Stranger Things by Mildred Cram
From Metropolitan Magazine
We were seated in the saloon of a small steamer which plies between
Naples and Trieste on irregular schedule. Outside, the night was
thickly black and a driving rain swept down the narrow decks.
“You Englishmen laugh at ghosts,” the Corsican merchant said. “In my
country, we are less pretentious. Frankly, we are afraid. You, too, are
afraid, and so you laugh! A difference, it seems to me, which lies, not
in the essence but in the manner.”
Doctor Fenton smiled queerly. “Perhaps. What do any of us know about
it, one way or the other? Ticklish business! We poke a little too far
beyond our ken and get a shock that withers our souls. Cosmic force! We
stumble forward, bleating for comfort, and fall over a charged cable.
It may have been put there to hold us out—or in.”
Aldobrandini, the Italian inventor, was playing cards with a German
engineer. He lost the game to his opponent, and turning about in his
chair, came into the conversation.
“You are talking about ghosts. I have seen them. Once in the Carso.
Again on the campagna near Rome. I met a company of Caesar's
legionaries tramping through a bed of asphodels. The asphodels lay down
beneath those crushing sandals, and then stood upright again,
The engineer shuffled the cards between short, capable fingers.
“Ghosts. Yes, I agree; there are such things. Created out of our
subconscious selves; mirages of the mind; photographic spiritual
projections; hereditary memories. There are always explanations.”
Doctor Fenton poked into the bowl of his pipe with a broad thumb.
“Did any of you happen to know the English poet, Cecil Grimshaw? No?
I'll tell you a story about him if you care to listen. A long story, I
warn you. Very curious. Very suggestive. I cannot vouch for the entire
truth of it, since I got the tale from many sources—a word here, a
chance encounter there, and at last only the puzzling reports of men
who saw Grimshaw out in Africa. He wasn't a friend of mine, or I
wouldn't tell these things.”
Aldobrandini's dark eyes softened. He leaned forward. “Cecil
Grimshaw ... We Latins admire his work more than that of any modern
The doctor tipped his head back against the worn red velvet of the
lounge. An oil lamp, swinging from the ceiling, seemed to isolate him
in a pool of light. Outside, the invisible sea raced astern, hissing
slightly beneath the driving impact of the rain.
I first heard of Grimshaw [the doctor began] in my student days in
London. He was perhaps five years my senior, just beginning to be
famous, not yet infamous, but indiscreet enough to get himself talked
about. He had written a little book of verse, “Vision of Helen,” he
called it, I believe.... The oblique stare of the hostile Trojans.
Helen coifed with flame. Menelaus. Love ... Greater men than Grimshaw
had written of Priam's tragedy. His audacity called attention to his
imperfect, colourful verse, his love of beauty, his sense of the
exotic, the strange, the unhealthy. People read his book on the sly and
talked about it in whispers. It was indecent, but it was beautiful. At
that time you spoke of Cecil Grimshaw with disapproval, if you spoke of
him at all, or, if you happened to be a prophet, you saw in him the
ultimate bomb beneath the Victorian literary edifice. And so he was.
I saw him once at the Alhambra—poetry in a top hat! He wore evening
clothes that were a little too elaborate, a white camellia in his
buttonhole, and a thick-lensed monocle on a black ribbon. During the
entr'acte he stood up and surveyed the house from pit to gallery, as if
he wanted to be seen. He was very tall and the ugliest man in England.
Imagine the body of a Lincoln, the hands of a woman, the jaw and mouth
of Disraeli, an aristocratic nose, unpleasant eyes, and then that shock
of yellow hair—hyacinthine—the curly locks of an insane virtuoso or a
“Who is that?” I demanded.
“Grimshaw. The chap who wrote the book about naughty Helen. La
belle Helene and the shepherd boy.”
I stared. Everyone else stared. The pit stopped shuffling and
giggling to gaze at that prodigious monstrosity, and people in the
boxes turned their glasses on him. Grimshaw seemed to be enjoying it.
He spoke to someone across the aisle and smiled, showing a set of huge
white teeth, veritable tombstones.
“Abominable,” I said.
But I got his book and read it. He was the first Englishman to dare
break away from literary conventions. Of course he shocked England. He
was a savage aesthete. I read the slim volume through at one sitting; I
was horrified and fascinated.
I met Grimshaw a year later. He was having a play produced at the
Lyceum—“The Labyrinth”—with Esther Levenson as Simonetta. She
entertained for him at her house in Chelsea and I got myself invited
because I wanted to see the atrocious genius at close range. He wore a
lemon-coloured vest and lemon-yellow spats.
“How d'you do?” he said, gazing at me out of those queer eyes of
his. “I hear that you admire my work.”
“You have been misinformed,” I replied. “Your work interests me,
because I am a student of nervous and mental diseases.”
“All of the characters in your poem, 'The Vision of Helen,' are
neurotics. They suffer from morbid fears, delusions, hysteria, violent
mental and emotional complexities. A text-book in madness.”
Grimshaw laughed. “You flatter me. I am attracted by neurotic types.
Insanity has its source in the unconscious, and we English are afraid
of looking inward.” He glanced around the crowded room with an amused
and cynical look. “Most of these people are as bad as my Trojans,
Doctor Fenton. Only they conceal their badness, and it isn't good for
We talked for a few moments. I amused him, I think, by my diagnosis
of his Helen's mental malady. But he soon tired of me and his restless
gaze went over my head, searching for admiration. Esther Levenson
brought Ellen Terry over and he forgot me entirely in sparkling for the
good lady—showing his teeth, shaking his yellow locks, bellowing like
“The fellow's an ass,” I decided.
But when “The Labyrinth” was produced, I changed my mind. There
again was that disturbing loveliness. It was a story of the passionate
Florence of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Esther Levenson drifted
through the four long acts against a background of Tuscan walls,
scarlet hangings, oaths, blood-spilling, dark and terrible vengeance.
Grimshaw took London by the throat and put it down on its knees.
Then for a year or two he lived on his laurels, lapping up
admiration like a drunkard in his cups. Unquestionably, Esther Levenson
was his mistress, since she presided over his house in Cheyne Walk.
They say she was not the only string to his lute. A Jewess, a Greek
poetess, and a dancer from Stockholm made up his amorous medley at that
time. Scandalized society flocked to his drawing-room, there to be
received by Simonetta herself, wearing the blanched draperies and
tragic pearls of the labyrinth he had made for her. Grimshaw offered no
apologies. He was the uncrowned laureate and kings can do no wrong. He
was painted by the young Sargent, of course, and by the aging
Whistler—you remember the butterfly's portrait of him in a yellow
kimono leaning against a black mantel? I, for one, think he was vastly
amused by all this fury of admiration; he despised it and fed upon it.
If he had been less great, he would have been utterly destroyed by it,
I went to Vienna, and lost track of him for several years. Then I
heard that he had married a dear friend of mine—Lady Dagmar Cooper,
one of the greatest beauties and perhaps the sternest prude in England.
She wrote me, soon after that unbelievable mating: “I have married
Cecil Grimshaw. I know you won't approve; I do not altogether approve
myself. He is not like the men I have known—not at all English.
But he intrigues me; there is a sense of power behind his
awfulness—you see I know that he is awful! I think I will be able to
make him look at things—I mean visible, material things—my way. We
have taken a house in town and he has promised to behave—no more
Chelsea parties, no dancers, no yellow waistcoats and chrysanthemums.
That was all very well for his 'student' days. Now that he is a
personage, it will scarcely do. I am tremendously interested and
Interested and happy! She was a typical product of Victoria's reign,
a beautiful creature whose faith was pinned to the most unimportant
things—class, position, a snobbish religion, a traditional morality
and her own place in an intricate little world of ladies and gentlemen.
God save us! What was Cecil Grimshaw going to do in an atmosphere of
titled bores, bishops, military men, and cautious statesmen? I could
fancy him in his new town house, struggling through some endless dinner
party—his cynical, stone-gray eyes sweeping up and down the table, his
lips curled in that habitual sneer, his mind, perhaps, gone back to the
red-and-blue room in Chelsea, where he had been wont to stand astride
before the black mantel, bellowing indecencies into the ears of witty
modernists. Could he bellow any longer?
Apparently not. I heard of him now and then from this friend and
that. He was indeed “behaving” well. He wrote nothing to shock the
sensibilities of his wife's world—a few fantastic short stories,
touched with a certain childish spirituality, and that was all. They
say that he bent his manners to hers—a tamed centaur grazing with a
milk-white doe. He grew a trifle fat. Quite like a model English
husband, he called Dagmar “My dear” and drove with her in the Park at
the fashionable hour, his hands crossed on the head of his cane, his
eyes half closed. She wrote me: “I am completely happy. So is Cecil.
Surely he can have made no mistake in marrying me.”
You all know that this affectation of respectability did not last
long—not more than five years; long enough for the novelty to wear
off. The genius or the devil that was in Cecil Grimshaw made its
reappearance. He was tossed out of Dagmar's circle like a burning rock
hurled from the mouth of a crater; he fell into Chelsea again. Esther
Levenson had come back from the States and was casting about for a
play. She sought out Grimshaw and with her presence, her grace and
pallor and seduction, lured him into his old ways. “The leaves are
yellow,” he said to her, “but still they dance in a south wind. The
altar fires are ash and grass has grown upon the temple floor——I have
been away too long. Get me my pipe, you laughing dryad, and I will play
He played for her and all England heard. Dagmar heard and pretended
acquiescence. According to her lights, she was magnificent—she invited
Esther Levenson to Broadenham, the Grimshaw place in Kent, nor did she
wince when the actress accepted. When I got back to England, Dagmar was
fighting for his soul with all the weapons she had. I went to see her
in her cool little town house, that house so typical of her, so
untouched by Grimshaw. And, looking at me with steady eyes, she said:
“I'm sorry Cecil isn't here. He's writing again—a play—for Esther
Levenson, who was Simonetta, you remember?”
I promised you a ghost story. If it is slow in coming, it is because
all these things have a bearing on the mysterious, the extraordinary
things that happened——
You probably know about the last phase of Grimshaw's career—who
doesn't? There is something fascinating about the escapades of a famous
man, but when he happens also to be a great poet, we cannot forget his
very human sins—in them he is akin to us.
Not all you have heard and read about Grimshaw's career is true. But
the best you can say of him is bad enough. He squandered his own
fortune first—on Esther Levenson and the production of “The Sunken
City”—and then stole ruthlessly from Dagmar; that is, until she found
legal ways to put a stop to it. We had passed into Edward's reign and
the decadence which ended in the war had already set in—Grimshaw was
the last of the “pomegranate school,” the first of the bolder, more
sinister futurists. A frank hedonist. An intellectual voluptuary. He
set the pace, and a whole tribe of idolaters and imitators panted at
his heels. They copied his yellow waistcoats, his chrysanthemums, his
eye-glass, his bellow. Nice young men, otherwise sane, let their hair
grow long like their idol's and professed themselves unbelievers.
Unbelievers in what? God save us! Ten years later most of them were
wading through the mud of Flanders, believing something pretty
One night I was called to the telephone by the Grimshaws' physician.
I'll tell you his name, because he has a lot to do with the rest of the
story—Doctor Waram, Douglas Waram—an Australian.
“Grimshaw has murdered a man,” he said briefly. “I want you to help
me. Come to Cheyne Walk. Take a cab. Hurry.”
Of course I went, with a very clear vision of the future of Dagmar,
Lady Cooper, to occupy my thoughts during that lurching drive through
the slippery streets. I knew that she was at Broadenham, holding up her
head in seclusion.
Grimshaw's house was one of a row of red brick buildings not far
from the river. Doctor Waram himself opened the door to me.
“I say, this is an awful mess,” he said, in a shocked voice. “The
woman sent for me—Levenson, that actress. There's some mystery. A man
dead—his head knocked in. And Grimshaw sound asleep. It may be
hysterical, but I can't wake him. Have a look before I get the police.”
I followed him into the studio, the famous Pompeian room, on the
second floor. I shall never forget the frozen immobility of the three
actors in the tragedy. Esther Levenson, wrapped in peacock-blue
scarves, stood upright before the black mantel, her hands crossed on
her breast. Cecil Grimshaw was lying full length on a brick-red satin
couch, his head thrown back, his eyes closed. The dead man sprawled on
the floor, face down, between them. Two lamps made of sapphire glass
swung from the gilded ceiling.... Bowls of perfumed, waxen flowers. A
silver statuette of a nude girl. A tessellated floor strewn with rugs.
Orange trees in tubs. Cigarette smoke hanging motionless in the still,
I stooped over the dead man. “Who is he?”
“Tucker. Leading man in 'The Sunken City.' Look at Grimshaw, will
you? We mustn't be too long—”
I went to the poet. The inevitable monocle was still caught and held
by the yellow thatch of his thick brow. He was breathing slowly.
“Grimshaw,” I said, touching his forehead, “open your eyes.”
He did so, and I was startled by the expression of despair in their
depths. “Ah,” he-said, “it's the psychopathologist.”
“How did this happen?”
He sat up—I am convinced that he had been faking that drunken
sleep—and stared at the sprawling figure on the floor. “Tucker
quarrelled with me,” he said. “I knocked him down and his forehead
struck against the table. Then he crawled over here and died. From
fright, d'you think?” He shuddered. “Take him away, Waram, will you?
I've got work to do.”
Suddenly Esther Levenson spoke in a flat voice, without emotion: “It
isn't true! He struck him with that silver statuette. Like this——“
She made a violent gesture with both arms. “And before God in heaven,
I'll make him pay for it. I will! I will! I will!”
“Keep still,” I said sharply.
Grimshaw looked up at her. He made a gesture of surrender. Then he
smiled. “Simonetta,” he said, “you are no better than the rest.”
She sobbed, ran over to him, and went down on her knees, twisting
her arms about his waist. There was a look of distaste in Grimshaw's
eyes; he stared into her distraught face a moment, then he freed
himself from her arms and got to his feet.
“I think I'll telephone to Dagmar,” he said.
But Waram shook his head. “I'll do that. I'm sorry, Grimshaw; the
police will have to know. While we're waiting for them, you might write
a letter to Mrs. Grimshaw. I'll see that she gets it in the morning.”
I don't remember whether the poet wrote to Dagmar then or not. But
surely you remember how she stayed by him during the trial—still
Victorian in her black gown and veil, mourning for the hope that was
dead, at least! You remember his imprisonment; the bitter invective of
his enemies; the defection of his followers; the dark scandals that
filled the newspapers, offended public taste, and destroyed Cecil
Grimshaw's popularity in an England that had worshipped him!
Esther Levenson lied to save him. That was the strangest thing of
all. She denied what she had told us that night of the tragedy. Tucker,
she said, had been in love with her; he followed her to Grimshaw's
house in Chelsea and quarrelled violently with the poet. His death was
an accident. Grimshaw had not touched the statuette. When he saw what
had happened, he telephoned to Doctor Waram and then lay down on the
couch—apparently fainted there, for he did not speak until Doctor
Fenton came. Waram perjured himself, too—for Dagmar's sake. He had
not, he swore, heard the actress speak of a silver statuette, or of
revenge before God.... And since there was nothing to prove how the
blow had been struck, save the deep dent in Tucker's forehead, Grimshaw
was set free.
He had been a year in prison. He drove away from the jail in a cab
with Doctor Waram, and when the crowd saw that he was wearing the old
symbol—a yellow chrysanthemum—a hiss went up that was like a geyser
of contempt and ridicule. Grimshaw's pallid face flushed. But he lifted
his hat and smiled into the host of faces as the cab jerked forward.
He went at once to Broadenham. Years later, Waram told me about the
meeting between those two—the centaur and the milk-white doe! Dagmar
received him standing and she remained standing all during the
interview. She had put aside her mourning for a dress made of some
clear blue stuff, and Waram said that as she stood in the breakfast
room, with a sun-flooded window behind her, she was very lovely indeed.
Grimshaw held out his hands, but she ignored them. Then Grimshaw
smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said: “I have made two
discoveries this past year: That conventionalized religion is the most
shocking evil of our day, and that you, my wife, are in love with
Dagmar held her ground. There was in her eyes a look of inevitable
security. She was mistress of the house, proprietor of the land,
conscious of tradition, prerogative, position. The man she faced had
nothing except his tortured imagination. For the first time in her life
she was in a position to hurt him. So she looked away from him to Waram
and confirmed his discovery with a smile full of pride and happiness.
“My dear fellow,” Grimshaw shouted, clapping Waram on the back, “I'm
confoundedly pleased! We'll arrange a divorce for Dagmar. Good heaven,
she deserves a decent future. I'm not the sort for her. I hate the
things she cares most about. And now I'm done for in England. Just to
make it look conventional—nice, Victorian, English, you
understand—you and I can go off to the Continent together while
Dagmar's getting rid of me. There'll be no trouble about that. I'm
properly dished. Besides, I want freedom. A new life. Beauty, without
having to buck this confounded distrust of beauty. Sensation, without
being ashamed of sensation. I want to drop out of sight. Reform? No! I
am being honest.”
So they went off together, as friendly as you please, to France.
Waram was still thinking of Dagmar; Grimshaw was thinking only of
himself. He swaggered up and down the Paris boulevards showing his
tombstone teeth and staring at the women. “The Europeans admire me,” he
said to Waram. “May England go to the devil.” He groaned. “I despise
respectability, my dear Waram. You and Dagmar are well rid of me. I see
I'm offending you here in Paris—you look nauseated most of the time.
Let's go on to Switzerland and climb mountains.”
Waram was nauseated. They went to Salvan and there a curious
They were walking one afternoon along the road to Martigny. The
valley was full of shadows like a deep green cup of purple wine. High
above them the mountains were tipped with flame. Grimshaw walked
slowly—he was a man of great physical laziness—slashing his cane at
the tasselled tips of the crowding larches. Once, when a herd of little
goats trotted by, he stood aside and laughed uproariously, and the
goatherd's dog, bristling, snapped in passing at his legs.
Waram was silent, full of bitterness and disgust. They went on
again, and well down the springlike coils of the descent of Martigny
they came upon the body of a man—one of those wandering vendors of
pocket-knives and key-rings, scissors and cheap watches. He lay on his
back on a low bank by the roadside. His hat had rolled off into a pool
of muddy water. Doctor Waram saw, as he bent down to stare at the face,
that the fellow looked like Grimshaw. Not exactly, of course. The nose
was coarser—it had not that Wellington spring at the bridge, nor the
curved nostrils. But it might have been a dirty, unshaven, dead
Grimshaw lying there. Waram told me that he felt a shock of
gratification before he heard the poet's voice behind him: “What's
this? A drunkard?” He shook his head and opened the dead man's shirt to
feel for any possible flutter of life in the heart. There was none. And
he thought: “If this were only Grimshaw! If the whole miserable
business were only done with.”
“By Jove!” Grimshaw said. “The chap looks like me! I thought I was
the ugliest man in the world. I know better... D'you suppose he's
German, or Lombardian? His hands are warm. He must have been alive when
the goatherd passed just now. Nothing you can do?”
Waram stayed where he was, on his knees. He tore his eyes away from
the grotesque dead face and fixed them on Grimshaw. He told me that the
force of his desire must have spoken in that look because Grimshaw
started and stepped back a pace, gripping his cane. Then he laughed.
“Why not?” he said. “Let this be me. And I'll go on, with that clanking
hardware store around my neck. It can be done, can't it? Better for you
and for Dagmar. I'm not being philanthropic. I'm looking, not for a
reprieve, but for release. No one knows this fellow in Salvan—he
probably came up from the Rhone and was on his way to Chamonix. What
d'you think was the matter with him?”
“Heart,” Doctor Waram answered.
“Well, what d'you say? This pedlar and I are social outcasts. And
there is Dagmar in England, weeping her eyes out because of divorce
courts and more public washing of dirty linen. You love her. I don't!
Why not carry this fellow to the rochers, to-night after dark?
To-morrow, when I have changed clothes with him, we can throw him into
the valley. It's a good thousand feet or more. Would there be much left
of that face, for purposes of identification? I think not. You can take
the mutilated body back to England and I can go on to Chamonix, as he
would have gone.” Grimshaw touched the pedlar with his foot. “Free.”
That is exactly what they did. The body, hidden near the roadside
until nightfall, was carried through the woods to the rochers du
soir, that little plateau on the brink of the tremendous wall of
rock which rises from the Rhone valley to the heights near Salvan.
There the two men left it and returned to their hotel to sleep.
In the morning they set out, taking care that the proprietor of the
hotel and the professional guide who hung about the village should know
that they were going to attempt the descent of the “wall” to the
valley. The proprietor shook his head and said: “Bonne chance,
messieurs!” The guide, letting his small blue eyes rest for a
moment on Grimshaw's slow-moving hulk, advised them gravely to take the
road. “The tall gentleman will not arrive,” he remarked.
“Nonsense,” Grimshaw answered.
They went off together, laughing. Grimshaw was wearing his
conspicuous climbing clothes—tweed jacket, yellow suede waistcoat,
knickerbockers, and high-laced boots with hob-nailed soles. His green
felt hat, tipped at an angle, was ornamented with a little orange
feather. He was in tremendous spirits. He bellowed, made faces at
scared peasant children in the village, swung his stick. They stopped
at a barber shop in the place and those famous hyacinthine locks were
clipped. Waram insisted upon this, he told me, because the pedlar's
hair was fairly short and they had to establish some sort of a
tonsorial alibi. When the floor of the little shop was thick with the
sheared “petals,” Grimshaw shook his head, brushed off his shoulders,
and smiled. “It took twenty years to create that visible
personality—and behold, a Swiss barber destroys it in twenty minutes!
I am no longer a living poet. I am already an immortal—halfway up the
flowery slopes of Olympus, impatient to go the rest of the way.
“Shall we be off?”
“By all means,” Waram said.
They found the body where they had hidden it the night before, and
in the shelter of a little grove of larches Grimshaw stripped and then
reclothed himself in the pedlar's coarse and soiled under-linen, the
worn corduroy trousers, the flannel shirt, short coat, and old black
velvet hat. Waram was astounded by the beauty and strength of
Grimshaw's body. Like the pedlar, he was blonde-skinned, thin-waisted,
broad of back.
Grimshaw shuddered as he helped to clothe the dead pedlar in his own
fashionable garments. “Death,” he said. “Ugh! How ugly. How terrifying.
They carried the body across the plateau. The height where they
stood was touched by the sun, but the valley below was still immersed
in shadow, a broad purple shadow threaded by the shining Rhone.
“Well?” Waram demanded. “Are you eager to die? For this means death
for you, you know.”
“A living death,” Grimshaw said. He glanced down at the replica of
himself. A convulsive shudder passed through him from head to foot; his
face twisted; his eyes dilated. He made a strong effort to control
himself and whispered: “I understand. Go ahead. Do it. I can't. It is
like destroying me myself.... I can't. Do it—”
Waram lifted the dead body and pushed it over the edge. Grimshaw,
trembling violently, watched it fall. I think, from what Doctor Waram
told me many years later, that the poet must have suffered the violence
and terror of that plummet drop, must have felt the tearing clutch of
pointed rocks in the wall face, must have known the leaping upward of
the earth, the whine of wind in his bursting ears, the dizzy spinning,
the rending, obliterating impact at last....
The pedlar lay in the valley. Grimshaw stood on the brink of the
“wall.” He turned, and saw Doctor Waram walking quickly away across the
plateau without a backward glance. They had agreed that Waram was to
return at once to the village and report the death of “his friend, Mr.
Grimshaw.” The body, they knew, would be crushed beyond recognition—a
bruised and broken fragment, like enough to Cecil Grimshaw to pass
whatever examination would be given it. Grimshaw himself was to go
through the wood to the highroad, then on to Finhaut and Chamonix and
into France. He was never again to write to Dagmar, to return to
England, or to claim his English property....
Can you imagine his feelings—deprived of his arrogant personality,
his fame, his very identity, clothed in another man's dirty garments,
wearing about his neck a clattering pedlar's outfit, upon his feet the
clumsy boots of a peasant? Grimshaw—the exquisite futurist, the
daffodil, apostle of the aesthetic!
He stood for a moment looking after Douglas Waram. Once, in a panic,
he called. But Waram disappeared between the larches, without,
apparently, having heard. Grimshaw wavered, unable to decide upon the
way to the highroad. He could not shake off a sense of loneliness and
terror, as if he himself had gone whirling down to his death. Like a
man who comes slowly back from the effects of ether, he perceived, one
by one, the familiar aspects of the landscape—the delicate flowers
powdering the plateau, the tasselled larches on the slope, the lofty
snow-peaks still suffused with rosy morning light. This, then, was the
world. This clumsy being, moving slowly toward the forest, was
himself—not Cecil Grimshaw but another man. His mind sought clumsily
for a name. Pierre—no, not Pierre; too common-place! Was he still
fastidious? No. Then Pierre, by all means! Pierre Pilleux. That would
do. Pilleux. A name suggestive of a good amiable fellow, honest and
slow. When he got down into France he would change his identity
again—grow a beard, buy some decent clothes. A boulevardier... gay,
perverse, witty.... The thought delighted him and he hurried through
the forest, anxious to pass through Salvan before Doctor Waram got
there. He felt extraordinarily light and exhilarated now, intoxicated,
vibrant. His spirit soared; almost he heard the rushing of his old self
forward toward some unrecognizable and beautiful freedom.
When he struck the road the sun was high and it was very hot. Little
spirals of dust kicked up at his heels. He was not afraid of
recognition. Happening to glance at his hands, he became aware of their
whiteness, and stooping, rubbed them in the dust.
Then a strange thing happened. Another herd of goats trotted down
from the grassy slopes and spilled into the road-way. And another dog
with lolling tongue and wagging tail wove in and out, shepherding the
little beasts. They eddied about Grimshaw, brushing against him, their
moon-stone eyes full of a vague terror of that barking guardian at
their heels. The dog drove them ahead, circled, and with a low whine
came back to Grimshaw, leaping up to lick his hand.
Grimshaw winced, for he had never had success with animals. Then,
with a sudden change of mood, he stooped and caressed the dog's head.
“A good fellow,” he said in French to the goatherd.
The goatherd looked at him curiously. “Not always,” he answered. “He
is an unpleasant beast with most strangers. For you, he seems to have
taken a fancy.... What have you got there—any two-bladed knives?”
Grimshaw started and recovered himself with: “Knives. Yes. All
The goatherd fingered his collection, trying the blades on his broad
“You come from France,” he said.
Grimshaw nodded. “From Lyons.”
“I thought so. You speak French like a gentleman.”
Grimshaw shrugged. “That is usual in Lyons.”
The peasant paid for the knife he fancied, placing two francs in the
poet's palm. Then he whistled to the dog and set off after his flock.
But the dog, whining and trembling, followed Grimshaw, and would not be
shaken off until Grimshaw had pelted him with small stones. I think the
poet was strangely flattered by this encounter. He passed through
Salvan with his head in the air, challenging recognition. But there was
no recognition. The guide who had said “The tall monsieur will not
arrive” now greeted him with a fraternal: “How is trade?”
“Very good, thanks,” Grimshaw said.
Beyond the village he quickened his pace, and easing the load on his
back by putting his hands under the leather straps, he swung toward
Finhaut. Behind him he heard the faint ringing of the church bells in
Salvan. Waram had reported the “tragedy.” Grimshaw could fancy the
excitement—the priest hurrying toward the “wall” with his crucifix in
his hands; the barber, a-quiver with morbid excitement; the stolid
guide, not at all surprised, rather gratified, preparing to make the
descent to recover the body of that “tall monsieur” who had, after all,
“arrived.” The telegraph wires were already humming with the message.
In a few hours Dagmar would know.
He laughed aloud. The white road spun beneath him. His hands,
pressed against his body by the weight of the leather straps, were hot
and wet; he could feel the loud beating of his heart.
His senses were acute; he had never before felt with such
gratification the warmth of the sun or known the ecstasy of motion. He
saw every flower in the roadbank, every small glacial brook, every new
conformation of the snow clouds hanging above the ragged peaks of the
Argentieres. He sniffed with delight the pungent wind from off the
glaciers, the short, warm puffs of grass-scented air from the fields in
the Valley of Trient. He noticed the flight of birds, the lazy swinging
of pine boughs, the rainbow spray of waterfalls. Once he shouted and
ran, mad with exuberance. Again he flung himself down by the roadside
and, lying on his back, sang outrageous songs and laughed and slapped
his breast with both hands.
That night he came to Chamonix and got lodging in a small hotel on
the skirts of the town. His spirits fell when he entered the room. He
put his pedlar's pack on the floor and sat down on the narrow bed,
suddenly conscious of an enormous fatigue. His feet burned, his legs
ached, his back was raw where the heavy pack had rested. He thought:
“What am I doing here? I have nothing but the few hundred pounds Waram
gave me. I'm alone. Dead and alive.”
He scarcely looked up when the door opened and a young girl came in,
carrying a pitcher of water and a coarse towel. She hesitated and said
rather prettily: “You'll be tired, perhaps?”
Grimshaw felt within him the tug of the old personality. He stared
at her, suddenly conscious that she was a woman and that she was
smiling at him. Charming, in her way. Bare arms. A little black bodice
laced over a white waist. Straight blonde hair, braided thickly and
twisted around her head. A peasant, but pretty.... You see, his desire
was to frighten her, as he most certainly would have frightened her had
he been true to Cecil Grimshaw. But the impulse passed, leaving him
sick and ashamed. He heard her saying: “A sad thing occurred to-day
down the valley. A gentleman.... Salvan ... a very famous gentleman....
And they have telegraphed his wife.... I heard it from Simon
Ravanel.... It seems that the gentleman was smashed to bits—brise
en morceau. Epouvantable, n'est ce pas?”
Grimshaw began to tremble. “Yes, yes,” he said irritably. “But I am
tired, little one. Go out, and shut the door!”
The girl gave him a startled glance, frightened at last, but for
nothing more than the lost look in his eyes. He raised his arms, and
she fled with a little scream.
Grimshaw sat for a moment staring at the door. Then with a violent
gesture he threw himself back on the bed, buried his face in the dirty
pillow and wept as a child weeps, until, just before dawn, he fell
As far as the public knows, Cecil Grimshaw perished on the
“wall”—perished and was buried at Broadenham beneath a pyramid of
chrysanthemums. Perished, and became an English immortal—his sins
erased by his unconscious sacrifice. Perished, and was forgiven by
Dagmar. Yet hers was the victory—he belonged to her at last. She had
not buried his body at Broadenham, but she had buried his work there.
He could never write again....
During those days of posthumous whitewashing he read the papers with
a certain contemptuous eagerness. Some of them he crumpled between his
hands and threw away. He hated his own image, staring balefully from
the first page of the illustrated reviews. He despised England for
honouring him. Once, happening upon a volume of the “Vision of
Helen”—the first edition illustrated by Beardsley—in a book-stall at
Aix-les-Bains, he read it from cover to cover.
“Poor stuff,” he said to the bookseller, tossing it down again.
“Give me 'Ars ne Lupin'.” And he paid two sous for a paper-covered,
dog-eared, much-thumbed copy of the famous detective story, not because
he intended to read it, but in payment for his hour of disillusionment.
Then he slung his pack over his shoulders and tramped out into the
country. He laughed aloud at the thought of Helen and her idolaters. A
poetic hoax. Overripe words. Seductive sounds. Nonsense!
“Surely I can do better than that to-day,” he thought.
He saw two children working in a field, and called to them.
“If you will give me a cup of cold water,” he said, “I'll tell you a
The boy put down his spade, went to a brook which threaded the field
and came back with an earthenware jug full to the brim. The little girl
stared gravely at Grimshaw while he drank. Grimshaw wiped his mouth
with the back of his hand.
“What story shall it be?” he demanded.
The little girl said quickly: “The black king and the white princess
and the beast who lived in the wood.”
“Not that one,” the boy cried. “Tell us about a battle.”
“I will sing about life,” Grimshaw said.
It was hot in the field. A warm, sweet smell rose from the spaded
earth and near by the brook rustled through the grass like a beautiful
silver serpent. Grimshaw sat cross-legged on the ground and words spun
from his lips—simple words. And he sang of things he had recently
learned—the gaiety of birds, the strength of his arms, the scent of
dusk, the fine crystal of a young moon, wind in a field of wheat....
At first the children listened. Then, because he talked so long, the
little girl leaned slowly over against his shoulder and fell asleep,
while the boy fingered the knives, jangled the key-rings, clipped grass
stalks with the scissors, and wound the watches one after the other.
The sun was low before Grimshaw left them. “When you are grown up,” he
said, “remember that Pierre Pilleux sang to you of life.”
“Oui, monsieur,” the boy said politely. “But I should like a
Grimshaw shook his head. “The song is enough.”
Thereafter he sang to any one who would listen to him. I say that he
sang—I mean, of course, that he spoke his verses; it was a minstrel's
simple improvisation. But there are people in the villages of southern
France who still recall that ungainly, shambling figure. He had grown a
beard; it crinkled thickly, hiding his mouth and chin. He laughed a
great deal. He was not altogether clean. And he slept wherever he could
find a bed—in farmhouses, cheap hotels, haylofts, stables, open
fields. Waram's few hundred pounds were gone. The poet lived by his
wits and his gift of song. And for the first time in his remembrance he
Then one day he read in Le Matin that Ada Rubenstein was to
play “The Labyrinth” in Paris. Grimshaw was in Poitiers. He borrowed
three hundred francs from the proprietor of a small cafe in the Rue
Carnot, left his pack as security, and went to Paris. Can you imagine
him in the theatre—it was the Odeon, I believe—conscious of curious,
amused glances—a peasant, bulking conspicuously in that scented
When the curtain rose, he felt again the familiar pain of creation.
A rush of hot blood surged around his heart. His temples throbbed. His
eyes filled with tears. Then the flood receded and left him trembling
with weakness. He sat through the rest of the performance without
emotion of any sort. He felt no resentment, no curiosity.
This was the last time he showed any interest in his old existence.
He went back to Poitiers, and then took to the road again. People who
saw him at that time have said that there was always a pack of dogs at
his heels. Once a fashionable spaniel followed him out of Lyons and he
was arrested for theft. You understand, he never made any effort to
attract the little fellows—they joined on, as it were, for the
journey. And it was a queer fact that after a few miles they always
whined, as if they were disappointed about something, and turned
He finally heard that Dagmar had married Waram. She had waited a
decent interval—Victorian to the end! A man who happened to be in
Marseilles at the time told me that “that vagabond poet, Pilleux,
appeared in one of the cafes, roaring drunk, and recited a marriage
poem—obscene, vicious, terrific. A crowd came in from the street to
listen. Some of them laughed. Others were frightened. He was an ugly
brute—well over six feet tall, with a blonde beard, a hooked nose, and
a pair of eyes that saw beyond reality. He was fascinating. He could
turn his eloquence off and on like a tap. He sat in a drunken stupor,
glaring at the crowd, until someone shouted: “Eh bien, Pilleux
—you were saying?” Then the deluge! He had a peasant's acceptance of
the elemental facts of life—it was raw, that hymn of his! The women of
the streets who had crowded into the caf listened with a sort of
terror; they admired him. One of them said: “Pilleux's wife betrayed
him.” He lifted his glass and drank. “No, ma petite,” he said
politely, “she buried me.”
That night his pack was stolen from him. He was too drunk to know or
to care. They say that he went from cafe to cafe, paying for wine with
verse, and getting it, too! At his heels a crowd of loafers, frowsy
women and dogs. His hat gone. His eyes mad. A trickle of wine through
his beard. Bellowing. Bellowing again—the untamed centaur cheated of
And now, perhaps, I can get back to the reasons for this story. And
I am almost at the end of it....
In the most obscure alley in Marseilles there is a caf frequented by
sailors, riff-raff from the waterfront and thieves. Grimshaw appeared
there at midnight. A woman clung to his arm. She had no eyes for any
one else. Her name, I believe, was Marie—a very humble Magdalen of
that tragic back-water of civilization. Putting her cheek against
Grimshaw's arm, she listened to him with a curious patience as one
listens to the eloquence of the sea.
“This is no place for thee,” he said to her. “Leave me now, ma
But she laughed and went with him. Imagine that room—foul air,
sanded floor, kerosene lamps, an odour of bad wine, tobacco, and stale
humanity. Grimshaw pushed his way to a table and sat down with a surly
Gascon and an enormous Negro from some American ship in the harbour.
They brought the poet wine but he did not drink it—sat staring at
the smoky ceiling, assailed by a sudden sharp vision of Dagmar and
Waram at Broadenham, alone together for the first time, perhaps on the
terrace in the starlight, perhaps in Dagmar's bright room which had
always been scented, warm, remote——
He had been reciting, of course, in French. Now he broke abruptly
into English. No one but the American Negro understood. The proprietor
shouted: “Hi, there, Pilleux—no gibberish!” The woman, her eyes on
Grimshaw's face, said warningly: “Ssh! He speaks English. He is clever,
this poet! Pay attention.” And the Negro, startled, jerked his drunken
body straight and listened.
I don't know what Grimshaw said. It must have been a poem of home,
the bitter longing of an exile for familiar things. At any rate, the
Negro was touched—he was a Louisianian, a son of New Orleans. He saw
the gentleman, where you and I, perhaps, would have seen only a maudlin
savage. There is no other explanation for the thing that happened....
The Gascon, it seems, hated poetry. He tipped over Grimshaw's glass,
spilling the wine into the woman's lap. She leaped back, trembling with
rage, swearing in the manner of her kind.
“Quiet,” Grimshaw said. And her fury receded before his glance; she
melted, acquiesced, smiled. Then Grimshaw smiled, too, and putting the
glass to rights with a leisurely gesture, said, “Cabbage. Son of pig,”
and flipped the dregs into the Gascon's face.
The fellow groaned and leaped. Grimshaw didn't stir—he was too
drunk to protect himself. But the Negro saw what was in the Gascon's
hand. He kicked back his chair, stretched out his arms—too late. The
Gascon's knife, intended for Grimshaw, sliced into his heart. He
coughed, looked at the man he had saved with a strange questioning, and
Grimshaw was sobered instantly. They say that he broke the Gascon's
arm before the crowd could separate them. Then he knelt down by the
dying Negro, turned him gently over and lifted him in his arms,
supporting that ugly bullet head against his knee. The Negro coughed
again, and whispered: “I saw it comin', boss.” Grimshaw said simply:
“I'm scared, boss.”
“That's all right. I'll see you through.”
“I'm dyin', boss.”
“Is it hard?”
“Hold my hand. That's right. Nothing to be afraid of.”
The Negro's eyes fixed themselves on Grimshaw's face—a sombre look
came into their depths. “I'm goin', boss.”
Grimshaw lifted him again. As he did so, he was conscious of feeling
faint and dizzy. The Negro's blood was warm on his hands and wrists,
but it was not wholly that—He had a sensation of rushing forward; of
pressure against his ear-drums; a violent nausea; the crowd of curious
faces blurred, disappeared—he was drowning in a noisy darkness.... He
gasped, struggled, struck out with his arms, shouted, went down in that
suffocating flood of unconsciousness....
Opening his eyes after an indeterminate interval, he found himself
in the street. The air was cool after the fetid staleness of that room.
He was still holding the Negro's hand. And above them the stars burned,
remote and calm, like beacon lamps in a dark harbour....
The Negro whimpered: “I don't know the way, boss. I'm lost.”
“Where is your ship?”
“In the Vieux Port, near the fort.”
They walked together through the silent streets. I say that they
walked. It was rather that Grimshaw found himself on the quay, the
Negro still at his side. A few prowling sailors passed them. But for
the most part the waterfront was deserted. The ships lay side by
side—an intricate tangle of bowsprits and rigging, masts and chains.
Around them the water was black as basalt, only that now and again a
spark of light was struck by the faint lifting of the current against
the immovable hulls.
The Negro shuffled forward, peering. A lantern flashed on one of the
big schooners. Looking up, Grimshaw saw the name: “Anne Beebe, New
Orleans.” A querulous voice, somewhere on the deck, demanded: “That
you, Richardson?” And then, angrily: “This damned place—dark as
hell.... Who's there?”
Grimshaw answered: “One of your crew.”
The man on deck stared down at the quay a moment. Then, apparently
having seen nothing, he turned away, and the lantern bobbed aft like a
drifting ember. The Negro moaned. Holding both hands over the deep
wound in his breast, he slowly climbed the side ladder, turned once, to
look at Grimshaw, and disappeared....
Grimshaw felt again the rushing darkness. Again he struggled. And
again, opening his eyes after a moment of blankness, he found himself
kneeling on the sanded floor of the cafe, holding the dead Negro in his
arms. He glanced down at the face, astounded by the look of placid
satisfaction in those wide-open eyes, the smile of recognition, of
gratification, of some nameless and magnificent content....
The woman Marie touched his shoulder. “The fellow's dead, m'sieur. We had better go.”
Grimshaw followed her into the street. He noticed that there were no
stars. A bitter wind, forerunner of the implacable mistral, had
come up. The door of the cafe slammed behind them, muffling a sudden
uproar of voices that had burst out with his going....
Grimshaw had a room somewhere in the Old Town; he went there,
followed by the woman. He thought: “I am mad! Mad!” He was frightened,
not by what had happened to him, but because he could not understand.
Nor can I make it clear to you, since no explanation is final when we
are dealing with the inexplicable....
When they reached his room, Marie lighted the kerosene lamp and,
smoothing down her black hair with both hands, said simply: “I stay
“You must not,” Grimshaw answered.
“I love you,” she said. “You are a great man. C'est ca. That
is that! Besides, I must love someone—I mean, do for someone. You
think that I like pleasure. Ah! Perhaps. I am young. But my heart
follows you. I stay here.”
Grimshaw stared at her without hearing. “I opened the door. I went
beyond.... I am perhaps mad. Perhaps privileged. Perhaps what they have
always called me—an incorrigible poet.” Suddenly he jumped to his feet
and shouted: “I went a little way with his soul! Victory! Eternity!”
The woman Marie put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back
into his chair again. She thought, of course, that he was drunk. So she
attempted a simple seduction, striving to call attention to herself by
the coquetries of her kind. Grimshaw pushed her aside and lay down on
the bed with his arms crossed over his eyes. Had he witnessed a soul's
first uncertain steps into a new state? One thing he knew—he had
himself suffered the confusion of death, and had shared the desperate
struggle to penetrate the barrier between the mortal and the immortal,
the known and the unknown, the real and the incomprehensible. With that
realization, he stepped finally out of his personality into that of the
mystic philosopher, Pierre Pilleux. He heard the woman Marie saying:
“Let me stay. I am unhappy.” And without opening his eyes, simply
making a brief gesture, he said: “Eh bien.” And she stayed.
She never left him again. In the years that followed, wherever
Grimshaw was, there also was Marie—little, swarthy, broad of cheek and
hip, unimaginative, faithful. She had a passion for service. She cooked
for Grimshaw, knitted woollen socks for him, brushed and mended his
clothes, watched out for his health—often, I am convinced, she stole
for him. As for Grimshaw, he didn't know that she existed, beyond the
fact that she was there and that she made material existence endurable.
He never again knew physical love. That I am sure of, for I have talked
with Marie. “He was good to me,” she said. “But he never loved me.” And
I believe her.
That night of the Negro's death Grimshaw stood in a wilderness of
his own. He emerged from it a believer in life after death. He preached
this belief in the slums of Marseilles. It began to be said of him that
his presence made death easy, that the touch of his hand steadied those
who were about to die. Feverish, terrified, reluctant, they became
suddenly calm, wistful, and passed quietly as one falls asleep. “Send
for Pierre Pilleux” became a familiar phrase in the Old Town.
I do not believe that he could have touched these simple people had
he not looked the part of prophet and saint. The old Grimshaw was gone.
In his place an emaciated fanatic, unconscious of appetite, unaware of
self, with burning eyes and tangled beard! That finished ugliness
turned spiritual—a self-flagellated aesthete. He claimed that he could
enter the shadowy confines of the “next world.” Not heaven. Not hell. A
neutral ground between the familiar earth and an inexplicable territory
of the spirit. Here, he said, the dead suffered bewilderment; they
remembered, desired, and regretted the life they had just left, without
understanding what lay ahead. So far he could go with them. So far and
Personal immortality is the most alluring hope ever dangled before
humanity. All of us secretly desire it. None of us really believe in
it. As you say, all of us are afraid and some of us laugh to hide our
fear. Grimshaw wasn't afraid. Nor did he laugh. He knew. And you
remember his eloquence—seductive words, poignant, delicious, memorable
words! In his Chelsea days, he had made you sultry with hate. Now, as
Pierre Pilleux, he made you believe in the shining beauty of the
indestructible, the unconquerable dead. You saw them, a host of
familiar figures, walking fearlessly away from you toward the
brightness of a distant horizon. You heard them, murmuring together, as
they passed out of sight, going forward to share the common and
Well.... The pagan had disappeared in the psychic! Cecil Grimshaw's
melancholy and pessimism, his love of power, his delight in cruelty, in
beauty, in the erotic, the violent, the strange, had vanished! Pierre
Pilleux was a humanitarian. Cecil Grimshaw never had been. Grimshaw had
revolted against ugliness as a dilettante objects to the mediocre in
art. Pierre Pilleux was conscious of social ugliness. Having become
aware of it, he was a potent rebel. He began to write in French,
spreading his revolutionary doctrine of facile spiritual reward. He
splintered purgatory into fragments; what he offered was an earthly
paradise—humanity given eternal absolution, freed of fear, prejudice,
hatred—above all, of fear—and certain of endless life.
Now that we have entered the cosmic era, we look back at him with
understanding. Then, he was a radical and an atheist.
Of course he had followers—seekers after eternity who drank his
promises like thirsty wanderers come upon a spring in the desert. To
some of them he was a god. To some, a mystic. To some, a healer. To
some—and they were the ones who finally controlled his destiny—he was
simply a dangerous lunatic.
Two women in Marseilles committed suicide—they were followers,
disciples, whatever you choose to call them. At any rate, they believed
that where it was so simple a matter to die, it was foolish to stay on
in a world that had treated them badly. One had lost a son, the other a
lover. One shot herself; the other drowned herself in the canal. And
both of them left letters addressed to Pilleux—enough to damn him in
the eyes of authority. He was told that he might leave France, or take
the consequences—a mild enough warning, but it worked. He dared not
provoke an inquiry into his past. So he shipped on board a small
Mediterranean steamer as fireman, and disappeared, no one knew where.
Two years later he reappeared in Africa. Marie was with him. They
were living in a small town on the rim of the desert near Biskra.
Grimshaw occupied a native house—a mere hovel, flat-roofed, sun-baked,
bare as a hermit's cell. Marie had hired herself out as femme de
chambre in the only hotel in the place. “I watched over him,” she
told me. “And believe me, monsieur, he needed care! He was thin
as a ghost. He had starved more than once during those two years. He
told me to go back to France, to seek happiness for myself. But for me
happiness was with him. I laughed and stayed. I loved
Grimshaw was writing again—in French—and his work began to appear
in the Parisian journals, a strange poetic prose impregnated with
mysticism. It was Grimshaw, sublimated. I saw it myself, although at
that time I had not heard Waram's story. The French critics saw it.
“This Pilleux is as picturesque as the English poet, Grimshaw. The
style is identical.” Waram saw it. He read everything that Pilleux
wrote—with eagerness, with terror. Finally, driven by curiosity, he
went to Paris, got Pilleux's address from the editor of Gil Blas, and started for Africa.
Grimshaw is a misty figure at the last. You see him faintly—an
exile, racially featureless, wearing a dirty white native robe, his
face wrinkled by exposure to the sun, his eyes burning. Marie says that
he prowled about the village at night, whispering to himself, his head
thrown back, pointing his beard at the stars. He wrote in the cool
hours before dawn, and later, when the village quivered in heat fumes
and he slept, Marie posted what he had written to Paris.
One day he took her head between his hands and said very gently:
“Why don't you get a lover? Take life while you can.”
“You say there is eternal life,” she protested.
“N'en doutez-pas! But you must be rich in knowledge. Put
flowers in your hair. And place your palms against a lover's palms and
kiss him with generosity, ma petite. I am not a man; I am a
Marie slipped her arms around him and, standing on tiptoe, put her
lips against his. “Je t'aime,” she said simply.
His eyes deepened. There flashed into them the old, mad humour, the
old vitality, the old passion for beauty. The look faded, leaving his
eyes “like flames that are quenched.” Marie shivered, covered her face
with her hands, and ran out. “There was no blood in him,” she told me.
“He was like a spirit—a ghost. So meagre! So wan! Waxen hands. Yellow
flesh. And those eyes, in which, monsieur, the flame was
And this is the end of the curious story.... Waram went to Biskra
and from there to the village where Grimshaw lived. Grimshaw saw him in
the street one evening and followed him to the hotel. He lingered
outside until Waram had registered at the bureau and had gone to
his room. Then he went in and sent word that “Pierre Pilleux was below
and ready to see Doctor Waram.”
He waited in the “garden” at the back of the hotel. No one was
about. A cat slept on the wall. Overhead the arch of the sky was
flooded with orange light. Dust lay on the leaves of the potted plants
and bushes. It was breathless, hot, quiet. He thought: “Waram has come
because Dagmar is dead. Or the public has found me out!”
Waram came immediately. He stood in the doorway a moment, staring at
the grotesque figure which faced him. He made a terrified gesture, as
if he would shut out what he saw. Then he came into the garden,
steadying himself by holding on to the backs of the little iron garden
chairs. The poet saw that Waram had not changed so very much—a little
gray hair in that thick, black mop, a few wrinkles, a rather stodgy
look about the waist. No more. He was still Waram, neat,
self-satisfied, essentially English.... Grimshaw strangled a feeling of
aversion and said quietly: “Well, Waram. How d'you do? I call myself
Waram ignored his hand. Leaning heavily on one of the chairs, he
stared with a passionate intentness. “Grimshaw?” he said at last.
“Why, yes,” Grimshaw answered. “Didn't you know?”
Waram licked his lips. In a whisper he said: “I killed you in
Switzerland six years ago. Killed you, you understand.”
Grimshaw touched his breast with both hands. “You lie.
“Here I am.”
“You are dead.”
“Before God, I swear it.”
Grimshaw felt once more the on-rushing flood of darkness. His
thoughts flashed back over the years. The “wall.” His suffering. The
dog. The song in the field. The Negro. The door that opened. The stars.
His own flesh, fading into spirit, into shadows....
“Dead?” he demanded again.
Waram's eyes wavered. He laughed unsteadily and looked behind him.
“Strange,” he said. “I thought I saw——” He turned and went quickly
across the garden into the hotel. Grimshaw called once, in a loud
voice: “Waram!” But the doctor did not even turn his head. Grimshaw
followed him, overtook him, touched his shoulder. Waram paid no
attention. Going to the bureau he said to the proprietor: “You
told me that a Monsieur Pilleux wished to see me.”
“Oui, monsieur. He was waiting for you in the garden.”
“He is not there now.”
“But just a moment ago——”
“I am here,” Grimshaw interrupted.
The proprietor brushed past Waram and peered into the garden. It was
twilight out there now. The cat still slept on the wall. Dust on the
“I'm sorry, monsieur. He seems to have disappeared.”
Doctor Waram straightened his shoulders. “Ah,” he said.
“Disappeared. Exactly.” And passing Grimshaw without a glance he went
Grimshaw spoke to the proprietor. But the little man bent over the
desk, and began to write in an account book. His pen went on
scratching, inscribing large, flourishing numbers in a neat column....
Grimshaw shrugged and went into the street. The crowds paid no
attention to him—but then, they never had. A dog sniffed at his heels,
whined, and thrust a cold nose into his hand.
He went to his house. “I'll ask Marie,” he thought.... She was
sitting before a mirror, her hands clasped under her chin, smiling at
herself.... She had put a flower in her hair. Her lips were parted. She
smiled at some secret thought. Grimshaw watched her a moment; then with
a leap of his heart he touched her shoulder. And she did not turn, did
He knew! He put his fingers on her cheek, her neck, the shining
braids of her coarse black hair. Then he walked quickly out of the
house, out of the village, toward the desert.
Two men joined him. One of them said: “I have just died.” They went
on together, their feet whispering in the sand, walking in a globe of
darkness until the stars came out—then they saw one another's pale
faces and eager, frightened eyes. Others joined them. And others. Men.
Women. A child. Some wept and some murmured and some laughed.
“Is this death?”
“Where now, brother?”
Grimshaw thought: “The end. What next? Beauty. Love. Illusion.
He clasped his hands behind his back, lifted his face to the stars,
walked steadily forward with that company of the dead, into the desert,
out of the story at last.