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The Necromancers
by Robert Hugh Benson
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The old face grew a little grim.

"Ah! that's not finished yet," he said. "I'm on my way to her now. I don't think she'll play with the thing again just yet."

"And the others—the medium, and so on?"

"They will have to take their chance. It's absolutely useless going to them."

"They're as bad as I am, I expect."

The old man turned a sharp face to him.

"Oh! you know nothing whatever about it," he said. "You don't count. But they do know quite enough."

In the underground the two talked no more; but Mr. Morton, affecting to read his paper, glanced up once or twice at the old shrewd face opposite that stared so steadily out of the window into the roaring darkness. And once more he reflected how astonishing it was that anyone in these days—anyone, at least, possessing common sense—and common sense was written all over that old bearded face—could believe such fantastic rubbish as that which had been lately discussed. It was not only the particular points that regarded Laurie Baxter—all these absurd, though disquieting hints about insanity and suicide and the rest of it—but the principles that old Cathcart declared to be beneath—those principles which he had, apparently, not confided to Miss Deronnais. Here was the twentieth century; here was an electric railway, padded seats, and the Pall Mall...! Was further comment required?

The train began to slow up at Gloucester Road; and old Cathcart gathered up his umbrella and gloves.

"Then tomorrow," he said, "at the same time?"

Mr. Morton made a resigned gesture.

"But why don't you go and have it out with him yourself?" he asked.

"He would not listen to me—less than ever now. Good night!"

* * * * *

The train slid on again into the darkness; and the lawyer sat for a moment with pursed lips. Yes, of course the boy was overwrought: anyone could see that: he had stammered a little—a sure sign. But why make all this fuss? A week in the country would set him right.

Then he opened the Pall Mall again resolutely.



Chapter XV

I

Mr. and Mrs. Nugent were enjoying their holiday exceedingly. On Good Friday they had driven laboriously in a waggonette to Royston, where they had visited the hermit's cave in company with other grandees of their village, and held a stately picnic on the downs. They had returned, the gentlemen of the party slightly flushed with brandy and water from the various hostelries on the home journey, and the ladies severe, with watercress on their laps. Accordingly, on the Saturday, Mrs. Nugent had thought it better to stay indoors and dispatch her husband to the scene of the first cricket match of the season, a couple of miles away.

At about five o'clock she made herself a cup of tea, and did not wake up from the sleep which followed until the evening was closing in. She awoke with a start, remembering that she had intended to give a good look between the spare bedroom that had been her daughter's, and possibly make a change or two of the furniture. There was a mahogany wardrobe ... and so forth.

She had not entered this room very often since the death. It had come to resemble to her mind a sort of melancholy sanctuary, symbolical of glories that might have been; for she and her husband were full of the glorious day that had begun to dawn when Laurie, very constrained though very ardent, had called upon them in state to disclose his intentions. Well, it had been a false dawn; but at least it could be, and was, still talked about in sad and suggestive whispers.

It seemed full then of a mysterious splendor when she entered it this evening, candle in hand, and stood regarding it from the threshold. To the outward eye it was nothing very startling. A shrouded bed protruded from the wall opposite with the words "The Lord preserve thee from all evil" illuminated in pink and gold by the girl's own hand. An oleograph of Queen Victoria in coronation robes hung on one side and the painted photograph of a Nonconformist divine, Bible in hand, whiskered and cravatted, upon the other. There was a small cloth-covered table at the foot of the bed, adorned with an almost continuous line of brass-headed nails as a kind of beading round the edge, in the center of which rested the plaster image of a young person clasping a cross. A hymn-book and a Bible stood before this, and a small jar of wilted flowers. Against the opposite wall, flanked by dejected-looking wedding-groups, and another text or two, stood the great mahogany wardrobe, whose removal was vaguely in contemplation.

Mrs. Nugent regarded the whole with a tender kind of severity, shaking her head slowly from side to side, with the tin candlestick slightly tilted. She was a full-bodied lady, in clothes rather too tight for her, and she panted a little after the ascent of the stairs. It seemed to her once more a strangely and inexplicably perverse act of Providence, to whom she had always paid deference, by which so incalculable a rise in the social scale had been denied to her.

Then she advanced a step, her eyes straying from the shrouded bed to the wardrobe and back again. Then she set the candlestick upon the table and turned round.

It must now be premised that Mrs. Nugent was utterly without a trace of what is known as superstition; for the whole evidential value of what follows, such as it is, depends upon that fact. She would not, by preference, sleep in a room immediately after a death had taken place in it, but solely for the reason of certain ill-defined physical theories which she would have summed up under the expression that "it was but right that the air should be changed." Her views on human nature and its component parts were undoubtedly practical and common-sense. To put it brutally, Amy's body was in the churchyard and Amy's soul, crowned and robed, in heaven; so there was no more to account for. She knew nothing of modern theories, nothing of the revival of ancient beliefs; she would have regarded with kindly compassion, and met with practical comments, that unwilling shrinking from scenes of death occasionally manifested by certain kind of temperaments.

She turned, then, and looked at the wardrobe, still full of Amy's belongings, with her back to the bed in which Amy had died, without even the faintest premonitory symptom of the unreasoning terror that presently seized upon her.

It came about in this way.

She kneeled down, after a careful scrutiny of the polished surface of the mahogany, pulled out a drawer filled to brimming over with linen of various kinds and uses, and began to dive among these with careful housewifely hands to discover their tale. Simultaneously, as she remembered afterwards, there came from the hill leading down from the direction of the station, the sound of a trotting horse.

She paused to listen, her mind full of that faint gossipy surmise that surges so quickly up in the thoughts of village dwellers, her hands for an instant motionless among the linen. It might be the doctor, or Mr. Paton, or Mr. Grove. Those names flashed upon her; but an instant later were drowned again in a kind of fear of which she could give afterwards no account.

It seemed to her, she said, that there was something coming towards her that set her a-tremble; and when, a moment later, the trotting hoofs rang out sharp and near, she positively relapsed into a kind of sitting position on the floor, helpless and paralyzed by a furious up-rush of terror.

For it appeared, so far as Mrs. Nugent could afterwards make it out, as if a sort of double process went on. It was not merely that Fear, full-armed, rushed upon with the approaching wheels, outside and therefore harmless; but that the room itself in which she crouched, itself filled with some atmosphere, swift as water in a rising lock, that held her there motionless, blind and dumb with horror, unable to move, even to lift her hands or turn her head. As one approached, the other rose.

Again sounded the hoofs and wheels, near now and imminent. Again they hushed as the corner was approached. Then once more, as they broke out, clear and distinct, not twenty yards away at the turning into the village, Mrs. Nugent, no longer able even to keep that rigid position of fear, sank gently backwards and relapsed in a huddle on the floor.

II

Mr. Nugent was astonished and even a little peevish when, on arriving home after dark, he found the parlor lamp a-smoke and his wife absent.

He inquired for her; the mistress had slipped upstairs scarcely ten minutes ago. He shouted at the bottom of the stairs, but there was no response. And after he had taken his boots off, and his desire for supper had become poignant, he himself stepped upstairs to see into the matter....

It was several minutes, even after the conveyal of an apparently inanimate body downstairs, before his wife first made clear signs of intelligence; and even these were little more than grotesque expressions of fear—rolling eyes and exclamations. It was another quarter of an hour before any kind of connected story could be got out of her. One conclusion only was evident, that Mrs. Nugent did not propose to fetch the forgotten candle still burning on the cloth-covered, brass-nailed table, but that it must be fetched instantly; the door locked on the outside, and the key laid before her on that tablecloth. These were the terms that must be conceded before any further details were gone into.

Plainly there was but one person to carry out these instructions, for the little servant-maid was already all eyes and mouth at the few pregnant sentences that had fallen from her mistress's lips. So Mr. Nugent himself, cloth cap and all, stepped upstairs once more.

He paused at the door and looked in.

All was entirely as usual. In spite of the unpleasant expectancy roused, in spite of himself and his godliness, by the words of his wife and her awful head-nodding, the room gave back to him no echo or lingering scent of horror. The little bed stood there, white and innocent in the candlelight, the drawer still gaped, showing its pathetic contents; the furniture, pictures, texts, and all the rest remained in their places, harmless and undefiled as when Amy herself had set them there.

He looked carefully round before entering; then, stepping forward, he took the candle, closed the drawer, not without difficulty, glanced round once more, and went out, locking the door behind him.

"A pack of nonsense!" he said, as he tossed the key on to the table before his wife.

The theological discussion waxed late that night, and by ten o'clock Mrs. Nugent, under the influence of an excellent supper and a touch of stimulant, had begun to condemn her own terrors, or rather to cease to protest when her husband condemned them for her. A number of solutions had been proposed for the startling little incident, to none of which did she give an unqualified denial. It was the stooping that had done it; there had been a rush of blood to the head that had emptied the heart and caused the sinking feeling. It was the watercress eaten in such abundance on the previous afternoon. It was the fact that she had passed an unoccupied morning, owing to the closing of the shop. It was one of those things, or all of them, or some other like one of them. Even the little maid was reassured, when she came to take away the supper things, by the cheerful conversation of the couple, though she registered a private vow that for no consideration under heaven would she enter the bedroom on the right at the top of the stairs.

About half-past ten Mrs. Nugent said that she would step up to bed; and in that direction she went, accompanied by her husband, whose program it was presently to step round to the "Wheatsheaf" for an hour with the landlord after the bar was shut up.

At the door on the right hand he hesitated, but his wife passed on sternly; and as she passed into their own bedroom a piece of news came to his mind.

"That was Mr. Laurie you heard, Mary," said he. "Jim told me he saw him go past just after dark.... Well, I'll take the house-key with me."



Chapter XVI

I

"When is he coming?" asked Mrs. Baxter with a touch of peevishness, as she sat propped up in her tall chair before the bedroom fire.

"He will be here about six," said Maggie. "Are you sure you have finished?"

The old lady turned away her head from the rice pudding in a kind of gesture of repulsion. She was in the fractious period of influenza, and Maggie had had a hard time with her.

Nothing particular had happened for the last ten days. Mrs. Baxter's feverish cold had developed, and she was but now emerging from the nightdress and flannel-jacket stage to that of the petticoat and dressing-gown. It was all very ordinary and untragic, and Maggie had had but little time to consider the events on which her subconscious attention still dwelt. Mr. Cathcart had had no particular news to give her. Laurie, it seemed, was working silently with his coach, talking little. Yet the old man did not for one instant withdraw one word that he had said. Only, in answer to a series of positive inquiries from the girl two days before, he had told her to wait and see him for herself, warning her at the same time to show no signs of perturbation to the boy.

And now the day was come—Easter Eve, as it happened—and she would see him before night. He had sent no answer to her first letter; then, finally, a telegram had come that morning announcing his train.

She was wondering with all her might that afternoon as to what she would see. In a way she was terrified; in another way she was contemptuous. The evidence was so extraordinarily confused. If he were in danger of insanity, how was it that. Mr. Cathcart advised her to get him down to a house with only two women and a few maids? Who was there besides this old gentleman who ever dreamed that such a danger was possible? How, if it was so obvious that she would see the change for herself, was it that others—Mr. Morton, for example—had not seen it too? More than ever the theory gained force in her mind that the whole thing was grossly exaggerated by this old man, and that all that was the matter with Laurie was a certain nervous strain.

Yet, for all that, as the afternoon closed in, she felt her nerves tightening. She walked a little in the garden while the old lady took her nap; she came in to read to her again from the vellum-bound little book as the afternoon light began to fade. Then, after tea, she went under orders to see for herself whether Laurie's room was as it should be.

It struck her with an odd sense of strangeness as she went in; she scarcely knew why; she told herself it was because of what she had heard of him lately. But all was as it should be. There were spring flowers on the table and mantelshelf, and a pleasant fire on the hearth. It was even reassuring after she had been there a minute or two.

Then she went to look at the smoking-room where she had sat with him and heard the curious noise of the cracking wood on the night of the thaw, when the boy had behaved so foolishly. Here, too, was a fire, a tall porter's chair drawn on one side with its back to the door, and a deep leather couch set opposite. There was a box of Laurie's cigarettes set ready on the table—candles, matches, flowers, the illustrated papers—yes, everything.

But she stood looking on it all for a few moments with an odd emotion. It was familiar, homely, domestic—yet it was strange. There was an air of expectation about it all.... Then on a sudden the emotions precipitated themselves in tenderness.... Ah! poor Laurie....

* * * * *

"It is all perfectly right," she said to the old lady.

"Are the cigarettes there?"

"Yes: I noticed them particularly."

"And flowers?"

"Yes, flowers too."

"What time is it, my dear? I can't see."

Maggie peered at the clock.

"It's just after six, Auntie. Will you have the candles?"

The old lady shook her head.

"No, my dear: my eyes can't stand the light. Why hasn't the boy come?"

"Why, it's hardly time yet. Shall I bring him up at once?"

"Just for two minutes," sighed the old lady. "My head's bad again."

"Poor dear," said Maggie.

"Sit down, my dearest, for a few minutes. You'll hear the wheels from here.... No, don't talk or read."

There, then, the two women sat waiting.

* * * * *

Outside the twilight was falling, layer on layer, over the spring garden, in a great stillness. The chilly wind of the afternoon had dropped, and there was scarcely a sound to be heard from the living things about the house that once more were renewing their strength. Yet over all, to the Catholic's mind at least, there lay a shadow of death, from associations with that strange anniversary that was passing, hour by hour....

As to what Maggie thought during those minutes of waiting, she could have given afterwards no coherent description. Matters were too complicated to think clearly; she knew so little; there were so many hypotheses. Yet one emotion dominated the rest—expectancy with a tinge of fear. Here she sat, in this peaceful room, with all the homely paraphernalia of convalescence about her—the fire, the bed laid invitingly open with a couple of books, and a reading-lamp on the little table at the side, the faint smell of sandalwood; and before the fire dozed a peaceful old lady full too of gentle expectation of her son, yet knowing nothing whatever of the vague perils that were about him, that had, indeed, whatever they were, already closed in on him.... And that son was approaching nearer every instant through the country lanes....

She rose at last and went on tiptoe to the window. The curtains had not yet been drawn, and she could see in the fading light the elaborate ironwork of the tall gate in the fence, and the common road outside it, gleaming here and there in puddles that caught the green color from the dying western sky. In front, on the lawn on this side, burned tiny patches of white where the crocuses sprouted.

As she stood there, there came a sound of wheels, and a carriage came in sight. It drew up at the gate, and the door opened.

II

"He is come," said the girl softly, as she saw the tall ulstered figure appear from the carriage. There was no answer, and as she went on tiptoe to the fire, she saw that the old lady was asleep. She went noiselessly out of the room, and stood for an instant, every pulse racing with horrible excitement, listening to the footsteps and voices in the hall. Then she drew a long trembling breath, steadied herself with a huge effort of the will, and went downstairs.

"Mr. Laurie's gone into the smoking-room, miss," said the servant, looking at her oddly.

He was standing by the table as she went in; so much she could see: but the candles were unlighted, and no more was visible of him than his outline against the darkening window.

"Well, Laurie?" she said.

"Well, Maggie," said his voice in answer. And their hands met.

Then in an instant she knew that something was wrong. Yet at the moment she had not an idea as to what it was that told her that. It was Laurie's voice surely!

"You're all in the dark," she said.

There was no movement or word in answer. She passed her hand along the mantelpiece for the matches she had seen there just before; but her hand shook so much that some little metal ornament fell with a crash as she fumbled there, and she drew a long almost vocal breath of sudden nervous alarm. And still there was no movement in answer. Only the tall figure stood watching her it seemed—a pale luminous patch showing her his face.

Then she found the matches and struck one; and, keeping her face downcast, lighted, with fingers that shook violently, the two candles on the little table by the fire. She must just be natural and ordinary, she kept on telling herself. Then with another fierce effort of will she began to speak, lifting her eyes to his face as she did so.

"Auntie's just fallen..." (her voice died suddenly for an instant, as she saw him looking at her)—then she finished—"just fallen asleep. Will ... you come up presently ... Laurie?"

Every word was an effort, as she looked steadily into the eyes that looked so steadily into hers.

It was Laurie—yes—but, good God...!

"You must just kiss her and come away," she said, driving out the words with effort after effort. "She has a bad headache this evening.... Laurie—a bad headache."

With a sudden twitch she turned away from those eyes.

"Come, Laurie," she said. And she heard his steps following her.

They passed so through the inner hall and upstairs: and, without turning again, holding herself steady only by the consciousness that some appalling catastrophe was imminent if she did not, she opened the door of the old lady's room.

"Here he is," she said. "Now, Laurie, just kiss her and come away."

"My dearest," came the old voice from the gloom, and two hands were lifted.

Maggie watched, as the tall figure came obediently forward, in an indescribable terror. It was as when one watches a man in a tiger's den.... But the figure bent obediently, and kissed.

Maggie instantly stepped forward.

"Not a word," she said. "Auntie's got a headache. Yes, Auntie, he's very well; you'll see him in the morning. Go out at once, please, Laurie."

Without a word he passed out, and, as she closed the door after him, she heard him stop irresolute on the landing.

"My dearest child," came the peevish old voice, "you might have allowed my own son—"

"No, no, Auntie, you really mustn't. I know how bad your head is ... yes, yes; he's very well. You'll see him in the morning."

And all the while she was conscious of the figure that must be faced again presently, waiting on the landing.

"Shall I go and see that everything's all right in his room?" she said. "Perhaps they've forgotten—"

"Yes, my dearest, go and see. And send Charlotte to me."

The old voice was growing drowsy again.

Maggie went out swiftly without a word. There again stood the figure waiting. The landing lamp had been forgotten. She led the way to his room.

"Come, Laurie," she said. "I'll just see that everything's all right."

She found the matches again, lighted the candles, and set them on his table, still without a look at that face that turned always as she went.

"We shall have to dine alone," she said, striving to make her voice natural, as she reached the door.

Then once more she raised her eyes to his, and looked him bravely in the face as he stood by the fire.

"Do just as you like about dressing," she said. "I expect you're tired."

She could bear it no more. She went out without another word, passed steadily across the length of the landing to her own room, locked the door, and threw herself on her knees.

III

She was roused by a tap on the door—how much later she did not know. But the agony was passed for the present—the repulsion and the horror of what she had seen. Perhaps it was that she did not yet understand the whole truth. But at least her will was dominant; she was as a man who has fought with fear alone, and walks, white and trembling, yet perfectly himself, to the operating table.

She opened the door; and Susan stood there with a candle in one hand and a scrap of white in the other.

"For you, miss," said the maid.

Maggie took it without a word, and read the name and the penciled message twice.

"Just light the lamp out here," she said. "Oh ... and, by the way, send Charlotte to Mrs. Baxter at once."

"Yes, miss..."

The maid still paused, eyeing her, as if with an unspoken question. There was terror too in her eyes.

"Mr. Laurie is not very well," said Maggie steadily. "Please take no notice of anything. And ... and, Susan, I think I shall dine alone this evening, just a tray up here will do. If Mr. Laurie says anything, just explain that I am looking after Mrs. Baxter. And.... Susan—"

"Yes, miss."

"Please see that Mrs. Baxter is not told that I am not dining downstairs."

"Yes, miss."

Maggie still stood an instant, hesitating. Then a thought recurred again.

"One moment," she said.

She stepped across the room to her writing-table, beckoning the maid to come inside and shut the door; then she wrote rapidly for a minute or so, enclosed her note, directed it, and gave it to the girl.

"Just send up someone at once, will you, with this to Father Mahon—on a bicycle."

When the maid was gone, she waited still for an instant looking across the dark landing, expectant of some sound or movement. But all was still. A line of light showed only under the door where the boy who was called Laurie Baxter stood or sat. At least he was not moving about. There in the darkness Maggie tested her power of resisting panic. Panic was the one fatal thing: so much she understood. Even if that silent door had opened, she knew she could stand there still.

She went back, took a wrap from the chair where she had tossed it down on coming in from the garden that afternoon, threw it over her head and shoulders, passed down the stairs and out through the garden once more in the darkness of the spring evening.

All was quiet in the tiny hamlet as she went along the road. A blaze of light shone from the tap-room window where the fathers of families were talking together, and within Mr. Nugent's shuttered shop she could see through the doorway the grocer himself in his shirt-sleeves, shifting something on the counter. So great was the tension to which she had strung herself that she did not even envy the ordinariness of these people: they appeared to be in some other world, not attainable by herself. These were busied with domestic affairs, with beer or cheese or gossip. Her task was of another kind: so much she knew; and as to what that task was, she was about to learn.

As she turned the corner, the figure she expected was waiting there; and she could see in the deep twilight that he lifted his hat to her. She went straight up to him.

"Yes," she said, "I have seen for myself. You are right so far. Now tell me what to do."

It was no time for conventionality. She did not ask why the solicitor was there. It was enough that he had come.

"Walk this way then with me," he said. "Now tell me what you have seen."

"I have seen a change I cannot describe at all. It's just someone else—not Laurie at all. I don't understand it in the least. But I just want to know what to do. I have written to Father Mahon to come."

He was silent for a step or two.

"I cannot tell you what to do. I must leave that to yourself. I can only tell you what not to do."

"Very well."

"Miss Deronnais, you are magnificent...! There, it is said. Now then. You must not get excited or frightened whatever happens. I do not believe that you are in any danger—not of the ordinary kind, I mean. But if you want me, I shall be at the inn. I have taken rooms there for a night or so. And you must not yield to him interiorly. I wonder if you understand."

"I think I shall understand soon. At present I understand nothing. I have said I cannot dine with him."

"But—"

"I cannot ... before the servants. One of them at least suspects something. But I will sit with him afterwards, if that is right."

"Very good. You must be with him as much as you can. Remember, it is not the worst yet. It is to prevent that worst happening that you must use all the power you've got."

"Am I to speak to him straight out? And what shall I tell Father Mahon?"

"You must use your judgment. Your object is to fight on his side, remember, against this thing that is obsessing him. Miss Deronnais, I must give you another warning."

She bowed. She did not wish to use more words than were necessary. The strain was frightful.

"It is this: whatever you may see—little tricks of speech or movement—you must not for one instant yield to the thought that the creature that is obsessing him is what he thinks it is. Remember the thing is wholly evil, wholly evil; but it may, perhaps, do its utmost to hide that, and to keep up the illusion. It is intelligent, but not brilliant; it has the intelligence only of some venomous brute in the slime. Or it may try to frighten you. You must not be frightened."

She understood hints here and there of what the old man said—enough, at any rate, to act.

"And you must keep up to the utmost pitch your sympathy with him himself. You must remember that he is somewhere there, underneath, in chains; and that, probably, he is struggling too, and needs you. It is not Possession yet: he is still partly conscious.... Did he know you?"

"Yes; he just knew me. He was puzzled, I think."

"Has he seen anyone else he knows?"

"His mother ... yes. He just knew her too. He did not speak to her. I would not let him."

"Miss Deronnais, you have acted admirably.... What is he doing now?"

"I don't know. I left him in his room. He was quite quiet."

"You must go back directly.... Shall we turn? I don't think there's much more to say just now."

Then she noticed that he had said nothing about the priest.

"And what about Father Mahon?" she said.

The old man was silent a moment.

"Well?" she said again.

"Miss Deronnais, I wouldn't rely on Father Mahon. I've hardly ever met a priest who takes these things seriously. In theory—yes, of course; but not in concrete instances. However, Father Mahon may be an exception. And the worst of it is that the priesthood has enormous power, if they only knew it."

The tinkle of a bicycle bell sounded down the road behind them. Maggie wheeled on the instant, and caught the profile she was expecting.

"Is that you?" she said, as the rider passed.

The man jumped off, touched his hat, and handed her a note. She tore it open, and glanced through it in the light of the bicycle lamp. Then she crumpled it up and threw it into the ditch with a quick, impatient movement.

"All right," she said. "Good night."

The gardener mounted his bicycle again and moved off.

"Well?" said the old man.

"Father Mahon's called away suddenly. It's from his housekeeper. He'll only be back in time for the first mass tomorrow."

The other nodded, three or four times, as if in assent.

"Why do you do that?" asked the girl suddenly.

"It is what I should have expected to happen."

"What! Father Mahon?—Do you mean it ... it is arranged?"

"I know nothing. It may be coincidence. Speak no more of it. You have the facts to think of."

About them as they walked back in silence lay the quiet spring night. From the direction of the hamlet came the banging of a door, then voices wishing good night, and the sound of footsteps. The steps passed the end of the lane and died away again. Over the trees to the right were visible the high twisted chimney of the old house where the terror dwelt.

"Two points then to remember," said the voice in the darkness—"Courage and Love. Can you remember?"

Maggie bowed her head again in answer.

"I will call and ask to see you as soon as the household is up. If you can't see me, I shall understand that things are going well—or you can send out a note to me. As for Mrs. Baxter—"

"I shall not say one word to her until it becomes absolutely necessary. And if—"

"If it becomes necessary I will wire for a doctor from town. I will undertake all the preliminary arrangements, if you will allow me."

Ten steps before the corner they stopped.

"God bless you, Miss Deronnais. Remember, I am at the inn if you need me."

IV

Mrs. Baxter dined placidly in bed at about half-past seven; but she was more sleepy than ever when she had done. She was rash enough to drink a little claret and water.

"It always goes straight to my head, Charlotte," she explained. "Well, set the book—no, not that one—the one bound in white parchment.... Yes, just so, down here; and turn the reading lamp so that I can read if I want to.... Oh! ask Miss Maggie to tap at my door very softly when she comes out from dinner. Has she gone down yet?"

"I think I heard her step just now, ma'am."

"Very well; then you can just tell Susan to let her know. How was Mr. Laurie looking, Charlotte?"

"I haven't seen him, ma'am."

"Very well. Then that is all, Charlotte. You can just look in here after Miss Maggie and settle me for the night."

Then the door closed, and Mrs. Baxter instantly began to doze off.

She was one of those persons whose moments between sleeping and waking, especially during a little attack of feverishness, are occupied in contemplating a number of little vivid pictures of all kinds that present themselves to the mental vision; and she saw as usual a quantity of these, made up of tiny details of the day that was gone, and of other details markedly unconnected with it. She saw for example little scenes in which Maggie and Charlotte and medicine bottles and Chinese faces and printed pages of a book all moved together in a sort of convincing incoherence; and she was just beginning to lose herself in the depths of sleep, and to forget her firm resolution of reading another page or so of the book by her side, when a little sound came, and she opened, as she thought, her eyes.

Her reading lamp cast a funnel of light across her bed, and the rest of the room was lit only by the fire dancing in the chimney. Yet this was bright enough, she thought at the time, to show her perfectly distinctly, though with shadows fleeting across it, her son's face peering in at the door. She thought she said something; but she was not sure afterwards. At any rate, the face did not move; and it seemed to her that it bore an expression of such extraordinary malignity that she would hardly have known it for her son's. In a sudden panic she raised herself in bed, staring; and as the shadows came and went, as she stared, the face was gone again. Mrs. Baxter drew a quick breath or two as she looked; but there was nothing. Yet again she could have sworn that she heard the faint jar of the closing door.

She reached out and put her hand on the bell-string that hung down over her bed. Then she hesitated. It was too ridiculous, she told herself. Besides, Charlotte would have gone to her room.

But the fear did not go immediately; though she told herself again and again that it was just one of those little waking visions that she knew so well.

She lay back on the pillow, thinking.... Why, they would have reached the fish by now. No; she would tell Maggie when she came up. How Laurie would laugh tomorrow! Then, little by little, she dozed off once more.

* * * * *

The next thing of which she was aware was Maggie bending over her.

"Asleep, Auntie dear?" said the girl softly.

The old lady murmured something. Then she sat up, suddenly.

"No, my dear. Have you finished dinner?"

"Yes, Auntie."

"Where's Laurie? I should like to see him for a minute."

"Not tonight, Auntie; you're too tired. Besides, I think he's gone to the smoking-room."

She acquiesced placidly.

"Very well, dearest.... Oh! Maggie, such a queer thing happened just now—when you were at dinner."

"Yes?"

"I thought I saw Laurie look in, just for an instant. But he looked awful, somehow. It was just one of my little waking visions I've told you of, I suppose."

The girl was silent; but the old lady saw her suddenly straighten herself.

"Just ask him whether he did look in, after all. It may just have been the shadow on his face."

"What time was it?"

"About ten past eight, I suppose, dearest. You'll ask him, won't you?"

"Yes, Auntie.... I think I'd better lock your door when I go out. You won't fancy such things then, will you?"

"Very well, dearest. As you think best."

The old voice was becoming sleepy again: and Maggie stood watching a moment or two longer.

"Send Charlotte to me, dearest.... Good night, my pet.... I'm too sleepy again. My love to Laurie."

"Yes, Auntie."

The old lady felt the girl's warm lips on her forehead. They seemed to linger a little. Then Mrs. Baxter lost herself once more.

IV

The public bar of the Wheatsheaf Inn was the scene this evening of a lively discussion. Some thought the old gentleman, arrived that day from London, to be a new kind of commercial traveler, with designs upon the gardens of the gentry; others that he was a sort of scientific collector; others, again, that he was a private detective; and since there was no evidence at all, good or bad, in support of any one of these suggestions, a very pretty debate became possible.

A silence fell when his step was heard to pass down the stairs and out into the street, and another half an hour later when he returned. Then once more the discussion began.

At ten o'clock the majority of the men moved out into the moonlight to disperse homewards, as the landlord began to put away the glasses and glance at the clock. Overhead the lighted blind showed where the mysterious stranger still kept vigil; and over the way, beyond the still leafless trees, towered up the twisted chimneys of Mrs. Baxter's house. No word had been spoken connecting the two, yet one or two of the men glanced across the way in vague surmise.

Nearly a couple of hours later the landlord himself came to the door to give the great Mr. Nugent himself, with whom he had been sitting in the inner parlor, a last good-night, and he too noticed that the bedroom window was still lighted up. He jerked his finger in the direction of it.

"A late old party," he said in an undertone.

Mr. Nugent nodded. He was still a little flushed with whisky and with his previous recountings of what would have happened if his poor daughter had lived to marry the young squire, of his (Mr. Nugent's) swift social advancement and its outward evidences, and of the hobnobbing with the gentry that would have taken place. He looked reflectively across at the silhouette of the big house, all grey and silver in the full moon. The landlord followed the direction of his eyes; and for some reason unknown to them both, the two stood there silent for a full half-minute. Yet there was nothing exceptional to be seen.

Immediately before them, across the road, rose the high oak paling that enclosed the lawn on this side, and the immense limes that towered, untrimmed and undipped, in delicate soaring filigree against the peacock sky of night. Behind them showed the chimneys, above the dusky front of red-brick and the parapet. The moon was not yet full upon the house, and the windows glimmered only here and there, in lines and sudden patches where they caught the reflected light.

Yet the two looked at it in silence. They had seen such a sight fifty times before, for the landlord and the other at least twice a week spent such an evening together, and usually parted at the door. But they stood here on this evening and looked.

All was as still as a spring night can be. Unseen and unheard the life of the earth streamed upwards in twig and blade and leaf, pushing on to the miracle of the prophet Jonas, to be revealed in wealth of color and scent and sound a fortnight later. The wind had fallen; the last doors were shut, and the two figures standing here were as still as all else. To neither of them occurred even the thinnest shadow of a suspicion as to the cause that held them here—two plain men—in silence, staring at an old house—not a thought of any hidden life beyond that of matter, that life by which most men reckon existence. For them this was but one more night such as they had known for half a century. There was a moon. It was fine. That was Mrs. Baxter's house. This was the village street:—that was the sum of the situation....

Mr. Nugent moved off presently with a brisk air, bidding his friend good night, and the landlord, after another look, went in. There came the sound of bolts and bars, the light in the window of the parlor beside the bar suddenly went out, footsteps creaked upstairs; a door shut, and all was silence.

Half an hour later a shadow moved across the blind upstairs: an arm appeared to elongate itself; then, up went the blind, the window followed it, and a bearded face looked out into the moonlight. Behind was the table littered with papers, for Mr. Cathcart, laborious even in the midst of anxiety, had brought down with him for the Sunday a quantity of business that could not easily wait; and had sat there patiently docketing, correcting, and writing ever since his interview in the lane nearly five hours before.

Even now his face seemed serene enough; it jerked softly this way and that, up the street and down again; then once more settled down to stare across the road at the grey and silver pile beyond the trees. Yet even he saw nothing there beyond what the landlord had seen. It stood there, uncrossed by lights or footsteps or sounds, keeping its secret well, even from him who knew what it contained.

Yet to the watcher the place was as sinister as a prison. Behind the solemn walls and the superficial flash of the windows, beneath the silence and the serenity, lay a life more terrible than death, engaged now in some drama of which he could not guess the issue. A conflict was proceeding there, more silent than the silence itself. Two souls fought for one against a foe of unknown strength and unguessed possibilities. The servants slept apart, and the old mistress apart, yet in one of those rooms (and he did not know which) a battle was locked of which the issue was more stupendous than that of any struggle with disease. Yet he could do nothing to help, except what he already did, with his fingers twisting and gripping a string of beads beneath the window-sill. Such a battle as this must be fought by picked champions; and since the priesthood in this instance could not help, a girl's courage and love must take its place.

From the village above the hill came the stroke of a single bell; a bird in the garden-walk beyond the paling chirped softly to his mate; then once more silence came down upon the moonlit street, the striped shadows, the tall house and trees, and the bearded face watching at the window.



Chapter XVII

I

The little inner hall looked very quiet and familiar as Maggie Deronnais stood on the landing, passing through her last struggle with herself before the shock of battle. The stairs went straight down, with the old carpet, up and down which she had gone a thousand times, with every faint patch and line where it was a little worn at the edges, visible in the lamplight from overhead; and she stared at these, standing there silent in her white dress, bare-armed and bare-necked, with her hair in great coils on her head, as upright as a lance. Beneath lay the little hall, with the tiger-skin, the red-papered walls, and a few miscellaneous things—an old cloak of hers she used on rainy days in the garden, a straw hat of Laurie's, and a cap or two, hanging on the pegs opposite. In front was the door to the outer hall, to the left, that of the smoking-room. The house was perfectly quiet. Dinner had been cleared away already through the hatch into the kitchen passage, and the servants' quarters were on the other side of the house. No sound of any kind came from the smoking-room; not even the faint whiff of tobacco-smoke that had a way of stealing out when Laurie was smoking really seriously within.

She did not know why, she had stopped there, half-way down the stairs.

She had dined from a tray in her own room, as she had said; and had been there alone ever since, for the most part at her prie-Dieu, in dead silence, conscious of nothing connected, listening to the occasional tread of a maid in the hall beneath, passing to and from the dining-room. There she had tried to face the ordeal that was coming—the ordeal, at the nature of which even now she only half guessed, and she had realized nothing, formed no plan, considered no eventuality. Things were so wholly out of her experience that she had no process whereby to deal with them. Just two words came over and over again before her consciousness—Courage and Love.

She looked again at the door.

Laurie was there, she said. Then she questioned herself. Was it Laurie...?

"He is there, underneath," she whispered to herself softly; "he is waiting for me to help him." She remembered that she must make that act of faith. Yet was it Laurie who had looked in at his mother's door...? Well, the door was locked now. But that secretive visit seemed to her terrible.

What, then, did she believe?

She had put that question to herself fifty times, and found no answer. The old man's solution was clear enough now: he believed no less than that out of that infinitely mysterious void that lies beyond the veils of sense there had come a Personality, strong, malignant, degraded, and seeking to degrade, seizing upon this lad's soul, in the disguise of a dead girl, and desiring to possess it. How fantastic that sounded! Did she believe it? She did not know. Then there was the solution of a nervous strain, rising to a climax of insanity. This was the answer of the average doctor. Did she believe that? Was that enough to account for the look in the boy's eyes? She did not know.

She understood perfectly that the fact of herself living under conditions of matter made the second solution the more natural; yet that did not content her. For her religion informed her emphatically that discarnate Personalities existed which desired the ruin of human souls, and, indeed, forbade the practices of spiritualism for this very reason. Yet there was hardly a Catholic she knew who regarded the possibility in these days as more than a theoretical one. So she hesitated, holding her judgment in suspense. One thing only she saw clearly, and that was that she must act as if she believed the former solution: she must treat the boy as one obsessed, whether indeed he were so or not. There was no other manner in which she could concentrate her force upon the heart of the struggle. If there were no evil Personality in the affair, it was necessary to assume one.

And still she waited.

There came back to her an old childish memory.

Once, as a child of ten, she had had to undergo a small operation. One of the nuns had taken her to the doctor's house. When she had understood that she must come into the next room and have it done, she had stopped dead. The nun had encouraged her.

"Leave me quite alone, please, Mother, just for one minute. Please don't speak. I'll come in a minute."

After a minute's waiting, while they looked at her, she had gone forward, sat down in the chair and behaved quite perfectly. Yes; she understood that now. It was necessary first to collect forces, to concentrate energies, to subdue the imagination: after that almost anything could be borne.

So she stood here now, without even the thought of flight, not arguing, not reassuring herself, not analyzing anything; but just gathering strength, screwing the will tight, facing things.

And there was yet another psychological fact that astonished her, though she was only conscious of it in a parenthetical kind of way, and that was the strength of her feeling for Laurie himself. It seemed to her curious, when she considered it, how the horror of that which lay over the boy seemed, like death itself, to throw out as on a clear background the best of himself. His figure appeared to her memory as wholly good and sweet; the shadows on his character seemed absorbed in the darkness that lay over him; and towards this figure she experienced a sense of protective love and energy that astonished her. She desired with all her power to seize and rescue him.

Then she drew a long steady breath, thrust out her strong white hand to see if the fingers trembled; went down the stairs, and, without knocking, opened the smoking-room door and went straight in, closing it behind her. There was a screen to be passed round.

She passed round it.

And he sat there on the couch looking at her.

II

For the first instant she remained there standing motionless; it was like a declaration of war. In one or two of her fragmentary rehearsals upstairs she had supposed she would say something conventional to begin with. But the reality struck conventionality clean out of the realm of the possible. Her silent pause there was as significant as the crouch of a hound; and she perceived that it was recognized to be so by the other that was there. There was in him that quick, silent alertness she had expected: half defiant, half timid, as of a fierce beast that expects a blow.

Then she came a step forward and sideways to a chair, sat down in it with a swift, almost menacing motion, and remained there still looking.

This is what she saw:

There was the familiar background, the dark paneled wall, the engraving, and the shelf of books convenient to the hand; the fire was on her right, and the couch opposite. Upon the couch sat the figure of the boy she knew so well.

He was in the same suit in which he had traveled; he had not even changed his shoes; they were splashed a little with London mud. These things she noticed in the minutes that followed, though she kept her eyes upon his face.

The face itself was beyond her power of analysis. Line for line it was Laurie's features, mouth, eyes and hair; yet its signification was not Laurie's. One that was akin looked at her from out of those windows of the soul—scrutinized her cautiously, questioningly, and suspiciously. It was the face of an enemy who waits. And she sat and looked at it.

A full minute must have passed before she spoke. The face had dropped its eyes after the first long look, as if in a kind of relaxation, and remained motionless, staring at the fire in a sort of dejection. Yet beneath, she perceived plainly, there was the same alert hostility; and when she spoke the eyes rose again with a quick furtive attentiveness. The semi-intelligent beast was soothed, but not yet reassured.

"Laurie?" she said.

The lips moved a little in answer; then again the face glanced down sideways at the fire; the hands dangled almost helplessly between the knees.

There was an appearance of weakness about the attitude that astonished and encouraged her; it appeared as if matters were not yet consummated. Yet she had a sense of nausea at the sight....

"Laurie?" she said again suddenly.

Again the lips moved as if speaking rapidly, and the eyes looked up at her quick and suspicious.

"Well?" said the mouth; and still the hands dangled.

"Laurie," she said steadily, bending all her will at the words, "you're very unwell. Do you understand that?"

Again the noiseless gabbling of the lips, and again a little commonplace sentence, "I'm all right."

His voice was unnatural—a little hoarse, and quite toneless. It was as a voice from behind a mask.

"No," said Maggie carefully, "you're not all right. Listen, Laurie. I tell you you're all wrong; and I've come to help you as well as I can. Will you do your best? I'm speaking to you, Laurie ... to you."

Every time he answered, the lips flickered first as in rapid conversation—as of a man seen talking through a window; but this time he stammered a little over his vowels.

"I—I—I'm all right."

Maggie leaned forward, her hands clasped tightly, and her eyes fixed steadily on that baffling face.

"Laurie; it's you I'm speaking to—you.... Can you hear me? Do you understand?"

Again the eyes rose quick and suspicious; and her hands knit yet more closely together as she fought down the rising nausea. She drew a long breath first; then she delivered a little speech which she had half rehearsed upstairs. As she spoke he looked at her again.

"Laurie," she said, "I want you to listen to me very carefully, and to trust me. I know what is the matter with you; and I think you know too. You can't fight—fight him by yourself.... Just hold on as tightly as you can to me—with your mind, I mean. Do you understand?"

For a moment she thought that he perceived something of what she meant: he looked at her so earnestly with those odd questioning eyes. Then he jerked ever so slightly, as if some string had been suddenly pulled, and glanced down again at the fire....

"I ... I ... I'm all right," he said.

It was horrible to see that motionlessness of body. He sat there as he had probably sat since entering the room. His eyes moved, but scarcely his head; and his hands hung down helplessly.

"Laurie ... attend ..." she began again. Then she broke off.

"Have you prayed, Laurie...? Do you understand what has happened to you? You aren't really ill—at least, not exactly, but—"

Again those eyes lifted, looked, and dropped again.

It was piteous. For the instant the sense of nausea vanished, swallowed up in emotion. Why ... why, he was there all the while—Laurie ... dear Laurie....

With one motion, swift and impetuous, she had thrown herself forward on to her knees, and clasped at the hanging hands.

"Laurie! Laurie!" she cried. "You haven't prayed ... you've been playing, and the machinery has caught you. But it isn't too late! Oh, God! it's not too late. Pray with me! Say the Our Father...."

Again slowly the eyes moved round. He had started ever so little at her rush, and the seizing of his hands; and now she felt those hands moving weakly in her own, as of a sleeping child who tries to detach himself from his mother's arms.

"I ... I ... I'm all—"

She grasped his hands more fiercely, staring straight up into those strange piteous eyes that revealed so little, except formless commotion and uneasiness.

"Say the Our Father with me. 'Our Father—'"

Then his hands tore back, with a movement as fierce as her own, and the eyes blazed with an unreal light. She still clung to his wrists, looking up, struck with a paralysis of fear at the change, and the furious hostility that flamed up in the face. The lips writhed back, half snarling, half smiling....

"Let go! let go!" he hissed at her. "What are you—"

"The Our Father, Laurie ... the Our—"

He wrenched himself backwards, striking her under the chin with his knee. The couch slid backwards a foot against the wall, and he was on his feet. She remained terror-stricken, shocked, looking up at the dully flushed face that glared down on her.

"Laurie! Laurie...! Don't you understand? Say one prayer—"

"How dare you?" he whispered; "how dare you—"

She stood up suddenly—wrenching her will back to self-command. Her breath still came quick and panting; and she waited until once more she breathed naturally. And all the while he stood looking down at her with eyes of extraordinary malevolence.

"Well, will you sit quietly and listen?" she said. "Will you do that?"

Still he stared at her, with lips closed, breathing rapidly through his nostrils. With a sudden movement she turned and went to her chair, sat down and waited.

He still watched her; then, with his eyes on her, with movements as of a man in the act of self-defense, wheeled out the sofa to its place, and sat down. She waited till the tension of his figure seemed to relax again, till the quick glances at her from beneath drooping eyelids ceased, and once more he settled down with dangling hands to look at the fire. Then she began again, quietly and decisively.

"Your mother isn't well," she said. "No ... just listen quietly. What is going to happen tomorrow? I'm speaking to you, Laurie to you. Do you understand?"

"I'm all right," he said dully.

She disregarded it.

"I want to help you, Laurie. You know that, don't you? I'm Maggie Deronnais. You remember?"

"Yes—Maggie Deronnais," said the boy, staring at the fire.

"Yes, I'm Maggie. You trust me, don't you, Laurie? You can believe what I say? Well, I want you to fight too. You and I together. Will you let me do what I can?"

Again the eyes rose, with that odd questioning look. Maggie thought she perceived something else there too. She gathered her forces quietly in silence an instant or two, feeling her heart quicken like the pulse of a moving engine. Then she sprang to her feet.

"Listen, then—in the name of Jesus of Nazareth—"

He recoiled violently with a movement so fierce that the words died on her lips. For one moment she thought he was going to spring. And again he was on his feet, snarling. There was silence for an interminable instant; then a stream of words, scorching and ferocious, snarled at her like the furious growling of a dog—a string of blasphemies and filth.

Just so much she understood. Yet she held her ground, unable to speak, conscious of the torrent of language that swirled against her from that suffused face opposite, yet not understanding a tenth part of what she heard.

... "In the name of..."

On the instant the words ceased; but so overpowering was the venom and malice of the silence that followed that again she was silent, perceiving that the utmost she could do was to hold her ground. So the two stood. If the words were horrible to hear, the silence was more horrible a thousand times; it was as when a man faces the suddenly opened door of a furnace and sees the white cavern within.

He was the first to speak.

"You had better take care," he said.

III

She scarcely knew how it was that she found herself again in her chair, with the figure seated opposite.

It seemed that the direct assault was useless. And indeed she was no longer capable of making it. The nausea had returned, and with it a sensation of weakness. Her knees still were lax and useless; and her hand, as she turned it on the chair-arm, shook violently. Yet she had a curious sense of irresponsibility: there was no longer any terror—nothing but an overpowering weakness of reaction.

She sat back in silence for some minutes, looking now at the fire too, now at the figure opposite, noticing, however, that the helplessness seemed gone. His hands dangled no longer; he sat upright, his hands clasped, yet with a curious look of stiffness and unnaturalness.

Once more she began deliberately to attempt to gather her forces; but the will, it appeared, had lost its nervous grasp of the faculties. It had no longer that quick grip and command with which she had begun. Passivity rather than activity seemed her strength....

Then suddenly and, as it appeared, inevitably, without movement or sound, she began internally to pray, closing her eyes, careless, and indeed unfearing. It seemed her one hope. And behind the steady movement of her will—sufficient at least to elicit acts of petition—her intellect observed a thousand images and thoughts. She perceived the silence of the house and of the breathless spring night outside; she considered Mr. Cathcart in the inn across the road, Mrs. Baxter upstairs: she contemplated the future as it would be on the morrow—Easter Day, was it not?—the past, and scarcely at all the present. She relinquished all plans, all intentions and hopes: she leaned simply upon the supernatural, like a tired child, and looked at pictures.

* * * * *

In remembering it all afterwards, she recalled to herself the fact that this process of prayer seemed strangely tranquil; that there had been in her a consciousness of rest and recuperation as marked as that which a traveler feels who turns into a lighted house from a stormy night. The presence of that other in the room was not even an interruption; the nervous force that the other had generated just now seemed harmless and ineffective. For a time, at least, that was so. But there came a moment when it appeared as if her almost mechanical and rhythmical action of internal effort began to grip something. It was as when an engine after running free clenches itself again upon some wheel or cog.

The moment she was aware of this, she opened her eyes; and saw that the other was looking straight at her intently and questioningly. And in that moment she perceived for the first time that her conflict lay, not externally, as she had thought, but in some interior region of which she was wholly ignorant. It was not by word or action, but by something else which she only half understood that she was to struggle....

She closed her eyes again with quite a new kind of determination. It was not self-command that she needed, but a steady interior concentration of forces.

She began again that resolute wordless play of the will—dismissing with a series of efforts the intellectual images of thought—that play of the will which, it seemed, had affected the boy opposite in a new way. She had no idea of what the crisis would be, or how it would come. She only saw that she had struck upon a new path that led somewhere. She must follow it.

Some little sound roused her; she opened her eyes and looked up.

He had shifted his position, and for a moment her heart leapt with hope. For he sat now leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands, and in the shaded lamplight it seemed that he was shaking.

She too moved, and the rustle of her dress seemed to reach him. He glanced up, and before he dropped his head again she caught a clear sight of his face. He was laughing, silently and overpoweringly, without a sound....

For a moment the nausea seized her so fiercely that she gasped, catching at her throat; and she stared at that bowed head and shaking shoulders with a horror that she had not felt before. The laughter was worse than all: and it was a little while before she perceived its unreality. It was like a laughing machine. And the silence of it gave it a peculiar touch.

She wrestled with herself, driving down the despair that was on her. Courage and love.

Again she leaned back without speaking, closing her eyes to shut out the terror, and began desperately and resolutely to bend her will again to the task.

Again a little sound disturbed her.

Once more he had shifted his position, and was looking straight at her with a curious air of detached interest. His face looked almost natural, though it was still flushed with that forced laughter; but the mirth itself was gone. Then he spoke abruptly and sharply, in the tone of a man who speaks to a tiresome child; and a little conversation followed, in which she found herself taking a part, as in an unnatural dream.

"You had better take care," he said.

"I am not afraid."

"Well—I have warned you. It is at your own risk. What are you doing?"

"I am praying."

"I thought so.... Well, you had better take care."

She nodded at him; closed her eyes once more with new confidence, and set to work.

After that a series of little scenes followed, of which, a few days later, she could only give a disconnected account.

She had heard the locking of the front door a long while ago; and she knew that the household was gone to bed. It was then that she realized how long the struggle would be. But the next incident was marked in her memory by her hearing the tall clock in the silent hall outside beat one. It was immediately after this that he spoke once more.

"I have stood it long enough," he said, in that same abrupt manner.

She opened her eyes.

"You are still praying?" he said.

She nodded.

He got up without a word and came over to her, leaning forward with his hands on his knees to peer into her face. Again, to her astonishment, she was not terrified. She just waited, looking narrowly at the strange person who looked through Laurie's eyes and spoke through his mouth. It was all as unreal as a fantastic dream. It seemed like some abominable game or drama that had to be gone through.

"And you mean to go on praying?"

"Yes."

"Do you think it's the slightest use?"

"Yes."

He smiled unnaturally, as if the muscles of his mouth were not perfectly obedient.

"Well, I have warned you," he said.

Then he turned, went back to his couch, and this time lay down on it flat, turning over on his side, away from her, as if to sleep. He settled himself there like a dog. She looked at him a moment; then closed her eyes and began again.

* * * * *

Five minutes later she understood.

The first symptom of which she was aware was a powerlessness to formulate her prayers. Up to that point she had leaned, as has been said, on an enormous Power external to herself, yet approached by an interior way. Now it required an effort of the will to hold to that Power at all. In terms of space, let it be said that she had rested, like a child in the dark, upon Something that sustained her: now she was aware that it no longer sustained her; but that it needed a strong continuous effort to apprehend it at all. There was still the dark about her; but it was of a different quality—it cannot be expressed otherwise—it was as the darkness of an unknown gulf compared to the darkness of a familiar room. It was of such a nature that space and form seemed meaningless....

The next symptom was a sense of terror, comparable only to that which she had succeeded in crushing down as she stood on the stairs four or five hours before. That, however, had been external to her; she had entered it. Now it had entered her, and lay, heavy as pitch, upon the very springs of her interior life. It was terror of something to come. That which it heralded was not yet come: but it was approaching.

The third symptom was the approach itself—swift and silent, like the running of a bear; so swift that it was upon her through the dark before she could stir or act. It came upon her, in a flash at the last; and she understood the whole secret.

It is possible only to describe it as, afterwards, she described it herself. The powerlessness and the terror were no more than the far-off effect of its approach; the Thing itself was the center.

Of that realm of being from which it came she had no previous conception: she had known evil only in its effects—in sins of herself and others—known it as a man passing through a hospital ward sees flushed or pale faces, or bandaged wounds. Now she caught some glimpse of its essence, in the atmosphere of this bear-like thing that was upon her. As aches and pains are to Death, so were sins to this Personality—symptoms, premonitions, causes, but not Itself. And she was aware that the Thing had come from a spiritual distance so unthinkable and immeasurable, that the very word distance meant little.

Of the Presence itself and its mode she could use nothing better than metaphors. But those to whom she spoke were given to understand that it was not this or that faculty of her being that, so to speak, pushed against it; but that her entire being was saturated so entirely, that it was but just possible to distinguish her inmost self from it. The understanding no longer moved; the emotions no longer rebelled; memory simply ceased. Yet through the worst there remained one minute, infinitesimally small spark of identity that maintained "I am I; and I am not that." There was no analysis or consideration; scarcely even a sense of disgust. In fact for a while there was a period when to that tiny spot of identity it appeared that it would be an incalculable relief to cease from striving, and to let self itself be merged in that Personality so amazingly strong and compelling, that had precipitated itself upon the rest.... Relief? Certainly. For though emotion as most men know it was crushed out—that emotion stirred by human love or hatred—there remained an instinct which strove, which, by one long continuous tension, maintained itself in being.

For the malignity of the thing was overwhelming. It was not mere pressure; it had a character of its own for which the girl afterwards had no words. She could only say that, so far from being negation, or emptiness, or non-being, it had an air, hot as flame, black as pitch, and hard as iron.

That then was the situation for a time which she could only afterwards reckon by guesswork; there was no development or movement—no measurable incidents; there was but the state that remained poised; below all those comparatively superficial faculties with which men in general carry on their affairs—that state in which two Personalities faced one another, welded together in a grip that lay on the very brink of fusion....



Chapter XVIII

I

The cocks were crowing from the yards behind the village when Maggie opened her eyes, clear shrill music, answered from the hill as by their echoes, and the yews outside were alive with the dawn-chirping of the sparrows.

She lay there quite quietly, watching under her tired eyelids, through the still unshuttered windows, the splendid glow, seen behind the twisted stems in front and the slender fairy forest of birches on the further side of the garden. Immediately outside the window lay the path, deep in yew-needles, the ground-ivy beyond, and the wet lawn glistening in the strange mystical light of morning.

She had no need to remember or consider. She knew every step and process of the night. That was Laurie who lay opposite in a deep sleep, his head on his arm, breathing deeply and regularly; and this was the little smoking-room where she had seen the cigarettes laid ready against his coming, last night.

There was still a log just alight on the hearth, she noticed. She got out of her chair, softly and stiffly, for she felt intolerably languid and tired. Besides, she must not disturb the boy. So she went down on her knees, and, with infinite craft, picked out a coal or two from the fender and dropped them neatly into the core of red-heat that still smoldered. But a fragment of wood detached itself and fell with a sharp sound; and she knew, even without turning her head, that the boy had awakened. There was a faint inarticulate murmur, a rustle and a long sigh.

Then she turned round.

Laurie was lying on his back, his arms clasped behind his head, looking at her with a quiet meditative air. He appeared no more astonished or perplexed than herself. He was a little white-looking and tired in the light of dawn, but his eyes were bright and sure.

She rose from her knees again, still silent, and stood looking down on him, and he looked back at her. There was no need of speech. It was one of those moments in which one does not even say that there are no words to use; one just regards the thing, like a stretch of open country. It is contemplation, not comment, that is needed.

Her eyes wandered away presently, with the same tranquility, to the brightening garden outside; and her slowly awakening mind, expanding within, sent up a little scrap of quotation to be answered.

"While it was yet early ... there came to the sepulcher." How did it run? "Mary..." Then she spoke.

"It is Easter Day, Laurie."

The boy nodded gently; and she saw his eyes slowly closing once more; he was not yet half awake. So she went past him on tiptoe to the window, turned the handle, and opened the white tall framework-like door. A gush of air, sweet as wine, laden with the smell of dew and spring flowers and wet lawns, stole in to meet her; and a blackbird, in the shrubbery across the garden, broke into song, interrupted himself, chattered melodiously, and scurried out to vanish in a long curve behind the yews. The very world itself of beast and bird was still but half awake, and from the hamlet outside the fence, beyond the trees, rose as yet no skein of smoke and no sound of feet upon the cobbles.

For the time no future presented itself to her. The minutes that passed were enough. She regarded indeed the fact of the old man asleep in the inn, of the old lady upstairs, but she rehearsed nothing of what should be said to them by and by. She did not even think of the hour, or whether she should go to bed presently for a while. She traced no sequence of thought; she scarcely gave a glance at what was past; it was the present only that absorbed her; and even of the present not more than a fraction lay before her attention—the wet lawn, the brightening east, the cool air—those with the joy that had come with the morning were enough.

* * * * *

Again came the long sigh behind her; and a moment afterwards there was a step upon the floor, and Laurie himself stood by her. She glanced at him sideways, wondering for an instant whether his mood was as hers; and his grave, tired, boyish face was answer enough. He met her eyes, and then again let his own stray out to the garden.

He was the first to speak.

"Maggie," he said, "I think we had best never speak of this again to one another." She nodded, but he went on—

"I understand very little. I wish to understand no more. I shall ask no questions, and nothing need be said to anybody. You agree?"

"I agree perfectly," she said.

"And not a word to my mother, of course."

"Of course not."

* * * * *

The two were silent again.

And now reality—or rather, the faculties of memory and consideration by which reality is apprehended—were once more coming back to the girl and beginning to stir in her mind. She began, gently now, and without perturbation, to recall what had passed, the long crescendo of the previous months, the gathering mutter of the spiritual storm that had burst last night—even the roar and flare of the storm itself, and the mad instinctive fight for the conscious life and identity of herself through which she had struggled. And it seemed to her as if the storm, like others in the material plane, had washed things clean again, and discharged an oppression of which she had been but half conscious. Neither was it herself alone who had emerged into this "clear shining after rain"; but the boy that stood by her seemed to her to share in her joy. They stood here together now in a spiritual garden, of which this lovely morning was no more than a clumsy translation into another tongue. There stirred an air about them which was as wine to the soul, a coolness and clearness that was beyond thought, in a radiance that shone through all that was bathed within it, as sunlight that filtered through water. She perceived then that the experience had been an initiation for them both, that here they stood, one by the other, each transparent to the other, or, at least, he transparent to her; and she wondered, not whether he would see it as she did, for of that she was confident, but when. For this space of silence she perceived him through and through, and understood that perception was everything. She saw the flaws in him as plainly as in herself, the cracks in the crystal; yet these did not matter, for the crystal was crystal....

So she waited, confident, until he should understand it too.

"But that is only one fraction of what is in my mind—" He broke off.

Then for the first time since she had opened her eyes just now her heart began to beat. That which had lain hidden for so long—that which she had crushed down under stone and seal and bidden lie still—yet that which had held her resolute, all unknown to herself, through the night that was gone—once more asserted itself and waited for liberation.

"Yet how dare I—" began Laurie.

Again she glanced at him, terrified lest that which was in her heart should declare itself too plainly by eyes and lips; and she saw how he still looked across the garden, yet seeing nothing but his own thought written there against the glory of sky and leaf and grass. His face caught the splendor from the east, and she saw in it the lines that would tell always of the anguish through which he was come; and again the terror in her heart leapt to the other side, in spite of her confidence, and bade her fear lest through some mistake, some conventional shame, he should say no more.

Then he turned his troubled eyes and looked her in the face, and as he looked the trouble cleared.

"Why—Maggie!" he said.



Epilogue

"The worst of it all is," said Maggie, four months later, to a very patient female friend who adored her, and was her confidante just then—"the worst of it is that I'm not in the least sure of what it is that I believe even now."

"Tell me, dear," said the girl.

* * * * *

The two were sitting out in a delightfully contrived retreat cut out at the lower end of the double hedge. Above them and on two sides rose masses of August greenery, hazel and beech, as close as the roof and walls of a summer-house: the long path ran in green gloom up to the old brick steps beneath the yews: and before the two girls rested the pleasant apparatus of tea—silver, china and damask, all the more delightful from its barbaric contrast with its surroundings.

Maggie looked marvelously well, considering the nervous strain that had come upon her about Easter-time. She had collapsed altogether, it seemed, in Easter week itself, and had been for a long rest—one at her own dear French convent until a week ago, being entirely forbidden by the nuns to speak of her experiences at all, so soon as they had heard the rough outline. Mrs. Baxter had spent the time in rather melancholy travel on the Continent, and was coming back this evening.

"It seems to me now exactly like a very bad dream," said Maggie pensively, beginning to measure in the tea with a small silver scoop. "Oh! Mabel; may I tell you exactly what is in my mind: and then we won't talk of it any more at all?"

"Oh! do," said the girl, with a little comfortable movement.

When the tea had been poured out and the plates set ready to hand, Maggie began.

* * * * *

"It seems perfectly dreadful of me to have any doubts at all, after all this; but ... but you don't know how queer it seems. There's a kind of thick hedge—" she waved a hand illustratively to the hazels beside her—"a kind of thick hedge between me and Easter—I suppose it's the illness: the nuns tell me so. Well, it's like that. I can see myself, and Laurie, and Mr. Cathcart, and all the rest of them, like figures moving beyond; and they all seem to me to be behaving rather madly, as if they saw something that I can't see.... Oh! it's hopeless....

"Well, the first theory I have is that these little figures, myself included, really see something that I can't now: that there really was something or somebody, which makes them dance about like that. (Yes: that's not grammar; but you understand, don't you?) Well, I'll come back to that presently.

"And my next theory is this ... is this"—Maggie sipped her tea meditatively—"my next theory is that the whole thing was simple imagination, or, rather, imagination acting upon a few little facts and coincidences, and perhaps a little fraud too. Do you know the way, if you're jealous or irritable, the way in which everything seems to fit in? Every single word the person you're suspicious of utters all fits in and corroborates your idea. It isn't mere imagination: you have real facts, of a kind; but what's the matter is that you choose to take the facts in one way and not another. You select and arrange until the thing is perfectly convincing. And yet, you know, in nine cases out of ten it's simply a lie...! Oh! I can't explain all the things, certainly. I can't explain, for instance, the pencil affair—when it stood up on end before Laurie's eyes; that is, if it did really stand up at all. He says himself that the whole thing seems rather dim now, as if he had seen it in a very vivid dream. (Have one of these sugar things?)

"Then there are the appearances Laurie saw; and the extraordinary effect they finally had upon him. Oh! yes; at the time, on the night of Easter Eve, I mean, I was absolutely certain that the thing was real, that he was actually obsessed, that the thing—the Personality, I mean—came at me instead, and that somehow I won. Mr. Cathcart tells me I'm right—Well; I'll come to that presently. But if it didn't happen, I certainly can't explain what did; but there are a good many things one can't explain; and yet one doesn't instantly rush to the conclusion that they're done by the devil. People say that we know very little indeed about the inner working of our own selves. There's instinct, for instance. We know nothing about that except that it is so. 'Inherited experience' is only rather a clumsy phrase—a piece of paper gummed up to cover a crack in the wall.

"And that brings me to my third theory."

Maggie poured out for herself a second cup of tea.

"My third theory I'm rather vague about, altogether. And yet I see quite well that it may be the true one. (Please don't interrupt till I've quite done.)

"We've got in us certain powers that we don't understand at all. For instance, there's thought-projection. There's not a shadow of doubt that that is so. I can sit here and send you a message of what I'm thinking about—oh! vaguely, of course. It's another form of what we mean by Sympathy and Intuition. Well, you know, some people think that haunted houses can be explained by this. When the murder is going on, the murderer and the murdered person are probably fearfully excited—anger, fear, and so on. That means that their whole being is stirred up right to the bottom, and that their hidden powers are frightfully active. Well, the idea is that these hidden powers are almost like acids, or gas—Hudson tells us all about that—and that they can actually stamp themselves upon the room to such a degree that when a sympathetic person comes in, years afterwards, perhaps, he sees the whole thing just as it happened. It acts upon his mind first, of course, and then outwards through the senses—just the reverse order to that in which we generally see things.

"Well—that's only an illustration. Now my idea is this: How do we know whether all the things that happened, from the pencil and the rappings and the automatic writing, right up to the appearances Laurie saw, were not just the result of these inner powers.... Look here. When one person projects his thought to another it arrives generally like a very faint phantom of the thing he's thinking about. If I'm thinking of the ace of hearts, you see a white rectangle with a red spot in the middle. See? Well, multiply all that a hundred times, and one can just see how it might be possible that the thought of ... of Mr. Vincent and Laurie together might produce a kind of unreal phantom that could even be touched, perhaps.... Oh! I don't know."

Maggie paused. The girl at her side gave an encouraging murmur.

"Well—that's about all," said Maggie slowly.

"But you haven't—"

"Why, how stupid! Yes: the first theory.... Now that just shows how unreal it is to me now. I'd forgotten it.

"Well, the first theory, my dear brethren, divides itself into two heads—first the theory of the spiritualists, secondly the theory of Mr. Cathcart. (He's a dear, Mabel, even though I don't believe one word he says.)

"Well, the spiritualist theory seems to me simple R.-O.-T.—rot. Mr. Vincent, Mrs. Stapleton, and the rest, really think that the souls of people actually come back and do these things; that it was, really and truly, poor dear Amy Nugent who led Laurie such a dance. I'm quite, quite certain that that's not true whatever else is.... Yes, I'll come to the coincidences presently. But how can it possibly be that Amy should come back and do these things, and hurt Laurie so horribly? Why, she couldn't if she tried. My dear, to be quite frank, she was a very common little thing: and, besides, she wouldn't have hurt a hair of his head.

"Now for Mr. Cathcart."

There was a long pause. A small cat stepped out suddenly from the hazel tangle behind and eyed the two girls. Then, quite noiselessly, as it caught Maggie's eye, it opened its mouth in a pathetic curve intended to represent, an appeal.

"You darling!" cried Maggie suddenly; seized a saucer, filled it with milk, and set it on the ground. The small cat stepped daintily down, and set to work.

"Yes?" said the other girl tentatively.

"Oh! Mr. Cathcart.... Well, I must say that his theory fits in with what Father Mahon says. But, you know, theology doesn't say that this or that particular thing is the devil, or has actually happened in any given instance—only that, if it really does happen, it is the devil. Well, this is Mr. Cathcart's idea. It's a long story: you mustn't mind.

"First, he believes in the devil in quite an extraordinary way.... Oh! yes, I know we do too; but it's so very real indeed with him. He believes that the air is simply thick with them, all doing their very utmost to get hold of human beings. Yes, I suppose we do believe that too; but I expect that since there are such a quantity of things—like bad dreams—that we used to think were the devil, and now only turn out to be indigestion, that we're rather too skeptical. Well, Mr. Cathcart believes both in indigestion, so to speak, and the devil. He believes that those evil spirits are at us all the time, trying to get in at any crack they can find—that in one person they produce lunacy—I must say it seems to me rather odd the way in which lunatics so very often become horribly blasphemous and things like that—and in another just shattered nerves, and so on. They take advantage, he says, of any weak spot anywhere.

"Now one of the easiest ways of all is through spiritualism. Spiritualism is wrong—we know that well enough; it is wrong because it's trying to live a life and find out things that are beyond us at present. It's 'wrong' on the very lowest estimate, because it's outraging our human nature. Yes, Mabel, that's his phrase. Good intentions, therefore, don't protect us in the least. To go to seances with good intentions is like ... like ... holding a smoking-concert in a powder-magazine on behalf of an orphan asylum. It's not the least protection—I'm not being profane, my dear—it's not the least protection to open the concert with prayer. We've got no business there at all. So we're blown up just the same.

"The danger...? Oh! the danger's this, Mr. Cathcart says. At seances, if they're genuine, and with automatic handwriting and all the rest, you deliberately approach those powers in a friendly way, and by the sort of passivity which you've got to get yourself into, you open yourself as widely as possible to their entrance. Very often they can't get in; and then you're only bothered. But sometimes they can, and then you're done. It's particularly hard to get them out again.

"Now, of course, no one in his senses—especially decent people—would dream of doing all this if he knew what it all meant. So these creatures, whatever they may be, always pretend to be somebody else. They're very sharp: they can pick up all kinds of odds and ends, little tricks, and little facts; and so, with these, they impersonate someone whom the inquirer's very fond of; and they say all sorts of pious, happy little things at first in order to lead them on. So they go on for a long time saying that religion's quite true. (By the way, it's rather too odd the way in which the Catholic Church seems the one thing they don't like! You can be almost anything else, if you're a spiritualist; but you can't be a Catholic.) Generally, though, they tell you to say your prayers and sing hymns. (Father Mahon the other day, when I was arguing with him about having some hymns in church, said that heretics always went in for hymns!) And so you go on. Then they begin to hint that religion's not worth much; and then they attack morals. Mr. Cathcart wouldn't tell me about that; but he said it got just as bad as it could be, if you didn't take care."

Maggie paused again, looking rather serious. Her voice had risen a little, and a new color had come to her face as she talked. She stooped to pick up the saucer.

"Dearest, had you better—"

"Oh! yes: I've just about done," said Maggie briskly. "There's hardly any more. Well, there's the idea. They want to get possession of human beings and move them, so they start like that.

"Well; that's what Mr. Cathcart says happened to Laurie. One of those Beasts came and impersonated poor Amy. He picked up certain things about her—her appearance, her trick of stammering, and of playing with her fingers, and about her grave and so on: and then, finally, made his appearance in her shape."

"I don't understand about that," murmured the girl.

"Oh! my dear, I can't bother about that now. There's a lot about astral substance, and so on. Besides, this is only what Mr. Cathcart says. As I told you, I'm not at all sure that I believe one word of it. But that's his idea."

Maggie stopped again suddenly, and leaned back, staring out at the luminous green roof of hazels above her. The small cat could be discerned half-way up the leafy tunnel swaying its body in preparation for a pounce, while overhead sounded an agitated twittering. Mabel seized a pebble, and threw it with such success that the swaying stopped, and a reproachful cat-face looked round at her.

"There!" said Mabel comfortably; and then, "Well, what do you really think?"

Maggie smiled reflectively.

"That's exactly what I don't know myself in the very least. As I said, all this seems to me more like a dream—and a very bad one. I think it's the ... the nastiest thing," she added vindictively, "that I've ever come across; I don't want to hear one word more about it as long as I live."

"But—"

"Oh, my dear, why can't we be all just sensible and normal? I love doing just ordinary little things—the garden, and the chickens, and the cat and dog and complaining to the butcher. I cannot imagine what anybody wants with anything else. Yes; I suppose I do, in a sort of way, believe Mr. Cathcart. It seems to me, granted the spiritual world at all—which, naturally, I do grant—far the most intelligent explanation. It seems to me, intellectually, far the most broad-minded explanation; because it really does take in all the facts—if they are facts—and accounts for them reasonably. Whereas the subjective—self business—oh, it's frightfully clever and ingenious—but it does assume such a very great deal. It seems to me rather like the people who say that electricity accounts for everything—electricity! And as for the imagination theory—well, that's what appeals to me now, emotionally—because I happen to be in the chickens and butcher mood; but it doesn't in the least convince me. Yes; I suppose Mr. Cathcart's theory is the one I ought to believe, and, in a way, the one I do believe; but that doesn't in the least prevent me from feeling it extraordinarily unreal and impossible. Anyhow, it doesn't matter much."

Again she leaned back comfortably, smiling to herself, and there was a long silence.

It was a divinely beautiful August evening. From where they sat little could be seen except the long vista of the path, arched with hazels, whence the cat had now disappeared, ending in three old brick steps, wide and flat, lichened and mossed, set about with flower-pots and leading up to the yew walk. But the whole air was full of summer sound and life and scent, heavy and redolent, streaming in from the old box-lined kitchen-garden on their right beyond the hedge and from the orchard on the left. It was the kind of atmosphere suggesting Nature in her most sensible mood, full-blooded, normal, perfectly fulfilling her own vocation; utterly unmystical, except by very subtle interpretation; unsuggestive, since she was already saying all that could be said, and following out every principle by which she lived to the furthest confine of its contents. It presented the same kind of rounded-off completion and satisfactoriness as that suggested by an entirely sensuous and comfortable person. There were no corners in it, no vistas hinting at anything except at some perfectly normal lawn or set garden, no mystery, no implication of any other theory or glimpse of theory except that which itself proclaimed.

Something of its air seemed now to breathe in Maggie's expression of contentment, as she smiled softly and happily, clasping her arms behind her head. She looked perfectly charming, thought Mabel; and she laid a hand delicately on her friend's knee, as if to share in the satisfaction—to verify it by participation, so to speak.

"It doesn't seem to have done you much harm," she said.

"No, thank you; I'm extremely well and very content. I've looked through the door once, without in the least wishing to; and I don't in the least want to look again. It's not a nice view."

"But about—er—religion," said the younger girl rather awkwardly.

"Oh! religion's all right," said Maggie. "The Church gives me just as much of all that as is good for me; and, for the rest, just tells me to be quiet and not bother—above all, not to peep or pry. Listeners hear no good of themselves: and I suppose that's true of the other senses too. At any rate, I'm going to do my best to mind nothing except my own business."

"Isn't that rather unenterprising?"

"Certainly it is; that's why I like it.... Oh! Mabel, I do want to be so absolutely ordinary all the rest of my life. It's so extremely rare and original, you know. Didn't somebody say that there was nothing so uncommon as common sense? Well, that's what I'm going to be. A genius! Don't you understand?—the kind that is an infinite capacity for taking pains, not the other sort."

"What is the other sort?"

"Why, an infinite capacity for doing without them. Like Wagner, you know. Well, I wish to be the Bach sort—the kind of thing that anyone ought to be able to do—only they can't."

Mabel smiled doubtfully.

"Lady Laura was saying—" she began presently.

Maggie's face turned suddenly severe.

"I don't wish to hear one word."

"But she's given it up," cried the girl. "She's given it up."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Maggie judicially. "And I hope now that she'll spend the rest of her days in sackcloth—with a scourge," she added. "Oh, did I tell you about Mrs. Nugent?"

"About the evening Laurie came home? Yes."

"Well, that's all right. The poor old dear got all sorts of things on her mind, when it leaked out. But I talked to her, and we went up together and put flowers on the grave, and I said I'd have a mass said for Amy, though I'm sure she doesn't require one. The poor darling! But ... but ... (don't think me brutal, please) how providential her death was! Just think!"

"Mrs. Baxter's coming home by the 6.10, isn't she?"

Maggie nodded.

"Yes; but you know you mustn't say a word to her about all this. In fact she won't have it. She's perfectly convinced that Laurie overworked himself—Laurie, overworked!—and that that was just all that was the matter with him. Auntie's what's called a sensible woman, you know, and I must say it's rather restful. It's what I want to be; but it's a far-off aspiration, I'm afraid, though I'm nearer it than I was."

"You mean she doesn't think anything odd happened at all?"

"Just so. Nothing at all odd. All very natural. Oh, by the way, Laurie swears he never put his nose inside her room that night, but I'm absolutely certain he did, and didn't know it."

"Where is Mr. Lawrence?"

"Auntie made him go abroad."

"And when does he come back?"

There was a perceptible pause.

"Mr. Lawrence comes back on Saturday evening," said Maggie deliberately.

THE END

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