The Story Vinton Heard at Mallorie

by Katharine Prescott Moseley

“There is only one letter for you,” said Ware’s sister, and she turned the handle of the coffee-urn as she watched him slit the envelope, for Ware had exclaimed: “By Jove! It’s from Vinton.” And then, after a moment: “That’s a nice thing. Roberts posted this last night instead of telephoning it up directly it came. He’s on the ——nia, due in New York—let me see—you have the Herald there—look in the shipping, will you? Are they sighted?”

Abigail took up the paper. “Docked last night at nine,” she said.

“Then he’ll have caught the midnight from New York. If he’s not stopping in Boston he’ll be on the eight fifty-eight.”

“Is he coming here?”

“Yes, he says so. He’ll have quite a bit to tell if I know him.” And an hour or so later Abigail Ware saw Vinton lift his eyes to the columns of the white porch glistening in the morning sun behind her, and as he sprang out of the motor and took her hand: “My foot is on my native heath and my name is MacGregor!” he cried.

Abigail led the way into the dining-room. “Come in by the fire; I’ve kept some coffee hot,” she said.

Vinton approached the warmth of the pine logs that were sending out sparks against the screen of the Franklin stove. “There’s something fearfully penetrating about the air over here at this time of year,” he began. “Open fires are its saving complement.”

Abigail held out his cup.

“Warm as toast in England; perfect English spring this year.”

“Oh, no doubt of it; spring’s the time for England,” Ware asserted.

“Fall for New England,” said Ware’s sister. “But tell me,” she went on, “you were talking of saving complements. What are the saving complements over there just now?”

“There aren’t any.” Vinton’s voice was suddenly sombre.

“I should think not!” It came from brother and sister at once.

A moment passed before Vinton turned from the fire and let his eyes wander from the pale yellow heads of the daffodils nodding in the easterly May air outside to the cool tints of the Lowestoft bowl on which some Chinese artisan a century before had picked out the initials of a merchant-sailor grandfather in pale tints of blue and gold and which now stood in the centre of the table filled with sprays of the rhodora. “Yes,” he said slowly, “I suppose there are saving complements of a sort if one is heroic enough to find them, but—well, one can hardly— What shall I say? Everything over there—I mean all sorts of what you’d call merely material objects—is being charged, I believe, with some kind of spiritual essence that is going to be indefinitely active to future contact.”

He looked across the table to where Ware sat with his chair a little pushed back, and laughed. “The intolerant old Puritan thinks I’m off again, doesn’t he?” he said almost archly. Then he glanced about the room once more. “I think,” he continued, “that there is an extraordinary beauty of a kind about our old houses over here—a charm, too, although I’ve never been able to analyze it, for, after all, you know, there’s nothing in them!”

“The Puritan,” he began to explain, “belonged peculiarly to the race that in England had always opposed all of what one may call the sensory elements that were of such immense appeal to the race of the Cavaliers, for I believe that the two did spring from essentially different roots.

“‘A primrose by a river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.’”

“What more does it need to be?” Ware protested, and “Ah! there you are,” Vinton responded. “But don’t you see, after all, such negation never created”—he laughed a little again. “Never created an—an—”

“An eschatology?” supplemented Ware.

“A what? What on earth’s an eschatology?” gasped Ware’s sister.

“Say, for brevity, the material manifestation of spiritual things; not quite theological, but ’t will serve,” Vinton returned, and was silent; and after a time Abigail asked him what he thought of the legend of the Angel of Mons. Then it was that Vinton began to be truly cryptic. “What’s the use,” he said genially, “of talking about these things to two people who are made of stuff as splendidly solid and insensitive to the vibrations of what they’d call fantasy as their colonial pieces themselves.”

Abigail sighed. “I’m sorry that I’m too insensitive to hear of these saving complements of horror,” she said. “As for Billy, I suppose he wants the facts.”

“The horror,” returned Vinton, “for the facts are all horror. If it hadn’t been for the story that the Marquis of Mallorie’s daughter told me I should bring home nothing else.”

“Is this one of those manifestations you refuse to reveal to us?”

“It is the only one. It’s no use before Ware; perhaps some time—if you will listen.”

“Go on,” said Ware; “‘si non e vero, e ben trovato’”.

“Oh, I’m not making it up.”

“Well, what do they say about the Russian advance, over there? Did you see any of the big German guns in action?”

For days after this the conversation turned on the technical questions of war, with which Vinton’s opportunities as a war correspondent had made him familiar.

Then one night Vinton had come down from Boston on a late afternoon train. He had been lunching at one of the clubs with friends who had listed him to speak at two or three houses in aid of emergency funds. It was tea-time and suddenly he rose, with his cup and saucer in hand, and went over to one of the dining-room windows. “Hello,” he said. “We’re going to get a northeaster, I’ll be bound.”

“The sheep-shearer’s due,” said Ware from his desk.

And it was that very night, when the great easterly gale was enveloping the whole New England coast and was sending showers of sparks down the big fire-place before which they sat, in a low-ceiled room which had been the kitchen in colonial days, that Vinton told the story as he had heard it from the Marquis of Mallorie’s daughter.

――――

“It seems,” he began, “that the Mallories are of an immensely ancient family in the southwest of England; the title is one of the oldest in the realm, and one of the poorest. Away back in the time of the Tudor they became Protestant under protest, and have remained so under protest; only their chapel, like the worshipping places of the early Christians, was taken down into the bosom of the earth and there it rested, exhaling strange virtues over all the land above, and, as many thought, harboring much of good that the newer order of things had cast out. And so the Mallories are High-Church and when the Puseyites began their revolt they were only approaching what the Mallories had been for centuries. And about these delightful people there is none of the fanaticism of the convert.

“When war broke out there were two beautiful daughters living, most of their time, down there at Mallorie Abbey, and a son who went over with the expeditionary force as soon as war was declared. This young man was killed in action, under the most heroic circumstances. He was, apparently, the type of young soldier who might have been one of Arthur’s men, and I believe the clerical incumbent there used to quote the lines of the Puritan Milton: ‘Arthur stirring wars under the earth that hides him,’ or ‘Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen,’ as having a kind of ironic application to the whole Mallorie domain. When I came back from France I was pretty well used up, and Carteret Lyon asked me down to his place, which stands within four or five miles of Mallorie, in the south. They are, of course, in mourning and fearfully sad, but I met the eldest daughter at tea one afternoon, and, being the most natural people on earth, and as I could tell her some things she wished to hear about France, we became almost friends at once. After that they made me welcome at Mallorie whenever I dropped in at tea-time, and one day Lady Maurya took me over the abbey, telling me as we went through the dim old place with its stained and mullioned windows a lot of its curious, almost supernatural, history. Suddenly she broke off from the narrative, on which it had seemed to me that her mind had been only lightly fixed, and, sinking down on a window-seat in the low, long hall we had been passing through, she looked up at me and said: ‘Ah, this is nothing to something that has really happened here within the year.’

“I asked her if she could tell me, and she answered that she wished to, but that it was all so very extraordinary that she feared I would be unable to believe it, and she felt that she could not hear it doubted.

“I said to her that I was the most believing man since the Dark Ages, and so she told me.

“It was the anniversary of her brother’s death, and a quarter to three in the morning had just struck from the clock on a kind of tower that rises over the chapel and which has a circular stairway running down into the middle of a small lady-chapel where her brother’s body (which had finally been found after the engagement in which he had been killed) had been buried. She and the other members of her family were keeping vigil beside the tomb by turns while masses were being said, during the twelve hours that were passing, and she was just mounting the stairs to go to her room for a little rest, being nearly exhausted with fatigue and emotion, when suddenly the tower and stairway, which had been in inky darkness before, became as light as day. She knew in an instant what it was, and, looking up, straight over her head she saw a Zeppelin hovering exactly above where she stood and so low that it seemed to her that she could see the crew and their preparations for the hideous work afoot. Then she looked down and a single shaft of the search-light fell directly on the heads of those who were gathered on their knees about the tomb. They were praying, with their heads bent and their eyes closed, for not one of them seemed to be aware of it, and the priests, whose chanting came up to her fearfully from the altar, were protected from it by the high reredos. There was something so dreadful and so uncanny about it all that she was petrified, for she knew that annihilation was hanging over her and all her family, without the shadow of a doubt, for the aim was at the tower—which was a landmark for miles around—and that it would fall before she could warn one of her people to safety, when, as in a flash from nowhere, flying at a most terrific rate of speed yet without a sound and straight at the Zeppelin, there appeared an aeroplane. It approached almost within hailing distance of the great thing without firing, and then, as the Zeppelin started a little, the aeroplane began swirling about it. She could not tell how long a battle went on between them without a single shot from either. It seemed as if the aeroplane was winding the monster in some intangible net, in which it turned and twisted and writhed, trying to get away into the free air; and then, again without a single shot, it fell to earth.

“Every one of the crew had been killed when the men went out to it, and while she and her sister watched from the top of the tower they saw the aeroplane skim down and land just below them. Hastening below she threw back a little door that opened to the ground, and there she came face to face with the aeronaut. He wore no helmet, and, in this very early light, for it was in the first days of the year, he looked as if he stood in a shining black armor. His hair was golden, and the rising sun touched it, and he was the most beautiful creature that she had ever seen—so beautiful that she fell back against the wall behind her.

“Then the others came and showered him with thanks and insisted that he should be their guest at Mallorie, and, to every one’s astonishment, Lady Maurya’s mother called the man who had served her son for many years and directed him to take the stranger to her son’s rooms, that had not been open since the day he fell in battle, and also she said that as they were of about the same height his wardrobe should be at the stranger’s disposal. He accepted their invitation and stayed at Mallorie Abbey for nearly a week, saying that there were a few things he must do about his machine. And yet, during his whole stay, no one ever saw him at work on it. In fact, although the Mallories never mentioned it to him, they knew that there was much excitement, not only among their own people but in the countryside, because since the moment he had come to earth no one had been able to find the aeroplane. He would sometimes play tennis with Lady Maurya and her sister the whole morning or afternoon, and at sight of him in their brother’s flannels and with his gayest kummerbunds and ties they felt no pangs, only a great comfort in his presence, not exactly as if their brother was really back with them, but as if he had power to fill them with the same sort of happiness they had always felt when the young soldier was at home with them on leave.

“One night during that week a general officer back from France on an important mission dined at the abbey. After dinner, something calling the marquis out, the officer and the aeronaut, Lieutenant Templar, as he called himself, were left alone. As the officer was bidding Lady Maurya good-by, two hours later, he said: ‘This evening has been worth twenty trips from France. I have learned that which may be of such value to us that it will turn the tide of war. This young saviour of Mallorie Abbey may be the saviour of Europe. But how does he know?’

“Then it was that Lady Maurya took Lieutenant Templar by himself, and she brought him into the very hall where she told me the story, and she said to him (and how could any creature of earth or heaven have resisted her, for she has all the beauty and all the allurements of both?): ‘Why were your wings all purple and gold when you came flying to save us that morning?’

“And he answered her: ‘The shadow of the earth upon the skies, and a touch of dawn.’

“‘But there was no dawn,’ she said. ‘And when you came to the great monster why did your wings change to flaming scarlet, so bright that no eyes could rest upon them?’

“‘The rising sun,’ he said.

“And she answered: ‘But there was no rising sun.’

“And then he looked at her for a long time while neither spoke, and at last: ‘How could you send the thing to earth without a single shot?’ she asked.

“And he answered, after a moment: ‘Because in me is all the strength of that bright ardor which has led young warriors to die in battle for the right since earth began. And now my strength is most mightily renewed with the strength of all the lads who were the first to die for England. Was not your brother one of these? Such souls are the stuff of which are made the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host.’

“And as she looked at him, standing before her, it seemed to her, in the dim light, that instead of the evening clothes he had been wearing she saw again a glint of black armor as on the morning when he had first come to them, and then, like Elsa, she asked him who he was, and he, like Lohengrin, was gone.

“But from that day to this there has been no more sorrowing at Mallorie Abbey.”

――――

The great northeaster had stopped its wild howling at the very moment that Vinton was adding: “They have never known which of them it was—whether it was Michael—or Gabriel—or Raphael!”

Ware poked the fire and said nothing.

“Do you believe it?” asked Ware’s sister.

“What an impossible word that word ‘believe’ is! What does it mean?”

“And do you like the idea—the idea of losing one’s identity in one great superlative being like that?”

Vinton thought a moment, and then he said: “When I remember that all the trouble on this earth comes in the train of that infernal thing we call the ego it seems to me that the heavenly things must indeed arise from its complete surrender. Yes,” he continued more slowly, “yes, I think I like it very much.”