WAR AND THE WEIRD
BY FORBES PHILLIPS AND R. THURSTON HOPKINS
LONDON: SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, HAMILTON, KENT & CO., LTD.
Copyright All rights reserved 1916
Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Punctuation has been normalised. Dialect spellings have been retained. The oe ligature is shown as [oe].
I. THE UNCANNY UNDER FIRE 11
II. WAR THE REVEALER 17
III. THE SOUL'S BOUNDARY LINE 21
IV. THE SPIRITUAL ENTITY 27
V. ANGELS 31
VI. FELLOWSHIP WITH THE UNSEEN 35
VII. THE WHITE COMRADE 39
I. OMBOS 49
II. THE DE GAMELYN TRADITIONS 101
III. THE MILLS OF GOD 127
IV. THE STORY OF A SPY 137
V. THROUGH THE FURNACE 161
BY FORBES PHILLIPS
THE UNCANNY UNDER FIRE
"Do you think there is anything in it?" He was a clean-set six-foot specimen of English manhood, an officer of the R.F.A. wounded at Mons, who spoke. "I mean I haven't studied these subjects much—in fact, I haven't studied them at all. Sport is more in my line than spiritualism and that kind of thing, but when you have experiences brought under your very nose again and again, you cannot help thinking there must be something in such things." He had just told me that in the last few minutes' sleep he managed to get on the march to Mons he dreamt that he was unable to sit his horse. The next day he was wounded inside his right knee, not seriously, but sufficient to stop him riding for a week or two. "I should never have thought anything more of it—I mean, connecting the dream with the ill-luck—but in the South African campaign there were quite remarkable instances. You see, at such times when you are playing hide-and-seek with shrapnel, officers and men get very chummy when we do get a spell for a talk. The Tommies give us their confidences, and ask us all kinds of strange questions about religious and super-natural things."
Take premonitions, for example. How shall we account for the British soldier's actual versions of the matter? There are countless stories in this war, in every war, of men having a warning, a sub-conscious certainty of death. The battlefield is armed with a full battery of shot, which thrill with human interest and have around them a halo of something uncanny, supernormal. It may be that in the stress and shock of battle the strings—some of the strings—of the human instrument get broken; that poor Tommy, gazing into the night of the long silence, becomes a prey to morbid fancies, which presently are worked up into premonitions. There may be something in this, but the men of inaction are more prone to fancies than men on active service. Another theory suggests that the same power within which questions, supplies an answer. It may be so; but no one is anxious for the answer Death brings. One can only smile at the crass stupidity of most of the explanations given by those who deny the existence of super-natural agencies and powers. The region of spiritual dynamics is destined to be the science of the future.
In a somewhat sceptical age it is worth while noticing that from the earliest dawn of history, under varying forms of government and civilisation with which we are acquainted, the belief in premonitions was unchallenged. The old Greeks and Latins were the keenest thinkers the world so far has seen; yet they believed in ghosts, omens, and premonitions. (They would smile in lofty scorn at some of the superstitions to-day taught under the Elementary Education Act of 1870.) Unbelief in such things super-natural, therefore, cannot be accepted as a sign of lofty mentality. A journalistic friend was staying with me some few months ago. We were sitting smoking rather late after dinner. "Do you believe in ghosts?" I asked. "Don't be so absurdly foolish!" he cried angrily. "That's all right," I remarked quietly. "Now I know you won't mind sleeping in our haunted room; many foolish people do object." "Great Scott!" he ejaculated, "no haunted room for me!" Nor would he even look at it. He would not face the logical sequence of his dogmatic unbelief. Only a brave man dare express all he believes.
Now it is well known that every advance in scientific knowledge is greeted with mocking laughter. We know the jeers with which even clever men greeted the Marconi claims. It is not so many years ago that a distinguished member of the French Academy of Science rose up amongst his colleagues and pronounced the Edison phonograph to be nothing more than an acoustical illusion. So we are told that soldiers' visions are optical illusions. That is no answer. Call them optical delusions if you like, then the query arises what causes these optical delusions, of which we have countless instances, which inform a man of the hour, and sometimes the manner, of his death? To call an effect by another name does not dispose of the cause of such effect, nor is it any solution of the mystery.
Few thinkers now, worthy of the name, seriously dispute the existence of super-natural forces and influences. The whole system of Christianity, of belief in all ages, is founded upon such things. To-day front-rank men are investigating in avenues of research where once they sneered. There is much fraud and cheap talk in ordinary life, but not under fire. Men are not cheap then, nor are they paltry. Strange that where death is busiest the evidence of life beyond and above it all should abound. The invisible, full of awe, is also full of teaching, it is pregnant with whispers. The mind, tuned up to a new tension, receives all kinds of Marconi-like messages. What sends such whispers? Is it that in the moment of supreme self-sacrifice and splendid devotion to duty that spiritual perceptions are sharpened? Who shall say? "He was hit, and he rushed forward shouting, 'Why, there's my——' then he dropped dead, but he saw someone, of that I am sure." So spoke a man of the A.S.C., who saw his comrade die. Deep calls to deep, and if we put our ear to the call we may hear the message. On the battlefield, as in no other place, there is the call of soul to soul, of heart to heart, intensified by all our powers of emotion, which duty calls forth at their best. Tommy Atkins stares more fixedly into the dim future, the greater the gloom the more he searches for the gleam, and sometimes it is vouchsafed to him. There is no doubt that mind calls to mind. After all, time and space are artificial things. They cannot be spiritual barriers. Why should a mother, thinking of her lad at the front in a supreme moment of affection and deep yearning, not be able to do what frequently happens unconsciously among ordinary acquaintances? Often a thought will pass from one mind to another in a moment of silence.
The uncanny under fire must take its place among things to be investigated, the evidence is too convincing to be pooh-poohed. Science and philosophy are now boldly entering the dim regions of the occult in search of its laws; on the battlefield Tommy Atkins is already there thinking over weird things and he comes to conclusions, finding the lights by which he steers.
This chapter could not be complete without mentioning another mystery of the battlefield: it is this—the number of instances in which the Germans have savagely pounded a church with their artillery, only to find on entering the ruin that the cross was still there erect and intact. One Uhlan soldier climbed upon an altar to smash a crucifix, slipped and put his ankle out. That may be a coincidence. Next moment a shell killed him and one of his comrades, the crucifix remained uninjured. Soldiers, French and British, talk of these uncanny things, interpreting them in several ways, but each of these ways is the pathway of the spirit—perhaps part of the altar steps on which men climb up through the darkness to God.
WAR THE REVEALER
War is not only the Great Educator, it is the Great Revealer. Its marches and bivouacs, its battles, its commonplaces and surprises, its trials and its triumphs, are a singular school of experience. The various impacts upon man's psychological anatomy produce strange results. They seem like the blows of some Invisible Sculptor, producing out of commonplace material a hero and it may be a demi-god. The opening orchestra of shot and shell braces up the mind of the soldier and attunes it up to receive new sensitiveness. The bullets play strange dirges on the strings of life before they break them, and each dirge has its theme, some song of spiritual things. His gaze is towards the sky line and he sees strange things, a whole battery of lights each of which is in its way a revelation. The battle chorus crying to the night of long silence becomes a prayer, and the response is ever helpful.
The individual amid the thunder of his surroundings in the red surge of battle somehow never allows his soul to become obscured. It is taking impressions which later in the day as he sits by the camp fire cause him to think and to reach conclusions which leave him a different man from what he has been. We see this in the glow of the soldiers' letters to those he loves: he has come within the shadow of the Divine Reality as the wondrous book of Life and Death opens on the battlefield. The result is the Soldier's Gospel. It would cause the devotees of little Bethel to faint with its crude "superstitions" and absence of meaningless and stupid dogma yet its grip of spiritual things and Divine Aid would make the ordinary "go to meeting" Christian gape with astonishment. The soldier's simple faith, his willing endurance, his quiet heroisms, his silent self-sacrifice, though they call for no louder name than duty, are just those chords which link him to the Great Heroism which saw its culmination in Calvary. After all, deeds only are the words of love.
The Soldier's Gospel is a wonderful revelation: the world grows gratefully small as it appreciates its work, worth and effect upon the man. All the lights by which he steers sum up good citizenship rather than sectarianship. We had long ceased to cultivate the former.
"There goes a hospital ship," and a Commander of one of H.M. Patrols pointed out to me a transport full of wounded. We thought in pity of that array of maimed men, of silent suffering, of bandages, slings, crutches and artificial limbs, but suddenly there arose from the transport a mighty cheer of greeting and salutation to the white ensign. That was the reply of war's wreckage to those who pitied. It is a wonderful Gospel that produces this. But the invisible, while full of awe, does not daunt him, the soldier reaches out towards the rather unknown searching for light and finding it. Under fire means so much, it is filled up with so many experiences, you march through a lifetime in a few seconds, you get new views of the past years from another angle of vision. Shadow and darkness and doubt are lifted, the soldier is frank and honest, he is not hide-bound by petty superstitions, he is willing fairly to consider and weigh all sensations, visions and inner illuminations. He is not blinded with the dogma of either agnosticism or sectarianism, while his sense of humour saves him from many of the errors of the various "Christian" brotherhoods. Curious enough, the people who object to duty, who are unwilling to strike a blow for righteousness, invariably belong to some of the freak sects and are devotees of sectarianism in its narrowest meaning.
No doubt "Vicarious Suffering" the root doctrine of many sects in this country is responsible for the general shirking of duty on the part of so many men to-day. Men look to the ballot box for their meat in due season. They want all the privileges of citizenship without the responsibilities. The sects of to-day in teaching that the historic Christ took all our sins upon His shoulder have produced a type of sentimental immoralist who creeps under the shelter of the Cross, content that Christ should suffer in his place. So long as the Cross does not offend his eyesight, he is willing to find refuge in its shadow. Where selfishness reigns there is no vision. The gaze is upon gain, personal comfort, things entirely earthly. A man who is always looking at mud thinks in terms of mud. Just as a great naturalist confesses a loss of the finer sense of music, so there is the loss of the spiritual vision, for the spiritual sense is just as real as any other sense, but it can become useless and drop out of our life, if we do not value it and no longer use it. There are people with an artistic sense. There are more without it.
The doctrine of the atonement is used to promote the crude idea that to put our responsibilities upon others is more religious than facing them oneself. Christ's atonement is no isolated fact in history to make men cowards, but a sustained attitude of devotion in which every man and woman is to take a part. Instead of thanking Christ for hanging there upon the Cross in our place we should strive for the same courage, the same endurance, the supreme devotion to duty and the vision of Divine Aid will be ours perhaps in Angel form. To the brave in all ages has come the vision of higher things.
THE SOUL'S BOUNDARY LINE
"I never was religious, but this business is changing me and many thousands more," so writes a soldier. From another soldier's letter we get, "War is the most sobering influence I know ... it sobers their every day. They listen more attentively to the religious services. Sometimes I wish for the sake of the morals of our army that we were always at war."
When I was in Northern France I came in contact with many wounded French soldiers, men who had gone to the front as atheists and returned firm believers. "Thank the good God I have really seen. I fell wounded in twenty-three places they tell me. I fell cursing a God I did not believe in: then a cold hand was laid upon my brow. I looked up and saw—ah! my God! how beautiful a Being. Now I do not want, I do not care to live for I want to see that beautiful Being again. I know I shall. Leave me. See to the others." This was a voluntary statement of a French soldier who called me to his side simply to light a cigarette for him. I left him perfectly happy and it was quite true about his number of wounds. He lived only a few hours and he knew that he was dying. Men do not usually tell lies on their death beds.
Wonderful is the warp and woof of life under fire. It is the parade of the living, the dead and those on the borderland. Men go through the whole gamut of emotions. War is an object lesson of laughter and tears playing hide and seek with each other. The tragedy and the comedy follow close on each other's heels. Deep calls not only to deep but to shallow as well, and in the end all notes harmonize. Where the swathe of the scythe is wide men's souls expand in heart qualities. Amidst the wreckage of a battlefield he picks up all kinds of things, every faculty picks up something and they become contributions to soul force. The greater the gloom the more the soldier searches for the gleam. Religion and resolution meet in the soldier and give him deeper vision. He hears his comrade say, "I shall be taken to-day, give this to ——." Examples of this premonition abound. He enters a bombarded village, the only thing standing intact frequently is a figure of Christ crucified, or the Madonna looking down upon a mass of crumbling ruin. These facts are again and again verified by photographs. Often the talk of the camp as the men settle down by the fire is of the weird and the uncanny that has happened during the day; and there are pauses when the soldiers stare into the embers and forget to suck their pipes.
To explain the book of life, one would require the scrolls of eternity. War throws light on some of its stray pages as they flutter for a second on the wings of time and then disappear, but not before it has flung its cressets of light upon the black pall of doubt. Everyone now talks of psychic phenomena. In a paltry generation of superficial thinking the subject was one for jest, but there is far more in it than jesters are likely to discover. Mocking laughter never discovered anything except the vacuous fool. The appearances of spiritual beings give but scant opportunity for examination but serious investigation has now taken the place of cheap sneering. After all religion is founded upon a philosophy of apparitions. The vision of angels at Mons is no new thing. Catholicism is founded on such visions and no religion worthy of the name is without its story of angels. New aspects of matter have laid many materialistic theories in the dust, the mysterious potencies of matter which the latest science is revealing, the energy of electrons, and radium are giving us a new science of super-sensual physics and with it new vistas of thought.
It is no longer necessary to apologize for the work of psychic research, that is among intelligent people. Light is gaining on the darkness. "I felt another hand assisting me to steer," said a sailor man to me who vainly tried to explain how he kept his boat from what appeared certain destruction. He would scorn to be called a religious man. "There is nothing of the ranter in me—you know sir," and he used uncomplimentary remarks which I omit. "But there sir, it was no skill of mine. All I saw was death and destruction for me and my mates, yet I knew we should pull through all right. There was another that shipped as passenger in the darkness."
The question of immortality and of the existence of spiritual entities which had been relegated to the limits of illusions and dreams in Victorian times by the fumbling amateur philosophers of that day, can now be discussed with quiet in the old philosophic vein which characterized the great age of thought when Greek sages argued in the Gardens of Athens. This fact alone justifies a book of the present character. The bumptious and dull ass who announces "Miracles do not happen," is now seen in true perspective and he cuts a poor figure.
Apparitions, telepathy and clairvoyance are not explanations, but names for facts demanding separate explanations. In regard to such the "ecclesiastical damn" and the "scientific damn" have been freely used. If men have been hypnotized by ghost stories, they certainly have been deluded by stories of unnatural science. To deny activities of life natural and super-natural is rather silly considering no man has solved the life principle. The atoms forming the material of the brain may be proved ultimately to be identical with those that compose a jelly-fish or a jar of margarine, and brain appears to be the organ of mind, but it is mind that grasps things, places things, and thinks. Life is concerned with thought as well as atoms. It receives thoughts from all sides, sometimes it claims to detect the thought giver—and that is to have a fuller vision. Men think quickly on the field of battle. They are not constrained by a narrow education and a narrower conventionalism to limit their thoughts to what others think in their own circle.
THE SPIRITUAL ENTITY
Why is it that men in all ages, the best of men, the most gifted of men, with the evidence of the senses so strongly against them, have believed that a spiritual personal entity survives death's disaster? That men do so is seen in all literature and witnessed to in all lands. Vedic hymns, 3,500 years old sing of a spiritual body with as clear a vision as S. Paul. We are collecting the evidence that has floated down the ages and examining it with a new criticism. The attitude of "Pooh! Bah!" of Early Victorian times is no longer the mark of superiority. It is now, as it was then, the mark not only of ignorance but stupid dullness. The frame of mind which used to dismiss everything with the word "impossible" is now recognized not as science but ignorance. The researches of a Crookes, of a Sir Oliver Lodge, Myers, Gurney, Rochas, Gabriel Delanne, Lombroso, in the region of the occult command serious attention. Swedenborg communicated messages from people who had long passed to their relatives on matters of fact which were found accurate in every detail.
M. Rochas speaks of an externalized consciousness which feels a touch. Within man is the plant and machinery of all kinds of faculties, one is the perception of the spiritual. Had it been trained like his sense of music, we should no longer be in the dark of despair over our dead. The trend of thought to-day is to show man a spiritual being in a spiritual universe, that death is merely transition. If not, then God is the Cosmic Murderer. The spiritual sense of man is his faculty of response to the spiritual world around him, just as his musical sense is his measure of response and his reception of the world of music around him. By some magic in the red surge of war, this spiritual response is sharpened and quickened as every other sense is, and the soldier sees visions. Man working within time and space is influenced by what is beyond the one and the other, the full significance of this world would seem to be in another scheme of things to which this is only the vestibule. The soul's wave movements have their laws. In that soul is some fine Marconi-like instrument which registers impressions, and from time to time receives spiritual warnings and perceives spiritual beings. Serious men are now boldly investigating. Little help comes from the sectarians who seem to begrudge God his universe; everything has to be cheapened to the worm's-eye view of little Bethel, which steeped in politics has long lost sense of the spiritual. The old Greeks and Latins were acute thinkers, yet they believed in spiritual beings and their appearances. It was only in the days of cheap thinking that it required a special valour to express belief in the super-natural. The fact is, most people are like the devils of scripture who "believe and tremble" without admitting the authority of their belief. It is refreshing to find a writer like Mr. W. S. Lilley in the Nineteenth Century professing his absolute belief in ghosts. To man, and it would appear to man alone on this plane, it is given to explore the unknown and to establish the communion of soul with soul.
After all it is a question of evidence. If a man say "I won't believe in anything super-natural whatever the evidence may be," it is best to leave him to his folly. If he will accept the evidence that would pass muster in a court of law, then you have a common ground, you can weigh evidence. To me the evidence for spiritual appearances is overwhelming looking at it from the strictly legal angle of vision.
In years gone by the scientific genius began with the assertion that everything must have had a beginning, and to assert that there was a spiritual Being with no beginning was nonsense. To the dim indistinct crowd such appeared to be clever reasoning. But our very consciousness insists that there is something which had no beginning, and Reason adds, "else there could be nothing now." For example, Space could not have had a beginning, that Duration could not, that Truth could not, that somehow, somewhere these Three Eternals must have been co-eternal, incomprehensible. And in this Trinity "none is afore or after the other," which recalls the Athanasian Creed.
I cannot prove that Truth had no beginning, yet my consciousness tells me at no period was it laid down as something new, that the shortest distance between two points would be a straight line. No mathematician has ever proved that there is no boundary to space, but something within me tells me that there can be no such boundary. Even Reason tells me that an impassable boundary would only serve to indicate the unlimited extension beyond.
In all ages we have the mystic. Now the mystic is common to all religions. He is the man who has felt the touch of spiritual beings, the call of Heavenly things, and we have to explain him. In seeking to do this we shall realize some of the truth of the things soldiers see which we have called "The Weird in War."
The evidence for the existence and the appearance of angels does not rest on the testimony merely of men who fought at Mons. But even that evidence which is accepted by the talented author of The Bowmen requires some explaining away and he admits that there is a difficulty in ignoring it. But there is the accumulating evidence of the ages. When we have explained away the soldiers' delusions, we have to confront those of the world's wisest sons—giants in thought. We have to confront the fact that all great religions have the theory of angels.
After all, every good thought may be the whisper of an angel, every beautiful prospect may be but the glint of the wing, every ray of light and heat but the waving of the robes of those higher spiritual intelligences which rush hither and thither on God's service, whose faces see God in Heaven. Such a belief is just as sound, and far more philosophical than any of the guesses I have read so far, given us as "explanation" of such phenomena.
I am in hearty agreement with much that Mr. Arthur Machen writes in his book The Bowmen. It is a book everyone should read. That splendid story of failure and triumph, the Retreat from Mons, prompted him to write a story on an Angelic Host coming to the aid of the British force. He wrote it after the manner of the journalist who is an eye-witness of the event. Many people still believe what they read in the newspapers; and many people believed his story. But he is altogether wrong when he imagines that he is the author of the belief in Angelic visions. I was in France hearing stories of angelic intervention long before Mr. Machen wrote his delightful yarn. A frog might as well imagine that his croak is responsible for the whole world of music, as to postulate that his story gave rise to the theory of Angels. Men had visions of such long before the first stone of our venerable shrine at Westminster was laid, before the Romans built their first mud huts in the valley of the Tiber, before the Pyramids raised their terrific greatness to the heavens. So Mr. Machen need not concern himself on that score.
The Anglican Church has failed dismally to keep before people the teaching of the Church in regard to Angels and Angelic intervention in the affairs of men. There I am in entire agreement with Mr. Machen. Soldiers tell their stories of angels and a few bishops cackle; but not one of them dares to speak of the fuller belief of the Church in angels and the soul-inspiring mystery of the Communion of Saints, the inter-relationship between those on the earth-plane and those who have passed to the higher life. The hardworking priest in the slums fearlessly proclaims this one sacrament of life with the Divine Life, his belief in angels and their help, in saints and their prayers, and because he believes he is able to work under conditions which make life for a cultured man almost intolerable. But he works, thankful to be left alone by his bishop: for war has declared a close time for ritualistic curates. But the soldier whose patriotism he has nurtured writes home to him telling frankly his experiences, his dreams, his visions. I have seen many of these letters. The writers are not liars nor are they hysterical subjects, but fine specimens of healthy manhood. Here and there a dissenting divine has raised his voice to declare there may be something in these stories of angels, but the dissenting pulpit is under the despotism of the pew and cry of "Rome" is enough. "Honest doubt" is always sure of a sympathetic audience, "honest belief" is greeted with the cry of superstition or the cuckoo cry of "Popery."
A soldier sees something super-natural. Some one says I know a hundred or a thousand soldiers who did not see it. A man may witness a murder. His evidence is accepted in the law courts. They do not call the hundred thousand people who did not see it in proof that no murder was perpetrated. Few people know the fundamental principles of evidence. More people misuse it.
FELLOWSHIP WITH THE UNSEEN
Religion is man's fellowship with the Unseen, and it would seem that bishops and various crank divines are determined that such a belief shall be discouraged. Man's nature has upon it the Hall Marks of Heaven. Woven into man's anatomical texture we find faculties that transcend this world, that are for ever intent upon the waves that beat upon us from another shore. He sees the coastline of another world to which he commits his dead. We call such people Mystics, Catholics, Seers, etc. They are the people who have had touch with the Unseen. After all, the people with actual personal experience of spiritual power, who shape their lives by their experience are the real assets of belief.
Man may or may not be sprung from the beast, he may or may not have been raised from slime. Man's spirit did not arise in slime, that at all events came from a race of flame. Dust will not account for everything.
The Church in its greatest office of all, the Communion Service, claims to worship in union with "Angels and Archangels and with all the Company of Heaven." Having proclaimed this tremendous fact the Church, for the most part leaves it, and bishops view any further annunciation of the fact with suspicion and sometimes with threats.
On one solemn day in the year the Church invokes S. Michael and all Angels. S. Michael's Mass as it is still called. The old teaching of the Church bids us lift our eyes to behold those more intimate intelligences which stand nearer the Great and Central Mystery. When a soldier stumbles by chance upon one of those higher beings he is regarded as the victim of hallucination, of superstition or drink or all of them. A chaplain with dull German Protestantism obscuring his view of spiritual things treats him as some unclean thing. Dissent in England for years has been synonymous with pro-Germanism. It has been at war with the historic creed of Christendom. It was better for their aims that angels should not exist.
Before dull German Protestantism with its gross materialism raised the plentiful crop of sects in England, our country was known through Europe as "Merrie England." Our people loved the festival of S. Michael. S. Michael's Mass was a red letter day. The Communion and Inter-Communion of earth with heaven was emphasized. Families met that day to pray and feast, lovers plighted their troth, gatherings of relatives and friends was the rule, joy was the key-note. Then dissent raised its ugly head, dissent that had its birth in Germany. These kill-joys got the upper hand. The recognition of the Christ-Mass, Christmas and the Michael-Mass, Michaelmas, was put down by law. Dissent has never hesitated to use compulsion when it lay ready to hand to enforce materialism. So belief in angels well nigh ceased to exist. To-day the revival comes from actual experience rather than from church teaching. The antagonism to such belief amounts to unreasonable heights of folly. Luther has so long occupied the place of Christ that dissent has forgotten what Christ taught us in regard to angels. We ignore the fact that He claimed to have seen angels, and to have had their help and ministration. When politics mix with religion, spirituality dies, there is no vision, for there is little belief and less sincerity. No wonder the soldier's vision of angels strikes them as something altogether beyond the pale of belief.
It is time that our "spiritual fathers" and other stepfathers began to give us a lead in spiritual things. We are burdened with bishops who play to the gallery and the cheaper press, who would rather take a confirmation service in a coal-pit than in a consecrated shrine of prayer, for the simple reason that "Confirmation in a Coal-pit" gets a flaming advertisement in every paper. Their vision is set on notoriety: the spiritual vision recedes. How can they have sympathy with those who pierce the boundary line that separates this world from a higher plane?
Men who have spent their lives on office seeking can never be seers or priests. Parsons who beat the political drum may rise to power political, never to the power spiritual. The vision glorious is to those who face duty, self-sacrifice, and see in them the Divine Call, who believe in the sacrifice of the Gospel rather than its comfort. The charlatan must not dominate the Christian in our spiritual pastors, if it do, then such are not qualified to minister in spiritual things.
THE WHITE COMRADE
The story that angels fought on the side of the Allies in the battle of Mons must rest upon evidence, coupled with experience. If we begin by assuming that there can be no intelligences in the universe unless they are clothed in the regulated fashion, then no amount of evidence will suffice. It is a worm's-eye view that regards man as the last word in mind.
Meanwhile France is pursuing the evidence for another story exclusively of French origin and vouched for by men to whom the belief in spiritual beings is repugnant, viz., the apparition of "Le Camarade Blanc," of whom at Nancy, in the Argonne, at Soissons and Ypres men talked with hushed voices but with the quiet assurance of men who had seen. It must be something arresting which changes an atheist into a mystic. Again and again the French wounded speak of a man in white bending over them as they lay on the field helpless, and ministering relief. The mysterious one whom our allies call the "Comrade in White" appears simultaneously on different parts of the battlefield. His mission ever is one of mercy.
The Living Church reprints from Work and Life an article giving a full account of "The White Comrade," furnished by a wounded soldier. All accounts agree in the main facts. He is generally observed after "severe fighting," he appears where "death is busiest," he "ignores shot and shell," he is ever "calm, collected," and brings with him an atmosphere of peace. Men of the 87th and 128th French Infantry who have been fighting in the Argonne, have seen him, and on several occasions he has been seen in the trenches.
The soldier's account which appeared in The Living Church is worth reading. It is not conclusive evidence, but the number of such experiences has value on the great subject of Spiritual Intervention. Religion pledges itself to such a belief. This is the soldier's story, one of many similar stories:
"It was the next day. At noon we got word to take the trenches in front of us. They were two hundred yards away, and we weren't well started till we knew that the big guns had failed in their work of preparation. We had advanced 150 yards when we found it was no good. Our captain called to us to take cover, and just then I was shot through both legs.
"I fell into a hole of some sort. I suppose I fainted, for when I opened my eyes I was all alone. The pain was horrible, but I didn't dare to move lest the Germans should see me, for they were only fifty yards away, and I did not expect mercy. I was glad when the twilight came. There were men in my own company who would run any risk in the darkness if they thought a comrade was still alive.
"The night fell, and soon I heard a step, not stealthy, as I expected, but quiet and firm, as if neither darkness nor death could check those untroubled feet. So little did I guess what was coming that, even when I saw the gleam of white in the darkness I thought it was a peasant in a white smock, or perhaps a woman deranged. Suddenly I guessed that it was 'The Comrade in White.'
"At that very moment the German rifles began to shoot. The bullets could scarcely miss such a target, for he flung out his arms as though in entreaty, and then drew them back till he stood like one of those wayside crosses that we saw so often as we marched through France. And he spoke. The words sounded familiar, but all I remember was the beginning, 'If thou hadst known,' and the ending, 'but now they are hid from thine eyes.' And then he stooped and gathered me into his arms—me, the biggest man in the regiment—and carried me as if I had been a child.
"I must have fainted again, for I awoke to consciousness in a little cave by a stream, and 'The Comrade in White' was washing my wounds and binding them up. I wanted to know what I could do for my friend to help him or to serve him. He was looking toward the stream and his hands were clasped in prayer; and then I saw that he, too, had been wounded. I could see, as it were, a shot-wound in his hand, and as he prayed a drop of blood gathered and fell to the ground. I cried out. I could not help it, for that wound of his seemed to be a more awful thing than any that bitter war had shown me. 'You are wounded, too,' I said. Perhaps he heard me, perhaps it was the look on my face, but he answered gently: 'This is an old wound, but it has troubled me of late.' And then I noticed sorrowfully that the same cruel mark was on his feet. You will wonder that I did not know sooner. I wonder myself. But it was only when I saw his feet that I knew him."
An incident which left a great impression upon me occurred at a hospital in North West France in September 1914 quite early in the war. I was visiting some wounded English and French soldiers. One poor fellow, a Parisian, called me to his side. "Come close, monsieur, for I would talk in a whisper. You are English—yes: and you English are common sense, practical—tell me—do you believe in God and angels, such things as priests teach children and women?"
"My measure of experience in life has compelled my belief in angels or spiritual beings, and common sense demands my belief in a Supreme Mind which I call God, the one Basic Fact," I replied.
"Monsieur I would talk with you. Do you believe that this God has priests to reveal such things to us?"
"The Great Supreme Mind has priests, leaders, prophets, in all departments of knowledge, music, mathematics, chemistry, navigation or engineering—why should He not have chosen instruments to reveal theological truth?"
He lay some time quiet, then he said, "It is good; now I feel I can tell you, for you will not smile. For years, ever since I could think, I have been an atheist. I went into this war an atheist. A few days ago a shell burst near me and I was wounded in twenty-nine places." (This statement was subsequently substantiated by the doctor and a nursing sister of mercy.) "Monsieur, I was in great pain: then suddenly a kind face was looking into mine, something touched my brow, the awful pain ceased. 'You called me,' a soft voice said. Then I remembered that when I was wounded I had cried, 'Oh, my God!' and I laughed, monsieur, for I was an atheist. Then I lost consciousness with that kind face still bending over me. Now I lie and think of that kind face. The doctors say maybe I shall recover, and the sisters here say to me that it is all in the Good God's hands and I am content. I say it is all in the Good God's hands. When that kind face was looking into mine I cried out 'I am an atheist,' and he just smiled and said 'But you called me.'"
I offered to get a priest for the poor fellow, but he shook his head. "No, monsieur. I have been an enemy of priests all my life—an enemy of religion—the Church. To offer the remaining days of my wreckage to God—no—I have but a few hours to live, and I would think of that kind face, and when I think of it the pain ceases. Ah, monsieur, I had wonderful arguments to show that there was no God, and that the clerics are the people's enemies—yet when I was struck down I called 'Oh, my God!' It is comical. That is why the kind face smiled."
Another wounded French soldier said to me: "When I go back to Toulon I shall have something to say to my comrades. I always thought priests were only half men, but my God! I have seen them fight. It is magnificent. A priest led us when we hesitated, I got my two wounds following him—a priest. Oh! it is truly unbelievable to think that I should follow a priest. He led us to triumph. He led me to something more. That day I knew religion was true. I saw something in his face. I saw it again when he fell wounded, and I was wounded but I could only think of him. Ah, life is droll—Now I go back to Toulon with two bad wounds and a religion. Priests—I have seen them fight, and I lie and laugh at myself and my comrades as fools for we thought of them as mere amusements for women and children. I saw priests go forward where my noble comrades held back—my noble comrades who sneer at priests. It is droll."
BY R. THURSTON HOPKINS
We were talking at the club about spirit manifestations, and retailing the usual second or third-hand accounts of family spooks and deceased aunts showing themselves to their sorrowing relatives.
"It is strange the tricks which our brains will sometimes play us," said Barton. "I remember once seeing a ghost myself, and I can tell you that the sensation is a very curious one. It was a good many years ago, when I was out in Bombay in the National Indian Bank, and I had been sitting up until the early hours trying to trace some fraudulent entries in the bank's books by one of our clerks who had absconded with a considerable sum of money.
"Everybody in the bank building had long since gone home or to bed, where I ought to have been myself, so I was vastly astonished when I looked up from the ledger to see somebody sitting at the desk where I myself had been writing a few moments before. I felt quite upset for a moment, until I recognised the intruder. He was nebulous, but I could see plainly enough who it was."
"A member of your family in England?" asked Duckford, who was a firm believer in the good old-fashioned second sight of the Scotch Highlanders. Barton answered in his peculiarly quiet way.
"No, it was myself. The appearance of seeing an image of one's self is not altogether unusual, I believe. But, of course, such a thing is really all nonsense ... a matter of nerves."
"Now, I do not think it is fair of you to put all such things down to nerves," said Captain Crabbe, who had returned wounded from France after being in the field since the outbreak of the Great War. "If one cannot always explain, one need not therefore ridicule." Crabbe made this remark with a gravity that was somewhat unusual with him.
"Bless my soul, boy, you haven't been seeing the Angels of Mons or the Agincourt Bowmen over there in Flanders, have you?" asked Duckford, regarding Crabbe with a keen eye, and scenting something savouring of the mysterious, the super-natural. "Do you believe in these stories? I mean—superstitions?"
Captain Crabbe shook his head. "Not greatly," he said smiling. "But I am not one of those who thoughtlessly laugh at that which is out of the common, merely because it cannot be explained on ordinary grounds. Not since I have spent nearly twelve months over in France, at any rate. Are you interested in the weird?"
"I'd be a fool if I wasn't," said Duckford, selecting a cigar from his case. "What's your story about—I see you have one to tell. I am not inquisitive as a rule; but, somehow your manner has warned me that you have something singularly interesting to tell."
Crabbe remained silent a short time. Then, looking at Duckford very earnestly, he answered:
"Well, perhaps I may tell you my story, though I would not tell it to all these heretics around me. Indeed, only two or three other people have ever heard it. I hate—ah! more than I can convey to any living soul—even to think about it. But to you it may be of special interest."
"You know that I look upon all such things from the point of a simple, unbiassed inquirer," returned Duckford. "Come along, Crabbe."
"A good cigar in front of the card room fire, and your story, eh?" Duckford led the way up to the snug card room where a cheerful fire was blazing. "Sit down. Where is that dashed waiter? Oh, you there, Griggs. Come along with some whisky and soda."
Crabbe sat down in a deep chair by the fire, and stretched his feet to the flame. Duckford said nothing; only pulled at his cigar and patiently waited for what he knew was soon coming.
"Do you know—but, no, of course you don't," he began presently. "But can you imagine how it can be that a man could pass all his force into a bronze statue and make it live.... You've heard these literary men and artists talk about putting their souls into their work, Duckford?" Duckford pursed his lips. "Everything lives—even a bronze statue," he said seriously. "If it was not so it would atrophy, it would crumble and disappear. Look at the case of——"
"That's just what old Ombos said. And if he didn't understand all about those things, I should jolly well like to be led to the man who did. Ombos told me hundreds of times that a man walked about this earth throwing his force into everything he came in contact with—scattering some kind of power; and of course that power is picked up by stones and houses and ... statues, or anything. Ombos misused it; that was disastrous. It seems to me that it is safe to use this god-energy only in its own proper sphere. You have very likely heard of men who have tried to pass themselves into inanimate objects? Well, what would you say if I tell you that I even I—who sit now so soberly before you, whom before the war you knew to be ordinarily, a quiet, peaceably-disposed, sport-loving English fellow—had once been under the spell of a bronze statue that somebody had passed clean into?"
"You were under the hypnotic influence of your friend Ombos, probably," I suggested.
"You may think so, now; but you just wait till I have told you all about Ombos, and the bronze statue. Then you'll be able to decide if it was trickery.... It would be different if you could have seen the statue."
Then Crabbe proceeded to unfold his strange tale.
"You know that when the war first broke out I was attached to the Loamshires, and we were one of the first British Regiments to start for the land across the water. After six months' fighting, during which every day was crowded with enough incident to provide a three-reel thriller for a cinema-man, I found myself quartered at Ypres. Have you ever been to Ypres? If you have, it will act as a kind of antidote to those wretched picture post-cards which show it in its last phase—a heap of senseless wreckage. The 'Coal Boxes,' 'Jack Johnsons' and other varied presents from Krupp's had not fallen on the town with such lavishness at the time my regiment found shelter there. It was a June afternoon when I first found my way there. A mellow drowsiness hung over the Cloth Hall and Cathedral. It was indeed a very pleasant little town. The old houses of the square, the Prior's Gate, the noble trees, the stretch of green turf, all shared in the dream-like repose. In the Rue Bar-le-Duc, as everybody knows, just where it winds around to the fine gateway of the Cathedral, there is a row of little shops with bulging leaded windows, dusty and delightful. The one that took my eye was an antique shop. I had a whole regiment of aunts and uncles at home who in every letter demanded souvenirs, and here was the chance to lodge a shipping order, with about a hundred labels, and leave the old antiquarian fogey to send 'em off. It was inside that I met Ombos for the first time. I selected the souvenirs, and wrote labels; but old Ombos made a devil of a muddle over sending them off, and a very prim maiden aunt received a snuff box adorned with a young French lady in very scanty attire.... By the way, you don't know my aunt Sylvia, do you?"
Crabbe laughed heartily for the first time that evening.
"I spent some hours in the bulging window of that old shop examining the wonderful collection of beautiful old things, and staggering about on piles of andirons and copper warming pans, old Ombos watching me all the time with an amused smile.
"I can still see Ombos standing like a figure carved in old ivory, with one skinny yellow hand resting on the edge of a black oak table.
"'I call all this stuff here rubbish; not worth looking at. But people do not understand real good stuff if I show it to 'em,' he said, and smiled a remotely contemptuous smile. 'Now if you really want to see some choice antiques ...'
"He motioned me to follow, and taking a lighted taper, led the way into a room at the back of his shop. Ombos pottered about with the taper on the end of a rod; suddenly a big overhead chandelier burst into light and I stood blinking in amazement.
"It was one of the most gorgeously furnished oak-panelled rooms I have ever seen. The floor was of black polished ebony, and strewn on the floor were priceless leopard skins and Persian rugs. There were heavy Chinese tapestries worked in crimson and gold, Tibetan devil-masks, gold candelabra, armour richly inlaid with precious stones, wondrous black oak furniture.... But I can assure you, I could continue indefinitely describing the contents of that room without giving you any adequate idea of what it was like!
"'Hardly what you expected to see, eh?' Ombos said, and there was a faint trace of mockery in his tone.
"I looked around me helplessly.
"'No!' I said, sinking into a most luxurious silk-cushioned divan. 'Trenches, and this! I suppose I'll wake up soon.'
"'Would you like to see my bronze statue of Albert of Cologne? It's the gem of my collection, and has a world-wide reputation!'
"'It's rather different, you may say.' He looked full over my head as I spoke, and following the direction of his eyes, I turned. In a dark recess in that part of the room stood a bronze statue, some six feet in height. It portrayed the great mystic in a long habit fashioned after a monkish cowl, and his hair and face reminded me of a bust of Nero I had once seen in the gallery of the Louvre. Ombos told me that the life of Albert Magnus had been written by Dr. Sighart. This Dominican, magnus in magia, major in philosophia, maximus in theologia, was distinguished alike for his knowledge of the black art and his great virtue, for austerity of regimen, and dislike of any form of society. For other details of this philosopher I must refer you to Sighart's excellent monograph and Mr. James Mew's work on The Black Art from which we learn that Albert of Cologne was accused by the vulgar of holding illicit commerce with the devil. They believed as a matter of course that he was aided by Beelzebub. And legends grew about him in wild luxuriance. In particular he is credited with the creation of an android, homunculus, or, as some say, a fair maiden—an idea which Goethe may have copied in his celebrated play—able, according to some, to say only 'Salve,' but, according to others, to predict with the unerring accuracy of a Zadkiel a change of government, or the advent of a pestilence, a royal marriage or a royal death. But all agree that this automaton was smashed by his pupil Thomas Aquinas, who ought to have known better than to believe it a device of the Evil One. This story of the speaking statue may go with those other marvels of his vision of the Holy Virgin to encourage him in theological study, and his stupendous garden of flowers and birds and fountains in mid-winter for William of Holland, and that gracious scent which arose after a longer time than four days out of his sacred sepulchre, and his vision of St. Dominic, who himself revealed to him the secret of the stone, whereby he discharged all the debts of his bishopric.
"These bald facts about our friend Magnus must suffice. Old Ombos had a splendid edition of his works, lately published in Paris under the direction of a certain August Borguet; twenty large folios on all imaginable subjects. They included chapters on hawks and adhering to God, on meteors and the mystery of the Mass, on the healing of the leper and the eau de vie.
"I was a gross Philistine in those days—still am, as a matter of fact—and I could not appreciate the statue. A strenuous life with my Regiment had stifled what little appreciation for such things a more leisured existence might have fostered. I could not appreciate nor understand the things that Ombos was saying about the bronze statue and the strange Master of the Masters it portrayed.
"Old Ombos—you could not help but think that he had grown very much like the statue himself; or had the statue grown like him?—held up a candelabra which threw the details of the bronze figure into relief and cast flickering reflections on the dark oak panelling of the recess.
"'It's an exquisite thing,' said Ombos. 'See how he rears himself on his black granite plinth. A noble pile of mellow bronze, irregular yet graceful.' Ombos regarded it smilingly, yet with one of his queer, sinister looks. It would have been hard to know what he was thinking. He was one of those tall, emaciated chaps, that make us men of ordinary stature feel dwarfish; and as I looked at his skull-like face I wondered at first where his eyes were hidden ... they seemed so far back in the dark hollows on each side of his nose.
"I placed myself before Albert of Cologne—to try and appreciate it, you know. Well, I didn't think a great deal of it, but of course I was a Philistine. I had seen many great, heavy bronzes in the British Museum, and they hadn't even stirred my heart, so it is not surprising that this one failed to affect me. I told Ombos, merely to please him, that I thought it was an extraordinary piece of work. But he very soon saw that I was not able to appreciate old Magnus, and he drew a heavy plush curtain back in front of him.
"'Come back! Come away!' he said. 'You have not yet the understanding. Oh, it's big! It's a big god, I tell you.'
"Ombos was very patient with me, but as he walked up and down the room kicking the leopard skin rugs I knew he was thinking what an idiot I was, and I just waited.
"'You have not yet the understanding,' he muttered. 'It may come to you one day ... the doors of life and death are left ajar from time to time, and the light of Al Tughrai's lamp of wisdom shines out upon us for a moment between the opening and closing.' The carved ivory face of old Ombos seemed softer when he said that.
"'Did my brother care for the old bronze? Did he love it as I do, every curve in the lean and corded neck ...'
"And then all of a sudden he walked over to me! 'Come!' he said, putting his hand on my shoulder and speaking in a voice which he had the trick of making wonderfully amiable. 'Dear me, dear me! How I must bore you with my old relics. You want some tea and muffins or something of the kind, eh? Will you do me the honour of taking tea with me?' he said, leading me through a door in a recess and a wilderness of corridors to a small room, where a charming French girl presided over a steaming tea-pot of massive silver.
"'This is Captain Crabbe,' said Ombos introducing me to her. He turned to me. 'This is Margot, my niece,' he said with a smile.
"I made a step forward and bowed slightly; she was very pretty, this girl, as she stood there with the rich red light from the silk lamp shades behind her. She was one of those dark, seductive women that look their best in a warm light; and that evening her face and figure seemed instinct with the joy of youth.
"Never before have I tasted such hot-cakes and sandwiches, and muffins ... there could be nothing like them, nor any hot-cakes to set above them in all Europe. The sinister look had now quite passed from my host's face as he sat before me stirring tea and munching muffins comfortably; he seemed goodheartedness embodied. On the table were some wonderful lucid china bowls filled with cigarettes, Parascho and caporal ordinaire, Egyptian and every imaginable kind. After tea we pushed back our chairs and smoked. His conversation was delightful, and showed me at once that he was a man of brilliant gifts, yet an eccentric. I felt much as Mark Twain must have felt when he first met Rudyard Kipling; Twain has summed up, in that inimitable way of his, the feeling of being in the presence of an overwhelming personality. 'I believed that he knew more than any person I had met before, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before—though he did not say it, and I was not expecting that he would.'... That was exactly how I felt when I was talking tea with Ombos ... his conversation was as exhilarating as wine; his presence diffused a stimulating atmosphere; I felt exalted by his joyous enthusiasm.
"Well (to get on), after I left him at the door of his old shop (which was such a dingy entrance to all the luxury of the interior of the place), and I think we were loth to part, it was agreed between us that, should I remain in the town, we were to meet again. As I walked down the little pave street something I couldn't account for began to sweep over me; it was not merely that the presence of Ombos had fascinated me; there was something else. There was something that stirred in my heart—a thing which you will not understand. If you had known Ombos you might have understood. I wanted to go back and have another look at that bronze statue; I was becoming desperately afraid that I had been too hasty in my inspection of it—that I had under-estimated it. I was very young, heedless, self-esteemed and smug, and had hardly paused to pay a moment's tribute to it. I felt that Albert of Cologne was standing there, absorbed, proud, erect, and defiant, waiting for me to find my true eyes.
* * * * *
"Of course, I did see the bronze statue again, or I shouldn't be sitting here wasting your time and patience. Within a few days I went round again to the old shop, and old Ombos was standing there amid his Queen Anne candlesticks and piles of books just as if he had been waiting for me.
"'Come in, come in!' he said, speaking in a voice that made me feel honestly welcome. 'Dear me, dear me! I am very glad you have not forgotten me.'
"'No,' I said. 'Not forgotten you or the bronze statue. It was the only thing in your place that did not interest me when I first walked in.'
"I paused, and Ombos prompted me half unconsciously: 'Yes?'
"'Now!' I said, meeting his eyes misting my own in doing so, 'it is the only thing I should like to see.'
"'Ah!' he said.... 'Well, I told you that he might come over you slowly; but the gods direct rightly whom they will. I tell you that such things as the Keys of Mercy and the Lamps of Wisdom are not gained in one swift breath. What's gained in a few moments is not worth having. All those who have through toil and pain entered into citizenship in the Celestial City will tell you that. Gods do not grow in one night like mushrooms. Every great masterpiece is an evolution, be it a statue, a poem, a painting, a man—or a god. If it is ever given to you to see my Albert of Cologne as I see him you will understand what I mean.' He turned round to me and I gave a start, I can tell you. Never have I seen such lurid gleams of light as those that danced from those two deep-set eyes! I say 'lurid,' for at times, the colour of them took a blood red hue, and changed quickly again to a glittering green. As I stared at him—it was all over in a few seconds—the baleful glare seemed to grow in intensity, till I felt as though I were enduring the mocking gaze of Albert of Cologne himself; and verily, I half expected any moment to see Ombos change into a mighty bronze demon or some appalling, devilish shape from the under-world.
"'Er—shall we go and have a look at the statue?' I said, with a half-conscious determination to see whether it really ever had existed (I was beginning to think that Ombos had been using a kind of hypnotic influence on me, thus inducing me to see visions); and also, as I believe, with some vague wish to shut out the sight of those rolling, glittering eyes. For the first time I felt towards him a fierce anger, and I found myself making a resolution never to return to see him again when once I was free of the place.
"'Ah!' he said, 'I thought you'd want to come back and see Albertus Magnus; I want you to have a good look at him this time and tell me if he looks quite as commonplace as he did before. Such things can only trickle slowly into the soul, but presently, ah! they get right hold of one—they permeate one, and then there comes a time ...'
"Ombos snatched at the heavy curtain, and the rings screeched on the brass rod. Clothed in his monkish garb, his face furrowed and seamed; the lustre of his eyes dimmed by the tears of centuries—there stood Albertus. The sunken cheeks spoke of years of study and aspiration, but the swelling muscles of his arms, the deep chest, the wonderful hands—big, bony, horrible hands—spoke of one from whom age has taken little toll. Here was age, wisdom, mysticalness, a subtle sense of pensive melancholy, and a persistence that never tires.
"'Well, how do you like my statue this time?' asked Ombos.
"'Splendid!' I breathed.
"'Yes,' he said looking hard at me. 'The best of it is Albertus asks for nothing. You can neither bribe nor buy him; your flattery will not move him; your approbation or blame alike are vain ... he has the self-sufficiency of the Master of Masters.'
"'Yes,' I found myself saying eagerly. 'He is the Master of Masters.'
"Suddenly he turned and threw the curtain back and took me by the arm and led me away. 'My force is all going into Albertus—but I must not overdo it. If I stand too long before him he drains me of all my god-energy, you know ... that leaves me sick and exhausted. You've heard about how Michael Angelo put all his power into his marble statue of Moses? You've read about such things? You know the kind of gush. I met a poor, half-crazed, devil-driven poet-fellow in Paris some years ago who told me he had written a great poem; he had lured the crucified soul of a murderer into his verses. Confoundedly conceited about it, too, he was ... called it The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Bah! It would have taken him a lifetime to put a murderer's socks into a poem. He was a mountebank ... a posturer! And what is this winged thing men name the soul? And who did make the stars?' Ombos turned demon-like eyes on me, and his whole face seemed lit up with an appalling mirth.
"'Believe them not, for they are not miraculous ones. They will be lost for ever; they will die. Their books and statues may live, but they will die, as sure as the grass grows over graves. My force and body and soul is passing into the Master of Masters.... I shall live and be a god, I shall stand oblivious and indifferent to the centuries as they stalk by.'
"'You don't mean to tell me ...'
"Ombos looked up, his red-green eyes gleaming as he answered,
"'Most certainly I do ... my soul will pass into that bronze statue when I am ready to give it up.'
"'The war, Mr. Ombos,' I thought as I looked at his shrivelled fearsome figure, 'has turned your head. There are certainly a few bats in your belfry. You will find your way into an asylum before many weeks have passed.'
"You must understand, I didn't realize what kind of a chap I was dealing with then, I didn't know that he was all cold and calm and apart from life ... very clever and—philosophical, but not human.
"'Nonsense! How can a man's soul pass into a bronze statue?' I asked rather testily. 'Good heavens, man, do you realize that you're trying to make me believe that which is beyond the pale of all human possibility!'
"'Human possibility! What is human possibility? I tell you that all this is fact; simply.' Ombos rose and began to pace to and fro over the Persian rugs like a tiger. 'I'm not given to imagining things.'
"'Bah!' he grunted. 'Every child will tell you that the tendency of spirits to return to the old haunts of bodily life is almost universal. The universal laws apply ... there is no escape from the great law, the attraction of environment.'
"'The rest is merely every-day knowledge. Have you ever heard of ancient formula by which the grosser factors of the body may be eliminated, leaving the ethereal portions to retain the spirit? Do you not understand that the body may be preserved from absolute disintegration? The old alchemists all knew that death could be indefinitely deferred in this way. Professor Vaini left among his papers a work of two thousand pages in which he clearly demonstrated that it was possible for a spiritualized body to retain a modified life practically for ever. Any doctor will tell you the hair and nails of a dead person will often grow for years after....'
"Ombos turned his glittering eyes on me a moment inquisitively.
"'Oh, tell me all that kind of stuff if you like,' I protested good-humouredly. 'It makes no impression on me. I'm a normal man, Ombos, and I object to having my free imagination harrowed over things that don't count. Behind that curtain is a bronze statue, and it never can or will be anything else but a bronze statue, and that's about the sum and total of it all.'
"'I was merely telling you a few cold and scientific facts,' returned Ombos argumentatively.
"'Now, if I wished to impress you it would be easy enough. I would like to test that sensitiveness which you boast that you don't possess. I think I could give you a severe shaking-up! And I will begin by telling you that I will employ mere vulgar trickery ... the trickery of any mountebank who fools people at a country fair!'
"He looked at me with that slow smile of his—the smile of the mystic—mocking, mysterious.
"I answered him with a weak laugh. 'You may try some of your tricks, wizard; but you will fail to impress me, I think!'
"'I make it a habit not to fail.'
"His keen eyes flamed, and his brow was dark and hot. He started up and walked over to the small oak escritoire. Bending down he produced a small glass lamp, and put a light to it. It burnt with the imperceptible flame of pure spirit of wine. He took it and vanished a moment. When he returned, and set it before me, it gave out a keen white glare and heavily-scented smoke. He took me by the arm and pointed to the black velvet curtain which hid the bronze statue. 'See, there: behind—through the curtain. Who is that?'
"While I looked, Ombos gave a strange rasping sound. Then, in a tone of weird intensity: 'See! See!' and he laid his hand on mine ... the curtain was no longer there, and some vague thing gathered—the statue was dim behind it—the form of a man.
"'The veil is drawn,' said the voice of Ombos. 'Master, the veil is drawn. See, if you will. See!'
"In a fluid light the form darkened. I saw Ombos seated before a table with his head bowed down over a folio volume, quiet and still. The head was ill to look at, and I knew he was dead.... All grew misty and faded into light again.
"'The veil is drawn,' he droned. 'Look again!'
"Again a film gathered in the light and I saw the Albertus Magnus for a moment. Then it changed to Ombos, himself.... A lean and grim form with dim mocking features, and yellow eyes that glittered and flickered....
"And again the vision blurred and faded into light. Then Ombos dashed the lamp aside, and the room was in red darkness ... the silence and darkness seemed to endure for an eternity. I heard the hiss of a quick indrawn breath at last ... it was my own breathing.... I opened my eyes.
"I was in the small room where I had taken tea with Ombos and Margot some weeks before. Supper was laid on a superb octagon table. 'They were good tricks, were they not?' said Ombos, with an easy laugh. His keen eyes smote keen into mine. 'Now you will in truth be able to go away and tell people how I tricked you, how it was plainly all a cheat.'
"At that moment Margot came in with a big apron tied about her. She greeted me pleasantly, setting a tray down on the table.
"'We do our own work here, Captain Crabbe,' she said. 'Do you want to make yourself useful?'
"I rose promptly. My little adventure into the occult world with Ombos had been rather exhilarating. I was glad when she told me to follow her out, through a long corridor into the kitchen, where she gave me a can-opener and a tin of sardines.
"'Open those up and turn them into this little dish, please. And if you have any hygienic aversion to tinned things, please forget it. Otherwise you will have to eat some of my hot teacakes.'
"Margot was standing at the table, cleaning a crisp head of celery. The position showed me her profile, with a little wisp of black hair escaping near one ear.
"We sat down to one of the most cheerful meals three people have ever enjoyed. We sat chatting there for nearly an hour. All the while I was trying to reconcile this man Ombos who sat talking boyishly with the student of occultism and black magic I had talked with an hour or so before. If I had felt any resentment of the tricks he had played on me it would have vanished utterly. Afterwards Margot made real Turkish coffee over a dainty spirit lamp ... once—in a critical stage in the coffee-making, too—she looked up and her eyes sought mine; then her red lips parted in a smile. She poured out the coffee deftly, blowing out the lamp, and put the little copper pot on a plate.
"Ombos surveyed his coffee with the air of a connoisseur, his head turned on one side.
"Margot produced the bowls of cigarettes and reached over my shoulder to offer me one. 'You want Egyptian?' she said smiling. 'You see I have a good memory—you smoked them last time.'
"A warm faint perfume came from her hair.
"It was ten o'clock when I rose to leave, Ombos and Margot came out to the front to say good night: my last glimpse, as I walked down the pave street, was of Margot—a bare-headed figure, with wistful grey eyes, calm with the mysterious wisdom of pure womanhood. She waved her dainty lace handkerchief to me.
"That was the last of Ombos in the flesh. The next day, after German shells had poured on Ypres for six hours without cessation, my regiment left the town, and we went out a mile or two to take over some trenches.
"A month later my duty took me back to Ypres, and I found myself walking up the Rue Bar-le-Duc towards the little antique shop. Overhead the shells whistled without cessation. It was now a city of the dead—one could not realize that it was the same pleasant little town where I had met with so strange an experience a few weeks back. Men, children and horses were lying dead in every gutter.
"In due course I arrived at the shop. A large hole had been ripped in the pave road before the door, and I had to step over a dead and twisted soldier to gain an entrance. Of course the place was empty. Ombos, Albertus Magnus and all the wonderful contents of the spacious old rooms had disappeared. I made a search of the house, and it was not without a curious sensation in my heart that I entered the room where the Master of Masters had towered in his niche. Silence—only the faint boom of a gun far away in the French trenches—awful, ghastly silence. Then a deafening roar and a falling of masonry as Krupp's marked down another house in the town of sorrow. The horror of it!
"I turned dismally away, out into the Rue Bar-le-Duc, and along the square. A few scattered lights shone feebly through the evening mist, and over towards the Norman bridge the yellow flames from a burning house lit up the sky with a lurid glow. At nearly every street corner little groups of civilians had collected and were talking and gesticulating in a terrified manner. When a big shell came with a hoarse, rattling noise through the air, like a racing motor cycle on the track at Brooklands, they would rush into their homes, panic-smitten. If death winked, and passed them over, out they would creep again. And so they lived in an inferno of shells for weeks on end.
"An ambulance wagon overturned in the middle of the road attracted my attention. I could not repress a shudder as I looked on the shell-shattered wreck.... It was the old type of four-horse ambulance used by the army in South Africa; possibly it had jolted into the shell-swept death-trap of Spion Kop, or carried men into the reeking enteric camps of Ladysmith. Well, it had made its last journey this time! The four dead horses had not been cut away from the traces, and from underneath the huddled and twisted heap stuck out an arm, and in the hand was clutched one of those short, stumpy whips which are used by the lead driver of a gun. I can see that poor chap in my mind thrashing and urging his team of horses into a gallop, for it was not reckoned wise to meander about the streets of Ypres, and then—one blinding crash.
"I swung round with a great desire to get away from the appalling scene, and as I did so, I noticed a girl in a doorway struggling in the grip of a powerful, swarthy-faced man of middle age. In the fading light I caught a glimpse of her face, and I was out of the shadow and by her side like a sky-rocket.
"'Let her go!' I said shortly. 'Before I mop out the gutter with you.'
"The man turned on me.
"'Who the devil——'
"A Red Cap—a corporal in the Military Police—loomed into view, and with an imprecation the rough backed away from the girl, turned, and in a moment was lost in the gloom. I brought my eyes back to the girl who had confronted me in the red light of sunset, and I stood gazing at her dumbly, fascinated, but with never a word to say. She was burning with anger and shame, trembling like an aspen, too.
"It was Margot!
"The girl glanced up at me, a look that set my heart throbbing. It was my first real sight of her since I had seen her that afternoon with Ombos. I had thought her pretty then, but there is a distinct gap between a pretty woman and a lovely woman, and she was as beautiful as a Greek marble. Indeed, but for the carmine of her lips, and long dark eyelashes, she might have been chiselled out of pellucid stone, for her skin was dead white. She was—or had been—beautifully and expensively dressed, and there was breeding and refinement in every line of her face.
"'Don't you know me?' I said.
"The girl looked at me intently.
"'I know you, of course,' she said.
"I won't waste time in trying to tell you what my thoughts and sensations were. Rather I will tell you instead, what I did.
"It was some minutes later, and already we had started to walk slowly back in the direction of the Rue Bar-le-Duc.
"'And now you want to know—' she said.
"'Yes—that's it—what's become of Ombos ... and the bronze statue?'
"Margot looked up at me, and a strange melancholy transformed her face.... She was at a loss for words.... 'Poor Ombos—oh, poor, cranky Ombos,' she muttered. 'One morning I found him dead in his room, with all his wonderful, brown, powdery-looking books. He was leaning on a table over an old volume that he was fond of.... And then the doctors came. He had died, they afterwards said, of failure of the heart's action.'
"'Dead,' I murmured mechanically....
"'Then everything was very uncomfortable. But I saved a good sum of money, and I sent most of the valuable things to Paris to be sold—no living soul coming forward to make any claims. Ombos left everything to me ... bonds, securities, and all. Come this way—I have a little room up the side-street.
"'He left me well provided for. He——'
"'Yes; but why on earth do you stay in this dead city,' I broke in.
"'Sssh!... Don't interrupt unless I ask you questions.
"'I'll tell you all about everything. It's extraordinarily difficult....'
"'You see,' she picked her words carefully, 'Ombos was so—queer about that horrible Albertus Magnus of his. He had made me promise never to part with it and it seemed to me—stupidly perhaps—that I owed him that—to see that his only wish was carried out to the letter. Otherwise I should never dare to have stayed here. You couldn't expect me to move about with a gigantic bronze figure without making ample preparations.'
"'This is where I live,' she said in a low voice.
"Margot had halted in front of an alley leading over rough cobbles, into a small square of what appeared to be old oak-fronted houses. A narrow passage-way ran down by one side of the end house.
"'Won't you come inside, and—see Albertus? This way,' she said. 'It's rather dark, I'm afraid.'
"In pitch-black darkness, guided by Margot's hand, I stumbled through a doorway into a spacious hall—a mysterious, fusty-smelling cavern of a place—along a passage, and then up a flight of worn stone stairs. It was one of those old houses where one could feel the silence and hear the shadows. The steps came out upon a bare landing with oak-lined walls, lit only by a solitary flickering candle, and Margot, halting before a locked door, opened it and motioned me to enter.
"The room was in darkness, and I knew not what fear, akin to that little grey shadow of a fear, was to be found in the darkness there. At first I hesitated. Then Margot came with the candle, and as it guttered, the flame threw distorted shadows; at one moment lighting up a dark spot with a sudden flash, and then sending queer, erratic reflections chasing across the oak panelling. Then a flicker displayed the unmade bed on which Margot had lain.... She coloured deeply.
"'You have stored the bronze statue in some other part of the house,' I said at a venture.
"She looked at me, as I thought, a little uneasily.
"'You aren't afraid of that old statue?' she exclaimed. 'We might at least light up the candles,' she added, as I made no reply; and she turned and put a burning taper to the candelabra.
"As Margot spoke the candles flared up, and then, with a sudden start of unexplained dismay, I saw in a corner by the bed stood the bronze figure.
"As I looked at it I felt the horror of nightmare seize me, for it bore a striking resemblance to Ombos. A dreadful exuberance and vitality seemed to shine through the thing, an exuberance wholly malign, a vitality that foamed and frothed with unimaginable evil. Evil beamed from the deep cavernous eyes; it leered in the demon-like mouth.... Ugh!—
"Margot walked up to me and patted my shoulder. 'Well, and are you really afraid of that thing,' she said, pointing to the statue.
"'But, don't you see?' said I. 'It's scarcely the face of a bronze figure. It's almost human. No; it isn't even human. It's the face of some devil.' Margot laughed.
"'Yes: he isn't very cheerful,' she said. 'Scarcely a boudoir ornament, eh? I'll throw a blanket over Albertus if you like.'
"'I really wish you would,' I said, 'I don't care so long as he can't grin at me.'
"Somehow, with the bronze figure covered up, I felt much lighter and happier.
"I think that Margot—that Margot must have been rather overstrained after the struggle with that brute. She seemed to be all nerves—upset: insisted in putting her little white hand on mine in a very solemn way, and thanking me for all sorts of imaginary favours.... Got 'a wheeze' into her head, among other rot, that I had saved her life.
"'Look here,' I said. 'I wish you wouldn't talk so jolly silly. I'm not a bit unselfish, I'm a novelist. There was nothin' doin' with my crowd—regiment I mean—and so I came here to look for "copy." That was why I persisted in seeing you home here. It was all just a matter of "copy" to me—at the start.' I paused, and Margot turned her tourmaline eyes full on me. Had you asked me after my first visit to old Ombos what Margot's eyes were like I could not have told you the colour to save my life. If I had been forced to weigh out a guess I might have said they were a shade of grey. Grey? Name of a little dog! Yes, I should have called 'em grey, but that would have been like describing the Pyramids by saying they were stone. However can I describe the wonder that I found ..."
A sort of flush appeared on Crabbe's boyish face. "I—I'm afraid I have run off the track of my story a bit," he stammered, "but I may as well tell you all of it."
"Take a drink of whiskey;" said Duckford slowly, "and take your own time."
"Margot looked at me, her lips quivering. 'You've not found much "copy" I'm afraid,' she answered despondently.
"'Now,' I said, meeting her eyes, '"copy" matters not at all ... you are all that matters.'
"It does not in the least concern you or the story to know what manner of a woman Margot is. But I might say that she is in fulness a woman—not a fribble, or one of those pick-me-up-and-carry-me women. So when I said plain words to her she did not pretend to misunderstand.
"'Don't let us be conventional,' I went on, 'It wouldn't fit in with these wonderful days a bit. Perhaps I've no right to talk to you like this—but Ombos is dead and you seem to have no friend in the world. We have got caught up, you and I, in one of the marvellous tangles of this great conflict, and God knows how it's all going to end. But it seems to have been written in the book of fate that we should meet, and whether Ombos and his bronze statue haunts me to the end of my days or he doesn't, I'm glad I have met you, and to know for just one swift hour I've used these hands of mine in your service. I wouldn't take back one minute of these great days!'
"Margot was regarding me with her wide eyes, a little startled, but I saw beyond those rounds of tourmaline a soft light.
"'How is it?' said Margot calmly. 'A few hours ago you hadn't spoken more than a few words to me ... you don't know me.'
"'In times of war,' I reminded her, 'we live a year in a day.'
"Margot rested her chin on her hands. 'What a strange world it is,' she murmured.
"'Confoundedly strange,' I agreed. 'I can't help thinking even now that my meeting with Ombos in that weird den in the Rue Bar-le-Duc was all a dream, and I'm going to wake up soon.'
"'I didn't mean that,' Margot said quietly. 'That didn't seem so strange to me. Perhaps it's because I lived with Ombos for nearly four years.'
"'It was just like a page torn from the Arabian Nights to me,' I said. She smiled at me wanly.
"'The only other home I've known was with foster-parents in Paris when I was quite a child,' she said. 'I was brought here straight from a convent school in Brussels. Ombos was my guardian. He'—she hesitated, shivering—'I don't think he was quite—sane, but he was always very kind to me.'
"'Margot,' I stammered as I imprisoned her hands in mine, 'I'm going to take you out of this mudhole of a place.... I'm going to send you over to England. I'll stay here and look after you to-night, and to-morrow I'll see you on your way.'
"She dragged her hands away suddenly.
"'But are you sure?' Margot said, half sobbing. 'Please reflect ... you are in too much of a hurry. When an idea comes to you—the idea, that you want me for instance—what do you do? Instead of taking the idea for a long, cool walk, you sit down here to work it up ... it is the eternal boyishness of the Englishman. You must first think of your future.'
"'But do you think that the future holds anything for me now that I wouldn't throw away with both hands for you?' I said, and the passion of my voice whipped the blood up into that alabaster face ... she put out her hands with a little pleading movement.
"'Don't,' she said again.
"'I must,' I said stubbornly. 'There's nothing in the world powerful enough to take you from me ... if you will have me. Margot, you must believe me ... you shall believe me!' I added almost savagely, and my hands closed round her waist as she leaned against the back of a huge old divan. Margot closed her eyes for a moment and her head dropped gently on my shoulder. Her hair brushed my face, and the faint musky scent that came from it is woven into all my after memories of that moment, I drew her closer and she sighed for very happiness, while life drifted past in uncounted minutes or hours.
"It was the next evening that I arranged to have one of the A.S.C. cars,—then running between Ypres and St. Omer,—wait for us outside Margot's rooms. Under cover of darkness I bundled Margot into the motor-lorry, got the bronze statue in, and jumped up on the driver's seat beside her, and sank down with a gasp of relief. One last glimpse of the little bulgy window of the shop as the lorry rounded the corner, and then I turned and looked at the girl. Tears glittered in her eyes, and her lips were quivering. I put my hand out and closed over her ice-cold fingers.
"'Margot!' I said, 'I'm taking you to Boulogne and then you will go to England to my home. My people will look after you....'
"'But—' she hesitated.
"'There are no "buts,"' I said firmly, 'You are coming with me. You can't stay in this infernal hole, like a rat in a trap.'
"Margot gave a weary little sigh and leaned closer to me, giving herself into my care as trustfully as a child. Until that time she had been just a figure in the great war game that might provide me with something to 'write up' into a book. That had been my principal thought. Now, all in a few moments, her beauty, the frightened look which had shone in her great grey eyes, her distress made me forget all that, drove all thoughts of traffic with publishers from my mind. I knew only that it was good to help her.
"Then I set about thinking how I could get Margot and Albertus Magnus to England. It was going to be a difficult game. I went carefully over all the good fellows I knew who could help me. There was old Longden of the A.S.C. depot at St. Omer, there was Captain Chester, the transport officer at Boulogne, and Orgles of ammunition supply at Cassel, which is a small place where the strings of motors from the base unload.
"Well, (to get on,) we arrived late that night at St. Omer, and by a vast amount of bribery and cajolery I got some A.S.C. men to knock up a strong case for the Albertus Magnus and—but enough. It is sufficient to say that an officer who was going home on leave was kind enough to see Margot as far as Boulogne, and in the fullness of time both Albertus Magnus and the girl came safely to England.
"I have endeavoured to give you the facts of my strange story up to this point, without omission or exaggeration. I have been careful not to miss out the slightest items. If I have failed, it must not be put down to forgetfulness: for I do not think there is a single thing about old Ombos that has not been permanently fixed in my mind. Even now I have but to shut my eyes to see the leering face of Albertus, to stand once more trembling with terror and see that green shadow jump into the dusk with hellish glee and frolicsome skippings and toppings gallop away, to walk into the old library at home and see poor Price with his knees drawn up and eyes fixed open in extreme terror—But enough. I do not exaggerate.
"And now I must come to what you'll call the second part of the story—though it was all one long connected nightmare to me. I returned from France, as you know, six months ago, with a bullet in my leg, and thought myself in the best of luck to get a 'blighty' one; I mean a slight wound which necessitated me being sent back to England. I went down to a charming old house at Monk's Ely which my father had lately moved into, and soon drifted into peaceful ways of country life. The trivial little objects and customs of rustic life—those simple things that are best of all—attracted me surprisingly.
"A delightful room full of my books and pictures had been prepared on the ground floor of the house, but I was not often in it. Still, I accorded to my bronze statue a prominent corner in the room, where he frowned upon all my other possessions with that great look of disinterestedness which only bronze or death can typify.
"A week or two passed without incident, except that again and again a curious feeling that sometimes I was not alone was present in my mind. In a way I got used to it, because after being in the trenches and looking in the face of death as a kind of hobby the feeling of release and lightness that comes over one drives all other troubles clean away. But after a while this feeling seemed to be growing in poignancy. In fact at the end of the first fortnight I mentioned it to my father.
"'Strange you should have felt like that,' he said one night after dinner, 'because for the last day or so, the same sensation has been creeping over me. When is it that you have your ghostly visitor? Have you any feeling now of such a thing, for instance?'
"We were having a smoke on the lawn ... it was a beautiful evening of stars, and as he spoke I felt the unseen presence with terrific intensity. At that moment the door that led from the library quietly swung open, and just as quietly closed again, as if someone had passed out into the garden.
"'Did you see that?' I said. 'There is not a breath of wind stirring: odd thing that a door should play those kind of tricks.'
"My father was silent a moment.
"'You felt it then,' he said.
"'Frightfully!' I breathed.
"'Let's get back to the dining-room,' my father urged.
"Just as we got up to the house door (not the library door which opened on the path), I saw, as I thought, a figure move in the bushes near the library. Perhaps it would be better to describe it as a shadow ... but I could swear that it was of a greenish colour. For one moment, from sheer terror of the unseen, I stood frozen to the doorstep, and then my father touched my arm and we walked in together.
"That evening, my friend Price, after his wont, dropped in. I had just run the car round to the front door and was about to run into the village to bring the vicar back to stay with us over the week-end—besides I badly wanted to get away from those infernal gusts of depression that swept the place. I did not scruple to keep to my arrangements and told Price to make himself comfortable in the library till my return. 'You'll find cigars, spirits—and the spirit,' I said jokingly. He nodded and laughed, and I jumped into the car, and quickly put a mile between myself and—the bronze statue, for I was convinced that Albertus of Cologne was connected in some unearthly way with the face of Fear that often turned full on me.
"A half-hour afterwards I had pulled up at the vicarage, and was hanging on to the bell which gave forth a mighty clamour. I was impatient to get inside for a moment and behold the good genial face of the vicar. Somehow, wherever the vicar went, he had a wonderful way of cheering things up; his presence diffused an atmosphere of merriment. The door suddenly opened and I was face to face with him:
"'My dear boy,' cried the vicar, 'I am glad to see you.'
"Then he stared at me in amazement. 'What have you done to yourself? You have aged years since I saw you last week.'
"'Ah, I have things to tell you,' I said, 'Things that will make you think I am off my head, but I shall convince you——'
"The vicar took my arm and walked me up to his sanctum, a fine spacious chamber, beautified with that simplicity which throws a wonderful dignity over all, and tends to show how in omission so much more refinement is to be discovered than in ornament. Touches of the vicar's keen discernment of those things which are worthy and noble were revealed on every hand—knowledge of this sort is older than ten thousand years. The room received one like a friend. The alcoves were filled with well-bound books, there was a superb Persian carpet, old gate-legged tables—oak was there everywhere; in the beams and the shelves and the mighty writing desk. The servant had brought in a small table with syphons and spirits, and had set a lamp upon it. 'Help yourself,' said the vicar.
"I poured out a dose of whisky and was lifting it for a squirt of soda when all at once I saw Fear; not apprehension, not foreboding, but FEAR—the glass fell from my hand and my fingers sagged on the handle of the syphon. I saw my reflection in a long glass, and my face was bleached to an unhealthy dull whiteness.
"Suddenly like a shot, right in the middle of things, I found myself wondering about poor Price. And I wasn't only wondering somehow I was horribly uneasy about him. It came to me that I had been heartless to leave him all alone with the statue. At last I couldn't stand the strain any longer. I got up.
"'Vicar,' I said, 'I'm going back to see if Price is all right. It will sound quite mad to you, I expect, but if you want to know the sober truth, I will tell you that I have just seen him in a vision: he was in trouble, I know. But come, let us get into the car. I have never told anyone my whole story yet, but I shall like to tell you about Ombos and his statue. I will tell you on the way back to Abbot's Ely. It is about time, in fact, that I tried to classify what I have learned.'
"I then briefly related the story of Ombos and our acquaintance. I concealed nothing, dwelling on the irresistible alluring influence of the bronze statue. I described the depression, the despair, the overpowering moral weakness which seemed to follow me since the Albertus Magnus had become one of my possessions. In short, I lifted the curtain, for the first time, and showed the vicar a true picture of the strange world I had moved in for the last few weeks.
"When we had returned and backed the car into the coach house we walked across the lawn to the back door. Here we met Clayton, the butler. He appeared to be frightened, and told me that he had heard a kind of quivering, sobbing voice coming from the library. He thought Mr. Price was ill. We went to the door. It was locked, and an application of a spare key proved that the other key had been left in the lock inside. We knocked loudly, and called. There was no reply. Clayton's conviction that 'something had happened' worked on my nerves frightfully, and in the end the vicar and I forced open the door with some gardening tools.
"Something had happened.
"The room was in complete darkness, and at first nothing could be discerned at all. A slight wind had got up in the last half an hour; and it rustled the trailers of ivy against the opened windows. The heavy curtains moved carelessly in the draught, and the trees creaked faintly. But beyond these inevitable noises, the room was quiet. Then gradually, the outline of the room became visible and the framework of the window began to shape itself dimly before my eyes. In the hazy light from the glass doors, and the vague light of a lamp in the hall, I saw that the chesterfield in the window bay where Price so often lounged was tenanted. A gleam of his light tweed suit showed there and across that.... Oh, I fully expected to see the other thing! Across that there was an obscure greenish shadow.
"I walked towards it, when suddenly the shadow shot upwards and was lost to sight. Then the springs of the chesterfield creaked and wheezed, the same as they will when suddenly released from pressure. Clayton came in at that moment holding a candelabra aloft and the feeble flames disclosed poor old Price. He was on his back, his knees slightly drawn up. The face was not the face of a man at all—it was a horrible mask of contorted terror. His eyes were opened and fixed; the mouth was twisted in a gape of fearful wonder.
"'Run, Clayton,' said I; 'a doctor and a policeman!' Clayton placed the candelabra on the table and bounced out and down the front steps.
"Price was dead without a doubt. He had been strangled, the doctor thought from the greenish-black marks on his neck and other circumstances. The savage deed had been accomplished with frightful ferociousness and strength. Soon the room was in the possession of the police, and the vicar and I turned out. There was little evidence at the inquest. The cries of poor Price had been heard by my man, the body had been found—that was the practical summing-up of the whole matter. The doctor gave his evidence as to the probability of murder, and the police evidence tended in the same direction. It was affirmed that (some would say) he had been baffled by Price in an attempt to rob the house, had sacrificed the poor fellow to the fury of his checked greed, and had afterwards escaped by the window. The jury found that Price had died by the hand of some person unknown.
"'Well, vicar,' I asked afterwards, 'what do you think of the verdict?'
"He told me that from his point of view it seemed to be the most reasonable one that could be given; and to agree with the laws of common-sense.
"'Yes,' I replied, 'perhaps you are right from the common-sense point of view. Nevertheless, I know that Price did not die by any human agency. It is too ghastly; I can still see that green shadow hovering above his body on the couch. The huge shadow, the Elemental, the spirit of Ombos—whatever you like to call it—was there in that room with Price. It was there in a form that could be seen and felt. It is something more substantial than an ordinary shadow ... it is a thing of hellish terror, and it comes from that infernal bronze statue.'
"Thence forward, as day followed day, the ghastly memory of the murder of Price seemed to recede from my mind. I neither heard nor saw anything, nor did that sense of the unseen presence lurking about the house, come to me. I was beginning to hope that the spell of the bronze statue had passed away for good. But one night after this interval I again felt fear looking whitely on me again. If I were to describe all the incidents of the next few days in their order my story would never come to an end, and your patience would be exhausted. Wherever I went after dark had fallen the shadow of the unseen followed me. I had a passion for inviting people to stay with me, and I longed for companionship of my kind which I had never known before; I was eager to throw myself into the realities of life. The sense of a certain kind of separateness is hell! Just you ask anybody who knows. I called on people, lived in my car, and dined out on the slightest provocation. I remember I spent one evening, (after my desperate efforts to find some good Samaritan to bear me company), with a party of road-menders; I helped them break up the stones and all that kind of thing. But after they had packed up their tools and tea cans and bid me 'thanks and good night,' I met fear on the homeward road—a shadow among shadows. It would be almost impossible to describe the swerves that my mind took from that time till the end. The presence of the Albertus Magnus filled me by turns with dread, blind fear, an overshadowed sort of pleasure, and utter hopelessness. I dare not have it taken away; and I knew that its presence was driving me mad. The vicar told me that if I could make up my mind to have the statue removed or destroyed, it might dispel all my troubles. I ought to make an application to the authority on bronzes at the British Museum, who would be only too pleased to accept it. An application to escape the company of Albertus Magnus! A request that the British Museum would graciously take over a bronze statue, the soul of departed Ombos, and a blind terror that walked at twilight! The vicar's proposal sent me into a paroxysm of hysterical laughter.