Transcriber's Note: Errors found: A name is sometimes spelt 'Med. Tetloe' and sometimes 'Med-Tetloe' & Cleopatre maybe wrong. So that just 7 bit text is used the accented & ligatured words are repeated here with numbers for codepages 437 & 850: Acute e 130 e: blase, chasmed, Cleopatre, elite & unperturbed i with 2 (or 3) dots 139 i: dais & dais ea ligature 145 ae: mediaeval u with 2 dots 129 ue: Duerer's 'The Hound of Heaven' poem, The letter to father and separate 'All things betray Thee Who betrayest Me.' quote are in a smaller font.
THE PRELUDE TO ADVENTURE
BY HUGH WALPOLE AUTHOR OF "MR. PERRIN AND MR. TRAILL"
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED, ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
New Edition September,1919
TO MY FRIEND R. A. STREATFIELD
CHAP. I. LAST CHAPTER
III. THE BODY COMES TO TOWN
IV. MARGARET CRAVEN
V. STONE ALTARS
VI. THE WATCHERS
VIII. REVELATION OF BUNNING (I)
IX. REVELATION OF BUNNING (II)
XI. FIFTH OF NOVEMBER
XII. LOVE TO THE "VALSE TRISTE"
XIII. MRS. CRAVEN
XV. PRELUDE TO A JOURNEY
XVI. OLVA AND MARGARET
XVII. FIRST CHAPTER
Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat—and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.
The Hound of Heaven.
16 HALLAM STREET, October 11, 1911.
"There is a God after all." That was the immense conviction that faced him as he heard, slowly, softly, the leaves, the twigs, settle themselves after that first horrid crash which the clumsy body had made.
Olva Dune stood for an instant straight and stiff, his arms heavily at his side, and the dank, misty wood slipped back once more into silence. There was about him now the most absolute stillness: some trees dripped in the mist; far above him, on the top of the hill, the little path showed darkly—below him, in the hollow, black masses of fern and weed lay heavily under the chill November air—at his feet there was the body.
In that sudden after silence he had known beyond any question that might ever again arise, that there was now a God—God had watched him.
With grave eyes, with hands that did not tremble, he surveyed and then, bending, touched the body. He knelt in the damp, heavy soil, tore open the waistcoat, the shirt; the flesh was yet warm to his touch—the heart was still. Carfax was dead.
It had happened so instantly. First that great hulking figure in front of him, the sneering laugh, that last sentence, "Let her rot . . . my dear Dune, your chivalry does you credit." Then that black, blinding, surging rage and the blow that followed. He did not know what he had intended to do. It did not matter—only in the force that there had been in his arm there had been the accumulated hatred of years, hatred that dated from that first term at school thirteen years ago when he had known Carfax for the dirty hypocrite that he was. He could not stay now to think of the many things that had led to this climax. He only knew that as he raised himself again from the body there was with him no feeling of repentance, no suggestion of fear, only a grim satisfaction that he had struck so hard, and, above all, that lightning certainty that he had had of God.
His brain was entirely alert. He did not doubt, as he stood there, that he would be caught and delivered and hanged. He, himself, would take no steps to prevent such a catastrophe. He would leave the body there as it was: to-night, to-morrow they would find it,—the rest would follow. He was, indeed, acutely interested in his own sensations. Why was it that he felt no fear? Where was the terror that followed, as he had so often heard, upon murder? Why was it that the dominant feeling in him should be that at last he had justified his existence? In that furious blow there had leapt within him the creature that he had always been—the creature subdued, restrained, but always there—there through all this civilized existence; the creature that his father was, that his grandfather, that all his ancestors, had been. He looked down. The hulking body that had been Carfax made a hollow in the wet and broken fern. The face was white, stupid, the cheeks hanging fat, horrible, the eyes staring. One leg was twisted beneath the body. Still in the air there seemed to linger that startled little cry—"Oh!"—surprise, wonder—and then fading miserably into nothing as the great body fell.
Such a huge hulking brute; now so sordid and useless, looking at last, after all these years, the thing that it ought always to have looked. Some money had rolled from the pocket and lay shining amongst the fern. A gold ring glittered on the white finger, seeming in the heart of that silence the only living note.
Then Olva remembered his dog—where was he? He turned and saw the fox terrier down on all fours amongst the fern, motionless, his tongue out, his eyes gazing with animal inquiry at his master. The dog was waiting for the order to continue the walk. He seemed, in his passivity, merely to be resting, a little exhausted perhaps by the heavy closeness of the day, too indolent to nose amongst the leaves for possible adventure: Olva looked at him. The dog caught the look and beat the grass with his tail, soft, friendly taps to show that he only waited for orders. Then still idly, still with that air of gentle amusement, the dog gazed at the thing in the grass. He rose slowly and very delicately advanced a few steps: for an instant some fear seemed to strike his heart for he stopped suddenly and gazed into his master's face for reassurance. What he saw there comforted him. Again he wagged his tail placidly and half closed his eyes in sleepy indifference.
Then Olva, without another backward glance, left the hollow, crashed through the fern up the hill and struck the little brown path. Bunker, the dog, pattered patiently behind him.
Olva Dune was twenty-three years of age. He was of Spanish descent, and it was only within the last two generations that English blood had mingled with the Dune stock. He was of no great height, slim and dark. His hair was black, his complexion sallow, and on his upper lip he wore a small dark moustache. His ears were small, his mouth thin, his chin sharply pointed, but his eyes, large, dark brown, were his best feature. They were eyes that looked as though they held in their depths the possibility of tenderness. He walked as an athlete, there was no spare flesh about him anywhere, and in his carriage there was a dignity that had in it pride of birth, complete self-possession, and above all, contempt for his fellow-creatures.
He despised all the world save only his father. He had gone through his school-life and was now passing through his college-life as a man travels through a country that has for him no interest and no worth but that may lead, once it has been traversed, to something of importance and adventure. He was now at the beginning of his second year at Cambridge and was regarded by every one with distrust, admiration, excitement. His was one of the more interesting personalities at that time in residence at Saul's.
He had come with a historical scholarship and a great reputation as a Three-quarter from Rugby. He was considered to be a certain First Class and a certain Rugby Blue; he, lazily and indifferently during the course of his first term, discouraged both these anticipations. He attended no lectures, received a Third Class in his May examinations, and was deprived of his scholarship at the end of his first year. He played brilliantly in the Freshmen's Rugby match, but so indolently in the first University match of the season that he was not invited again. Had he played merely badly he would have been given a second trial, but his superior insolence was considered insulting. He never played in any College matches nor did he trouble to watch any of their glorious conflicts. Once and again he produced an Essay for his Tutor that astonished that gentleman very considerably, but when called before the Dean for neglecting to attend lectures explained that he was studying the Later Roman Empire and could not possibly attend to more than one thing at a time.
He was perfectly friendly to every one, and it was curious that, with his air of contempt for the world in general, he had made no enemies. He wondered at that himself, on occasions; he had always been supposed, for instance, to be very good friends with Carfax. He had, of course, always hated Carfax—and now Carfax was dead.
The little crooked path soon left the dark wood and merged into the long white Cambridge road. The flat country was veiled in mist, only, like a lantern above a stone wall, the sun was red over the lower veils of white that rose from the sodden fields. Some trees started like spies along the road. Overhead, where the mists were faint, the sky showed the faintest of pale blue. The long road rang under Olva's step—it would be a frosty night.
When the little wood was now a black ball in the mist Olva was suddenly sick. He leant against one of the dark mysterious trees and was wretchedly, horribly ill. Slowly, then, the colour came back to his cheeks, his hands were once more steady, he could see again clearly. He addressed the strange world about him, the long flat fields, the hard white road, the orange sun. "That is the last time," he said aloud, "the last weakness."
He definitely braced himself to face life. There would not be much of it—to-morrow he would be arrested: meanwhile there should be no more of these illusions. There was, for instance, the illusion that the body was following him, bounding grotesquely along the hard road. He knew that again and again he turned his head to see whether anything were there, and the further the little wood was left behind the nearer did the body seem to be. He must not allow himself to think these things. Carfax was dead—Carfax was dead—Carfax was dead. It was a good thing that Carfax was dead. He had saved, he hoped, Rose Midgett—that at any rate he had done; it was a good thing for Rose Midgett that he had killed Carfax. He had, incidentally, no interest on his own account in Rose Midgett—he scarcely knew her by sight—but it was pleasant to think that she would be no longer worried. . . .
Then there was that question about God. Now the river appeared, darkly, dimly below the road, the reeds rising spire-like towards the faint blue sky. That question about God—Olva had never believed in any kind of a God. His father had defied God and the Devil time and again and had been none the worse for it. And yet—here and there about the world people lived and had their being to whom this question of God was a vital question; people like Bunning and his crowd—mad, the whole lot of them. Nevertheless there was something there that had great power. That had, until to-day, been Olva's attitude, an amused superior curiosity.
Now it was a larger question. There had been that moment after Carfax had fallen, a moment of intense silence, and in that moment something had spoken to Olva. It is a fact as sure as concrete, as though he himself could remember words and gesture. There had been Something there. . . .
Brushing this for an instant aside, he faced next the question of his arrest. There was no one, save his father, for whom he need think. He would send his father word saying—"I have killed a beast—fairly—in the open"—that would be all.
He would not be hanged—poison should see to that. Dunes had murdered, raped, tortured—never yet had they died on the gallows.
And now, for the first time, the suspicion crossed his mind that perhaps, after all, he might escape—escape, at any rate, that order of punishment. Here on this desolate road, he had met no living soul; the mists encompassed him and they had now swallowed the dripping wood and all that it contained. It had always been supposed that he was good friends with Carfax, as good friends as he allowed himself to be with any one. No one had known in which direction he would take his walk; he had come upon Carfax entirely by chance. It might quite naturally be supposed that some tramp had attempted robbery. To the world at large Olva could have had no possible motive. But, for the moment, these thoughts were dismissed. It seemed to him just now immaterial whether he lived or died. Life had not hitherto been so wonderful a discovery that the making of it had been entirely worth while. He had no tenor of disgrace; his father was his only court of appeal, and that old rocky sinner, sitting alone with his proud spirit and his grey hairs, in his northern fastness, hating and despising the world, would himself slay, had he the opportunity, as many men of the Carfax kind as he could find. He had no terror of pain—he did not know what that kind of fear was. The Dunes had always faced Death.
But he began, dimly, now to perceive that there were larger, crueller issues before him than these material punishments. He had known since he was a tiny child a picture by some Spanish painter, whose name he had forgotten, that had always hung on the wall of the passage opposite his bedroom. It was a large engraving in sharply contrasted black and white, of a knight who rode through mists along a climbing road up into the heart of towering hills. The mountains bad an active life in the picture; they seemed to crowd forward eager to swallow him. Beside the spectre horse that he rode there was no other life. The knight's face, white beneath his black helmet, was tired and worn. About him was the terror of loneliness.
From his earliest years this idea of loneliness had pleasantly seized upon Olva's mind. His father had always impressed upon him that the Dunes had ever been lonely—lonely in a world that was contemptible. He had always until now accepted this idea and found it confirmed on every side. His six years at Rugby had encouraged him—he had despised, with his tolerant smile, boys and masters alike; all insincere, all weak, all to be used, if he wanted them, as he chose to use them. He had thought often of the lonely knight—that indeed should be his attitude to the world.
But now, suddenly, as the scattered Cambridge houses with their dull yellow lights began to creep stealthily through the mist, upon the road, he knew for the first time that loneliness could be terrible. He was hurrying now, although he had not formerly been conscious of it, hurrying into the lights and comforts and noise of the town. There might only be for him now a night and day of freedom, but, during that time, he must not, he must not be alone. The patter of Bunker's feet beside him pleased him. Bunker was now a fact of great importance to him.
And now he could see further. He could see that he must always now, from the consciousness of the thing that he had done, he alone. The actual moment of striking his blow had put an impassable gulf between his soul and all the world. Bodies might touch, hands might be grasped, voices ring together, always now his soul must be alone. Only, that Something—of whose Presence he had been, in that instant, aware—could keep his company. They two . . . they two. . . .
The suburbs of Cambridge had closed about him. Those dreary little streets, empty as it seemed of all life, facing him sullenly with their sodden little yellow lamps, shivering, grumbling, he could fancy, in the chill of that November evening, eyed him with suspicion. He walked through them now, with his shoulders back, his head up. He could fancy how, to-morrow, their dull placidity would be wrung by the discovery of the crime. The little wood would fling its secret into the eager lap of these decrepit witches; they would crowd to their doors, chatter it, shout it, pull it to pieces. "Body of an Undergraduate . . . Body of an Undergraduate. . . ."
He turned out of their cold silence over the bridge that spanned the river, up the path that crossed the common into the heart of the town, Here, at once, he was in the hubbub. The little streets were mediaeval in their narrow space, in their cobbles, in the old black, fantastic walls that hung above them. Beauty, too, on this November evening, shone through the misty lamplight. Beauty in the dark purple of the evening sky, beauty in the sudden vista of grey courts with lighted windows, like eyes, seen through stone gateways. Beauty in the sudden golden shadows of some corner shop glittering through the mist; beauty in the overshadowing of the many towers that were like grey clouds in mid-air.
The little streets chattered with people—undergraduates in Norfolk jackets, grey flannel trousers short enough to show the brightest of socks, walked arm in arm—voices rang out—men called across the streets—hansoms rattled like little whirlwinds along the cobbles—-many bells were ringing—dark bodies, leaning from windows, gave uncouth cries . . . over it all the mellow lamplight.
Into this happy confusion Olva Dune plunged. He shook off from him, as a dog shakes water from his back, the memory of that white mist-haunted road. Once he deliberately faced the moment when he had been sick—faced it, heard once again the dull, lumbering sound that the body had made as it bundled along the road, and then put it from him altogether. Now for battle . . . his dark eyes challenged this shifting cloud of life.
He went round to the stable where Bunker was housed, chattered with the blue-chinned ostler, and then, for a moment, was alone with the dog. How much had Bunker seen? How much had he understood? Was it fancy, or did the dog crouch, the tiniest impulse, away from him as he bent to pat him? Bunker was tired; he relapsed on to his haunches, wagged his tail, grinned, but in his eyes there seemed, although the lamplight was deceptive, to be the faintest shadow of an apprehension.
"Good old dog, good old Bunker." Bunker wagged his tail, but the tiniest shiver passed, like a thought, through his body.
Olva left him.
As he passed through the streets he met men whom he knew. They nodded or flung a greeting. How strange to think that to-morrow night they would be speaking of him in low, grave voices as one who was already dead. "I knew the fellow quite well, strange, reserved man—nobody really knew him. With these foreigners, you know . . ."
Oh! he could hear them!
He passed through the gates of Saul's. The porter touched his hat. The great Centre Court was shrouded in mist, and out of the white veil the grey buildings rose, gently, on every side. There were lights now in the windows; the Chapel bell was ringing, hushed and dimmed by the heavy air. Boots rang sharply along the stone corridors. Olva crossed the court towards his room.
Suddenly, from the very heart of the mist, sharply, above the sound of the Chapel bell, a voice called—
Olva stayed: for an instant the blood ran from his body, his knees quivered, his face was as white as the mist. Then he braced himself—he knew the voice.
"Hullo, Craven, is that you?"
"Who's that? . . . Can't see in this mist."
"Hullo, Dune. I say, do you know what's happened to Carfax?"
"Well, I can't find him anywhere. I wanted to get him for Bridge. He ought to be back by now."
"Back? Where's he been?"
"Going over to see some aunt or other at Grantchester—ought to be back by now."
An aunt?—No, Rose Midgett.
"No—I've no idea—haven't seen him since yesterday."
"Been out for a walk?"
"Yes, just took my dog for a bit."
"See you in Hall?"
The voice began again calling under the windows—"Carfax! Carfax!"
Olva climbed the stairs to his rooms.
He went into Hall. He sat amongst the particular group of his own year who were considered the elite. There was Cardillac there, brilliant, flashing Cardillac. There was Bobby Galleon, fat, good-natured, sleepy, intelligent in an odd bovine way. There was Craven, young, ardent, hail-fellow-well-met. There was Lawrence, burly back for the University in Rugby, unintelligent, kind and good-tempered unless he were drunk.
There were others. They all sat in their glory, noisily happy. Somewhere in the distance on a raised dais were the Dons gravely pompous. Every now and again word was brought that the gentlemen were making too much noise. The Master might be observed drinking elaborately, ceremoniously with some guest. Madden, the Service Tutor, flung his shrill treble voice above the general hubbub—
"But, my dear Ross, if you had only observed—-"
"Where is Carfax?" came suddenly from Lawrence. He asked Craven, who was, of course, the devoted friend of Carfax. Craven had large brown eyes, a charming smile, a prominent chin, rather fat routed cheeks and short brown hair that curled a little. He gave the impression of eager good-temper and friendliness. To-night he looked worried. "I don't know," he said, "I can't understand it. He said this morning that he'd be here to-night and make up a four at Bridge. He went off to see an aunt or some one at Grantchester!"
"Perhaps," said Bobby Galleon gravely, "he had an exeat and has gone up to town."
"But he'd have said something—sure. And the porter hasn't seen him. He would have been certain to know."
Olva was never expected to talk much. His reserve was indeed rather popular. The entirely normal and ordinary men around him appreciated this mystery. "Rum fellow, Dune . . . nobody knows him." His high dark colour, his dignity, his courtesy had about it something distinguished and romantic. "He'll do something wonderful one day, you bet. Why, if he only chose to play up at footer there's nothing he couldn't do."
Even the brilliant Cardillac, thin, dark, handsome leader of fashion and society, admitted the charm.
Now, however, Olva, looking up, quietly said—
"I expect his aunt's kept him to dinner. He'll turn up."
But of course he wouldn't turn up. He was lying in the heart of that crushed, dripping fern with his leg doubled under him. It wasn't often that one killed a man with one blow; the signet ring that he wore on the little finger of his right hand—a Dune ring of great antiquity—must have had something to do with it.
He turned it round thoughtfully on his finger. Robert, an old, old trembling waiter, said in a shaking voice—
"There's salmi of wild game, sir—roast beef."
"Beef, please," Olva said quietly.
He was considering now that all these men would to-morrow night have only one thought, one idea. They would remember everything, the very slightest thing that he had done. They would discuss it all from every possible point of view.
"I always knew he'd do something. . . ." He suddenly knew quite sharply, as though a voice had spoken to him, that he could not endure this any longer. There was gathering upon him the conviction that in a few minutes, rising from his place, he would cry out to the hall—"I, Olva Dune, this afternoon, killed Carfax. You will find his body in the wood." He repeated the words to himself under his breath. "You will find his body in the wood. . . ." "You will find . . ."
He finished his beef very quietly and then got up.
Craven appealed to him. "I say, Dune, do come and make a four—my rooms, half-past eight—Lawrence and Galleon are the other two."
Olva looked down at him with his grave, rather melancholy smile.
"Afraid I can't to-night, Craven; must work."
"Don't overdo it," Cardillac said.
The eyes of the two men met. Olva knew that Cardillac—"Cards" as he was to his friends, liked him; he himself did not hate Cardillac. He was the only man in the College for whom he had respect. They were both of them demanding the same thing from the world. They both of them despised their fellow-creatures.
Olva, climbing the stairs to his room, stood for a moment in the dark, before he turned on the lights. He spoke aloud in a whisper, as though some one were with him in the room.
"This won't do," he said. "This simply won't do. Your nerves are going. You've only got a few hours of it. Hold on—Think of the beast that he was. Think of the beast that he was."
He walked slowly back to the door and turned on the electric lights. He did not sport his oak—if people came to see him he would rather like it: in some odd way it would be more satisfactory than that he should go to see them—but people did not often come to see him.
He laid out his books on the table and sat down. He had grown fond of this room. The walls were distempered white. The ceiling was old and black with age. There was a deep red-tiled fireplace. One wall had low brown bookshelves. There were two pictures: one an Around reprint of Matsys' "Portrait of Aegidius"—that wise, kind, tender face; the other an admirable photogravure of Durer's "Selbstbildnis." The books were mainly to do with his favourite historical period—the Later Roman Empire. There was some poetry—an edition of Browning, Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, Ernest Dowson, Rossetti, Francis Thompson. There was an edition of Hazlitt, a set of the Spectator, one or two novels, Henry Lessingham and The Roads by Galleon, To Paradise by Lester, Meredith's One of Our Conquerors and Diana of the Crossways, The Ambassadors and Awkward Age of Henry James.
On the mantelpiece above the fireplace there were three deep blue bowls, the only ornaments in the room. Beyond the little diamond-paned windows, beyond the dark mysteries of the Fellows' garden, a golden mist rose from the lamps of the street, there were stars in the sky.
He faced his books. For a quarter of an hour he saw before him the hanging, baggy cheeks, the white, staring eyes, the glittering ring on the weak finger. His hands began to tremble. . . .
There was a timid knock on the door, and he was instantly sure that the body had been found, and that they had come to arrest him. He stood back from the door with his hand pressing on the table. It was almost a relief to him that the summons had come so soon—it would presently all be over.
"Come in," he said, and gave one look at the golden mist, at the stars, at the tender face of Aegidius.
The door was opened slowly with fumbling hands, and there stood there a large, fat, clumsy, shapeless creature, with a white face, a hooked nose, an open, foolish mouth.
The reaction was hysterical. To expect a summons to death and public shame, to find—Bunning. Bunning—that soft, blithering, emotional, religious, middle-class maniac—Bunning! "Soft-faced" Bunning, as he was called, was the man of Olva's year in whom the world at large found most entertainment. The son of some country clergyman, kicked and battered through the slow, dreary years at some small Public School, he had come up to Saul's with an intense, burning desire to make a mark. He was stupid, useless at games, having only somewhere behind his fat ugly body a longing to be connected with some cause, some movement, some person of whom he might make a hero.
He had, of course, within the first fortnight of his arrival, plunged himself into dire disgrace. He had asked Lawrence, coming like a young god from Marlborough, in to coffee; they had made him drunk and laughed at his hysterical tears: in his desire for popularity he had held a gathering in his room, with the original intention of coffee, cakes and gentle conversation; the evening had ended with the arrival of all his furniture and personal effects upon the grass of the court below his windows.
He had been despised by the Dons, buffeted and derided by his fellow undergraduates. Especially had Carfax and Cardillac made his life a burden to him, and whenever it seemed that there was nothing especial to do, the cry arose, "Let's go and rag Bunning," and five minutes later that fat body would tremble at the sound of many men climbing the wooden stairs, at the loud banging on his wooden door, at the cry, "Hullo, Bunning—we've come for some coffee."
Then, towards the end of the first year, the Cambridge Christian Union flung out its net and caught him. His attempt at personal popularity had failed here as thoroughly as it had failed at school—now for his soul. He found that the gentlemen of his college who were members of the Christian Union were eager for his company. They did not laugh at his conversation nor mock his proffered hospitalities. They talked to him, persuaded him that his soul was in jeopardy, and carried him off during part of the Long Vacation to the Norfolk Broads, where prayer-meetings, collisions with other sea-faring craft, and tinned meats were the order of the day.
Olva had watched him with that amused incredulity that he so frequently bestowed upon his fellow-creatures. How was this kind of animal, with its cowardice, its stupidity, its ugliness, its uselessness, possible? He had never spoken to Bunning, although he had once received a note from him asking him to coffee—a piece of very considerable impertinence. He had never assisted Carfax and Cards in their raiding expeditions, but that was only because he considered such things tiresome and childish.
And now, behold, there in his doorway—incredible vision!—was the creature—at this moment of—all others!
"Come in," said Olva again.
Bunning brought his large quivering body into the room and stood there, turning his cap round and round in his hands.
"Oh, I say—-" and there he stopped.
"Won't you sit down?"
"In what way can I be of use to you?"
"Oh! I say—-"
Senseless giggles, and then Bunning's mouth opened and remained open. His eyes stared at Dune.
"Well, what is it?"
"Oh—my word—you know—-"
"Look here," said Olva quietly, "if you don't get on and tell me what you want I shall do you some bodily damage. I've got work to do. Another time, perhaps, when I am less busy——"
Bunning was nearly in tears. "Oh, yes, I know—it's most awful cheek—I——"
There was a desperate silence and then he plunged out with—"Well, you know, I—that is—we-I—sort of wondered whether, you know, you'd care—not if you're awfully busy of course—but whether you'd care to come and hear Med. Tetloe preach to-night. I know it's most awful cheek——" He was nearly in tears.
Olva kept an amazed silence. Life! What an amusing thing!—that he, with his foot on the edge of disaster, death, should be invited by Bunning to a revival meeting. He understood it, of course. Bunning had been sent, as an ardent missionary is sent into the heart of West Africa, to invite Olva to consider his soul. He was expecting, poor creature, to be kicked violently down the twisting wooden stairs. On another occasion he would be sent to Lawrence or Cardillac, and then his expectations would be most certainly fulfilled. But it was for the cause—at least these sinners should be given the opportunity of considering their souls. If they refused to consider them, they must not complain if they find the next world but little to their fancy.
No one had ever attacked Olva before on this subject. His reserve had been more alarming to the Soul Hunters than the coarse violence of a Cardillac or a Carfax. And now Bunning—Bunning of all people in this ridiculous world—had ventured. Well, there was pluck necessary for that. Bunning, the coward, had done a braver thing than many more stalwart men would have cared to do. There was bravery there!
Moreover, why should not Olva go? He could not sit alone in his room, his nerves would soon be too many for him. What did it matter? His last evening of freedom should be spent as no other evening of his life had been spent. . . . Moreover, might there not be something behind this business? Might he not, perhaps, be shown to-night some clue to the presence of that Power that had spoken to him in the wood? Through all the tangled confusion of his thoughts, through the fear and courage there ran this note-where was God? . . . God the only person to Whom he now could speak, because God knew.
Might not this idiot of a Bunning have been shown the way to the mystery?
"Yes," said Olva, smiling. "I'll come, if you won't mind sitting down and smoking for a quarter of an hour, while I finish this—have a drink, will you?"
Bunning's consternation at Olva's acceptance was amusing. He dropped his cap, stopped to pick it up, gasped. That Dune should really come!
"You'll come?" he spluttered out. Never in his wildest imaginings had he fancied such a thing. Dune, the most secret, reserved, mysterious man in the college—Dune, whose sarcastic smile was considered more terrifying than Lawrence's mailed fist—Dune, towards whom in the back of his mind there had been paid that reverence that belongs only to those who are of another world.
Never, in anything that had happened to him, had Bunning been so terrified as he had been by this visit to Dune. Watson Morley, the Christian Union man, had insisted that it was his duty and therefore he had come, but it had taken him ten minutes of agony to climb those stairs. And now Dune had accepted. . . .
The colour flooded his cheeks and faded again. He sat down clumsily in a chair, felt for a pipe that he smoked unwillingly because it was the manly thing to do, spurted some Apollinaris into a glass and over the tablecloth, struck many matches vainly, dropped tobacco on to the carpet. His heart was beating like a hammer!
How men would stare when they saw him with Dune. In his heart was the uneasy knowledge that had Dune proposed staying there in his rooms and talking instead of going to Little St. Agnes and listening to the Reverend Med. Tetloe, he would have stayed. This was not right, it was not Christian. The world gaped below Bunning's heavy feet.
At last Dune said: "I'm ready, let's go." They went out.
Little St. Agnes was apparently so named because it was the largest church in Cambridge. It was of no ancient date, but it was grim, grey, dark—admirably suited to an occasion like the present. Under the high roof, lost in a grey cloud, resolving themselves into rows of white, intense faces, sat hundreds of undergraduates.
They were seated on uncomfortable, unstable chairs, and the noise of their uneasy movements sent squeaks up and down the building as though it had been a barn filled with terrified rats.
Far in the distance, perched on a high pulpit, was a little white figure—an old gaunt man with a bony hand and a grey beard. Behind him again there was darkness. Only, in all the vast place, the white body and rows of white faces raised to it.
Olva and Bunning found seats in a corner. A slight soft voice said, with the mysterious importance of one about to deliver an immense secret, "You will look in the Mission Books, Hymn 330. 'Oh! for the arms of Jesus.' I want you to think for a moment of the meaning of the words before you sing."
There followed the rustling of many pages and then a heavy, emotional silence. Olva read the words and found them very sentimental, very bad verse and rather unpleasantly fall of blood and pain. Every one stood; the chairs creaked from one end of the building to the other, an immense volume of sound rose to the roof.
Olva felt that the entire church was seized with emotion. He saw that Bunning's hand was trembling, he knew that many eyes were filled with tears. For himself, he understood at once that that distant figure in white was here to make a dramatic appeal—dramatic as certainly as the appeal that a famous actor might make in London. That was his job— he was out for it—-and anything in the way of silence or noise, of darkness or light, that could add to the effect would be utilized. Olva knew also that nine-tenths of the undergraduates were present there for the same purpose. They wished to have their emotions played upon; they wished also to be reassured about life; they wished to confuse this dramatic emotion with a sincere desire for salvation. They wished, it is true, to be good, but they wished, a great deal more, to be dramatically stirred.
Olva was reminded of the tensity of the atmosphere at a bull-fight that he had once seen in Madrid. Here again was the same intensity. . . .
He saw, therefore, in this first singing of the hymn, that this place, this appeal, would be of no use in his own particular need. This deliberate evoking of dramatic effect had nothing to do with that silent consciousness of God. This place, this appeal, was fantastic, childish, beside that event that had that afternoon sent Carfax into space. Let these men hurry to the wood, let them find the sodden body, let them face then the reality of Life. . . .
Again, as before in Hall, he was tempted to rise and cry out: "I have killed Carfax. I have killed Carfax. What of all your theories now?" That trembling ass, Bunning, singing now at the top of his voice, shaking with the fervour of it, let him know that he had brought a murderer to the sacred gathering—again Olva had to concentrate all his mind, his force, his power upon the conquest of his nerves. For a moment it seemed as though he would lose all control; he stood, his knees quivering beneath him—then strength came back to him.
After the hymn the address. There was tense, rapt silence. The little voice went on, soft, low, sweet, pleading, very clear. There must be many men who had not yet found God. There were those, perhaps, in the Church tonight who had not even thought about God. There were those again who, maybe, had some crime on their conscience and did not know how to get rid of it. Would they not come to Christ and ask His help?
Stories were told. Story of the young man who cursed his mother, broke his leg, and arrived home just too late to see her alive. Story of the friend who died to save another friend, and how many souls were saved by this self-sacrifice. Story of the Undergraduate who gambled and drank and was converted by a barmaid and eventually became a Bishop.
All these examples of God's guidance. Then, for an instant, there is a great silence. The emotion is now beating in waves against the wall. The faces are whiter now, hands are clenched, lips bitten. Suddenly there leaps upon them all that gentle voice, now a trumpet. "Who is for the Lord? Who is for the Lord?"
Then gently again,—"Let us pray in silence for a few minutes." . . . A great creaking of chairs, more intense silence. At last the voice again—"Will those who are sure that they are saved stand up?" Dead silence—no one moves. "Will those who wish to be saved stand up?" With one movement every one—save only Olva, dark in his corner—stands up. Bunning's eyes are flaming, his body is trembling from head to foot.
"Christ is amongst you! Christ is in the midst of you!"
Suddenly, somewhere amongst the shadows a voice breaks out—"Oh! my God! Oh! my God!" Some one is crying—some one else is crying. All about the building men are falling on to their knees. Bunning has crashed on to his—his face buried in his hands.
The little gentle voice again—"I shall be delighted to speak to any of those whose consciences are burdened. If any who wish to see me would wait. . . ."
The souls are caught for God.
Prayers followed, another hymn. Bunning with red eyes has contemplated his sins and is in a glow of excited repentance. It is over.
As Olva rose to leave the building he knew that this was not the path for which he was searching. Not here was that terrible Presence. . . . The men poured in a black crowd out into the night. As Olva stepped into the darkness he knew that the terror was only now beginning for him. Standing there now with no sorrow, remorse, repentance, nevertheless he knew that all night, alone in his room, he would be fighting with devils. . . .
Bunning, nervously, stammered—"If you don't mind—I think I'm going round for a minute."
Olva nodded good-night. As he went on his way to Saul's, grimly, it seemed humorous that "soft-faced" Bunning should be going to confess his thin, miserable little sins.
For him, Olva Dune, only a dreadful silence. . . .
THE BODY COMES TO TOWN
And after all he slept, slept dreamlessly. He woke to the comfortable accustomed voices of Mrs. Ridge, his bedmaker, and Miss Annett, her assistant. It was a cold frosty morning; the sky showed through the window a cloudless blue.
He could hear the deep base voice of Mrs. Ridge in her favourite phrase: "Well, I don't think, Miss Annett. You won't get over me," and Miss Annett's mildly submissive, "I should think not indeed, Mrs. Ridge."
Lying back in bed he surveyed with a mild wonder the fact that he had thus, easily, slept. He felt, moreover, that that body had already, in the division of to-day from yesterday, lost much of its haunting power. In the clean freshness of the day, in the comfort of the casual voices of the two women in the other room, in the smell of the coffee, yesterday's melodrama seemed incredible. It had never happened; soon he would see from his window Carfax's hulking body cross the court. No, it was real enough, only it did not concern him. He watched it, as a spectator, indifferent, callous. There was a change in his life, but it was a change of another kind. In the strange consciousness that he now had of some vast and vital Presence, the temporal fact of the thing that he had done lost all importance. There was something that he had got to find, to discover. If—and the possibility seemed large now in the air of this brilliant morning—he were, after all, to escape, he would not rest until he had made his discovery. Some new life was stirring within him. He wanted now to fling himself amongst men; he would play football, he would take his place in the college, he would test everything—leave no stone unturned. No longer a cynical observer, he would be an adventurer . . . if they would let him alone.
He got out of bed, stripped, and stood over his bath. The cold air beat upon his skin; he rejoiced in the sense of his fitness, in the movement of his muscles, in the splendid condition of his body. If this were to be the last day of his freedom, it should at any rate be a splendid day.
He had his bath, flung on a shirt and trousers and went into his sitting-room, bright now with the morning sun, so that the blue bowls and the red tiles shone, and even the dark face of Aegidius was lighted with the gleam.
Mrs. Ridge was short and stout, with white hair, a black bonnet, and the deepest of voices. Her eagerness to deliver herself of all the things that she wanted to say prevented full-stops and commas from being of any use to her. Miss Annett was admirably suited as a companion, being long, thin and silent, and intended by nature to be subservient to the more masterful of her sex. With any man she was able easily to hold her own; with Mrs. Ridge she was bending, bowed, humility.
Mrs. Ridge grinned like a dog at the appearance of Olva. "Good mornin', sir, and a nice frosty cold sort o' day it is with Miss Annett just breakin' one of your cups, sir, 'er 'ands bein' that cold and a cup bein' an easy thing to slip out of the 'and as you must admit yourself, sir. Pore Miss Annett is that distressed."
Miss Annett did indeed look downcast. "I can't think—-" she began.
"It's quite all right, Miss Annett," said Olva. "I think it's wonderful that you break the things as seldom as you do. The china was of no kind of value."
It was known in the college that Mr. Dune was the only gentleman of whom Mrs. Ridge could be said to be afraid; she was proud of him and frightened of him. She said to Miss Annett, when that lady made her first appearance—
"And I can tell you, Miss Annett, that you need never 'ave no fear of bein' introjuced to Royalty one of these days after bein' with that Mr. Dune, because it puts you in practice, I can tell you, and a nice spoken gentleman 'e is and quiet—never does a thing 'e shouldn't, but wicked under it all I'll be bound. 'E's no chicken, you take it from me. Born yesterday? I don't think. . . ."
The women faded away, and he was left to himself. After breakfast he thought that he would write to his father and give him an account of the thing that he had done; if he escaped suspicion he would tear it up. Also he was determined on two things: one was that if he were accused of the crime, he would at once admit everything; the other was that he would do his utmost, until he was accused, to lead his life exactly as though he were in no way concerned. He had now an odd assurance that it was not by his public condemnation that he was intended to work out the results of his act. Why was he so assured of that? What was it that was now so strangely moving him? He faced the world, armed, resolved. It seemed to him that it was important for him, now, to live. This was the first moment of his life that existence had appeared to be of any moment. He wanted time to continue his search.
He wrote to his father—-
MY DEAR FATHER,—-
I have just been arrested on the charge of murdering an undergraduate here called Carfax. It is quite true that I killed him. We met yesterday, in the country, quarrelled, and I struck him, hitting him on the chin. He fell instantly, breaking his neck. He was muck of the worst kind. I had known him at Rugby; he was always a beast of the lowest order. He was ruining a fellow here, taking his money, making him drink, doing for him; also ruining a girl in a tobacconist's shop. All this was no business of mine, but we had always loathed one another. I think when I hit him I wanted to kill him. I am not, in any way, sorry, except that suddenly I do not want to die. You are the only person in the world for whom I care; you will understand. I have not disgraced the name; it was killing a rat. I think that you had better not come to see me. I face it better alone. We have gone along well together, you and I. I send you my love. Good-bye, OLVA.
As he finished it, he wondered, Would this be sent? Would they come for him? Perhaps, at this moment, they had found the body. He put the letter carefully in the pocket of his shirt. Then, suddenly, he was confronted with the risk. Suppose that he were to be taken ill, to faint, to forget the thing. . . . No, the letter must wait. They would allow him to write, if the time came.
He took the letter, flung it into the fire, watched it burn. He felt as though, in the writing of it, he had communicated with his father. The old man would understand.
About eleven o'clock Craven came to see him. Craven's father had been a Fellow of Trinity and Professor of Chinese to the University. He had died some five years ago and now the widow and young Craven's sister lived in Cambridge. Craven had tried, during his first term, to make a friend of Olva, but his happy, eager attitude to the whole world had seemed crude and even priggish to Olva's reserve, and all Craven's overtures had been refused, quietly, kindly, but firmly. Craven had not resented the repulse; it was not his habit to resent anything, and as the year had passed, Olva had realized that Craven's impetuous desire for the friendship of the world was something in him perfectly natural and unforced. Olva had discovered also that Craven's devotion to his mother and sister was the boy's leading motive in life. Olva had only seen the girl, Margaret, once; she had been finishing her education in Dresden, and he remembered her as dark, reserved, aloof—opposite indeed from her brother's cheerful good-fellowship. But for Rupert Craven this girl was his world; she was obviously cleverer, more temperamental than he, and he felt this and bowed to it.
These things Olva liked in him, and had the boy not been so intimate with Cardillac and Carfax, Olva might have made advances, Craven took a man of the Carfax type with extreme simplicity; he thought his geniality and physical strength excused much coarseness and vulgarity. He was still young enough to have the Public School code—the most amazing thing in the history of the British nation—and because Carfax bruised his way as a forward through many football matches, and fought a policeman on Parker's Piece one summer evening, Rupert Craven thought him a jolly good fellow. Carfax also had had probably, at the bottom of his dirty, ignoble soul, more honest affection for Craven than for any one in the world. He had tried to behave himself in that ingenuous youth's company.
Now young Craven, disturbed, unhappy, anxious, stood in Olva's door.
"I say, Dune, I hope I'm not disturbing you?"
"Not a bit."
"It's a rotten time to come." Craven came in and sat down. "I'm awfully worried."
"Yes, about Carfax. No one knows what's happened to him. He may have gone up to town, of course, but if he did he went without an exeat. Thompson saw him go out about two-thirty yesterday afternoon—-was going to Grantchester, because he yelled it back to Cards, who asked him where he was off to—not been heard or seen since."
"Oh, he's sure to be all right," Olva said easily.
"He's up in town!"
"Yes, I expect he is, but I don't know that that makes it any better. There's some woman he's been getting in a mess with I know—didn't say anything to me about it, but I heard of it from Cards."
"Well—" Olva slowly lit his pipe—"there's something else too. He was always in with a lot of these roughs in the town—stable men and the rest. He used to get tips from them, he always said, and he's had awful rows with some of them before now. You know what a temper he's got, especially when he's been drinking at all. I shouldn't wonder if he hadn't a fight one fine day and got landed on the chin, or something, and left."
"Oh! Carfax can look after himself all right. He's used to that kind of company."
Olva gazed, through the smoke of his pipe, dreamily into the fire.
"You don't like him," Craven said suddenly.
Olva turned slowly in his chair and looked at him. "Why! What makes you say that?"
"Something Carfax told me the other day. We were sitting one evening in his room and he suddenly said to me, 'You know there is one fellow in this place who hates me like poison—always has hated me.' I asked him who it was. He said it was you. I was immensely surprised, because I'd always thought you very good friends—as good friends as you ever are with any one, Dune. You don't exactly take any of us to your breast, you know!"
Dune smiled. "No, I think I've made a mistake in keeping so much alone. It looks as though I thought myself so damned superior. But I assure you Carfax was—is—quite wrong. We've been friendly enough all our days."
"No," said Craven slowly, "I don't think you do like him. I've watched you since. He's an awfully good fellow—-really—-at heart, you know. I do hope things are all right. I sent off a wire to his uncle in town half an hour ago to ask whether he were there. I don't know why I'm so anxious. . . . It's all right, of course, but I'm uneasy."
"Well, you're quite wrong about my disliking Carfax," Olva went on. "And I think, altogether, it's about time I came off my perch. For one thing I'm going to take up Rugger properly."
"Oh, but that's splendid! Will you play against St. Martin's to-morrow? It will relieve Lawrence like anything if you will. They've got Cards, Worcester and Tundril, and they want a fourth Three badly. My word, Dune, that would be splendid. We'll have you a Blue after all."
"A little late for that, I'm afraid."
"Not a bit of it. They keep on changing the Threes. Of course Cards is having a good shot at it, but he isn't down against the Harlequins on Saturday, and mighty sick he is about it." Craven got up to go. "Well, I must be moving. Perhaps Carfax is back in his rooms. There may be word of him anyway."
Olva's pipe was out. The matchbox on the mantelpiece was empty. He felt in his pocket for the little silver box that he always carried. It was a box, with the Dune arms stamped upon it, that his father had given to him. He had it, he remembered, yesterday when he set out on his walk. He felt in all his pockets. These were the clothes that he was wearing yesterday. Perhaps it was in his bedroom. He went in to look, and Craven meanwhile watched him from the door.
"What have you lost?"
It was not in the bedroom. He felt in the overcoat that he had been wearing. It was not there.
"Nothing. It's a matchbox of mine—must have dropped out of a pocket."
"Sorry. Daresay it will turn up. Well, see you later."
Craven vanished; then suddenly put his head in through the door.
"Oh, I say, Dune, come in to supper to-morrow night. Home I mean. My sister's back from Dresden, and I'd like you to know her. I'm sure you'd get on."
"Thanks very much, I'd like to come." Olva stood in the centre of the room, his hands clenched, his face white. He must have dropped the box in the wood. He had it on his walk, he had lit his pipe. . . . Of course they would find it. Here then was the end. Now for the first time the horror of death came upon him, filing the room, turning it black, killing the fire, the colour. His body was frozen with horror—already his throat was choking, his eyes burning. The room swung slowly round him, turning, turning. "They shan't take me. . . . They shan't take me." His face was cruel, his mouth twisted. He saw the little silver box lying there, open, exposed, upon the grass, glittering against the dull green. He turned to the window with desperate, hunted eyes. Already he fancied that he heard their steps upon the stair. He stood, his body flung back, his hands pressing upon the table. "They shan't take me. . . . They shan't take me." The door turned, slowly opened. It was Mrs. Ridge with a duster. He gave a little sigh and rolled over, tumbling back against the chair, unconscious.
"There, sir, now I do 'ope as you'll be all right. Too much book-work, that's what it is, but if a doctor——"
Olva was lying in his chair now, very pale, his eyes closed.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Ridge. It's all right now, thank you—quite all right. Yes, I'm ready for lunch—very silly of me."
Mrs. Ridge departed to fetch the luncheon-dish from the College kitchens and to tell the porter Thompson all about it on the way. "Pore young gentleman, there 'e was as you might say white as a sheet all of a 'eap. It gave me a turn I can assure you, Mr. Thompson."
His lunch was untasted. It seemed to him that he had now lost all power of control. He could only face the inevitable fact of his approaching capture. The sudden discovery of the loss of the matchbox had clanged the facts about his ears with the discordant scream of closing gates. He was captured, caught irretrievably, like a rat in a trap. He did not wish to be caught like a rat in a trap. This was a free world. Air, light, colour were about him on every side. To die, fighting, on a hill-top, in a battle-field, that was one thing. To see them crowding into his room, to be dragged into a dark airless place, to be caught by the neck and throttled. . . .
Mrs. Ridge cleared away the lunch with much shaking of the head. Olva lay in his chair watching, with eyes that never closed nor stirred, the crackling golden fire. Beyond the window the world was of blue steel. He could fancy the still gleaming waters of the lake that stretched beyond the grass lawns; he could fancy the red brick of the buildings that clung like some frieze to the horizon. Along the stone courtyard rang the heavy football boots of men going to the Upper Fields. He could see their red and blue jerseys, their short blue trousers, their tight stockings—the healthy swing of their bodies as they tramped. Men would be going down to the river now—freshmen would be hearing reluctantly, some of them with tears, the coarse and violent criticism of the Third Year men who were tabbing them. All the world was moving. He was surrounded, there in his silent room, with an amazing sense of life. He seemed to realize, for the first time, what it was that Cambridge was doing . . . all this physical life marching through the cold bright air, strength, poetry, the great stir and enthusiasm of the Young Blood of the world . . . and he, waiting for those steps on the stair, for those grim faces in the open door. The world left him alone. As the afternoon advanced, the tramp of the footballers was no longer heard, silence, bound by the shining frost of the beautiful day, lay about the grey buildings. Soon a melody of thrumming kettles would rise into the air, in every glowing room tea would be preparing, the glorious luxury of rest after stinging exercise would fill the courts with worship, unconsciously driven, skywards, to the Powers of Health. And then, after years of time, as it seemed, faintly through the closed windows at last came the single note of St. Martin's bell. That meant that it was quarter to five. Almost unconsciously he rose, put on his cap and gown and passed through the twilit streets that were stealing now into a dim glow under their misty lamps. The great chapel of St. Martin's, planted like some couchant animal grey and mysterious against the blue of the evening sky, flung through its windows the light of its many candles. He found a seat at the back of the dark high-hanging ante-chapel. He was alone there. Towards the inner chapel the white-robed choir moved softly; for a moment the curtains were drawn aside revealing the misty candle-light within; the white choir passed through—the curtains Fell again, leaving Olva alone with the great golden trumpeting angels above the organ for his company.
Then great peace came upon him. Some one had taken his soul, softly, with gentle hands, and was caring for it. He was suddenly freed from responsibility, and as the soothing comfort stole about him he knew that now he had simply to wait to be shown what it was that he must do. This was not the strange indifference of yesterday, nor the physical strength of the morning . . . peace, such peace as he had never before known, had come to him. From the heart of the darkness up into the glowing beauty of the high roof the music rose. It was Wednesday afternoon and the voices were un accompanied. Soon the Insanae et Vanae climbed in wave after wave of melody, was caught, held, lingered in the air, softly died again.
Olva was detached—he saw his body beaten, imprisoned, tortured, killed. But he was not there. He was riding heaven in quest of God.
At the gates of his college the news met him. He had been waiting for it so long a time that now he had to act his horror. It seemed to him an old, old story—this tale of a murder in Sannet Wood.
Groups of men were waiting in the cloisters, waiting for the doors to open for "Hall." As Olva came towards the gates an undergraduate, white, breathless, brushed past him and burst into the quiet, murmuring groups.
"My God, have you heard?"
Olva passed through the iron gates. The groups broke. He had the impression of many men standing back—black in the dim light—waiting, listening.
There was an instant's silence. Then, the man's voice breaking into a shrill scream, the news came tumbling out. It seemed to flash a sudden glare upon the blackness.
"It's Carfax—Carfax—he's been murdered."
The word was tossed, caught, flung against the stone pillars— "Murdered! Murdered! Murdered!"
"They've just brought his body in now, found it in Sannet Wood this evening; a working man found it. Been there two days. His neck broken——"
The mysterious groups scattered into strange fantastic shapes. There was a pause and then a hundred voices began at once. Some one spoke to Olva and he answered; his voice low and stern. . . . On every side confusion.
But for himself, like steel armour encasing his body, was the strange calm—aloof, unmoved, dispassionate—that had come to him half an hour ago.
He was alone—like God.
It is essential to the maintenance of the Cambridge spirit that there should be no melodrama. Into that placid and speculative air real life tumbles with a resounding shock and the many souls that have been building, these many years, with careful elaboration, walls of defence and protection find themselves suddenly naked and indecent before the world. For that army of men who use Cambridge as a gate to the world in front of them the passage through the narrow streets is too swift to afford more in after life than a pleasant reminiscence. It is because Cambridge is the bridge between stern discipline and pleasant freedom that it is so happily remembered; but there are those who adopt Cambridge as their abiding home, and it is for these that real life is impossible.
Beneath these grey walls as the years pass slowly the illusions grow. Closer and closer creep the walls of experience, softer and thicker are the garments worn to keep out the cold, gentler and gentler are the speculations born of a good old Port and a knowledge of the Greek language. About the High Tables voices softly dispute the turning of a phrase, eyes mildly salute the careful dishes of a wisely chosen cook, gentle patronage is bestowed upon the wild ruffian of the outer world. Many bells ring, many fires are burning, many lamps are lit, many leaves of many books are turned—busily, busily hands are raising walls of self-defence; the world at first regretted, then patronized, is now forgotten . . . hush, he sleeps, his feet in slippers, his head upon the softest cushion, his hand still covering the broad page of his dictionary. . . . Nothing, not birth nor love, nor death must disturb his repose.
And here, in the heart of the Sannet Wood, is death from violence, death, naked, crude, removed from all sense of life as we know it. The High Tables avoid Carfax's body with all possible discretion; for an hour or two the Port has lost its flavour, Homer is hidden by a cloud, the gentle chatter is curtailed and silenced. Amongst the lower order—those wild and turbulent undergraduates—it is the only topic. Carfax is very generally known; he had ridden, he had rowed, he had played cricket. A member of the only sporting club in the University, he had been known as a "real sportsman and a damned good fellow" because he was often drunk and frequently spent an evening in London . . . and now he is dead.
In Saul's a number of very young spirits awake to the consciousness of death. Here is a red-faced hearty fellow as fit as anything one moment and dead the next. Never before had the fact been faced that this might happen to any one. Let the High Table dismiss it easily, it is none so simple for those who have not had time to build up those defending walls. For a day or two there is a hush about the place, voices are soft, men talk in groups, the mystery is the one sensation. . . . The time passes, there are other interests, once more the High Table can taste its wine. Death is again bundled into noisier streets, into a harder, shriller air. . . .
Olva, on the morning after the discovery of the body, heard from Mrs. Ridge speculations as to the probable criminal. "You take my word, Mr. Dune, sir, it was one of them there nasty tramps—always 'anging round they are, and Miss Annett was only yesterday speakin' to me of a ugly feller comin' round to their back door and askin' for bread, weren't you, Miss Annett?"
"I was, indeed, Mrs. Ridge."
"And 'im with the nastiest 'eavy blue jaw you ever saw on a man, 'adn't 'e, Miss Annett?"
"He had, indeed, Mrs. Ridge."
"Ah, I shouldn't wonder—nasty-sort-o'-looking feller. And that Sannet Wood too—nasty lonely place with its old stones and all—comfortable?—I don't think."
Olva made inquiries as to the stones.
"Why, ever so old, they say—before Christ, I've 'eard. Used to cut up 'uman flesh and eat it like the pore natives, and there's a ugly lookin' stone in that very wood where they did it too, or so I've 'eard. Would you go along that way in the dark, Miss Annett?"
"Not much—I grant you, Mrs. Ridge."
"Oh yes! not likely on a dark night, I don't think!—and that pore Mr. Carfax—well, all I say is, I 'opes they catch 'im, that's all I say . . ." with further reminiscence concerning Mrs. Birch who had worked on Carfax's staircase the last ten years and never "'ad no kind of luck. There was that Mr. Oliver—-"
Final dismissal of Mrs. Ridge and Miss Annett.
Meanwhile, strange enough the relief that he felt because the body was actually removed from that wood. No longer possible now to see it lying there with the leg bent underneath, the head falling straight back, the ring on the finger. . . . Curious, too, that the matchbox had not been discovered; they must have searched pretty thoroughly by now—perhaps after all it had not been dropped there.
But over him there had fallen a strange lassitude. He was outside, beyond it all.
And then Craven came to see him. The event had wrought in the boy a great change. It was precisely with a character like Craven's that such an incident must cleave a division between youth and manhood. He had, until last evening, considered nothing for himself; his father's death had occurred when he was too young to see anything in it but a perfectly natural removal of some one immensely old. The world had seemed the easiest, the simplest of places, his years at Rugby had been delight. Fully free from shocks of any kind. Good health, friendship, a little learning, these things had made the days pass swiftly. Rupert Craven had been yesterday, a child precisely typical of the system in which he had been drilled; now he was something different. Olva knew that he was capable of depths of feeling because of his extraordinary devotion to his sister. Craven had often spoken of her to Olva—"So different from me, the most brilliant person in the world. Her music is really wonderful——people who know, I mean, all say so. But you see we're the same age—only two of us. We've always been everything to one another."
Olva wondered why Craven had told him. It was not as though they had ever been very intimate, but Craven seemed to think that Olva and his sister would have much in common.
Olva wondered, as he looked at Craven standing there in the doorway, how this sister would take the change in her brother. He had suddenly, as he looked at Craven, a perception of the number of lives with whose course his action had involved him. The wheel was beginning to turn. . . .
The light had gone from Craven's eyes. His vitality and energy had slipped from him, leaving his body heavy, unalert. He seemed puzzled, awed; there were dark lines under his eyes, his cheeks were pale and his mouth had lost its tendency to smile, its lines were heavy; but, above all, his expression was interrogative. Finally, he was puzzled.
For an instant, as he looked at him, Olva felt that he could not face him, then with a deliberate summoning of the resources of his temperament he strung himself to whatever the day might bring forth.
"This is awful——"
"Of course it doesn't matter to you, Dune, as it does to me, but I knew the fellow so awfully well. It's horrible, horrible. That he should have died—like that."
Olva broke out suddenly. "After all not such a bad way to die—swift enough. I don't suppose Carfax valued life especially."
"Oh! he enjoyed it—enjoyed it like anything. And that it should be taken so trivially, for no reason at all. It seems to be almost certain that it was some tramp or other—robbery the motive probably, and then he was startled and left the money—it was all lying about on the grass. But then Carfax was mixed up with so many ruffians of one kind and another. It may have been revenge or any-thing. I believe they are searching the wood now, but they're not likely to bring it home to any one. Misty day, no one about, and the man simply used his fist apparently—he must have been most awfully strong. Have you ever heard of any one killing a man with one blow—except a prize-fighter?"
"It's simply a knack, I believe, if you catch a fellow in a certain spot."
Supposing that some wretched tramp were arrested and accused? Some dirty fellow from behind a hedge? All the tramps, all the ruffians of the world were now a danger. The accusation of another would bring the truth from him of course. His dark eyes moved across the room to Craven's white, tired face. Within himself there moved now with every hour stirring more acutely this desire for life. If only they would let him alone . . . let the body alone . . . let it all alone. Let the world sink back to its earlier apathy.
His voice was resentful.
"Carfax wasn't a good fellow, Craven. No, I know—Nil nini bonum . . . and all the rest of it. But it looks a bit like a judgment—judgment from Heaven."
Craven broke in.
"But now—just now when his body's lying there. I know there were things he did. He was a bit wild, of course——"
"Yes, there was a girl, a girl in Midgett's tobacconist's shop—his daughter. Carfax ruined her, body and soul . . . ruined her. He boasted of it. Looks like a judgment."
"I don't care." Craven sprang up. "Carfax may have done things, but he was a friend of mine, and a good friend. They must catch the man, they must. It's a duty they owe us all. To have such a man as that hanging about. Why, it might happen to any of us. You must help me, Dune."
"Yes—help them to catch the murderer. We must think of everything that could make a clue. Perhaps this girl. I had heard something about her, of course; but perhaps there was another lover, a rival or something, or perhaps her father——"
"Well," Dune said slowly, "my advice to you, Craven, is not to think too much about the whole business. A thing like that is certain to get on one's nerves—leave it alone as much as you can——"
"What a funny chap you are! You're always like that. As detached from everything as though you weren't alive at all. Why, I believe, if you'd committed the murder yourself you wouldn't be much more concerned!"
"Well, we've got to go on as we're made, I suppose, only do take my advice about not getting morbid over it. By the way, I see I'm playing against St. Martin's this afternoon."
"Yes. I thought at first I wouldn't play. But I suppose it's better to go on doing one's ordinary things. You're coming in to-night, aren't you?
"Are you sure you want me after all this disturbance?
"Why, of course; my mother's expecting you. Half-past seven. Don't dress." He raised his arms above his head, yawning. He was obviously better for the talk. His eyes were less strained, his body more alert. "I'm tired to death. Didn't get a wink of sleep last night—saw poor Carfax in the dark—ugh! Well, we meet this afternoon."
When the door closed Olva had the sensation of having been on his trial. Craven's eyes still followed him. Nerves, of course . . . but they had strangely reminded him of Bunker.
Olva had never been to Craven's house before. It stood in a little street that joined Cambridge to the country. At one end of the prim little road the lamps stopped abruptly and a white chalk path ran amongst dark common to a distant wood.
At the other end a broader road with tram-lines crossed. The house was built by itself, back from the highway, with a tiny drive and some dark laurels. It was always gloomy and apparently unkept. The autumn leaves were dull and sodden upon the drive; the bell and knocker upon the heavy door, from which the paint was worn in places, were rusty. No sound came from the little road beyond.
The place seemed absolutely without life. Olva now, as he sent the bell pealing through the passages, knew that this dark desertion had an effect upon his nerves. A week ago he would not have noticed the place at all—now he longed for lights and noise and company. He had played foot-ball that afternoon better than ever before; that, too, had been a defence, almost a protest, an assertion of his right to live.
As he waited his thoughts pursued him. He had heard them say to-night that no clue had been discovered, that the police were entirely at a loss. It was impossible to trace foot-marks amongst all that undergrowth. No one had been seen in that direction during the hours when the murder must have been committed . . . so on—so on . . . all this talk, this discussion. The wretched man was dead—no one would miss him—no one cared—leave him alone, leave him alone. Olva pulled the bell again furiously. Why couldn't they come? He wanted to escape from this dark and dismal drive; these hanging laurels, the cold little road, with its chilly lamps. An old and tottering woman, her nose nearly touching her chin and her fingers in black mittens, opened at last and led Olva into the very blackest and closest little hall that he had ever encountered. The air was thick and musty with a strangely mingled smell of burning wood, of faded pot-pourri, of dried skins. The ceiling was low and black, and the only window was one of a dull red glass that glimmered mournfully at a distance. The walls were hung with the strangest things, prizes apparently that the late Dr. Craven had secured in China—grinning heathen gods, uncouth weapons, dried skins of animals. Out of this dark little hall Olva was led into a drawing-room that was itself nearly as obscure. Here the ceiling was higher, but the place square and dark; a deep set stone fireplace in which logs were burning was the most obvious thing there. For the rest the floor seemed littered with old twisted tables, odd chairs with carved legs, here a plate with sea shells, here a glass case with some pieces of ribbon, old rusty coins, silver ornaments. There were many old prints upon the walls, landscapes, some portraits, and stuck here and there elaborate arrangements of silk and ribbon and paper fans and coloured patterns. Opposite the dark diamond-paned window was an old gilt mirror that seemed to catch all the room into its dusty and faded reflections, and to make what was old and tattered enough already, doubly dreary. The room had the close and musty air of the hall as though windows were but seldom opened; there was a scent as though oranges had recently been eaten there.
At first Olva had thought that he was alone in the room; then when his eyes had grown more accustomed to the light he saw, sitting in a high-backed chair, motionless, gazing into the fire, with her fine white hands lying in her lap, a lady. She reminded him, in that first vision of her, of "Phiz's" pictures of Mrs. Clennam in Little Dorrit, and always afterwards that connection remained with him. Her thin, spare figure had something intense, almost burning, in its immobility, in the deep black of her dress and hair, in the white sharpness of the outline of her face.
How admirably, it seemed to him, she suited that room. She too may have thought as she turned slowly to look at him that he fitted his background, with the spare dignity of his figure, his fine eyes, the black and white contrast of his body so that his cheeks, his hands, seemed almost to shine against the faded air. It is certain that they recognized at once some common ground so that they met as though they had known one another for many years. The old minor caught for a moment the fine gravity and silence of his approach to her as he waited for her to greet him.
But before she could speak to him the door had opened and Margaret Craven entered. In her gravity, her silence, she seemed at once to claim kinship with them both. She had the black hair, the pale face, the sharp outline of her mother. As she came quietly towards them her reserve was wonderful, but there was tenderness in the soft colour of her eyes, in the lines of her mouth that made her also beautiful. But beyond the tenderness there was also an energy that made every move seem like an attack. In spite of her reserve there was impatience, and Olva's first judgment of her was that the last thing in the world that she could endure was muddle; she shone with the clean-cut decision of fine steel.
Mrs. Craven spoke without rising from her chair.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Dune, Rupert has often told us about you."
Margaret advanced to him and held out her hand. She looked him straight in the eyes.
"We have met before, you know."
"I had not forgotten," he answered her gravely.
Then Rupert came in. It was strange how one saw now, when he stood beside his mother and sister, that he had some of their quality of stern reserve. He had always seemed to Olva a perfectly ordinary person of natural good health and good temper, and now this quality that had descended upon him increased the fresh attention that he had already during these last two days demanded. For something beyond question the Carfax affair must be held responsible. It seemed now to be the only thing that could hold his mind. He spoke very little, but his white face, his tired eyes, his listless conversation, showed the occupation of his mind. It was indeed a melancholy evening.
To Olva, his nerves being already on edge, it was almost intolerable. They passed from the drawing-room into a tiny dining-room—a room that was as dingy and faded as the rest, with a dull red paper on the walls and an old blue carpet. The old woman waited; the food was of the simplest.
Mrs. Craven scarcely spoke at all. She sat with her eyes gravely fixed in front of her, save when she raised them to flash them for an instant at Olva. He found this sudden gaze extraordinarily disconcerting; it was as though she were reasserting her claim to some common understanding that existed between them, to some secret that belonged to them alone.
They avoided, for the most part, Carfax's death. Once Margaret Craven said: "One of the most astonishing things about anything of this kind seems to me the bravery of the murderer—the bravery I mean that is demanded of any one during the days between the crime and his arrest. To be in possession of that tremendous secret, to be at war, as it were, with the world, and yet to lead, in all probability, an ordinary life—that demands courage."
"One may accustom oneself to anything," Mrs. Craven said. Her voice was deep and musical, and her words seemed to linger almost like an echo in the air.
Olva thought as he looked at Margaret Craven that there was a strength there that could face anything; it was more than courage; it might, under certain circumstances, become fanaticism. But he knew that whereas Mrs. Craven stirred in him a deep restlessness and disquiet, Margaret Craven quieted and soothed him, almost, it seemed, deliberately, as though she knew that he was in trouble.
He said: "I should think that his worst enemy, if he have any imagination at all, must be his loneliness. I can conceive that the burden of the secret, even though there be no chance whatever of discovery, must make that loneliness intolerable."
Here Rupert Craven interrupted as though he were longing to break away from the subject.
"You played the finest game of your life this afternoon, Dune. I never saw anything like that last try of yours. Whymper was on the touch-line—I saw him. The 'Varsity's certain to try you again on Saturday."
"I've been slack too long," Olva said, laughing. "I never enjoyed anything more than this afternoon."
"I played the most miserable game I've ever played—couldn't get this beastly thing out of my head."
Olva felt as though he were almost at the end of his endurance. At that moment he thought that he would have preferred them to burst the doors and arrest him. He had never known such fatigue. If he could sleep he did not care what happened to him.
The rest of the evening seemed a dream. The dark, crowded drawing-room flickered in the light from the crackling fire. Mrs. Craven, in her stiff chair, never moving her eyes, flung shadows on the walls. Some curtain blew drearily, with little secret taps, against the door. Rupert Craven sat moodily in a dark corner.
At Olva's request Margaret Craven played. The piano was old and needed attention, but he thought that he had never heard finer playing. First she gave him some modern things—some Debussy, Les Miroires of Ravel, some of the Russian ballet music of Cleopatre. These she flung at him, fiercely, aggressively, playing them as though she would wring cries of protest from the very notes.
"There," she cried when she had finished, flashing a look that was almost indignant at him. "There is your modern stuff—I can give you more of it."
"I would like something better now," he said gravely.
Without a word that mood left her. In the dim candle-light her eyes were tender again. Very softly she played the first two movements of the "Moonlight" sonata.
"I am not in the mood for the last movement," she said, and closed the piano. Still about the old silver, the dark walls, the log fire, the old gilt mirror, the sweet, delicate notes lingered.
Soon afterwards he left them. As he passed down the chill, deserted street, abandoning the dark laurelled garden, he saw behind him the stern shadow of Mrs. Craven black upon the wall.
But the loneliness, the unrest, walked behind him. Silence was beginning to be terrible. God—this God—this Unknown God—pursued him. Only a little comfort out of the very heart of that great pursuing shadow came to him—Margaret Craven's grave and tender eyes.
Carfax was buried. There had been an inquest; certain tramps and wanderers had been arrested, examined and dismissed. No discovery had been made, and a verdict of Wilful "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown" had been returned. It was generally felt that Carfax's life had not been of the most savoury and that there were, in all probability, amongst the back streets of Cambridge several persons who had owed him a grudge. He appeared, indeed, in the discoveries that were now made on every side, to be something better dead than alive. A stout and somnolent gentleman, with red cheeks and eyes half closed, was the only mourner from the outside world at the funeral. This, it appeared, was an uncle. Father dead, mother divorced and leading a pleasant existence amongst the capitals of Europe. The uncle, although maintaining a decent appearance of grief, was obviously, at heart, relieved to be rid of his nephew so easily. Poor Carfax! For so rubicund and noisy a person he left strangely little mark upon the world. Within a fortnight the college had nearly lost account of his existence. He lent to Sannet Wood a sinister air that caused numberless undergraduates to cycle out in that direction. Now and again, when conversation flagged, some one revived the subject. But it was a horse that needed much whipping to make it go. It had kicked with its violent hoof upon the soft walls of Cambridge life. For a moment it had seemed that it would force its way, but the impression had been of the slightest.
Even within the gates and courts of Saul's itself the impression that Carfax had left faded with surprising swiftness into a melodramatic memory. But nothing could have been more remarkable than the resolute determination of these young men to push grim facts away. They were not made—one could hear it so eloquently explained—for that kind of tragedy. The autumn air, the furious exercise, the hissing kettles, the decent and amiable discussions on Life reduced to the importance of a Greek Accent—these things rejected violently the absurdity of Tragic Crudity.
They were quite right, these young men. They paid their shining pounds for the capture—conscious or not as it might be—of an atmosphere, a delicate and gentle setting to the crudity of their later life. Carfax, when alive, had blundered into coarse disaster but had blundered in back streets. Now the manner of his death painted him in shrieking colours. The harmony was disturbed, therefore he must go.
Of more importance to this world of Saul's was the strange revival—as though from the dead—of Olva Dune. They had been prepared, many of them, for some odd development, but this perfectly normal, healthy interest in the affairs of the College was the last thing that his grave, romantic air could ever have led any one to expect. His football in the first place opened wide avenues of speculation. First there had been the College game, then there had been the University match against the Harlequins, and it was, admittedly, a very long time since any one had seen anything like it. He had seemed, in that game against the Harlequins, to possess every virtue that should belong to the ideal three-quarter—pace, swerve, tackle, and through them all the steady working of the brain. Nevertheless those earlier games were yet remembered against him, and it was confidently said that this brilliance, with a man of Dune's temperament, could not possibly last. But, nevertheless, the expectation of his success brought him up, with precipitation, against the personality of Cardillac, and it was this implied rivalry that agitated the College. It is only in one's second year that a matter of this kind can assume world-shaking importance. The First-year Undergraduate is too near the child, the Third-year Undergraduate too near the man. For the First-year man School, for the Third-year man the World looms too heavily. So it is from the men of the Second year that the leaders are to be selected, and at this time in Saul's Cardillac seemed to have no rival. He combined, to an admirable degree, the man of the world and the sportsman; he had an air that was beyond rubies. He was elegant without being effeminate, arrogant without being conceited, indifferent without being blase. He had learnt, at Eton, and at the knee of a rich and charming mother, that to be crude was the unforgivable sin. He worshipped the god of good manners and would have made an admirable son of the great Lord Chesterfield. Finally he was the only man in Saul's who had any "air" at all, and he had already travelled round the world and been introduced by his mother to Royalty at Marienbad.