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