The Flaw in the Crystal
by May Sinclair
The Flaw in the Crystal
31 West Twenty-Third Street
By May Sinclair
It was Friday, the day he always came, if (so she safeguarded it) he
was to come at all. They had left it that way in the beginning, that it
should be open to him to come or not to come. They had not even settled
that it should be Fridays, but it always was, the week-end being the
only time when he could get away; the only time, he had explained to
Agatha Verrall, when getting away excited no remark. He had to, or he
would have broken down. Agatha called it getting away from things;
but she knew that there was only one thing, his wife Bella.
To be wedded to a mass of furious and malignant nerves (which was
all that poor Bella was now) simply meant destruction to a man like
Rodney Lanyon. Rodney's own nerves were not as strong as they had been,
after ten years of Bella's. It had been understood for long enough
(understood even by Bella) that if he couldn't have his weekends he was
done for; he couldn't possibly have stood the torment and the strain of
Of course, she didn't know he spent the greater part of them with
Agatha Verrall. It was not to be desired that she should know. Her
obtuseness helped them. Even in her younger and saner days she had
failed, persistently, to realise any profound and poignant thing that
touched him; so by the mercy of heaven she had never realised Agatha
Verrall. She used to say that she had never seen anything in
Agatha, which amounted, as he once told her, to not seeing Agatha at
all. Still less could she have compassed any vision of the tiethe
extraordinary, intangible, immaterial tie that held them.
Sometimes, at the last moment, his escape to Agatha would prove
impossible; so they had left it further that he was to send her no
forewarning; he was to come when and as he could. He could always get a
room in the village inn or at the Farm near by, and in Agatha's house
he would find his place ready for him, the place which had become his
refuge, his place of peace.
There was no need to prepare her. She was never not prepared. It was
as if by her preparedness, by the absence of preliminaries, of
adjustments and arrangements, he was always there, lodged in the
innermost chamber. She had set herself apart; she had swept herself
bare and scoured herself clean for him. Clean she had to be; clean from
the desire that he should come; clean, above all, from the thought, the
knowledge she now had, that she could make him come.
For if she had given herself up to that
But she never had; never since the knowledge came to her; since she
discovered, wonderfully, by a divine accident, that at any moment she
could make himthat she had whatever it was, the power, the uncanny,
She was beginning to see more and more how it worked; how
inevitably, how infallibly it worked. She was even a little afraid of
it, of what it might come to mean. It did mean that without his
knowledge, separated as they were and had to be, she could always get
And supposing it came to mean that she could get at him to make him
do things? Why, the bare idea of it was horrible.
Nothing could well have been more horrible to Agatha. It was
the secret and the essence of their remarkable relation that she had
never tried to get at him; whereas Bella had, calamitously; and
still more calamitously, because of the peculiar magic that there was
(there must have been) in her, Bella had succeeded. To have tried to
get at him would have been, for Agatha, the last treachery, the last
indecency; while for Rodney it would have been the destruction of her
charm. She was the way of escape for him from Bella; but she had always
left her door, even the innermost door, wide open; so that where
shelter and protection faced him there faced him also the way of
departure, the way of escape from her.
And if her thought could get at him and fasten on him and shut him
It could, she knew; but it need not. She was really all right.
Restraint had been the essence and the secret of the charm she had, and
it was also the secret and the essence of her gift. Why, she had
brought it to so fine a point that she could shut out, and by shutting
out destroy any feeling, any thought that did violence to any other.
She could shut them all out, if it came to that, and make the whole
place empty. So that, if this knowledge of her power did violence, she
had only to close her door on it.
She closed it now on the bare thought of his coming; on the little
innocent hope she had that he would come. By an ultimate refinement and
subtlety of honour she refused to let even expectation cling to him.
But though it was dreadful to work her gift that way, to make him
do things, there was another way in which she did work it, lawfully,
sacredly, incorruptiblythe way it first came to her. She had worked
it twenty times (without his knowledge, for how he would have scoffed
at her!) to make him well.
Before it had come to her, he had been, ever since she knew him,
more or less ill, more or less tormented by the nerves that were wedded
so indissolubly to Bella's. He was always, it seemed to her terror, on
the verge. And she could say to herself, Look at him now!
His abrupt, incredible recovery had been the first open
manifestation of the way it worked. Not that she had tried it on him
first. Before she dared do that once she had proved it on herself
twenty times. She had proved it up to the hilt.
But to ensure continuous results it had to be a continuous process;
and in order to give herself up to it, to him (to his pitiful case),
she had lately, as her friends said, cut herself completely off. She
had gone down into Buckinghamshire and taken a small solitary house at
Sarratt End in the valley of the Chess, three miles from the nearest
station. She had shut herself up in a world half a mile long, one
straight hill to the north, one to the south, two strips of flat
pasture, the river and the white farm-road between. A world closed east
and west by the turn the valley takes there between the hills, and
barred by a gate at each end of the farm-road. A land of pure curves,
of delicate colours, delicate shadows; all winter through a land of
grey woods and sallow fields, of ploughed hillsides pale with the white
strain of the chalk. In April (it was April now) a land shining with
silver and with green. And the ways out of it led into lanes; it had
neither sight nor hearing of the high roads beyond.
There were only two houses in that half-mile of valley, Agatha's
house and Woodman's Farm.
Agatha's house, white as a cutting in the chalk downs, looked
southwest, up the valley and across it, to where a slender beech wood
went lightly up the hill and then stretched out in a straight line
along the top, with the bare fawn-coloured flank of the ploughed land
below. The farmhouse looked east towards Agatha's house across a field;
a red-brick housedull, dark red with the grey bloom of weather on
itflat-faced and flat-eyed, two windows on each side of the door and
a row of five above, all nine staring at the small white house across
the field. The narrow, flat farm-road linked the two.
Except Rodney when his inn was full, nobody ever came to Woodman's
Farm; and Agatha's house, set down inside its east gate, shared its
isolation, its immunity. Two villages, unseen, unheard, served her, not
a mile away. It was impossible to be more sheltered, more protected and
more utterly cut off. And only fifteen miles, as the crow flies,
between this solitude and London, so that it was easy for Rodney Lanyon
to come down.
At two o'clock, the hour when he must come if he were coming, she
began to listen for the click of the latch at the garden gate. She had
agreed with herself that at the last moment expectancy could do no
harm; it couldn't influence him; for either he had taken the
twelve-thirty train at Marylebone or he had not (Agatha was so far
reasonable); so at the last moment she permitted herself that dangerous
and terrible joy.
When the click came and his footsteps after it, she admitted further
(now when it could do no harm) that she had had foreknowledge of him;
she had been aware all the time that he would come. And she wondered,
as she always wondered at his coming, whether really she would find him
well, or whether this time it had incredibly miscarried. And her almost
unbearable joy became suspense, became vehement desire to see him and
gather from his face whether this time also it had worked.
How are you? How have you been? was her question when he stood
before her in her white room, holding her hand for an instant.
Tremendously fit, he answered; ever since I last saw you.
Ohseeing me It was as if she wanted him to know that seeing
her made no difference.
She looked at him and received her certainty. She saw him clear-eyed
and young, younger than he was, his clean, bronzed face set, as it used
to be, in a firmness that obliterated the lines, the little agonized
lines, that had made her heart ache.
It always does me good, he said, to see you.
And to see youyou know what it does to me.
He thought he knew as he caught back his breath and looked at her,
taking in again her fine whiteness, and her tenderness, her purity of
line, and the secret of her eyes whose colour (if they had colour) he
was never sure about; taking in all of her, from her adorable feet to
her hair, vividly dark, that sprang from the white parting likewas it
like waves or wings?
What had once touched and moved him unspeakably in Agatha's face was
the capacity it had, latent in its tragic lines, for expressing terror.
Terror was what he most dreaded for her, what he had most tried to keep
her from, to keep out of her face. And latterly he had not found it; or
rather he had not found the unborn, lurking spirit of it there. It had
gone, that little tragic droop in Agatha's face. The corners of her
eyes and of her beautiful mouth were lifted; as if byhe could find no
other word for the thing he meant but wings. She had a look which, if
it were not of joy, was of something more vivid and positive than
He put it down to their increased and undisturbed communion made
possible by her retirement to Sarratt End. Yet as he looked at her he
In response to his sigh she asked suddenly, How's Bella?
His face lighted wonderfully. It's extraordinary, he said; she's
better. Miles better. In fact, if it was not tempting Providence, I
should say she was well. She's been, for the last week anyhow, a
His amazed, uncomprehending look gave her the clue to what had
happened. It was another instance of the astounding and mysterious way
it worked. She must have got at Bella somehow in getting at him. She
saw now no end to the possibilities of the thing. There wasn't anything
so wonderful in making him what, after all, he was; but if she, Bella,
had been, even for a week, a perfect angel, it had made her what she
was not and never had been.
His next utterance came to her with no irrelevance.
You've been found out.
For a moment she wondered, had he guessed it then, her secret? He
had never known anything about it, and it was not likely that he should
know now. He was indeed very far from knowing when he could think that
it was seeing her that did it.
There was, of course, the other secret, the fact that he did see
her; but she had never allowed that it was a secret, or that it need
be, although they guarded it so carefully. Anybody except Bella, who
wouldn't understand it, was welcome to know that he came to see her. He
must mean that.
Found out? she repeated.
If you haven't been, you will be.
You mean, she said, Sarratt End has been found out?
If you put it that way. I saw the Powells at the station.
(She breathed freely.)
They told me they'd taken rooms at some farm here.
He didn't remember.
Was it Woodman's Farm? she asked. And he said, Yes, that was the
name they'd told him. Whereabouts was it?
Don't you know? she said. That's the name of your Farm.
He had not known it, and was visibly annoyed at knowing it now. And
Agatha herself felt some dismay. If it had been any other place but
Woodman's Farm! It stared at them; it watched them; it knew all their
goings out and their comings in; it knew Rodney; not that that had
mattered in the least, but the Powells, when they came, would know too.
She tried to look as if that didn't matter, either, while they faced
each other in a silence, a curious, unfamiliar discomposure.
She recovered first. After all, she said, why shouldn't they?
WellI thought you weren't going to tell people.
Her face mounted a sudden flame, a signal of resentment. She had
always resented the imputation of secrecy in their relations. And now
it was as if he were dragging forward the thought that she perpetually
put away from her.
Tell about what? she asked, coldly.
About Sarratt End. I thought we'd agreed to keep it for ourselves.
I haven't told everybody. But I did tell Milly Powell.
My dear girl, that wasn't very clever of you.
I told her not to tell. She knows what I want to be alone for.
Good God! As he stared in dismay at what he judged to be her
unspeakable indiscretion, the thought rushed in on her straight from
him, the naked, terrible thought, that there should be anything
they had to hide, they had to be alone for. She saw at the same time
how defenceless he was before it; he couldn't keep it back; he couldn't
put it away from him. It was always with him, a danger watching on his
Then (he made her face it with him), we're done for.
No, no, she cried. How could you think that? It was another
thing. Something that I'm trying to do.
You told her, he insisted. What did you tell her?
That I'm doing it. That I'm here for my health. She understands it
He smiled as if he were satisfied, knowing her so well. And still
his thought, his terrible naked thought, was there. It was looking at
her straight out of his eyes.
Are you sure she understands? he said.
He hesitated, and then put it differently.
Are you sure she doesn't understand? That she hasn't an inkling?
He wasn't sure whether Agatha understood, whether she
realised the danger.
About you and me, he said.
Ah, my dear, I've kept you secret. She doesn't know we know
each other. And if she did
She finished it with a wonderful look, a look of unblinking yet
vaguely, pitifully uncandid candour.
She had always met him, and would always have to meet him, with the
idea that there was nothing in it; for, if she once admitted that there
was anything, then they were done for. She couldn't (how could
she?) let him keep on coming with that thought in him, acknowledged by
That was where she came in and where her secret, her gift, would
work now more beneficently than ever. The beauty of it was that it
would make them safe, absolutely safe. She had only got to apply it to
that thought of his and the thought would not exist. Since she could
get at him, she could do for him what he, poor dear, could not perhaps
always do for himself; she could keep that dreadful possibility in him
under; she could in fact, make their communion all that she most wanted
it to be.
I don't like it, he said, miserably. I don't like it.
A little line of worry was coming in his face again.
The door opened and a maid began to go in and out, laying the table
for their meal. He watched the door close on her and said, Won't that
woman wonder what I come for?
She can see what you come for. She smiled. Why are you spoiling
it with thinking things?
It's for you I think them. I don't mind. It doesn't matter so much
for me. But I want you to be safe.
Oh, I'm safe, my dear, she answered.
You were. And you would be still, if these Powells hadn't found you
What do you suppose they've come for? he asked.
They've come, I imagine, for his health.
What? To a god-forsaken place like this?
They know what it's done for me. So they think, poor darlings,
perhaps it may do somethingeven yetfor him.
What's the matter with him?
Something dreadful. And they sayincurable.
It isn't? He paused.
I can't tell you what it is. It isn't anything you'd think it was.
It isn't anything bodily.
I never knew it.
You're not supposed to know. And you wouldn't, unless you did
know. And pleaseyou don't; you don't know anything.
He smiled. No. You haven't told me, have you?
I only told you because you never tell things, and because
Because? He waited, smiling.
Because I wanted you to see he doesn't count.
Wellbut she's all right, I take it?
At first she failed to grasp his implication that if, owing to his
affliction, Harding Powell didn't count, Milly, his young wife did. Her
faculties of observation and of inference would, he took it, be
She'll wonder, won't she? he expounded.
About us? Not she. She's too much wrapped up in him to notice
Oh, my dearHe's too much wrapped up in it.
Another anxiety then came to him.
I say, you know, he isn't dangerous, is he?
Dangerous? Oh dear me, no! A lamb.
She kept on saying to herself, Why shouldn't they come? What
difference did it make?
Up till now she had not admitted that anything could make a
difference, that anything could touch, could alter by a shade the safe,
the intangible, the unique relation between her and Rodney. It was
proof against anything that anybody could think. And the Powells were
not given to thinking things. Agatha's own mind had been a crystal
without a flaw, in its clearness, its sincerity.
It had to be to ensure the blessed working of the gift; as again, it
was by the blessed working of the gift that she had kept it so. She
could only think of that, the secret, the gift, the inexpressible
thing, as itself a flawless crystal, a charmed circle; or rather, as a
sphere that held all the charmed circles that you draw round things to
keep them safe, to keep them holy.
She had drawn her circle round Rodney Lanyon and herself. Nobody
could break it. They were supernaturally safe.
And yet the presence of the Powells had made a difference. She was
forced to own that, though she remained untouched, it had made a
difference in him. It was as if, in the agitation produced by them, he
had brushed aside some veil and had let her see something that up till
now her crystal vision had refused to see, something that was more than
a lurking possibility. She discovered in him a desire, an intention
that up till now he had concealed from her. It had left its hiding
place; it rose on terrifying wings and fluttered before her, troubling
her. She was reminded that, though there were no lurking possibilities
in her, with him it might be different. For him the tie between them
might come to mean something that it had never meant and could not mean
for her, something that she had refused not only to see but to foresee
and provide for.
She was aware of a certain relief when Monday came and he had left
her without any further unveilings and revealings. She was even glad
when, about the middle of the week, the Powells came with a cart-load
of luggage and settled at the Farm. She said to herself that they would
take her mind off him. They had a way of seizing on her and holding her
attention to the exclusion of all other objects.
She could hardly not have been seized and held by a case so pitiful,
so desperate as theirs. How pitiful and desperate it had become she
learned almost at once from the face of her friend, the little
pale-eyed wife, whose small, flat, flower-like features were washed out
and worn fine by watchings and listenings on the border, on the
Yes, he was worse. He had had to give up his business (Harding
Powell was a gentle stockbroker). It wasn't any longer, Milly Powell
intimated, a question of borders and of thresholds. They had passed all
that. He had gone clean over; he was in the dreadful interior; and she,
the resolute and vigilant little woman, had no longer any power to get
him out. She was at the end of her tether.
Agatha knew what he had been for years? Wellhe was worse than
that; far worse than he had been, ever. Not so bad though that he
hadn't intervals in which he knew how bad he was, and was willing to do
everything, to try anything. They were going to try Sarratt End. It was
her idea. She knew how marvellously it had answered with dear Agatha
(not that Agatha ever was, or could be, where he was, poor
darling). And besides, Agatha herself was an attraction. It had
occurred to Milly Powell that it might do Harding good to be near
Agatha. There was something about her; Milly didn't know what it was,
but she felt it, he felt itan influence or something, that
made for mental peace. It was, Mrs. Powell said, as if she had some
She hoped Agatha wouldn't mind. It couldn't possibly hurt her. He
couldn't. The darling couldn't hurt a fly; he could only hurt himself.
And if he got really bad, why then, of course, they would have to leave
Sarratt End. He would have, she said sadly, to go away somewhere. But
not yetoh, not yet; he wasn't bad enough for that. She would keep him
with her up to the last possible momentthe last possible moment.
Agatha could understand, couldn't she?
Agatha did indeed.
Milly Powell smiled her desperate white smile, and went on, always
with her air of appeal to Agatha. That was why she wanted to be near
her. It was awful not to be near somebody who understood, who would
understand him. For Agatha would understandwouldn't she?that to a
certain extent he must be given in to? Thatapart from
Agathawas why they had chosen Sarratt End. It was the sort of
placewasn't it?where you would go if you didn't want people to get
at you, where (Milly's very voice became furtive as she explained it)
you could hide. His ideahis lastseemed to be that something was
trying to get at him.
No, not people. Something worse, something terrible. It was always
after him. The most piteous thing about himpiteous but adorablewas
that he came to herto herimploring her to hide him.
And so she had hidden him here.
Agatha took in her friend's high courage as she looked at the eyes
where fright barely fluttered under the poised suspense. She approved
of the plan. It appealed to her by its sheer audacity. She murmured
that, if there were anything that she could do, Milly had only to come
Oh well, Milly had come. What she wanted Agatha to doif she
saw him and he should say anything about itwas simply to take the
line that he was safe.
Agatha said that was the line she did take. She wasn't going to let
herself think, and Milly mustn't thinknot for a momentthat he
wasn't, that there was anything to be afraid of.
Anything to be afraid of here. That's my point, said Milly.
Mine is that here or anywherewherever he isthere mustn't
be any fear. How can he get better if we keep him wrapped in it? You're
not afraid. You're not afraid.
Persistent, invincible affirmation was part of her method, her
Milly replied a little wearily (she knew nothing about the method).
I haven't time to be afraid, she said. And as long as you're
It's you who matter, Agatha cried. You're so near him. Don't you
realise what it means to be so near?
Milly smiled sadly, tenderly. (As if she didn't know!)
My dear, that's all that keeps me going. I've got to make him feel
that he's protected.
He is protected, said Agatha.
Already she was drawing her charmed circle round him.
As long as I hold out. If I give in he's done for.
You mustn't think it. You mustn't say it!
ButI know it. Oh, my dear! I'm all he's got.
At that she looked for a moment as if she might break down. She said
the terrible part of it was that they were left so much alone. People
were beginning to shrink from him, to be afraid of him.
You know, said Agatha, I'm not. You must bring him to see me.
The little woman had risen, as she said, to go to him. She stood
there, visibly hesitating. She couldn't bring him. He wouldn't come.
Would Agatha go with her and see him?
As they approached the Farm she saw to her amazement that the door
was shut and the blinds, the ugly, ochreish yellow blinds, were down in
all the nine windows of the front, the windows of the Powell's rooms.
The house was like a house of the dead.
Do you get the sun on this side? she said; and as she said it she
realised the stupidity of her question; for the nine windows looked to
the east, and the sun, wheeling down the west, had been in their faces
as they came.
Milly answered mechanically, No, we don't get any sun. She added
with an irrelevance that was only apparent, I've had to take all four
rooms to keep other people out.
They never come, said Agatha.
No, said Milly, but if they did!
The front door was locked. Milly had the key. When they had entered,
Agatha saw her turn it in the lock again, slowly and without a sound.
All the doors were shut in the passage, and it was dark there. Milly
opened a door on the left at the foot of the steep stairs.
He will be in here, she said.
The large room was lit with a thick ochreish light through the
squares of its drawn blinds. It ran the whole width of the house and
had a third window looking west where the yellow light prevailed. A
horrible light it was. It cast thin, turbid, brown shadows on the
Harding Powell was sitting between the drawn blinds, alone in the
black hollow of the chimney place. He crouched in his chair and his
bowed back was towards them as they stood there on the threshold.
Harding, said Milly, Agatha has come to see you.
He turned in his chair and rose as they entered.
His chin was sunk on his chest, and the first thing Agatha noticed
was the difficult, slow, forward-thrusting movement with which he
lifted it. His eyes seemed to come up last of all from the depths to
meet her. With a peculiar foreign courtesy he bowed his head again over
her hand as he held it.
He apologised for the darkness in which they found him. Harding
Powell's manners had always been perfect, and it struck Agatha as
strange and pathetic that his malady should have left untouched the
incomparable quality he had.
Milly went to the windows and drew the blinds up. The light revealed
him in his exquisite perfection, his small fragile finish. He was fifty
or thereabouts, but slight as a boy, and nervous, and dark as
Englishmen are dark; jaw and chin shaven; his mouth hidden by the
straight droop of his moustache. From the eyes downwards the outlines
of his face and features were of an extreme regularity and a fineness
undestroyed by the work of the strained nerves on the sallow, delicate
texture. But his eyes, dark like an animal's, were the eyes of a
terrified thing, a thing hunted and on the watch, a thing that listened
continually for the soft feet of the hunter. Above these eyes his brows
were twisted, were tortured with his terror.
He turned to his wife.
Did you lock the door, dear? he said.
I did. But you know, Harding, we needn'there.
He shivered slightly and began to walk up and down before the
hearth-place. When he had his back to Milly, Milly followed him with
her eyes of anguish; when he turned and faced her, she met him with her
Presently he spoke again. He wondered whether they would object to
his drawing the blinds down. He was afraid he would have to. Otherwise,
he said, he would be seen.
Milly laid her hand on the arm that he stretched towards the window.
Darling, she said, you've forgotten. You can't possibly be
seenhere. It's just the one placeisn't it, Agatha?where you can't
be. Her eyes signalled to Agatha to support her. (Not but what she had
perfect confidence in the plan.)
It was, Agatha assented. And Agatha knows, said Milly.
He shivered again. He had turned to Agatha.
Forgive me if I suggest that you cannot really know. Heaven forbid
that you should know.
Milly, intent on her plan, persisted.
But, dearest, you said yourself it was. The one place.
I said that? When did I say it?
Yesterday? I daresay. But I didn't sleep last night. It wouldn't
Very few people do sleep, said Agatha, for the first time in a
The place isn't strange. That's what I complain of. That's what
keeps me awake. No place ever will be strange when It's there. And It
was there last night.
Darling Milly murmured.
You know what I mean, he said. The Thing that keeps me awake. Of
course if I'd slept last night I'd have known it wasn't there. But when
I didn't sleep
He left it to them to draw the only possible conclusion.
They dropped the subject. They turned to other things and talked a
little while, sitting with him in his room with the drawn blinds. From
time to time when they appealed to him, he gave an urbane assent, a
murmur, a suave motion of his hand. When the light went, they lit a
lamp. Agatha stayed and dined with them, that being the best thing she
At nine o'clock she rose and said good-night to Harding Powell. He
smiled a drawn smile.
Ahif I could sleep he said.
That's the worst of ithis not sleeping, said Milly at the gate.
He will sleep. He will sleep, said Agatha.
Milly sighed. She knew he wouldn't.
The plan, she said, was no good after all. It wouldn't work.
How could it? There was nothing behind it. All Milly's plans had
been like that; they fell to dust; they were dust. They had been
always that pitiful, desperate stirring of the dust to hide the terror,
the futile throwing of the dust in the poor thing's eyes. As if he
couldn't see through it. As if, with the supernatural lucidity, the
invincible cunning of the insane, he didn't see through anything and
provide for it. It was really only his indestructible urbanity,
persisting through the wreck of him, that bore, tolerantly,
temperately, with Milly and her plans. Without it he might be
dangerous. With it, as long as it lasted, little Milly, plan as she
would, was safe.
But they couldn't count on its lasting. Agatha had realised that
from the moment when she had seen him draw down the blind again after
his wife had drawn it up. That was the maddest thing he had done yet.
She had shuddered at it as at an act of violence. It outraged, cruelly,
his exquisite quality. It was so unlike him.
She was not sure that Milly hadn't even made things worse by her
latest plan, the flight to Sarratt End. It emphasised the fact that
they were flying, that they had to fly. It had brought her to the house
with the drawn blinds in the closed, barred valley, to the end of the
world, to the end of her tether. And when she realised that it was
the endwhen he realised it ...
Agatha couldn't leave him there. She couldn't (when she had the
secret) leave him to poor Milly and her plans. That had been in her
mind when she had insisted on it that he would sleep.
She knew what Milly meant by her sigh and the look she gave her. If
Milly could have been impolite, she would have told her that it was all
very well to say so, but how were they going to make him? And she too
felt that something more was required of her than that irritating
affirmation. She had got to make him. His case, his piteous case, cried
out for an extension of the gift.
She hadn't any doubt as to its working. There were things she didn't
know about it yet, but she was sure of that. She had proved it by a
hundred experimental intermissions, abstentions, and recoveries. In
order to be sure you had only to let go and see how you got on without
it. She had tried in that way, with scepticism and precaution, on
But not in the beginning. She could not say that she had tried it in
the beginning at all, even on herself. It had simply come to her, as
she put it, by a divine accident. Heaven knew she had needed it. She
had been, like Rodney Lanyon, on the verge, where he, poor dear, had
brought her; so impossible had it been then to bear her knowledge and,
what was worse, her divination of the things he bore from Bella. It was
her divination, her compassion, that had wrecked her as she stood
aside, cut off from him, he on the verge and she near it, looking on,
powerless to help while Bella tore at him. Talk of the verge, the
wonder was they hadn't gone clean over it, both of them.
She couldn't say then from what region, what tract of unexplored,
incredible mystery her help had come. It came one day, one night when
she was at her worst. She remembered how with some resurgent, ultimate
instinct of surrender she had sunk on the floor of her room, flung out
her arms across the bed in the supreme gesture of supplication, and
thus gone, eyes shut and with no motion of thought or sense in her,
clean into the blackness where, as if it had been waiting for her, the
thing had found her.
It had found her. Agatha was precise on that point. She had not
found it. She had not even stumbled on it, blundered up against it in
the blackness. The way it worked, the wonder of her instantaneous
well-being had been the first, the very first hint she had that it was
She had never quite recaptured her primal, virgin sense of it; but,
to set against that, she had entered more and more into possession. She
had found out the secret of its working and had controlled it, reduced
it to an almost intelligible method. You could think of it as a current
of transcendent power, hitherto mysteriously inhibited. You made the
connection, having cut off all other currents that interfered, and then
you simply turned it on. In other words, if you could put it into words
at all, you shut your eyes and ears, you closed up the sense of touch,
you made everything dark around you and withdrew into your innermost
self; you burrowed deep into the darkness there till you got beyond it;
you tapped the Power as it were underground at any point you pleased
and turned it on in any direction.
She could turn it on to Harding Powell without any loss to Rodney
Lanyon; for it was immeasurable, inexhaustible.
She looked back at the farm-house with its veiled windows. Formless
and immense, the shadow of Harding Powell swayed uneasily on one of the
yellow blinds. Across the field her own house showed pure and dim
against the darkening slope behind it, showed a washed and watered
white in the liquid, lucid twilight. Her house was open always and on
every side; it flung out its casement arms to the night and to the day.
And now all the lamps were lit, every doorway was a golden shaft, every
window a golden square; the whiteness of its walls quivered and the
blurred edges flowed into the dark of the garden. It was the fragile
shell of a sacred and a burning light.
She did not go in all at once. She crossed the river and went up the
hill through the beech-wood. She walked there every evening in the
darkness, calling her thoughts home to sleep. The Easter moon,
golden-white and holy, looked down at her, shrined under the long sharp
arch of the beech-trees; it was like going up and up towards a dim
sanctuary where the holiest sat enthroned. A sense of consecration was
upon her. It came, solemn and pure and still, out of the tumult of her
tenderness and pity; but it was too awful for pity and for tenderness;
it aspired like a flame and lost itself in light; it grew like a wave
till it was vaster than any tenderness or any pity. It was as if her
heart rose on the swell of it and was carried away into a rhythm so
tremendous that her own pulses of compassion were no longer felt, or
felt only as the hushed and delicate vibration of the wave. She
recognised her state. It was the blessed state desired as the condition
of the working of the gift.
She turned when the last arch of the beech-trees broke and opened to
the sky at the top of the hill, where the moon hung in immensity, free
of her hill, free of the shrine that held her. She went down with slow
soft footsteps as if she carried herself, her whole fragile being, as a
vessel, a crystal vessel for the holy thing, and was careful lest a
touch of the earth should jar and break her.
She went still more gently and with half-shut eyes through her
illuminated house. She turned the lights out in her room and undressed
herself in the darkness. She laid herself on the bed with straight lax
limbs, with arms held apart a little from her body, with eyelids shut
lightly on her eyes; all fleshly contacts were diminished.
It was now as if her being drank at every pore the swimming
darkness; as if the rhythm of her heart and of her breath had ceased in
the pulse of its invasion. She sank in it and was covered with wave
upon wave of darkness. She sank and was upheld; she dissolved and was
gathered together again, a flawless crystal. She was herself the heart
of the charmed circle, poised in the ultimate unspeakable stillness,
beyond death, beyond birth, beyond the movements, the vehemences, the
agitations of the world. She drew Harding Powell into it and held him
To draw him to any purpose she had first to loosen and destroy the
fleshly, sinister image of him that, for the moment of evocation, hung
like a picture on the darkness. In a moment the fleshly image receded,
it sank back into the darkness. His name, Harding Powell, was now the
only earthly sign of him that she suffered to appear. In the third
moment his name was blotted out. And then it was as if she drew him by
intangible, supersensible threads; she touched, with no sense of peril,
his innermost essence; the walls of flesh were down between them; she
had got at him.
And having got at him she held him, a bloodless spirit, a bodiless
essence, in the fount of healing. She said to herself, He will sleep
now. He will sleep. He will sleep. And as she slid into her own sleep
she held and drew him with her.
He would sleep; he would be all right as long as she slept.
Her sleep, she had discovered, did more than carry on the amazing act
of communion and redemption. It clinched it. It was the seal on the
Early the next morning she went over to the Farm. The blinds were
up; the doors and windows were flung open. Milly met her at the garden
gate. She stopped her and walked a little way with her across the
field. It's worked, she said. It's worked after all, like magic.
For a moment Agatha wondered whether Milly had guessed anything;
whether she divined the Secret and had brought him there for that, and
had refused to acknowledge it before she knew.
What has? she asked.
The plan. The place. He slept last night. Ten hours straight on
end. I know, for I stayed awake and watched him. And this morningoh,
my dear, if you could see him! He's all right. He's all right.
And you think, said Agatha, it's the place?
Milly knew nothing, guessed, divined nothing.
Why, what else can it be? she said.
What does he think?
He doesn't think. He can't account for it. He says himself it's
Perhaps, said Agatha, it is.
They were silent a moment over the wonder of it.
I can't get over it, said Milly, presently. It's so odd that it
should make all that difference. I could understand it if it had worked
that way at first. But it didn't. Think of him yesterday. And yetif
it isn't the place, what is it? What is it?
Agatha did not answer. She wasn't going to tell Milly what it was.
If she did Milly wouldn't believe her, and Milly's unbelief might work
against it. It might prove, for all she knew, an inimical, disastrous
Come and see for yourself. Milly spoke as if it had been Agatha
They turned again towards the house. Powell had come out and was in
the garden, leaning on the gate. They could see how right he was by the
mere fact of his being there, presenting himself like that to the vivid
He opened the gate for them, raising his hat and smiling as they
came. His face witnessed to the wonder worked on him. The colour showed
clean, purged of his taint. His eyes were candid and pure under brows
smoothed by sleep.
As they went in he stood for a moment in the open doorway and looked
at the view, admiring the river and the green valley, and the bare
upland fields under the wood. He had always had (it was part of his
rare quality) a prodigious capacity for admiration.
My God, he said, how beautiful the world is!
He looked at Milly. And all that isn't a patch on my wife.
He looked at her with tenderness and admiration, and the look was
the flower, the perfection of his sanity.
Milly drew in her breath with a little sound like a sob. Her joy was
so great that it was almost unbearable.
Then he looked at Agatha and admired the green gown she wore. You
don't know, he said, how exquisitely right you are.
She smiled. She knew how exquisitely right he was.
Night after night she continued, and without an effort. It was as
easy as drawing your breath; it was indeed the breath you drew. She
found that she had no longer to devote hours to Harding Powell, any
more than she gave hours to Rodney; she could do his business in
moments, in points of inappreciable time. It was as if from night to
night the times swung together and made one enduring timeless time. For
the process belonged to a region that was not of times or time.
She wasn't afraid, then, of not giving enough time to it, but she
was afraid of omitting it altogether. She knew that every
intermission would be followed by a relapse, and Harding's state did
not admit of any relapses.
Of course, if time had counted, if the thing was measurable,
she would have been afraid of losing hold of Rodney Lanyon. She held
him now by a single slender thread, and the thread was Bella. She
worked it regularly now through Bella. He was bound to be all right
as long as Bella was; for his possibilities of suffering were thus cut
off at their source. Besides, it was the only way to preserve the
purity of her intention, the flawlessness of the crystal.
That was the blessedness of her attitude to Harding Powell. It was
passionless, impersonal. She wanted nothing of Harding Powell except to
help him, and to help Milly, dear little Milly. And never before had
she been given so complete, so overwhelming a sense of having helped.
It was nothingunless it was a safeguard against vanitythat they
didn't know it, that they persisted in thinking that it was Milly's
plan that worked.
Not that that altogether accounted for it to Harding Powell. He said
so at last to Agatha.
They were returning, he and she, by the edge of the wood at the top
of the steep field after a long walk. He had asked her to go with
himit was her countryfor a good stretch, further than Milly's
little feet could carry her. They stood a moment up there and looked
around them. April was coming on, but the ploughed land at their feet
was still bare; the earth waited. On that side of the valley she was
delicately unfruitful, spent with rearing the fine, thin beauty of the
woods. But, down below, the valley ran over with young grass and poured
it to the river in wave after wave, till the last surge of green
rounded over the water's edge. Rain had fallen in the night, and the
river had risen; it rested there, poised. It was wonderful how a thing
so brimming, so shining, so alive could be so still; still as marsh
water, flat to the flat land.
At that moment, in a flash that came like a shifting of her eyes,
the world she looked at suffered a change.
And yet it did not change. All the appearances of things, their
colours, the movement and the stillness remained as if constant in
their rhythm and their scale; but they were heightened, intensified;
they were carried to a pitch that would have been vehement, vibrant,
but that the stillness as well as the movement was intense. She was not
dazzled by it or confused in any way. Her senses were exalted, adjusted
to the pitch.
She would have said now that the earth at her feet had become
insubstantial, but that she knew, in her flash, that what she saw was
the very substance of the visible world; live and subtle as flame;
solid as crystal and as clean. It was the same world, flat field for
flat field and hill for hill; but radiant, vibrant, and, as it were,
Agatha in her moment saw that the whole world brimmed and shone and
was alive with the joy that was its life, joy that flowed flood-high
and yet was still. In every leaf, in every blade of grass, this life
was manifest as a strange, a divine translucence. She was about to
point it out to the man at her side when she remembered that he had
eyes for the beauty of the earth, but no sense of its secret and
supernatural light. Harding Powell denied, he always had denied the
supernatural. And when she turned to him her vision had passed from
They must have another tramp some day, he said. He wanted to see
more of this wonderful place. And then he spoke of his recovery.
It's all very well, he said, but I can't account for it. Milly
says it's the place.
It is a wonderful place, said Agatha.
Not so wonderful as all that. You saw how I was the day after we
came. Wellit can't be the place altogether.
I rather hope it isn't, Agatha said.
Do you? What do you think it is, then?
I think it's something in you.
Of course, of course. But what started it? That's what I want to
know. Something's happened. Something queer and spontaneous and
unaccountable. It'sit's uncanny. For, you know, I oughtn't to feel
like this. I got bad news this morning.
Yes. My sister's little girl is very ill. They think it's
meningitis. They're in awful trouble. And II'm feeling
Don't let it distress you.
It doesn't distress me. It only puzzles me. That's the odd thing.
Of course, I'm sorry and I'm anxious and all that; but I feel so
You are well. Don't be morbid.
I haven't told my wife yet. About the child, I mean. I simply
daren't. It'll frighten her. She won't know how I'll take it, and
she'll think it'll make me go all queer again.
He paused and turned to her.
I say, if she did know how I'm taking it, she'd think
that awfully queer, wouldn't she? He paused.
The worst of it is, he said, I've got to tell her.
Will you leave it to me? Agatha said. I think I can make it all
How? he queried.
Never mind how. I can.
Well, he assented, there's hardly anything you can't do.
That was how she came to tell Milly.
She made up her mind to tell her that evening as they sat alone in
Agatha's house. Harding, Milly said, was happy over there with his
books; just as he used to be, only more so. So much more so that she
was a little disturbed about it. She was afraid it wouldn't last. And
again she said it was the place, the wonderful, wonderful place.
If you want it to last, Agatha said, don't go on thinking it's
Why shouldn't it be? I feel that he's safe here. He's out of it.
Things can't reach him.
Bad news reached him to-day.
Aggywhat? Milly whispered in her fright.
His sister is very anxious about her little girl.
Agatha repeated what she had heard from Harding Powell.
Oh Milly was dumb for an instant while she thought of her
sister-in-law. Then she cried aloud.
If the child dies it will make him ill again!
No Milly, it won't.
It will, I tell you. It's always been that sort of thing that does
And supposing there was something that keeps it off?
What is there? What is there?
I believe there's something. Would you mind awfully if it wasn't
What do you mean, Agatha? (There was a faint resentment in Milly's
It was then that Agatha told her. She made it out for her as far as
she had made it out at all, with the diffidence that a decent attitude
Milly raised doubts which subsided in a kind of awe when Agatha
faced her with the evidence of dates.
You remember, Milly, the night when he slept.
I do remember. He said himself it was miraculous.
And so you think it's that? she said presently.
I do indeed. If I dared leave off (I daren't) you'd see for
What do you think you've got hold of?
I don't know yet.
There was a long deep silence which Milly broke.
What do you do? she said.
I don't do anything. It isn't me.
I see, said Milly. I've prayed. You didn't think I
It's not thatnot anything you mean by it. And yet it is; only
it's more, much more. I can't explain it. I only know it isn't me.
She was beginning to feel vaguely uncomfortable about having told
And Milly, you mustn't tell him. Promise me you won't tell him.
No, I won't tell him.
Because you see, he'd think it was all rot.
He would, said Milly. It's the sort of thing he does think rot.
And that might prevent its working.
Milly smiled faintly. I haven't the ghost of an idea what 'it' is.
But whatever it is, can you go on doing it?
Yes, I think so. You see, it depends rather
It depends on what?
Oh, on a lot of thingson your sincerity; on youryour purity. It
depends so much on that that it frightens you lest, perhaps, you
mightn't, after all, be so very pure.
Milly smiled again, a little differently. Darling, if that's all,
I'm not frightened. Onlysupposingsupposing you gave out? You might,
I might. But It couldn't. You mustn't think it's me, Milly.
Because if anything happened to me, if I did give out, don't you see
how it would let him down? It's as bad as thinking it's the place.
Does it matter what it isor who it is, said Milly, passionately;
as long as Her tears came and stopped her.
Agatha divined the source of Milly's passion.
Then you don't mind, Milly? You'll let me go on?
Milly rose; she turned abruptly, holding her head high, so that she
might not spill her tears.
Agatha went with her over the grey field towards the Farm. They
paused at the gate. Milly spoke.
Are you sure? she said.
And you won't leave go? Her eyes shone towards her friend's in the
twilight. You will go on?
You must go on.
Believing that he'll be all right.
Oh, Aggy, he was devoted to Winny. And if the child dies
The child died three days later. Milly came over to Agatha with the
She said it had been an awful shock, of course. She'd been dreading
something like that for him. But he'd taken it wonderfully. If he came
out of it all right she would believe in what she called
He did come out of it all right. His behaviour was the crowning
proof, if Milly wanted more proof, of his sanity. He went up to London
and made all the arrangements for his sister. When he returned he
forestalled Milly's specious consolations with the truth. It was
better, he told her, that the dear little girl should have died, for
there was distinct brain trouble anyway. He took it as a sane man takes
a terrible alternative.
Weeks passed. He had grown accustomed to his own sanity and no
longer marvelled at it.
And still without intermission Agatha went on. She had been so far
affected by Milly's fright (that was the worst of Milly's knowing) that
she held on to Harding Powell with a slightly exaggerated intensity.
She even began to give more and more time to him, she who had made out
that time in this process did not matter. She was afraid of letting go,
because the consequences (Milly was perpetually reminding her of the
consequences) of letting go would be awful.
For Milly kept her at it. Milly urged her on. Milly, in Milly's own
words, sustained her. She praised her; she praised the Secret, praised
the Power. She said you could see how it worked. It was tremendous; it
was inexhaustible. Milly, familiarised with its working, had become a
fanatical believer in the Power. But she had her own theory. She knew
of course that they were all, she and Agatha and poor Harding,
dependent on the Power, that it was the Power that did it, and not
Agatha. But Agatha was their one link with it, and if the link
gave way where were they? Agatha felt that Milly watched her and
waylaid her; that she was suspicious of failures and of intermissions;
that she wondered; that she peered and pried. Milly would, if she
could, have stuck her fingers into what she called the machinery of the
thing. Its vagueness baffled and even annoyed her, for her mind was
limited; it loved and was at home with limits; it desired above all
things precise ideas, names, phrases, anything that constricted and
But still, with it all, she believed; and the great thing was that
Milly should believe. She might have worked havoc if, with her
temperament, she had doubted.
What did suffer was the fine poise with which she, Agatha, had held
Rodney Lanyon and Harding Powell each by his own thread. Milly had
compelled her to spin a stronger thread for Harding and, as it were, to
multiply her threads, so as to hold him at all points. And because of
this, because of giving more and more time to him, she could not always
loose him from her and let him go. And she was afraid lest the pull he
had on her might weaken Rodney's thread.
Up till now, the Powells' third week at Sarratt End, she had had the
assurance that his thread still held. She heard from him that Bella was
all right, which meant that he too was all right, for there had never
been anything wrong with him but Bella. And she had a further
glimpse of the way the gift worked its wonders.
Three Fridays had passed, and he had not come.
Wellshe had meant that; she had tried (on that last Friday of
his), with a crystal sincerity, to hold him back so that he should not
come. And up till now, with an ease that simply amazed her, she had
kept herself at the highest pitch of her sincere and beautiful
Not that it was the intention that had failed her now. It had
succeeded so beautifully, so perfectly, that he had no need to come at
all. She had given Bella back to him. She had given him back to Bella.
Only, she faced the full perfection of her work. She had brought it to
so fine a point that she would never see him again; she had gone to the
root of it; she had taken from him the desire to see her. And now it
was as if subtly, insidiously, her relation to him had become inverted.
Whereas hitherto it had been she who had been necessary to him, it
seemed now that he was far more, beyond all comparison more necessary
to her. After all, Rodney had had Bella; and she had nobody but Rodney.
He was the one solitary thing she cared for. And hitherto it had not
mattered so immensely, for all her caring, whether he came to her or
not. Seeing him had been perhaps a small mortal joy; but it had not
been the tremendous and essential thing. She had been contented,
satisfied beyond all mortal contentments and satisfactions, with the
intangible, immaterial tie. Now she longed, with an unendurable
longing, for his visible, bodily presence. She had not realised her joy
as long as it was with her; she had refused to acknowledge it because
of its mortal quality, and it had raised no cry that troubled her
abiding spiritual calm. But now that she had put it from her, it thrust
itself on her, it cried, it clung piteously to her and would not let
her go. She looked back to the last year, her year of Fridays, and saw
it following her, following and entreating. She looked forward and she
saw Friday after Friday coming upon her, a procession of pitiless days,
trampling it down, her small, piteous mortal joy, and her mortality
rose in her and revolted. She had been disturbed by what she had called
the lurking possibilities in Rodney; they were nothing to the lurking
possibilities in her.
There were moments when her desire to see Rodney sickened her with
its importunity. Each time she beat it back, in an instant, to its
burrow below the threshold, and it hid there, it ran underground. There
were ways below the threshold by which desire could get at him.
Therefore, one nightTuesday of the fourth weekshe cut him off. She
refused to hold him even by a thread. It was Bella and Bella only that
she held now.
On Friday of that week she heard from him. Bella was still all
right. But he wasn't. Anything but. He didn't know what was the
matter with him. He supposed it was the same old thing again. He
couldn't think how poor Bella stood him, but she did. It must be
awfully bad for her. It was beastly, wasn't it? that he should have got
like that, just when Bella was so well.
She might have known it. She had in fact known. Having once held
him, and having healed him, she had no rightas long as the Power
consented to work through hershe had no right to let him go.
She began again from the beginning, from the first process of
purification and surrender. But what followed was different now. She
had not only to recapture the crystal serenity, the holiness of that
state by which she had held Rodney Lanyon and had healed him; she had
to recover the poise by which she had held him and Harding Powell
together. And the effort to recover it became a striving, a struggle in
which Harding persisted and prevailed. Yes, there was no blinking it,
She had been prepared for it, but not as for a thing that could
really happen. It was contrary to all that she knew of the beneficent
working of the Power. She thought she knew all its ways, its silences,
its reassurances, its inexplicable reservations and evasions. She
couldn't be prepared for thisthat it, the high and holy, the
unspeakably pure thing should allow Harding to prevail, should connive
(that was what it looked like) at his taking the gift into his own
hands and turning it to his own advantage against Rodney Lanyon.
It was her fear at last that made her write to Rodney. She wrote in
the beginning of the fifth week (she was counting the weeks now). She
only wanted to know, she said, that he was better, that he was well.
She begged him to write and tell her that he was well.
He did not write.
And every night of that week, in those states of hers, Powell
prevailed. He was becoming almost a visible presence impressed upon the
blackness of the state. All she could do then was to evoke the
visible image of Rodney Lanyon and place it there over Harding's image,
obliterating him. Now, properly speaking, the state, the perfection of
it, did not admit of visible presences, and that Harding could so
impress himself showed more than anything the extent to which he had
He prevailed to such good purpose that he was now, Milly said, well
enough to go back to business. They were to leave Sarratt End in about
ten days, when they would have been there seven weeks.
She had come over on the Sunday to let Agatha know that; and also,
she said, to make a confession.
Milly's face, as she said it, was all candour. It had filled out; it
had bloomed in her happiness; it was shadowless, featureless almost,
like a flower.
She had done what she said she wouldn't do; she had told Harding.
Oh Milly, what on earth did you do that for? Agatha's voice was
I thought it better, Milly said, revealing the fine complacence of
Because secrecy is bad. And he was beginning to wonder. He wanted
to go back to business; and he wouldn't because he thought it was the
place that did it.
I see, said Agatha. And what does he think it is now?
He thinks it's you, dear.
But I told youI told youthat was what you were not to think.
My dear, it's an immense concession that he should think it's you.
A concession to what?
Well, I suppose, to the supernatural.
Milly, you shouldn't have told him. You don't know what harm you
might have done. I'm not sure even now that you have not done harm.
Oh, have I! said Milly, triumphantly. You've only got to
look at him.
When did you tell him, then?
I told himlet me seeit was a week ago last Friday.
Agatha was silent. She wondered. It had been after Friday a week ago
that he had prevailed so terribly.
Agatha, said Milly, solemnly, when we go away you won't lose
sight of him? You won't let go of him?
You needn't be afraid. I doubt now if he will let go of me.
How do you meannow? Milly flushed slightly as a flower
Now that you've told him, now that he thinks it's me.
Perhaps, said Milly, that was why I told him. I don't want him to
It was the sixth week, and still Rodney did not write; and Agatha
was more and more afraid.
By this time she had definitely connected her fear with Harding
Powell's dominion and persistence. She was certain now that what she
could only call his importunity had proved somehow disastrous to Rodney
Lanyon. And with it all, unacknowledged, beaten back, her desire to see
Rodney ran to and fro in the burrows underground.
He did not write, but on the Friday of that week, the sixth week, he
She saw him coming up the garden path and she shrank back into her
room; but the light searched her and found her, and he saw her there.
He never knocked; he came straight and swiftly to her through the open
doors. He shut the door of the room behind him and held her by her arms
with both his hands.
Rodney, she said, did you mean to come, or did I make you?
I meant to come. You couldn't make me.
Couldn't I? Oh say I couldn't.
You could, he said, but you didn't. And what does it matter so
long as I'm here?
Let me look at you.
She held him at arm's length and turned him to the light. It showed
his face white, worn as it used to be, all the little lines of worry
back again, and two new ones that drew down the corners of his mouth.
You've been ill, she said. You are ill.
No. I'm all right. What's the matter with you?
With me? Nothing. Do I look as if anything was wrong?
You look as if you'd been frightened.
He paused, considering it.
This place isn't good for you. You oughtn't to be here like this,
all by yourself.
Oh! Rodney, it's the dearest place. I love every inch of it.
Besides, I'm not altogether by myself.
He did not seem to hear her; and what he said next arose evidently
out of his own thoughts.
I say, are those Powells still here?
They've been here all the time.
Do you see much of them?
I see them every day. Sometimes nearly all day.
That accounts for it.
Again he paused.
It's my fault, Agatha. I shouldn't have left you to them. I knew.
What did you know?
Wellthe state he was in, and the effect it would have on
youthat it would have on any one.
It's all right. He's going. Besides, he isn't in a state any more.
Cured? What's cured him?
She evaded him.
He's been well ever since he came; absolutely well after the first
Still, you've been frightened; you've been worrying; you've had
some shock or other, or some strain. What is it?
Nothing. Onlyjust the last weekI've been a little frightened
about youwhen you wouldn't write to me. Why didn't you?
Because I couldn't.
Then you were ill.
I'm all right. I know what's the matter with me.
He laughed harshly.
No, it isn't this time. I haven't that excuse.
Excuse for what?
For coming. Bella's all right. Bella's a perfect angel. God knows
what's happened to her. I don't. I haven't had anything to do
You had. You had everything. You were an angel, too.
I haven't been much of an angel lately, I can tell you.
She'll understand. She does understand.
They had sat down on the couch in the corner so that they faced each
other. Agatha faced him, but fear was in her eyes.
It doesn't matter, he said, whether she understands or not. I
don't want to talk about her.
Agatha said nothing, but there was a movement in her face, a white
wave of trouble, and the fear fluttered in her eyes. He saw it there.
You needn't bother about Bella. She's all right. You see, it's not
as if she cared.
About me much.
But she does, she does care!
I suppose she did once, or she couldn't have married me. But she
doesn't now. You seeyou may as well know it, Agathathere's another
Oh, Rodney, no.
Yes. It's been perfectly all right, you know; but there he is and
there he's been for years. She told me. I'm awfully sorry for her.
What beats me is her being so angelic now, when she doesn't care.
Rodney, she does. It's all over, like an illness. It's you she
cares for now.
I'm sure of it.
You will be. You'll see it. You'll see it soon.
He glanced at her under his bent brows.
I don't know, he said, that I want to see it. That isn't
what's the matter with me. You don't understand the situation. It isn't
all over. She's only being good about it. She doesn't care a rap about
me. She can't. And what's more I don't want her to.
Youdon'twant her to?
He burst out. My God, I want nothing in this world but you.
And I can't have you. That's what's the matter with me.
No, no, it isn't, she cried. You don't know.
I do know. It's hurting me. And he looked at her and his voice
shookit's hurting you. I won't have you hurt.
He started forward suddenly as if he would have taken her in his
arms. She put up her hands to keep him off.
No, no! she cried. I'm all right. I'm all right. It isn't that.
You mustn't think it.
I know it. That's why I came.
He came near again. He seized her struggling hands.
Agatha, why can't we? Why shouldn't we?
No, no, she moaned. We can't. We mustn't. Not that way. I
don't want it, Rodney, that way.
It shall be any way you like. Only don't beat me off.
She stood up. Her face changed suddenly.
RodneyI forgot. They're coming.
Who are they?
The Powells. They're coming to lunch.
Can't you put them off?
I can, but it wouldn't be very wise, dear. They might think
Confound themthey would think.
He was pulling himself visibly together.
I'm afraid, Aggy, I ought
I knowyou must. You must go soon. He looked at his watch.
I must go now, dear. I daren't stay. It's dangerous.
I know, she whispered.
But when is the brute going?
Poor darling, he's going next weeknext Thursday.
Well then, I'llI'll
Please, you must go.
She held out her hand.
I daren't touch you, he whispered. I'm going now. But I'll come
again next Friday, and I'll stay.
As she saw his drawn face there was not any strength in her to say
He had gone. She gathered herself together and went across the field
to meet the Powells as if nothing had happened.
Milly and her husband were standing at the gate of the Farm. They
were watching; yes, they were watching Rodney Lanyon as he crossed the
river by the Farm bridge which led up the hill by the field path that
slanted to the farther and western end of the wood. Their attitude
showed that they were interested in his brief appearance on the scene,
and that they wondered what he had been doing there. And as she
approached them she was aware of something cold, ominous, and inimical,
that came from them, and set towards her and passed by. Her sense of it
only lasted for a second, and was gone so completely that she could
hardly realise that she had ever felt it.
For they were charming to her. Harding, indeed, was more perfect in
his beautiful quality than ever. There was something about him moreover
that she had not been prepared for, something strange and pathetic,
humble almost and appealing. She saw it in his eyes, his large, dark,
wild animal eyes, chiefly. But it was a look that claimed as much as it
deprecated; that assumed between them some unspoken communion and
understanding. With all its pathos it was a look that frightened her.
Neither he nor his wife said a word about Rodney Lanyon. She was not
even sure, now, that they had recognised him.
They stayed with her all that afternoon; for their time, they said,
was getting short; and when, about six o'clock, Milly got up to go she
took Agatha aside and said that, if Agatha didn't mind, she would leave
Harding with her for a little while. She knew he wanted to talk to her.
Agatha proposed that they should walk up the hill through the wood.
They went in a curious silence and constraint; and it was not until
they had got into the wood and were shut up in it together that he
I think my wife told you that I had something to say to you?
Yes, Harding, she said; what is it?
Well, it's thisfirst of all I want to thank you. I know what
you're doing for me.
I'm sorry. I didn't want you to know. I thought Milly wasn't going
to tell you.
She didn't tell me.
Agatha said nothing. She was bound to accept his statement. Of
course, he must have known that Milly had broken her word, and he was
trying to shield her.
I mean, he went on, that whether she told me or not, it's no
matter. I knew.
I knew that something was happening, and I knew that it wasn't the
place. Places never make any difference. I only go to 'em because Milly
thinks they do. Besides, if it came to that, this placefrom my
peculiar point of view, mind youwas simply beastly. I couldn't have
stood another night of it.
Well, the thing went; and I got all right. And the queer part of it
is that I felt as if you were in it somehow, as if you'd done
something. I half hoped you might say something, but you never did.
One ought not to speak about these things, Harding. And I told you
I didn't want you to know.
I didn't know what you did. I don't know now, though Milly tried to
tell me. But I felt you. I felt you all the time.
It was not I you felt. I implore you not to think it was.
What can I think?
Think as I do; thinkthink She stopped herself. She was aware
of the futility of her charge to this man who denied, who always had
denied, the supernatural.
It isn't a question of thinking, she said at last.
Of believing, then? Are you going to tell me to believe?
No; it isn't believing either. It's knowing. Either you know it or
you don't know, though you may come to know. But whatever you think,
you mustn't think it's me.
I rather like to. Why shouldn't I?
She turned on him her grave white face, and he noticed a curious
expression there as of incipient terror.
Because you might do some great harm either to yourself or
His delicate, sceptical eyebrows questioned her.
You? he murmured gently, pitifully almost.
Yes, me. Or evenwell, one doesn't quite know where the harm might
end. If I could only make you take another view. I tried to make
youto work it that wayso that you might find the secret and do it
I can't do anything for myself. But, Agatha, I'll take any view you
like of it, so long as you'll keep on at me.
Of course I'll keep on.
At that he stopped suddenly in his path, and faced her.
I say, you know, it isn't hurting you, is it?
She felt herself wince. Hurting me? How could it hurt me?
Milly said it couldn't.
Agatha sighed. She said to herself, Millyif only Milly hadn't
Don't you think it's cold here in the wood? she said.
Yes. Let's go back.
As they went Milly met them at the Farm bridge. She wanted Agatha to
come and stay for supper; she pressed, she pleaded, and Agatha, who had
never yet withstood Milly's pleading, stayed.
It was from that evening that she really dated it, the thing that
came upon her. She was aware that in staying she disobeyed an instinct
that told her to go home. Otherwise she could not say that she had any
sort of premonition. Supper was laid in the long room with the yellow
blinds, where she had first found Harding Powell. The blinds were down
to-night, and the lamp on the table burnt low; the oil had given out.
The light in the room was still daylight and came level from the
sunset, leaking through the yellow blinds. It struck Agatha that it was
the same light, the same ochreish light that they had found in the room
six weeks ago. But that was nothing.
What it was she did not know. The horrible light went when the flame
of the lamp burnt clearer. Harding was talking to her cheerfully and
Milly was smiling at them both, when half through the meal Agatha got
up and declared that she must go. She was ill; she was tired; they must
forgive her, but she must go.
The Powells rose and stood by her, close to her, in their distress.
Milly brought wine and put it to her lips; but she turned her head away
and whispered, Please let me go. Let me get away.
Harding wanted to walk back with her, but she refused with a
vehemence that deterred him.
How very odd of her, said Milly, as they stood at the gate and
watched her go. She was walking fast, almost running, with a furtive
step, as if something pursued her.
Powell did not speak. He turned from his wife and went slowly back
into the house.
She knew now what had happened to her. She was afraid of
Harding Powell; and it was her fear that had cried to her to go, to get
away from him.
The awful thing was that she knew she could not get away from him.
She had only to close her eyes and she would find the visible image of
him hanging before her on the wall of darkness. And to-night, when she
tried to cover it with Rodney's it was no longer obliterated. Rodney's
image had worn thin and Harding's showed through. She was more afraid
of it than she had been of Harding; and, more than anything, she was
afraid of being afraid. Harding was the object of a boundless and
indestructible compassion, and her fear of him was hateful to her and
unholy. She knew that it would be terrible to let it follow her into
that darkness where she would presently go down with him alone. It
would be all right, she said to herself, if only I didn't keep on
But he, his visible image, and her fear of it, persisted even while
the interior darkness, the divine, beneficent darkness rose round her,
wave on wave, and flooded her; even while she held him there and healed
him; even while it still seemed to her that her love pierced through
her fear and gathered to her, spirit to spirit, flame to pure flame,
the nameless, innermost essence of Rodney and of Bella. She had known
in the beginning that it was by love that she held them; but now,
though she loved Rodney and had almost lost her pity for Harding in her
fear of him, it was Harding rather than Rodney that she held.
In the morning she woke with a sense, which was almost a memory, of
Harding having been in the room with her all night. She was tired, as
if she had had some long and unrestrained communion with him.
She put away at once the fatigue that pressed on her (the gift still
worked in a flash for the effacing of bodily sensation). She told
herself that, after all, her fear had done no harm. Seldom in her
experience of the Power had she had so tremendous a sense of having got
through to it, of having worked it, of having held Harding under it
and healed him. For, when all was said and done, whether she had been
afraid of him or not, she had held him, she had never once let go. The
proof was that he still went sane, visibly, indubitably cured.
All the same she felt that she could not go through another day like
yesterday. She could not see him. She wrote a letter to Milly. Since it
concerned Milly so profoundly it was well that Milly should be made to
understand. She hoped that Milly would forgive her if they didn't see
her for the next day or two. If she was to go on (she underlined it)
she must be left absolutely alone. It seemed unkind when they were
going so soon, butMilly knewit was impossible to exaggerate the
importance of what she had to do.
Milly wrote back that of course she understood. It should be as
Agatha wished. Only (so Milly sustained her) Agatha must not allow
herself to doubt the Power. How could she when she saw what it had done
for Harding. If she doubted, what could she expect of Harding?
But of course she must take care of her own dear self. If she
failedif she gave waywhat on earth would the poor darling do, now
that he had become dependent on her?
She wrote as if it was Agatha's fault that he had become dependent;
as if Agatha had nothing, had nobody in the world to think of but
Harding; as if nobody, as if nothing in the world beside Harding
mattered. And Agatha found herself resenting Milly's view. As if to her
anything in the world mattered beside Rodney Lanyon.
For three days she did not see the Powells.
The three nights passed as before, but with an increasing struggle
She knew, she knew what was happening. It was as if the walls of
personality were wearing thin, and through them she felt him trying to
get at her.
She put the thought from her. It was absurd. It was insane. Such
things could not be. It was not in any region of such happenings that
she held him, but in the place of peace, the charmed circle, the
flawless crystal sphere.
Still the thought persisted; and still, in spite of it, she held
him, she would not let him go. By her honour, and by her love for Milly
she was bound to hold him, even though she knew how terribly, how
implacably he prevailed.
She was aware now that the persistence of his image on the blackness
was only a sign to her of his being there in his substance; in his
supreme innermost essence. It had obviously no relation to his bodily
appearance, since she had not seen him for three days. It tended more
and more to vanish, to give place to the shapeless, nameless,
all-pervading presence. And her fear of him became pervading, nameless
and shapeless too.
Somehow it was always behind her now; it followed her from room to
room of her house; it drove her out of doors. It seemed to her that she
went before it with quick uncertain feet and a fluttering heart,
aimless and tormented as a leaf driven by a vague light wind. Sometimes
it sent her up the field towards the wood; sometimes it would compel
her to go a little way towards the Farm; and then it was as if it took
her by the shoulders and turned her back again towards her house.
On the fourth day (which was Tuesday of the Powells' last week), she
determined to fight this fear. She could not defy it to the extent of
going on to the Farm where she might see Harding, but certainly she
would not suffer it to turn her from her hill-top. It was there that
she had always gone as the night fell, calling home her thoughts to
sleep; and it was there, seven weeks ago, that the moon, the
golden-white and holy moon, had led her to the consecration of her
gift. She had returned softly, seven weeks ago, carrying carefully her
gift, as a fragile, flawless crystal. Since then how recklessly she had
held it! To what jars and risks she had exposed the exquisite and
She waited for her hour between sunset and twilight. It was perfect,
following a perfect day. Above the wood the sky had a violet lucidity,
purer than the day; below it the pale brown earth wore a violet haze,
and over that a web of green, woven of the sparse, thin blades of the
young wheat. There were two ways up the hill; one over her own bridge
across the river, that led her to the steep straight path through the
wood; one over the Farm bridge by the slanting path up the field. She
chose the wood.
She paused on the bridge, and looked down the valley. She saw the
farm-house standing in the stillness that was its own secret and the
hour's. A strange, pale lamplight, lit too soon, showed in the windows
of the room she knew. The Powells would be sitting there at their
She went on and came to the gate of the wood. It swung open on its
hinges, a sign to her that some time or other Harding Powell had passed
there. She paused and looked about her. Presently she saw Harding
Powell coming down the wood-path.
He stopped. He had not yet seen her. He was looking up to the arch
of the beech-trees, where the green light still came through. She could
see by his attitude of quiet contemplation the sane and happy creature
that he was. He was sane, she knew. And yet, no; she could not really
see him as sane. It was her sanity, not his own that he walked in. Or
else what she saw was the empty shell of him. He was in her.
Hitherto it had been in the darkness that she had felt him most, and
her fear of him had been chiefly fear of the invisible Harding, and of
what he might do there in the darkness. Now her fear, which had become
almost hatred, was transferred to his person. In the flesh, as in the
spirit, he was pursuing her.
He had seen her now. He was making straight for her. And she turned
and ran round the eastern bend of the hill (a yard or so to the left of
her) and hid from him. From where she crouched at the edge of the wood
she saw him descend the lower slope to the river; by standing up and
advancing a little she could see him follow the river path on the
nearer side and cross by the Farm bridge.
She was sure of all that. She was sure that it did not take her more
than twelve or fifteen minutes (for she had gone that way a hundred
times) to get back to the gate, to walk up the little wood, to cut
through it by a track in the undergrowth, and turn round the further
and western end of it. Thence she could either take the long path that
slanted across the field to the Farm bridge or keep to the upper ground
along a trail in the grass skirting the wood, and so reach home by the
short straight path and her own bridge.
She decided on the short straight path as leading her farther from
the farm-house, where there could be no doubt that Harding Powell was
now. At the point she had reached, the jutting corner of the wood hid
from her the downward slope of the hill, and the flat land at its foot.
As she turned the corner of the wood, she was brought suddenly in
sight of the valley. A hot wave swept over her brain, so strong that
she staggered as it passed. It was followed by a strange sensation of
physical sickness, that passed also. It was then as if what went
through her had charged her nerves of sight to a pitch of insane and
horrible sensibility. The green of the grass, and of the young corn,
the very colour of life, was violent and frightful. Not only was it
abominable in itself, it was a thing to be shuddered at, because of
some still more abominable significance it had.
Agatha had known once, standing where she stood now, an exaltation
of sense that was ecstasy; when every leaf and every blade of grass
shone with a divine translucence; when every nerve in her thrilled, and
her whole being rang with the joy which is immanent in the life of
What she experienced now (if she could have given any account of it)
was exaltation at the other end of the scale. It was horror and fear
unspeakable. Horror and fear immanent in the life of things. She saw
the world in a loathsome transparency; she saw it with the eye of a
soul in which no sense of the divine had ever been, of a soul that
denied the supernatural. It had been Harding Powell's soul, and it had
Furiously, implacably, he was getting at her.
Out of the wood and the hedges that bordered it there came sounds
that were horrible, because she knew them to be inaudible to any ear
less charged with insanity; small sounds of movement, of strange
shiverings, swarmings, crepitations; sounds of incessant, infinitely
subtle urging, of agony and recoil. Sounds they were of the invisible
things unborn, driven towards birth; sounds of the worm unborn, of
things that creep and writhe towards dissolution. She knew what she
heard and saw. She heard the stirring of the corruption that Life was;
the young blades of corn were frightful to her, for in them was the
push, the passion of the evil which was Life; the trees as they
stretched out their arms and threatened her were frightful with the
terror which was Life. Down there, in that gross green hot-bed, the
earth teemed with the abomination; and the river, livid, white, a
monstrous thing, crawled, dragging with it the very slime.
All this she perceived in a flash, when she had turned the corner.
It sank into stillness and grew dim; she was aware of it only as the
scene, the region in which one thing, her terror, moved and hunted her.
Among sounds of the rustling of leaves, and the soft crush of grass,
and the whirring of little wings in fright, she heard it go; it went on
the other side of the hedge, a little way behind her as she skirted the
wood. She stood still to let it pass her, and she felt that it passed,
and that it stopped and waited. A terrified bird flew out of the hedge,
no further than a fledgling's flight in front of her. And in that place
it flew from she saw Harding Powell.
He was crouching under the hedge as she had crouched when she had
hidden from him. His face was horrible, but not more horrible than the
Terror that had gone behind her; and she heard herself crying out to
him, Harding! Harding! appealing to him against the implacable,
He had risen (she saw him rise), but as she called his name he
became insubstantial, and she saw a Thing, a nameless, unnameable,
shapeless Thing, proceeding from him. A brown, blurred Thing,
transparent as dusk is, that drifted on the air. It was torn and
tormented, a fragment parted and flung off from some immense and as yet
invisible cloud of horror. It drifted from her; it dissolved like smoke
on the hillside; and the Thing that had born and begotten it pursued
She bowed under it, and turned from the edge of the wood, the
horrible place it had been born in; she ran before it headlong down the
field, trampling the young corn under her feet. As she ran she heard a
voice in the valley, a voice of amazement and entreaty, calling to her
in a sort of song.
It was Milly's voice that called.
Then as she came, still headlong, to the river, she heard Harding's
voice saying something, she did not know what. She couldn't stop to
listen to him, or to consider how he came to be there in the valley,
when a minute ago she had seen him by the edge of the wood, up on the
very top of the hill.
He was on the bridgethe Farm bridgenow. He held out his hand to
steady her as she came on over the swinging plank.
She knew that he had led her to the other side, and that he was
standing there, still saying something, and that she answered.
Have you no pity on me? Can't you let me go?
And then she broke from him and ran.
She was awake all that night. Harding Powell and the horror begotten
of him had no pity; he would not let her go. Her gift, her secret, was
powerless now against the pursuer.
She had a light burning in her room till morning, for she was afraid
of sleep. Those unlit roads down which, if she slept, the Thing would
surely hunt her, were ten times more terrible than the white-washed,
familiar room where it merely watched and waited.
In the morning she found a letter on her breakfast-table, which the
maid said Mrs. Powell had left late last evening, after Agatha had gone
to bed. Milly wrote: Dearest Agatha,Of course I understand. But are
we never going to see you again? What was the matter with you
last night? You terrified poor Harding.Yours ever, M. P.
Without knowing why, Agatha tore the letter into bits and burned
them in the flame of a candle. She watched them burn.
Of course, she said to herself, that isn't sane of me.
And when she had gone round her house and shut all the doors and
locked them, and drawn down the blinds in every closed window, and
found herself cowering over her fireless hearth, shuddering with fear,
she knew that, whether she were mad or not, there was madness in her.
She knew that her face in the glass (she had the courage to look at it)
was the face of an insane terror let loose.
That she did know it, that there were momentsflashesin which she
could contemplate her state and recognise it for what it was, showed
that there was still a trace of sanity in her. It was not her own
madness that possessed her. It was, or rather it had been, Harding
Powell's; she had taken it from him. That was what it meantto take
There could be no doubt as to what had happened, nor as to the way
of its happening. The danger of it, utterly unforeseen, was part of the
very operation of the gift. In the process of getting at Harding to
heal him she had had to destroy not only the barriers of flesh and
blood, but those innermost walls of personality that divide and
protect, mercifully, one spirit from another. With the first thinning
of the walls Harding's insanity had leaked through to her, with the
first breach it had broken in. It had been transferred to her complete
with all its details, with its very gestures, in all the phases that it
ran through; Harding's premonitory fears and tremblings; Harding's
exalted sensibility; Harding's abominable vision of the world, that
vision from which the resplendent divinity had perished; Harding's
flight before the pursuing Terror. She was sitting now as Harding had
sat when she found him crouching over the hearth in that horrible room
with the drawn blinds. It seemed to her that to have a madness of your
own would not be so very horrible. It would be, after all, your own. It
could not possibly be one-half so horrible as this, to have somebody
else's madness put into you.
The one thing by which she knew herself was the desire that no
longer ran underground, but emerged and appeared before her, lit by her
lucid flashes, naked and unashamed.
She still knew her own. And there was something in her still that
was greater than the thing that inhabited her, the pursuer, the
pursued, who had rushed into her as his refuge, his sanctuary; and that
was her fear of him and of what he might do there. If her doors stood
open to him, they stood open to Bella and to Rodney Lanyon too. What
else had she been trying for, if it were not to break down in all three
of them the barriers of flesh and blood and to transmit the Power? In
the unthinkable sacrament to which she called them they had all three
partaken. And since the holy thing could suffer her to be thus
permeated, saturated with Harding Powell, was it to be supposed that
she could keep him to herself, that she would not pass him on to Rodney
It was not, after all, incredible. If he could get at her, of course
he could get, through her, at Rodney.
That was the Terror of terrors, and it was her own. That it could
subsist together with that alien horror, that it remained supreme
beside it, proved that there was still some tract in her where the
invader had not yet penetrated. In her love for Rodney and her fear for
him she entrenched herself against the destroyer. There at least she
knew herself impregnable.
It was in such a luminous flash that she saw the thing still in her
own hands, and resolved that it should cease.
She would have to break her word to Milly. She would have to let
Harding go, to loosen deliberately his hold on her and cut him off. It
could be done. She had held him through her gift, and it would be still
possible, through the gift, to let him go. Of course she knew it would
It was hard. It was terrible; for he clung. She had not
counted on his clinging. It was as if, in their undivided substance, he
had had knowledge of her purpose and had prepared himself to fight it.
He hung on desperately; he refused to yield an inch of the ground he
had taken from her. He was no longer a passive thing in that world
where she had brought him. And he had certain advantages. He had
possessed her for three nights and for three days. She had made herself
porous to him; and her sleep had always been his opportunity.
It took her three nights and three days to cast him out. In the
first night she struggled with him. She lay with all her senses hushed,
and brought the divine darkness round her, but in the darkness she was
aware that she struggled. She could build up the walls between them,
but she knew that as fast as she built them he tore at them and pulled
She bore herself humbly towards the Power that permitted him. She
conceived of it as holiness estranged and offended; she pleaded with
it. She could no longer trust her knowledge of its working, but she
tried to come to terms with it. She offered herself as a propitiation,
as a substitute for Rodney Lanyon, if there was no other way by which
he might be saved.
Apparently that was not the way it worked. Harding seemed to gain.
But, as he kept her awake all night, he had no chance to establish
himself, as he would otherwise have done, in her sleep. The odds
between her and her adversary were even.
The second night she gained. She felt that she had built up
her walls again; that she had cut Harding off. With spiritual pain,
with the tearing of the bonds of compassion, with a supreme agony of
rupture, he parted from her.
Possibly the Power was neutral; for in the dawn after the second
night she slept. That sleep left her uncertain of the event. There was
no telling into what unguarded depths it might have carried her. She
knew that she had been free of her adversary before she slept, but the
chances were that he had got at her in her sleep. Since the Power held
the balance even between her and the invader, it would no doubt permit
him to enter by any loophole that he could seize.
On the third night, as it were in the last watch, she surrendered,
but not to Harding Powell.
She could not say how it came to her; she was lying in her bed with
her eyes shut and her arms held apart from her body, diminishing all
contacts, stripping for her long slide into the cleansing darkness,
when she found herself recalling some forgotten, yet inalienable
knowledge that she had. Something said to her: Do you not remember?
There is no striving and no crying in the world which you would enter.
There is no more appeasing where peace is. You cannot make your
own terms with the high and holy Power. It is not enough to give
yourself for Rodney Lanyon, for he is more to you than you are
yourself. Besides, any substitution of self for self would be useless,
for there is no more self there. That is why the Power cannot work that
way. But if it should require you here, on this side the threshold, to
give him up, to give up your desire of him, what then? Would you loose
your hold on him and let him go?
Would you? the voice insisted.
She heard herself answer from the pure threshold of the darkness, I
Sleep came on her there; a divine sleep from beyond the threshold;
sacred, inviolate sleep.
It was the seal upon the bond.
She woke on Friday morning to a vivid and indestructible certainty
But there had been a condition attached to her deliverance; and it
was borne in on her that instead of waiting for the Power to force its
terms on her, she would do well to be beforehand with it. Friday was
Rodney's day, and this time she knew that he would come. His coming, of
course, was nothing, but he had told her plainly that he would not go.
She must therefore wire to him not to come.
In order to do this she had to get up early and walk about a mile to
the nearest village. She took the shortest way which was by the Farm
bridge and up the slanting path to the far end of the wood. She knew
vaguely that once, as she had turned the corner of the wood, there had
been horrors, and that the divine beauty of green pastures and still
waters had appeared to her as a valley of the shadow of evil, but she
had no more memory of what she had seen than of a foul dream, three
nights dead. She went at first uplifted in the joy of her deliverance,
drawing into her the light and fragrance of the young morning. Then she
remembered Harding Powell. She had noticed as she passed the Farm house
that the blinds were drawn again in all the windows. That was because
Harding and Milly were gone. She thought of Harding, of Milly, with an
immense tenderness and compassion, but also with lucidity, with sanity.
They had goneyesterdayand she had not seen them. That could not be
helped. She had done all that was possible. She could not have seen
them as long as the least taint of Harding's malady remained with her.
And how could she have faced Milly after having broken her word to her?
Not that she regretted even that, the breaking of her word, so sane
was she. She could conceive that, if it had not been for Rodney Lanyon,
she might have had the courage to have gone on. She might have
considered that she was bound to save Harding, even at the price of her
own sanity, since there was her word to Milly. But it might be
questioned whether by holding on to him she would have kept it, whether
she really could have saved him that way. She was no more than a
vehicle, a crystal vessel for the inscrutable and secret power, and in
destroying her utterly Harding would have destroyed himself. You could
not transmit the Power through a broken crystalwhy, not even through
one that had a flaw.
There had been a flaw somewhere; so much was certain. And as she
searched now for the flaw, with her luminous sanity, she found it in
her fear. She knew, she had always known, the danger of taking fear and
the thought of fear with her into that world where to think was to
will, and to will was to create. But for the rest, she had tried to
make herself clear as crystal. And what could she do more than give up
As she set her face towards the village, she was sustained by a
sacred ardour, a sacrificial exaltation. But as she turned homewards
across the solitary fields, she realised the sadness, the desolation of
the thing she had accomplished. He would not come. Her message would
reach him two hours before the starting of the train he always came by.
Across the village she saw her white house shining, and the windows
of his room (her study, which was always his room when he came); its
lattices were flung open as if it welcomed him.
Something had happened there.
Her maid was standing by the garden gate looking for her. As she
approached, the girl came over the field to meet her. She had an air of
warning her, of preparing her for something.
It was Mrs. Powell, the maid said. She had come again; she was in
there, waiting for Miss Agatha. She wouldn't go away; she had gone
straight in. She was in an awful state. The maid thought it was
something to do with Mr. Powell.
They had not gone, then.
If I were you, Miss, the maid was saying, I wouldn't see her.
Of course I shall see her.
She went at once into the room where Rodney might have been, where
Milly was. Milly rose from the corner where she sat averted.
Agatha, she said, I had to come.
Agatha kissed the white, suppliant face that Milly lifted.
I thought, she said, you'd goneyesterday.
We couldn't go. Hehe's ill again.
Yes. Didn't you see the blinds down as you passed?
I thought it was because you'd gone.
It's because that thing's come back again.
When did it come, Milly?
It's been coming for three days.
Agatha drew in her breath with a pang. It was just three days since
she began to let him go.
Milly went on. And now he won't come out of the house. He says he's
being hunted. He's afraid of being seen, being found. He's in therein
that room. He made me lock him in.
They stared at each other and at the horror that their faces took
and gave back each to each.
Oh, Aggy Milly cried it out in her anguish. You will
I can't. Agatha heard her voice go dry in her throat.
Agatha shook her head.
You mean you haven't, then?
I haven't. I couldn't.
But you told meyou told me you were giving yourself up to it. You
said that was why you couldn't see us.
It was why. Do sit down, Milly.
They sat down, still staring at each other. Agatha faced the window,
so that the light ravaged her.
Milly went on. That was why I left you alone. I thought you were
going on. You said you wouldn't let him go; you promised me you'd keep
I did keep on, till ...
But Milly had only paused to hold down a sob. Her voice broke out
again, clear, harsh, accusing.
What were you doing all that time?
Of course, said Agatha, you're bound to think I let you down.
What am I to think?
MillyI asked you not to think it was me.
Of course I knew it was the Power, not you. But you had hold of it.
You did something. Something that other people can't do. You did it for
one night, and that night he was well. You kept on for six weeks and he
was well all that time. You leave off for three daysI know when you
left offand he's ill again. And then you tell me that it isn't you.
It is you; and if it's you you can't give him up. You can't
stand by, Aggy, and refuse to help him. You know what it was. How can
you bear to let him suffer? How can you?
I can because I must.
And why must you?
Milly raised her head more in defiance than in supplication.
BecauseI told you that I might give out. WellI have given out.
You told me that the Power can't give outthat you've only got to
hold on to itthat it's no effort. I'm only asking you, Aggy, to hold
You don't know what you're asking.
I'm asking you only to do what you have done, to give five minutes
in the day to him. You said it was enough. Only five minutes. It isn't
much to ask.
What difference could it make to youfive minutes?
You don't understand, said Agatha.
I do. I don't ask you to see him, or to bother with him; only to go
on as you were doing.
You don't understand. It isn't possible to explain it. I can't go
I see. You're tired, Aggy. Wellnot now, not to-day. But later,
when you're rested, won't you?
Oh, Milly, dear Milly, if I could ...
You can. You will. I know you will ...
No. You must understand it. Never again. Never again.
There was a long silence. At last Milly's voice crept through,
strained and thin, feebly argumentative, the voice of a thing defeated
and yet unconvinced.
I don't understand you, Agatha. You say it isn't you; you say
you're only a connecting link; that you do nothing; that the Power that
does it is inexhaustible; that there's nothing it can't do, nothing
that it won't do for us, and yet you go and cut yourself off from
itdeliberatelyfrom the thing you believe to be divine.
I haven't cut myself off from it.
You've cut Harding off, said Milly. If you refuse to hold him.
That wouldn't cut him offfrom It. But Milly, holding him was bad;
it wasn't safe.
It saved him.
All the same, Milly, it wasn't safe. The thing itself isn't.
The Power? The divine thing?
Yes. It's divine and it'sit's terrible. It does terrible things
How could it? If it's divine, wouldn't it be compassionate? Do you
suppose it's less compassionate thanyou are? Why, Agatha, when
it's goodness and purity itself?
Goodness and purity are terrible. We don't understand it. It's got
its own laws. What you call prayer's all rightit would be safe, I
meanI suppose it might get answered anyway, however we fell short.
But thisthis is different. It's the highest, Milly; and if you rush
in and make for the highest, can't you see, oh, can't you see how it
might break you? Can't you see what it requires of you? Absolute
purity. I told you, Milly. You have to be crystal to itcrystal
without a flaw.
Andif there were a flaw?
The whole thing, don't you see, would break down; it would be no
good. In fact, it would be awfully dangerous.
To youto them, the people you're helping. You make a connection;
you smash down all the walls so that youyou get through to each
other, and supposing there was something wrong with you, and It
doesn't work any longer (the Power, I mean), don't you see that you
might do harm where you were trying to help?
ButAgathathere was nothing wrong with you.
How do I know? Can anybody be sure there's nothing wrong with
You think, said Milly, there was a flaw somewhere?
There must have beensomewhere ...
What was it? Can't you find out? Can't you think? Think.
SometimesI have thought it may have been my fear.
Yes, it's the worst thing. Don't you remember, I told you not to be
But Agatha, you were not afraid.
I wasafterwards. I got frightened.
You? And you told me not to be afraid, said Milly.
I had to tell you.
And I wasn't afraidafterwards. I believed in you. He believed in
You shouldn't have. You shouldn't. That was just it.
That was it? I suppose you'll say next it was I who frightened
As they faced each other there, Agatha, with the terrible, the
almost supernatural lucidity she had, saw what was making Milly say
that. Milly had been frightened; she felt that she had probably
communicated her fright; she knew that that was dangerous, and she knew
that if it had done harm to Harding, she and not Agatha would be
responsible. And because she couldn't face her responsibility, she was
trying to fasten upon Agatha some other fault than fear.
No, Milly, I don't say you frightened me, it was my own fear.
What was there for you to be afraid of?
Agatha was silent. That was what she must never tell her, not even
to make her understand. She did not know what Milly was trying to think
of her; Milly might think what she liked; but she should never know
what her terror had been and her danger.
Agatha's silence helped Milly.
Nothing will make me believe, she said, that it was your fear
that did it. That would never have made you give Harding up. Besides,
you were not afraid at first, though you may have been afterwards.
It was her own word, but it had as yet no significance for her.
Afterwhatever it was you gave him up for. You gave him up for
I did not. I never gave him up until I was afraid.
You gave It up. You wouldn't have done that if there had not been
something. Something that stood between.
If, said Agatha, you could only tell me what it was.
I can't tell you. I don't know what came to you. I only know that
if I'd had a gift like that, I would not have given it up for anything.
I wouldn't have let anything come between. I'd have kept myself ...
I did keep myselffor it. I couldn't keep myself entirely
for Harding; there were other things, other people. I couldn't give
them up for Harding or for anybody.
Are you quite sure you kept yourself what you were, Aggy?
What was I?
My dearyou were absolutely pure. You said that was the
Yes. And, don't you see, who isabsolutely? If you thought
I was you didn't know me.
As she spoke she heard the sharp click of the latch as the garden
gate fell to; she had her back to the window so that she saw nothing,
but she heard footsteps that she knew, resolute and energetic footsteps
that hurried to their end. She felt the red blood surge into her face,
and saw that Milly's face was white with another passion, and that
Milly's eyes were fixed on the figure of the man who came up the garden
path. And without looking at her Milly answered.
I don't know now; but I think I see, my dear ... In Milly's pause
the door-bell rang violently. Milly rose and let her have itwhat was
the flaw in the crystal.
Rodney entered the room and it was then that Milly looked at her.
Milly's face was no longer the face of passion, but of sadness and
reproach, almost of recovered incredulity. It questioned rather than
accused her. It said unmistakably, You gave him up for that?
Agatha's voice recalled her. Milly, I think you know Mr. Lanyon.
Rodney, in acknowledging Milly's presence, did not look at her. He
saw nothing there but Agatha's face which showed him at last the
expression that to his eyes had always been latent in it, the look of
the tragic, hidden soul of terror that he had divined in her. He saw
her at last as he had known he should some day see her. Terror was no
longer there, but it had possessed her; it had passed through her and
destroyed that other look she had from her lifted mouth and hair, the
look of a thing borne on wings. Now, with her wings beaten, with her
white face and haggard eyes, he saw her as a flying thing tracked down
and trampled under the feet of the pursuer. He saw it in one flash as
he stood there holding Milly's hand.
Milly's face had no significance for him. He didn't see it. When at
last he looked at her his eyes questioned her, they demanded an account
from her of what he saw.
For Agatha Milly's face, prepared as it was for leave-taking,
remained charged with meaning; it refused to divest itself of reproach
and of the incredulity that challenged her. Agatha rose to it.
You're not going, Milly, just because he's come? You needn't.
Milly was going.
He rose to it also.
If Mrs. Powell would go like thatin that distressing
wayshe must at least let him walk back with her. Agatha wouldn't
mind. He hadn't seen Mrs. Powell for ages.
He had risen to such a height that Milly was bewildered by him. She
let him walk back with her to the Farm and a little way beyond it.
Agatha said good-bye to Milly at the garden gate and watched them go.
Then she went up into her own room.
He was gone so long that she thought he was never coming back again.
She did not want him to come back just yet, but she knew that she was
not afraid to see him. It did not occur to her to wonder why in spite
of her message he had come, nor why he had come by an earlier train
than usual; she supposed that he must have started before her message
could have reached him. All that, his coming or his not coming,
mattered so little now.
For now the whole marvellous thing was clear to her. She knew the
secret of the gift. She saw luminously, almost transparently, the way
it worked. Milly had shown her. Milly knew; Milly had seen; she had put
her finger on the flaw.
It was not fear, Milly had been right there too. Until the moment
when Harding Powell had begun to get at her Agatha had never known what
fear felt like. It was the strain of mortality in her love for Rodney;
the hidden thing, unforeseen and unacknowledged, working its work in
the darkness. It had been there all the time, undermining her secret,
sacred places. It had made the first breach through which the fear that
was not her fear had entered. She could tell the very moment
when it happened.
She had blamed poor little Milly, but it was the flaw, the flaw that
had given their deadly point to Milly's interference and Harding's
importunity. But for the flaw they could not have penetrated her
profound serenity. Her gift might have been trusted to dispose of them.
For before that moment the gift had worked indubitably; it had never
missed once. She looked back on its wonders; on the healing of herself;
the first healing of Rodney and Harding Powell; the healing of Bella.
It had worked with a peculiar rhythm of its own, and always in a
strict, a measurable proportion to the purity of her intention. To
Harding's case she had brought nothing but innocent love and clean
compassion; to Bella's nothing but a selfless and beneficent desire to
help. And because in Bella's case at least she had been flawless, out
of the three Bella's was the only cure that had lasted. It had most
marvellously endured. And because of the flaw in her she had left
Harding worse than she had found him. No wonder that poor Milly had
It mattered nothing that Milly's reproaches went too far, that in
Milly's eyes she stood suspected of material sin (anything short of the
tangible had never been enough for Milly); it mattered nothing that
(though Milly mightn't believe it) she had sinned only in her thought;
for Agatha, who knew, that was enough; more than enough; it counted
For thought went wider and deeper than any deed; it was of the very
order of the Powers intangible wherewith she had worked. Why, thoughts
unborn and shapeless, that ran under the threshold and hid there,
counted more in that world where It, the Unuttered, the Hidden and the
She knew now that her surrender of last night had been the ultimate
deliverance. She was not afraid any more to meet Rodney; for she had
been made pure from desire; she was safeguarded forever.
He had been gone about an hour when she heard him at the gate again
and in the room below.
She went down to him. He came forward to meet her as she entered; he
closed the door behind them; but her eyes held them apart.
Did you not get my wire? she said.
Yes. I got it.
Then why ...
Why did I come? Because I knew what was happening. I wasn't going
to leave you here for Powell to terrify you out of your life.
Surelyyou thought they'd gone?
I knew they hadn't or you wouldn't have wired.
But I would. I'd have wired in any case.
To put me off?
He questioned without divination or forewarning. The veil of flesh
was as yet over his eyes, so that he could not see.
Because I didn't mean that you should come, that you should ever
come again, Rodney.
So you went back on me, did you?
If you call it going back.
She longed for him to see.
That was only because you were frightened, he said.
He turned from her and paced the room uneasily, as if he saw.
Presently he drew up by the hearth and stood there for a moment,
puzzling it out; and she thought that he had seen.
He hadn't. He faced her with a smile again.
But it was no good, dear, was it? As if I wouldn't know what it
meant. You wouldn't have done it if you hadn't been ill. You lost your
nerve. No wonder, with those Powells preying on you, body and soul, for
No, Rodney, no. I didn't want you to come back. And I
thinknowit would be better if you didn't stay.
It seemed to her now that perhaps he had seen and was fighting what
I'm not going to stay, he said, I am goingin another hourto
take Powell away somewhere.
He took it up where she had made him leave it. Then, Agatha, I
shall come back again. I shall come backlet me seeon Sunday.
She swept that aside.
Where are you going to take him?
To a man I know who'll look after him.
Oh, Rodney, it'll break Milly's heart.
She had come, in her agitation, to where he stood. She sat on the
couch by the corner of the hearth, and he looked down at her there.
No, he said, it won't. It'll give him a chance to get all right.
I've convinced her it's the only thing to do. He can't be left here for
you to look after.
Did she tell you?
She wouldn't have told me a thing if I hadn't made her. I dragged
it out of her, bit by bit.
Rodney, that was cruel of you.
Was it? I don't care. I'd have done it if she'd bled.
What did she tell you?
Pretty nearly everything, I imagine. Quite enough for me to see
what, between them, they've been doing to you.
Did she tell you how he got well?
He did not answer all at once. It was as if he drew back before the
question, alien and disturbed, shirking the discerned, yet
Did she tell you, Rodney? Agatha repeated.
Well, yes. She told me.
He seemed to be making, reluctantly, some admission. He sat down
beside her, and his movement had the air of ending the discussion. But
he did not look at her.
What do you make of it? she said.
This time he winced visibly.
I don't make anything. If it happenedif it happenedlike that, Agatha ...
It did happen.
Well, I admit it was uncommonly queer.
He left it there and reverted to his theme.
But it's no wonderif you sat down to that for six weeksit's no
wonder you got scared. It's inconceivable to me how that woman could
have let you in for him. She knew what he was.
She didn't know what I was doing till it was done.
She'd no business to let you go on with it when she did know.
Ah! but she knewthenthat it was all right.
Absolutely right. Rodney She called to him as if she would
compel him to see it as it was. I did no more for him than I did for
you and Bella.
He started. Bella? he repeated.
He stared at her. He had seen something.
You wondered how she got all right, didn't you?
He said nothing.
That was how.
And still he did not speak. He sat there, leaning forward, staring
now at his own clasped hands. He looked as if he bowed himself before
And there was you, too, before that.
I know, he said then; I can understand that. Butwhy
Because Bella was the only way.
She had not followed his thoughts nor he hers.
The only way? he said.
To work it. To keep the thing pure. I had to be certain of my
motive, and I knew that if I could give Bella back to you that would
proveto me, I meanthat it was pure.
But Bella, he said softlyBella. Powell I can understandand
It was clear that he could get over all the rest. But he could not
get over Bella. Bella's case convinced him. Bella's case could not be
explained away or set aside. Before Bella's case he was baffled,
utterly defeated. He faced it with a certain awe.
You were right, after all, about Bella, he said at last. And so
was I. She didn't care for me, as I told you. But she does care now.
She knew it.
That was what I was trying for, she said. That was what I meant.
You meant it?
It was the only way. That's why I didn't want you to come back.
He sat silent, taking that in.
Don't you see now how it works? You have to be pure crystal. That's
why I didn't want you to come back.
Obscurely, through the veil of flesh, he saw.
And I am never to come back? he said.
You will not need to come.
You mean you won't want me?
No. I shall not want you. Because, when I did want you it broke
I see. When you want me, it breaks down.
He rallied for a moment. He made his one last pitiful stand against
the supernatural thing that was conquering him.
He had risen to go.
And when I want to come, when I long for you, what then?
Your longing will make no difference.
She smiled also, as if she foresaw how it would work, and that soon,
very soon, he would cease to long for her.
His hand was on the door. He smiled back at her.
I don't want to shake your faith in it, he said.
You can't shake my faith in It.
Stillit breaks down. It breaks down, he cried.
Never. You don't understand, she said. It was the flaw in the
Soon, very soon he would know it. Already he had shown submission.
She had no doubt of the working of the Power. Bella remained as a
sign that it had once been, and that, given the flawless crystal, it
should be again.