The fog swirled slowly round him, driven by a heavy
movement of its own, for of course there was no wind.
It hung in poisonous thick coils and loops; it rose and
sank; no light penetrated it directly from street lamp or
motor-car, though here and there some big shop-window
shed a glimmering patch upon its ever-shifting curtain.
O’Reilly’s eyes ached and smarted with the incessant
effort to see a foot beyond his face. The optic nerve grew
tired, and sight, accordingly, less accurate. He coughed
as he shuffled forward cautiously through the choking
gloom. Only the stifled rumble of crawling traffic persuaded
him he was in a crowded city at all—this, and the
vague outlines of groping figures, hugely magnified, emerging
suddenly and disappearing again, as they fumbled
along inch by inch towards uncertain destinations.
The figures, however were human beings; they were
real. That much he knew. He heard their muffled voices,
now close, now distant, strangely smothered always. He
also heard the tapping of innumerable sticks, feeling for
iron railings or the kerb. These phantom outlines represented
living people. He was not alone.
It was the dread of finding himself quite alone that
haunted him, for he was still unable to cross an open
space without assistance. He had the physical strength,
it was the mind that failed him. Midway the panic terror
might descend upon him, he would shake all over, his
will dissolve, he would shriek for help, run wildly—into
the traffic probably—or, as they called it in his North
Ontario home, “throw a fit” in the street before advancing
wheels. He was not yet entirely cured, although under
ordinary conditions he was safe enough, as Dr. Henry had
When he left Regent’s Park by Tube an hour ago the
air was clear, the November sun shone brightly, the pale
blue sky was cloudless, and the assumption that he could
manage the journey across London Town alone was justified.
The following day he was to leave for Brighton for
the week of final convalescence: this little preliminary test
of his powers on a bright November afternoon was all to
the good. Doctor Henry furnished minute instructions:
“You change at Piccadilly Circus—without leaving the
underground station, mind—and get out at South Kensington.
You know the address of your V.A.D. friend. Have
your cup of tea with her, then come back the same way to
Regent’s Park. Come back before dark—say six o’clock
at latest. It’s better.” He had described exactly what
turns to take after leaving the station, so many to the
right, so many to the left; it was a little confusing, but the
distance was short. “You can always ask. You can’t possibly
The unexpected fog, however, now blurred these instructions
in a confused jumble in his mind. The failure
of outer sight reacted upon memory. The V.A.D. besides
had warned him her address was “not easy to find the
first time. The house lies in a backwater. But with your
‘backwoods’ instincts you’ll probably manage it better than
any Londoner!” She, too, had not calculated upon the fog.
When O’Reilly came up the stairs at South Kensington
Station, he emerged into such murky darkness that he
thought he was still underground. An impenetrable
world lay round him. Only a raw bite in the damp atmosphere
told him he stood beneath an open sky. For some
little time he stood and stared—a Canadian soldier, his
home among clear brilliant spaces, now face to face for the
first time in his life with that thing he had so often read
about—a bad London fog. With keenest interest and surprise
he “enjoyed” the novel spectacle for perhaps ten
minutes, watching the people arrive and vanish, and wondering
why the station lights stopped dead the instant they
touched the street—then, with a sense of adventure—it cost
an effort—he left the covered building and plunged into
the opaque sea beyond.
Repeating to himself the directions he had received—first
to the right, second to the left, once more to the left,
and so forth—he checked each turn, assuring himself it
was impossible to go wrong. He made correct if slow
progress, until someone blundered into him with an abrupt
and startling question: “Is this right, do you know, for
South Kensington Station?”
It was the suddenness that startled him; one moment
there was no one, the next they were face to face, another,
and the stranger had vanished into the gloom with a
courteous word of grateful thanks. But the little shock
of interruption had put memory out of gear. Had he
already turned twice to the right, or had he not?
O’Reilly realized sharply he had forgotten his memorized
instructions. He stood still, making strenuous efforts at
recovery, but each effort left him more uncertain than
before. Five minutes later he was lost as hopelessly as
any townsman who leaves his tent in the backwoods without
blazing the trees to ensure finding his way back again.
Even the sense of direction, so strong in him among his
native forests, was completely gone. There were no stars,
there was no wind, no smell, no sound of running water.
There was nothing anywhere to guide him, nothing but
occasional dim outlines, groping, shuffling, emerging and
disappearing in the eddying fog, but rarely coming within
actual speaking, much less touching, distance. He was lost
utterly; more, he was alone.
Yet not quite alone—the thing he dreaded most. There
were figures still in his immediate neighborhood. They
emerged, vanished, reappeared, dissolved. No, he was not
quite alone. He saw these thickenings of the fog, he
heard their voices, the tapping of their cautious sticks,
their shuffling feet as well. They were real. They moved,
it seemed, about him in a circle, never coming very close.
“But they’re real,” he said to himself aloud, betraying
the weak point in his armour. “They’re human beings
right enough. I’m positive of that.”
He had never argued with Dr. Henry—he wanted to
get well; he had obeyed implicitly, believing everything
the doctor told him—up to a point. But he had always
had his own idea about these “figures,” because, among
them, were often enough his own pals from the Somme,
Gallipoli, the Mespot horror, too. And he ought to know
his own pals when he saw them! At the same time he
knew quite well he had been “shocked,” his being dislocated;
half dissolved as it were, his system pushed into
some lopsided condition that meant inaccurate registration.
True. He grasped that perfectly. But, in that
shock and dislocation, had he not possibly picked up
another gear? Were there not gaps and broken edges,
pieces that no longer dovetailed, fitted as usual, interstices,
in a word? Yes, that was the word—interstices. Cracks,
so to speak, between his perception of the outside world
and his inner interpretation of these? Between memory
and recognition? Between the various states of consciousness
that usually dovetailed so neatly that the joints were
His state, he well knew, was abnormal, but were his
symptoms on that account unreal? Could not these “interstices”
be used by—others? When he saw his “figures,”
he used to ask himself: “Are not these the real ones, and
the others—the human beings—unreal?”
This question now revived in him with a new intensity.
Were these figures in the fog real or unreal? The man
who had asked the way to the station, was he not, after
all, a shadow merely?
By the use of his cane and foot and what of sight was
left to him he knew that he was on an island. A lamppost
stood up solid and straight beside him, shedding its
faint patch of glimmering light. Yet there were railings,
however, that puzzled him, for his stick hit the metal rods
distinctly in a series. And there should be no railings
round an island. Yet he had most certainly crossed a
dreadful open space to get where he was. His confusion
and bewilderment increased with dangerous rapidity.
Panic was not far away.
He was no longer on an omnibus route. A rare taxi
crawled past occasionally, a whitish patch at the window
indicating an anxious human face; now and again came
a van or cart, the driver holding a lantern as he led the
stumbling horse. These comforted him, rare though they
were. But it was the figures that drew his attention most.
He was quite sure they were real. They were human
beings like himself.
For all that, he decided he might as well be positive
on the point. He tried one accordingly—a big man who
rose suddenly before him out of the very earth.
“Can you give me the trail to Morley Place?” he
But his question was drowned by the other’s simultaneous
inquiry in a voice much louder than his own.
“I say, is this right for the Tube station, d’you know?
I’m utterly lost. I want South Ken.”
And by the time O’Reilly had pointed the direction
whence he himself had just come, the man was gone
again, obliterated, swallowed up, not so much as his footsteps
audible, almost as if—it seemed again—he never had
been there at all.
This left an acute unpleasantness in him, a sense of
bewilderment greater than before. He waited five minutes,
not daring to move a step, then tried another figure,
a woman this time who, luckily, knew the immediate
neighbourhood intimately. She gave him elaborate instructions
in the kindest possible way, then vanished with
incredible swiftness and ease into the sea of gloom beyond.
The instantaneous way she vanished was disheartening,
upsetting; it was so uncannily abrupt and sudden.
Yet she comforted him. Morley Place, according to her
version, was not two hundred yards from where he stood.
He felt his way forward, step by step, using his cane, crossing
a giddy open space kicking the kerb with each boot
alternately, coughing and choking all the time as he did so.
“They were real, I guess, anyway,” he said aloud.
“They were both real enough all right. And it may lift a
bit soon!” He was making a great effort to hold himself
in hand. He was already fighting, that is. He realized
this perfectly. The only point was—the reality of the
figures. “It may lift now any minute,” he repeated
louder. In spite of the cold, his skin was sweating profusely.
But, of course, it did not lift. The figures, too, became
fewer. No carts were audible. He had followed the
woman’s directions carefully, but now found himself in
some by-way, evidently, where pedestrians at the best of
times were rare. There was dull silence all about him.
His foot lost the kerb, his cane swept the empty air,
striking nothing solid, and panic rose upon him with its
shuddering, icy grip. He was alone, he knew himself
alone, worse still—he was in another open space.
It took him fifteen minutes to cross that open space,
most of the way upon his hands and knees, oblivious of
the icy slime that stained his trousers, froze his fingers,
intent only upon feeling solid support against his back
and spine again. It was an endless period. The moment
of collapse was close, the shriek already rising in his throat,
the shaking of the whole body uncontrollable, when—his
outstretched fingers struck a friendly kerb, and he saw
a glimmering patch of diffused radiance overhead. With a
great, quick effort he stood upright, and an instant later
his stick rattled along an area railing. He leaned against
it, breathless, panting, his heart beating painfully while
the street lamp gave him the further comfort of its feeble
gleam, the actual flame, however, invisible. He looked this
way and that; the pavement was deserted. He was engulfed
in the dark silence of the fog.
But Morley Place, he knew, must be very close by
now. He thought of the friendly little V.A.D. he had
known in France, of a warm bright fire, a cup of tea and
a cigarette. One more effort, he reflected, and all these
would be his. He pluckily groped his way forward again,
crawling slowly by the area railings. If things got really
bad again, he would ring a bell and ask for help, much
as he shrank from the idea. Provided he had no more
open spaces to cross, provided he saw no more figures
emerging and vanishing like creatures born of the fog and
dwelling within it as within their native element—it was
the figures he now dreaded more than anything else, more
even than the loneliness—provided the panic sense——
A faint darkening of the fog beneath the next lamp
caught his eye and made him start. He stopped. It was
not a figure this time, it was the shadow of the pole
grotesquely magnified. No, it moved. It moved towards
him. A flame of fire followed by ice flowed through him.
It was a figure—close against his face. It was a woman.
The doctor’s advice came suddenly back to him, the
counsel that had cured him of a hundred phantoms:
“Do not ignore them. Treat them as real. Speak and
go with them. You will soon prove their unreality then.
And they will leave you....”
He made a brave, tremendous effort. He was shaking.
One hand clutched the damp and icy area railing.
“Lost your way like myself, haven’t you, ma’am?” he
said in a voice that trembled. “Do you know where we
are at all? Morley Place I’m looking for——”
He stopped dead. The woman moved nearer and for
the first time he saw her face clearly. Its ghastly pallor,
the bright, frightened eyes that stared with a kind of
dazed bewilderment into his own, the beauty above all,
arrested his speech midway. The woman was young, her
tall figure wrapped in a dark fur coat.
“Can I help you?” he asked impulsively, forgetting his
own terror for the moment. He was more than startled.
Her air of distress and pain stirred a peculiar anguish in
him. For a moment she made no answer, thrusting her
white face closer as if examining him, so close, indeed,
that he controlled with difficulty his instinct to shrink back
“Where am I?” she asked at length, searching his eyes
intently. “I’m lost—I’ve lost myself. I can’t find my
way back.” Her voice was low, a curious wailing in it
that touched his pity oddly. He felt his own distress
merging in one that was greater.
“Same here,” he replied more confidently. “I’m terrified
of being alone, too. I’ve had shell-shock, you know.
Let’s go together. We’ll find a way together——”
“Who are you!” the woman murmured, still staring
at him with her big bright eyes, their distress, however,
no whit lessened. She gazed at him as though aware suddenly
of his presence.
He told her briefly. “And I’m going to tea with a
V.A.D. friend in Morley Place. What’s your address? Do
you know the name of the street?”
She appeared not to hear him, or not to understand
exactly; it was as if she was not listening again.
“I came out so suddenly, so unexpectedly,” he heard
the low voice with pain in every syllable; “I can’t find my
home again. Just when I was expecting him too——”
She looked about her with a distraught expression that
made O’Reilly long to carry her in his arms to safety
then and there. “He may be there now—waiting for
me at this very moment—and I can’t get back.” And
so sad was her voice that only by an effort did O’Reilly
prevent himself putting out his hand to touch her. More
and more he forgot himself in his desire to help her. Her
beauty, the wonder of her strange bright eyes in the
pallid face, made an immense appeal. He became calmer.
This woman was real enough. He asked again the address,
the street and number, the distance she thought it was.
“Have you any idea of the direction, ma’am, any idea at
all? We’ll go together and——”
She suddenly cut him short. She turned her head as
if to listen, so that he saw her profile a moment, the outline
of the slender neck, a glimpse of jewels just below the fur.
“Hark! I hear him calling! I remember...!”
And she was gone from his side into the swirling fog.
Without an instant’s hesitation O’Reilly followed her,
not only because he wished to help, but because he dared
not be left alone. The presence of this strange, lost woman
comforted him; he must not lose sight of her, whatever
happened. He had to run, she went so rapidly, ever
just in front, moving with confidence and certainty, turning
right and left, crossing the street, but never stopping,
never hesitating, her companion always at her heels in
breathless haste, and with a growing terror that he might
lose her any minute. The way she found her direction
through the dense fog was marvellous enough, but
O’Reilly’s only thought was to keep her in sight, lest
his own panic redescend upon him with its inevitable collapse
in the dark and lonely street. It was a wild and
panting pursuit, and he kept her in view with difficulty,
a dim fleeting outline always a few yards ahead of him.
She did not once turn her head, she uttered no sound, no
cry; she hurried forward with unfaltering instinct. Nor
did the chase occur to him once as singular; she was his
safety, and that was all he realized.
One thing, however, he remembered afterwards, though
at the actual time he no more than registered the detail,
paying no attention to it—a definite perfume she left upon
the atmosphere, one, moreover, that he knew, although he
could not find its name as he ran. It was associated
vaguely, for him, with something unpleasant, something
disagreeable. He connected it with misery and pain. It
gave him a feeling of uneasiness. More than that he did
not notice at the moment, nor could he remember—he
certainly did not try—where he had known this particular
Then suddenly the woman stopped, opened a gate and
passed into a small private garden—so suddenly that
O’Reilly, close upon her heels, only just avoided tumbling
into her. “You’ve found it?” he cried. “May I come in
a moment with you? Perhaps you’ll let me telephone to
She turned instantly. Her face close against his own,
“Doctor!” she repeated in an awful whisper. The word
meant terror to her. O’Reilly stood amazed. For a second
or two neither of them moved. The woman seemed petrified.
“Dr. Henry, you know,” he stammered, finding his
tongue again. “I’m in his care. He’s in Harley Street.”
Her face cleared as suddenly as it had darkened, though
the original expression of bewilderment and pain still
hung in her great eyes. But the terror left them, as
though she suddenly forgot some association that had revived
“My home,” she murmured. “My home is somewhere
here. I’m near it. I must get back—in time—for him.
I must. He’s coming to me.” And with these extraordinary
words she turned, walked up the narrow path, and
stood upon the porch of a two-storey house before her
companion had recovered from his astonishment sufficiently
to move or utter a syllable in reply. The front door, he
saw, was ajar. It had been left open.
For five seconds, perhaps for ten, he hesitated; it was
the fear that the door would close and shut him out that
brought the decision to his will and muscles. He ran up
the steps and followed the woman into a dark hall where
she had already preceded him, and amid whose blackness
she now had finally vanished. He closed the door, not
knowing exactly why he did so, and knew at once by an
instinctive feeling that the house he now found himself in
with this unknown woman was empty and unoccupied. In
a house, however, he felt safe. It was the open streets
that were his danger. He stood waiting, listening a moment
before he spoke; and he heard the woman moving
down the passage from door to door, repeating to herself
in her low voice of unhappy wailing some words he could
“Where is it? Oh, where is it? I must get back....”
O’Reilly then found himself abruptly stricken with
dumbness, as though, with these strange words, a haunting
terror came up and breathed against him in the darkness.
“Is she after all a figure?” ran in letters of fire across
his numbed brain. “Is she unreal—or real?”
Seeking relief in action of some kind, he put out a
hand automatically, feeling along the wall for an electric
switch, and though he found it by some miraculous chance,
no answering glow responded to the click.
And the woman’s voice from the darkness: “Ah! Ah!
At last I’ve found it. I’m home again—at last...!” He
heard a door open and close upstairs. He was on the
ground-floor now—alone. Complete silence followed.
In the conflict of various emotions—fear for himself
lest his panic should return, fear for the woman who had
led him into this empty house and now deserted him upon
some mysterious errand of her own that made him think
of madness—in this conflict that held him a moment spell-bound,
there was a yet bigger ingredient demanding
instant explanation, but an explanation that he could not
find. Was the woman real or was she unreal? Was she
a human being or a “figure”? The horror of doubt obsessed
him with an acute uneasiness that betrayed itself
in a return of that unwelcome inner trembling he knew
What saved him from a crise that must have had most
dangerous results for his mind and nervous system generally,
seems to have been the outstanding fact that he
felt more for the woman than for himself. His sympathy
and pity had been deeply moved; her voice, her beauty,
her anguish and bewilderment, all uncommon, inexplicable,
mysterious, formed together a claim that drove self
into the background. Added to this was the detail that
she had left him, gone to another floor without a word,
and now, behind a closed door in a room upstairs, found
herself face to face at last with the unknown object of
her frantic search—with “it,” whatever “it” might be. Real
or unreal, figure or human being, the overmastering impulse
of his being was that he must go to her.
It was this clear impulse that gave him decision and
energy to do what he then did. He struck a match, he
found a stump of candle, he made his way by means
of this flickering light along the passage and up the
carpetless stairs. He moved cautiously, stealthily,
though not knowing why he did so. The house, he now
saw, was indeed untenanted; dust-sheets covered the piled-up
furniture; he glimpsed through doors ajar, pictures
were screened upon the walls, brackets draped to look like
hooded heads. He went on slowly, steadily, moving on
tiptoe as though conscious of being watched, noting the
well of darkness in the hall below, the grotesque shadows
that his movements cast on walls and ceiling. The silence
was unpleasant, yet, remembering that the woman was
“expecting” someone, he did not wish it broken. He
reached the landing and stood still. Closed doors on both
sides of a corridor met his sight, as he shaded the candle
to examine the scene. Behind which of these doors, he
asked himself, was the woman, figure or human being,
now alone with “it”?
There was nothing to guide him, but an instinct that
he must not delay sent him forward again upon his search.
He tried a door on the right—an empty room, with the
furniture hidden by dust-sheets, and the mattress rolled
up on the bed. He tried a second door, leaving the first
one open behind him, and it was, similarly, an empty bedroom.
Coming out into the corridor again he stood a
moment waiting, then called aloud in a low voice that yet
woke echoes unpleasantly in the hall below: “Where are
you? I want to help—which room are you in?”
There was no answer; he was almost glad he heard
no sound, for he knew quite well that he was waiting really
for another sound—the steps of him who was “expected.”
And the idea of meeting with this unknown third sent
a shudder through him, as though related to an interview
he dreaded with his whole heart, and must at all costs
avoid. Waiting another moment or two, he noted that his
candle-stump was burning low, then crossed the landing
with a feeling, at once of hesitation and determination,
towards a door opposite to him. He opened it; he did not
halt on the threshold. Holding the candle at arm’s length,
he went boldly in.
And instantly his nostrils told him he was right at last,
for a whiff of the strange perfume, though this time much
stronger than before, greeted him, sending a new quiver
along his nerves. He knew now why it was associated with
unpleasantness, with pain, with misery, for he recognized
it—the odour of a hospital. In this room a powerful
anæsthetic had been used—and recently.
Simultaneously with smell, sight brought its message
too. On the large double bed behind the door on his right
lay, to his amazement, the woman in the dark fur coat.
He saw the jewels on the slender neck; but the eyes he
did not see, for they were closed—closed, too, he grasped at
once, in death. The body lay stretched at full length,
quite motionless. He approached. A dark thin streak
that came from the parted lips and passed downwards over
the chin, losing itself then in the fur collar, was a trickle
of blood. It was hardly dry. It glistened.
Strange it was perhaps that, while imaginary fears had
the power to paralyse him, mind and body, this sight of
something real had the effect of restoring confidence. The
sight of blood and death, amid conditions often ghastly
and even monstrous, was no new thing to him. He went
up quietly, and with steady hand he felt the woman’s cheek,
the warmth of recent life still in its softness. The final cold
had not yet mastered this empty form whose beauty, in its
perfect stillness, had taken on the new strange sweetness
of an unearthly bloom. Pallid, silent, untenanted, it lay
before him, lit by the flicker of his guttering candle. He
lifted the fur coat to feel for the unbeating heart. A
couple of hours ago at most, he judged, this heart was
working busily, the breath came through those parted lips,
the eyes were shining in full beauty. His hand encountered
a hard knob—the head of a long steel hat-pin driven
through the heart up to its hilt.
He knew then which was the figure—which was the
real and which the unreal. He knew also what had been
meant by “it.”
But before he could think or reflect what action he
must take, before he could straighten himself even from
his bent position over the body on the bed, there sounded
through the empty house below the loud clang of the front
door being closed. And instantly rushed over him that
other fear he had so long forgotten—fear for himself.
The panic of his own shaken nerves descended with irresistible
onslaught. He turned, extinguishing the candle
in the violent trembling of his hand, and tore headlong
from the room.
The following ten minutes seemed a nightmare in
which he was not master of himself and knew not exactly
what he did. All he realized was that steps already
sounded on the stairs, coming quickly nearer. The flicker
of an electric torch played on the banisters, whose shadows
ran swiftly sideways along the wall as the hand that held
the light ascended. He thought in a frenzied second of
police, of his presence in the house, of the murdered
woman. It was a sinister combination. Whatever happened,
he must escape without being so much as even
seen. His heart raced madly. He darted across the landing
into the room opposite, whose door he had luckily left
open. And by some incredible chance, apparently, he was
neither seen nor heard by the man who, a moment later,
reached the landing, entered the room where the body of
the woman lay, and closed the door carefully behind him.
Shaking, scarcely daring to breathe lest his breath be
audible, O’Reilly, in the grip of his own personal terror,
remnant of his uncured shock of war, had no thought of
what duty might demand or not demand of him. He
thought only of himself. He realized one clear issue—that
he must get out of the house without being heard or
seen. Who the new-comer was he did not know, beyond an
uncanny assurance that it was not him whom the woman
had “expected,” but the murderer himself, and that it was
the murderer, in his turn, who was expecting this third
person. In that room with death at his elbow, a death
he had himself brought about but an hour or two ago, the
murderer now hid in waiting for his second victim. And
the door was closed.
Yet any minute it might open again, cutting off retreat.
O’Reilly crept out, stole across the landing, reached
the head of the stairs, and began, with the utmost caution,
the perilous descent. Each time the bare boards creaked
beneath his weight, no matter how stealthily this weight
was adjusted, his heart missed a beat. He tested each step
before he pressed upon it, distributing as much of his
weight as he dared upon the banisters. It was a little
more than half-way down that, to his horror, his foot
caught in a projecting carpet tack; he slipped on the polished
wood, and only saved himself from falling headlong
by a wild clutch at the railing, making an uproar that
seemed to him like the explosion of a hand-grenade in
the forgotten trenches. His nerves gave way then, and
panic seized him. In the silence that followed the resounding
echoes he heard the bedroom door opening on
the floor above.
Concealment was now useless. It was impossible, too.
He took the last flight of stairs in a series of leaps, four
steps at a time, reached the hall, flew across it, and opened
the front door, just as his pursuer, electric torch in hand,
covered half the stairs behind him. Slamming the door,
he plunged headlong into the welcome, all-obscuring fog
The fog had now no terrors for him, he welcomed its
concealing mantle; nor did it matter in which direction
he ran so long as he put distance between him and the
house of death. The pursuer had, of course, not followed
him into the street. He crossed open spaces without a
tremor. He ran in a circle nevertheless, though without
being aware he did so. No people were about, no single
groping shadow passed him; no boom of traffic reached
his ears, when he paused for breath at length against an
area railing. Then for the first time he made the discovery
that he had no hat. He remembered now. In examining
the body, partly out of respect, partly perhaps unconsciously,
he had taken it off and laid it—on the very bed.
It was there, a tell-tale bit of damning evidence, in the
house of death. And a series of probable consequences
flashed through his mind like lightning. It was a new
hat fortunately; more fortunate still, he had not yet written
name or initials in it; but the maker’s mark was there
for all to read, and the police would go immediately to
the shop where he had bought it only two days before.
Would the shop-people remember his appearance? Would
his visit, the date, the conversation be recalled? He
thought it was unlikely; he resembled dozens of men; he
had no outstanding peculiarity. He tried to think, but
his mind was confused and troubled, his heart was beating
dreadfully, he felt desperately ill. He sought vainly for
some story to account for his being out in the fog and far
from home without a hat. No single idea presented itself.
He clung to the icy railings, hardly able to keep upright,
collapse very near—when suddenly a figure emerged from
the fog, paused a moment to stare at him, put out a hand
and caught him, and then spoke:
“You’re ill, my dear sir,” said a man’s kindly voice.
“Can I be of any assistance? Come, let me help you.” He
had seen at once that it was not a case of drunkenness.
“Come, take my arm, won’t you? I’m a physician.
Luckily, too, you are just outside my very house. Come
in.” And he half dragged, half pushed O’Reilly, now bordering
on collapse, up the steps and opened the door with
“Felt ill suddenly—lost in the fog ... terrified, but
be all right soon, thanks awfully——” the Canadian stammered
his gratitude, but already feeling better. He sank
into a chair in the hall, while the other put down a paper
parcel he had been carrying, and led him presently into a
comfortable room; a fire burned brightly; the electric
lamps were pleasantly shaded; a decanter of whisky and a
siphon stood on a small table beside a big arm-chair; and
before O’Reilly could find another word to say the other
had poured him out a glass and bade him sip it slowly,
without troubling to talk till he felt better.
“That will revive you. Better drink it slowly. You
should never have been out a night like this. If you’ve
far to go, better let me put you up——”
“Very kind, very kind, indeed,” mumbled O’Reilly, recovering
rapidly in the comfort of a presence he already
liked and felt even drawn to.
“No trouble at all,” returned the doctor. “I’ve been
at the front, you know. I can see what your trouble is—shell-shock,
I’ll be bound.”
The Canadian, much impressed by the other’s quick
diagnosis, noted also his tact and kindness. He had made
no reference to the absence of a hat, for instance.
“Quite true,” he said. “I’m with Dr. Henry, in Harley
Street,” and he added a few words about his case. The
whisky worked its effect, he revived more and more, feeling
better every minute. The other handed him a cigarette;
they began to talk about his symptoms and recovery;
confidence returned in a measure, though he still felt badly
frightened. The doctor’s manner and personality did
much to help, for there was strength and gentleness in the
face, though the features showed unusual determination,
softened occasionally by a sudden hint as of suffering in
the bright, compelling eyes. It was the face, thought
O’Reilly, of a man who had seen much and probably been
through hell, but of a man who was simple, good, sincere.
Yet not a man to trifle with; behind his gentleness lay
something very stern. This effect of character and personality
woke the other’s respect in addition to his gratitude.
His sympathy was stirred.
“You encourage me to make another guess,” the man
was saying, after a successful reading of the impromptu
patient’s state, “that you have had, namely, a severe shock
quite recently, and”—he hesitated for the merest fraction
of a second—“that it would be a relief to you,” he went
on, the skilful suggestion in the voice unnoticed by his
companion, “it would be wise as well, if you could unburden
yourself to—someone—who would understand.”
He looked at O’Reilly with a kindly and very pleasant
smile. “Am I not right, perhaps?” he asked in his gentle
“Someone who would understand,” repeated the
Canadian. “That’s my trouble exactly. You’ve hit it.
It’s all so incredible.”
The other smiled. “The more incredible,” he suggested,
“the greater your need for expression. Suppression,
as you may know, is dangerous in cases like this.
You think you have hidden it, but it bides its time and
comes up later, causing a lot of trouble. Confession, you
know”—he emphasized the word—“confession is good for
“You’re dead right,” agreed the other.
“Now if you can, bring yourself to tell it to someone
who will listen and believe—to myself, for instance. I
am a doctor, familiar with such things. I shall regard
all you say as a professional confidence, of course; and,
as we are strangers, my belief or disbelief is of no particular
consequence. I may tell you in advance of your story,
however—I think I can promise it—that I shall believe all
you have to say.”
O’Reilly told his story without more ado, for the suggestion
of the skilled physician had found easy soil to
work in. During the recital his host’s eyes never once
left his own. He moved no single muscle of his body. His
interest seemed intense.
“A bit tall, isn’t it?” said the Canadian, when his
tale was finished. “And the question is——” he continued
with a threat of volubility which the other checked instantly.
“Strange, yes, but incredible, no,” the doctor interrupted.
“I see no reason to disbelieve a single detail of
what you have just told me. Things equally remarkable,
equally incredible, happen in all large towns, as I know
from personal experience. I could give you instances.”
He paused a moment, but his companion, staring into his
eyes with interest and curiosity, made no comment.
“Some years ago, in fact,” continued the other, “I knew
of a very similar case—strangely similar.”
“Really! I should be immensely interested——”
“So similar that it seems almost a coincidence. You
may find it hard, in your turn, to credit it.” He paused
again, while O’Reilly sat forward in his chair to listen.
“Yes,” pursued the doctor slowly, “I think everyone connected
with it is now dead. There is no reason why I
should not tell it, for one confidence deserves another, you
know. It happened during the Boer War—as long ago
as that,” he added with emphasis. “It is really a very
commonplace story in one way, though very dreadful in
another, but a man who has served at the front will understand
and—I’m sure—will sympathize.”
“I’m sure of that,” offered the other readily.
“A colleague of mine, now dead, as I mentioned—a
surgeon, with a big practice, married a young and charming
girl. They lived happily together for several years.
His wealth made her very comfortable. His consulting-room,
I must tell you, was some distance from his house—just
as this might be—so that she was never bothered
with any of his cases. Then came the war. Like many
others, though much over age, he volunteered. He gave
up his lucrative practice and went to South Africa. His
income, of course, stopped; the big house was closed; his
wife found her life of enjoyment considerably curtailed.
This she considered a great hardship, it seems. She felt
a bitter grievance against him. Devoid of imagination,
without any power of sacrifice, a selfish type, she was
yet a beautiful, attractive woman—and young. The inevitable
lover came upon the scene to console her. They
planned to run away together. He was rich. Japan they
thought would suit them. Only, by some ill luck, the
husband got wind of it and arrived in London just in the
nick of time.”
“Well rid of her,” put in O’Reilly, “I think.”
The doctor waited a moment. He sipped his glass.
Then his eyes fixed upon his companion’s face somewhat
“Well rid of her, yes,” he continued, “only he determined
to make that riddance final. He decided to kill
her—and her lover. You see, he loved her.”
O’Reilly made no comment. In his own country this
method with a faithless woman was not unknown. His
interest was very concentrated. But he was thinking, too,
as he listened, thinking hard.
“He planned the time and place with care,” resumed
the other in a lower voice, as though he might possibly
be overheard. “They met, he knew, in the big house, now
closed, the house where he and his young wife had passed
such happy years during their prosperity. The plan failed,
however, in an important detail—the woman came at the
appointed hour, but without her lover. She found death
waiting for her—it was a painless death. Then her lover,
who was to arrive half an hour later, did not come at all.
The door had been left open for him purposely. The
house was dark, its rooms shut up, deserted; there was
no caretaker even. It was a foggy night, just like this.”
“And the other?” asked O’Reilly in a failing voice.
“A man did come in,” the doctor went on calmly, “but
it was not the lover. It was a stranger.”
“A stranger?” the other whispered. “And the surgeon—where
was he all this time?”
“Waiting outside to see him enter—concealed in the
fog. He saw the man go in. Five minutes later he
followed, meaning to complete his vengeance, his act of
justice, whatever you like to call it. But the man who
had come in was a stranger—he came in by chance—just
as you might have done—to shelter from the fog—or——”
O’Reilly, though with a great effort, rose abruptly to
his feet. He had an appalling feeling that the man facing
him was mad. He had a keen desire to get outside, fog
or no fog, to leave this room, to escape from the calm
accents of this insistent voice. The effect of the whisky
was still in his blood. He felt no lack of confidence. But
words came to him with difficulty.
“I think I’d better be pushing off now, doctor,” he
said clumsily. “But I feel I must thank you very much
for all your kindness and help.” He turned and looked
hard into the keen eyes facing him. “Your friend,” he
asked in a whisper, “the surgeon—I hope—I mean, was
he ever caught?”
“No,” was the grave reply, the doctor standing up in
front of him, “he was never caught.”
O’Reilly waited a moment before he made another remark.
“Well,” he said at length, but in a louder tone
than before, “I think—I’m glad.” He went to the door
without shaking hands.
“You have no hat,” mentioned the voice behind him.
“If you’ll wait a moment I’ll get you one of mine. You
need not trouble to return it.” And the doctor passed him,
going into the hall. There was a sound of tearing paper,
O’Reilly left the house a moment later with a hat upon his
head, but it was not till he reached the Tube station half
an hour afterwards that he realized it was his own.