THE GREY ROOM
by Eden Phillpotts
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE PARTY II. AN EXPERIMENT III. AT THE ORIEL IV. "BY THE HAND OF GOD" V. THE UNSEEN MOVES VI. THE ORDER FROM LONDON VII. THE FANATIC VIII. THE LABORS OF THE FOUR IX. THE NIGHT WATCH X. SIGNOR VERGILIO MANNETTI XI. PRINCE DJEM XII. THE GOLDEN BULL XIII. TWO NOTES
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE PARTY
The piers of the main entrance of Chadlands were of red brick, and upon each reposed a mighty sphere of grey granite. Behind them stretched away the park, where forest trees, nearly shorn of their leaves at the edge of winter, still answered the setting sun with fires of thinning foliage. They sank away through stretches of brake fern, and already amid their trunks arose a thin, blue haze—breath of earth made visible by coming cold. There was frost in the air, and the sickle of a new moon hung where dusk of evening dimmed the green of the western sky.
The guns were returning, and eight men with three women arrived at the lofty gates. One of the party rode a grey pony, and a woman walked on each side of him. They chattered together, and the little company of tweed-clad people passed into Chadlands Park and trudged forward, where the manor house rose half a mile ahead.
Then an old man emerged from a lodge, hidden behind a grove of laurel and bay within the entrance, and shut the great gates of scroll iron. They were of a flamboyant Italian period, and more arrestive than distinguished. Panelled upon them, and belonging to a later day than they, had been imposed two iron coats of arms, with crest above and motto beneath—the heraldic bearings of the present owner of Chadlands. He set store upon such things, but was not responsible for the work. A survival himself, and steeped in ancient opinions, his coat, won in a forgotten age, interested him only less than his Mutiny medal—his sole personal claim to public honor. He had served in youth as a soldier, but was still a subaltern when his father died and he came into his kingdom.
Now, Sir Walter Lennox, fifth baronet, had grown old, and his invincible kindness of heart, his archaic principles, his great wealth, and the limited experiences of reality, for which such wealth was responsible, left him a popular and respected man. Yet he aroused much exasperation in local landowners from his generosity and scorn of all economic principles; and while his tenants held him the very exemplar of a landlord, and his servants worshipped him for the best possible reasons, his friends, weary of remonstrance, were forced to forgive his bad precedents and a mistaken liberality quite beyond the power of the average unfortunate who lives by his land. But he managed his great manor in his own lavish way, and marvelled that other men declared difficulties with problems he so readily solved. That night, after a little music, the Chadlands' house party drifted to the billiard-room, and while most of the men, after a heavy day far afield, were content to lounge by a great open hearth where a wood fire burned, Sir Walter, who had been on a pony most of the time, declared himself unwearied, and demanded a game.
"No excuses, Henry," he said; and turned to a young man lounging in an easy-chair outside the fireside circle.
The youth started. His eyes had been fixed on a woman sitting beside the fire, with her hand in a man's. It was such an attitude as sophisticated lovers would only assume in private but the pair were not sophisticated and lovers still, though married. They lacked self-consciousness, and the husband liked to feel his wife's hand in his. After all, a thing impossible until you are married may be quite seemly afterwards, and none of their amiable elders regarded their devotion with cynicism.
"All right, uncle!" said Henry Lennox.
He rose—a big fellow with heavy shoulders, a clean-shaven, youthful face, and flaxen hair. He had been handsome, save for a nose with a broken bridge, but his pale brown eyes were fine, and his firm mouth and chin well modelled. Imagination and reflection marked his countenance.
Sir Walter claimed thirty points on his scoring board, and gave a miss with the spot ball.
"I win to-night," he said.
He was a small, very upright man, with a face that seemed to belong to his generation, and an expression seldom to be seen on a man younger than seventy. Life had not puzzled him; his moderate intellect had taken it as he found it, and, through the magic glasses of good health, good temper, and great wealth, judged existence a desirable thing and quite easy to conduct with credit. "You only want patience and a brain," he always declared. Sir Walter wore an eyeglass. He was growing bald, but preserved a pair of grey whiskers still of respectable size. His face, indeed, belied him, for it was moulded in a stern pattern. One had guessed him a martinet until his amiable opinions and easy-going personality were manifested. The old man was not vain; he knew that a world very different from his own extended round about him. But he was puzzle-headed, and had never been shaken from his life-long complacency by circumstances. He had been disappointed in love as a young man, and only married late in life. He had no son, and was a widower—facts that, to his mind, quite dwarfed his good fortune in every other respect. He held the comfortable doctrine that things are always levelled up, and he honestly believed that he had suffered as much sorrow and disappointment as any Lennox in the history of the race.
His only child and her cousin, Henry Lennox, had been brought up together and were of an age—both now twenty-six. The lad was his uncle's heir, and would succeed to Chadlands and the title; and it had been Sir Walter's hope that he and Mary might marry. Nor had the youth any objection to such a plan. Indeed, he loved Mary well enough; there was even thought to be a tacit understanding between them, and they grew up in a friendship which gradually became ardent on the man's part, though it never ripened upon hers. But she knew that her father keenly desired this marriage, and supposed that it would happen some day.
They were, however, not betrothed when the war burst upon Europe, and Henry, then one-and-twenty, went from the Officers' Training Corps to the Fifth Devons, while his cousin became attached to the Red Cross and nursed at Plymouth. The accident terminated their shadowy romance and brought real love into the woman's life, while the man found his hopes at an end. He was drafted to Mesopotamia, speedily fell sick of jaundice, was invalided to India, and, on returning to the front, saw service against the Turks. But chance willed that he won no distinction. He did his duty under dreary circumstances, while to his hatred of war was added the weight of his loss when he heard that Mary had fallen in love. He was an ingenuous, kindly youth—a typical Lennox, who had developed an accomplishment at Harrow and suffered for it by getting his nose broken when winning the heavy-weight championship of the public schools in his nineteenth year. In the East he still boxed, and after his love story was ended, the epidemic of poetry-making took Henry also, and he wrote a volume of harmless verse, to the undying amazement of his family.
For Mary Lennox the war had brought a sailor husband. Captain Thomas May, wounded rather severely at Jutland, lost his heart to the plain but attractive young woman with a fine figure who nursed him back to strength, and, as he vowed, had saved his life. He was an impulsive man of thirty, brown-bearded, black-eyed, and hot-tempered. He came from a little Somerset vicarage and was the only son of a clergyman, the Rev. Septimus May. Knowing the lady as "Nurse Mary" only, and falling passionately in love for the first time in his life, he proposed on the day he was allowed to sit up, and since Mary Lennox shared his emotions, also for the first time, he was accepted before he even knew her name.
It is impossible to describe the force of love's advent for Mary Lennox. She had come to believe herself as vaguely committed to her cousin, and imagined that her affection for Henry amounted to as much as she was ever likely to feel for a man. But reality awakened her, and its glory did not make her selfish, since her nature was not constructed so to be; it only taught her what love meant, and convinced her that she could never marry anybody on earth but the stricken sailor. And this she knew long before he was well enough to give a sign that he even appreciated her ministry. The very whisper of his voice sent a thrill through her before he had gained strength to speak aloud. And his deep tones, when she heard them, were like no voice that had fallen on her ear till then. The first thing that indicated restoring health was his request that his beard might be trimmed; and he was making love to her three days after he had been declared out of danger. Then did Mary begin to live, and looking back, she marvelled how horses and dogs and a fishing-rod had been her life till now. The revelation bewildered her and she wrote her emotions in many long pages to her cousin. The causes of such changes she did not indeed specify, but he read between the lines, and knew it was a man and not the war that had so altered and deepened her outlook. He had never done it, and he could not be angry with her now, for she had pretended no ardor of emotion to him. Young though he was, he always feared that she liked him not after the way of a lover. He had hoped to open her eyes some day, but it was given to another to do so.
He felt no surprise, therefore, when news of her engagement reached him from herself. He wrote the letter of his life in reply, and was at pains to laugh at their boy-and-girl attachment, and lessen any regret she might feel on his account. Her father took it somewhat hardly at first, for he held that more than sufficient misfortunes, to correct the balance of prosperity in his favor, had already befallen him. But he was deeply attached to his daughter, and her magical change under the new and radiant revelation convinced him that she had now awakened to an emotional fulness of life which could only be the outward sign of love. That she was in love for the first time also seemed clear; but he would not give his consent until he had seen her lover and heard all there was to know about him. That, however, did not alarm Mary, for she believed that Thomas May must prove a spirit after Sir Walter's heart. And so he did. The sailor was a gentleman; he had proposed without the faintest notion to whom he offered his penniless hand, and when he did find out, was so bewildered that Mary assured her father she thought he would change his mind.
"If I had not threatened him with disgrace and breach of promise, I do think he would have thrown me over," she said.
And now they had been wedded for six months, and Mary sat by the great log fire with her hand in Tom's. The sailor was on leave, but expected to return to his ship at Plymouth in a day or two. Then his father-in-law had promised to visit the great cruiser, for the Navy was a service of which he knew little. Lennoxes had all been soldiers or clergymen since a great lawyer founded the race.
The game of billiards proceeded, and Henry caught his uncle in the eighties and ran out with an unfinished fifteen. Then Ernest Travers and his wife—old and dear friends of Sir Walter—played a hundred up, the lady receiving half the game. Mr. Travers was a Suffolk man, and had fagged for Sir Walter at Eton. Their comradeship had lasted a lifetime, and no year passed without reciprocal visits. Travers also looked at life with the eyes of a wealthy man. He was sixty-five, pompous, large, and rubicund—a "backwoodsman" of a pattern obsolescent. His wife, ten years younger than himself, loved pleasure, but she had done more than her duty, in her opinion, and borne him two sons and a daughter. They were colorless, kind-hearted people who lived in a circle of others like themselves. The war had sobered them, and at an early stage robbed them of their younger boy.
Nelly Travers won her game amid congratulations, and Tom May challenged another woman, a Diana, who lived for sport and had joined the house party with her uncle, Mr. Felix Fayre-Michell. But Millicent Fayre-Michell refused.
"I've shot six partridges, a hare, and two pheasants to-day," said the girl, "and I'm half asleep."
Other men were present also of a type not dissimilar. It was a conventional gathering of rich nobodies, each a big frog in his own little puddle, none known far beyond it and none with sufficient intellect or ability to create for himself any position in the world save that won by the accident of money made by their progenitors.
Had it been necessary for any of them to earn his living, only in some very modest capacity and on a very modest plane might they have done so. Of the entire company only one—the youngest—could claim even the celebrity that attached to his little volume of war verses.
And now upon the lives of these every-day folk was destined to break an event unique and extraordinary. Existence, that had meandered without personal incident save of a description common to them all, was, within twelve hours, to confront men and women alike with reality. They were destined to endure at close quarters an occurrence so astounding and unparalleled that, for once in their lives, they would find themselves interesting to the wider world beyond their own limited circuit, and, for their friends and acquaintance, the centre of a nine days' wonder.
Most of them, indeed, merely touched the hem of the mystery and were not involved therein, but even for them a reflected glory shone. They were at least objects of attraction elsewhere, and for many months furnished conversation of a more interesting and exciting character than any could ever claim to have provided before.
The attitude to such an event, and the opinions concerning it, of such people might have been pretty accurately predicted; nor would it be fair to laugh at their terror and bewilderment, their confusion of tongues and the fatuous theories they adventured by way of explanation. For wiser than they—men experienced in the problems of humanity and trained to solve its enigmas—were presently in no better case.
A very trivial and innocent remark was prelude to the disaster; and had the speaker guessed what his jest must presently mean in terms of human misery, grief, and horror, it is certain enough that he would not have spoken.
The women were gone to bed and the men sat around the fire smoking and admiring Sir Walter's ancient blend of whisky. He himself had just flung away the stump of his cigar and was admonishing his son-in-law. "Church to-morrow, Tom. None of your larks. When first you came to see me, remember, you went to church twice on Sunday like a lamb. I'll have no backsliding."
"Mary will see to that, governor."
"And you, Henry."
Sir Walter, disappointed of his hopes respecting his nephew and daughter, had none the less treated the young man with tact and tenderness. He felt for Henry; he was also fond of him and doubted not that the youth would prove a worthy successor. Thomas May was one with whom none could quarrel, and he and his wife's old flame were now, after the acquaintance of a week, on friendly terms.
"I shan't fail, uncle."
"Will anybody have another whisky?" asked Sir Walter, rising.
It was the signal for departure and invariably followed the stroke of a deep-mouthed, grandfather clock in the hall. When eleven sounded, the master rose; but to-night he was delayed. Tom May spoke.
"Fayre-Michell has never heard the ghost story, governor," he said, "and Mr. Travers badly wants another drink. If he doesn't have one, he won't sleep all night. He's done ten men's work to-day."
Mr. Fayre-Michell spoke.
"I didn't know you had a ghost, Sir Walter. I'm tremendously interested in psychical research and so on. If it's not bothering you and keeping you up—."
"A ghost at Chadlands, Walter?" asked Ernest Travers. "You never told me."
"Ghosts are all humbug," declared another speaker—a youthful "colonel" of the war.
"I deprecate that attitude, Vane. It may certainly be that our ghost is a humbug, or, rather, that we have no such thing as a ghost at all. And that is my own impression. But an idle generality is always futile—indeed, any generality usually is. You have, at least, no right to say, 'Ghosts are all humbug.' Because you cannot prove they are. The weight of evidence is very much on the other side."
"Sorry," said Colonel Vane, a man without pride. "I didn't know you believed in 'em, Sir Walter."
"Most emphatically I believe in them."
"So do I," declared Ernest Travers. "Nay, so does my wife—for the best possible reason. A friend of hers actually saw one."
Mr. Fayre-Michell spoke.
"Spiritualism and spirits are two quite different things," he said. "One may discredit the whole business of spiritualism and yet firmly believe in spirits."
He was a narrow-headed, clean-shaven man with grey hair and moustache. He had a small body on very long legs, and though a veteran now, was still one of the best game shots in the West of England.
Ernest Travers agreed with him. Indeed, they all agreed. Sir Walter himself summed up.
"If you're a Christian, you must believe in the spirits of the dead," he declared; "but to go out of your way to summon these spirits, to call them from the next world back to ours, and to consult people who profess to be able to do so—extremely doubtful characters, as a rule—that I think is much to be condemned. I deny that there are any living mediums of communication between the spirit world and this one, and I should always judge the man or woman who claimed such power to be a charlatan. But that spirits of the departed have appeared and been recognized by the living, who shall deny?
"My son-in-law has a striking case in his own recent experience. He actually knows a man who was going to sail on the Lusitania, and his greatest friend on earth, a soldier who fell on the Maine, appeared to him and advised him not to do so. Tom's acquaintance could not say that he heard words uttered, but he certainly recognized his dead friend as he stood by his bedside, and he received into his mind a clear warning before the vision disappeared. Is that so, Tom?"
"Exactly so, sir. And Jack Thwaites—that was the name of the man in New York—told four others about it, and three took his tip and didn't sail. The fourth went; but he wasn't drowned. He came out all right."
"The departed are certainly proved to appear in their own ghostly persons—nay, they often have been seen to do so," admitted Travers. "But I will never believe they are at our beck and call, to bang tambourines or move furniture. We cannot ring up the dead as we ring up the living on a telephone. The idea is insufferable and indecent. Neither can anybody be used as a mouth-piece in that way, or tell us the present position or occupation and interests of a dead man—or what he smokes, or how his liquor tastes. Such ideas degrade our impressions of life beyond the grave. They are, if I may say so, disgustingly anthropomorphic. How can we even take it for granted that our spirits will retain a human form and human attributes after death?"
"It would be both weak-minded and irreligious to attempt to get at these things, no doubt," declared Colonel Vane.
"And they make confusion worse confounded by saying that evil spirits pretend sometimes to hoodwink us by posing as good spirits. Now, that's going too far," said Henry Lennox.
"But your own ghost, Sir Walter?" asked Fayre-Michell. "It is a curious fact that most really ancient houses have some such addition. Is it a family spectre? Is it fairly well authenticated? Does it reign in a particular spot of house or garden? I ask from no idle curiosity. It is a very interesting subject if approached in a proper spirit, as the Psychical Research Society, of which I am a member, does approach it."
"I am unprepared to admit that we have a ghost at all," repeated Sir Walter. "Ancient houses, as you say, often get some legend tacked on to them, and here a garden walk, or there a room, or passage, is associated with something uncanny and contrary to experience. This is an old Tudor place, and has been tinkered and altered in successive generations. We have one room at the eastern end of the great corridor which always suffered from a bad reputation. Nobody has ever seen anything in our time, and neither my father nor grandfather ever handed down any story of a personal experience. It is a bedroom, which you shall see, if you care to do so. One very unfortunate and melancholy thing happened in it. That was some twelve years ago, when Mary was still a child—two years after my dear wife died."
"Tell us nothing that can cause you any pain, Walter," said Ernest Travers.
"It caused me very acute pain at the time. Now it is old history and mercifully one can look back with nothing but regret. One must, however, mention an incident in my father's time, though it has nothing to do with my own painful experience. However, that is part of the story—if story it can be called. A death occurred in the Grey Room when I was a child. Owing to the general vague feeling entertained against it, we never put guests there, and so long ago as my father's day it was relegated to a store place and lumber-store. But one Christmas, when we were very full, there came quite unexpectedly on Christmas Eve an aunt of my father—an extraordinary old character who never did anything that might be foreseen. She had never come to the family reunion before, yet appeared on this occasion, and declared that, as this was going to be her last Christmas on earth, she had felt it right to join the clan—my father being the head of the family. Her sudden advent strained our resources, I suppose, but she herself reminded us of the Grey Room, and, on hearing that it was empty, insisted on occupying it. The place is a bedroom, and my father, who personally entertained no dislike or dread of it, raised not the least objection to the strong-minded old lady's proposal. She retired, and was found dead on Christmas morning. She had not gone to bed, but was just about to do so, apparently, when she had fallen down and died. She was eighty-eight, had undergone a lengthy coach journey from Exeter, and had eaten a remarkably good dinner before going to bed. Her maid was not suspected, and the doctor held her end in no way unusual. It was certainly never associated with anything but natural causes. Indeed, only events of much later date served to remind me of the matter. Then one remembered the spoiled Christmas festivities and the callous and selfish anger of myself and various other young people that our rejoicings should be spoiled and Christmas shorn of all its usual delights.
"But twelve years ago Mary fell ill of pneumonia—dangerously—and a nurse had to be summoned in haste, since her own faithful attendant, Jane Bond, who is still with us, could not attend her both day and night. A telegram to the Nurses' Institute brought Mrs. Gilbert Forrester—'Nurse Forrester,' as she preferred to be called. She was a little bit of a thing, but most attractive and capable. She had been a nurse before she married a young medical man, and upon his unfortunate death she returned to her profession. She desired her bedroom to be as near the patient as possible, and objected, when she found it arranged at the other end of the corridor. 'Why not the next room?' she inquired; and I had to tell her that the next room suffered from a bad name and was not used. 'A bad name—is it unwholesome?' she asked; and I explained that traditions credited it with a sinister influence. 'In fact,' I said, 'it is supposed to be haunted. Not,' I added, 'that anything has ever been seen, or heard in my lifetime; but nervous people do not like that sort of room, and I should never take the responsibility of putting anybody into it without telling them.' She laughed. 'I'm not in the least afraid of ghosts, Sir Walter,' she said, 'and that must obviously be my room, if you please. It is necessary I should be as near my patient as possible, so that I can be called at once if her own nurse is anxious when I am not on duty.'
"Well, we saw, of course, that she was perfectly right. She was a fearless little woman, and chaffed Masters and the maids while they lighted a fire and made the room comfortable. As a matter of fact, it is an exceedingly pleasant room in every respect. Yet I hesitated, and could not say that I was easy about it. I felt conscious of a discomfort which even her indifference did not entirely banish. I attributed it to my acute anxiety over Mary—also to a shadow of—what? It may have been irritation at Nurse Forrester's unconcealed contempt for my superstition. The Grey Room is large and commodious with a rather fine oriel window above our eastern porch. She was delighted, and rated me very amusingly for my doubts. 'I hope you'll never call such a lovely room haunted again after I have gone,' said she.
"Mary took to her, and really seemed easier after she had been in the sick-room an hour. She loved young people, and had an art to win them. She was also a most accomplished and quick-witted nurse. There seemed to be quite a touch of genius about her. Her voice was melodious and her touch gentle. I could appreciate her skill, for I was never far from my daughter's side during that anxious day. Mrs. Forrester came at the critical hours, but declared herself very sanguine from the first.
"Night fell; the child was sleeping and Jane Bond arrived to relieve the other about ten o'clock. Then the lady retired, directed that she should be called at seven o'clock, or at any moment sooner, if Jane wanted her. I sat with Jane I remember until two, and then turned in myself. Before I did so, Mary drank some milk and seemed to be holding her strength well. I was worn out, and despite my anxiety fell into deep sleep, and did not wake until my man called me half an hour earlier than usual. What he told me brought me quickly to my senses and out of bed. Nurse Forrester had been called at seven o'clock, but had not responded. Nor could the maid open the door, for it was locked. A quarter of an hour later the housekeeper and Jane Bond had loudly summoned her without receiving any reply. Then they called me.
"I could only direct that the door should be forced open as speedily as possible, and we were engaged in this task when Mannering, my medical man, who shot with us to-day, arrived to see Mary. I told him what had happened. He went in to look at my girl, and felt satisfied that she was holding her own well—indeed, he thought her stronger; and just as he told me so the door into the Grey Room yielded. Mannering and my housekeeper, Mrs. Forbes, entered the room, while Masters, Fred Caunter, my footman, who had broken down the lock, and I remained outside.
"The doctor presently called me, and I went in. Nurse Forrester was apparently lying awake in bed, but she was not awake. She slept the sleep of death. Her eyes were open, but glazed, and she was already cold. Mannering declared that she had been dead for a good many hours. Yet, save for a slight but hardly unnatural pallor, not a trace of death marked the poor little creature. An expression of wonder seemed to sit on her features, but otherwise she was looking much as I had last seen her, when she said 'Good-night.' Everything appeared to be orderly in the room. It was now flooded with the first light of a sunny morning, for she had drawn her blind up and thrown her window wide open. The poor lady passed out of life without a sound or signal to indicate trouble, for in the silence of night Jane Bond must have heard any alarm had she raised one. To me it seemed impossible to believe that we gazed upon a corpse. But so it was, though, as a matter of form, the doctor took certain measures to restore her. But animation was not suspended; it had passed beyond recall.
"There was held a post-mortem examination, and an inquest, of course; and Mannering, who felt deep professional interest, asked a friend from Plymouth to conduct the examination. Their report astounded all concerned and crowned the mystery, for not a trace of any physical trouble could be discovered to explain Nurse Forrester's death. She was thin, but organically sound in every particular, nor could the slightest trace of poison be reported. Life had simply left her without any physical reason. Search proved that she had brought no drugs or any sort of physic with her, and no information to cast the least light came from the institution for which she worked. She was a favorite there, and the news of her sudden death brought sorrow to her many personal friends.
"The physicians felt their failure to find a natural and scientific cause for her death. Indeed, Dr. Mordred, from Plymouth, an eminent pathologist, trembled not a little about it, as Mannering afterwards told me. The finite mind of science hates, apparently, to be faced with any mystery beyond its power to explain. It regards such an incident as a challenge to human intellect, and does not remember that we are encompassed with mystery as with a garment, and that every day and every night are laden with phenomena for which man cannot account, and never will.
"Nurse Forrester's relations—a sister and an old mother—came to the funeral. Also her dearest woman friend, another professional nurse, whose name I do not recollect. She was buried at Chadlands, and her grave lies near our graves. Mary loves to tend it still, though to her the dead woman is but a name. Yet to this day she declares that she can remember Nurse Forrester's voice through her fever—gentle, yet musical and cheerful. As for me, I never mourned so brief an acquaintance so heartily. To part with the bright creature, so full of life and kindliness, and to stand beside her corpse but eight or nine hours afterwards, was a chastening and sad experience."
Sir Walter became pensive, and did not proceed for the space of a minute. None, however, spoke until he had again done so:
"That is the story of what is called our haunted room, so far as this generation is concerned. What grounds for its sinister reputation existed in the far past I know not—only a vague, oral tradition came to my father from his, and it is certain that neither of them attached any personal importance to it. But after such a peculiar and unfortunate tragedy, you will not be surprised that I regarded the chamber as ruled out from my domiciliary scheme, and denied it to any future guests."
"Do you really associate the lady's death with the room, Walter?" asked Mr. Travers.
"Honestly I do not, Ernest. And for this reason: I deny that any malignant, spiritual personality would ever be permitted by the Creator to exercise physical powers over the living, or destroy human beings without reason or justice. The horror of such a possibility to the normal mind is sufficient argument against it. Causes beyond our apparent knowledge were responsible for the death of Nurse Forrester; but who shall presume to say that was really so? Why imagine anything so irregular? I prefer to think that had the post-mortem been conducted by somebody else, subtle reasons for her death might have appeared. Science is fallible, and even specialists make outrageous mistakes."
"You believe she died from natural causes beyond the skill of those particular surgeons to discover?" asked Colonel Vane.
"That is my opinion. Needless to say, I should not tell Mannering so. But to what other conclusion can a reasonable man come? I do not, of course, deny the supernatural, but it is weak-minded to fall back upon it as the line of least resistance."
Then Fayre-Michell repeated his question. He had listened with intense interest to the story.
"Would you deny that ghosts, so to call them, can be associated with one particular spot, to the discomfort and even loss of reason, or life, of those that may be in that spot at the psychological moment, Sir Walter?"
"Emphatically I would deny it," declared the elder. "However tragic the circumstances that might have befallen an unfortunate being in life at any particular place, it is, in my opinion, monstrous to suppose his disembodied spirit will hereafter be associated with the place. We must be reasonable, Felix. Shall the God Who gave us reason be Himself unreasonable?"
"And yet there are authentic—However, I admit the weight of your argument."
"At the same time," ventured Mr. Travers, "none can deny that many strange and terrible things happen, from hidden causes quite beyond human power to explain."
"They do, Ernest; and so I lock up my Grey Room and rule it out of our scheme of existence. At present it is full of lumber—old furniture and a pack of rubbishy family portraits that only deserve to be burned, but will some day be restored, I suppose."
"Not on my account, Uncle Walter," said Henry Lennox. "I have no more respect for them than yourself. They are hopeless as art."
"No, no one must restore them. The art is I believe very bad, as you say, but they were most worthy people, and this is the sole memorial remaining of them."
"Do let us see the room, governor," urged Tom May. "Mary showed it to me the first time I came here, and I thought it about the jolliest spot in the house."
"So it is, Tom," said Henry. "Mary says it should be called the Rose Room, not the grey one."
"All who care to do so can see it," answered Sir Walter, rising. "We will look in on our way to bed. Get the key from my key-cabinet in the study, Henry. It's labelled 'Grey Room.'"
CHAPTER II. AN EXPERIMENT
Ernest Travers, Felix Fayre-Michell, Tom May, and Colonel Vane followed Sir Walter upstairs to a great corridor, which ran the length of the main front, and upon which opened a dozen bedrooms and dressing-rooms. They proceeded to the eastern extremity. It was lighted throughout, and now their leader took off an electric bulb from a sconce on the wall outside the room they had come to visit.
"There is none in there," he explained, "though the light was installed in the Grey Room as elsewhere when I started my own plant twenty years ago. My father never would have it. He disliked it exceedingly, and believed it aged the eyes."
Henry arrived with the key. The door was unlocked, and the light established. The party entered a large and lofty chamber with ceiling of elaborate plaster work and silver-grey walls, the paper on which was somewhat tarnished. A pattern of dim, pink roses as large as cabbages ran riot over it. A great oriel window looked east, while a smaller one opened upon the south. Round the curve of the oriel ran a cushioned seat eighteen inches above the ground, while on the western side of the room, set in the internal wall, was a modern fireplace with a white Adams mantel above it. Some old, carved chairs stood round the walls, and in one corner, stacked together, lay half a dozen old oil portraits, grimy and faded. They called for the restorer, but were doubtfully worth his labors. Two large chests of drawers, with rounded bellies, and a very beautiful washing-stand also occupied places round the room, and against the inner wall rose a single, fourposter bed of Spanish chestnut, also carved. A grey, self-colored carpet covered the floor, and on one of the chests stood a miniature bronze copy of the Faun of Praxiteles.
The apartment was bright and cheerful of aspect. Nothing gloomy or depressing marked it, nor a suggestion of the sinister.
"Could one wish for a more amiable looking room?" asked Fayre-Michell.
They gazed round them, and Ernest Travers expressed admiration at the old furniture.
"My dear Walter, why hide these things here?" he asked. "They are beautiful, and may be valuable, too."
"I've been asked the same question before," answered the owner. "And they are valuable. Lord Bolsover offered me a thousand guineas for those two chairs; but the things are heirlooms in a sort of way, and I shouldn't feel justified in parting with them. My grandfather was furniture mad—spent half his time collecting old stuff on the Continent. Spain was his happy hunting ground."
"It's positively a shame to doom these chairs to a haunted room, uncle," declared Henry.
But the other shook his head and smothered a yawn.
"The house is too full as it is." he said.
"Mary wants you to scrap dozens of things," replied his nephew. "Then there'd be plenty of room."
"You'll do what you please when your turn comes, and no doubt cast out my tusks and antlers and tiger-skins, which I know you don't admire. Wait in patience, Henry. And we will now go to bed," answered the elder. "I am fatigued, and it must be nearly midnight."
Then Tom May brought their thoughts back to the reason of the visit.
"Look here, governor," he said. "It's a scandal to give a champion room like this a bad name and shut it up. You've fallen into the habit, but you know it's all nonsense. Mary loves this room. I'll make you a sporting offer. Let me sleep in it to-night, and then, when I report a clean bill to-morrow, you can throw it open again and announce it is forgiven without a stain on its character. You've just said you don't believe spooks have the power to hurt anybody. Then let me turn in here."
Sir Walter, however, refused.
"No, Tom; most certainly not. It's far too late to go over the ground again and explain why, but I don't wish it."
"A milder-mannered room was never seen," said Ernest Travers. "You must let me look at it by daylight, and bring Nelly. The ceiling, too, is evidently very fine—finer even than the one in my room."
"The ceilings here were all the work of Italians in Tudor times," explained his friend. "They are Elizabethan. The plaster is certainly wonderful, and my ceilings are considered as good as anything in the country, I believe."
He turned, and the rest followed him.
Henry removed the electric bulb, and restored it to its place outside. Then his uncle gave him the key.
"Put it back in the cabinet," he said. "I won't go down again."
The party broke up, and all save Lennox and the sailor went to their rooms. The two younger men descended together and, when out of ear-shot of his uncle, Henry spoke.
"Look here, Tom," he said, "you've given me a tip. I'm going to camp out in the Grey Room to-night. Then, in the morning, I'll tell Uncle Walter I have done so, and the ghost's number will be up."
"Quite all right, old man—only the plan must be modified. I'll sleep there. I'm death on it, and the brilliant inspiration was mine, remember."
"You can't. He refused to let you."
"I didn't hear him."
"Oh, yes, you did—everybody did. Besides, this is fairly my task—you won't deny that. Chadlands will be mine, some day, so it's up to me to knock this musty yarn on the head once and for all. Could anything be more absurd than shutting up a fine room like that? I'm really rather ashamed of Uncle Walter."
"Of course it's absurd but, honestly, I'm rather keen about this. I'd dearly love to add a medieval phantom to my experiences, and only wish I thought anything would show up. I beg you'll raise no objection. It was my idea, and I very much wish to make the experiment. Of course, I don't believe in anything supernatural."
They went back to the billiard-room, dismissed Fred Caunter, the footman, who was waiting to put out the lights, and continued their discussion. The argument began to grow strenuous, for each proved determined, and who owned the stronger will seemed a doubtful question.
For a time, since no conclusion could satisfy both, they abandoned the centre of contention and debated, as their elders had done, on the general question. Henry declared himself not wholly convinced. He adopted an agnostic attitude, while Tom frankly disbelieved. The one preserved an open mind, the other scoffed at apparitions in general.
"It's humbug to say sailors are superstitious now," he asserted. "They might have been, but my experience is that they are no more credulous than other people in these days. Anyway, I'm not. Life is a matter of chemistry. There's no mumbo jumbo about it, in my opinion. Chemical analysis has reached down to hormones and enzymes and all manner of subtle secretions discovered by this generation of inquirers; but it's all organic. Nobody has ever found anything that isn't. Existence depends on matter, and when the chemical process breaks down, the organism perishes and leaves nothing. When a man can't go on breathing, he's dead, and there's an end of him."
But Henry had read modern science also.
"What about the vital spark, then? Biologists don't turn down the theory of vitalism, do they?"
"Most of them do, who count, my dear chap. The presence of a vital spark—a spark that cannot be put out—is merely a theory with nothing to prove it. When he dies, the animating principle doesn't leave a man, and go off on its own. It dies too. It was part of the man—as much as his heart or brain."
"That's only an opinion. Nobody can be positive. We don't know anything about what life really means, and we haven't got the machinery to find out."
"By analogy we can," argued Tom. "Where are you going to draw the line? Life is life, and a sponge is just as much alive as a herring; a nettle is just as much alive as an oak-tree; and an oak-tree is just as much alive as you are. What becomes of its vital spark when you eat an oyster?"
"You wouldn't believe in a life after death at all, then?"
"It's a pure assumption, Henry. I'd like to believe in it—who wouldn't? Because, if you honestly did, it would transform this life into something infinitely different from what it is."
"It ought to—yet it doesn't seem to."
"It ought to, certainly. If you believe this life is only the portal to another of much greater importance, then—well, there you are. Nothing matters but trying to make everybody else believe it, too. But as a matter of fact, the people who do believe it, or think they do, seem to me just as concentrated on this life and just as much out to get the very best they can from it, and wring it dry, as I am, who reckon it's all."
"They believe as a matter of course, and don't seem to realize how much their belief ought to imply," confessed Henry.
"Why do they believe? Because most of them haven't really thought about it more than a turnip thinks. They dwell in a foggy sort of way on the future life when they go to church on Sundays; then they return home and forget all about it till next Sunday."
Lennox brought him back to the present difference.
"Well, seeing you laugh at ghosts, and I remain doubtful, it's only fair that I sleep in the Grey Room. You must see that. Ghosts hate people who don't believe in them. They'd cold shoulder you; but in my case they might feel I was good material, worth convincing. They might show up for me in a friendly spirit. If they show for you, it will probably be to bully you."
"That's what I want. I'd like to have it out and talk sense to a spook, and show him what an ass he's making of himself. The governor was right about that. When Fayre-Michell asked if he believed in them loafing about a place where they'd been murdered or otherwise maltreated, he rejected the idea."
"Yet a woman certainly died there, and without a shadow of reason."
"She probably died for a very good reason, only we don't happen to know it."
Henry tried a different argument.
"You're married, and you matter; I'm not married, and don't matter to anybody."
"Mary wouldn't like it, anyway; you know that."
"True—she'd hate it. But she won't know anything about it till to-morrow. She always sleeps in her old nursery when she comes here, and I'm down the corridor at the far end. She'd have a fit if she knew I'd turned in next door to her and was snoozing in the Grey Room; but she won't know till I tell her of my rash act to-morrow. Don't think I'm a fool. Nobody loves life better than I do, and nobody has better reason to. But I'm positive that this is all rank nonsense, and so are you really. We know there's nothing in the room with a shadow of supernatural danger about it. Besides, you wouldn't want to sleep there so badly if you believed anything wicked was waiting for you. You're tons cleverer than I am—so you must agree about that."
Lennox was bound to confess that he entertained no personal fear. They still argued, and the clock struck midnight. Then the sailor made a suggestion.
"Since you're so infernally obstinate, I'll do this. We'll toss up, and the winner can have the fun. That's fair to both."
The other agreed; he tossed a coin, and May called "tails," and won.
He was jubilant, while Henry showed a measure of annoyance. The other consoled him.
"It's better so, old man. You're highly strung and nervy, and a poet and all that sort of thing. I'm no better than a prize ox, and don't know what nerves mean. I can sleep anywhere, anyhow. If you can sleep in a submarine, you bet you can in a nice, airy Elizabethan room, even if it is haunted. But it's not; that's the whole point. There's not a haunted room in the world. Get me your service revolver, like a good chap."
Henry was silent, and Tom rose to make ready for his vigil.
"I'm dog-tired, anyhow," he said. "Nothing less than Queen Elizabeth herself will keep me awake, if it does appear."
Then the other surprised him.
"Don't think I want to go back on it. You've won the right to make the experiment—if we ignore Uncle Walter. But—well, you'll laugh, yet, on my honor, Tom, I've got a feeling I'd rather you didn't. It isn't nerves. I'm not nervy any more than you are. I'm not suggesting that I go now, of course. But I do ask you to think better of it and chuck the thing."
"Well, one can't help one's feelings. I do feel a rum sort of conviction at the bottom of my mind that it's not good enough. I can't explain; there are no words for it that I know, but it's growing on me. Intuition, perhaps."
"Intuition of what?"
"I can't tell you. But I ask you not to go."
"You were going if you'd won the toss?"
"Then your growing intuition is only because I won it. Hanged if I don't think you want to funk me, old man!"
"I couldn't do that. But it's different me going and you going. I've got nothing to live for. Don't think I'm maudlin, or any rot of that sort; but you know all about the past. I've never mentioned it to you, and, of course, you haven't to me; and I never should have. But I will now. I loved Mary with all my heart and soul, Tom. She didn't know how much, and probably I didn't either. But that's done, and no man on earth rejoices in her great happiness more than I do. And no man on earth is going to be a better or a truer friend to you and her than, please God, I shall be. But that being so, can't you see the rest? My life ended in a way when the dream of my life ended. I attach no importance to living for itself, and if anything final happened to me it wouldn't leave a blank anywhere. You're different. In sober honesty you oughtn't to run into any needless danger—real or imaginary. I'm thinking of Mary only when I say that—not you."
"But I deny the danger."
"Yes; only you might listen. So did I, but I deny it no longer. The case is altered when I tell you in all seriousness—when I take my oath if you like—that I do believe now there is something in this. I don't say it's supernatural, and I don't say it isn't; but I do feel deeply impressed in my mind now, and it's growing stronger every minute, that there's something here out of the common and really infernally dangerous."
The other looked at him in astonishment.
"What bee has got into your bonnet?"
"Don't call it that. It's a conviction, Tom. Do be guided by me, old chap!"
The sailor flushed a little, emptied his glass, and rose.
"If you really wanted to choke me off, you chose a funny way to do so. Surely it only needed this to determine anybody. If you, as a sane person, honestly believe there's a pinch of danger in that blessed place, then I certainly sleep there to-night, or else wake there."
"Let me come, too, then, Tom."
"That be damned for a yarn! Ghosts don't show up for two people—haven't got pluck enough. If I get any sport, I'll be quite straight about it, and you shall try your luck to-morrow."
"I can only make it a favor; and not for your own sake, either."
"I know. Mary will be sleeping the sleep of the just in the next room. How little she'll guess! Perhaps, if I see an apparition worthy of the Golden Age, I'll call her up."
"Do oblige me, May."
"In anything on earth but this thing. It's really too late now. Don't you see you've defeated your own object? You mustn't ask me to throw up the sponge to your sudden intuition of danger sprung on me at the eleventh hour. I won the toss, and can't take my orders from you, old chap, can I?"
The other, in his turn, grew a little warm.
"All right. I've spoken. I think you're rather a fool to be so obstinate. It isn't as if a nervous old woman was talking to you. But you'll go your own way. It doesn't matter a button to me, and I only made it a favor for somebody else's sake."
"We'll leave it at that, then. May I trouble you for the key? And your revolver, too. I haven't got mine here."
Henry hesitated. The key was in the pocket of his jacket.
"It is a matter of honor, Lennox," said the sailor.
The other handed over the key on this speech, and prepared to go.
"I'll get the revolver," he said.
"Thanks. Look me up in the morning, if you're awake first," added May; but the other did not answer.
He let Tom precede him, and then turned out the lights. Other lights he also extinguished as they left the hall and ascended the stairs. The younger's pride was struggling for mastery; but he conquered it and spoke again.
"I wish to Heaven you could see it from another point of view than your own, Tom."
"I have no point of view. You're rather exasperating, and don't seem to understand that, even if I might have changed my mind before, it's impossible now."
"That's really only a foolish sort of pride. If I chose my words clumsily—"
"You did. The devil and all his angels wouldn't make me climb down now."
The younger left him, and returned in a minute or two with the revolver.
"Good-night," he said.
"Good-night, old boy. Thank you. Loaded?"
"In all the chambers. Funny you should want it."
"Take it back, then."
But Henry did not answer, and they parted. Each sought his own bedroom, and while Lennox retired at once and might have been expected to pass a night more mentally peaceful than the other, in reality it was not so.
The younger slept ill, while May suffered no emotion but annoyance. He was contemptuous of Henry. It seemed to him that he had taken a rather mean and unsporting line, nor did he believe for a moment that he was honest. Lennox had a modern mind; he had been through the furnace of war; he had received a first-class education. It seemed impossible to imagine that he spoke the truth, or that his sudden suspicion of real perils, beyond human power to combat, could be anything but a spiteful attempt to put May off, after he himself had lost the toss. Yet that seemed unlike a gentleman. Then the allusion to Mary perturbed the sailor. He could not quarrel with the words, but he resented the advice, seeing what it was based upon.
His anger lessened swiftly, however, and before he started his adventure he had dismissed Henry from his mind. He put on pyjamas and a dressing-gown, took a candle, a railway-rug, his watch, and the loaded revolver.
Then he walked quietly down the corridor to the Grey Room. On reaching it his usual good temper returned, and he found himself entirely happy and contented. He unlocked the forbidden entrance, set his candle by the bed, and locked the door again from inside. He rolled up his dressing-gown for a pillow, and placed his watch and revolver and candle at his hand on a chair. A few broken reflections drifted through his mind, as he yawned and prepared to sleep. His brain brought up events of the day—a missed shot, a good shot, lunch under a haystack with Mary and Fayre-Michell's niece. She was smart and showy and slangy—cheap every way compared with Mary. What would his wife think if she knew he was so near? Come to him for certain. He cordially hoped that he might not be recalled to his ship; but there was a possibility of it. It would be rather a lark to show the governor over the Indomitable. She was a "hush-hush" ship—one of the wonders of the Navy still. Funny that the Italian roof of the Grey Room looked like a dome, though it was really flat. A cunning trick of perspective.
It was a still and silent night, moonless, very dark, and very tranquil. He went to the window to throw it open.
Only a solitary being waked long that night at Chadlands, and only a solitary mind suffered tribulation. But into the small hours Henry Lennox endured the companionship of disquiet thoughts. He could not sleep, and his brain, clear enough, retraced no passage from the past day. Indeed the events of the day had sunk into remote time. He was only concerned with the present, and he wondered while he worried that he should be worrying. Yet a proleptic instinct made him look forward. He had neither lied nor exaggerated to May. From the moment of losing the toss, he honestly experienced a strong, subjective impression of danger arising out of the proposed attack on the mysteries of the Grey Room. It was, indeed, that consciousness of greater possibilities in the adventure than May admitted or imagined which made Lennox so insistent. Looking back, he perceived many things, and chiefly that he had taken a wrong line, and approached Mary's husband from a fatal angle. Too late he recognized his error. It was inevitable that a hint of suspected danger would confirm the sailor in his resolution; and that such a hint should follow the spin of the coin against Lennox, and be accompanied by the assurance that, had he won, Henry would have proceeded, despite his intuitions, to do what he now begged Tom not to do—that was a piece of clumsy work which he deeply regretted.
At the hour when his own physical forces were lowest, his errors of diplomacy forced themselves upon his mind. He wasted much time, as all men do upon their beds, in anticipating to-morrow; in considering what is going to happen, or what is not; in weighing their own future words and deeds given a variety of contingencies. For reason, which at first kept him, despite his disquiet, in the region of the rational, grew weaker with Henry as the night advanced; the shadow of trouble deepened as his weary wits lost their balance to combat it. The premonition was as formless and amorphous as a cloud, and, though he could not see any shape to his fear, or define its limitations, it grew darker ere he slept. He considered what might happen and, putting aside any lesser disaster, tried to imagine what the morning would bring if May actually succumbed.
For the moment the size of such an imaginary disaster served curiously to lessen his uneasiness. Pushed to extremities, the idea became merely absurd. He won a sort of comfort from such an outrageous proposition, because it brought him back to the solid ground of reason and the assurance that some things simply do not happen. From this extravagant summit of horror, his fears gradually receded. Such a waking nightmare even quieted his nerves when it was past; for if a possibility presents a ludicrous side, then its horror must diminish by so much. Moreover, Henry told himself that if the threat of a disaster so absolute could really be felt by him, it was his duty to rise at once, intervene, and, if necessary, summon his uncle and force May to leave the Grey Room immediately.
This idea amused him again and offered another jest. The tragedy really resolved into jests. He found himself smiling at the picture of May being treated like a disobedient schoolboy. But if that happened, and Tom was proclaimed the sinner, what must be Henry's own fate? To win the reputation of an unsportsmanlike sneak in Mary's opinion as well as Tom's. He certainly could call upon nobody to help him now. But he might go and look up May himself. That would be very sharply resented, however. He travelled round and round in circles, then asked himself what he would do and say to-morrow if anything happened to Tom—nothing, of course, fatal, but something perhaps so grave that May himself would be unable to explain it. In that case Henry could only state facts exactly as they had occurred. But there would be a deuce of a muddle if he had to make statements and describe the exact sequence of recent incidents. Already he forgot the exact sequence. It seemed ages since he parted from May. He broke off there, rose, drank a glass of water, and lighted a cigarette. He shook himself into wakefulness, condemned himself for this debauch of weak-minded thinking, found the time to be three o'clock, and brushed the whole cobweb tangle from his mind. He knew that sudden warmth after cold will often induce sleep—a fact proved by incidents of his campaigns—so he trudged up and down and opened his window and let the cool breath of the night chill his forehead and breast for five minutes.
This action calmed him, and he headed himself off from returning to the subject. He felt that mental dread and discomfort were only waiting to break out again; but he smothered them, returned to bed, and succeeded in keeping his mind on neutral-tinted matter until he fell asleep.
He woke again before he was called, rose and went to his bath. He took it cold, and it refreshed him and cleared his head, for he had a headache. Everything was changed, and the phantoms of his imagination remained only as memories to be laughed at. He no longer felt alarm or anxiety. He dressed presently, and guessing that Tom, always the first to rise, might already be out of doors, he strolled on to the terrace presently to meet him there.
Already he speculated whether an apology was due from him to May, or whether he might himself expect one. It didn't matter. He knew perfectly well that Tom was all right now, and that was the only thing that signified.
CHAPTER III. AT THE ORIEL
Chadlands sprang into existence when the manor houses of England—save for the persistence of occasional embattled parapets and other warlike survivals of unrestful days now past—had obeyed the laws of architectural evolution, and begun to approach a future of cleanliness and comfort, rising to luxury hitherto unknown. The development of this ancient mass was displayed in plan as much as in elevation, and, at its date, the great mansion had stood for the last word of perfection, when men thought on large lines and the conditions of labour made possible achievements now seldom within the power of a private purse. Much had since been done, but the main architectural features were preserved, though the interior of the great house was transformed.
The manor of Chadlands extended to some fifty thousand acres lying in a river valley between the heights of Haldon on the east and the frontiers of Dartmoor westerly. The little township was connected by a branch with the Great Western Railway, and the station lay five miles from the manor house. No more perfect parklands, albeit on a modest scale, existed in South Devon, and the views of the surrounding heights and great vale opening from the estate caused pleasure alike to those contented with obvious beauty and the small number of spectators who understood the significance of what constitutes really distinguished landscape.
Eastward, long slopes of herbage and drifts of azaleas—a glorious harmony of gold, scarlet, and orange in June—sloped upwards to larch woods; while the gardens of pleasure, watered by a little trout stream, spread beneath the manor house, and behind it rose hot-houses and the glass and walled gardens of fruit and vegetables. To the south and west opened park and vale, where receded forest and fallow lands, until the grey ramparts of the moor ascending beyond them hemmed in the picture.
Sir Walter Lennox had devoted himself to the sporting side of the estate and had made it famous in this respect. His father, less interested in shooting and hunting, had devoted time and means to the flower gardens, and rendered them as rich as was possible in his day; while earlier yet, Sir Walter's grandfather had been more concerned for the interior, and had done much to enrich and beautify it.
A great terrace stretched between the south front and a balustrade of granite, that separated it from the gardens spreading at a lower level. Here walked Henry Lennox and sought Tom May. It was now past eight o'clock on Sunday morning, and he found himself alone. The sun, breaking through heaviness of morning clouds, had risen clear of Haldon Hills and cast a radiance, still dimmed by vapour, over the glow of the autumn trees. Subdued sounds of birds came from the glades below, and far distant, from the scrub at the edge of the woods, pheasants were crowing. The morning sparkled, and, in a scene so fair, Henry found his spirits rise. Already the interview with Mary's husband on the preceding night seemed remote and unreal. He was, however, conscious that he had made an ass of himself, but he did not much mind, for it could not be said that May had shone, either.
He called him, and, for reply, an old spaniel emerged from beneath, climbed a flight of broad steps that ascended to the terrace, and paddled up to Henry, wagging his tail. He was a very ancient hero, whose record among the wild duck still remained a worthy memory and won him honour in his declining days. The age of "Prince" remained doubtful, but he was decrepit now—gone in the hams and suffering from cataract of both eyes—a disease to which it is impossible to minister in a dog. But his life was good to him; he still got about, slept in the sun, and shared the best his master's dish could offer. Sir Walter adored him, and immediately felt uneasy if the creature did not appear when summoned. Often, had he been invisible too long, his master would wander whistling round his haunts. Then he would find him, or be himself found, and feel easy again.
"Prince" went in to the open window of the breakfast-room, while Henry, moved by a thought, walked round the eastern angle of the house and looked up at the oriel window of the Grey Room, where it hung aloft on the side of the wall, like a brilliant bubble, and flashed with the sunshine that now irradiated the casement. To his surprise he saw the window was thrown open and that May, still in his pyjamas, knelt on the cushioned recess within and looked out at the morning.
"Good lord, old chap!" he cried, "Needn't ask you if you have slept. It's nearly nine o'clock."
But the other made no response whatever. He continued to gaze far away over Henry's head at the sunrise, while the morning breeze moved his dark hair.
"Tom! Wake up!" shouted Lennox again; but still the other did not move a muscle. Then Henry noticed that he was unusually pale, and something about his unwinking eyes also seemed foreign to an intelligent expression. They were set, and no movement of light played upon them. It seemed that the watcher was in a trance. Henry felt his heart jump, and a sensation of alarm sharpened his thought. For him the morning was suddenly transformed, and fearing an evil thing had indeed befallen the other, he turned to the terrace and entered the breakfast-room from it. The time was now five minutes to nine, and as unfailing punctuality had ever been a foible of Sir Walter, his guests usually respected it. Most of them were already assembled, and Mary May, who was just stepping into the garden, asked Henry if he had seen her husband.
"He's always the first to get up and the last to go to bed," she said.
Bidding her good-morning, but not answering her question, the young man hastened through the room and ascended to the corridor. Beneath, Ernest Travers, a being of fussy temperament with a heart of gold, spoke to Colonel Vane. Travers was clad in Sunday black, for he respected tradition.
"Forgive me, won't you, but this is your first visit, and you don't look much like church."
"Must we go to church, too?" asked the colonel blankly. He was still a year under forty, but had achieved distinction in the war. "There is no 'must' about it, but Sir Walter would appreciate the effort on your part. He likes his guests to go. He is one of those men who are a light to this generation—an ancient light, if you like, but a shining one. He loves sound maxims. You may say he runs his life on sound maxims. He lives charitably with all men and it puzzles him, as it puzzles me, to understand the growing doubt, the class prejudice—nay, class hatred the failure of trust and the increasing tension and uneasiness between employer and employed. He and I are agreed that the tribulations of the present time can be traced to two disasters only—the lack of goodwill—as shown in the proletariat, whose leaders teach them to respect nobody, and the weakening hold of religion as also revealed in the proletariat. Now, to combat these things and set a good example is our duty—nay, our privilege. Don't you think so?"
Such a lecture on an empty stomach depressed the colonel. He looked uneasy and anxious.
"I'll come, of course, if he'd like it; but I'm afraid I shared my men's dread of church parade, though our padre was a merciful being on the whole and fairly sensible."
Overhead, Henry had tried the door of the Grey Room, and found it locked. As he did so, the gong sounded for breakfast. Masters always performed upon it. First he woke a preliminary whisper of the great bronze disc, then deepened the note to a genial and mellow roar, and finally calmed it down again until it faded gently into silence. He spoke of the gong as a musical instrument, and declared the art of sounding it was a gift that few men could acquire.
Neither movement nor response rewarded the summons of Lennox, and now in genuine alarm, he went below again, stopped Fred Caunter, the footman, and asked him to call out Sir Walter.
Fred waited until his master had said a brief grace before meat; then he stepped to his side and explained, that his nephew desired to see him.
"Good patience! What's the matter?" asked the old man as he rose and joined Henry in the hall.
Then his nephew spoke, and indicated his alarm. He stammered a little, but strove to keep calm and state facts clearly.
"It's like this. I'm afraid you'll be rather savage, but I can't talk now. Tom and I had a yarn when you'd gone to bed, and he was awfully keen to spend the night in the Grey Room."
"I did not wish it."
"I know—we were wrong—but we were both death on it, and we tossed up, and he won."
"Where is he?"
"Up there now, looking out of the window. I've called him and made a row at the door, but he doesn't answer. He's locked himself in, apparently."
"What have you done, Henry? We must get to him instantly. Tell Caunter—no, I will. Don't breathe a syllable of this to anybody unless necessity arises. Don't tell Mary."
Sir Walter beckoned the footman, bade him get some tools and ascend quickly to the Grey Room. He then went up beside his nephew, while Fred, bristling with excitement, hastened to the toolroom. He was a handy man, had been at sea during the war, and now returned to his old employment. His slow brain moved backwards, and he remembered that this was a task he had already performed ten or more years before. Then the ill-omened chamber had revealed a dead woman. Who was in it now? Caunter guessed readily enough.
Lennox spoke to his uncle as they approached the locked door.
"It was only a lark, just to clear the room of its bad character and have a laugh at your expense this morning. But I'm afraid he's ill—fainted or something. He turned in about one o'clock. I was rather bothered, and couldn't explain to myself why, but—"
"Don't chatter!" answered the other. "You have both done a very wrong thing and should have respected my wishes."
At the door he called loudly.
"Let us in at once, Tom, please! I am much annoyed! If this is a jest, it has gone far enough—and too far! I blame you severely!"
But none replied. Absolute silence held the Grey Room.
Then came the footman with a frail of tools. The task could not be performed in a moment, and Sir Walter, desirous above all things to create no uneasiness at the breakfast-table, determined to go down again. But he was too late, for his daughter had already suspected something. She was not anxious but puzzled that her husband tarried. She came up the stairs with a letter.
"I'm going to find Tom," she said. "It's not like him to be so lazy. Here's a letter from the ship, and I'm awfully afraid he may have to go back."
"Mary," said her father, "come here a moment."
He drew her under a great window which threw light into the corridor.
"You must summon your nerve and pluck, my girl! I'm very much afraid that something has gone amiss with Tom. I know nothing yet, but last night, it seems, after we had gone to bed, he and Henry determined that one of them should sleep in the Grey Room."
"Father! Was he there, and I so near him—sleeping in the very next room?"
"He was there—and is there. He is not well. Henry saw him looking out of the window five minutes ago, but he was, I fear, unconscious."
"Let me go to him," she said.
"I will do so first. It will be wiser. Run down and ask Ernest to join me. Do not be alarmed; I dare say it is nothing at all."
Her habit of obedience prompted her to do as he desired instantly, but she descended like lightning, called Travers, and returned with him.
"I will ask you to come in with me, Ernest," explained Sir Walter. "My son-in-law slept in the Grey Room last night, and he does not respond to our calls this morning. The door is locked and we are breaking it open."
"But you expressly refused him permission to do so, Walter."
"I did—you heard me. Let sleeping dogs lie is a very good motto, but young men will be young men. I hope, however, nothing serious—"
He stopped, for Caunter had forced the door and burst it inward with a crash. During the moment's silence that followed they heard the key spring into the room and strike the wainscot. The place was flooded with sunshine, and seemed to welcome them with genial light and attractive art. The furniture revealed its rich grain and beautiful modelling; the cherubs carved on the great chairs seemed to dance where the light flashed on their little, rounded limbs. The silvery walls were bright, and the huge roses that tumbled over them appeared to revive and display their original color at the touch of the sun.
On a chair beside the bed stood an extinguished candle, Tom's watch, and Henry's revolver. The sailor's dressing-gown was still folded where he had placed it; his rug was at the foot of the bed. He himself knelt in the recess at the open window upon the settee that ran beneath. His position was natural; one arm held the window-ledge and steadied him, and his back was turned to Sir Walter and Travers, who first entered the room.
Henry held Mary back and implored her to wait a moment, but she shook off his hand and followed her father.
Sir Walter it was who approached Tom and grasped his arm. In so doing he disturbed the balance of the body, which fell back and was caught by the two men. Its weight bore Ernest Travers to the ground, but Henry was in time to save both the quick and the dead. For Tom May had expired many hours before. His face was of an ivory whiteness, his mouth closed. No sign of fear, but rather a profound astonishment sat upon his features. His eyes were opened and dim. In them, too, was frozen a sort of speechless amazement. How long he had been dead they knew not, but none were in doubt of the fact. His wife, too, perceived it. She went to where he now lay, put her arms around his neck, and fainted.
Others were moving outside, and the murmur of voices reached the Grey Room. It was one of those tragic situations when everybody desires to be of service, and when well-meaning and small-minded people are often hurt unintentionally and never forget it, putting fancied affronts before the incidents that caused them.
The man lay dead and his wife unconscious upon his body.
Sir Walter rose to the occasion as best he might, issued orders, and begged all who heard him to obey without question. He and his friend Travers lifted Mary and carried her to her room. It was her nursery of old. Here they put her on her bed, and sent Caunter for Mrs. Travers and Mary's old servant, Jane Bond. She had recovered consciousness before the women reached her. Then they returned to the dead, and the master of Chadlands urged those standing on the stairs and in the corridor to go back to their breakfast and their duties.
"You can do no good," he said. "I will only ask Vane to help us."
Fayre-Michell spoke, while the colonel came forward.
"Forgive me, Sir Walter, but if it is anything psychical, I ask, as a member—"
"For Heaven's sake do as I wish," returned the other. "My son-in-law is dead. What more there is to know, you'll hear later. I want Vane, because he is a powerful man and can help Henry and my butler. We have to carry—"
He broke off.
"Dead!" gasped the visitor.
Then he hastened downstairs. Presently they lifted the sailor among them, and got him to his own room. They could not dispose him in a comely position—a fact that specially troubled Sir Walter—and Masters doubted not that the doctor would be able to do it.
Henry Lennox started as swiftly as possible for the house of the physician, four miles off. He took a small motor-car, did the journey along empty roads in twelve minutes, and was back again with Dr. Mannering in less than half an hour.
The people, whose visit of pleasure was thus painfully brought to a close, moved about whispering on the terrace. They had as yet heard no details, and were considering whether it would be possible to get off at once, or necessary to wait until the morrow.
Their natural desire was to depart, since they could not be of any service to the stricken household; but no facilities existed on Sunday. They walked about in little groups. One or two, desiring to smoke but feeling that to do so would appear callous, descended into the seclusion of the garden. Then Ernest Travers joined them. He was important, but could only tell them that May had disobeyed his father-in-law, slept in the Grey Room, and died there. He gave them details and declared that in his opinion it would be unseemly to attempt to leave until the following day.
"Sir Walter would feel it," he said. "He is bearing up well. He will lunch with us. My wife tells me that Mary, Mrs. May, is very sadly. That is natural—an awful blow. I find myself incapable of grasping it. To think of so much boyish good spirits and such vitality extinguished in this way."
"Can we do anything on earth for them?" asked Millicent Fayre-Michell.
"Nothing—nothing. If I may advise, I think we had all better go to church. By so doing we get out of the way for a time and please dear Sir Walter. I shall certainly go."
They greeted the suggestion—indeed, clutched at it. Their bewildered minds welcomed action. They were hushed and perturbed. Death, crashing in upon them thus, left them more than uncomfortable. Some, at the bottom of their souls, felt almost indignant that an event so horrible should have disturbed the level tenor of their lives. They shared the most profound sympathy for the sufferers as well as for themselves. Some discovered that their own physical bodies were upset, too, and felt surprised at the depth of their emotions.
"It isn't as if it were natural," Felix Fayre-Michell persisted. "Don't imagine that for a moment."
"It's too creepy—I can't believe it," declared his niece. She was incapable of suffering much for anybody, and her excitement had a flavour not wholly bitter. She saw herself describing these events at other house parties. It would be unfair to say that she was enjoying herself; still she knew nobody at Chadlands very well, it was her first visit, and adventures are, after all, adventures. Her uncle discussed the psychic significance of the tragedy, and gave instances of similar events. One or two listened to him for lack of anything better to do. There was a general sensation of blankness. They were all thrown. Life had let them down. Under the circumstances, to most of them it seemed an excellent idea to go to church. Vane joined them presently. He was able to give them many details and excite their interest. They crowded round him, and he spoke nakedly. Death was nothing to him—he had seen so much. They heard the motor return with Dr. Mannering.
"We're so out of it," said Mr. Miles Handford, a stout man from Yorkshire—a wealthy landowner and sportsman.
He was unaccustomed to be out of anything in his environment, and he showed actual irritation.
"Thank Heaven we are, I should think!" answered another; and the first speaker frowned at him.
Ernest Travers joined them presently. He had put on a black tie and wore black gloves and a silk hat.
"If you accompany me," he said, "I can show you the short way by a field path. It cuts off half a mile. I have told Sir Walter we all go to church, and he asked me if we would like the motors; but I felt, the day being fine, you would agree with me that we might walk. He is terribly crushed, but taking it like the man he is."
Miles Handford and Fayre-Michell followed the church party in the rear, and relieved their minds by criticizing Mr. Travers.
"Officious ass!" said the stout man. "A typical touch that black tie! A decent-minded person would have felt this appalling tragedy far too much to think of such a trifle. I hope I shall never see the brute again."
"It seems too grotesque marching to church like a lot of children, because he tells us to do so," murmured Fayre-Michell.
"I don't want to go. I only want distraction. In fact, I don't think I shall go," added Mr. Handford. But a woman urged him to do so.
"Sir Walter would like it," she said.
"It's all very sad and very exasperating indeed," declared the Yorkshireman; "and it shows, if that wanted showing, that there's far, far less consideration among young men for their elders than there used to be in my young days. If my father-in-law had told me not to do a thing, the very wish to do it would have disappeared at once."
"Sir Walter was as clear as need be," added Felix. "We all heard him. Then the young fool—Heaven forgive him—behind everybody's back goes and plays with fire in this insane way."
"The selfishness! Just look at the inconvenience—the upset—the suffering to his relations and the worry for all of us. All our plans must be altered—everything upset, life for the moment turned upside down—a woman's heart broken very likely—and all for a piece of disobedient folly. Such things make one out of tune with Providence. They oughtn't to happen. They don't happen in Yorkshire. Devonshire appears to be a slacker's county. It's the air, I shouldn't wonder."
"Education, and law and order, and the discipline inculcated in the Navy ought to have prevented this," continued Fayre-Michell. "Who ever heard of a sailor disobeying—except Nelson?"
"He's paid, poor fellow," said his niece, who walked beside him.
"We have all paid," declared the north countryman. "We have all paid the price; and the price has been a great deal of suffering and discomfort and stress of mind that we ought not have been called upon to endure. One resents such things in a stable world."
"Well, I'm not going to church, anyway. I must smoke for my nerves. I'm a psychic myself, and I react to a thing of this sort," replied Fayre-Michell.
From a distant stile between two fields Mr. Travers, some hundred yards ahead, was waving directions and pointing to the left.
"Go to Jericho!" snapped Mr. Handford, but not loud enough for Ernest Travers to hear him.
A little ring of bells throbbed thin music. It rose and fell on the easterly breeze and a squat grey tower, over which floated a white ensign on a flagstaff, appeared upon a little knoll of trees in the midst of the village of Chadlands.
Presently the bells stopped, and the flag was brought down to half-mast. Mr. Travers had reached the church.
"A maddening sort of man," said Miles Handford, who marked these phenomena. "Be sure Sir Walter never told him to do anything of that sort. He has taken it upon himself—a theatrical mind. If I were the vicar—"
Elsewhere Dr. Mannering heard what Henry Lennox could tell him as they returned to the manor house together. He displayed very deep concern combined with professional interest. He recalled the story that Sir Walter had related on the previous night.
"Not a shadow of evidence—a perfectly healthy little woman; and it will be the same here as sure as I'm alive," he said. "To think—we shot side by side yesterday, and I remarked his fine physique and wonderful high spirits—a big, tough fellow. How's poor Mary?"
"She is pretty bad, but keeping her nerve, as she would be sure to do," declared the other.
Sir Walter was with his daughter when Mannering arrived. The doctor had been a crony of the elder for many years. He was about the average of a country physician—a hard-bitten, practical man who loved his profession, loved sport, and professed conservative principles. Experience stood in place of high qualifications, but he kept in touch with medical progress, to the extent of reading about it and availing himself of improved methods and preparations when opportunity offered. He examined the dead man very carefully, indicated how his posture might be rendered more normal, and satisfied himself that human power was incapable of restoring the vanished life. He could discover no visible indication of violence and no apparent excuse for Tom May's sudden end. He listened with attention to the little that Henry Lennox could tell him, and then went to see Mary May and her father.
The young wife had grown more collected, but she was dazed rather than reconciled to her fate; her mind had not yet absorbed the full extent of her sorrow. She talked incessantly and dwelt on trivialities, as people will under a weight of events too large to measure or discuss.
"I am going to write to Tom's father," she said. "This will be an awful blow to him. He was wrapped up in Tom. And to think that I was troubling about his letter! He will never see the sea he loved so much again. He always hated that verse in the Bible that says there will be no more sea. I was asleep so near him last night. Yet I never heard him cry out or anything."
Mannering talked gently to her.
"Be sure he did not cry out. He felt no pain, no shock—I am sure of that. To die is no hardship to the dead, remember. He is at peace, Mary. You must come and see him presently. Your father will call you soon. There is just a look of wonder in his face—no fear, no suffering. Keep that in mind."
"He could not have felt fear. He knew of nothing that a brave man might fear, except doing wrong. Nobody knows how good he was but me. His father loved him fiercely, passionately; but he never knew how good he was, because Tom did not think quite like old Mr. May. I must write and say that Tom is dangerously ill, and cannot recover. That will break it to him. Tom was the only earthly affection he had. It will be terrible when he comes."
They left her, and, after they had gone, she rose, fell on her knees, and so remained, motionless and tearless, for a long time. Through her own desolation, as yet unrealized, there still persisted the thought of her husband's father. It seemed that her mind could dwell on his isolation, while powerless to present the truth of her husband's death to her. By some strange mental operation, not unbeneficent, she saw his grief more vividly than as yet she felt her own. She rose presently, quick-eared to wait the call, and went to her desk in the window. Then she wrote a letter to her father-in-law, and pictured his ministering at that moment to his church. Her inclination was to soften the blow, yet she knew that could only be a cruel kindness. She told him, therefore, that his son must die. Then she remembered that he was so near. A telegram must go rather than a letter, and he would be at Chadlands before nightfall. She destroyed her letter and set about a telegram. Jane Bond came in, and she asked her to dispatch the telegram as quickly as possible. Her old nurse, an elderly spinster, to whom Mary was the first consideration in existence, had brought her a cup of soup and some toast. It had seemed to Jane the right thing to do.
Mary thanked her and drank a little. She passed through a mental phase as of dreaming—a sensation familiar in sleep; but she knew that this was not a sleeping but a waking experience. She waited for her father, yet dreaded to hear him return. She thought of human footsteps and the difference between them. She remembered that she would never hear Tom's long stride again.
It often broke into a run, she remembered, as he approached her; and she would often run toward him, too—to banish the space that separated them. She blamed herself bitterly that she had decreed to sleep in her old nursery. She had loved it so, and the small bed that had held her from childhood; yet, if she had slept with him, this might not have happened.
"To think that only a wall separated us!" she kept saying to herself. "And I sleeping and dreaming of him, and he dying only a few yards away."
Death was no disaster for Tom, so the doctor had said. What worthless wisdom! And perhaps not even wisdom. Who knows what a disaster death may be? And who would ever know what he had felt at the end, or what his mind had suffered if time had been given him to understand that he was going to die? She worked herself into agony, lost self-control at last and wept, with Jane Bond's arms round her.
"And I was so troubled, because I thought he had been called back to his ship!" she said.
"He's called to a better place than a ship, dear love," sobbed Jane.
After they left her, Sir Walter and Dr. Mannering had entered the Grey Room for a moment and, standing there, spoke together.
"I have a strange consciousness that I am living over the past again," declared the physician. "Things were just so when that poor woman, Nurse Forrester—you remember."
"Yes. I felt the same when Caunter was breaking open the door. I faced the worst from the beginning, for the moment I heard what he had done, I somehow knew that my unfortunate son-in-law was dead. I directly negatived his suggestion last night, and never dreamed that he would have gone on with it when he knew my wish."
"Doubtless he did not realize how much in earnest you were on the subject. This may well prove as impossible to understand as the nurse's death. I do not say it will; but I suspect it will. A perfectly healthy creature cut off in a moment and nothing to show us why—absolutely nothing."
"A death without a cause—a negation of science surely?"
"There is a cause, but I do not think this dreadful tragedy will reveal it," answered the doctor. "I pray it may, however, for all our sakes," he continued. "It is impossible to say how deeply I feel this for her, but also for you, and myself, too. He was one of the best, a good sportsman and a good man."
"And a great loss to the Service," added Sir Walter. "I have not considered all this means yet. My thoughts are centred on Mary."
"You must let me spare you all I can, my friend. There will be an inquest, of course, and an inquiry. Also a post-mortem. Shall I communicate with Dr. Mordred to-day, or would you prefer that somebody else—"
"Somebody else. The most famous man you know. From no disrespect to Dr. Mordred, or to you, Mannering. You understand that. But I should like an independent examination by some great authority, some one who knew nothing of the former case. This is an appalling thing to happen. I don't know where to begin thinking."
"Do not put too great a strain upon yourself. Leave it to those who will come to the matter with all their wits and without your personal sorrow. An independent inquirer is certainly best, one who, as you say, knows nothing about the former case."
"I don't know where to begin thinking," repeated the other. "Such a thing upsets one's preconceived opinions. I had always regarded my aversion to this room as a human weakness—a thing to be conquered. Look round you. Would it be possible to imagine an apartment with less of evil suggestion?"
The other made a perfunctory examination, went into every corner, tapped the walls and stared at the ceiling. The clean morning light showed its intricate pattern of interwoven circles converging from the walls to the centre, and so creating a sense of a lofty dome instead of a flat surface. In the centre was a boss of a conventional lily flower opening its petals.
"The room should not be touched till after the inquest, I think. Indeed, if I may advise, you will do well to leave it just as it is for the police to see."
"They will want to see it, I imagine?"
"Unless you communicate direct with Scotland Yard, ask for a special inquiry, and beg that the local men are not employed. There is reason in that, for it is quite certain that nobody here would be of any greater use to you than they were before."
"Act for me then, please. Explain that money is no object, and ask them to send the most accomplished and experienced men in the service. But they are only concerned with crime. This may be outside their scope."
"We cannot say as to that. We cannot even assert that this is not a crime. We know nothing."
"A crime needs a criminal, Mannering."
"That is so; but what would be criminal, if human agency were responsible for it, might, nevertheless, be the work of forces to which the word criminal cannot be applied."
Sir Walter stared at him.
"Is it possible you suggest a supernatural cause for this?"
The doctor shook his head.
"Emphatically not, though I am not a materialist, as you are aware. My generation of practitioners has little difficulty in reconciling our creed with our cult, though few of the younger men are able to do so, I admit. But science is science, and not for a moment do I imagine anything supernatural here. I think, however, there are unconscious forces at work, and those responsible for setting those forces in action would be criminals without a doubt, if they knew what they were doing. The man who fires a rifle at an animal, if he hits and kills it, is the destroyer, though he may operate from half a mile away. On the other hand, the agents may be unconscious of what they are doing."
"There is no human being in this house for whom I would not answer."
"I know it. We beat the wind. It will be time enough to consider presently. Indeed, I should rather that you strove to relieve your mind of the problem. You have enough to do without that. Leave it to those professionally trained in such mysteries. If a man is responsible for this atrocious thing, then it should be within the reach of man's wits to find him. We failed before; but this time no casual examination of this place, or the antecedents of your son-in-law's life, will serve the purpose. We must go to the bottom, or, rather, skilled minds, trained to do so, must go to the bottom. They will approach the subject from a different angle. They will come unprejudiced and unperturbed. If there has been foul play, they will find it out. In my opinion it is incredible that they will be baffled."
"The best men engaged in such work must come to help us. I cannot bring myself to believe the room is haunted, and that this is the operation of an evil force outside Nature, yet permitted by the Creator to destroy human life. The idea is too horrible—it revolts me, Mannering."
"Well, it may do so. Banish any such irrational thought from your mind. It is not worthy of you. I must go now. I will telegraph to London—to Sir Howard Fellowes—also, I think to the State authorities on forensic medicine. A Government analyst must do his part. Shall I communicate with Scotland Yard to-day?"
"Leave that until the evening. You will come again to see Mary, please."
"Most certainly I shall. At three o'clock I should have a reply to my messages. I will go into Newton Abbot and telephone from there."
"I thank you, Mannering. I wish it were possible to do more myself. My mind is cruelly shaken. This awful experience has made an old man of me."
"Don't say that. It is awful enough, I admit. But life is full of awful things. Would that you might have escaped them!"
"Henry will help you, if it is in his power. It would be well if we could give him something to do. He feels guilty in a way. I have little time to observe other people; but—"
"He's all right. He can run into Newton with me now. It looks to me as though his own life had hung on the pitch of a coin. They tossed up! After that—so he tells me—he tried to dissuade your son-in-law, but failed. Lennox is rather cowed and dismayed—naturally. The young, however, survive mental and physical disasters and recover in the most amazing manner. Their mental recuperation is on a par with their bodily powers of recovery. Nature is on their side. Let me urge you to go down and take food. If you can even lunch with your party I should. It will distract your mind."
Sir Walter declared that he had intended to do so.
"I am an old soldier," he said. "It shall not be thought I evade my obligations for personal sorrow. As for this room, it is accursed and I am in a mind to destroy it utterly."
"Wait—wait. We shall see what our fellow-men can find out for us. Do not think, because I am practical and business-like, I am not feeling this. Seldom have I had such a shock in nearly forty years' work. You know, without my telling you, how deep and heartfelt is my sympathy. I feel for you both from my soul."
"I am sure of that. I will try and forget myself for the present. I must go to my guests. I am very sorry for them also. It is a fearful experience to crash upon their party of pleasure."
"I hope Travers may stay. He is a comfort to you, is he not?"
"Nobody can be a comfort just now. I shall not ask him to stay. Fortunately Henry is here. He will stop for the present. Mary is all that matters. I shall take her away as quickly as possible and devote my every thought to her."