Closing the door behind his departing
guests, Guion stood for a minute, with his hand still
on the knob, pressing his forehead against the woodwork.
He listened to the sound of the carriage-wheels die
away and to the crunching tread of the two men down
“The last Guion has received
the last guest at Tory Hill,” he said to himself.
“That’s all over - all over and
done with. Now!”
It was the hour to which he had been
looking forward, first as an impossibility, then as
a danger, and at last as an expectation, ever since
the day, now some years ago, when he began to fear
that he might not be able to restore all the money
he had “borrowed” from the properties
in his trust. Having descried it from a long way
off, he knew that with reasonable luck it could not
overtake him soon. There were many chances, indeed,
that it might never overtake him at all. Times
might change; business might improve; he might come
in for the money he expected from his old Aunt de
Melcourt; he might die. If none of these things
happened, there were still ways and means by which
he might make money in big strokes and “square
himself” without any one ever being the wiser.
He had known of cases, or, at least, he had suspected
them, in which men in precisely his position had averted
by daring play the deadliest peril and gone down into
honored graves. Fortune had generally favored
him hitherto, and probably would favor him again.
So after the first dreadful days of
seeing his “mistakes,” and, in his recoil,
calling himself by opprobrious names, he began to get
used to his situation and boldly to meet its requirements.
That he would prove equal to them he had scarcely
any doubt. It was, in fact, next to inconceivable
that a man of his antecedents and advantages should
be unable to cope with conditions that, after all,
were not wholly exceptional in the sordid history
He admitted that the affair was sordid,
while finding an excuse for his own connection with
it in the involuntary defilement that comes from touching
pitch. It was impossible, he said, for a man of
business not to touch pitch, and he was not a man
of business of his own accord. The state of life
had been forced on him. He was a trustee of other
people’s property by inheritance, just as a
man becomes a tsar. As a career it was one of
the last he would have chosen. Had he received
from his father an ample personal fortune instead
of a mere lucrative practice he would have been a
country gentleman, in the English style, with, of
course, a house in town. Born with a princely
aptitude for spending his own money, he felt it hard
that he should have been compelled to make it his
life’s work to husband that of others. The
fact that he had always, to some extent been a square
man in a round hole seemed to entitle him to a large
share of moral allowance, especially in his judgment
on himself. He emphasized the last consideration,
since it enabled him, in his moments of solitude,
to look himself more straightly in the face. It
helped him to buttress up his sense of honor, and so
his sense of energy, to be able to say, “I am
still a gentleman.”
He came in time to express it otherwise,
and to say, “I must still play the gentleman.”
He came to define also what he meant by the word still.
The future presented itself as a succession of stages,
in which this could not happen till that had happened,
nor the final disaster arrive till all the intervening
phases of the situation had been passed. He had
passed them. Of late he had seen that the flames
of hell would get hold upon him at that exact instant
when, the last defense having been broken down and
the last shift resorted to, he should turn the key
on all outside hope, and be alone with himself and
the knowledge that he could do no more. Till
then he could ward them off, and he had been fighting
them to the latest second. But on coming home
from his office in Boston that afternoon he had told
himself that the game was up. Nothing as far
as he could see would give him the respite of another
four and twenty hours. The minutes between him
and the final preparations could be counted with the
finger on the clock.
In the matter of preparation the most
important detail would be to tell Olivia. Hoping
against hope that this would never become necessary,
he had put off the evil moment till the postponement
had become cruel. But he had lived through it
so often in thought, he had so acutely suffered with
her in imagination the staggering humiliation of it
all, that now, when the time had come, his feelings
were benumbed. As he turned into his own grounds
that day it seemed to him that his deadness of emotion
was such that he could carry the thing through mechanically,
as a skilled surgeon uses a knife. If he found
her at tea in the drawing-room he might tell her then.
He found her at tea, but there were
people with her. He was almost sorry; and yet
it keyed him up to see that there was some necessity
“to still play the gentleman.” He
played it, and played it well - with much
of his old-time ease. The feat was so extraordinary
as to call out a round of mental applause for himself;
and, after all, he reflected, there would be time
enough in the evening.
But tea being over, Miss Guion announced
that Mr. and Mrs. Temple and Drusilla Fane were coming
informally to dinner, bringing with them a guest of
theirs, “some one of the name of Davenant.”
For an instant he felt that he must ask her to telephone
and put them off, but on second thoughts it seemed
better to let them come. It would be in the nature
of a reprieve, not so much for himself as for Olivia.
It would give her one more cheerful evening, the last,
perhaps, in her life. Besides - the
suggestion was a vague one, sprung doubtless of the
hysterical element in his suppressed excitement - he
might test his avowals on Temple and Davenant, getting
a foretaste of what it would be to face the world.
He formed no precise intention of doing that; he only
allowed his mind to linger on the luxury of trying
it. He had suspected lately that Rodney Temple
knew more of his situation than he had ever told him,
so that the way to speak out would be cleared in advance;
and as for the man of the name of Davenant - probably
Tom Davenant’s adopted son, who was said to
have pulled off some good things a few years ago - there
would be, in humbling himself before one so successful,
a morbid joy of the kind the devotee may get in being
crushed by an idol.
In this he was not mistaken.
While they were there he was able to draw from his
own speeches, covert or open, the relief that comes
to a man in pain from moaning. Now that they
were gone, however, the last extraneous incident that
could possibly stand between him and the beginning
of the end had passed. The moment he had foreseen,
as one foresees death, was on him; so, raising his
head from the woodwork of the doorway, he braced himself,
and said, “Now!”
At almost the same instant he heard
the rustle of his daughter’s skirts as she came
from the drawing-room on her way up-stairs. She
advanced slowly down the broad hail, the lights striking
iridescent rays from the trimmings of her dress.
The long train, adding to her height, enhanced her
gracefulness. Only that curious deadness of sensation
of which he had been aware all day - the
inability to feel any more that comes from too much
suffering - enabled him to keep his ground
before her. He did keep it, advancing from the
doorway two or three steps toward her, till they met
at the foot of the stairway.
“Have you enjoyed your evening?”
were the words he found himself saying, though they
were far from those he had at heart. He felt that
his smile was ghastly; but, as she seemed not to perceive
it, he drew the conclusion that the ghastliness was
She answered languidly. “Yes,
so so. It might have been pleasanter if it hadn’t
been for that awful man.”
“Who? Young Davenant?
I don’t see anything awful about him.”
“I dare say there isn’t,
really - in his place. He may be only
prosy. However,” she added, more brightly,
“it doesn’t matter for once. Good
night, papa dear. You look tired. You ought
to go to bed. I’ve seen to the windows
in the drawing-room, but I haven’t put out the
Having kissed him and patted him on
the cheek, she turned to go up the stairway.
He allowed her to ascend a step or two. It was
the minute to speak.
“I’m sorry you feel that
way about young Davenant. I rather like him.”
He had not chosen the words.
They came out automatically. To discuss Davenant
offered an excuse for detaining her, while postponing
the blow for a few minutes more.
“Oh, men would,” she said,
indifferently, without turning round. “He’s
“Which is to his discredit?”
“Not to his discredit, but to
his disadvantage. I’ve noticed that what
they call a man’s man is generally something
of a bore.”
“Davenant isn’t a bore.”
“Isn’t he? Well,
I really didn’t notice in particular. I
only remember that he used to be about here years
ago - and I didn’t like him. I
suppose Drusilla has to be civil to him because he
was Cousin Rodney’s ward.”
She had paused on the landing at the
angle of the staircase.
Guion said, in continued effort to interpose the trivial
between himself and what he had still to tell her.
“Oh, that sort of Saxon giant
type is always good-looking. Of course.
And dull too.”
“I dare say he isn’t as dull as you think.”
“He might be that, and still
remain pretty dull, after the allowances had been
made. I know the type. It’s awful - especially
in the form of the American man of business.”
“I’m an American man of business myself.”
“Yes; by misadventure.
You’re the business man made, but not born.
By nature you’re a boulevardier, or what the
newspapers call a ‘clubman.’ I admire
you more than I can say - everybody admires
you - for making such a success of a work
that must always have been uncongenial at the least.”
The opening was obvious. Nothing
could have been more opportune. Two or three
beginnings presented themselves, and as he hesitated,
choosing between them, he moistened his lips and wiped
the cold perspiration from his brow. After all,
the blessed apathy within him was giving way and going
to play him false! He had a minute of feeling
as the condemned man must feel when he catches sight
of the guillotine.
Before his parched tongue could formulate
syllables she mounted another step or two of the staircase,
and turned again, leaning on the banister and looking
over. He noticed - by a common trick
of the perceptive powers at crises of anguish - how
the slender white pilasters, carved and twisted in
sets of four, in the fashion of Georgian houses like
Tory Hill, made quaint, graceful lines up and down
the front of her black gown.
“It’s really true - what
I say about business, papa,” she pursued.
“I’m very much in earnest, and so is Rupert.
I do wish you’d think of that place near Heneage.
It will be so lovely for me to feel you’re there;
and there can’t be any reason for your going
on working any longer.”
“No; there’s no reason for that,”
he managed to say.
“Well then?” she demanded,
with an air of triumph. “It’s just
as I said. You owe it to every one, you owe it
to me, you owe it to yourself above all, to give up.
It might have been better if you’d done it long
“I couldn’t,” he
declared, in a tone that sounded to his own ears as
a cry. “I tried to, ... but things were
so involved ... almost from the first....”
“Well, as long as they’re
not involved now there’s no reason why it shouldn’t
be better late than never.”
“But they are involved
now,” he said, with an intensity so poignant
that he was surprised she didn’t notice it.
“Then straighten them out.
Isn’t that what we’ve been saying all along,
Cousin Rodney and I? Take a partner; take two
partners. Cousin Rodney says you should have
done it when Mr. Maxwell died, or before - ”
“I couldn’t.... Things
weren’t shipshape enough ... not even then.”
“I’m sure it could be
managed,” she asserted, confidently; “and
if you don’t do it now, papa, when I’m
being married and going away for good, you’ll
never do it at all. That’s my fear.
I don’t want to live over there without you,
papa; and I’m afraid that’s what you’re
going to let me in for.” She moved from
the banister, and continued her way upward, speaking
over her shoulder as she ascended. “In the
mean time, you really must go to bed.
You look tired and rather pale - just as I
do after a dull party. Good night; and don’t
She reached the floor above, and went
toward her room. He felt strangled, speechless.
There was a sense of terror too in the thought that
his nerve, the nerve on which he had counted so much,
was going to fail him.
His voice was so sharp that she hurried back to the
top of the stairs.
“What is it, papa? Aren’t you well?”
It was the sight of her face, anxious
and suddenly white, peering down through the half-light
of the hall that finally unmanned him. With a
heart-sick feeling he turned away from the stairway.
“Yes; I’m all right.
I only wanted you to know that ... that ... I
shall be working rather late. You mustn’t
be disturbed ... if you hear me moving about.”
He would have upbraided himself more
bitterly for his cowardice had he not found an excuse
in the thought that, after all, there would be time
in the morning. It was best that she should have
the refreshment of the night. The one thing important
was that she should not have the shock of learning
from others on the morrow that he was not coming back - that
he was going to Singville. Should he go there
at all, he was determined to stay. Since he had
no fight to put up, it was better that his going should
be once for all. The thought of weeks, of months,
perhaps, of quasi-freedom, during which he should
be parading himself “on bail,” was far
more terrible to him than that of prison. He must
prepare her for the beginning of his doom at all costs
to himself; but, he reasoned, she would be more capable
of taking the information calmly in the daylight of
the morning than now, at a few minutes of midnight.
It was another short reprieve, enabling
him to give all his attention to the tasks before
him. If he was not to come back to Tory Hill he
must leave his private papers there, his more intimate
treasures, in good order. Certain things would
have to be put away, others rearranged, others destroyed.
For the most part they were in the library, the room
he specially claimed as his own. Before setting
himself to the work there he walked through some of
the other rooms, turning out the lights.
In doing so he was consciously taking
a farewell. He had been born in this house; in
it he had spent his boyhood; to it he had come back
as a young married man. He had lived in it till
his wife and he had set up their more ambitious establishment
in Boston, an extravagance from which, perhaps, all
the subsequent misfortunes could be dated. He
had known at the time that his father, had he lived,
would have condemned the step; but he himself was
a believer in fortunate chances. Besides, it
was preposterous for a young couple of fashion to continue
living in a rambling old house that belonged to neither
town nor country, at a time when the whole trend of
life was cityward. They had discussed the move,
with its large increase of expenditure, from every
point of view, and found it one from which, in their
social position, there was no escape. It was
a matter about which they had hardly any choice.
So, too, a few years later, with the
taking of the cottage at Newport. It was forced
on them. When all their friends were doing something
of the sort it seemed absurd to hesitate because of
a mere matter of means - especially when
by hook or by crook the means could be procured.
Similar reasoning had attended their various residences
abroad - in London, Paris, Rome. Country-houses
in England or villas on the Riviera became matters
of necessity, according to the demands of Olivia’s
entry into the world of fashion or Mrs. Guion’s
It was not till the death of the latter,
some seven years ago, that Guion, obliged to pause,
was able to take cognizance of the degree to which
he had imperiled himself in the years of effort to
maintain their way of life. It could not be said
that at the time he regretted what he had done, but
he allowed it to frighten him into some ineffectual
economies. He exchanged the cottage at Newport
for one at Lenox, and, giving up the house in Boston,
withdrew to Tory Hill. Ceasing himself to go
into society, he sent his daughter abroad for a large
portion of her time, either in the care of Madame
de Melcourt or, in London, under the wing of some
of the American ladies prominent in English life.
Having taken these steps, with no
small pride in his capacity for sacrifice, Guion set
himself seriously to reconstruct his own fortune and
to repair the inroads he had made on those in his trust.
It was a matter in which he had but few misgivings
as to his capacity. The making of money, he often
said, was an easy thing, as could be proved by the
intellectual grade of the men who made it. One
had only to look about one to see that they were men
in whom the average of ability was by no means high,
men who achieved their successes largely by a kind
of rule of thumb. They got the knack of investment - and
they invested. He preferred the word investment
to another which might have challenged comment.
They bought in a low market and sold in a high one - and
the trick was done. Some instinct - a
flair, he called it - was required
in order to recognize, more or less at sight, those
properties which would quickly and surely appreciate
in value; and he believed he possessed it. Given
the control of a few thousands as a point of departure,
and the financial ebb and flow, a man must be a born
fool, he said, not to be able to make a reasonable
fortune with reasonable speed.
Within the office of Guion, Maxwell
& Guion circumstances favored the accession to power
of the younger partner, who had hitherto played an
acquiescent rather than an active part. Mr. Maxwell
was old and ailing, though neither so ailing nor so
old as to be blind to the need of new blood, new money,
and new influence in the fine old firm. His weakness
was that he hated beginning all over again with new
men; so that when Smith and Jones were proposed as
possible partners he easily admitted whatever objections
Guion raised to them, and the matter was postponed.
It was postponed again. It slipped into a chronic
condition of postponement; and Mr. Maxwell died.
The situation calling then for adroitness
on Guion’s part, the fact that he was able to
meet it to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned,
increased his confidence in his own astuteness.
True, it required some manipulation, some throwing
of dust into people’s eyes, some making of explanations
to one person that could not be reconciled with those
made to another; but here again the circumstances
helped him. His clients were for the most part
widows and old maids, many of them resident abroad,
for whom Guion, Maxwell & Guion had so long stood,
in the matter of income, for the embodiment of paternal
care that they were ready to believe anything and
say anything and sign anything they were told to.
With the legal authorities to whom he owed account
he had the advantage of the house’s high repute,
making it possible to cover with formalities anything
that might, strictly speaking, have called for investigation.
Whatever had to be considered shifty he excused to
himself on the ground of its being temporary; while
it was clearly, in his opinion, to the ultimate advantage
of the Clay heirs and the Rodman heirs and the Compton
heirs and all the other heirs for whom Guion, Maxwell
& Guion were in loco parentis, that he should
have a free hand.
The sequel astonished rather than
disillusioned him. It wrought in him disappointment
with the human race, especially as represented by the
Stock Exchange, without diminishing his confidence
in his own judgment. Through all his wild efforts
not to sink he was upborne by the knowledge that it
was not his calculations that were wrong, but the workings
of a system more obscure than that of chance and more
capricious than the weather. He grew to consider
it the fault of the blind forces that make up the
social, financial, and commercial worlds, and not his
own, when he was reduced to a frantic flinging of
good money after bad as offering the sole chance of
working out his redemption.
And, now that it was all over, he
was glad his wife had not lived to see the end.
That, at least, had been spared him. He stood
before her portrait in the drawing-room - the
much-admired portrait by Carolus Duran - and
told her so. She was so living as she looked down
on him - a suggestion of refined irony about
the lips and eyes giving personality to the delicate
oval of the face - that he felt himself talking
to her as they had been wont to talk together ever
since their youth. In his way he had stood in
awe of her. The assumption of prerogative - an
endowment of manner or of temperament, he was never
quite sure which - inherited by Olivia in
turn, had been the dominating influence in their domestic
life. He had not been ruled by her - the
term would have been grotesque - he had only
made it his pleasure to carry out her wishes.
That her wishes led him on to spending money not his
own was due to the fact, ever to be regretted, that
his father had not bequeathed him money so much as
the means of earning it. She could not be held
responsible for that, while she was the type of woman
to whom it was something like an outrage not to offer
the things befitting to her station. There was
no reproach in the look he lifted on her now - nothing
but a kind of dogged, perverse thankfulness that she
should have had the way of life she craved, without
ever knowing the price he was about to pay for it.
In withdrawing his glance from hers
he turned it about on the various objects in the room.
Many of them had stood in their places since before
he was born; others he had acquired at occasional sales
of Guion property, so that, as the different branches
of the family became extinct or disappeared, whatever
could be called “ancestral” might have
a place at Tory Hill; others he had collected abroad.
All of them, in these moments of anguish - the
five K’ang-hsi vases on the mantelpiece, brought
home by some seafaring Guion of Colonial days, the
armorial “Lowestoft” in the cabinets,
the Copley portraits of remote connections on the
walls, the bits of Chippendale and Hepplewhite that
had belonged to the grandfather who built Tory Hill - all
of them took on now a kind of personality, as with
living look and utterance. He had loved them and
been proud of them; and as he turned out the lights,
leaving them to darkness, eyes could not have been
more appealing nor lips more eloquent than they in
their mute farewell.
Returning to the library, he busied
himself with his main undertaking. He was anxious
that nothing should be left behind that could give
Olivia additional pain, while whatever she might care
to have, her mother’s letters to himself or
other family documents, might be ready to her hand.
It was the kind of detail to which he could easily
give his attention. He worked methodically and
phlegmatically, steeling himself to a grim suppression
of regret. He was almost sorry to finish the task,
since it forced his mind to come again face to face
with facts. The clock struck two as he closed
the last drawer and knew that that part of his preparation
In reading the old letters with their
echoes of old incidents, old joys, old jokes, old
days in Paris, Rome, or England, he had been so wafted
back to another time that on pushing in the drawer,
which closed with a certain click of finality, the
realization of the present rolled back on his soul
with a curious effect of amazement. For a few
minutes it was as if he had never understood it, never
thought of it, before. They were going to make
him, Henry Guion, a prisoner, a criminal, a convict!
They were going to clip his hair, and shave his beard,
and dress him in a hideous garb, and shut him in a
cell! They were going to give him degrading work
to do and degrading rules to keep, and degrading associates
to live with, as far as such existence could be called
living with any one at all. They were going to
do this for year upon year, all the rest of his life,
since he never could survive it. He was to have
nothing any more to come in between him and his own
thoughts - his thoughts of Olivia brought
to disgrace, of the Clay heirs brought to want, of
the Rodman heirs and the Compton heirs deprived of
half their livelihood! He had called it that
evening the Strange Ride with Morrowby Jukes to the
Land of the Living Dead, but it was to be worse than
that. It was to be worse than Macbeth with his
visions of remorse; it was to be worse than Vathek
with the flame burning in his heart; it was to be
worse than Judas - who at least could hang
He got up and went to a mirror in
the corner of the room. The mere sight of himself
made the impossible seem more impossible. He was
so fine a specimen - he could not but know
it! - so much the free man, the honorable
man, the man of the world! He tried to see himself
with his hair clipped and his beard shaven and the
white cravat and waistcoat replaced by the harlequin
costume of the jailbird. He tried to see himself
making his own bed, and scrubbing his own floor, and
standing at his cell door with a tin pot in his hand,
waiting for his skilly. It was so absurd, so out
of the question, that he nearly laughed outright.
He was in a dream - in a nightmare!
He shook himself, he pinched himself, in order to wake
up. He was ready in sudden rage to curse the
handsome, familiar room for the persistence of its
reality, because the rows of books and the Baxter
prints and the desks and chairs and electric lights
refused to melt away like things in a troubled sleep.
It was then that for the first time
he began to taste the real measure of his impotence.
He was in the hand of the law. He was in the grip
of the sternest avenging forces human society could
set in motion against him; and, quibbles, shifts,
and subterfuges swept aside, no one knew better than
himself that his punishment would be just.
It was a strange feeling, the feeling
of having put himself outside the scope of mercy.
But there he was! There could never be a word
spoken in his defense, nor in any one’s heart
a throb of sympathy toward him. He had forfeited
everything. He could expect nothing from any man,
and from his daughter least of all. The utmost
he could ask for her was that she should marry, go
away, and school herself as nearly as might be to
renounce him. That she should do it utterly would
not be possible; but something would be accomplished
if pride or humiliation or resentment gave her the
spirit to carry her head high and ignore his existence.
It was incredible to think that at
that very instant she was sleeping quietly, without
a suspicion of what was awaiting her. Everything
was incredible - incredible and impossible.
As he looked around the room, in which every book,
every photograph, every pen and pencil, was a part
of him, he found himself once more straining for a
hope, catching at straws. He took a sheet of
paper, and sitting down at his desk began again, for
the ten thousandth time, to balance feverishly his
meagre assets against his overwhelming liabilities.
He added and subtracted and multiplied and divided
with a sort of frenzy, as though by dint of sheer
forcing the figures he could make them respond to his
Suddenly, with a gesture of mingled
anger and hopelessness, he swept the scribbled sheets
and all the writing paraphernalia with a crash to the
floor, and, burying his face in his hands, gave utterance
to a smothered groan. It was a cry, not of surrender,
but of protest - of infinite, exasperated
protest, of protest against fate and law and judgment
and the eternal principles of right and wrong, and
against himself most of all. With his head pressed
down on the bare polished wood of his desk, he hurled
himself mentally at an earth of adamant and a heaven
of brass, hurled himself ferociously, repeatedly,
with a kind of doggedness, as though he would either
break them down or dash his own soul to pieces.
“O God! O God!”
It was an involuntary moan, stifled
in his fear of becoming hysterical, but its syllables
arrested his attention. They were the syllables
of primal articulation, of primal need, condensing
the appeal and the aspiration of the world. He
“O God! O God!”
He repeated them again. He raised his head, as
if listening to a voice.
“O God! O God!”
He continued to sit thus, as if listening.
It was a strange, an astounding thought
to him that he might pray. Though the earth of
adamant were unyielding, the heaven of brass might
He dragged himself to his feet.
He believed in God - vaguely.
That is, it had always been a matter of good form
with him to go to church and to call for the offices
of religion on occasions of death or marriage.
He had assisted at the saying of prayers and assented
to their contents. He had even joined in them
himself, since a liturgical service was a principle
in the church to which he “belonged.”
All this, however, had seemed remote from his personal
affairs, his life-and-death struggles - till
now. Now, all at once, queerly, it offered him
something - he knew not what. It might
be nothing better than any of the straws he had been
clutching at. It might be no more than the effort
he had just been making to compel two to balance ten.
He stood in the middle of the room
under the cluster of electric lights and tried to
recollect what he knew, what he had heard, of this
Power that could still act when human strength had
reached its limitations. It was nothing very
definite. It consisted chiefly of great phrases,
imperfectly understood: “Father Almighty,”
“Saviour of the World,” “Divine
Compassion” and such like. He did not reason
about them, or try to formulate what he actually believed.
It was instinctively, almost unconsciously, that he
began to speak; it was brokenly and with a kind of
inward, spiritual hoarseness. He scarcely knew
what he was doing when he found himself saying, mentally:
“Save me!... I’m
helpless!... I’m desperate!... Save
me!... Work a miracle!... Father!...
Christ! Christ! Save my daughter!...
We have no one - but - but You!...
Work a miracle! Work a miracle!... I’m
a thief and a liar and a traitor - but save
me! I might do something yet - something
that might render me - worth salvation - but
then - I might not.... Anyhow, save
me!... O God! Father Almighty!... Almighty!
That means that You can do anything!... Even
now - You can do - anything!...
Save us!... Save us all!... Christ!
He knew neither when nor how he ceased,
any more than when or how he began. His most
clearly defined impression was that of his spirit coming
back from a long way off to take perception of the
fact that he was still standing under the cluster
of electric lights and the clock was striking three.
He was breathless, exhausted. His most urgent
physic need was that of air. He strode to the
window-door leading out to the terraced lawn, and,
throwing it open, passed out into the darkness.
There was no mist at this height above
the Charles. The night was still, and the moon
westering. The light had a glimmering, metallic
essence, as from a cosmic mirror in the firmament.
Long shadows of trees and shrubbery lay across the
grass. Clear in the moonlit foreground stood an
elm, the pride of Tory Hill - springing as
a single shaft for twice the measure of a man - springing
and spreading there into four giant branches, each
of which sprang and spread higher into eight - so
springing and spreading, springing and spreading still - rounded,
symmetrical, superb - till the long outermost
shoots fell pendulous, like spray from a fountain
of verdure. The silence held the suggestion of
mighty spiritual things astir. At least the heaven
was not of brass, if the earth continued to be of
adamant. On the contrary, the sky was high, soft,
dim, star-bestrewn, ineffable. It was spacious;
it was free; it was the home of glorious things; it
was the medium of the eternal.
He was not reassured; he was not even
comforted; what relief he got came only from a feeling - a
fancy, perhaps - that the weight had been
eased, that he was freed for a minute from the crushing
pressure of the inevitable. It would return again
and break him down, but for the moment it was lifted,
giving him room and power to breathe. He did
breathe - long deep draughts of the cool night
air that brought refreshment and something like strength
to struggle on.
He came back into the room. His
pens and papers were scattered on the floor, and ink
from the overturned inkstand was running out on the
Oriental rug. It was the kind of detail that before
this evening would have shocked him; but nothing mattered
now. He was too indifferent to lift his hand
and put the inkstand back into its place. Instead,
he threw himself on a couch, turning his face to the
still open window and drinking in with thirsty gasps
the blessed, revivifying air.