The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
- PIGS IN CLOVER
- THE SPHINX’S LAWYER
- THE HEART OF A CHILD
- AN INCOMPLEAT ETONIAN
- LET THE ROOF FALL IN
- JOSEPH IN JEOPARDY
- DR. PHILLIPS
- A BABE OF BOHEMIA
- CONCERT PITCH
- FULL SWING
- NELSON’S LEGACY
- THE STORY BEHIND THE VERDICT
- CHAPTER I
- CHAPTER II
- CHAPTER III
- CHAPTER IV
- CHAPTER V
- CHAPTER VI
- CHAPTER VII
- CHAPTER VIII
- CHAPTER IX
- CHAPTER X
- CHAPTER XI
- CHAPTER XII
- CHAPTER XIII
- CHAPTER XIV
- CHAPTER XV
- CHAPTER XVI
A couple of years ago, on the very verge of the illnessthat subsequently overwhelmed me, I took asmall furnished house in Pineland. I made no inspectionof the place, but signed the agreement atthe instance of the local house-agent, who provedlittle less inventive than the majority of his confrères.
Three months of neuritis, only kept withinbounds by drugs, had made me comparatively indifferentto my surroundings. It was necessary forme to move because I had become intolerant of thefriends who exclaimed at my ill looks, and theacquaintances who failed to notice any alterationin me. One sister whom I really loved, and whoreally loved me, exasperated me by constant visitsand ill-concealed anxiety. Another irritated melittle less by making light of my ailment and speakingof neuritis in an easy familiar manner as onemight of toothache or a corn. I had no naturalsleep, and if I were not on the borderland of insanity,I was at least within sight of the home parkof inconsequence. Reasoned behaviour was nolonger possible, and I knew it was necessary for meto be alone.
2I do not wish to recall this bad time nor theworse that ante-dated my departure, when I wasat the mercy of venal doctors and indifferentnurses, dependent on grudged bad service and overpaidinattention, taking a so-called rest cure. ButI do wish to relate a most curious circumstance, orset of circumstances, that made my stay in Pinelandmemorable, and left me, after my sojournthere, obsessed with the story of which I found thebeginning on the first night of my arrival, and theend in the long fevered nights that followed. Imyself hardly know how much is true andhow much is fiction in this story; for what thecache of letters is responsible, and for what themorphia.
The house at Pineland was called Carbies, and itwas haunted for me from the first by MargaretCapel and Gabriel Stanton. Quite early in my stayI must have contemplated writing about them,knowing that there was no better way of riddingmyself of their phantoms, than by trying to makethem substantial in pen and ink. I had their lettersand some scraps of an unfinished diary to help me,a notebook with many blank pages, the garrulousreticence of the village apothecary, and the evidenceof the sun-washed God’s Acre by the old church.
To begin at the beginning.
It was a long drive from Pineland station toCarbies. I had sent my maid in advance, but there3was no sign of her when my ricketty one-horsefly pulled up at the garden gate of a suburban villaof a house “standing high” it is true, and with“creeper climbing about its white-painted walls.”But otherwise with no more resemblance to the exquisiteand secluded cottage ornée I had in my mind,and that the house-agent had portrayed in his letters,than a landscape by Matise to one by Ruysdael.
I was too tired then to be greatly disappointed.Two servants had been sent in by my instructions,and the one who opened the door to me proved tobe a cheerful-looking young person of the gollywogtype, with a corresponding cap, who relievedme of my hand luggage and preceded me to thedrawing-room, where wide windows and a brightfire made me oblivious for the moment of theshabby furniture, worn carpet, and mildewed wallpaper.Tea was brought to me in a cracked poton a veneered tray. The literary supplement ofThe Times and an American magazine were all Ihad with which to occupy myself. And they provedinsufficient. I began to look about me; andbecame curiously and almost immediately consciousthat my new abode must have been inhabited by asister or brother of the pen. The feeling was notpsychic. The immense writing-table stood sidewaysin the bow-window as only “we” know howto place it. The writing-chair looked sufficientlyluxurious to tempt me to an immediate trial; there4were a footstool and a big waste-paper basket; allincongruous with the cheap and shabby drawing-roomfurniture. Had only my MS. paper beento hand, ink in the substantial glass pot, and mytwin enamel pens available, I think I should thenand there have abjured all my vows of rest andcalled upon inspiration to guide me to a freshstart.
“Work whilst ye have the light” had been mytext for months; driving me on continually. Itseemed possible, even then, that the time beforeme was short. I left the fire and my unfinishedtea. Instinctively I found the words rising to mylips, “I could write here.” That was the way aplace always struck me. Whether I could or couldnot write there? Seated in that convenient easy-chairI felt at once that my shabby new surroundingswere sympathetic to me, that I fitted in andwas at home in them.
I had come straight from a narrow Londonhouse where my bedroom overlooked a mews, andmy sitting-room other narrow houses with a roadwaybetween. Here, early in March, from thewide low window I saw yellow gorse overgrowinga rough and unkempt garden. Beyond the gardenmore flaming gorse on undulating common land,then hills, and between them, unmistakable, thesombre darkness of the sea. Up here the air wasvery still, but the smell of the gorse was strong with5the wind from that distant sea. I wished for pensand paper at first; then drifted beyond wishes,dreaming I knew not of what, but happier and morecontent than I had been for some time past. Theair was healing, so were the solitude and silence. Mysilence and solitude were interrupted, my contentcame abruptly to an end.
I did not rise. In those bad neuritis days risingwas not easy. I stared at the intruder, and he atme. But I guessed in a minute to what his unwelcomepresence was due. My anxious, dearlybeloved, and fidgetty sister had found out the nameof the most noted Æsculapius of the neighbourhoodand had notified him of my arrival, probably hadgiven him a misleading and completely erroneousaccount of my illness, certainly asked him to call.I found out afterwards I was right in all myguesses save one. This was not the most notedÆsculapius of the neighbourhood, but his moreyouthful partner. Dr. Lansdowne was on hisholiday. Dr. Kennedy had read my sister’s letterand was now bent upon carrying out her instructions.As I said, we stared at each other in theadvancing dusk.
“You have only just come?” he ventured then.
“I’ve been here about an hour,” I replied—“aquiet hour.”
“I had your sister’s letter,” he said apologetically,6if a little awkwardly, as he advanced into theroom.
“She wrote you, then?”
“Oh yes! I’ve got the letter somewhere.” Hefelt in his pocket and failed to find it.
“Won’t you sit down?”
There was no chair near the writing-table savethe one upon which I sat. A further reason why Iknew my predecessor here had been a writer! Dr.Kennedy had to fetch one, and I took shallowstock of him meanwhile. A tall and not ill-lookingman in the late thirties or early forties, he hadon the worst suit of country tweeds I had everseen and incongruously well-made boots. Now hesprawled silently in the selected chair, and I waitedfor his opening. Already I was nauseated withdoctors and their methods. In town I had seeneverybody’s favourite nostrum-dispenser, and noneof them had relieved me of anything but my hardlyearned cash. I mean to present a study of themone day, to get something back from what I havegiven. Dr. Kennedy did not accord with the black-coatedLondon brigade, and his opening wascertainly different.
“How long have you been feeling unwell?”That was what I expected, this was the commongambit. Dr. Kennedy sat a few minutes withoutspeaking at all. Then he asked me abruptly:
“Did you know Mrs. Capel?”
“Margaret Capel. You knew she lived here,didn’t you? That it was here it all happened?”
“Then you don’t know?” He got up from hischair in a fidgetty sort of way and went over to theother window. “I hoped you knew her, that shehad been a friend of yours. I hoped so ever sinceI had your sister’s letter. Carbies! It seemed sostrange to be coming here again. I can’t believeit is ten years ago; it is all so vivid!” He cameback and sat down again. “I ought not to talkabout her, but the whole room and house are sofull of memories. She used to sit, just as you aresitting now, for hours at a time, dreaming. Sometimesshe would not speak to me at all. I had togo away; I could see I was intruding.”
The cynical words on my lips remained unuttered.He was tall, and if his clothes had fittedhim he might have presented a better figure. Ihate a morning coat in tweed material. The adjective“uncouth” stuck. I saw it was a clever headunder the thick mane of black hair, and wonderedat his tactlessness and provincial garrulity. Inevertheless found myself not entirely uninterestedin him.
“Do you mind my talking about her? Incandescent!I think that word describes her best.She burned from the inside, was strung on wires,8and they were all alight. She was always sittingjust where you are now, or upstairs at the piano.She was a wonderful pianist. Have you beenupstairs, into the room she turned into a musicroom?”
“As I told you, I have only been here an hour.This is the only room I have seen.”
My tone must have struck