The Bend of the
Road by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
Just outside the small country station of Min Cornwall, a
viaduct carries the Great Western Railway line across a coombe, or
narrow valley, through which a tributary trout-stream runs southward to
meet the tides of the LRiver. From the carriage-window as you pass
you look down the coombe for half a mile perhaps, and also down a road
which, leading out from MStation a few yards below the viaduct,
descends the left-hand slope at a sharp incline to the stream; but
whether to cross it or run close beside it down the valley bottom you
cannot tell, since, before they meet, an eastward curve of the coombe
shuts off the view.
Both slopes are pleasantly wooded, and tall beeches, interset here
and there with pinesa pretty contrast in the springspread their
boughs over the road; which is cut cornice-wise, with a low parapet
hedge to protect it along the outer side, where the ground falls
steeply to the water-meadows, that wind like a narrow green riband
edged by the stream with twinkling silver.
For the rest, there appears nothing remarkable in the valley: and
certainly Mr. Molesworth, who crossed and recrossed it regularly on
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, on his way to and from his banking
business in Plymouth, would have been puzzled to explain why, three
times out of four, as his train rattled over the viaduct, he laid down
his newspaper, took the cigar from his mouth, and gazed down from the
window of his first-class smoking carriage upon the green water-meadows
and the curving road. The Great Western line for thirty miles or so on
the far side of Plymouth runs through scenery singularly beautiful, and
its many viaducts carry it over at least a dozen coombes more
strikingly picturesque than this particular one which alone engaged his
curiosity. The secret, perhaps, lay with the road. Mr. Molesworth, who
had never set foot on it, sometimes wondered whither it led and into
what country it disappeared around the base of the slope to which at
times his eyes travelled always wistfully. He had passed his
forty-fifth year, and forgotten that he was an imaginative man.
Nevertheless, and quite unconsciously, he let his imagination play for
a few moments every morningin the evening, jaded with business, he
forgot as often as not to lookalong this country road. Somehow it had
come to wear a friendly smile, inviting him: and he on his part
regarded it with quite a friendly interest. Once or twice, half-amused
by the fancy, he had promised himself to take a holiday and explore it.
Years had gone by, and the promise remained unredeemed, nor appeared
likely to be redeemed; yet at the back of his mind he was always aware
of it. Daily, as the train slowed down and stopped at MStation, he
spared a look for the folks on the platform. They had come by the road;
and others, alighting, were about to take the road.
They were few enough, as a rule: apple-cheeked farmers and
country-wives with their baskets, bound for Plymouth market; on summer
mornings, as likely as not, an angler or two, thick-booted, carrying
rods and creels, their hats wreathed with March-browns or palmers on
silvery lines of gut; in the autumn, now and then, a sportsman with his
gun; on Monday mornings half a dozen Navy lads returning from furlough,
with stains of native earth on their shoes and the edges of their wide
trousers. . . . The faces of all these people wore an innocent
friendliness: to Mr. Molesworth, a childless man, they seemed a
childlike race, and mysterious as children, carrying with them like an
aura the preoccupations of the valley from which they emerged. He
decided that the country below the road must be worth exploring; that
spring or early summer must be the proper season, and angling his
pretext. He had been an accomplished fly-fisher in his youth, and
wondered how much of the art would return to his hand when, after many
years, it balanced the rod again.
Together with his fly-fishing, Mr. Molesworth had forgotten most of
the propensities of his youth. He had been born an only son of rich
parents, who shrank from exposing him to the rigours and temptations of
a public school. Consequently, when the time came for him to go up to
Oxford, he had found no friends there and had made few, being
sensitive, shy, entirely unskilled in games, and but moderately
interested in learning. His vacations, which he spent at home, were as
dull as he had always found them under a succession of well-meaning,
middle-aged tutorsuntil, one August day, as he played a twelve-pound
salmon, he glanced up at the farther bank and into a pair of brown eyes
which were watching him with unconcealed interest.
The eyes belonged to a yeoman-farmer's daughter: and young
Molesworth lost his fish, but returned next day, and again day after
day, to try for him. At the end of three weeks or so, his parentshe
was a poor hand at dissimulationdiscovered what was happening, and
interfered with promptness and resolution. He had not learnt the art of
disobedience, and while he considered how to begin (having, indeed,
taken his passion with a thoroughness that did him credit), Miss
Margaret, sorely weeping, was packed off on a visit to her mother's
relations near Exeter, where, three months later, she married a young
farmer-cousin and emigrated to Canada.
In this way Mr. Molesworth's love-making and his fly-fishing had
come to an end together. Like Gibbon, he had sighed as a lover, and
(Miss Margaret's faithlessness assisting) obeyed as a son.
Nevertheless, the sequel did not quite fulfil the hopes of his parents,
who, having acted with decision in a situation which took them
unawares, were willing enough to make amends by providing him with
quite a large choice of suitable partners. To their dismay it appeared
that he had done with all thoughts of matrimony: and I am not sure
that, as the years went on, their dismay did not deepen into regret. To
the end he made them an admirable son, but they went down to their
graves and left him unmarried.
In all other respects he followed irreproachably the line of life
they had marked out for him. He succeeded to the directorate of the
Bank in which the family had made its money, and to those unpaid
offices of local distinction which his father had adorned. As a banker
he was eminently 'sound'that is to say, cautious, but not obstinately
conservative; as a Justice of the Peace, scrupulous, fair, inclined to
mercy, exact in the performance of all his duties. As High Sheriff he
filled his term of office and discharged it adequately, but without
ostentation. Respecting wealth, but not greatly caring for itas why
should he?every year without effort he put aside a thousand or two.
Men liked him, in spite of his shyness: his good manners hiding a
certain fastidiousness of which he was aware without being at all proud
of it. No one had ever treated him with familiarity. One or two at the
most called him friend, and these probably enjoyed a deeper friendship
than they knew. Everyone felt him to be, behind his reserve, a good
Regularly thrice a week he drove down in his phaeton to the small
country station at the foot of his park, and caught the 10.27 up-train:
regularly as the train started he lit the cigar which, carefully
smoked, was regularly three-parts consumed by the time he crossed the
Mviaduct; and regularly, as he lit it, he was conscious of a faint
feeling of resentment at the presence of Sir John Crang.
Nine mornings out of ten, Sir John Crang (who lived two stations
down the line) would be his fellow-traveller; and, three times out of
five, his only companion. Sir John was an ex-Civil Servant, knighted
for what were known vaguely as 'services in Burmah,' and, now retired
upon a derelict country seat in Cornwall, was making a bold push for
local importance, and dividing his leisure between the cultivation of
roses (in which he excelled) and the directorship of a large
soap-factory near the Plymouth docks. Mr. Molesworth did not like him,
and might have accounted for his dislike by a variety of reasons. He
himself, for example, grew roses in a small way as an amateur, and had
been used to achieve successes at the local flower-shows until Sir John
arrived and in one season beat him out of the field. This, as an
essentially generous man, he might have forgiven; but not the loud
dogmatic air of patronage with which, on venturing to congratulate his
rival and discuss some question of culture, he had been bullied and set
right, and generally treated as an ignorant junior. Moreover, he seemed
to observebut he may have been mistaken that, whatever rose he
selected for his buttonhole, Sir John would take note of it and trump
next day with a finer bloom.
But these were trifles. Putting them aside, Mr. Molesworth felt that
he could never like the man whoto be shortwas less of a gentleman
than a highly coloured and somewhat aggressive imitation of one. Most
of all, perhaps, he abhorred Sir John's bulging glassy eyeballs, of a
hard white by contrast with his coppery skinsurest sign of the cold
sensualist. But in fact he took no pains to analyse his aversion, which
extended even to the smell of Sir John's excellent but Burmese cigars.
The two men nodded when they met, and usually exchanged a remark or two
on the weather. Beyond this they rarely conversed, even upon politics,
although both were Conservatives and voters in the same electoral
The day of which this story tells was a Saturday in the month of May
188, a warm and cloudless morning, which seemed to mark the real
beginning of summer after an unusually cold spring. The year, indeed,
had reached that exact point when for a week or so the young leaves are
as fragrant as flowers, and the rush of the train swept a thousand
delicious scents in at the open windows. Mr. Molesworth had donned a
white waistcoat in honour of the weather, and wore a bud of a Capucine
rose in his buttonhole. Sir John had adorned himself with an enormous
glowing Senateur Vaisse. (Why not a Paul Neyron while he was about it?
wondered Mr. Molesworth, as he surveyed the globular bloom.)
Now in the breast a door flings wide
It may have been the weather that disposed Sir John to talk to-day.
After commending it, and adding a word or two in general in praise of
the West-country climate, he paused and watched Mr. Molesworth lighting
You're a man of regular habits? he observed unexpectedly, with a
shade of interrogation in his voice.
Mr. Molesworth frowned and tossed his match out of window.
I believe in regular habits myself. Sir John, bent on affability,
laid down his newspaper on his knee. There's one danger about them,
though: they're deadening. They save a man the bother of thinking, and
persuade him he's doing right, when all the reason is that he's done
the same thing a hundred times before. I came across that in a book
once, and it seemed to me dashed sound sense. Now here's something I'd
like to ask youhave you any theory at all about dreams?
Dreams? echoed Mr. Molesworth, taken aback by the inconsequent
There's a Societyisn't there?that makes a study of 'em and
collects evidence. Man wakes up, having dreamt that friend whom he
knows to be abroad is standing by his bed; lights his candle or turns
on the electric-light and looks at his watch; goes to sleep again,
tells his family all about it at breakfast, and a week or two later
learns that his friend died at such-and-such an hour, and the very
minute his watch pointed to. That's the sort of thing.
You mean the Psychical Society?
That's the name. Well, I'm a case for 'em. Anyway, I can knock the
inside out of one of their theories, that dreams are a sort of
memory-game, made up of scenes and scraps and suchlike out of your
waking consciousnessisn't that the lingo? Now, I've never had but one
dream in my life; but I've dreamt it two or three score of times, and I
dreamt it last night.
Indeed? Mr. Molesworth was getting mildly interested.
And I'm not what you'd call a fanciful sort of person, went on Sir
John, with obvious veracity. Regular habitsrise early and to bed
early; never a day's trouble with my digestion; off to sleep as soon as
my head touches the pillow. You can't call my dream a nightmare, and
yet it's unpleasant, somehow.
But what is it?
Well,Sir John seemed to hesitateyou might call it a scene.
Yes, that's ita scene. There's a piece of water and a church beside
itjust an ordinary-looking little parish church, with a tower but no
pinnacles. Outside the porch there's a tallish stone crossyou can
just see it between the elms from the churchyard gate; and going
through the gate you step over a sort of gridhalf a dozen granite
stones laid parallel, with spaces between.
Then it must be a Cornish church. You never see that contrivance
outside the Duchy: though it's worth copying. It keeps out sheep and
cattle, while even a child can step across it easily.
But, my dear sir, I never saw Cornwalland certainly never saw or
heard of this contrivanceuntil I came and settled here, eight years
ago: whereas I've been dreaming this, off and on, ever since I was
And you never actually saw the rest of the scene? the church
itself, for instance?
Neither stick nor stone of it: I'll take my oath. Mind you, it
isn't like a church made up of different scraps of memory. It's
just that particular church, and I know it by heart, down to a
scaffold-hole, partly hidden with grass, close under the lowest
string-course of the tower, facing the gate.
I don't know. I've never been inside. But stop a momentyou
haven't heard the half of it yet! There's a road comes downhill to the
shore, between the churchyard wallthere's a heap of greyish
silvery-looking stuff, by the way, growing on the copingsomething
like lavender, with yellow blossomsWhere was I? Oh yes, and on the
other side of the road there's a tall hedge with elms above it. It
breaks off where the road takes a bend around and in front of the
churchyard gate, with a yard or two of turf on the side towards the
water, and from the turf a clean drop of three feet, or a little less,
on to the foreshore. The foreshore is all grey stones, round and flat,
the sort you'd choose to play what's called ducks-and-drakes. It goes
curving along, and the road with it, until the beach ends with a spit
of rock, and over the rock a kind of cottage (only bigger, but thatched
and whitewashed just like a cottage) with a garden, and in the garden a
laburnum in flower, leaning slantwise, Sir John raised his open hand
and bent his forefinger to indicate the angleand behind the cottage
a reddish cliff with a few clumps of furze overhanging it, and the turf
on it stretching up to a larch plantation . . . .
Sir John paused and rubbed his forehead meditatively.
At least, he resumed, I think it's a larch plantation; but
the scene gets confused above a certain height. It's the foreshore, and
the church and the cottage that I always see clearest. Yes, and I
forgot to tell youI'm a poor hand at descriptionthat there's a
splash of whitewash on the spit of rock, and an iron ring fixed there,
for warping-in a vessel, maybe: and sometimes there's a boat, out on
the water. . . .
You describe it vividly enough, said Mr. Molesworth as Sir John
paused and, apparently on the point of resuming his story, checked
himself, tossed his cigar out of the window, and chose a fresh one from
his pocket-case. Well, and what happens in your dream?
Sir John struck a match, puffed his fresh cigar alight, deliberately
examined the ignited end, and flung the match away. Nothing happens. I
told you it was just a scene, didn't I?
You said that somehow the dream was an unpleasant one.
So I did. So it is. It makes me damnably uncomfortable every time I
dream it; though for the life of me I can't tell you why.
The picture as you draw it seems to me quite a pleasant one.
So it is, again.
And you say nothing happens?
Well Sir John took the cigar from his mouth and looked at it
nothing ever happens in it, definitely: nothing at all. But always in
the dream there's a smell of lemon verbenait comes from the
gardenand a curious hissing noiseand a sense of a black man's being
somehow mixed up in it all. . . .
A black man?
Black or brown . . . in the dream I don't think I've ever actually
seen him. The hissing soundit's like the hiss of a snake, only ten
times loudermay have come into the dream of late years. As to that I
won't swear. But I'm dead certain there was always a black man mixed up
in it, or what I may call a sense of one: and that, as you will say, is
the most curious part of the whole business.
Sir John flipped away the ash of his cigar and leant forward
If I wasn't, as I say, dead sure of his having been in it from the
first, he went on, I could tell you the exact date when he took a
hand in the game: because, he resumed after another pause, I once
actually saw what I'm telling you.
But you told me, objected Mr. Molesworth, that you had never
actually seen it.
I was wrong then. I saw it once, in a Burmese boy's hand at
Maulmain. The old Eastern trick, you know: palmful of ink and the rest
of it. There was nothing particular about the boy except an ugly scar
on his cheek (caused, I believe, by his mother having put him down to
sleep in the fireplace while the clay floor of it was nearly red-hot
under the ashes). His master called himself his grandfathera
holy-looking man with a white beard down to his loins: and the pair of
them used to come up every year from Mergui or some such part, at the
Full Moon of Taboung, which happens at the end of March and is the big
feast in Maulmain. The pair of them stood close by the great entrance
of the Shway Dagone, where the three roads meet, and just below the
long flights of steps leading up to the pagoda. The second day of the
feast I was making for the entrance with a couple of naval officers I
had picked up at the Club, and my man, Moung Gway, following as close
as he could keep in the crowd. Just as we were going up the steps, the
old impostor challenged me, and, partly to show my friends what the
game was likefor they were new to the countryI stopped and found a
coin for him. He poured the usual dollop of ink into the boy's hand,
and, by George, sir, next minute I was staring at the very thing I'd
seen a score of times in my dreams but never out of them. I tell you,
there's more in that Eastern hanky-panky than meets the eye; beyond
that I'll offer no opinion. Outside the magic I believe the whole
business was a put-up job, to catch my attention and take me unawares.
For when I stepped back, pretty well startled, and blinking from the
strain of keeping my attention fixed on the boy's palm, a man jumped
forward from the crowd and precious nearly knifed me. If it hadn't been
for Moung Gway, who tripped him up and knocked him sideways, I should
have been a dead man in two twosfor my friends were taken aback by
the suddenness of it. But in less than a minute we had him down and the
handcuffs on him; and the end was, he got five years' hard, which means
hefting chain-shot from one end to another of the prison square and
then hefting it back again. There was a rather neat little Burmese
girl, you seea sort of niece of Moung Gway'swho had taken a fancy
to me; and this turned out to be a disappointed lover, just turned up
from a voyage to Cagayan in a paddy-boat. I believed he had fixed it up
with the venerable one to hold me with the magic until he got in his
stroke. Venomous beggars, those Burmans, if you cross 'em in the wrong
way! The fellow got his release a week before I left Maulmain for good,
and the very next day Moung Gway was found, down by the quays, dead as
a haddock, with a wound between the shoulder-blades as neat as if he'd
been measured for it. Oh, I could tell you a story or two about those
It's easily explained, at any rate, Mr. Molesworth suggested, why
you see a dark-skinned man in your dream.
But I tell you, my dear sir, he has been a part of the dream from
the beginning . . . before I went to Wren's, and long before ever I
thought of Burmah. He's as old as the church itself, and the foreshore
and the cottagethe whole scene, in factthough I can't say he's half
as distinct. I can't tell you in the least, for instance, what his
features are like. I've said that the upper part of the dream is vague
to me; at the end of the foreshore, that is, where the cottage stands;
the church tower I can see plainly enough to the very top. But over by
the cottage above the porch, as you may sayeverything seems to swim
in a mist: and it's up in that mist the fellow's head and shoulders
appear and vanish. Sometimes I think he's looking out of the window at
me, and draws back into the room as if he didn't want to be seen; and
the mist itself gathers and floats away with the hissing sound I told
you about. . . .
Sir John's voice paused abruptly. The train was drawing near the
M viaduct, and Mr. Molesworth from force of habit had turned his
eyes to the window, to gaze down the green valley. He withdrew them
suddenly, and looked around at his companion.
Ah, to be sure, he said vaguely; I had forgotten the hissing
It was curious, but as he spoke he himself became aware of a loud
hissing sound filling his ears. The train lurched and jolted heavily.
Hullo! exclaimed Sir John, half rising in his seat, something's
wrong. He was staring past Mr. Molesworth and out of the window.
Nasty place for an accident, too, he added in a slow, strained voice.
The two men looked at each other for a moment. Sir John's face wore
a tense expressiona kind of galvanised smile. Mr. Molesworth closed
his eyes, instinctively concealing his sudden sickening terror of what
an accident just there must mean: and for a second or so he actually
had a sensation of dropping into space. He remembered having felt
something like it in dreams three or four times in his life: and at the
same instant he remembered a country superstition gravely imparted to
him in childhood by his old nurse, that if you dreamt of falling and
didn't wake up before reaching the bottom, you would surely die. The
absurdity of it chased away his terror, and he opened his eyes and
looked about him with a short laugh. . . .
The train still jolted heavily, but had begun to slow down, and Mr.
Molesworth drew a long breath as a glance told him that they were past
the viaduct. Sir John had risen, and was leaning out of the farther
window. Something had gone amiss, then. But what?
He put the question aloud. Sir John, his head and shoulders well
outside the carriage-window, did not answer. Probably he did not hear.
As the train ran into MStation and came to a standstill, Mr.
Molesworth caught a glimpse of the station-master, in his gold-braided
cap, by the door of the booking-office. He wore a grave, almost a
scared look. The three or four country-people on the sunny platform
seemed to have their gaze drawn by the engine, and somebody ahead there
was shouting. Sir John Crang, without a backward look, flung the door
open and stepped out. Mr. Molesworth was preparing to followand by
the cramped feeling in his fingers was aware at the same instant that
he had been gripping the arm-rest almost desperatelywhen the guard of
the train came running by and paused to thrust his head in at the open
doorway to explain.
Engine's broken her coupling-rod, sirjust before we came to the
viaduct. Mercy for us she didn't leave the rails.
Mercy indeed, as you say, Mr. Molesworth assented. I suppose we
shall be hung up here until they send a relief down?
The guardMr. Molesworth knew him as 'George' by name, and by habit
constantly politeturned and waved his flag hurriedly, in
acknowledgment of the shouting ahead, before answering
You may count on half an hour's delay, sir. Lucky it's no worse.
You'll excuse methey're calling for me down yonder.
He ran on, and Mr. Molesworth stepped out upon the platform, of
which this end was already deserted, all the passengers having alighted
and hurried forward to inspect the damaged engine. A few paces beyond
the door he met the station-master racing back to despatch a telegram.
It seems that we've had a narrow escape, said Mr. Molesworth.
The station-master touched his hat and plunged into his office. Mr.
Molesworth, instead of joining the crowd around the engine, halted
before a small pile of luggage on a bench outside the waiting-room and
absent-mindedly scanned the labels.
Among the parcels lay a fishing-rod in a canvas case and a wicker
creel, the pair of them labelled and bearing the name of an
acquaintance of his a certain Sir Warwick Moyle, baronet and county
magistrate, beside whom he habitually sat at Quarter Sessions.
I had no idea, Mr. Molesworth mused, that Moyle was an angler. It
would be a fair joke, anyway, to borrow his rod and fill up the time.
How long before the relief comes down? he asked, intercepting the
station-master as he came rushing out from his office and slammed the
door behind him.
Maybe an hour, sir, before we get you started again. I can't
honestly promise you less than forty minutes.
Very well, then: I'm going to borrow Sir Warwick's rod, there, and
fill up the time, said Mr. Molesworth, pointing at it.
The station-master apparently did not hear; at any rate he passed on
without remonstrance. Mr. Molesworth slung the creel over his shoulder,
picked up the rod, and stepped out beyond the station gateway upon the
The road ran through a cutting, sunless, cooled by many small
springs of water trickling down the rock-face, green with draperies of
the hart's-tongue and common polypody ferns; and emerged again into
warmth upon a curve of the hillside facing southward down the coombe,
and almost close under the second span of the viaduct, where the tall
trestles plunged down among the tree-tops like gigantic stilts, and the
railway left earth and spun itself across the chasm like a line of
gossamer, its criss-crossed timbers so delicately pencilled against the
blue that the whole structure seemed to swing there in the morning
breeze. Above it, in heights yet more giddy, the larks were chiming;
and Mr. Molesworth's heart went up to those clear heights with a sudden
In all the many times he had crossed the viaduct he had never once
guessedhe could not have imaginedhow beautiful it looked from
below. He stood and gazed, and drew a long breath. Was it the escape
from dreadful peril, with its blessed revulsion of feeling, that so
quickened all his senses dulled by years of habit? He could not tell.
He gave himself up to the strange and innocent excitement.
Why had he never till nowand now only by accidentobeyed the
impulse to descend this road and explore? He was rich: he had not even
the excuse of children to be provided for: the Bank might surely have
waited for one day. He did not want much money. His tastes were
simpleWas not the happiness at this moment thrilling him a proof that
his tastes were simple as a child's? Lo, too, his eyes were looking on
the world as freshly as a child's! Why had he so long denied them a
holiday? Why do men chain themselves in prisons of their own making?
What had the station-master said? It might be an hourcertainly not
less than forty minutesbefore the train could be restarted. Mr.
Molesworth looked at his watch. Forty minutes to explore the road:
forty minutes' holiday! He laughed, pocketed the watch again, and took
the road briskly, humming a song.
Suppose he missed his train? Why, then, the Bank must do without him
to-day, as it would have to do without him, one of these days, when he
was dead. He thought of his fellow-directors' faces, and laughed again.
He felt morally certain of missing that train. What kind of world would
it be if money grew in birds' nests, or if leaves were currency and
withered in autumn? Would it include truant-schools for bankers? . . .
He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
Fulness to such a burden is
That go on pilgrimage
Mr. Molesworth did not actually sing these words. The tune he hummed
was a wordless one, and, for that matter, not even much of a tune. But
he afterwards declared very positively that he sang the sense of them,
being challenged by the birds calling in contention louder and louder
as the road dipped towards the stream, and by the music of lapsing
water which now began to possess his ear. For some five or six furlongs
the road descended under beech-boughs, between slopes carpeted with
last year's leaves: but by and by the beeches gave place to an oak
coppice with a matted undergrowth of the whortleberry; and where these
in turn broke off, and a plantation of green young larches climbed the
hill, the wild hyacinths ran down to the stream in sheet upon sheet of
Mr. Molesworth rested his creel on the low hedge above one of these
sheets of blue, and with the music of the stream in his ears began to
unpack Sir Warwick Moyle's fishing-rod. For a moment he paused,
bethinking himself, with another short laugh, that, without flies,
neither rod nor line would catch him a fish. But decidedly fortune was
kind to him to-day: for, opening the creel, he found Sir Warwick's
fly-book within it, bulging with hooks and flies by the scorenay, by
the hundred. He unbuckled the strap and was turning the leaves to make
his choice, when his ear caught the sound of footsteps, and he lifted
his eyes to see Sir John Crang coming down the road.
Hullo! hailed Sir John. I saw you slip out of the station and
took a fancy that I'd follow. Pretty little out-of-the-way spot, this.
Eh? Why, where on earth did you pick up those angling traps?
I stole them, answered Mr. Molesworth deliberately, choosing a
fly. He did not in the least desire Sir John's company, but somehow
found himself too full of good-nature to resent it actively.
Well, as a matter of fact, they belong to a friend of mine. They
were lying ready to hand in the station, and I borrowed them without
leave. He won't mind.
You're a cool one, I must say. It may be that the recent agitation
of his feelings had shaken Sir John's native vulgarity to the surface.
Certainly he spoke now with a commonness of idiom and accent he was
usually at pains to conceal. You must have a fair nerve altogether,
for all you're such a quiet-looking chap. Hadn't even the
curiosityhad you?to find out what had gone wrong; but just picked
up a handy fishing-rod and strolled off to fill up the time till
damages were repaired. Look here. Do you know, or don't you, that
'twasn't by more than a hair's-breadth we missed going over that
I knew we must have had a narrow escape.
And you can be tying the fly there on to that gut as steady as a
doctor picking up an artery! Well, I envy you. Look at that!
Sir John held out a brown, hairy, shaking hand. And I don't reckon
myself a coward, either.
Mr. Molesworth knew that the man's record had established at any
rate his reputation for courage. He had, in fact, been a famous
hunter-out of Dacoity.
I didn't know you went in for that sort of thing, pursued Sir
John, watching Mr. Molesworth, who, with a penknife, was trimming the
ends of gut. Don't mind my watching your first cast or two, I hope? I
won't talk. Anglers don't like being interrupted, I know.
I shall be glad of your company: and please talk as much as you
choose. To tell the truth, I haven't handled a rod for years, and I'm
making this little experiment to see if I've quite lost the knack,
rather than with any hope of catching fish.
It appeared, however, that he had not lost the knack, and after the
first cast or two, in the pleasure of recovered skill, his senses
abandoned themselves entirely to the sport. Sir John had lit a cigar
and seated himself amid the bracken a short distance back from the
brink, to watch: but whether he conversed or not Mr. Molesworth could
not tell. He remembered afterwards that at the end of twenty minutes or
soprobably when his cigar was finishedSir John rose and announced
his intention of strolling some way farther down the valleyto soothe
his nerves a bit, as he said, adding, So long! I see you're going to
miss that train, to a certainty.
Yes, it was certain enough that Mr. Molesworth would miss his train.
He fished down the stream slowly, the song and dazzle of the water
filling his ears, his vision; his whole being soothed and lulled less
by the actual scene than by a hundred memories it awakened or set
stirring. He was young againa youth of twenty with romance in his
heart. The plants and grasses he trod were the asphodels, sundew,
water-mint his feet had crushedcrushed into
fragrancefive-and-twenty years ago. . . .
So deeply preoccupied was he that, coming to a bend where the coombe
suddenly widened, and the stream without warning cast its green fringe
of alders like a slough and slipped down a beach of flat pebbles to the
head waters of a tidal creek, Mr. Molesworth rubbed his eyes with a
start. Had the stream been a Naiad she could not have given him the
go-by more coquettishly.
He rubbed his eyes, and then with a short gasp of wonderalmost of
terrorinvoluntarily looked around for Sir John. Here before him was a
shore, with a church beside it, and at the far end a whitewashed
cottage surely the very shore, church, cottage, of Sir John's dream!
Yes, there was the stone cross before the porch; and here the
grid-fashioned church stile; and yonder under the string-course the
scaffold-hole with the grass growing out of it!
If Mr. Molesworth's hands had been steady when he tied on his
May-fly, they trembled enough now as he hurriedly put up his tackle and
disjointed his rod: and still, and again while he hastened across to
the cottage above the rocky spitthe cottage with the larch plantation
above and in the garden a laburnum aslant and in bloomhis eyes sought
the beach for Sir John.
The cottage was a large one, as Sir John had described. It was, in
fact, a waterside inn, with its name, The Saracen's Head, painted in
black letters along its whitewashed front and under a swinging
signboard. Looking up at the board Mr. Molesworth discerned, beneath
its dark varnish, the shoulders, scimitar, and grinning face of a
turbaned Saracen, and laughed aloud between incredulity and a sense of
terror absurdly relieved. This, then, was Sir John's black man!
But almost at the same moment another face looked over the low
hedgethe face of a young girl in a blue sun-bonnet: and Mr.
Molesworth put out a hand to the gate to steady himself.
The girlshe had heard his laugh, perhapsgazed down at him with a
frank curiosity. Her eyes were honest, clear, untroubled: they were
also extremely beautiful eyes: and they were more. As Mr. Molesworth to
his last day was prepared to take oath, here were the very eyes, as
here was the very face and here the very form, of the Margaret whom he
had suffered for, and suffered to be lost to him, twenty-five years
ago. It was Margaret, and she had not aged one day.
In Margaret's voice, too, seeing that he made no motion to enter,
she spoke down to him across the hedge.
Are you a friend, sir, of the gentleman that was here just now?
Sir John Crang? Mr. Molesworth just managed to command his voice.
I don't know his name, sir. But he left his cigar-case behind. I
found it on the settle five minutes after he had gone, and ran out to
search for him. . . .
Mr. Molesworth opened the gate and held out a hand for the case.
Yes: he recognised it. It bore Sir John's monogram in silver.
I will give it to him, he said. Without exactly knowing why, he
followed her into the inn-kitchen. Yes, he would take a pint of her
ale. The home-brewed? Yes, certainly, the home-brewed.
She brought it in a pewter tankard, exquisitely polished. The polish
of it caught and cast back the sunlight in prismatic circles on the
scoured deal table. The girlMargaretstood for a moment in the
fuller sunlight by the window, lingering there to pick a dead leaf from
a geranium on the ledge.
Which way did Sir John go?
I thought he took the turning along the shore; but I didn't
notice particularly which way he went. He said he had come down the
valley, and I took it for granted he would be going on.
Mr. Molesworth drank his beer and stood up. There are only two
ways, then, out of this valley?
Thank you, sir As he paid her she dropped a small curtseyYes,
only two waysup the valley or along the shore. The road up the valley
leads to the railway station.
By the way, there was an accident at the station this morning?
Indeed, sir? Her beautiful eyes grew round. Nothing serious, I
It might have been a very nasty one indeed, said Mr. Molesworth,
and paused. I think I'll take a look along the shore before returning.
I don't want to miss my friend, if I can help it.
You can see right along it from the rock beyond the garden, said
the girl, and Mr. Molesworth went out.
As he reached the spit of rock, the sunlight playing down the waters
of the creek dazzled him for a moment. Rubbing his eyes, he saw, about
two hundred yards along the foreshore, a boat grounded, and two figures
beside it on the beach: and either his sight was playing him a trick or
these two were struggling together.
He ran towards them. Almost as he started, in one of the figures he
recognised Sir John. The other had him by the shoulders, and seemed to
be dragging him by main force towards the boat. Mr. Molesworth shouted
as he rushed up to the fray. The assailant turnedturned with a loud
hissing soundand, releasing Sir John, swung up a hand with something
in it that flashed in the sun as he struck at the newcomer: and as Mr.
Molesworth fell, he saw a fierce brown face and a cage of white,
gleaming teeth bared in a savage grin. . . .
He picked himself up, the blood running warm over his eyes, and, as
he stood erect for a moment, down over his white waistcoat. But the
dusky face of his antagonist had vanished, and, with it, the whole
scene. In place of the foreshore with its flat grey stones, his eye
travelled down a steep green slope. The hissing sound continued in his
ears, louder than ever, but it came with violent jets of steam from a
locomotive, grotesquely overturned some twenty yards below him.
Fainting, he saw and sank across the body of Sir John Crang, which lay
with face upturned among the June grasses, staring at the sky.
STATEMENT BY W. PITT FERGUSON, M.D., OF LOCKYER STREET, PLYMOUTH.
The foregoing narrative has been submitted to me by the writer, who
was well acquainted with the late Mr. Molesworth. In my opinion it
conveys a correct impression of that gentleman's temperament and
character: and I can testify that in the details of his psychical
adventures on the valley road leading to St. A's Church it adheres
strictly to the account given me by Mr. Molesworth himself shortly
after the accident on the M viaduct, and repeated by him several
times with insistence during the illness which terminated mortally some
four months later. The manner in which the narrative is presented may
be open to criticism: but of this, as one who has for some years
eschewed the reading of fiction, I am not a fair judge. It adds, at any
rate, nothing in the way of 'sensation' to the story as Mr. Molesworth
told it: and of its improbability I should be the last to complain, who
am to add, of my own positive observation, some evidence which will
make it appear yet more startling, if not wholly incredible.
The accident was actually witnessed by two men, cattle-jobbers, who
were driving down the valley road in a light cart or 'trap,' and were
within two hundred yards of the viaduct when they saw the train crash
through the parapet over the second span (counting from the west), and
strike and plunge down the slope. In their evidence at the inquest, and
again at the Board of Trade inquiry, these men agree that it took them
from five to eight minutes only to alight, run down and across the
valley (fording the stream on their way), and scramble up to the scene
of the disaster: and they further agree that one of the first sad
objects on which their eyes fell was the dead body of Sir John Crang
with Mr. Molesworth, alive but sadly injured and bleeding, stretched
across it. Apparently they had managed to crawl from the wreck of the
carriage before Sir John succumbed, or Mr. Molesworth had managed to
drag his companion outwhether dead or alive cannot be toldbefore
himself fainting from loss of blood.
The toll of the disaster, as is generally known, amounted to twelve
killed and seventeen more or less seriously injured. Help having been
summoned from MStation, the injuredor as many of them as could be
removed were conveyed in an ambulance train to Plymouth. Among them
was Mr. Molesworth, whose apparent injuries were a broken hip, a
laceration of the thigh, and an ugly, jagged scalp-wound. Of all these
he made, in time, a fair recovery: but what brought him under my care
was the nervous shock from which his brain, even while his body healed,
never made any promising attempt to rally. For some time after the
surgeon had pronounced him cured he lingered on, a visibly dying man,
and died in the end of utter nervous collapse.
Yet even within a few days of the end his brain kept an astonishing
clearness: and to me, as well as to the friends who visited him in
hospital and afterwards in his Plymouth lodgingsfor he never returned
home again, being unable to face another railway journeyhe would
maintain, and with astonishing vigour and lucidity of description, that
he had actually in very truth travelled down the valley in company with
Sir John Crang, and seen with his own eyes everything related in the
foregoing paper. Now, as a record of what did undeniably pass through
the brain of a cultivated man in some catastrophic moments, I found
these recollections of his exceedingly interesting. As no evidence is
harder to collect, so almost none can be of higher importance, than
that of man's sensations at the exact moment when he passes, naturally
or violently, out of this present life into whatever may be beyond.
Partly because Mr. Molesworth's story, which he persisted in, had this
scientific value; partly in the hope of diverting his mind from the
lethargy into which I perceived it to be sinking; I once begged him to
write the whole story down. To this, however, he was unequal. His will
betrayed him as soon as he took pen and paper.
The entire veracity of his recollection he none the less affirmed
again and again, and with something like passion, although aware that
his friends were but humouring him while they listened and made
pretence to believe. The strong cardif I may so term itin his
evidence was undoubtedly Sir John Crang's cigar-case. It was found in
Mr. Molesworth's breast-pocket when they undressed him at the hospital,
and how it came there I confess I cannot explain. It may be that it had
dropped on the grass from Sir John's pocket, and that Mr. Molesworth,
under the hallucination which undoubtedly possessed him, picked it up,
and pocketed it before the two cattle-drovers found him. It is an
unlikely hypothesis, but I cannot suggest a likelier.
A fortnight before his death he sent for a lawyer and made his will,
the sanity of which no one can challenge. At the end he directed that
his body should be interred in the parish churchyard of St. A, 'as
close as may be to the cross by the church porch.' As a last challenge
to scepticism this surely was defiant enough.
It was my duty to attend the funeral. The coffin, conveyed by train
to MStation, was there transferred to a hearse, and the procession
followed the valley road. I forget at what point it began to be
impressed upon me, who had never travelled the road before, that Mr.
Molesworth's 'recollections' of it had been so exact that they
compelled a choice between the impossibility of accepting his story and
the impossibility of doubting the assurance of so entirely honourable a
man that he had never travelled the road in his life. At first I tried
to believe that his recollections of itdetailed as they weremight
one by one have been suggested by the view from the viaduct. But,
honestly, I was soon obliged to give this up: and when we arrived at
the creek's head and the small churchyard beside it, I confessed myself
confounded. Point by point, and at every point, the actual scene
reproduced Mr. Molesworth's description.
I prefer to make no comment on my last discovery. After the funeral,
being curious to satisfy myself in every particular, I walked across
the track to the innThe Saracen's Headwhich again answered Mr.
Molesworth's description to the last detail. The house was kept by a
widow and her daughter: and the girlan extremely good-looking young
personmade me welcome. I concluded she must be the original of Mr.
Molesworth's illusionperhaps the strangest of all his illusionsand
took occasion to ask her (I confess not without a touch of trepidation)
if she remembered the day of the accident. She answered that she
remembered it well. I asked if she remembered any visitor, or visitors,
coming to the inn on that day. She answered, None: but that now I
happened to speak of it, somebody must have come that day while she was
absent on an errand to the Vicarage (which lies some way along the
shore to the westward): for on returning she found a fishing-rod and
creel on the settle of the inn-kitchen.
The creel had a luggage-label tied to it, and on the label was
written 'Sir W. Moyle.' She had written to Sir Warwick about it more
than a month ago, but had not heard from him in answer. [It turned out
that Sir Warwick had left England, three days after the accident, on a
yachting excursion to Norway.]
And a cigar-case? I asked. You don't remember seeing a
She shook her head, evidently puzzled. I know nothing about a
cigar-case, she said. But you shall see the rod and fishing-basket.
She ran at once and fetched them. Now that rod and that creel (and
the fly-book within it) have since been restored to Sir Warwick Moyle.
He had left them in care of the station-master at M, whence they
had been missing since the day of the accident. It was suspected that
they had been stolen, in the confusion that day prevailing at the
little station, by some ganger on the relief-train.
The girl, I am convinced, was honest, and had no notion how they
found their way to the kitchen of The Saracen's Head: norto be
equally honesthave I.