THE RETURN OF THE SOUL
By Robert S. Hichens
"I have been here before, But when, or how, I cannot tell!"
Tuesday Night, November 3rd.
Theories! What is the good of theories? They are the scourges that lash
our minds in modern days, lash them into confusion, perplexity, despair. I
have never been troubled by them before. Why should I be troubled by them
now? And the absurdity of Professor Black's is surely obvious. A child
would laugh at it. Yes, a child! I have never been a diary writer. I have
never been able to understand the amusement of sitting down late at night
and scrawling minutely in some hidden book every paltry incident of one's
paltry days. People say it is so interesting to read the entries years
afterwards. To read, as a man, the menu that I ate through as a
boy, the love-story that I was actor in, the tragedy that I brought about,
the debt that I have never paid—how could it profit me? To keep a
diary has always seemed to me merely an addition to the ills of life. Yet
now I have a hidden book, like the rest of the world, and I am scrawling
in it to-day. Yes, but for a reason.
I want to make things clear to myself, and I find, as others, that my mind
works more easily with the assistance of the pen. The actual tracing of
words on paper dispels the clouds that cluster round my thoughts. I shall
recall events to set my mind at ease, to prove to myself how absurd a man
who could believe in Professor Black would be. "Little Dry-as-dust" I used
to call him 'Dry'? He is full of wild romance, rubbish that a school-girl
would be ashamed to believe in. Yet he is abnormally clever; his record
proves that. Still, clever men are the first to be led astray, they say.
It is the searcher who follows the wandering light. What he says can't be
true. When I have filled these pages, and read what I have written
dispassionately, as one of the outside public might read, I shall have
done, once for all, with the ridiculous fancies that are beginning to make
my life a burden. To put my thoughts in order will make a music. The evil
spirit within me will sleep, will die. I shall be cured. It must be so—it
shall be so.
To go back to the beginning. Ah! what a long time ago that seems! As a
child I was cruel. Most boys are cruel, I think. My school companions were
a merciless set—merciless to one another, to their masters when they
had a chance, to animals, to birds. The desire to torture was in nearly
all of them. They loved to bully, and if they bullied only mildly, it was
from fear, not from love. They did not wish their boomerang to return and
slay them. If a boy were deformed, they twitted him. If a master were
kind, or gentle, or shy, they made his life as intolerable as they could.
If an animal or a bird came into their power, they had no pity. I was like
the rest; indeed, I think that I was worse. Cruelty is horrible. I have
enough imagination to do more than know that—to feel it.
Some say that it is lack of imagination which makes men and women brutes.
May it not be power of imagination? The interest of torturing is lessened,
is almost lost, if we can not be the tortured as well as the torturer.
As a child I was cruel by nature, by instinct. I was a handsome,
well-bred, gentlemanlike, gentle-looking little brute. My parents adored
me, and I was good to them. They were so kind to me that I was almost fond
of them. Why not? It seemed to me as politic to be fond of them as of
anyone else. I did what I pleased, but I did not always let them know it;
so I pleased them. The wise child will take care to foster the ignorance
of its parents. My people were pretty well off, and I was their only
child; but my chief chances of future pleasure in life were centred in my
grandmother, my mother's mother. She was immensely rich, and she lived
here. This room in which I am writing now was her favourite sitting-room.
On that hearth, before a log fire, such as is burning at this moment, used
to sit that wonderful cat of hers—that horrible cat! Why did I ever
play my childish cards to win this house, this place? Sometimes, lately—very
lately only—I have wondered, like a fool perhaps. Yet would
Professor Black say so? I remember, as a boy of sixteen, paying my last
visit here to my grandmother. It bored me very much to come. But she was
said to be near death, and death leaves great houses vacant for others to
fill. So when my mother said that I had better come, and my father added
that he thought my grandmother was fonder of me than of my other
relations, I gave up all my boyish plans for the holidays with apparent
willingness. Though almost a child, I was not short-sighted. I knew every
boy had a future as well as a present. I gave up my plans, and came here
with a smile; but in my heart I hated my grandmother for having power, and
so bending me to relinquish pleasure for boredom. I hated her, and I came
to her and kissed her, and saw her beautiful white Persian cat sitting
before the fire in this room, and thought of the fellow who was my bosom
friend, and with whom I longed to be, shooting, or fishing, or riding. And
I looked at the cat again. I remember it began to purr when I went near to
it. It sat quite still, with its blue eyes fixed upon the fire, but when I
approached it I heard it purr complacently. I longed to kick it. The
limitations of its ridiculous life satisfied it completely. It seemed to
reproduce in an absurd, diminished way my grandmother in her white lace
cap, with her white face and hands. She sat in her chair all day and
looked at the fire. The cat sat on the hearthrug and did the same. The cat
seemed to me the animal personification of the human being who kept me
chained from all the sports and pleasures I had promised myself for the
holidays. When I went near to the cat, and heard it calmly purring at me,
I longed to do it an injury. It seemed to me as if it understood what my
grandmother did not, and was complacently triumphing at my voluntary
imprisonment with age, and laughing to itself at the pains men—and
boys—will undergo for the sake of money. Brute! I did not love my
grandmother, and she had money. I hated the cat utterly. It hadn't a sou!
This beautiful house is not old. My grandfather built it himself. He had
no love for the life of towns, I believe, but was passionately in touch
with nature, and, when a young man, he set out on a strange tour through
England. His object was to find a perfect view, and in front of that view
he intended to build himself a habitation. For nearly a year, so I have
been told, he wandered through Scotland and England, and at last he came
to this place in Cumberland, to this village, to this very spot. Here his
wanderings ceased. Standing on the terrace—then uncultivated forest—that
runs in front of these windows, he found at last what he desired. He
bought the forest. He bought the windings of the river, the fields upon
its banks, and on the extreme edge of the steep gorge through which it
runs he built the lovely dwelling that to-day is mine.
This place is no ordinary place. It is characteristic in the highest
degree. The house is wonderfully situated, with the ground falling
abruptly in front of it, the river forming almost a horseshoe round it.
The woods are lovely. The garden, curiously, almost wildly, laid out, is
like no other garden I ever saw. And the house, though not old, is full of
little surprises, curiously shaped rooms, remarkable staircases, quaint
recesses. The place is a place to remember. The house is a house to fix
itself in the memory. Nothing that had once lived here could ever come
back and forget that it had been here. Not even an animal—not even
I wish I had never gone to that dinnerparty and met the Professor. There
was a horror coming upon me then. He has hastened its steps. He has put my
fears into shape, my vague wondering into words. Why cannot men leave life
alone? Why will they catch it by the throat and wring its secrets from it?
To respect reserve is one of the first instincts of the gentleman; and
life is full of reserve.
It is getting very late. I thought I heard a step in the house just now. I
wonder—I wonder if she is asleep. I wish I knew. Day after
day passed by. My grandmother seemed to be failing, but almost
imperceptibly. She evidently loved to have me near to her. Like most old
dying people, in her mind she frantically clutched at life, that could
give to her nothing more; and I believe she grew to regard me as the
personification of all that was leaving her. My vitality warmed her. She
extended her hands to my flaming hearthfire. She seemed trying to live in
my life, and at length became afraid to let me out of her sight. One day
she said to me, in her quavering, ugly voice—old voices are so ugly,
like hideous echoes:
"Ronald, I could never die while you were in the room. So long as you are
with me, where I can touch you, I shall live."
And she put out her white, corrugated hand, and fondled my warm boy's
How I longed to push her hand away, and get out into the sunlight and the
air, and hear young voices, the voices of the morning, not of the
twilight, and be away from wrinkled Death, that seemed sitting on the
doorstep of that house huddled up like a beggar, waiting for the door to
I was bored till I grew malignant. I confess it. And, feeling malignant, I
began to long more and more passionately to vent myself on someone or
something. I looked at the cat, which, as usual, was sitting before the
Animals have intuitions as keen as those of a woman, keener than those of
a man. They inherit an instinct of fear of those who hate them from a long
line of ancestors who have suffered at the hands of cruel men. They can
tell by a look, by a motion, by the tone of a voice, whether to expect
from anyone kindness or malignity. The cat had purred complacently on the
first day of my arrival, and had hunched up her white, furry back towards
my hand, and had smiled with her calm, light-blue eyes. Now, when I
approached her, she seemed to gather herself together and to make herself
small. She shrank from me. There was—as I fancied—a dawning
comprehension, a dawning terror in her blue eyes. She always sat very
close to my grandmother now, as if she sought protection, and she watched
me as if she were watching for an intention which she apprehended to grow
in my mind.
And the intention came.
For, as the days went on, and my grandmother still lived, I began to grow
desperate. My holiday time was over now, but my parents wrote telling me
to stay where I was, and not to think of returning to school. My
grandmother had caused a letter to be sent to them in which she said that
she could not part from me, and added that my parents would never have
cause to regret interrupting my education for a time. "He will be paid in
full for every moment he loses," she wrote, referring to me.
It seemed a strange taste in her to care so much for a boy, but she had
never loved women, and I was handsome, and she liked handsome faces. The
brutality in my nature was not written upon my features. I had smiling,
frank brown eyes, a lithe young figure, a gay boy's voice. My movements
were quick, and I have always been told that my gestures were never
awkward, my demeanour was never unfinished, as is the case so often with
lads at school. Outwardly I was attractive; and the old woman, who had
married two husbands merely for their looks, delighted in feeling that she
had the power to retain me by her side at an age when most boys avoid old
people as if they were the pestilence.
And then I pretended to love her, and obeyed all her insufferably tiresome
behests. But I longed to wreak vengeance upon her all the same. My dearest
friend, the fellow with whom I was to have spent my holidays, was leaving
at the end of this term which I was missing. He wrote to me furious
letters, urging me to come back, and reproaching me for my selfishness and
lack of affection.
Each time I received one I looked at the cat, and the cat shrank nearer to
my grandmother's chair.
It never purred now, and nothing would induce it to leave the room where
she sat. One day the servant said to me:
"I believe the poor dumb thing knows my mistress can't last very much
longer, sir. The way that cat looks up at her goes to my heart. Ah! them
beasts understand things as well as we do, I believe."
I think the cat understood quite well. It did watch my grandmother in a
very strange way, gazing up into her face, as if to mark the changing
contours, the increasing lines, the down-droop of the features, that
bespoke the gradual soft approach of death. It listened to the sound of
her voice; and as, each day, the voice grew more vague, more weak and
toneless, an anxiety that made me exult dawned and deepened in its blue
eyes. Or so I thought.
I had a great deal of morbid imagination at that age, and loved to weave a
web of fancies, mostly horrible, around almost everything that entered
into my life. It pleased me to believe that the cat understood each new
intention that came into my mind, read me silently from its place near the
fire, tracked my thoughts, and was terror-stricken as they concentrated
themselves round a definite resolve, which hardened and toughened day by
It pleased me to believe, do I say? I did really believe, and do believe
now, that the cat understood all, and grew haggard with fear as my
grandmother failed visibly. For it knew what the end would mean for it.
That first day of my arrival, when I saw my grandmother in her white cap,
with her white face and hands, and the big white cat sitting near to her,
I had thought there was a similarity between them. That similarity struck
me more forcibly, grew upon me, as my time in the house grew longer, until
the latter seemed almost a reproduction of the former, and after each
letter from my friend my hate for the two increased. But my hate for my
grandmother was impotent, and would always be so. I could never repay her
for the ennui, the furious, forced inactivity which made my life a
burden, and spurred my bad passions while they lulled me in a terrible,
enforced repose. I could repay her favourite, the thing she had always
cherished, her feline confidant, who lived in safety under the shadow of
her protection. I could wreak my fury on that when the protection was
withdrawn, as it must be at last. It seemed to my brutal, imaginative,
unfinished boy's mind that the murder of her pet must hurt and wound my
grandmother even after she was dead. I would make her suffer then, when
she was impotent to wreak a vengeance upon me. I would kill the cat.
The creature knew my resolve the day I made it, and had even, I should
say, anticipated it.
As I sat day after day beside my grandmother's armchair in the dim room,
with the blinds drawn to shut out the summer sunlight, and talked to her
in a subdued and reverent voice, agreeing with all the old banalities she
uttered, all the preposterous opinions she propounded, all the commands
she laid upon me, I gazed beyond her at the cat, and the creature was
haggard with apprehension.
It knew, as I knew, that its day was coming. Sometimes I bent down and
took it up on my lap to please my grandmother, and praised its beauty and
its gentleness to her And all the time I felt its warm, furry body
trembling with horror between my hands. This pleased me, and I pretended
that I was never happy unless it was on my knees. I kept it there for
hours, stroking it so tenderly, smoothing its thick white coat, which was
always in the most perfect order, talking to it, caressing it.
And sometimes I took its head between my two hands, turned its face to
mine, and stared into its large blue eyes. Then I could read all its
agony, all its torture of apprehension: and in spite of my friend's
letters, and the dulness of my days, I was almost happy.
The summer was deepening, the glow of the roses flushed the garden ways,
the skies were clear above Scawfell, when the end at last drew near. My
grandmother's face was now scarcely recognizable. The eyes were sunk deep
in her head. All expression seemed to fade gradually away. Her cheeks were
no longer fine ivory white; a dull, sickening, yellow pallor overspread
them. She seldom looked at me now, but rested entombed in her great
armchair, her shrunken limbs seeming to tend downwards, as if she were
inclined to slide to the floor and die there. Her lips were thin and dry,
and moved perpetually in a silent chattering, as if her mind were talking
and her voice were already dead. The tide of life was retreating from her
body. I could almost see it visibly ebb away. The failing waves made no
sound upon the shore. Death is uncanny, like all silent things.
Her maid wished her to stay entirely in bed, but she would get up,
muttering that she was well; and the doctor said it was useless to hinder
her. She had no specific disease. Only the years were taking their last
toll of her. So she was placed in her chair each day by the fire, and sat
there till evening, muttering with those dry lips. The stiff folds of her
silken skirts formed an angle, and there the cat crouched hour after hour,
a silent, white, waiting thing.
And the waves ebbed and ebbed away, and I waited too.
One afternoon, as I sat by my grandmother, the servant entered with a
letter for me just arrived by the post. I took it up. It was from
Willoughby, my school-friend. He said the term was over, that he had left
school, and his father had decided to send him out to America to start in
business in New York, instead of entering him at Oxford as he had hoped.
He bade me good-bye, and said he supposed we should not meet again for
years; "but," he added, "no doubt you won't care a straw, so long as you
get the confounded money you're after. You've taught me one of the lessons
of life, young Ronald—never to believe in friendship."
As I read the letter I set my teeth. All that was good in my nature
centred round Willoughby. He was a really fine fellow. I honestly and
truly loved him. His news gave me a bitter shock, and turned my heart to
iron and to fire. Perhaps I should never see him again; even if I did,
time would have changed him, seared him—my friend, in his wonderful
youth, with the morning in his eyes, would be no more. I hated myself in
that moment for having stayed; I hated still more her who had kept me. For
the moment I was carried out of myself. I crushed the letter up in my
burning hand. I turned fiercely round upon that yellow, enigmatic, dying
figure in the great chair. All the fury, locked within my heart for so
long, rose to the surface, and drove self-interest away. I turned upon my
grandmother with blazing eyes and trembling limbs. I opened my mouth to
utter a torrent of reproachful words, when—what was it?—what
slight change had stolen into the wrinkled, yellow face? I bent over her.
The eyes gazed at me, but so horribly! She sat so low in her chair; she
looked so fearful, so very strange. I put my fingers on her eyelids; I
drew them down over the eyeballs: they did not open again. I felt her
withered hands: they were ice. Then I knew, and I felt myself smiling. I
leaned over the dead woman. There, on the far side of her, crouched the
cat. Its white fur was all bristling; its blue eyes were dilated; on its
jaws there were flecks of foam.
I leaned over the dead woman and took it in my arms.
That was nearly twenty years ago, and yet to-night the memory of that
moment, and what followed it, bring a fear to my heart which I must
combat. I have read of men who lived for long spaces of time haunted by
demons created by their imagination, and I have laughed at them and pitied
them. Surely I am not going to join in their folly, in their madness, led
to the gates of terror by my own fancies, half-confirmed, apparently, by
the chance utterances of a conceited Professor—a man of fads,
although a man of science.
That was twenty years ago. After to-night let me forget it. After
to-night, do I say? Hark! the birds are twittering in the dew outside. The
pale, early sun-shafts strike over the moors. And I am tired. To-morrow
night I will finish this wrestle with my own folly; I will give the coup
de grāce to my imagination.. But no more now. My brain is not calm,
and I will not write in excitement.
Wednesday Night, November 4th.
Margot has gone to bed at last, and I am alone. This has been a horrible
day—horrible; but I will not dwell upon it.
After the death of my grandmother, I went back to school again. But
Willoughby was gone, and he could not forgive me. He wrote to me once or
twice from New York, and then I ceased to hear from him. He died out of my
life. His affection for me had evidently declined from the day when he
took it into his head that I was only a money-grubber, like the rest of
the world, and that the Jew instinct had developed in me at an abnormally
early age. I let him go. What did it matter? But I was always glad that I
had been cruel on the day my grandmother died. I never repented of what I
did—never. If I had, I might be happier now.
I went back to school. I studied, played, got into mischief and out of it
again, like other boys; but in my life there seemed to be an eternal
coldness, that I alone, perhaps, was conscious of. My deed of cruelty, of
brutal revenge on the thing that had never done me injury, had seared my
soul. I was not sorry, but t could not forget; and sometimes I thought—how
ridiculous it looks written down!—that there was a power hidden
somewhere which could not forget either, and that a penalty might have to
be paid. Because a creature is dumb, must its soul die when it dies? Is
not the soul, perhaps—as he said—a wanderer through
But if I did not kill a soul, as I killed a body, the day my grandmother
died, where is that soul now? That is what I want to arrive at, that is
what I must arrive at, if I am to be happy.
I went back to school, and I passed to Oxford. I tasted the strange,
unique life of a university, narrow, yet pulsating, where the youth, that
is so green and springing, tries to arm itself for the battle with the
weapons forged by the dead and sharpened by the more elderly among the
living. I did well there, and I passed on into the world. And then at last
I began to understand the value of my inheritance; for all that had been
my grandmother's was now mine. My people wished me to marry, but I had no
desire to fetter myself. So I took the sponge in my strong, young hands,
and tried to squeeze it dry. And I did not know that I was sad—I did
not know it until, at the age of thirty-three, just seventeen years after
my grandmother died, I understood the sort of thing happiness is. Of
course, it was love that brought to me understanding. I need not explain
that. I had often played on love; now love began to play on me. I trembled
at the harmonies his hands evoked.
I met a young girl, very young, just on the verge of life and of
womanhood. She was seventeen when I first saw her, and she was valsing at
a big ball in London—her first ball. She passed me in the crowd of
dancers, and I noticed her. As she was a debutante her dress was
naturally snow-white. There was no touch of colour about it—not a
flower, not a jewel. Her hair was the palest yellow I had almost ever seen—the
colour of an early primrose. Naturally fluffy, it nearly concealed the
white riband that ran through it, and clustered in tendrils and tiny
natural curls upon her neck. Her skin was whiter than ivory—a clear,
luminous white. Her eyes were very large and china-blue in colour.
This young girl dancing passed and repassed me, and my glance rested on
her idly, even cynically. For she seemed so happy, and at that time
happiness won my languid wonder, if ingenuously exhibited. To be happy
seemed almost to be mindless. But by degrees I found myself watching this
girl, and more closely. Another dance began. She joined it with another
partner. But she seemed just as pleased with him as with her former one.
She would not let him pause to rest; she kept him dancing all the time,
her youth and freshness spoken in that gentle compelling. I grew
interested in her, even acutely so. She seemed to me like the spirit of
youth dancing over the body of Time. I resolved to know her. I felt weary;
I thought she might revive me. The dance drew to an end, and I approached
my hostess, pointed the girl out, and asked for an introduction. Her name
was Margot Magendie, I found, and she was an heiress as well as a beauty.
I did not care. It was her humanity that drew me, nothing else.
But; strange to say, when the moment for the introduction arrived, and I
stood face to face with Miss Magendie, I felt an extraordinary shrinking
from her. I have never been able to understand it, but my blood ran cold,
and my pulses almost ceased to beat. I would have avoided her; an instinct
within me seemed suddenly to cry out against her. But it was too late: the
introduction was effected; her hand rested on my arm.
I was actually trembling. She did not appear to notice it. The band played
a valse, and the inexplicable horror that had seized me lost itself in the
gay music. It never returned until lately.
I seldom enjoyed a valse more. Our steps suited so perfectly, and her
obvious childish pleasure communicated itself to me. The spirit of youth
in her knocked on my rather jaded heart, and I opened to it. That was
beautiful and strange. I talked with her, and I felt myself younger,
ingenuous rather than cynical, inclined even to a radiant, though foolish,
optimism. She was very natural, very imperfect in worldly education, full
of fragmentary but decisive views on life, quite unabashed in giving them
forth, quite inconsiderate in summoning my adherence to them.
And then, presently, as we sat in a dim corridor under a rosy hanging
lamp, in saying something she looked, with her great blue eyes, right into
my face. Some very faint recollection awoke and stirred in my mind.
"Surely," I said hesitatingly—"surely I have seen you before? It
seems to me that I remember your eyes."
As I spoke I was thinking hard, chasing the vagrant recollection that
"You don't remember my face?"
"No, not at all."
"Nor I yours. If we had seen each other, surely we should recollect it."
Then she blushed, suddenly realizing that her words implied, perhaps, more
than she had meant. I did not pay the obvious compliment. Those blue eyes
and something in their expression moved me strangely; but I could not tell
why. When I said good-bye to her that night, I asked to be allowed to
That was the beginning of a very beautiful courtship, which gave a colour
to life, a music to existence, a meaning to every slightest sensation.
And was it love that laid to sleep recollection, that sang a lullaby to
awakening horror, and strewed poppies over it till it sighed itself into
slumber? Was it love that drowned my mind in deep and charmed waters,
binding the strange powers that every mind possesses in flowery garlands
stronger than any fetters of iron? Was it love that, calling up dreams,
alienated my thoughts from their search after reality?
I hardly know. I only know that I grew to love Margot, and only looked for
love in her blue eyes, not for any deed of the past that might be mirrored
And I made her love me.
She gave her child's heart to my keeping with a perfect confidence that
only a perfect affection could engender. She did love me then. No
circumstances of to-day can break that fact under their hammers. She did
love me, and it is the knowledge that she did which gives so much of fear
to me now.
For great changes in the human mind are terrible. As we realize them we
realize the limitless possibilities of sinister deeds that lie hidden in
every human being. A little child that loves a doll can become an old,
crafty, secret murderer. How horrible!
And perhaps it is still more horrible to think that, while the human
envelope remains totally unchanged, every word of the letter within may
become altered, and a message of peace fade into a sentence of death.
Margot's face is the same face now as it was when I married her—scarcely
older, certainly not less beautiful. Only the expression of the eyes has
For we were married. After a year of love-making, which never tired either
of us, we elected to bind ourselves, to fuse the two into one.
We went abroad for the honeymoon, and, instead of shortening it to the
fashionable fortnight, we travelled for nearly six months, and were happy
all the time.
Boredom never set in. Margot had a beautiful mind as well as a beautiful
face. She softened me through my affection. The current of my life began
to set in a different direction. I turned the pages of a book of pity and
of death more beautiful than that of Pierre Loti. I could hear at last the
great cry for sympathy, which is the music of this strange suffering
world, and, listening to it, in my heart there rang an echo. The cruelty
in my nature seemed to shrivel up. I was more gentle than I had been, more
gentle than I had thought I could ever be.
At last, in the late spring, we started for home. We stayed for a week in
London, and then we travelled north. Margot had never seen her future
home, had never even been in Cumberland before. She was full of excitement
and happiness, a veritable child in the ready and ardent expression of her
feelings. The station is several miles from the house, and is on the edge
of the sea. When the train pulled up at the wayside platform the day drew
towards sunset, and the flat levels of the beach shone with a rich,
liquid, amber light. In the distance the sea was tossing and tumbling,
whipped into foam by a fresh wind. The Isle of Man lay far away, dark,
mysterious, under a stack of bellying white clouds, just beginning to be
tinged with the faintest rose.
Margot found the scene beautiful, the wind life-giving, the flat
sand-banks, the shining levels, even the dry, spiky grass that fluttered
in the breeze, fascinating and refreshing.
"I feel near the heart of Nature in a place like this," she said, looking
up at a seagull that hovered over the little platform, crying to the wind
on which it hung.
The train stole off along the edge of the sands, till we could see only
the white streamer of its smoke trailing towards the sun. We turned away
from the sea, got into the carriage that was waiting for us, and set our
faces inland. The ocean was blotted out by the low grass and
heather-covered banks that divided the fields. Presently we plunged into
woods. The road descended sharply. A village, an abruptly winding river
sprang into sight.
We were on my land. We passed the inn, the Rainwood Arms, named after my
grandfather's family. The people whom we met stared curiously and saluted
in rustic fashion.
Margot was full of excitement and pleasure, and talked incessantly,
holding my hand tightly in hers and asking a thousand questions. Passing
through the village, we mounted a hill towards a thick grove of trees.
"The house stands among them," I said, pointing.
She sprang up eagerly in the carriage to find it, but it was hidden.
We dashed through the gate into the momentary darkness of the drive,
emerged between great green lawns, and drew up before the big doorway of
the hall. I looked into her eyes, and said "Welcome!"
She only smiled in answer.
I would not let her enter the house immediately, but made her come with me
to the terrace above the river, to see the view over the Cumbrian
mountains and the moors of Eskdale.
The sky was very clear and pale, but over Styhead the clouds were boiling
up. The Screes that guard ebon Wastwater looked grim and sad.
Margot stood beside me on the terrace, but her chatter had been succeeded
by silence. And I, too, was silent for the moment, absorbed in
contemplation. But presently I turned to her, wishing to see how she was
impressed by her new domain.
She was not looking towards the river and the hills, but at the terrace
walk itself, the band of emerald turf that bordered it, the stone pots
full of flowers, the winding way that led into the shrubbery.
She was looking at these intently, and with a strangely puzzled, almost
"Hush! Don't speak to me for a moment," she said, as I opened my lips.
"Don't; I want to—— How odd this is!"
And she gazed up at the windows of the house, at the creepers that climbed
its walls, at the sloping roof and the irregular chimney-stacks.
Her lips were slightly parted, and her eyes were full of an inward
expression that told me she was struggling with forgetfulness and desired
I was silent, wondering.
At last she said: "Ronald, I have never been in the North of England
before, never set foot in Cumberland; yet I seem to know this terrace
walk, those very flower-pots, the garden, the look of that roof, those
chimneys, even the slanting way in which that great creeper climbs. Is it
not—is it not very strange?"
She gazed up at me, and in her blue eyes there was an expression almost of
I smiled down on her. "It must be your fancy," I said.
"It does not seem so," she replied. "I feel as if I had been here before,
and often, or for a long time." She paused; then she said: "Do let me go
into the house. There ought to be a room there—a room—I seem
almost to see it. Come! Let us go in."
She took my hand and drew me towards the hall door. The servants were
carrying in the luggage, and there was a certain amount of confusion and
noise, but she did not seem to notice it. She was intent on something; I
could not tell what.
"Do show me the house, Ronald—the drawing-room, and—and—there
is another room I wish to see."
"You shall see them all, dear," I said. "You are excited. It is natural
enough. This is the drawing-room."
She glanced round it hastily.
"And now the others!" she exclaimed.
I took her to the dining-room, the library, and the various apartments on
She scarcely looked at them. When we had finished exploring, "Are these
all?" she asked, with a wavering accent of disappointment.
"All," I answered.
"Then—show me the rooms upstairs."
We ascended the shallow oak steps, and passed first into the apartment in
which my grandmother had died.
It had been done up since then, refurnished, and almost completely
altered. Only the wide fireplace, with its brass dogs and its heavy oaken
mantelpiece, had been left untouched.
Margot glanced hastily round. Then she walked up to the fireplace, and
drew a long breath.
"There ought to be a fire here," she said.
"But it is summer," I answered, wondering.
"And a chair there," she went on, in a curious low voice, indicating—I
think now, or is it my imagination?—the very spot where my
grandmother was wont to sit. "Yes—I seem to remember, and yet not to
She looked at me, and her white brows were knit.
Suddenly she said: "Ronald, I don't think I like this room. There is
something—I don't know—I don't think I could sit here; and I
seem to remember—something about it, as I did about the terrace.
What can it mean?"
"It means that you are tired and overexcited, darling. Your nerves are too
highly strung, and nerves play us strange tricks. Come to your own room
and take off your things, and when you have had some tea, you will be all
Yes, I was fool enough to believe that tea was the panacea for an
undreamed-of, a then unimaginable, evil.
I thought Margot was simply an overtired and imaginative child that
evening. If I could believe so now!
We went up into her boudoir and had tea, and she grew more like herself;
but several times that night I observed her looking puzzled and
thoughtful, and a certain expression of anxiety shone in her blue eyes
that was new to them then.
But I thought nothing of it, and I was-happy. Two or three days passed,
and Mar-got did not again refer to her curious sensation of pre-knowledge
of the house and garden. I fancied there was a slight alteration in her
manner; that was all. She seemed a little restless. Her vivacity flagged
now and then. She was more willing to be alone than she had been. But we
were old married folk now, and could not be always in each other's sight.
I had a great many people connected with the estate to see, and had to
gather up the tangled threads of many affairs.
The honeymoon was over. Of course we could not always be together.
Still, I should have wished Margot to desire it, and I could not hide from
myself that now and then she scarcely concealed a slight impatience to be
left in solitude. This troubled me, but only a little, for she was
generally as fond as ever. That evening, however, an incident occurred
which rendered me decidedly uneasy, and made me wonder if my wife were not
inclined to that curse of highly-strung women—hysteria!
I had been riding over the moors to visit a tenant-farmer who lived at
some distance, and did not return until twilight. Dismounting, I let
myself into the house, traversed the hall, and ascended the stairs. As I
wore spurs, and the steps were of polished oak and uncarpeted, I walked
noisily enough to warn anyone of my approach. I was passing the door of
the room that had been my grandmother's sitting-room, when I noticed that
it stood open. The house was rather dark, and the interior was dim enough,
but I could see a figure in a white dress moving about inside. I
recognised Margot, and wondered what she was doing, but her movements were
so singular that, instead of speaking to her, I stood in the doorway and
She was walking, with a very peculiar, stealthy step, around the room, not
as if she were looking for anything, but merely as if she were restless or
ill at ease. But what struck me forcibly was this, that there was
something curiously animal in her movements, seen thus in a dim half-light
that only partially revealed her to me. I had never seen a woman walk in
that strangely wild yet soft way before. There was something uncanny about
it, that rendered me extremely discomforted; yet I was quite fascinated,
and rooted to the ground.
I cannot tell how long I stood there. I was so completely absorbed in the
passion of the gazer that the passage of time did not concern me in the
least. I was as one assisting at a strange spectacle. This white thing
moving in the dark did not suggest my wife to me, although it was she. I
might have been watching an animal, vague, yet purposeful of mind, tracing
out some hidden thing, following out some instinct quite foreign to
humanity. I remember that presently I involuntarily clasped my hands
together, and felt that they were very cold. Perspiration broke out on my
face. I was painfully, unnaturally moved, and a violent desire to be away
from this white moving thing came over me. Walking as softly as I could, I
went to my dressing-room, shut the door, and sat down on a chair. I never
remember to have felt thoroughly unnerved before, but now I found myself
actually shaken, palsied. I could understand how deadly a thing fear is. I
lit a candle hastily, and as I did so a knock came to the door.
Margot's voice said, "May I come in?" I felt unable to reply, so I got up
and admitted her.
She entered smiling, and looking such a child, so innocent, so tender,
that I almost laughed aloud. That I, a man, should have been frightened by
a child in a white dress, just because the twilight cast a phantom
atmosphere around her! I held her in my arms, and I gazed into her blue
She looked down, but still smiled.
"Where have you been, and what have you been doing?" I asked gaily.
She answered that she had been in the drawing-room since tea-time.
"You came here straight from the drawing-room?" I said.
She replied, "Yes."
Then, with an indifferent air which hid real anxiety, I said:
"By the way, Margot, have you been into that room again—the room you
fancied you recollected?"
"No, never," she answered, withdrawing herself from my arms. "I don't wish
to go there. Make haste, Ronald, and dress. It is nearly dinner-time, and
I am ready." And she turned and left me.
She had told me a lie. All my feelings of uneasiness and discomfort
That evening was the most wretched one, the only wretched one, I had ever
spent with her.
I am tired of writing. I will continue my task to-morrow. It takes me
longer than I anticipated. Yet even to tell everything to myself brings me
some comfort. Man must express himself; and despair must find a voice.
Thursday Night, December 5th.
That lie awoke in me suspicion of the child I had married. I began to
doubt her, yet never ceased to love her. She had all my heart, and must
have it till the end. But the calm of love was to be succeeded by love's
tumult and agony. A strangeness was creeping over Margot. It was as if she
took a thin veil in her hands, and drew it over and all around her, till
the outlines I had known were slightly blurred. Her disposition, which had
been so clear cut, so sharply, beautifully defined, standing out in its
innocent glory for all men to see, seemed to withdraw itself, as if a
dawning necessity for secrecy had arisen. A thin crust of reserve began to
subtly overspread her every act and expression. She thought now before she
spoke; she thought before she looked. It seemed to me that she was
becoming a slightly different person.
The change I mean to imply is very difficult to describe. It was not
abrupt enough to startle, but I could feel it, slight though it was. Have
you seen the first flat film of waveless water, sent by the incoming tides
of the sea, crawling silently up over the wrinkled brown sand, and filling
the tiny ruts, till diminutive hills and valleys are all one smooth
surface? So it was with Margot. A tide flowed over her character, a
waveless tide of reserve. The hills and valleys which I loved disappeared
from my ken. Behind the old sweet smile, the old frank expression, my wife
was shrinking down to hide herself, as one escaping from pursuit hides
behind a barrier. When one human being knows another very intimately, and
all the barricades that divide soul from soul have been broken down, it is
difficult to set them up again without noise and dust, and the sound of
thrust-in bolts, and the tap of the hammer that drives in the nails. It is
difficult, but not impossible. Barricades can be raised noiselessly,
soundless bolts—that keep out the soul—be pushed home. The
black gauze veil that blots out the scene drops, and when it is raised—if
ever—the scene is changed.
The real Margot was receding from me. I felt it with an impotence of
despair that was benumbing. Yet I could not speak of it, for at first I
could hardly tell if she knew of what was taking place. Indeed, at this
moment, in thinking it over, I do not believe that for some time she had
any definite cognisance of the fact that she was growing to love me less
passionately than of old. In acts she was not changed. That was the
strange part of the matter. Her kisses were warm, but I believed them
premeditated. She clasped my hand in hers, but now there was more
mechanism than magic in that act of tenderness. Impulse failed within her;
and she had been all impulse? Did she know it? At that time I wondered.
Believing that she did not know she was changing, I was at the greatest
pains to guard my conduct, lest I should implant the suspicion that might
hasten what I feared. I remained, desperately, the same as ever, and so,
of course, was not the same, for a deed done defiantly bears little
resemblance to a deed done naturally. I was always considering what I
should say, how I should act, even how I should look. To live now was
sedulous instead of easy. Effort took the place of simplicity. My wife and
I were gazing furtively at each other through the eye-holes of masks. I
knew it. Did she?
At that time I never ceased to wonder. Of one thing I was certain, however—that
Margot began to devise excuses for being left alone. When we first came
home she could hardly endure me out of her sight. Now she grew to
appreciate solitude. This was a terrible danger signal, and I could not
fail to so regard it.
Yet something within me held me back from speaking out. I made no comment
on the change that deepened day by day, but I watched my wife furtively,
with a concentration of attention that sometimes left me physically
exhausted. I felt, too, at length, that I was growing morbid, that
suspicion coloured my mind and caused me, perhaps, to put a wrong
interpretation on many of her actions, to exaggerate and misconstrue the
most simple things she did. I began to believe her every look
premeditated. Even if she kissed me, I thought she did it with a purpose;
if she smiled up at me as of old, I fancied the smile to be only a
concealment of its opposite. By degrees we became shy of each other. We
were like uncongenial intimates, forced to occupy the same house, forced
into a fearful knowledge of each other's personal habits, while we knew
nothing of the thoughts that make up the true lives of individuals.
And then another incident occurred, a pendant to the incident of Margot's
strange denied visit to the room she affected to fear. It was one night,
one deep dark night of the autumn—a season to affect even a cheerful
mind and incline it towards melancholy. Margot and I were now often silent
when we were together. That evening, towards nine, a dull steady rain set
in. I remember I heard it on the window-panes as we sat in the
drawing-room after dinner, and remarked on it, saying to her that if it
continued for two or three days she might chance to see the floods out,
and that fishermen would descend upon us by the score.
I did not obtain much response from her. The dreariness of the weather
seemed to affect her spirits. She took up a book presently, and appeared
to read; but, once in glancing up suddenly from my newspaper, I thought I
caught her gaze fixed fearfully upon me. It seemed to me that she was
looking furtively at me with an absolute terror. I was so much affected
that I made some excuse for leaving the room, went down to my den, lit a
cigar, and walked uneasily up and down, listening to the rain on the
window. At ten Margot came in to tell me she was going to bed. I wished
her good-night tenderly, but as I held her slim body a moment in my arms I
felt that she began to tremble. I let her go, and she slipped from the
room with the soft, cushioned step that was habitual with her. And,
strangely enough, my thoughts recurred to the day, long ago, when I first
held the great white cat on my knees, and felt its body shrink from my
touch with a nameless horror. The uneasy movement of the woman recalled to
me so strongly and so strangely the uneasy movement of the animal.
I lit a second cigar. It was near midnight when it was smoked out, and I
turned down the lamp and went softly up to bed. I undressed in the room
adjoining my wife's, and then stole into hers. She was sleeping in the
wide white bed rather uneasily, and as I leaned over her, shading the
candle flame with my outspread hand, she muttered some broken words that I
could not catch. I had never heard her talk in her dreams before. I lay
down gently at her side and extinguished the candle.
But sleep did not come to me. The dull, dead silence weighed upon instead
of soothing me. My mind was terribly alive, in a ferment; and the contrast
between my own excitement and the hushed peace of my environment was
painful, was almost unbearable. I wished that a wind from the mountains
were beating against the window-panes, and the rain lashing the house in
fury. The black calm around was horrible, unnatural. The drizzling rain
was now so small that I could not even hear its patter when I strained my
ears. Margot had ceased to mutter, and lay perfectly still. How I longed
to be able to read the soul hidden in her sleeping body, to unravel the
mystery of the mind which I had once understood so perfectly! It is so
horrible that we can never open the human envelope, take out the letter,
and seize with our eyes upon its every word. Margot slept with all her
secrets safeguarded, although she was unconscious, no longer watchful, on
the alert. She was so silent, even her quiet breathing not reaching my
ear, that I felt impelled to stretch out my hand beneath the coverlet and
touch hers ever so softly. I did so.
Her hand was instantly and silently withdrawn. She was awake, then.
"Margot," I said, "did I disturb you?"
There was no answer.
The movement, followed by the silence, affected me very disagreeably.
I lit the candle and looked at her. She was lying on the extreme edge of
the bed, with her blue eyes closed. Her lips were slightly parted. I could
hear her steady breathing. Yet was she really sleeping?
I bent lower over her, and as I did so a slight, involuntary movement,
akin to what we call a shudder, ran through her body. I recoiled from the
bed. An impotent anger seized me. Could it be that my presence was
becoming so hateful to my wife that even in sleep her body trembled when I
drew near it? Or was this slumber feigned? I could not tell, but I felt it
impossible at that moment to remain in the room. I returned to my own,
dressed, and descended the stairs to the door opening on to the terrace. I
felt a longing to be out in the air. The atmosphere of the house was
Was it coming to this, then? Did I, a man, shrink with a fantastic
cowardice from a woman I loved? The latent cruelty began to stir within
me, the tyrant spirit which a strong love sometimes evokes. I had been
Margot's slave almost. My affection had brought me to her feet, had kept
me there. So long as she loved me I was content to be her captive, knowing
she was mine. But a change in her attitude toward me might rouse the
master. In my nature there was a certain brutality, a savagery, which I
had never wholly slain, although Margot had softened me wonderfully by her
softness, had brought me to gentleness by her tenderness. The boy of years
ago had developed toward better things, but he was not dead in me. I felt
that as I walked up and down the terrace through the night in a wild
meditation. If my love could not hold Margot, my strength should.
I drew in a long breath of the wet night air, and I opened my shoulders as
if shaking off an oppression. My passion for Margot had not yet drawn me
down to weakness; it had raised me up to strength. The faint fear of her,
which I had felt almost without knowing it more than once, died within me.
The desire of the conqueror elevated me. There was something for me to
win. My paralysis passed away, and I turned toward the house.
And now a strange thing happened. I walked into the dark hall, closed the
outer door, shutting out the dull murmur of the night, and felt in my
pocket for my matchbox. It was not there. I must inadvertently have laid
it down in my dressing-room and left it. I searched about in the darkness
on the hall table, but could find no light. There was nothing for it,
then, but to feel my way upstairs as best I could.
I started, keeping my hand against the wall to guide me. I gained the top
of the stairs, and began to traverse the landing, still with my hand upon
the wall. To reach my dressing-room I had to pass the apartment which had
been my grandmother's sitting-room.
When I reached it, instead of sliding along a closed door, as I had
anticipated, my hand dropped into vacancy.
The door was wide open. It had been shut, like all the other doors in the
house, when I had descended the stairs—shut and locked, as it always
was at night-time. Why was it open now?
I paused in the darkness. And then an impulse seized me to walk forward
into the room. I advanced a step; but, as I did so, a horrible low cry
broke upon my ears out of the darkness. It came from immediately in front
of me, and sounded like an expression of the most abject fear.
My feet rooted themselves to the ground.
"Who's there?" I asked.
There came no answer.
I listened for a moment, but did not hear the minutest sound. The desire
for light was overpowering. I generally did my writing in this room, and
knew the exact whereabouts of everything in it. I knew that on the
writing-table there was a silver box containing wax matches. It lay on the
left of my desk. I moved another step forward.
There was the sound of a slight rustle, as if someone shrank back as I
I laid my hand quickly on the box, opened it, and struck a light. The room
was vaguely illuminated. I saw something white at the far end, against the
wall. I put the match to a candle.
The white thing was Margot. She was in her dressing-gown, and was crouched
up in an angle of the wall as far away from where I stood as possible. Her
blue eyes were wide open, and fixed upon me with an expression of such
intense and hideous fear in them that I almost cried out.
"Margot, what is the matter?" I said. "Are you ill?"
She made no reply. Her face terrified me.
"What is it, Margot?" I cried in a loud, almost harsh voice, determined to
rouse her from this horrible, unnatural silence. "What are you doing
I moved towards her. I stretched out my hands and seized her. As I did so,
a sort of sob burst from her. Her hands were cold and trembling.
"What is it? What has frightened you?" I reiterated.
At last she spoke in a low voice.
"You—you looked so strange, so—so cruel as you came in," she
"Strange! Cruel! But you could not see me. It was dark," I answered.
"Dark!" she said.
"Yes, until I lit the candle. And you cried out when I was only in the
doorway. You could not see me there."
"Why not? What has that got to do with it?" she murmured, still trembling
"You can see me in the dark?"
"Of course," she said. "I don't understand what you mean. Of course I can
see you when you are there before my eyes."
"But——" I began; and then her obvious and complete surprise at
my questions stopped them. I still held her hands in mine, and their
extreme coldness roused me to the remembrance that she was unclothed.
"You will be ill if you stay here," I said. "Come back to your room."
She said nothing, and I led her back, waited while she got into bed, and
then, placing the candle on the dressing-table, sat down in a chair by her
The strong determination to take prompt action, to come to an explanation,
to end these dreary mysteries of mind and conduct, was still upon me.
I did not think of the strange hour; I did not care that the night was
gliding on towards dawn. I was self-absorbed. I was beyond ordinary
Yet I did not speak immediately. I was trying to be quite calm, trying to
think of the best line for me to take. So much might depend upon our mere
words now. At length I said, laying my hand upon hers, which was outside
"Margot, what were you doing in that room at such a strange hour? Why were
She hesitated obviously. Then she answered, not looking at me:
"I missed you. I thought you might be there—writing."
"But you were in the dark."
"I thought you would have a light."
I knew by her manner that she was not telling me the truth, but I went on
"If you expected me, why did you cry out when I came to the door?"
She tried to draw her hand away, but I held it fast, closing, my fingers
upon it with even brutal strength.
"Why did you cry out?"
"You—you looked so strange, so cruel."
"Yes. You frightened me—you frightened me horribly."
She began suddenly to sob, like one completely overstrained. I lifted her
up in the bed, put my arms round her, and made her lean against me. I was
"I frightened you! How can that be?" I said, trying to control a passion
of mingled love and anger that filled my breast. "You know that I love
you. You must know that. In all our short married life have I ever been
even momentarily unkind to you? Let us be frank with one another. Our
lives have changed lately. One of us has altered. You cannot say that it
She only continued to sob bitterly in my arms. I held her closer.
"Let us be frank with one another," I went on. "For God's sake let us have
no barriers between us. Margot, look into my eyes and tell me—are
you growing tired of me?"
She turned her head away, but I spoke more sternly:
"You shall be truthful. I will have no more subterfuge. Look me in the
face. You did love me once?"
"Yes, yes," she whispered in a choked voice.
"What have I done, then, to alienate you? Have I ever hurt you, ever shown
a lack of sympathy, ever neglected you?"
"Yet you have changed to me since—since——" I paused a
moment, trying to recall when I had first noticed her altered demeanour.
She interrupted me.
"It has all come upon me in this house," she sobbed. "Oh! what is it? What
does it all mean? If I could understand a little—only a little—it
would not be so bad. But this nightmare, this thing that seems such a
madness of the intellect——"
Her voice broke and ceased. Her tears burst forth afresh. Such mingled
fear, passion, and a sort of strange latent irritation, I had never seen
"It is a madness indeed," I said, and a sense almost of outrage made my
voice hard and cold. "I have not deserved such treatment at your hands."
"I will not yield to it," she said, with a sort of desperation, suddenly
throwing her arms around me. "I will not—I will not!"
I was strangely puzzled. I was torn with conflicting feelings. Love and
anger grappled at my heart. But I only held her, and did not speak until
she grew obviously calmer. The paroxysm seemed passing away. Then I said:
"I cannot understand."
"Nor I," she answered, with a directness that had been foreign to her of
late, but that was part and parcel of her real, beautiful nature. "I
cannot understand. I only know there is a change in me, or in you to me,
and that I cannot help it, or that I have not been able to help it.
Sometimes I feel—do not be angry, I will try to tell you—a
physical fear of you, of your touch, of your clasp, a fear such as an
animal might feel towards the master who had beaten it. I tremble then at
your approach. When you are near me I feel cold, oh! so cold and—and
anxious; perhaps I ought to say apprehensive. Oh, I am hurting you!"
I suppose I must have winced at her words, and she is quick to observe.
"Go on," I said; "do not spare me. Tell me everything. It is madness
indeed; but we may kill it, when we both know it."
"Oh, if we could!" she cried, with a poignancy which was heart-breaking to
hear. "If we could!"
"Do you doubt our ability?" I said, trying to be patient and calm. "You
are unreasoning, like all women. Be sensible for a moment. You do me a
wrong in cherishing these feelings. I have the capacity for cruelty in me.
I may have been—I have been—cruel in the past, but never to
you. You have no right to treat me as you have done lately. If you examine
your feelings, and compare them with facts, you will see their absurdity."
"But," she interposed, with a woman's fatal quickness, "that will not do
away with their reality."
"It must. Look into their faces until they fade like ghosts, seen only
between light and darkness. They are founded upon nothing; they are bred
without father or mother; they are hysterical; they are wicked. Think a
little of me. You are not going to be conquered by a chimera, to allow a
phantom created by your imagination to ruin the happiness that has been so
beautiful. You will not do that! You dare not!"
She only answered:
"If I can help it."
A passionate anger seized me, a fury at my impotence against this child. I
pushed her almost roughly from my arms.
"And I have married this woman!" I cried bitterly. I got up.
Margot had ceased crying now, and her face was very white and calm; it
looked rigid in the faint candle-light that shone across the bed.
"Do not be angry," she said. "We are controlled by something inside of us;
there are powers in us that we cannot fight against."
"There is nothing we cannot fight against," I said passionately. "The
doctrine of predestination is the devil's own doctrine. It is the doctrine
set up by the sinner to excuse his sin; it is the coward's doctrine.
Understand me, Margot, I love you, but I am not a weak fool. There must be
an end of this folly. Perhaps you are playing with me, acting like a girl,
testing me. Let us have no more of it."
"I only do what I must."
Her tone turned me cold. Her set face frightened me, and angered me, for
there was a curious obstinacy in it. I left the room abruptly, and did not
return. That night I had no sleep.
I am not a coward, but I find that I am inclined to fear that which fears
me. I dread an animal that always avoids me silently more than an animal
that actually attacks me. The thing that runs from me makes me shiver, the
thing that creeps away when I come near wakes my uneasiness. At this time
there rose up in me a strange feeling towards Margot. The white, fair
child I had married was at moments—only at moments—horrible to
me. I felt disposed to shun her. Something within cried out against her.
Long ago, at the instant of our introduction, an unreasoning sensation
that could only be called dread had laid hold upon me. That dread returned
from the night of our explanation, returned deepened and added to. It
prompted me to a suggestion which I had no sooner made than I regretted
it. On the morning following I told Margot that in future we had better
occupy separate rooms. She assented quietly, but I thought a furtive
expression of relief stole for a moment into her face.
I was deeply angered with her and with myself; yet, now that I knew beyond
question my wife's physical terror of me, I was-half afraid of her. I felt
as if I could not bring myself to lie long hours by her side in the
darkness, by the side of a woman who was shrinking from me, who was
watching me when I could not see her. The idea made my very flesh creep.
Yet I hated myself for this shrinking of the body, and sometimes hated her
for rousing it. A hideous struggle was going on within me—a struggle
between love and impotent anger and despair, between the lover and the
master. For I am one of the old-fashioned men who think that a husband
ought to be master of his wife as well as of his house.
How could I be master of a woman I secretly feared? My knowledge of myself
spurred me through acute irritation almost to the verge of madness.
All calm was gone. I was alternately gentle to my wife and almost
ferocious towards her, ready to fall at her feet and worship her or to
seize her and treat her with physical violence. I only restrained myself
by an effort.
My variations of manner did not seem to affect her. Indeed, it sometimes
struck me that she feared me more when I was kind to her than when I was
And I knew, by a thousand furtive indications, that her horror of me was
deepening day by day. I believe she could hardly bring herself to be in a
room alone with me, especially after nightfall.
One evening, when we were dining, the butler, after placing dessert upon
the table, moved to leave us. She turned white, and, as he reached the
door, half rose, and called him back in a sharp voice.
"Symonds!" she said.
"You are going?"
The fellow looked surprised.
"Can I get you anything, ma'am?"
She glanced at me with an indescribable uneasiness. Then she leaned back
in her chair with an effort, and pressed her lips together.
"No," she said.
As the man went out and shut the door, she looked at me again from under
her eyelids; and finally her eyes travelled from me to a small,
thin-bladed knife, used for cutting oranges, that lay near her plate, and
fixed themselves on it. She put out her hand stealthily, drew it towards
her, and kept her hand over it on the table. I took an orange from a dish
in front of me.
"Margot," I said, "will you pass me that fruit-knife?"
She obviously hesitated.
"Give me that knife," I repeated roughly, stretching out my hand.
She lifted her hand, left the knife upon the table, and at the same time,
springing up, glided softly out of the room and closed the door behind
That evening I spent alone in the smoking-room, and, for the first time,
she did not come to bid me good-night.
I sat smoking my cigar in a tumult of furious despair and love. The
situation was becoming intolerable. It could not be en-dured. I longed for
a crisis, even for a violent one. I could have cried aloud that night for
a veritable tragedy. There were moments when I would almost have killed
the child who mysteriously eluded and defied me. I could have wreaked a
cruel vengeance upon the body for the sin of the mind. I was terribly,
After a long and painful self-communion, I resolved to make another wild
effort to set things right before it was too late; and when the clock
chimed the half-hour after ten I went upstairs softly to her bedroom and
turned the handle of the door, meaning to enter, to catch Margot in my
arms, tell her how deep my love for her was, how she injured me by her
base fears, and how she was driving me back from the gentleness she had
given me to the cruelty, to the brutality, of my first nature.
The door resisted me: it was locked. I paused a moment, and then tapped
gently. I heard a sudden rustle within, as if someone hurried across the
floor away from the door, and then Margot's voice cried sharply:
"Who's that? Who is there?" "Margot, it is I. I wish to speak to you—to
"Good-night," she said. "But let me in for a moment." There was a silence—it
seemed to me a long one; then she answered:
"Not now, dear; I—I am so tired." "Open the door for a moment." "I
am very tired. Good-night." The cold, level tone of her voice—for
the anxiety had left it after that first sudden cry—roused me to a
sudden fury of action. I seized the handle of the door and pressed with
all my strength. Physically I am a very powerful man—my anger and
despair gave me a giant's might. I burst the lock, and sprang into the
room. My impulse was to seize Margot in my arms and crush her to death, it
might be, in an embrace she could not struggle against. The blood coursed
like molten fire through my veins. The lust of love, the lust of murder
even, perhaps, was upon me. I sprang impetuously into the room.
No candles were alight in it. The blinds were up, and the chill moonbeams
filtered through the small lattice panes. By the farthest window, in the
yellowish radiance, was huddled a white thing.
A sudden cold took hold upon me. All the warmth in me froze up.
I stopped where I was and held my breath.
That white thing, seen thus uncertainly, had no semblance to humanity. It
was animal wholly. I could have believed for the moment that a white cat
crouched from me there by the curtain, waiting to spring.
What a strange illusion that was! I tried to laugh at it afterwards, but
at the moment horror stole through me—horror, and almost awe.
All desire of violence left me. Heat was dead; I felt cold as stone. I
could not even speak a word.
Suddenly the white thing moved. The curtain was drawn sharply; the
moonlight was blotted out; the room was plunged in darkness—a
darkness in which that thing could see!
I turned and stole out of the room. I could have fled, driven by the
nameless fear that was upon me.
Only when the morning dawned did the man in me awake, and I cursed myself
for my cowardice.
The following evening we were asked to dine out with some neighbours, who
lived a few miles off in a wonderful old Norman castle near the sea.
During the day neither of us had made the slightest allusion to the
incidents of the previous night. We both felt it a relief to go into
society, I think. The friends to whom we went—Lord and Lady
Melchester—had a large party staying with them, and we were, I
believe, the only outsiders who lived in the neighbourhood. One of their
guests was Professor Black, whose name I have already mentioned—a
little, dry, thin, acrid man, with thick black hair, innocent of the comb,
and pursed, straight lips. I had met him two or three times in London, and
as he had only just arrived at the castle, and scarcely knew his
fellow-visitors there, he brought his wine over to me when the ladies left
the dining-room, and entered into conversation. At the moment I was glad,
but before we followed the women I would have given a year—I might
say years—of my life not to have spoken to him, not to have heard
him speak that night.
How did we drift into that fatal conversation? I hardly remember. We
talked first of the neighbourhood, then swayed away to books, then to
people. Yes, that was how it came about. The Professor was speaking of a
man whom we both knew in town, a curiously effeminate man, whose every
thought and feeling seemed that of a woman. I said I disliked him, and
condemned him for his woman's demeanour, his woman's mind; but the
Professor thereupon joined issue with me.
"Pity the fellow, if you like," he uttered, in his rather strident voice;
"but as to condemning him, I would as soon condemn a tadpole for not being
a full-grown frog. His soul is beyond his power to manage, or even to
coerce, you may depend upon it."
Having sipped his port, he drew a little nearer to me, and slightly
dropped his voice.
"There would be less censure of individuals in this world," he said, "if
people were only a little more thoughtful. These souls are like letters,
and sometimes they are sealed up in the wrong envelope. For instance, a
man's soul may be put into a woman's body, or vice versā. It has
been so in D———'s case. A mistake has been made."
"By Providence?" I interrupted, with, perhaps, just a soupēon of
sarcasm in my voice.
The Professor smiled.
"Suppose we imitate Thomas Hardy, and say by the President of the
Immortals, who makes sport with more humans than Tess," he answered.
"Mistakes may be deliberate, just as their reverse may be accidental. Even
a mighty power may condescend sometimes to a very practical joke. To a
thinker the world is full of apple-pie beds, and cold wet sponges fall on
us from at least half the doors we push open. The soul-juggleries of the
before-mentioned President are very curious, but people will not realize
that soul transference from body to body is as much a plain fact as the
daily rising of the sun on one half of the world and its nightly setting
on the other."
"Do you mean that souls pass on into the world again on the death of the
particular body in which they have been for the moment confined?" I asked.
"Precisely: I have no doubt of it. Sometimes a woman's soul goes into a
man's body; then the man acts woman, and people cry against him for
effeminacy. The soul colours the body with actions, the body does not
colour the soul, or not in the same degree."
"But we are not irresponsible. We can command ourselves."
The Professor smiled dryly.
"You think so?" he said. "I sometimes doubt it."
"And I doubt your theory of soul transference."
"That shows me—pardon the apparent impertinence—that you have
never really examined the soul question with any close attention. Do you
suppose that D——— really likes being so noticeably
different from other men? Depend upon it,' he has noticed in himself what
we have noticed in him. Depend upon it, he has tried to be ordinary, and
found it impossible. His soul manages him as a strong nature manages a
weak one, and his soul is a female, not a male. For souls have sexes,
otherwise what would be the sense of talking about wedded souls? I have no
doubt whatever of the truth of reincarnation on earth. Souls go on and on
following out their object of development."
"You believe that every soul is reincarnated?"
"A certain number of times."
"That even in the animal world the soul of one animal passes into the body
"Wait a minute. Now we are coming to something that tends to prove my
theory true. Animals have souls, as you imply. Who can know them
intimately and doubt it for an instant? Souls as immortal—or as
mortal—as ours. And their souls, too, pass on."
"Into other animals?"
"Possibly. And eventually, in the process of development, into human
I laughed, perhaps a little rudely. "My dear Professor, I thought that old
notion was quite exploded in these modern scientific days."
"I found my beliefs upon my own minute observations," he said rather
frigidly. "I notice certain animals masquerading—to some extent—as
human beings, and I draw my own conclusions. If they happen to fit in at
all with the conclusions of Pythagoras—or anyone else, for that
matter—well and good. If not, I am not much concerned. Surely you
notice the animal—and not merely the animal, but definite animals—reproduced
in man. There are men whose whole demeanour suggests the monkey. I have
met women who in manner, appearance, and even character, were intensely
I uttered a slight exclamation, which did not interrupt him.
"Now, I have made a minute study of cats. Of all animals they interest me
the most. They have less apparent intensity, less uttered passion, than
dogs, but in my opinion more character. Their subtlety is extraordinary,
their sensitiveness wonderful. Will you understand me when I say that all
dogs are men, all cats women? That remark expresses the difference between
He paused a moment.
"Go on—go on," I said, leaning forward, with my eyes fixed upon his
keen, puckered face.
He seemed pleased with my suddenly-aroused interest..
"Cats are as subtle and as difficult to understand as the most complex
woman, and almost as full of intuitions. If they have been well treated,
there is often a certain gracious, condescending suavity in their
demeanour at first, even towards a total stranger; but if that stranger is
ill disposed toward them, they seem instinctively to read his soul, and
they are in arms directly. Yet they dissemble their fears in a cold
indifference and reserve. They do not take action: they merely abstain
from action. They withdraw the soul that has peeped out, as they can
withdraw their claws into the pads upon their feet. They do not show fight
as a dog might, they do not become aggressive, nor do they whine and put
their tails between their legs. They are simply on guard, watchful,
mistrustful. Is not all this woman?"
"Possibly," I answered, with a painful effort to assume indifference.
"A woman intuitively knows who is her friend and who is her enemy—so
long, at least, as her heart is not engaged; then she runs wild, I allow.
A woman—— But I need not pursue the parallel. Besides, perhaps
it is scarcely to the point, for my object is not to bolster up an absurd
contention that all women have the souls of cats. No; but I have met women
so strangely like cats that their souls have, as I said before souls do,
coloured their bodies in actions. They have had the very look of cats in
their faces. They have moved like them. Their demeanour has been patently
and strongly feline. Now, I see nothing ridiculous in the assumption that
such women's bodies may contain souls—in process of development, of
course—that formerly were merely cat souls, but that are now gaining
humanity gradually, are working their way upwards in the scale. After all,
we are not so much above the animals, and in our lapses we often become
merely animals. The soul retrogrades for the moment."
He paused again and looked at me. I was biting my lips, and my glass of
wine was untouched. He took my agitation as a compliment, I suppose, for
he smiled and said:
"Are you in process of conversion?"
I half shook my head. Then I said, with an effort: "It is a curious and
interesting idea, of course. But there is much to explain. Now, I should
like to ask you this: Do you—do you believe that a soul, if it
passes on as you think, carries its memory with it, its memory of former
loves and—and hates? Say that a cat's soul goes to a woman's body,
and that the cat has been—has been—well, tortured—possibly
killed, by someone—say some man, long ago, would the woman, meeting
that man, remember and shrink from him?"
"That is a very interesting and curious problem, and one which I do not
pretend to have solved. I can, therefore, only suggest what might be, what
seems to me reasonable.
"I do not believe that the woman would remember positively, but I think
she might have an intuition about the man. Our intuitions are, perhaps,
sometimes only the fragmentary recollections of our souls, of what
formerly happened to them when in other bodies. Why, otherwise, should we
sometimes conceive an ardent dislike of some stranger—charming to
all appearance—of whom we know no evil, whom we have never heard of
nor met before? Intuitions, so called, are often only tattered memories.
And these intuitions might, I should fancy, be strengthened, given body,
robustness, by associations—of place, for example. Cats become
intensely attached to localities, to certain spots, a particular house or
garden, a particular fireside, apart from the people who may be there.
Possibly, if the man and the woman of whom you speak could be brought
together in the very place where the torture arid death occurred, the
dislike of the woman might deepen into positive hatred. It would, however,
be always unreasoning hatred, I think, and even quite unaccountable to
But here Lord Melchester rose from the table. The conversations broke into
fragments. I felt that I was pale to the lips.
We passed into the drawing-room. The ladies were grouped together at one
end, near the piano. Margot was among them. She was, as usual, dressed in
white, and round the bottom of her gown there was an edging of snow-white
fur. As we came in, she moved away from the piano to a sofa at some
distance, and sank down upon it. Professor Black, who had entered the room
at my side, seized my arm gently.
"Now, that lady," he whispered in my ear—"I don't know who she may
be, but she is intensely cat-like. I observed it before dinner. Did you
notice the way she moved just then—the soft, yielding, easy manner
in which she sat down, falling at once, quite naturally, into a charming
pose? And her china-blue eyes are——"
"She is my wife, Professor," I interrupted harshly.
He looked decidedly taken aback.
"I beg your pardon; I had no idea. I did not enter the drawing-room
to-night till after you arrived. I believed that lady was one of my
fellow-guests in the house. Let me congratulate you. She is very
And then he mingled rather hastily in the group near the piano.
The man is mad, I know—mad as a hatter on one point, like so many
clever men. He sees the animal in every person he meets just because his
preposterous theory inclines him to do so. Having given in his adherence
to it, he sees facts not as they are, but as he wishes them to be; but he
shall not carry me with him. The theory is his, not mine. It does not hold
water for a moment. I can laugh at it now, but that night I confess it did
seize me for the time being. I could scarcely talk; I found myself
watching Margot with a terrible intentness, and I found myself agreeing
with the Professor to an extent that made me marvel at my own previous
There was something strangely feline about the girl I had married—the
soft, white girl who was becoming terrible to me, dear though she still
was and must always be. Her movements had the subtle, instinctive and
certain grace of a cat's. Her cushioned step, which had often struck me
before, was like the step of a cat. And those china-blue eyes! A sudden
cold seemed to pass over me as I understood why I had recognised them when
I first met Margot. They were the eyes of the animal I had tortured, the
animal I had killed. Yes, but that proved nothing, absolutely nothing.
Many people had the eyes of animals—the soft eyes of dogs, the
furtive, cruel eyes of tigers. I had known such people. I had even once
had an affair with a girl who was always called the shot partridge,
because her eyes were supposed to be like those of a dying bird. I tried
to laugh to myself as I remembered this. But I felt cold, and my senses
seemed benumbed as by a great horror. I sat like a stone, with my eyes
fixed upon Margot, trying painfully to read into her all that the words of
Professor Black had suggested to me—trying, but with the wish not to
succeed. I was roused by Lady Melchester, who came toward me asking me to
do something, I forget now what. I forced myself to be cheerful, to join
in the conversation, to seem at my ease; but I felt like one oppressed
with nightmare, and I could scarcely withdraw my eyes from the sofa where
my wife was sitting. She was talking now to Professor Black, who had just
been introduced to her; and I felt a sudden fury in my heart as I thought
that he was perhaps dryly, coldly, studying her, little knowing what
issues—far-reaching, it might be, in their consequences—hung
upon the truth or falsehood of his strange theory. They were talking
earnestly, and presently it occurred to me that he might be imbuing Margot
with his pernicious doctrines, that he might be giving her a knowledge of
her own soul which now she lacked. The idea was insupportable. I broke off
abruptly the conversation in which I was taking part, and hurried over to
them with an impulse which must have astonished anyone who took note of
me. I sat down on a chair, drew it forward almost violently, and thrust
myself in between them.
"What are you two talking about?" I said, roughly, with a suspicious
glance at Margot.
The Professor looked at me in surprise.
"I was instructing your wife in some of the mysteries of salmon-fishing,"
he said. "She tells me you have a salmon-river running through your
I laughed uneasily.
"So you are a fisherman as well as a romantic theorist!" I said, rather
rudely. "How I wish I were as versatile! Come, Margot, we must be going
now. The carriage ought to be here."
She rose quietly and bade the Professor good-night; but as she glanced up
at me, in rising, I fancied I caught a new expression in her eyes. A ray
of determination, of set purpose, mingled with the gloomy fire of their
As soon as we were in the carriage I spoke, with a strained effort at ease
and the haphazard tone which should mask furtive cross-examination.
"Professor Black is an interesting man," I said.
"Do you think so?" she answered from her dark corner.
"Surely. His intellect is really alive. Yet, with all his scientific
knowledge and his power of eliciting facts and elucidating them, he is but
a feather headed man." I paused, but she made no answer. "Do you not think
"How can I tell?" she replied. "We only talked about fishing. He managed
to make that topic a pleasant one."
Her tone was frank. I felt relieved.
"He is exceedingly clever," I said, heartily, and we relapsed into
When we reached home, and Margot had removed her cloak, she came up to me
and laid her hand on my arm.
So unaccustomed was her touch now that I was startled. She was looking at
me with a curious, steady smile—an unwavering smile that chilled
instead of warming me.
"Ronald," she said, "there has been a breach between us. I have been the
cause of it. I should like to—to heal it. Do you still love me as
I did not answer immediately; I could not. Her voice, schooled as it was,
seemed somehow at issue with the words she uttered. There was a desperate,
hard note in it that accorded with that enigmatic smile of the mouth.
It roused a cold suspicion within me that I was close to a masked battery.
I shrank physically from the touch of her hand.
She waited with her eyes upon me. Our faces were lit tremblingly by the
flames of the two candles we held.
At last I found a voice.
"Can you doubt it?" I asked.
She drew a step nearer.
"Then let us resume our old relations," she said.
"Our old relations?"
I shuddered as if a phantom stole by me. I was seized with horror.
"To-night? It is not possible!"
"Why?" she said, still with that steady smile of the mouth.
"Because—because I don't know—I—— To-morrow it
shall be as of old, Margot—to-morrow. I promise you."
"Very well. Kiss me, dear."
I forced myself to touch her lips with mine.
Which mouth was the colder?
Then, with that soft, stealthy step of hers, she vanished towards her
room. I heard the door close gently.
I listened. The key was not turned in the lock.
This sudden abandonment by Margot of the fantastic precautions I had
almost become accustomed to filled me with a nameless dread.
That night I fastened my door for the first time.
Friday Night, November 6th.
I fastened my door, and when I went to bed lay awake for hours listening.
A horror was upon me then which has not left me since for a moment, which
may never leave me. I shivered with cold that night, the cold born of
sheer physical terror. I knew that I was shut up in the house with a soul
bent on unreasoning vengeance, the soul of the animal which I had killed
prisoned in the body of the woman I had married. I was sick with fear
then. I am sick with fear now.
To-night I am so tired. My eyes are heavy and my head aches. No wonder. I
have not slept for three nights. I have not dared to sleep.
This strange revolution in my wife's conduct, this passionless change—for
I felt instinctively that warm humanity had nothing to do with the
transformation—took place three nights ago. These three last days
Mar-got has been playing a part. With what object?
When I sat down to this gray record of two souls—at once dreary and
fantastic as it would seem, perhaps, to many—I desired to reassure
myself, to write myself into sweet reason, into peace.
I have tried to accomplish the impossible. I feel that the wildest theory
may be the truest, after all—that on the borderland of what seems
madness, actuality paces.
Every remembrance of my mind confirms the truth first suggested to me by
I know Margot's object now.
The soul of the creature that I tortured, that I killed, has passed into
the body of the woman whom I love; and that soul, which once slept in its
new cage, is awake now, watching, plotting perhaps. Unconsciously to
itself, it recognises me. It stares out upon me with eyes in which the
dull terror deepens to hate; but it does not understand why it fears—why,
in its fear, it hates. Intuition has taken the place of memory. The Change
of environment has killed recollection, and has left instinct in its
Why did I ever sit down to write? The recalling of facts has set the seal
upon my despair.
Instinct only woke in Margot when I brought her to the place the soul had
known in the years when it looked out upon the world from the body of an
That first day on the terrace instinct stirred in its sleep, opened its
eyes, gazed forth upon me wonderingly, inquiringly.
Margot's faint remembrance of the terrace walk, of the flower-pots, of the
grass borders where the cat had often stretched itself in the sun, her
eagerness to see the chamber of death, her stealthy visits to that
chamber, her growing uneasiness, deepening to acute apprehension, and
finally to a deadly malignity—all lead me irresistibly to one
The animal's soul within her no longer merely shrinks away in fear of me.
It has grown sinister. It lies in ambush, full of a cold, a stealthy
That curious, abrupt change in Margot's demeanour from avoidance to
invitation marked the subtle, inward development of feeling, the silent
passage from sensation only towards action.
Formerly she feared me. Now I must fear her.
The soul, Crouching in its cage, shows its teeth. It is compassing my
The woman's body twitches with desire to avenge the death of the animal's.
I feel that it is only waiting the moment to spring; and the inherent love
of life breeds in me a physical fear of it as of a subtle enemy. For even
if the soul is brave, the body dreads to die, and seems at moments to
possess a second soul, purely physical, that cries out childishly against
pain, against death.
Then, too, there is a cowardice of the imagination that can shake the
strongest heart, and this resurrection from the dead, from the murdered,
appals my imagination. That what I thought I had long since slain should
have companioned me so closely when I knew it not!
I am sick with fear, physical and mental.
Two days ago, when I unlocked my bedroom door in the morning, and saw the
autumn sunlight streaming in through the leaded panes of the hall windows,
and heard the river dancing merrily down the gully among the trees that
will soon be quite bare and naked, I said to myself: "You have been mad.
Your mind has been filled with horrible dreams, that have transformed you
into a coward and your wife into a demon. Put them away from you."
I looked across the gully. A clear, cold,-thin light shone upon the
distant mountains. The cloud stacks lay piled above the Scawfell range.
The sky was a sheet of faded turquoise. I opened the window for a moment.
The air was dry and keen. How sweet it was to feel it on my face!
I went down to the breakfast-room. Mar-got was moving about it softly,
awaiting me. In her white hands were letters. They dropped upon the table
as she stole up to greet me. Her lips were set tightly together, but she
lifted them to kiss me.
How close I came to my enemy as our mouths touched! Her lips were colder
than the wind.
Now that I was with her, my momentary sensation of acute relief deserted
me. The horror that oppressed me returned.
I could not eat—I could only make a pretence of doing so; and my
hand trembled so excessively that I could scarcely raise my cup from the
She noticed this, and gently asked me if I was ill.
I shook my head.
When breakfast was over, she said in a low, level voice:
"Ronald, have you thought over what I said last night?"
"Last night?" I answered, with an effort.
"Yes, about the coldness between us. I think I have been unwell, unhappy,
out of sorts. You know that—that women are more subject to moods
than men, moods they cannot always account for even to themselves. I have
hurt you lately, I know. I am sorry. I want you to forgive me, to—to"—she
paused a moment, and I heard her draw in her breath sharply—"to take
me back into your heart again."
Every word, as she said it, sounded to me like a sinister threat, and the
last sentence made my blood literally go cold in my veins.
I met her eyes. She did not withdraw hers; they looked into mine. They
were the blue eyes of the cat which I had held upon my knees years ago. I
had gazed into them as a boy, and watched the horror and the fear dawn in
them with a malignant triumph.
"I have nothing to forgive," I said in a broken, husky voice.
"You have much," she answered firmly. "But do not—pray do not bear
"There is no malice in my heart—now," I said; and the words seemed
like a cowardly plea for mercy to the victim of the past.
She lifted one of her soft white hands to my breast.
"Then it shall all be as it was before? And to-night you will come back to
I hesitated, looking down. But how could I refuse? What excuse could I
make for denying the request? Then I repeated mechanically:
"To-night I will come back to you."
A terrible, slight smile travelled over her face. She turned and left me.
I sat down immediately. I felt too unnerved to remain standing. I was
giving way utterly to an imaginative horror that seemed to threaten my
reason. In vain I tried to pull myself together. My body was in a cold
sweat. All mastery of my nerves seemed gone.
I do not know how long I remained there, but I was aroused by the entrance
of the butler. He glanced towards me in some obvious surprise, and this
astonishment of a servant acted upon me almost like a scourge. I sprang up
"Tell the groom to saddle the mare," I said. "I am going for a ride
Air, action, were what I needed to drive this stupor away. I must get away
from this house of tears. I must be alone. I must wrestle with myself,
regain my courage, kill the coward in me.
I threw myself upon the mare, and rode out at a gallop towards the moors
of Eskdale along the lonely country roads.
All day I rode, and all day I thought of that dark house, of that white
creature awaiting my return, peering from the windows, perhaps, listening
for my horse's hoofs on the gravel, keeping still the long vigil of
My imagination sickened, fainted, as my wearied horse stumbled along the
shadowy roads. My terror was too great now to be physical. It was a terror
purely of the spirit, and indescribable.
To sleep with that white thing that waited me! To lie in the dark by it!
To know that it was there, close to me!
If it killed me, what matter? It was to live and to be near it, with it,
that appalled me.
The lights of the house gleamed out through the trees. I heard the sound
of the river.
I got off my horse and walked furtively into the hall, looking round me.
Margot glided up to me immediately, and took my whip and hat from me with
her soft, velvety white hands. I shivered at her touch.
At dinner her blue eyes watched me.
I could not eat, but I drank more wine than usual.
When I turned to go down to the smoking-room, she said: "Don't be very
I muttered I scarcely know what words in reply. It was close on midnight
before I went to bed. When I entered her room, shielding the light of the
candle with my hand, she was still awake.
Nestling against the pillows, she stretched herself curiously and smiled
up at me.
"I thought you were never coming, dear," she said.
I knew that I was very pale, but she did not remark it. I got into bed,
but left the candle still burning.
Presently she said:
"Why don't you put the candle out?"
I looked at her furtively. Her face seemed to me carved in stone, it was
so rigid, so expressionless. She lay away from me at the extreme edge of
the bed, sideways, with her hands toward me.
"Why don't you?" she repeated, with her blue eyes on me.
"I don't feel sleepy," I answered slowly.
"You never will while there is a light in the room," she said.
"You wish me to put it out?"
"Yes. How odd you are to-night, Ronald! Is anything the matter?"
"No," I answered; and I blew the light out.
How ghastly the darkness was!
I believed she meant to smother me in my sleep. I knew it. I determined to
It was horrible to think that, as we lay there, she could see me all the
time as if it were daylight.
The night wore on. She was quite silent and motionless. I lay listening.
It must have been towards morning when I closed my eyes, not because I was
sleepy, but because I was so tired of gazing at blackness.
Soon after I had done this there was a stealthy movement in the bed.
"Margot, are you awake?" I instantly cried out sharply.
The movement immediately ceased. There was no reply.
When the light of dawn stole in at the window she seemed to be sleeping.
Last night I did not close my eyes once. She did not move.
She means to tire me out, and she has the strength to do it. To-night I
feel so intensely heavy. Soon I must sleep, and then——
Shall I seek any longer to defend myself? Everything seems so inevitable,
so beyond my power, like the working of an inexorable justice bent on
visiting the sin of the father upon the child. For was not the cruel boy
the father of the man?
And yet, is this tragedy inevitable? It cannot be. I will be a man. I will
rise up and combat it. I will take Margot away from this house that her
soul remembers, in which its body so long ago was tortured and slain, and
she will—she must forget.
Instinct will sleep once more. It shall be so. I will have it so. I will
strew poppies over her soul. I will take her far away from here, far away,
to places where she will be once more as she has been.
To-morrow we will go. To-morrow——
Ah, that cry! Was it my own? I am suffocating! What was that? The horror
of it! The pen has fallen from my hand. I must have slept; and I have
dreamed. In my dream she stole upon me, that white thing! Her velvety
hands were on my throat. The soul stared out from her eyes, the soul of
the cat! Even her body, her woman's body, seemed to change at the moment
of vengeance. She slowly strangled me, and as the breath died from me, and
my failing eyes gazed at her, she was no longer woman at all, but
something lithe and white and soft. Fur enveloped my throat. Those hands
were claws. That breath on my face was the breath of an animal. The body
had come back to companion the soul in its vengeance, the body of——
Ah, it was too horrible!
Can vengeance for the dead bring with it resurrection of the dead?
Hark! There is a voice calling to me from upstairs.
"Ronald, are you never coming? I am tired of waiting for you. Ronald!"
"Come to me!"
"And I must go."
Just at the glimmer of dawn the first pale shaft of the sun struck across
a bed upon which lay the huddled and distorted corpse of a man. His head
was sunk down in the pillows. His eyes, that could not see, stared towards
the rising light. And from the open window of the chamber of death a woman
in a white wrapper leaned out, watching eagerly with wide blue eyes the
birds as they darted to and fro, rested on the climbing creepers, or
circled above the gorge through which the river ran. Her set lips smiled.
She looked like one calm, easy, and at peace. Presently an unwary sparrow
perched on the trellis beneath the window just within her reach. Her white
hand darted down softly, closed on the bird. She vanished from the window.
Can the dead hear? Did he catch the sound of her faint, continuous purring
as she crouched with her prey upon the floor?