassett and I are lucky, and you must be lucky, because it was your ten shillings I started winning with …“
Uncle Oscar took both Bassett and Paul into Richmond Park for an afternoon, and there they talked.
„It’s like this, you see, sir,“ Bassett said. „Master Paul would get me talking about racing events, spinning yarns, you know, sir. And he was always keen on knowing if I’d made or if I’d lost. It’s about a year since, now, that I put five shillings on Blush of Dawn for him: and we lost. Then the luck turned, with that ten shillings he had from you: that we put on Singhalese. And since that time, it’s been pretty steady, all things considering. What do you say, Master Paul?“
„We’re all right when we’re sure,“ said Paul. „It’s when we’re not quite sure that we go down.“
„Oh, but we’re careful then,“ said Bassett.
„But when are you sure?“ smiled Uncle Oscar.
„It’s Master Paul, sir,“ said Bassett in a secret, religious voice. „It’s as if he had it from heaven. Like Daffodil, now, for the Lincoln. That was as sure as eggs.“
„Did you put anything on Daffodil?“ asked Oscar Cresswell.
„Yes, sir, I made my bit.“
„And my nephew?“
Bassett was obstinately silent, looking at Paul.
„I made twelve hundred, didn’t I, Bassett? I told uncle I was putting three hundred on Daffodil.“
„That’s right,“ said Bassett, nodding.
„But where’s the money?“ asked the uncle.
„I keep it safe locked up, sir. Master Paul he can have it any minute he likes to ask for it.“
„What, fifteen hundred pounds?“
„And twenty! And forty, that is, with the twenty he made on the course.“
„It’s amazing!“ said the uncle.
„If Master Paul offers you to be partners, sir, I would, if I were you: if you’ll excuse me,“ said Bassett.
Oscar Cresswell thought about it.
„I’ll see the money,“ he said.
They drove home again, and, sure enough, Bassett came round to the garden-house with fifteen hundred pounds in notes. The twenty pounds reserve was left with Joe Glee, in the Turf Commission deposit.
„You see, it’s all right, uncle, when I’m sure! Then we go strong, for all we’re worth, don’t we, Bassett?“
„We do that, Master Paul.“
„And when are you sure?“ said the uncle, laughing.
„Oh, well, sometimes I’m absolutely sure, like about Daffodil,“ said the boy; „and sometimes I have an idea; and sometimes I haven’t even an idea, have I, Bassett? Then we’re careful, because we mostly go down.“
„You do, do you! And when you’re sure, like about Daffodil, what makes you sure, sonny?“
„Oh, well, I don’t know,“ said the boy uneasily. „I’m sure, you know, uncle; that’s all.“
„It’s as if he had it from heaven, sir,“ Bassett reiterated.
„I should say so!“ said the uncle.
But he became a partner. And when the Leger was coming on Paul was ’sure‘ about Lively Spark, which was a quite inconsiderable horse. The boy insisted on putting a thousand on the horse, Bassett went for five hundred, and Oscar Cresswell two hundred. Lively Spark came in first, and the betting had been ten to one against him. Paul had made ten thousand.
„You see,“ he said. „I was absolutely sure of him.“
Even Oscar Cresswell had cleared two thousand.
„Look here, son,“ he said, „this sort of thing makes me nervous.“
„It needn’t, uncle! Perhaps I shan’t be sure again for a long time.“
„But what are you going to do with your money?“ asked the uncle.
„Of course,“ said the boy, „I started it for mother. She said she had no luck, because father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop whispering.“
„What might stop whispering?“
„Our house. I hate our house for whispering.“
„What does it whisper?“
„Why – why“ – the boy fidgeted – „why, I don’t know. But it’s always short of money, you know, uncle.“
„I know it, son, I know it.“
„You know people send mother writs, don’t you, uncle?“
„I’m afraid I do,“ said the uncle.
„And then the house whispers, like people laughing at you behind your back. It’s awful, that is! I thought if I was lucky -„
„You might stop it,“ added the uncle.
The boy watched him with big blue eyes, that had an uncanny cold fire in them, and he said never a word.
„Well, then!“ said the uncle. „What are we doing?“
„I shouldn’t like mother to know I was lucky,“ said the boy.
„Why not, son?“
„She’d stop me.“
„I don’t think she would.“
„Oh!“ – and the boy writhed in an odd way – „I don’t want her to know, uncle.“
„All right, son! We’ll manage it without her knowing.“
They managed it very easily. Paul, at the other’s suggestion, handed over five thousand pounds to his uncle, who deposited it with the family lawyer, who was then to inform Paul’s mother that a relative had put five thousand pounds into his hands, which sum was to be paid out a thousand pounds at a time, on the mother’s birthday, for the next five years.
„So she’ll have a birthday present of a thousand pounds for five successive years,“ said Uncle Oscar. „I hope it won’t make it all the harder for her later.“
Paul’s mother had her birthday in November. The house had been ‚whispering‘ worse than ever lately, and, even in spite of his luck, Paul could not bear up against it. He was very anxious to see the effect of the birthday letter, telling his mother about the thousand pounds.
When there were no visitors, Paul now took his meals with his parents, as he was beyond the nursery control. His mother went into town nearly every day. She had discovered that she had an odd knack of sketching furs and dress materials, so she worked secretly in the studio of a friend who was the chief ‚artist‘ for the leading drapers. She drew the figures of ladies in furs and ladies in silk and sequins for the newspaper advertisements. This young woman artist earned several thousand pounds a year, but Paul’s mother only made several hundreds, and she was again dissatisfied. She so wanted to be first in something, and she did not succeed, even in making sketches for drapery advertisements.
She was down to breakfast on the morning of her birthday. Paul watched her face as she read her letters. He knew the lawyer’s letter. As his mother read it, her face hardened and became more expressionless. Then a cold, determined look came on her mouth. She hid the letter under the pile of others, and said not a word about it.
„Didn’t you have anything nice in the post for your birthday, mother?“ said Paul.
„Quite moderately nice,“ she said, her voice cold and hard and absent.
She went away to town without saying more.
But in the afternoon Uncle Oscar appeared. He said Paul’s mother had had a long interview with the lawyer, asking if the whole five thousand could not be advanced at once, as she was in debt.
„What do you think, uncle?“ said the boy.
„I leave it to you, son.“
„Oh, let her have it, then! We can get some more with the other,“ said the boy.
„A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, laddie!“ said Uncle Oscar.
„But I’m sure to know for the Grand National; or the Lincolnshire; or else the Derby. I’m sure to know for one of them,“ said Paul.
So Uncle Oscar signed the agreement, and Paul’s mother touched the whole five thousand. Then something very curious happened. The voices in the house suddenly went mad, like a chorus of frogs on a spring evening. There were certain new furnishings, and Paul had a tutor. He was really going to Eton, his father’s school, in the following autumn. There were flowers in the winter, and a blossoming of the luxury Paul’s mother had been used to. And yet the voices in the house, behind the sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: „There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w! Now-w-w – there must be more money! – more than ever! More than ever!“
It frightened Paul terribly. He studied away at his Latin and Greek with his tutor. But his intense hours were spent with Bassett. The Grand National had gone by: he had not ‚known‘, and had lost a hundred pounds. Summer was at hand. He was in agony for the Lincoln. But even for the Lincoln he didn’t ‚know‘, and he lost fifty pounds. He became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him.
„Let it alone, son! Don’t you bother about it!“ urged Uncle Oscar. But it was as if the boy couldn’t really hear what his uncle was saying.
„I’ve got to know for the Derby! I’ve got to know for the Derby!“ the child reiterated, his big blue eyes blazing with a sort of madness.
His mother noticed how overwrought he was.
„You’d better go to the seaside. Wouldn’t you like to go now to the seaside, instead of waiting? I think you’d better,“ she said, looking down at him anxiously, her heart curiously heavy because of him.
But the child lifted his uncanny blue eyes.
„I couldn’t possibly go before the Derby, mother!“ he said. „I couldn’t possibly!“
„Why not?“ she said, her voice becoming heavy when she was opposed. „Why not? You can still go from the seaside to see the Derby with your Uncle Oscar, if that that’s what you wish. No need for you to wait here. Besides, I think you care too much about these races. It’s a bad sign. My family has been a gambling family, and you won’t know till you grow up how much damage it has done. But it has done damage. I shall have to send Bassett away, and ask Uncle Oscar not to talk racing to you, unless you promise to be reasonable about it: go away to the seaside and forget it. You’re all nerves!“
„I’ll do what you like, mother, so long as you don’t send me away till after the Derby,“ the boy said.
„Send you away from where? Just from this house?“
„Yes,“ he said, gazing at her.
„Why, you curious child, what makes you care about this house so much, suddenly? I never knew you loved it.“
He gazed at her without speaking. He had a secret within a secret, something he had not divulged, even to Bassett or to his Uncle Oscar.
But his mother, after standing undecided and a little bit sullen for some moments, said: „Very well, then! Don’t go to the seaside till after the Derby, if you don’t wish it. But promise me you won’t think so much about horse-racing and events as you call them!“
„Oh no,“ said the boy casually. „I won’t think much about them, mother. You needn’t worry. I wouldn’t worry, mother, if I were you.“
„If you were me and I were you,“ said his mother, „I wonder what we should do!“
„But you know you needn’t worry, mother, don’t you?“ the boy repeated.
„I should be awfully glad to know it,“ she said wearily.
„Oh, well, you can, you know. I mean, you ought to know you needn’t worry,“ he insisted.
„Ought I? Then I’ll see about it,“ she said.
Paul’s secret of secrets was his wooden horse, that which had no name. Since he was emancipated from a nurse and a nursery-governess, he had had his rocking-horse removed to his own bedroom at the top of the house.
„Surely you’re too big for a rocking-horse!“ his mother had remonstrated.
„Well, you see, mother, till I can have a real horse, I like to have some sort of animal about,“ had been his quaint answer.
„Do you feel he keeps you company?“ she laughed.
„Oh yes! He’s very good, he always keeps me company, when I’m there,“ said Paul.
So the horse, rather shabby, stood in an arrested prance in the boy’s bedroom.
The Derby was drawing near, and the boy grew more and more tense. He hardly heard what was spoken to him, he was very frail, and his eyes were really uncanny. His mother had sudden strange seizures of uneasiness about him. Sometimes, for half an hour, she would feel a sudden anxiety about him that was almost anguish. She wanted to rush to him at once, and know he was safe.
Two nights before the Derby, she was at a big party in town, when one of her rushes of anxiety about her boy, her first-born, gripped her heart till she could hardly speak. She fought with the feeling, might and main, for she believed in common sense. But it was too strong. She had to leave the dance and go downstairs to telephone to the country. The children’s nursery-governess was terribly surprised and startled at being rung up in the night.
„Are the children all right, Miss Wilmot?“
„Oh yes, they are quite all right.“
„Master Paul? Is he all right?“
„He went to bed as right as a trivet. Shall I run up and look at him?“
„No,“ said Paul’s mother reluctantly. „No! Don’t trouble. It’s all right. Don’t sit up. We shall be home fairly soon.“ She did not want her son’s privacy intruded upon.
„Very good,“ said the governess.
It was about one o’clock when Paul’s mother and father drove up to their house. All was still. Paul’s mother went to her room and slipped off her white fur cloak. She had told her maid not to wait up for her. She heard her husband downstairs, mixing a whisky and soda.
And then, because of the strange anxiety at her heart, she stole upstairs to her son’s room. Noiselessly she went along the upper corridor. Was there a faint noise? What was it?
She stood, with arrested muscles, outside his door, listening. There was a strange, heavy, and yet not loud noise. Her heart stood still. It was a soundless noise, yet rushing and powerful. Something huge, in violent, hushed motion. What was it? What in God’s name was it? She ought to know. She felt that she knew the noise. She knew what it was.
Yet she could not place it. She couldn’t say what it was. And on and on it went, like a madness.
Softly, frozen with anxiety and fear, she turned the door-handle.
The room was dark. Yet in the space near the window, she heard and saw something plunging to and fro. She gazed in fear and amazement.
Then suddenly she switched on the light, and saw her son, in his green pyjamas, madly surging on the rocking-horse. The blaze of light suddenly lit him up, as he urged the wooden horse, and lit her up, as she stood, blonde, in her dress of pale green and crystal, in the doorway.
„Paul!“ she cried. „Whatever are you doing?“
„It’s Malabar!“ he screamed in a powerful, strange voice. „It’s Malabar!“
His eyes blazed at her for one strange and senseless second, as he ceased urging his wooden horse. Then he fell with a crash to the ground, and she, all her tormented motherhood flooding upon her, rushed to gather him up.
But he was unconscious, and unconscious he remained, with some brain-fever. He talked and tossed, and his mother sat stonily by his side.
„Malabar! It’s Malabar! Bassett, Bassett, I know! It’s Malabar!“
So the child cried, trying to get up and urge the rocking-horse that gave him his inspiration.
„What does he mean by Malabar?“ asked the heart-frozen mother.
„I don’t know,“ said the father stonily.
„What does he mean by Malabar?“ she asked her brother Oscar.
„It’s one of the horses running for the Derby,“ was the answer.
And, in spite of himself, Oscar Cresswell spoke to Bassett, and himself put a thousand on Malabar: at fourteen to one.
The third day of the illness was critical: they were waiting for a change. The boy, with his rather long, curly hair, was tossing ceaselessly on the pillow. He neither slept nor regained consciousness, and his eyes were like blue stones. His mother sat, feeling her heart had gone, turned actually into a stone.
In the evening Oscar Cresswell did not come, but Bassett sent a message, saying could he come up for one moment, just one moment? Paul’s mother was very angry at the intrusion, but on second thoughts she agreed. The boy was the same. Perhaps Bassett might bring him to consciousness.
The gardener, a shortish fellow with a little brown moustache and sharp little brown eyes, tiptoed into the room, touched his imaginary cap to Paul’s mother, and stole to the bedside, staring with glittering, smallish eyes at the tossing, dying child.
„Master Paul!“ he whispered. „Master Paul! Malabar came in first all right, a clean win. I did as you told me. You’ve made over seventy thousand pounds, you have; you’ve got over eighty thousand. Malabar came in all right, Master Paul.“
„Malabar! Malabar! Did I say Malabar, mother? Did I say Malabar? Do you think I’m lucky, mother? I knew Malabar, didn’t I? Over eighty thousand pounds! I call that lucky, don’t you, mother? Over eighty thousand pounds! I knew, didn’t I know I knew? Malabar came in all right. If I ride my horse till I’m sure, then I tell you, Bassett, you can go as high as you like. Did you go for all you were worth, Bassett?“
„I went a thousand on it, Master Paul.“
„I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I’m absolutely sure – oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!“
„No, you never did,“ said his mother.
But the boy died in the night.
And even as he lay dead, his mother heard her brother’s voice saying to her, „My God, Hester, you’re eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner.“

Paul Vehn: Aus den `Erinnerungen´

Juni 16, 2017

Die Prinzessin Faad – – sie war wirklich fad. Liebte Geduldspiele, und war doch selbst ein Geduldspiel. Ach, wenn sie nur ein wenig anziehender gewesen wäre – das Äußere schien mir leidlich – ich hätte mich vielleicht hinreissen lassen.

Wenn der Augenblick dem Jetzt nicht hilft, so bleibt er unverwaltet.

Ein Bekannter, der ein rotes Telefon auf dem Kopf trägt, bittet mich um eine Zigarette. Da ich keine finde, reiße ich einer Miniaturdame, die in einer Puppenstube in ihrem Sessel eingenickt ist – sie trägt weiße Strümpfe und gelbe Stiefeletten – ein Bein ab und reiche es weiter. Ich hätte schwören können, daß es sich wirklich um eine Zigarette handelte, jedenfalls fühlte sich das Zwergenbein so an.  Als sie kurz darauf erwacht, gibt es ein fürchterliches Gezeter. Was mir denn einfiele, faucht sie mich mit ihrem hohen Stimmchen an, und wie ich dazu käme, sie einfach ihres Beines zu bestehlen. Wir suchen gemeinsam nach einem geeigneten Ersatz. Das ist aber gar keine leichte Aufgabe. Man muß den Winkel ihres Knies bedenken, die Perspektive und all das. Schließlich bietet sich nur eine einzige Möglichkeit an, nachdem wir Verschiedenes ausprobiert haben: den Beinstumpf von hinten durch eine Buchseite zu stecken, in das Bein einer auf der Rückseite abgebildeten Person zu fahren, es gleichsam wie einen Strumpf zu benützen – – Aber auch das scheint nicht zu klappen, wegen des Größenunterschiedes. Vertrackt.

Eins von vieren: Das Kind des Zauberers erstickt im engen Gefäß der Kutsche.

Francis Picabia: Der kalte Blick

Juni 12, 2017

Nach unserem Tode sollte man uns in eine Kugel tun, diese Kugel müßte aus verschiedenfarbigem Holz sein. Man würde uns in ihr auf den Friedhof rollen, und die damit beauftragten Totengräber würden durchsichtige Handschuhe anhaben, um die Liebenden an Zärtlichkeiten zu erinnern.

Für jene, die ihre Wohnungseinrichtung gern um die Freude am Gegenstand des geliebten Menschen bereichern möchten, sollte es Kugeln aus Glas geben, durch die hindurch man die endgültige Nacktheit seines Großvaters oder seines Zwillingsbruders sehen könnte!

Sog der Intelligenz, Steeple-chase-Lampe; die Menschen ähneln den Raben mit dem starren Blick, die über den Kadavern auffliegen, und alle Rothäute sind Bahnhofsvorsteher!  -

Julius Long: The Pale Man

Juni 8, 2017

I HAVE not yet met the man in No. 212. I do not even know his name. He never patronizes the hotel restaurant, and he does not use the lobby. On the three occasions when we passed each other by, we did not speak, although we nodded in a semi-cordial, noncommittal way. I should like very much to make his acquaintance. It is lonesome in this dreary place. With the exception of the aged lady down the corridor, the only permanent guests are the man in No. 212 and myself. However, I should not complain, for this utter quiet is precisely what the doctor prescribed.

I wonder if the man in No. 212, too, has come here for a rest. He is so very pale. Yet I can not believe that he is ill, for his paleness is not of a sickly cast, but rather wholesome in its ivory clarity. His carriage is that of a man enjoying the best of health. He is tall and straight. He walks erectly and with a brisk, athletic stride. His pallor is no doubt congenital, else he would quickly tan under this burning, summer sun.

He must have traveled here by auto, for he certainly was not a passenger on the train that brought me, and he checked in only a short time after my arrival. I had briefly rested in my room and was walking down the stairs when I encountered him ascending with his bag. It is odd that our venerable bell-boy did not show him to his room.

It is odd, too, that, with so many vacant rooms in the hotel, he should have chosen No. 212 at the extreme rear. The building is a long, narrow affair three stories high. The rooms are all on the east side, as the west wall is flush with a decrepit business building. The corridor is long and drab, and its stiff, bloated paper exudes a musty, unpleasant odor. The feeble electric bulbs that light it shine dimly as from a tomb. Revolted by this corridor, I insisted vigorously upon being given No. 201, which is at the front and blessed with southern exposure. The room clerk, a disagreeable fellow with a Hitler mustache, was very reluctant to let me have it, as it is ordinarily reserved for his more profitable transient trade. I fear my stubborn insistence has made him an enemy.

If only I had been as self-assertive thirty years ago! I should now be a full-fledged professor instead of a broken-down assistant. I still smart from the cavalier manner in which the president of the university summarily recommended my vacation. No doubt he acted for my best interests. The people who have dominated my poor life invariably have.

Oh, well, the summer’s rest will probably do me considerable good. It is pleasant to be away from the university. There is something positively gratifying about the absence of the graduate student face.

If only it were not so lonely! I must devise a way of meeting the pale man in No. 212. Perhaps the room clerk can arrange matters.

I HAVE been here exactly a week, and if there is a friendly soul in this miserable little town, he has escaped my notice. Although the tradespeople accept my money with flattering eagerness, they studiously avoid even the most casual conversation. I am afraid I can never cultivate their society unless I can arrange to have my ancestors recognized as local residents for the last hundred and fifty years.

Despite the coolness of my reception, I have been frequently venturing abroad. In the back of my mind I have cherished hopes that I might encounter the pale man in No. 211. Incidentally, I wonder why he has moved from No. 212. There is certainly little advantage in coming only one room nearer to the front. I noticed the change yesterday when I saw him coming out of his new room.

We nodded again, and this time I thought I detected a certain malign satisfaction in his somber, black eyes. He must know that I am eager to make his acquaintance, yet his manner forbids overtures. If he wants to make me go all the way, he can go to the devil. I am not the sort to run after anybody. Indeed, the surly diffidence of the room clerk has been enough to prevent me from questioning him about his mysterious guest.

I WONDER where the pale man takes his meals. I have been absenting myself from the hotel restaurant and patronizing the restaurants outside. At each I have ventured inquiries about the man in No. 210. No one at any restaurant remembered his having been there. Perhaps he has entrée into the Brahmin homes of this town. And again, he may have found a boarding-house. I shall have to learn if there be one.

The pale man must be difficult to please, for he has again changed his room. I am baffled by his conduct. If he is so desirous of locating himself more conveniently in the hotel, why does he not move to No. 202, which is the nearest available room to the front?

Perhaps I can make his inability to locate himself permanently an excuse for starting a conversation. „I see we are closer neighbors now,“ I might casually say. But that is too banal. I must await a better opportunity.

HE HAS done it again! He is now occupying No. 209. I am intrigued by his little game. I waste hours trying to fathom its point. What possible motive could he have? I should think he would get on the hotel people’s nerves. I wonder what our combination bellhop-chambermaid thinks of having to prepare four rooms for a single guest. If he were not stone-deaf, I would ask him. At present I feel too exhausted to attempt such an enervating conversation.

I am tremendously interested in the pale man’s next move. He must either skip a room or remain where he is, for a permanent guest, a very old lady, occupies No. 208. She has not budged-from her room since I have been here, and I imagine that she does not intend to.

I wonder what the pale man will do. I await his decision with the nervous excitement of a devotee of the track on the eve of a big race. After all, I have so little diversion.

WELL, the mysterious guest was not forced to remain where he was, nor did he have to skip a room. The lady in No. 208 simplified matters by conveniently dying. No one knows the cause of her death, but it is generally attributed to old age. She was buried this morning. I was among the curious few who attended her funeral. When I returned home from the mortuary, I was in time to see the pale man leaving her room. Already he has moved in.

He favored me with a smile whose meaning I have tried in vain to decipher. I can not but believe that he meant it to have some significance. He acted as if there were between us some secret that I failed to appreciate. But, then, perhaps his smile was meaningless after all and only ambiguous by chance, like that of the Mona Lisa.

MY MAN of mystery now resides in No. 207, and I am not the least surprized. I would have been astonished if he had not made his scheduled move, I have almost given up trying to understand his eccentric conduct. I do not know a single thing more about him than I knew the day he arrived. I wonder whence he came. There is something indefinably foreign about his manner. I am curious to hear his voice. I like to imagine that he speaks the exotic tongue of some far-away country. If only I could somehow inveigle him into conversation! I wish that I were possessed of the glib assurance of a college boy, who can address himself to the most distinguished celebrity without batting an eye. It is no wonder that I am only an assistant professor.

I AM worried. This morning I awoke to find myself lying prone upon the floor. I was fully clothed. I must have fallen exhausted there after I returned to my room last night.

I wonder if my condition is more serious than I had suspected. Until now I have been inclined to discount the fears of those who have pulled a long face about me. For the first time I recall the prolonged hand-clasp of the president when he bade me good-bye from the university. Obviously he never expected to see me alive again.

Of course I am not that unwell. Nevertheless, I must be more careful. Thank heaven I have no dependents to worry about. I have not even a wife, for I was never willing to exchange the loneliness of a bachelor for the loneliness of a husband.

I can say in all sincerity that the prospect of death does not frighten me. Speculation about life beyond the grave has always bored me. Whatever it is, or is not, I’ll try to get along.

I have been so preoccupied about the sudden turn of my own affairs that I have neglected to make note of a most extraordinary incident. The pale man has done an astounding thing. He has skipped three rooms and moved all the way to No. 203. We are now very close neighbors. We shall meet oftener, and my chances for making his acquaintance are now greater.

I HAVE confined myself to my bed during the last few days and have had my food brought to me. I even called a local doctor, whom I suspect to be a quack. He looked me over with professional indifference and told me not to leave my room. For some reason he does not want me to climb stairs. For this bit of information he received a ten-dollar bill which, as I directed him, he fished out of my coat pocket. A pickpocket could not have done it better.

He had not been gone long when I was visited by the room clerk. That worthy suggested with a great show of kindly concern that I use the facilities of the local hospital. It was so modern and all that. With more firmness than I have been able to muster in a long time, I gave him to understand that I intended to remain where I am. Frowning sullenly, he stiffly retired. The doctor must have paused long enough downstairs to tell him a pretty story. It is obvious that he is afraid I shall die in his best room.

The pale man is up to his old tricks. Last night, when I tottered down the hall, the door of No. 202 was ajar. Without thinking, I looked inside. The pale man sat in a rocking-chair idly smoking a cigarette. He looked up into my eyes and smiled that peculiar, ambiguous smile that has so deeply puzzled me. I moved on down the corridor, not so much mystified as annoyed. The whole mystery of the man’s conduct is beginning to irk me. It is all so inane, so utterly lacking in motive.

I feel that I shall never meet the pale man. But, at least, I am going to learn his identity. Tomorrow I shall ask for the room clerk and deliberately interrogate him.

I KNOW now. I know the identity of the pale man, and I know the meaning of his smile.

Early this afternoon I summoned the room clerk to my bedside.

„Please tell me,“ I asked abruptly, „who is the man in No. 202?“

The clerk stared wearily and uncomprehendingly.

„You must be mistaken. That room is unoccupied.“

„Oh, but it is,“ I snapped in irritation. „I myself saw the man there only two nights ago. He is a tall, handsome fellow with dark eyes and hair. He is unusually pale. He checked in the day that I arrived.“

The hotel man regarded me dubiously, as if I were trying to impose upon him.

„But I assure you there is no such person in the house. As for his checking in when you did, you were the only guest we registered that day.“

„What? Why, I’ve seen him twenty times! First he had No. 212 at the end of the corridor. Then he kept moving toward the front. Now he’s next door in No. 202.“

The room clerk threw up his hands.

„You’re crazy!“ he exclaimed, and I saw that he meant what he said.

I shut up at once and dismissed him. After he had gone, I heard him rattling the knob of the pale man’s door. There is no doubt that he believes the room to be empty.

Thus it is that I can now understand the events of the past few weeks. I now comprehend the significance of the death in No. 207. I even feel partly responsible for the old lady’s passing. After all, I brought the pale man with me. But it was not I who fixed his path. Why he chose to approach me room after room through the length of this dreary hotel, why his path crossed the threshold of the woman in No. 207, those mysteries I can not explain.

I suppose I should have guessed his identity when he skipped the three rooms the night I fell unconscious upon the floor. In a single night of triumph he advanced until he was almost to my door.

He will be coming by and by to inhabit this room, his ultimate goal. When he comes, I shall at least be able to return his smile of grim recognition.

Meanwhile, I have only to wait beyond my bolted door.

*****

The door swings slowly open.

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ghost Stories

Mai 21, 2017

Two Sentence-Stories

Mai 21, 2017