Infomotions, Inc.The Dweller on the Threshold / Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950



Author: Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950
Title: The Dweller on the Threshold
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): chichester; malling; stepton; henry chichester; lady sophia; rector; marcus harding; professor stepton; hornton street; professor; evelyn malling; nervous dyspepsia; onslow gardens
Contributor(s): Widger, David, 1932- [Editor]
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Size: 54,801 words (really short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 67 (easy)
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Title: The Dweller on the Threshold

Author: Robert Smythe Hichens

Release Date: November 27, 2004  [eBook #14176]

Language: English

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THE DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD

by

ROBERT HICHENS

Author of _The Garden of Allah_, _Bella Donna_, _Egypt and Its
Monuments_, _The Holy Land_, etc.

1911







I


When Evelyn Malling, notorious because of his sustained interest in
Psychical Research and his work for Professor Stepton, first met the
Rev. Marcus Harding, that well-known clergyman was still in the full
flow of his many activities. He had been translated from his labors in
Liverpool to a West End church in London. There he had proved hitherto
an astonishing success. On Hospital Sundays the total sums collected
from his flock were by far the largest that came from the pockets of
any congregation in London. The music in St. Joseph's was allowed by
connoisseurs, who knew their Elgar as well as their Goss, their Perosi
as well as their Bach, and their Wesley, to be remarkable. Critical
persons, mostly men, who sat on the fence between Orthodoxy and Atheism,
thought highly of Mr. Harding's sermons, and even sometimes came down
on his side. And, of all signs surely the most promising for a West End
clergyman's success, smart people flocked to him to be married, and Arum
lilies were perpetually being carried in and out of his chancel, which
was adorned with Morris windows. He was married to a woman who managed
to be admirable without being dull, Lady Sophia, daughter of the late
Earl of Mansford, and sister of the present peer. He was comfortably off.
His health as a rule was good, though occasionally he suffered from some
obscure form of dyspepsia. And he was still comparatively young, just
forty-eight.

Nevertheless, as Evelyn Malling immediately perceived, Mr. Harding was
not a happy man.

In appearance he was remarkable. Of commanding height, with a big frame,
a striking head and countenance, and a pair of keen gray eyes, he looked
like a man who was intended by nature to dominate. White threads appeared
in his thick brown hair, which he wore parted in the middle. But his
face, which was clean-shaven, had not many telltale lines. And he did not
look more than his age.

The sadness noted by Malling was at first evasive and fleeting, not
indellibly fixed in the puckers of a forehead, or in the down-drawn
corners of a mouth. It was as a thin, almost impalpable mist, that can
scarcely be seen, yet that alters all the features in a landscape ever
so faintly. Like a shadow it traveled across the eyes, obscured the
forehead, lay about the lips. And as a shadow lifts it lifted. But it
soon returned, like a thing uneasy that is becoming determined to
discover an abiding-place.

Malling's first meeting with the clergyman took place upon Westminster
Bridge on an afternoon in early May, when London seemed, almost like
a spirited child, to be flinging itself with abandon into the first
gaieties of the season. Malling was alone, coming on foot from Waterloo.
Mr. Harding was also on foot, with his senior curate, the Rev. Henry
Chichester, who was an acquaintance of Malling, but whom Malling had
not seen for a considerable period of time, having been out on his estate
in Ceylon. At the moment when Malling arrived upon the bridge the two
clergymen were standing by the parapet on the Parliament side, looking
out over the river. As he drew near to them the curate glanced suddenly
round, saw him, and uttered an involuntary exclamation which attracted
Mr. Harding's attention.

"Telepathy!" said Chichester, shaking Malling by the hand. "I believe I
looked round because I knew I should see you. Yet I supposed you to be
still in Ceylon." He glanced at the rector rather doubtfully, seemed to
take a resolution, and with an air almost of doggedness added, "May I?"
and introduced the two men to one another.

Mr. Harding observed the new-comer with an interest that was
unmistakable.

"You are the Mr. Malling of whom Professor Stepton has spoken to me," he
said,--"who has done so much experimental work for him?"

"Yes."

"The professor comes to my church now and then."

"I have heard him say so."

"You saw we were looking at the river? Before I came to London I was at
Liverpool, and learned there to love great rivers. There is something in
a great river that reminds us--"

He caught his curate's eye and was silent.

"Are you walking my way?" asked Malling. "I am going by the Abbey and
Victoria Street to Cadogan Square."

"Then we will accompany you as far as Victoria Station," said the rector.

"You don't think it would be wiser to take a hansom?" began Chichester.
"You remember--"

"No, no, certainly not. Walking always does me good," rejoined Mr.
Harding, almost in a tone of rebuke.

The curate said nothing more, and the three men set out toward Parliament
Square, Malling walking between the two clergymen.

He felt embarrassed, and this surprised him, for he was an extremely
self-reliant man and entirely free from shyness. At first he thought that
possibly his odd discomfort arose from the fact that he was in company
with two men who, perhaps, had quite recently had a difference which they
were endeavoring out of courtesy to conceal from him. Perhaps there had
been a slight quarrel over some parish matter. Certainly when he first
spoke with them there had been something uneasy, a suspicion of strain,
in the manner of both. But then he remembered how, before Chichester had
turned round, they had been leaning amicably above the river.

No, it could not be that. He sought mentally for some other reason. But
while he did so he talked, and endeavored to rid himself promptly of the
unwelcome feeling that beset him.

In this effort, however, he did not at first succeed. The "conditions"
were evidently unsatisfactory. He wondered whether if he were not walking
between the two men he would feel more comfortable, and presently, at a
crossing, he managed to change his place. He was now next to Mr. Harding,
who had the curate on his other side, and at once he felt more at his
ease. The rector of St. Joseph's led the conversation, in which Malling
joined, and at first the curate was silent. But presently Malling noticed
a thing that struck him as odd. Chichester began to "chip in" now and
then, and whenever he did so it was either to modify what Mr. Harding
had just said, or to check him in what he was saying, or abruptly to
introduce a new topic of talk. Sometimes Mr. Harding did not appear to
notice these interruptions; at other times he obviously resented them;
at others again he yielded with an air of anxiety, almost of fear, to
his curate's attenuations or hastened to follow his somewhat surprising
leads down new conversational paths. Malling could not understand
Chichester. But it became evident to him that for some reason or other
the curate was painfully critical of his rector, as sometimes highly
sensitive people are critical of members of their own family. And Mr.
Harding was certainly aware of this critical attitude, and at moments
seemed to be defiant of it, at other moments to be almost terrorized
by it.

All that passed, be it noted, passed as between gentlemen, rather
glided in the form of nuance than trampled heavily in more blatant
guise. But Evelyn Malling was a highly trained observer and a man in
whom investigation had become a habit. Now that he was no longer ill at
ease he became deeply interested in the relations between the two men
with whom he was walking. He was unable to understand them, and this
fact of course increased his interest. Moreover he was surprised by the
change he observed in Chichester.

Although he had never been intimate with Henry Chichester, he had known
him fairly well, and had summed him up as a very good man and a decidedly
attractive man, but marred, as Malling thought, by a definite weakness of
character. He had been too amiable, too ready to take others on their own
valuation of themselves, too kind-hearted, and too easily deceived. The
gentleness of a saint had been his, but scarcely the firmness of a saint.
Industrious, dutiful, and conscientious, he had not struck Malling as a
man of strong intellect, though he was a cultivated and well-educated
man. Though not governed by his own passions,--when one looked at him one
had been inclined to doubt whether he had any,--he had seemed prone to be
governed by those about him, at any rate in little matters of every day.
His charm had consisted in his transparent goodness, and in an almost gay
kindliness which had seemed to float round him like an atmosphere. To
look into his face had been to look at the happiness which comes only to
those who do right things, and are at peace with their own souls.

What could have happened to change this charming, if too pliant,
personality into the critical, watchful, almost--so at moments it seemed
to Malling--aggressive curate who was now, always in a gentlemanly way,
making things rather difficult for his rector?

And the matter became the more mysterious when Malling considered Mr.
Harding. For here was a man obviously of dominant personality. Despite
his fleeting subservience to Chichester, inexplicable to Malling, he was
surely by far the stronger of the two, both in intellect and character.
Not so saintly, perhaps, he was more likely to influence others. Firmness
showed in his forcible chin, energy in the large lines of his mouth,
decision in his clear-cut features. Yet there was something contradictory
in his face. And the flitting melancholy, already remarked, surely hinted
at some secret instability, perhaps known only to Harding himself,
perhaps known to Chichester also.

When the three men came to the turning at the corner of the Grosvenor
Hotel, Chichester stopped short.

"Here is our way," he said, speaking across Mr. Harding to Malling.

The rector looked at Malling.

"Have you far to go?" he asked, with rather a tentative air.

"I live in Cadogan Square."

"Of course. I remember. You told us you were going there."

"Good-by," said Chichester. "We are taking the underground to South
Kensington."

"I think I shall walk," said the rector.

"But you know we are due--"

"There is plenty of time. Tell them I shall be there at four."

"But really--"

"Punctually at four. I will walk on with Mr. Malling."

"I really think you had better not," began Chichester. "Over-exertion--"

"Am I an invalid?" exclaimed Mr. Harding, almost sharply.

"No, no, of course not. But you remember that yesterday you were not
quite well."

"That is the very reason why I wish to walk. Exercise always does my
dyspepsia good."

"Let us all walk," said the curate, abruptly.

But this was obviously not Mr. Harding's intention.

"I want you to go through the minutes and the accounts before the
meeting," he said, in a quieter but decisive voice. "We will meet at the
School at four. You will have plenty of time if you take the train. And
meanwhile Mr. Malling and I will go on foot together as far as Cadogan
Square."

Chichester stood for a moment staring into Mr. Harding's face, then he
said, almost sulkily:

"Very well. Good-by."

He turned on his heel, and was lost in the throng near the station.

It seemed to Malling that an expression of relief overspread his
companion's face.

"You don't mind my company for a little longer, I hope?" said the rector.

"I shall be glad to have it."

They set out on their walk to Cadogan Square. After two or three minutes
of silence the rector remarked:

"You know Chichester well?"

"I can hardly say that. I used to meet him sometimes with some friends of
mine, the Crespignys. But I haven't seen him for more than two years."

"He's a very good fellow."

"An excellent fellow."

"Perhaps a little bit limited in his outlook. He has been with me at St.
Joseph's exactly two years."

The rector seemed about to say more, then shut his large mouth almost
with a snap. Malling made no remark. He was quite certain that snap was
merely the preliminary to some further remark about Chichester. And so it
proved. As they came to St. Peter's Eaton Square, the rector resumed:

"I often think that it is a man's limitations which make him critical
of others. The more one knows, the wider one's outlook, the readier
one is to shut one's eyes to the foibles, even to the faults, of one's
neighbors. I have tried to impress that upon our friend Chichester."

"Doesn't he agree with you?"

"Well--it's difficult to say, difficult to say. Shall we go by Wilton
Place, or--?"

"Certainly."

"Professor Stepton has talked to me about you from time to time, Mr.
Malling."

"He's a remarkable man," said Malling almost with enthusiasm.

"Yes. He's finding his way to the truth rather by the pathway of science
than by the pathway of faith. But he's a man I respect. And I believe
he'll get out into the light. You've done a great deal of work for him, I
understand, in--in occult directions."

"I have made a good many careful investigations at his suggestion."

"Exactly. Now"--Mr. Harding paused, seemed to make an effort, and
continued--"we know very little even now, with all that has been done,
as to--to the possibilities--I scarcely know how to put it--the
possibilities of the soul."

"Very little indeed," rejoined Malling.

He was considerably surprised by his companion's manner, but was quite
resolved not to help him out.

"The possibilities of one soul, let us say, in connection with another,"
continued the rector, almost in a faltering voice. "I often feel as if
the soul were a sort of mysterious fluid, and that when we what is called
influence another person, we, as it were, submerge his soul fluid in our
own, as a drop of water might be submerged in an ocean."

"Ah!" said Malling, laconically.

Mr. Harding shot a rather sharp glance at him.

"You don't object to my getting on this subject, I hope?" he observed.

"Certainly not."

"Perhaps you think it rather a strange one for a clergyman to select?"

"Oh, no. I have known many clergymen deeply interested in Stepton's
investigations."

Mr. Harding's face, which had been cloudy, cleared.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we clergymen have a special reason
for desiring Stepton, and all Stepton's assistants, to make progress.
It is true, of course, that we live by faith. And nothing can be more
beautiful than a childlike faith in the Great Being who is above all
worlds, in the _anima mundi_. But it would be unnatural in us if we did
not earnestly desire that our faith be proved, scientifically proved,
to be well-founded. I speak now of the faith we Christians hold in a
life beyond the grave. I know many people who think it very wrong in a
clergyman to mix himself up in any occult experiments. But I don't agree
with them."

It was now Malling's turn to look sharply at his companion.

"Have you made many experiments yourself, may I ask?" he said very
bluntly.

The clergyman started, and was obviously embarrassed by the question.

"I! Oh, I was speaking generally. I am a very busy man, you see. What
with my church and my parish, and one thing and another, I get very
little time for outside things. Still I am greatly interested, I confess,
in all that Stepton is doing."

"Does Mr. Chichester share your interest?" said Malling.

"In a minor degree, in a minor degree," answered the rector, rather
evasively.

They were now in Sloane Street and Malling said:

"I must turn off here."

"I'll go with you as far as your door if you've no objection," said the
rector, who seemed very loath to leave his companion. "It's odd how men
change, isn't it?"

"As they grow older? But surely development is natural and to be
expected?"

"Certainly. But when a man changes drastically, sheds his character and
takes on another?"

"You are talking perhaps of what is called conversion?"

"Well, that would be an instance of what I mean, no doubt. But there
are changes of another type. We clergymen, you know, mix intimately with
so many men that we are almost bound to become psychologists if we are
to do any good. It becomes a habit with many of us to study closely our
fellow-men. Now I, for instance; I cannot live at close quarters with a
man without, almost unconsciously, subjecting him to a minute scrutiny,
and striving to sum him up. My curates, for example--"

"Yes?" said Malling.

"There are four of them, our friend Chichester being the senior one."

"And you have 'placed' them all?"

"I thought I had, I thought so--but--"

Mr. Harding was silent. Then, with a strange abruptness, and the air of a
man forced into an action against which something within him protested,
he said:

"Mr. Malling, you are the only person I know who, having been acquainted
with Henry Chichester, has at last met him again after a prolonged
interval of separation. Two years, you said. People who see a man from
day to day observe very little or nothing. Changes occur and are not
noticed by them. A man and his wife live together and grow old. But does
either ever notice when the face of the other begins first to lose its
bloom, to take on that peculiar, unmistakable stamp that the passage of
the years sets on us all? Few of us really see what is always before us.
But the man who comes back--he sees. Tell me the honest truth, I beg of
you. Do you or do you not, see a great change in Henry Chichester?"

The rector's voice had risen while he spoke, till it almost clamored for
reply. His eyes were more clamorous still, insistent in their demand upon
Malling. Nevertheless voice and eyes pushed Malling toward caution.
Something within him said, "Be careful what you do!" and, acting
surprise, he answered:

"Chichester changed! In what way?"

The rector's countenance fell.

"You haven't observed it?"

"Remember I've only seen him to-day and walking in the midst of crowds."

"Quite true! Quite true!"

Mr. Harding meditated for a minute, and then said:

"Mr. Malling, I daresay my conduct to-day may surprise you. You may think
it odd of me to be so frank, seeing that you and I have not met before.
But Stepton has told me so much about you that I cannot feel we are quite
strangers. I should like you to have an opportunity of observing Henry
Chichester without prejudice. I will say nothing more. But if I invite
you to meet him, in my house or elsewhere, will you promise me to come?"

"Certainly, if I possibly can."

"And your address?"

Malling stopped and, smiling, pointed to the number outside a house.

"You live here?"

Mr. Harding took a small book and a pencil from his pocket and noted down
the address.

"Good-by," he said. "I live in Onslow Gardens--Number 89."

"Thank you. Good-by."

The two men shook hands. Then Mr. Harding went on his way toward South
Kensington, while Malling inserted his latch-key into the door of Number
7b, Cadogan Square.




II


Evelyn Malling was well accustomed to meeting with strange people and
making investigations into strange occurrences. He was not easily
surprised, nor was he easily puzzled. By nature more skeptical than
credulous, he had a cool brain, and he was seldom, if ever, the victim
of his imagination. But on the evening of the day in question he found
himself continually dwelling, and with a curiously heated mind, upon the
encounter of that afternoon. Mr. Harding's manner in the latter part of
their walk together had--he scarcely knew why--profoundly impressed him.
He longed to see the clergyman again. He longed, almost more ardently, to
pay a visit to Henry Chichester. Although the instinct of caution, which
had perhaps been developed in him by his work among mediums, cranks of
various kinds, and charlatans, had prevented him from letting the rector
know that he had been struck by the change in the senior curate, that
change had greatly astonished him. Yet was it really so very marked? He
had noticed it before his attention had been drawn to it. That he knew.
But was he not now, perhaps, exaggerating its character, "suggestioned"
as it were by the obvious turmoil of Mr. Harding? He wondered, and was
disturbed by his wonderment. Two or three times he got up, with the
intention of jumping into a cab, and going to Westminster to find out
if Professor Stepton was in town. But he only got as far as the hall.
Then something seemed to check him. He told himself that he was in no
fit condition to meet the sharp eyes of the man of science, who delighted
in his somewhat frigid attitude of mind toward all supposed supernormal
manifestations, and he returned to his study and tried to occupy himself
with a book.

On the occasion of his last return, just as he was about to sit down,
his eyes chanced to fall on an almanac framed in silver which stood on
his writing-table. He took it up and stared at it. May 8, Friday--May 9,
Saturday--May 10, Sunday. It was May 9. He put the almanac back on the
table with a sudden sense of relief. For he had come to a decision.

To-morrow he would attend morning service at St. Joseph's.

Malling was not a regular church-goer. He belonged to the Stepton breed.
But he was an earnest man and no scoffer, and some of his best friends
were priests and clergymen. Nevertheless it was in a rather unusual
go-to-meeting frame of mind that he got into a tail-coat and top hat, and
set forth in a hansom to St. Joseph's the next morning.

He had never been there before. As he drew near he found people flowing
toward the great church on foot, in cabs and carriages. Evidently Mr.
Harding had attractive powers, and Malling began to wonder whether he
would have any difficulty in obtaining the seat he wanted, in some corner
from which he could get a good view both of the chancel and the pulpit.
Were vergers "bribable"? What an ignoramus he was about church matters!

He smiled to himself as he paid the cabman and joined the stream of
church-goers which was passing in through the open door.

Just as he was entering the building someone in the crowd by accident
jostled him, and he was pushed rather roughly against a tall lady
immediately before him. She turned round with a startled face, and
Malling hastily begged her pardon.

"I was pushed," he said. "Forgive me."

The lady smiled, her lips moved, doubtless in some words of conventional
acceptance, then she disappeared in the throng, taking her way toward
the left of the church. She was a slim woman, with a white streak in her
dark hair just above the forehead. Her face, which was refined and
handsome, had given to Malling a strong impression of anxiety. Even when
it had smiled it had looked almost tragically anxious, he thought. The
church was seated with chairs, and a man, evidently an attendant, told
him that all the chairs in the right and left aisles were free. He made
his way to the right, and was fortunate enough to get one not far from
the pulpit. Unluckily, from it he could only see the left-hand side of
the choir. But the preacher would be full in his view. The organ sounded;
the procession appeared. Over the heads of worshipers--he was a tall
man--Malling perceived both Mr. Harding and Chichester. The latter took
his place at the end of the left-hand row of light-colored oaken stalls
next to the congregation. Malling could see him well. But the rector was
hidden from him. He fixed his eyes upon Chichester.

The service went on its way. The music was excellent. A fair young man,
who looked as if he might be a first-rate cricketer, one of the curates
no doubt, read the lessons. Chichester intoned with an agreeable light
tenor voice. During the third hymn, "Fight the Good Fight," Mr. Harding
mounted into the pulpit. He let down the brass reading-desk. He had no
notes in his hands. Evidently he was going to preach extempore. After
the "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"
had been pronounced, Malling settled himself to listen. He felt tensely
interested. Both Mr. Harding and Chichester were now before him, the
one as performer--he used the word mentally, with no thought of
irreverence--the other as audience. He could study both as he wished to
study them at that moment.

Chichester was a small, cherubic man, with blue eyes, fair hair, and neat
features, the sort of man who looks as if when a boy he must have been
the leading choir-boy in a cathedral. There was nothing powerful in his
face, but much that was amiable and winning. His chin and his forehead
were rather weak. His eyes and his mouth looked good. Or--did they?

Malling found himself wondering as Mr. Harding preached.

And was Mr. Harding the powerful preacher he was reputed to be?

At first he held his congregation. That was evident. Rows of rapt faces
gazed up at him, as he leaned over the edge of the pulpit, or stood
upright with his hands pressed palm downward upon it. But it seemed to
Malling that he held them rather because of his reputation, because of
what they confidently expected of him, because of what he had done in
the past, than because of what he was actually doing. And presently they
slipped out of his grasp. He lost them.

The first thing that is necessary in an orator, if he is to be successful
with an audience, is confidence in himself, a conviction that he has
something to say which is worth saying, which has to be said. Malling
perceived that on this Sunday morning Mr. Harding possessed neither
self-confidence nor conviction; though he made a determined, almost a
violent, effort to pretend that he had both. He took as the theme of his
discourse self-knowledge, and as his motto--so he called it---the words,
"Know thyself." This was surely a promising subject. He began to treat it
with vigor. But very soon it became evident that he was ill at ease, as
an actor becomes who cannot get into touch with his audience. He stumbled
now and then in his sentences, harked back, corrected a phrase, modified
a thought, attenuated a statement. Then, evidently bracing himself up,
almost aggressively he delivered a few passages that were eloquent
enough. But the indecision returned, became more painful. He even
contradicted himself. A "No, that is not so. I should say--" communicated
grave doubts as to his powers of clear thinking to the now confused
congregation. People began to cough and to shift about in their chairs. A
lady just beneath the pulpit unfolded a large fan and waved it slowly to
and fro. Mr. Harding paused, gazed at the fan, looked away from it, wiped
his forehead with a handkerchief, grasped the pulpit ledge, and went on
speaking, but now with almost a faltering voice.

The congregation were doubtless ignorant of the cause of their pastor's
perturbation, but Malling felt sure that he knew what it was.

The cause was Henry Chichester.

On the cherubic face of the senior curate, as he leaned back in his
stall while Mr. Harding gave out the opening words of the sermon, there
had been an expression that was surely one of anxiety, such as a master's
face wears when his pupil is about to give some public exhibition. That
simile came at once into Malling's mind. It was the master listening to
the pupil, fearing for, criticizing, striving mentally to convey help to
the pupil. And as the sermon went on it was obvious to Malling that the
curate was not satisfied with it, and that his dissatisfaction was, as
it were, breaking the rector down. At certain statements of Mr. Harding
looks of contempt flashed over Chichester's face, transforming it.
The anxiety of the master, product of vanity but also of sympathy,
was overlaid by the powerful contempt of a man who longs to traverse
misstatements but is forced by circumstances to keep silence. And so
certain was Malling that the cause of Mr. Harding's perturbation lay in
Chichester's mental attitude, that he longed to spring up, to take the
curate by the shoulders and to thrust him out of the church. Then all
would be well. He knew it. The rector's self-confidence would return and,
with it, his natural powers.

But now the situation was becoming painful, almost unbearable.

With every sentence the rector became more involved, more hesitating,
more impotent. The sweat ran down his face. Even his fine voice was
affected. It grew husky. It seemed to be failing. Yet he would not
cease. To Malling he gave the impression of a man governed by a secret
obstinacy, fighting on though he knew it was no use, that he had lost
the combat. Malling longed to cry out to him, "Give it up!"

The congregation coughed more persistently, and the lady with the fan
began to ply her instrument of torture almost hysterically.

Suddenly Malling felt obliged to look toward the left of the crowded
church. Sitting up very straight, and almost craning his neck, he stared
over the heads of the fidgeting people and met the eyes of a woman, the
lady with the streak of white hair against whom he had pushed when
coming in.

There was a look almost of anguish on her face. She turned her eyes
toward Mr. Harding. At the same instant the rector saw Mailing in the
congregation. He stopped short, muttered an uneven sentence, then,
forcing his voice, uttered in unnaturally loud tones the "Now to God the
Father," et cetera.

Henry Chichester rose in his stall with an expression of intense
thankfulness, which yet seemed somehow combined with a sneer.

The collection was made.

Before the celebration some of the choir and two of the clergy, of whom
Mr. Harding was one, left the church. Henry Chichester and the fair,
athletic-looking curate remained. Mailing took his hat and made his way
slowly to the door. As he emerged a young man stopped him and said:

"If you please, sir, the rector would like to speak to you if you could
wait just a moment. You are Mr. Malling, I believe."

"Yes. How could you know?"

"Mr. Harding told me what you were like, sir, and that you were wearing
a tie with a large green stone in it. Begging your pardon, sir."

"I will wait," said Malling, marveling at the rector's rapid and accurate
powers of observation.

Those of the congregation who had not remained for the celebration were
quickly dispersing, but Malling now noticed that the lady with the white
lock was, like himself, waiting for some one. She stood not far from him.
She was holding a parasol, and looking down; she moved its point to and
fro on the ground. Several people greeted her. Almost as if startled she
glanced up quickly, smiled, replied. Then, as they went on, she again
looked down. There was a pucker in her brow. Her lips twitched now and
then.

Suddenly she lifted her head, turned and forced her quivering mouth to
smile. Mr. Harding had come into sight round the corner of the church.

"Ah, Mr. Malling," he said, "so you have stayed. Very good of you.
Sophia, let me introduce Mr. Malling to you--my wife, Lady Sophia."

The lady with the white lock held out her hand.

"You have heard Professor Stepton speak of Mr. Malling, haven't you?"
added the rector to his wife.

"Indeed I have," she answered.

She smiled again kindly, and as if resolved to throw off her depression
began to talk with some animation as they all walked together toward the
street. Directly they reached it the rector said:

"Are you engaged to lunch to-day, Mr. Malling?"

"No," answered Malling.

Lady Sophia turned to him and said:

"Then I shall be informal and beg you to lunch with us, if you don't mind
our being alone. We lunch early, at one, as my husband is tired after his
morning's work and eats virtually nothing at breakfast."

"I shall be delighted," said Malling. "It's very kind of you."

"We always walk home," said the rector.

He sighed. It was obvious that he was in low spirits after the failure of
the morning, but he tried to conceal the fact, and his wife tactfully
helped him. Malling praised the music warmly, and remarked on the huge
congregation.

"I scarcely thought I should find a seat," he added.

"It is always full to the doors in the morning," said Lady Sophia, with a
cheerfulness that was slightly forced.

She glanced at her husband, and suddenly added, not without a decided
touch of feminine spite:

"Unless Mr. Chichester, the senior curate, is preaching."

"My dear Sophy!" exclaimed Mr. Harding.

"Well, it is so!" she said, with a sort of petulance.

"Perhaps Mr. Chichester is not gifted as a preacher," said Malling.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said the rector.

"My husband never criticizes his--swans," said Lady Sophia, with delicate
malice, and a glance full of meaning at Malling. "But I'm a woman, and my
principles are not so high as his."

"You do yourself an injustice," said the rector. "Here we are."

He drew out his latch-key.

Before lunch Malling was left alone for a few minutes in the drawing-room
with Lady Sophia. The rector had to see a parishioner who had called and
was waiting for him in his study. Directly her husband had left the room
Lady Sophia turned to Malling and said:

"Had you ever heard my husband preach till this morning?"

"No, never," Mailing answered. "I'm afraid I'm not a very regular
church-goer. I must congratulate you again on the music at St. Joseph's.
It is exceptional. Even at St. Anne's Soho--"

Almost brusquely she interrupted him. She was obviously in a highly
nervous condition; and scarcely able to control herself.

"Yes, yes, our music is always good, of course. So glad you liked it.
But what I want to say is that you haven't heard my husband preach this
morning."

Malling looked at her with curiosity, but without astonishment. He might
have acted a part with her as he had the previous day with her husband.
But, as he looked, he came to a rapid decision, to be more frank with the
woman than he had been with the man.

"You mean, of course, that your husband was not in his best vein," he
said. "I won't pretend that I didn't realize that."

"You didn't hear him at all. He wasn't himself--simply."

She sat down on a sofa and clasped her hands together.

"I cannot tell you what I was feeling," she added. "And he used to be so
full of self-confidence. It was his great gift. His self-confidence
carried him through everything. Nothing could have kept him back if--"

Suddenly she checked herself and looked, with a sort of covert inquiry,
at Malling.

"You must think me quite mad to talk like this," she said, with a return
to her manner when he first met her.

"Shall I tell you what I really think?" he asked, leaning forward in the
chair he had taken.

"Yes, do, do!"

"I think you are very ambitious for your husband and that your ambition
for him has received a perhaps mysterious--check."

Before she could reply the door opened and Mr. Harding reappeared.

At lunch he carefully avoided any reference to church matters, and
they talked on general subjects. Lady Sophia showed herself a nervously
intelligent and ardent woman. It seemed to Malling obvious that she was
devoted to her husband, "wrapped up in" him--to use an expressive phrase.
Any failure on his part upset her even more than it did him. Secretly she
must still be quivering from the public distresses of the morning. But
she now strove to aid the rector's admirable effort to be serene, and
proved herself a clever talker, and well informed on the events of the
day. Of her Malling got a fairly clear impression.

But his impression of her husband was confused and almost nebulous.

"Do you smoke?" asked Mr. Harding, when lunch was over.

Malling said that he did.

"Then come and have a cigar in my study."

"Yes, do go," said Lady Sophia. "A quiet talk with you will rest my
husband."

And she went away, leaving the two men together.

Mr. Harding's study looked out at the back of the house upon a tiny strip
of garden. It was very comfortably, though not luxuriously, furnished,
and the walls were lined with bookcases. While his host went to a drawer
to get the cigar-box, Malling idly cast his eyes over the books in the
shelves nearest to him. He always liked to see what a man had to read.
The first book his eyes rested upon was Myers's "Human Personality."
Then came a series of works by Hudson, including "Psychic Phenomena,"
then Oliver Lodge's "Survival of Man," "Man and the Universe," and "Life
and Matter." Farther along were works by Lowes Dickinson and Professor
William James, Bowden's "The Imitation of Buddha" and Inge's "Christian
Mysticism." At the end of the shelf, bound in white vellum, was Don
Lorenzo Scupoli's "The Spiritual Combat."

A drawer shut, and Mailing turned about to take the cigar which Mr.
Harding offered him.

"The light is rather strong, don't you think?" Mr. Harding said, when the
two men had lit up. "I'll lower the blind."

He did so, and they sat down in a sort of agreeable twilight, aware of
the blaze of an almost un-English sun without.

Malling settled down to his cigar with a very definite intention to
clear up his impressions of the rector. The essence of the man baffled
him. He had known more about Lady Sophia in five minutes than he knew
about Mr. Harding now, although he had talked with him, walked with him,
heard him preach, and watched him intently while he was doing so. His
confusion and distress of the morning were comprehended by Malling. They
were undoubtedly caused by the preacher's painful consciousness of the
presence and criticism of one whom, apparently, he feared, or of whose
adverse opinion at any rate he was in peculiar dread. But what was the
character of the man himself? Was he saint or sinner, or just ordinary,
normal man, with a usual allowance of faults and virtues? Was he a man
of real force, or was he painted lath? The Chichester episodes seemed
to point to the latter conclusion. But Malling was too intelligent to
take everything at its surface value. He knew much of the trickery of
man, but that knowledge did not blind him to the mystery of man. He
had exposed charlatans. Yet he had often said to himself, "Who can ever
really expose another? Who can ever really expose himself?" Essentially
he was the Seeker. And he was seldom or never dogmatic. A friend of his,
who professed to believe in transmigration, had once said of him, "I'm
quite certain Malling must have been a sleuth-hound once." Now he wished
to get on a trail.

But Mr. Harding, who on the previous day had been almost strangely frank
about Henry Chichester, to-day had apparently no intention to be frank
about himself. Though he had desired Malling's company, now that they
were together alone he showed a reserve through which, Malling believed,
he secretly wanted to break. But something held him back. He talked of
politics, government and church, the spread of science, the follies of
the day. And Malling got little nearer to him. But presently Malling
happened to mention the modern craze for discussing intimately, or, as a
Frenchwoman whom he knew expressed it, "_avec un luxe de detail_,"
matters of health.

"Yes, yes," responded Mr. Harding. "It is becoming almost objectionable,
almost indecent. At the same time the health of the body is a very
interesting subject because of its effect upon the mind, even, so it
seems sometimes, upon the very nature of a man. Now I--" he struck the
ash off the end of his cigar--"was, I might almost say, the victim of my
stomach in the pulpit this morning."

"You were feeling ill?"

"Not exactly ill. I have a strong constitution. But I suffer at times
from what the doctors call nervous dyspepsia. It is a very tiresome
complaint, because it takes away for the time a man's confidence in
himself, reduces him to the worm-level almost; and it gives him absurd
ideas. Now this morning in the pulpit I had an attack of pain and
uneasiness, and my nerve quite gave out. You must have noticed it."

"I saw that you were troubled by something."

"Something! It was that. My poor wife was thoroughly upset by it. You
know how sensitive women are. To hold a crowd of people a man must be
strong and well, in full possession of his powers. And I had a good
subject."

"Splendid."

"I'll treat it again--treat it again."

The rector shifted in his chair.

"Do you think," he said after a pause, "that it is possible for another,
an outsider, to know a man better than he knows himself?"

"In some cases, yes," answered Malling.

"But--as a rule?"

"There is the saying that outsiders see most of the game."

"Then why should we mind when all are subject to criticism!" exclaimed
Mr. Harding, forcibly.

Evidently he was startled by his own outburst, for instantly he set about
to attenuate it.

"What I mean is that men ought not to care so much as most of them
undoubtedly do what others think about them."

"It certainly is a sign of great weakness to care too much," said
Malling. "But some people have a quite peculiar power of impressing their
critical thoughts on others. These spread uneasiness around them like an
atmosphere."

"I know, I know," said the rector, with an almost hungry eagerness. "Now
surely one ought to keep out of such an atmosphere, to get out of it, and
to keep out of it."

"Why not?"

"But--but--how extraordinary it is, the difficulty men have in getting
away from things! Haven't you noticed that?"

"Want of moral strength," said Mailing, laconically.

"You think so?"

"Don't you?"

At this moment there was a knock at the door. Mr. Harding started.

"How impossible it is to get a quiet moment," he said with acute
irritation. "Come in!" he called out.

The footman appeared.

"Mr. Chichester has called to see you, sir."

The rector's manner changed. He beckoned to the man to come into the room
and to shut the door. The footman, looking surprised, obeyed.

"Where is he, Thomas?" asked Mr. Harding, in a lowered voice. "In the
hall?"

"No, sir. As you were engaged I showed him up into the drawing-room."

"Oh, very well. Thank you. You can go."

The footman went out, still looking surprised.

Just as he was about to close the door his master said:

"Wait a moment!"

"Sir?"

"Was her ladyship in the drawing-room?"

"No, sir. Her ladyship is lying down in the boudoir."

"Ah. That will do."

The footman shut the door.

Directly he was gone the rector got up with an air of decision.

"Mr. Malling," he said, "perhaps I ought to apologize to you for treating
you with the abruptness allowable in a friend, but surprising in an
acquaintance, indeed in one who is almost a stranger. I do apologize. My
only excuse is that I know you to be a man of exceptional trend of mind
and unusual ability. I know this from Professor Stepton. But there's
another thing. As I told you yesterday, you are the only person of my
acquaintance who, having been fairly intimate with Henry Chichester, has
not seen anything of him during the two years he has been with me as my
coadjutor. Now what I want you to do is this: will you go upstairs and
spend a few minutes alone with Chichester? Tell him I am detained, but
am coming in a moment. I'll see to it that you are not interrupted. I'll
explain to my wife. And, of course, I rely on you to make the matter
appear natural to Chichester, not to rouse his--but I am sure you
understand. Will you do this for me?"

"Certainly," said Malling, with his most prosaic manner. "Why not?"

"Why not? Exactly. There's nothing objectionable in the matter. But--"
Mr. Harding's manner became very earnest, almost tragic. "I'll ask you
one thing--afterward you will tell me the truth, exactly how Chichester
impresses you now in comparison with the impression you got of him two
years ago. You--you have no objection to promising to tell me?"

Malling hesitated.

"But is it quite fair to Chichester?" he said. "Suppose I obtained, for
instance, a less favorable, or even an unfavorable impression of him
now? You are his rector. I hardly think--"

The rector interrupted him.

"I'll leave it to you," he said. "Do just as you please. But, believe me,
I have a very strong reason for wishing to know your opinion. I need it.
I need it."

There was a lamentable sound in his voice.

"If I feel it is right I will give it to you," said Malling.

The rector opened the door of the study.

"You know your way?"

"Yes."

Malling went upstairs. Mr. Harding stood watching him from below till he
disappeared.




III


When Malling opened the door of the drawing-room Chichester was standing
by one of the windows, looking out into Onslow Gardens. He turned round,
saw Malling, and uttered an exclamation.

"You are here!"

His light tenor voice sounded almost denunciatory, as if he had a right
to demand an explanation of Malling's presence in Mr. Harding's house,
and as he came away quickly from the window, he repeated, with still more
emphasis:

"You are here!"

"Lunching--yes," replied Malling, imperturbably.

He looked at Chichester and smiled.

"You have no objection, I hope?"

His words and manner evidently brought the curate to a sense of his own
unconventionality. He held out his hand.

"I beg your pardon. Your coming in surprised me. I had no idea"--his blue
eyes went searchingly over Malling's calm face--"that you could be here.
I thought you and the rector were complete strangers till I introduced
you yesterday."

"So we were."

Malling sat down comfortably on a sofa. His action evidently recalled
Chichester's mind to the fact that he was to see the rector.

"Isn't the rector coming to see me?" he asked.

"Almost directly. He's busy for a few minutes. We were smoking together
in his study."

"You seem to--you seem to have made great friends!" said Chichester, with
a sort of forced jocularity.

"Great friends! They're hardly made in a moment. I happened to be at
church this morning--"

"At church--where?" exclaimed the curate.

"At St. Joseph's. And Mr. Harding kindly asked me to lunch."

"You were at church at St. Joseph's this morning?" said Chichester.

He sat down by Malling and stared into his face.

"Did you--did you stay for the sermon?"

"Certainly. I came for the sermon. I had never heard Mr. Harding preach."

"No? No? Well, what did you think of it? What did you think of it?"

The curate spoke nervously, and seemed to Malling to be regarding him
with furtive anxiety.

"It was obvious that Mr. Harding wasn't in good form this morning,"
Malling said. "He explained the matter after lunch."

"He _explained_ the matter!" said Chichester, with a rising voice, in
which there was an almost shrill note of suspicion.

"Yes. He told me he was often the victim of nervous dyspepsia, and that
he had an attack of it while in the pulpit this morning."

"He told you it was nervous dyspepsia!"

"I have just said so."

The curate looked down.

"I advised him not to walk all the way home yesterday," he said gloomily.
"You heard me."

"You think it was that?"

"He never will take advice from any one. That's his--one of his great
faults. Whatever he thinks, whatever he says, must be right. You, as a
layman, probably have no idea how a certain type of clergyman loves
authority."

This remark struck Malling as in such singularly bad taste--considering
where they were, and that one of them was Mr. Harding's guest, the other
his curate--that only his secret desire to make obscure things clear
prevented him from resenting it.

"It is one of the curses of the Church," continued Chichester, "this
passion for authority, for ruling, for having all men under one's feet as
it were. If men would only listen, take advice, see themselves as they
really are, how much finer, how much greater, they might become!"

"See themselves as others see them! Eh?" said Malling. "But do you mean
that a rector should depend on his curate's advice rather than on his own
judgment?"

"And why not?" said Chichester. "Rector--curate--archbishop--what does it
matter? The point is not what rank in the hierarchy a man has, but what,
and how, does he see? A street boy may perceive a truth that a king is
blind to. At that moment the street boy is greater than the king. Do you
deny it?"

"No," said Malling, amazed at the curate's excitement, but showing no
astonishment.

"But it's a terrible thing to see too clearly!" continued Chichester,
almost as if talking to himself, absorbed. "A terrible thing!"

He looked up at Malling, and almost solemnly he said:

"Are you still going on with all those investigations?"

"When I have any spare time, I often spend some of it in that sort of
work," answered Malling, lightly.

It was his way to make light of his research work, and indeed he seldom
mentioned it unless he was forced to do so.

"Do you think it is right?" said Chichester, earnestly.

"Right?"

"To strive to push one's way into hidden regions."

"If I didn't think it right I shouldn't do it," retorted Malling, but
without heat.

"And--for clergymen?" questioned Chichester, leaning forward, and
dropping his small, thin hands down between his knees.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think it right for clergymen to indulge themselves--for it is
indulgence--in investigations, in attempts to find out more than God
has chosen to reveal to us?"

The man of science in Malling felt impatient with the man of faith in
Chichester.

"Does it never occur to you that the _anima mundi_ may have hidden
certain things from the minds of mortals just in order to provide them
with a field to till?" he said, with a hint of sarcasm. "Wasn't the fact
that the earth revolves round the sun, instead of the sun round the
earth, hidden from every living creature till Galileo discovered it? Do
you think Galileo deserved our censure?"

"Saul was punished for consulting the witch of Endor," returned
Chichester. "And the Roman Catholic Church forbids her children to deal
in occult things."

"You can't expect a man like me, a disciple of Stepton, to take the Roman
Catholic view of such a matter."

"You are not a clergyman," said Chichester.

Malling could not help smiling.

"You think the profession carries with it certain obligations," he said.
"No doubt it does. But I shall never believe that one of them is to shut
your eyes to any fact in the whole scheme of Creation. Harm can never
come from truth."

"If I could believe that!" Chichester cried out.

"Do you mean to tell me you don't believe it?"

Chichester looked at Malling for quite a minute without replying. Then he
got up, and said, with a changed voice and manner:

"If the rector doesn't come to see me I shall have to go. Sunday is not a
holiday, you know, for us clergymen."

He drew out his watch and looked at it.

"I shall have to go. I'm taking the Children's Service."

Malling got up too.

"Is it getting late?" he said. "Perhaps--"

At this moment the door was gently opened and Mr. Harding appeared.

"Oh, Chichester," he said. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. What is
it? Would you like to come to my study?"

"I must be off," said Malling. "May I say good-by to Lady Sophia? Or
perhaps she is resting and would rather not be disturbed."

"I'm sure she would wish to say good-by to you," said the rector. "I'll
just ask her."

He shot a quick glance from one man to the other and went out of the
room, leaving the door open behind him.

Directly he was gone the curate said: "It has been such a pleasure to me
to renew my acquaintance with you, Mr. Malling. Are you going to be long
in London?"

"All the season, I think."

"Then I hope we may meet again soon, very soon."

He hesitated, put one hand in his pocket, and brought out a card-case.

"I should like to give you my address."

"And let me give you mine."

They exchanged cards.

"I expect you'll be very busy," said the curate, rather doubtfully.

Then he added, like a man urged on by some strong, almost overpowering
desire to do a thing not quite natural to him:

"But I wish you could spare an evening to come to dine with me. I live
very modestly, of course. I'm in rooms, in Hornton Street--do you know
it?--near Campden Hill?--Number 4a--as you'll see on my card. I wonder--"

"I shall be delighted to come."

"When?"

"Whenever you are kind enough to ask me."

"Could you come on Wednesday week? It's so unfortunate, I have such a
quantity of parish engagements--that is my first evening free."

"Wednesday week, with pleasure."

"At half after seven?"

"That will suit me perfectly."

"And"--he looked toward the door--"I shall be greatly obliged to you if
you won't mention to the rector the fact that you are coming. He--"

"My wife's in the boudoir," said Mr. Harding, coming into the room at
this moment.

He stood by the door.

Malling shook hands with Chichester, and went to say good-by to his
hostess.

Mr. Harding shut the drawing-room door.

"This is the way," he said. "Well, Mr. Malling? Well?"

"You mean you want to know--?"

"Your impression of Chichester."

The rector stopped on the landing.

"Do you find him much changed?"

Malling shrugged his shoulders.

"Possibly--a little. He may have become rather firmer in manner, a trifle
more decisive."

"Firmer! More decisive, you say!"

"But surely that is only natural, working--as he has done, I understand,
under a man such as yourself for two years."

"Such as myself! Then you think he's caught something of my manner and
way of looking at things? You think--"

"Really, it's difficult to say," interrupted Malling. "He's developed, no
doubt. But very few people don't. I suppose you've trained him."

"I!" said the rector. "I train a man like Chichester!"

In his voice there was a bitter irony.

"Is that you, Mr. Malling?" said the voice of Lady Sophia. "I was lying
down with a book. This is my little room."

She looked pale, almost haggard, as the sunshine fell upon her through
the open window.

Malling took his leave at once and she did not attempt to detain him.

"I hope you'll come again," she said, as they shook hands. "Perhaps on
another Sunday morning, to church and lunch. I'll let you know."

She said the last words with a significance which made Malling understand
that she did not wish him to come to church at St. Joseph's again till
she gave him the word.

The rector let him out of the house. Not another word was spoken about
Henry Chichester. As his guest walked away the rector stood, bareheaded,
looking after him, then, as Malling turned the corner of the gardens,
with a heavy sigh, and the unconscious gesture of a man greatly troubled
in mind, he stepped back into his hall and shut the door behind him.




IV


A week later, Mailing paid a visit to Professor Stepton. He had heard
nothing of the Hardings and Chichester since the day of the luncheon in
Onslow Gardens, but they had seldom been absent from his thoughts, and
more than once he had looked at the words, "Dine with H.C." in his book
of engagements, and had found himself wishing that "Hornton Street,
Wednesday" was not so far distant.

The professor lived in Westminster, in a house with Adam ceilings, not
far from the Houses of Parliament. He was unmarried, and Malling found
him alone after dinner, writing busily in his crowded library. He had but
recently returned from Paris, whither he had traveled to take part in a
series of "sittings" with the famous medium, Mrs. Groeber.

In person the professor was odd, without being specially striking. He
was of medium height, thin and sallow, with gray whiskers, thick gray
hair, bushy eyebrows, and small, pointed and inquiring features which
gave him rather the aspect of a prying bird. His eyes were little and
sparkling. His mouth, strangely enough, was ecclesiastical. He nearly
always wore very light-colored clothes. Even in winter he was often
to be seen clad in yellow-gray tweeds, a yellow silk necktie, and a
fawn-colored Homburg hat. And no human being had ever encountered him
in a pair of boots unprotected by spats. One peculiarity of his was that
he did not possess a walking-stick, another that he had never--so at
least he declared--owned a pocket-handkerchief, having had no occasion
to use one at any moment of his long and varied life. When it rained he
sometimes carried an umbrella, generally shut. At other times he moved
briskly along with his arms swinging at his sides.

As Malling came in he looked up and nodded.

"Putting down all about Mrs. Groeber," he observed.

"Anything new or interesting?" asked Malling.

"Just the usual manifestations, done in full light, though."

He laid aside his pen, while Malling sat down.

"A letter from Flammarion this morning," he said. "But all about Halley's
comet, of course. What is it?"

Now the professor's "What is it?" was not general, but particular, and
was at once understood to be so by Malling. It did not mean "Why have you
come?" but "Why are you obsessed at this moment, and by what?"

"Let's have the mystery," he added, leaning his elbows on his just dried
manuscript, and resting his sharp little chin on his doubled fists.

Yet Malling had hinted at no mystery, and had come without saying he was
coming.

"You know a clergyman called Marcus Harding?" said Malling.

"Of St. Joseph's. To be sure, I do."

"Do you know also his senior curate, Henry Chichester?"

"No."

"Have you heard of him?"

"Oh dear, yes. And I fancy I've seen him at a distance."

"You heard of him from Harding, I suppose."

"Exactly, and Harding's wife."

"Oh, from Lady Sophia!"

"Who hates him."

"Since when?" said Malling, emphatically.

"I couldn't say. But I was only aware of the fact about a month ago."

"Have you any reason to suppose that Harding has been making any
experiments?"

"In church music, biblical criticism, or what?"

"Say in psychical research?"

"No."

"Or that Chichester has?"

"No."

"Hasn't Harding ever talked to you on the subject?"

"He has tried to," said the professor, rather grimly.

"And you didn't encourage him?"

"When do I encourage clergymen to talk about psychical research?"

Malling could not help smiling.

"I have some reason--at least I believe so--to suppose that Harding and
his curate Chichester have been making some experiments in directions
not entirely unknown to us," he observed. "And what is more"--he
paused--"what is more," he continued, "I am inclined to think that
those experiments may have been crowned with a success they little
understand."

Down went the professor's fists, his head was poked forward in Malling's
direction, and his small eyes glittered almost like those of a glutton
who sees a feast spread before him.

"The experiments of two clergymen in psychical research crowned with
success!" he barked out.

"If so, I shall see what I can do in the pulpit--the Abbey pulpit!"

He got up, and walking slightly sidewise, with his hands hanging, and his
fingers opening and shutting, went over to a chair close to Malling's.

"Get on!" he said.

"I'm going to. I want your advice."

When Malling had finished what he had to say, the professor, who had
interrupted him two or three times to ask pertinent questions, put his
hands on his knees and thrust his head forward.

"You said you wanted advice," he said. "What about?"

"I wish you to advise me how I had better proceed."

"You really think the matter important?" asked the professor.

Malling looked slightly disconcerted.

"You don't?" he said.

"You are deducing a great deal from not very much. That's certain,"
observed the professor.

"You never knew Chichester," retorted Malling. "I did--two years ago."

"Suppose you are right, suppose these two reverend gentlemen have done
something such as you suppose--and that there has been a result, a
curious result, what have we to do with it? Tell me that."

"You mean that I have no right to endeavor to make a secret investigation
into the matter. But I'm positive both the men want help from me. I don't
say either of them will ask it. But I'm certain both of them want it."

"Two clergymen!" said the professor. "Two clergymen! That's the best of
it--if there is an it, which there may not be."

"Harding spoke very warmly of you."

"Good-believing man! Now, I do wonder what he's been up to. I do
wonder. Perhaps he'd have told me but for my confounded habit of
sarcasm, my way of repelling the amateur--repelling!" His arms flew out.
"There's so much silliness beyond all bearing, credulity beyond all the
patience of science. Table-turning women, feminine men! 'The spirits
guide me, Professor, in every smallest action of my life!'--Wuff!--the
charlatan battens and breeds. And the bile rises in one till Carlyle on
his worst day might have hailed one as a brother bilious, and so
denunciatory--Jeremiah nervously dyspeptic! And when you opened your
envelop and drew out a couple of clergymen, really, really! But perhaps
I was in a hurry! Clergymen in a serious fix, too, because of unexpected
and not understood success! And I talk of repelling the _amateur_!"

Suddenly he paused and, with his bushy eyebrows twitching, looked
steadily at Malling.

"I leave it to you," he said. "Take your own line. But don't forget that,
if there's anything in it, development will take place in the link. The
link will be a center of combat. The link will be an interesting field
for study."

"The link?" said Malling, interrogatively.

"Goodness gracious me! Her ladyship! Her ladyship!" cried out the
professor. "What are you about, Malling?"

And he refused to say another word on the matter till Malling, after much
more conversation on other topics, got up to go. Then, accompanying him
to the front door, the professor said:

"You know _I_ think it's probably all great nonsense."

"What?"

"Your two black-coated friends. You bustle along at such a pace.
Remember, I have made more experiments than you have, and I have never
come upon an exactly similar case. I don't know whether such a thing
can be. No more do you--you've guessed. Now, guessing is not at all
scientific. At the same time you've proved you can be patient. If there
is anything in this it's profoundly interesting, of course."

"Then you advise me--?"

"If in doubt, study Lady Sophia. Good night."

As Malling went away into the darkness he heard the professor snapping
out to himself, as he stood before his house bareheaded:

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings! _Tres bien!_ But--reverend
gentlemen of St. Joseph's! I shall have to look for telergic power in my
acquaintance Randall Cantuar, when I want it! By Jove!"

"If in doubt, study Lady Sophia." As Malling thought over these
parting words, he realized their wisdom and wondered at his own
short-sightedness.

He had sent his cards to Onslow Gardens after the luncheon with the
Hardings. He wished now he had called and asked for Lady Sophia. But
doubtless he would have an opportunity of being with her again. If she
did not offer him one, he would make one for himself.

He longed to see her with Henry Chichester.

During the days that elapsed before "Hornton Street, Wednesday" he
considered a certain matter with sedulous care. His interview with
Stepton had not been fruitless. Stepton always made an effect on his
mind. Casual and jerky though his manner was, obstinate as were his
silences at certain moments, fragmentary as was his speech, he had a
way of darting at the essential that set him apart from most men. Malling
remembered a horrible thing he had once seen in the Sahara, a running
gazelle killed by a falcon. The falcon, rising high in the blue air,
had followed the gazelle, had circled, poised, then shot down and, with
miraculous skill, struck into the gazelle's eye. Unerringly from above
it had chosen out of the vast desert the home for its cruel beak.
Somewhat in similar fashion, so Malling thought, Stepton rose above
things, circled, poised, sank, and struck into the heart of the truth
unerringly.

Perhaps he was able to do this because he was able to mount, falconwise!

Malling would have given a good deal to have Stepton with him in this
affair, despite the professor's repellent attitude toward the amateur.
Well, if there really was anything in it, if strangeness rose out of the
orthodox bosom of St. Joseph's, if he--Malling--found himself walking in
thick darkness, he meant to bring Stepton into the matter, whether at
Stepton's desire or against it. Meanwhile he would see if there was
enlightenment in Hornton Street.

On the Wednesday the spell of fine weather which had made London look
strangely vivacious broke up, and in the evening rain fell with a gentle
persistence. Blank grayness took the town. A breath as of deep autumn was
in the air. And the strange sadness of cities, which is like no other
sadness, held the spirit of Evelyn Malling as he walked under an umbrella
in the direction of Kensington High Street. He walked, to shake off
depression. But in his effort he did not succeed. All that he saw
deepened his melancholy; the soldiers starting out vaguely from barracks,
not knowing what to do, but free for a time, and hoping, a little
heavily, for some adventure to break the military monotony of their
lives; the shopgirls, also in hope of something to "take them out of
themselves"--pathetic desire of escape from the little prison, where the
soul sits, picking its oakum sometimes, in its cell of flesh!--young
men making for the parks, workmen for the public houses, an old woman,
in a cap, peering out of an upper window in Prince's Gate; Italians with
an organ, and a monkey that looked as if it were dying of nostalgia;
women hurrying--whither?--with anxious faces, and bodies whose very
shapes, and whose every movement, suggested, rather proclaimed, worry.

Malling knew it was the rain, the possessive grayness, which troubled his
body to-night, and through his body troubled his spirit. His nostrils
inhaled the damp, and it seemed to go straight into his essence, into the
mystery that was he. His eyes saw no more blue, and it was as if they
drew a black shutter over all the blue in his heart, blotting it out.
People became doomed phantoms, because the weather had changed and
because London knows how to play Cassandra to the spirit of many a man.
To Malling, as he presently turned to the right, Hornton Street looked
like an alley leading straight to the pit of despair, and when he tapped
on the blistered green door of the small house where the curate lived, it
was as if he tapped seeking admittance to all the sorrowful things that
had been brought into being to beset his life with blackness.

A neat servant-girl opened the door. There was a smell of roast mutton in
the passage. So far well. Malling took off his hat and coat, hung them up
on a hook indicated by the plump red hand of the maid, and then followed
her upstairs. The curate was in possession of the first floor.

Malling knew that it would be a case of folding-doors and perhaps of
curtains of imitation lace. It was a case of folding-doors. But there
was a dull green hue on the walls that surely bespoke Henry Chichester's
personal taste. There were bookcases, there were mezzotints, there were
engravings of well-known pictures, and there were armchairs not covered
with horsehair. There was also a cottage piano, severely nude. In the
center of the room stood a small square table covered with a cloth and
laid for two persons.

"I'll tell Mr. Chichester, sir."

The maid went out. From behind the folding-doors came to Malling's ears
the sound of splashing water, then a voice saying, certainly to the maid,
"Thank you, Ellen, I will come." And in three minutes Chichester was in
the room, apologizing.

"I was kept late in the parish. There's a good deal to do."

"You're not overworked?" asked Malling.

"Do I look so?" said Chichester, quickly.

He turned round and gazed at himself in an oval Venetian mirror which
was fixed to the wall just behind him. His manner for a moment was oddly
absorbed as he examined his face.

"London life tells on one, I suppose," he said, again turning. "We
change, of course, in appearance as we go on."

His blue eyes seemed to be seeking something in Malling's impenetrable
face.

"Do you think," he said, "I am much altered since we used to meet two
years ago? It would of course be natural enough if I were."

Malling looked at him for a minute steadily.

"In appearance, you mean?"

"Of course."

"To-night it seems to me that you have altered a good deal."

"To-night?" said the curate, as if with anxiety.

"If there is any change,--and I think there is,--it seems to me more
apparent to-night than it was when I saw you the other day."

Ellen, the maid, entered the room bearing a tray on which was a
soup-tureen.

"Oh, dinner!" said Chichester. "Let us sit down. You won't mind simple
fare, I hope. We are having soup, mutton,--I am not sure what else."

"Stewed fruit, sir," interpolated Ellen.

"To be sure! Stewed fruit and custard. Open the claret, Ellen, please."

"Have you been in these rooms long?" asked Malling, as they unfolded
their napkins.

"Two years. All the time I have been at St. Joseph's. The rector told me
of them. The curate who preceded me had occupied them."

"What became of him?"

"He has a living in Northampton now. But when he left he had nothing in
view."

"He was tired of work at St. Joseph's?"

"I don't think he got on with the rector."

The drip of the rain became audible outside, and a faint sound of
footsteps on the pavement.

"Possibly I shall not stay much longer," he added.

"No doubt you'll take a living."

"I don't know. I don't know. But, in any case, I may not stay much
longer--perhaps. That will do, Ellen; you may go and fetch the mutton.
Put the claret on the table, please."

When the maid was gone, he added:

"One doesn't want a servant in the room listening to all one says. As
she was standing behind me I had forgotten she was here. How it rains
to-night! I hate the sound of rain."

"It is dismal," said Malling, thinking of his depression while he had
walked to Hornton Street.

"Do you mind," said the curate, slightly lowering his voice, "if I speak
rather--rather confidentially to you?"

"Not at all, if you wish to--"

"Well, now, you are a man of the world, you've seen many people. I wish
you would tell me something."

"What is it?"

Ellen appeared with the mutton. As soon as she had put it on the table
and departed, Chichester continued:

"How does Mr. Harding strike you? What impression does he make upon you?"

Eagerness, even more, something that was surely anxiety, shone in his
eyes as he asked the question.

"He's a very agreeable man."

"Of course, of course! Would you say he was a man to have much power over
others, his fellow-men?"

"Speaking quite confidentially--"

"Nothing you say shall ever go beyond us two."

"Then--I don't know that I should."

"He doesn't strike you as a man of power?"

"In the pulpit?"

"And out of it--especially out of it?"

"He may have been. But--perhaps he has lost in power. Dispersion, you
know, does not make for strength."

Suddenly the curate became very pale.

"Dispersion--you say!" he almost stammered.

As if to cover some emotion, he looked at Malling's plate, and added:

"Have some more? You won't? Then--"

He got up and rang the bell. Ellen reappeared, cleared away, and put the
stewed fruit and custard on the table.

"Bring the coffee in ten minutes, Ellen. I won't ring."

"Very well, sir."

"Dispersion," said Chichester to Malling in a firmer voice, as Ellen
disappeared.

"Concentration makes for strength. Mr. Harding seems to me mentally--what
shall I say?--rather torn in pieces, as if preyed upon by some anxiety.
Now, if you'll allow me to be personal, I should say that you have
greatly gained in strength and power since I knew you two years ago."

"You--you observe a difference?" asked Chichester, apparently in great
perturbation.

"A striking difference."

"And--and would you say I looked a happier, as well as a--a stronger
man?"

"I couldn't with truth say that."

"Very few of us are happy," said Chichester, with trembling lips. "Poor
miserable sinners as we are! And we clergymen, who set up to direct
others--" he broke off.

He seemed greatly, strangely, moved.

"You must forgive me. I have had a very hard day's work!" he murmured.
"The coffee will do me good. Let us sit in the armchairs, and Ellen can
clear away. I wish I had two sitting-rooms."

He rang to make Ellen hurry. Till she came Malling talked about Italian
pictures and looked at the curate's books. When she had cleared away,
left the coffee, and finally departed, he sat down with an air of
satisfaction. Chichester did not smoke, but begged Malling to light
up, and gave him a cigar.

"Coffee always does one good," he said. "It acts directly on the heart,
and seems to strengthen the whole body. I have had a trying day."

"You look tired," said Malling.

The fact was that Chichester had never recovered the color he had so
suddenly lost when they were discussing Mr. Harding.

"It's no wonder if I do," rejoined Chichester, in a voice that sounded
hopeless.

He drank some coffee, seemed to make a strong effort to recover himself,
and, with more energy, said:

"I asked you here because I wanted to renew a pleasant acquaintanceship,
but also--you won't think me discourteous, I know--because--well, I had
a purpose in begging you to come."

"Won't you tell me what it is?"

The curate shifted in his armchair, clasped and unclasped his hands.
A mental struggle was evidently going on within him. Indeed, during
the whole evening Malling had received from him a strong impression of
combat, of confusion.

"I wanted to continue the discussion we began at Mr. Harding's the other
day. You remember, I asked you not to tell him you were coming?"

"Yes."

"I think it's best to keep certain matters private. People so easily
misunderstand one. And the rector has rather a jealous nature."

Malling looked at his companion without speaking. At this moment he
was so strongly interested that he simply forgot to speak. Never, even
at a successful sitting when, the possibility of trickery having been
eliminated, a hitherto hidden truth seemed about to lift a torch in the
darkness and to illumine an unknown world, had he been more absorbed by
the matter in hand. Chichester did not seem to be struck by his silence,
and continued:

"And then not every one is fitted to comprehend properly certain matters,
to see things in their true light. Now the other day you said a thing
that greatly impressed me, that I have never been able to get out of my
mind since. You said, 'Harm can never come from truth.' I have been
thinking about those words of yours, night and day, night and day. Tell
me--did you mean them?"

The question came from Chichester's lips with such force that Malling was
almost startled.

"Certainly I meant them," he answered.

"And if truth slays?"

"And is death the worst thing that can happen to a man, or to an
idea--some wretched fallacy, perhaps, that has governed the minds of
men, some gross superstition, some lie that darkens counsel?"

"You think if a man lives by a lie he is better dead?"

"Don't you think so?"

"But don't we all need a crutch to help us along on the path of life?"

"What! You, a clergyman, think that it is good to bolster up truth with
lies?" said Malling, with genuine scorn.

"I didn't say that."

"You implied it, I think."

"Perhaps if you had worked among men and women as much as I have you
would know how much they need. If you went abroad, say to Italy, and saw
how the poor, ignorant people live happily oftentimes by their blind
belief in the efficacy of the saints, would you wish to tear it from
them?"

"I think we should live by the truth, and I would gladly strike away a
lie from any human being who was using it as a crutch."

"_I_ thought that once," said Chichester.

The words were ordinary enough, but there was something either in the
way they were said, or in Chichester's face as he said them, that made
Malling turn cold.

To cover his unusual emotion, which he was ashamed of, and which he
greatly desired to hide from his companion, he blew out a puff of cigar
smoke, lifted his cup, and drank the rest of his coffee.

"May I have another cup?" he said. "It's excellent."

The coffee-pot was on the table. Chichester poured out some more.

"I will have another cup, too," he said. "How it wakes up the mind."

He glanced at Mailing and added:

"Almost terribly sometimes."

"Yes. But--going back to our subject--don't you still think that men
should live by the truth?"

"I think," began Chichester--"I think--"

It seemed as if something physical prevented him from continuing. He
swallowed, as if forcing something down his throat.

"I think," he got out at last, "that few men know how terrible the face
of truth can be."

His own countenance was contorted as he spoke, as if he were regarding
something frightful.

"I think"--he turned right round in his chair to confront Malling
squarely--"that _you_ do not know."

For the first time he completely dominated Malling, Chichester the
gentle, cherubic clergyman, whom Malling had thought of as good, but
weak, and certainly as a negligible quantity. He dominated, because at
that moment he made Malling feel as if he had some great possession of
knowledge which Malling lacked.

"And you?" said Malling. "Do you know?"

The curate's lips worked, but he made no answer.

Malling was aware of a great struggle in his mind, as of a combat in
which two forces were engaged. He got up, walked to the window, and
stood as if listening to the rain.

"If only Stepton were here!" thought Malling.

There was a truth hidden from him, perhaps partly divined, obscurely half
seen, but not thoroughly understood, as a whole invisible. Stepton would
be the man to elucidate it, Malling thought. It lured him on, and baffled
him.

"How it rains!" said the curate at last, without turning.

He bent down and opened the small window. The uneasy, almost sinister
noise of rain in darkness entered the room, with the soft smell of
moisture.

"Do you mind if we have a little air?" he added.

"I should like it," said Malling.

Chichester came back and sat down again opposite Malling. His
expression had now quite changed. He looked calmer, gentler, weaker,
and much more uninteresting. Crossing his legs, and folding his thin
hands on his knees, he began to talk in his light tenor voice. And
he kept the conversation going on church music, sacred art in Italy,
and other eminently safe and respectable topics till it was time for
Malling to go.

Only when he was letting his guest out into the night did he seem
troubled once more. He clasped Malling's hand in his, as if almost
unaware that he was doing so, and said with some hesitation:

"Are you--are you going to see the rector again?"

"Not that I know of," said Malling, speaking the strict truth, and
virtually telling a lie at the same time.

For he was determined, if possible, to see Mr. Harding, and that before
very long.

"If I may say so," Chichester said, shifting from one foot to another and
looking down at the rain-sodden pavement, "I wouldn't see him."

"May I ask you why?"

"You may get a wrong impression. Two years ago he was another man.
Strangers, of course, may not know it, not realize it. But we who have
lived with him do know it. Mr. Harding is going down the hill."

There was a note of deep sadness in his voice. Had he been speaking of
himself, of his own decadence, his tone could scarcely have been more
melancholy.

And for long Malling remembered the look in his eyes as he drew back to
shut his door.

In the rain Malling walked home as he had come. But now it was deep in
the night and his depression had deepened. He was a self-reliant man, and
not easily felt himself small, though he was not conceited. To-night he
felt diminished. The worm-sensation overcame him. That such a man as
Chichester should have been able to convey to him such a sensation was
strange, yet it was from Chichester that this mental chastisement had
come. For a moment Chichester had towered, and at that moment Malling
surely had dwindled, shrunk together, like a sheet of paper exposed to
the heat of a flame.

But that Chichester should have had such an effect on him--Malling!

If Mr. Harding was going down the hill, Chichester surely was not. He had
changed drastically since Malling had known him two years ago. In power,
in force, he had gained. He now conveyed the impression of a man capable,
if he chose, of imposing himself on others. Formerly he had been the wax
that receives the impress. But whereas formerly he had been a contented
man, obviously at peace with himself and with the world, now he was
haunted by some great anxiety, by some strange grief, or perhaps even by
some fear.

"Few men know how terrible the face of the truth can be."

Chichester had said that.

Was he one of the few men?

And was that why now, as Malling walked home in the darkness and rain, he
felt himself humbled, diminished?

For Malling loved knowledge and thought men should live by it. Had truth
a Medusa face, still would he have desired to look into it once, would
have been ready to endure a subsequent turning to stone.

That Chichester should perhaps have seen what he had not seen--that
troubled him, even humbled him.

Some words of Professor Stepton came back to his mind: "If there's
anything in it, development will take place in the link." And those last
words: "If in doubt, study Lady Sophia."

Mailing was in doubt. Why not follow Stepton's advice? Why not study Lady
Sophia?

He resolved to do it. And with the resolve came to him a sense of greater
well-being. The worm-sensation departed from him. He lifted his head and
walked more briskly.




V


On the night following the dinner in Hornton Street, Malling went to the
Covent Garden Opera House to hear "La Traviata." The well-worn work did
not grasp the attention of a man who was genuinely fond of the music of
Richard Strauss, with its almost miraculous intricacies, and who was
willingly captive to Debussy. He looked about the house from his stall,
and very soon caught sight of Lady Mansford, Lady Sophia's sister-in-law,
in a box on the Grand Tier. Malling knew Lady Mansford. He resolved to
pay her a visit, and as soon as the curtain was down, and Tetrazzini had
tripped before it, smiling not unlike a good-natured child, he made his
way upstairs, and asked the attendant to tap at a door on which was
printed, "The Earl of Mansford." The man did so, and opened the door,
showing a domestic scene highly creditable to the much maligned British
aristocracy--Lord Mansford seated alone with his wife, in evidently
amicable conversation.

After a few polite words he made Malling sit down beside her, and, saying
he would have a cigarette in the foyer, he left them together.

Lady Mansford was a pretty, dark woman, of the slightly irresponsible
and little-bird type. She willingly turned her charmingly dressed head
and chirped when noticed, and she was generally noticed because of her
beauty. Now she chirped of Ceylon, where Malling had been, and then, more
vivaciously, of Parisian milliners, where she had been. From these allied
subjects Malling led her on to a slightly different topic--religion.

"I went to St. Joseph's last Sunday week," he presently said.

"St. who--what?" said Lady Mansford, who was busy with her
opera-glasses, and had just noticed that Lady Sindon, a bird-like
rival of hers, had changed the color of her hair, fortunately to
her--Lady Sindon's--disadvantage.

"To St. Joseph's, to hear your brother-in-law preach."

"It doesn't do at all," murmured Lady Mansford. "It makes her look
Chinese."

"You said--?"

"Mollie Sindon. But what were you talking about? Do tell me." She laid
down her glasses.

"I was saying that I went to church last Sunday week."

"Why?"

"To hear your brother-in-law preach at St. Joseph's."

"Marcus!" exclaimed Lady Mansford.

She pursed her lips.

"I don't go to St. Joseph's. Poor Sophy! I'm sorry for her."

"I lunched with Lady Sophia after the service."

"Did you? Isn't it sad?"

"Sad! I don't quite understand?" said Malling, interrogatively.

"The change in him. Of course people say it's drink. Such nonsense! But
they must say something, mustn't they?"

"Is Mr. Harding so very much changed?"

"Do you mean to say you didn't notice it?"

"I never met him till within the last fortnight."

"He's transformed--simply. He might have risen to anything, with his
energy, his ambition, and his connections. And now! But the worst of it
is no one can make out why it is. Even Sophia and Isinglass--my husband,
you know!--haven't an idea. And it gets worse every day. Last Sunday I
hear his sermon was too awful, a mere muddle of adjectives, such as one
hears in Hyde Park, I believe. I never liked Marcus particularly. I
always thought him too autocratic, too determined to dominate. He had
that poor little Mr. Chichester--his curate--completely under his thumb.
Mr. Chichester couldn't call his soul his own. He worshiped Marcus. But
now they say even he is beginning to think that his god is of clay. What
can it be? Do you think Marcus is losing his mind?"

"Oh, I should hope not," returned Malling, vaguely. "Has it been going on
long?"

"Oh, for quite a time. But it all seemed to come on gradually--as things
_do_, you know! Poor Sophy has always adored him, and given way to him in
everything. In her eyes all that he does is right. She never says a word,
I believe, but she must be suffering the tortures of--_you_ know! There's
Winnie Rufford coming in! How astonishingly young she looks. Were you at
the Huntingham's ball? Well--"

Lady Mansford twittered no more about the Harding menage. But Malling
felt that his visit had not been fruitless.

After the opera he went to a party in Grosvenor Street where again he
managed to produce talk of the Hardings. It seemed that Lady Mansford
had not exaggerated very much. Among those who knew the Hardings a change
in the rector of St. Joseph's had evidently been generally noticed.
Malling took in to supper a Mrs. Armitage, a great friend of Lady
Sophia's, and she made no secret of the fact that Lady Sophia was greatly
distressed.

"I thought she would have been here to-night," Mrs. Armitage said. "But
she isn't. I suppose she felt she couldn't face it. So many of his
congregation are here, or so many who were in his congregation."

"The church was crammed to the doors last Sunday week when he preached,"
observed Malling.

"Was it? Curiosity, I suppose. It certainly can't have been the
intellectual merit of the sermon. I heard it was quite deplorable. But
last Sunday's, I was told, was worse still. No continuity at all, and
the church not full. People say the curate, Mr. Chichester, who often
preaches in the evening, is making a great effect, completely cutting out
his rector. And he used to be almost unbearably dull."

"Will you have a quail?"

"Please. You might give me two. My doctor says if I sit up late--thank
you!"

"I've never heard Mr. Chichester preach," said Malling.

"He seems to have come on marvelously, to be quite another man."

"Quite another man, does he?"

"Yes. It's very trying for the Hardings naturally. If it continues I
think there will have to be a change. I don't think things can go on as
they are. My friend Sophia won't be able to stand it."

"You mean--the contrast?"

"Between her husband and Mr. Chichester. She's very highly strung and
quite worships her husband; though, between you and me, _I_ think rather
in the slave spirit. But some women are like that. They can't admire a
man unless he beats them. Not that Mr. Harding ever dreamed of doing such
a thing to Sophia, of course. But his will had to be law in everything.
You know the type of man! It's scarcely my idea of what a clergyman
should be. I think a man who professes to direct the souls of others
should be more gentle and unselfish, especially to his wife. Another
quail? Well, really, I think perhaps I will. They are so absurdly small
this season, aren't they? There's scarcely anything on them."

So that minute fraction of the world that knew of the existence of the
Hardings began to utter itself concerning them, and Malling was fortified
in his original belief which he had expressed to Professor Stepton.

Among his many experiments made in connection with psychical research
those which had interested him the most had been those in which the
mystery of the human will had seemed to be deeply involved. Malling was
essentially a psychologist. And man was to him the great mystery, because
man contained surely something that belonged to, that was lent to, man,
as it were, by another, the mind beyond, the _anima mundi_. When Malling
drew mentally, or spiritually, very near to any man, however rude,
however humble, he always had the feeling that he was approaching holy
ground. Hidden beneath his generally imperturbable exterior, sunk beneath
the surface incredulity of his mind, there was the deep sense of mighty
truths waiting the appointed day of proclamation. Surely, he often
thought, if there is God in anything, in the last rays of the sunset,
in the silence of night upon the sea, in the waking of spring among the
forests and the gardens, in the song of the nightingale which knows
not lovers are listening, there is God in the will of man.

And when he made investigations into the action of will upon will, or
of will--as it seemed--upon matter, he was held, as he was not held by
the appearance of so-called spirit faces and spirit forms, even when
he could not connect these with trickery which he knew how to expose.
Perhaps, however, his incredulity in regard to these latter phenomena was
incurable, though he did not know it. For he knew nearly all the devices
of the charlatans. And when the so-called spirits came, the medium was
always entranced, that is, apparently will-less, and so to Malling not
interesting.

Now, from what Harding and Chichester had said to him, and from what
he had observed for himself, Malling believed that the two clergymen
must have had sittings together, probably with the usual tremendous
object of the ignorant amateur, that merely of communicating with the
other world. Considering who the two men were, Malling believed that in
all probability they had sat alone and in secret. He also felt little
doubt that from Mr. Harding's brain had come the suggestion of these
practices, that his will had led Chichester on to them. Although he
had not known the rector two years ago, he had gathered sufficient
testimony to the fact that he had been a man of powerful, even perhaps
of tyrannical, temperament, formed rather to rule than to be ruled. He
knew that Chichester, on the contrary, had been gentle, kindly, yielding,
and of somewhat weak, though of very amiable, nature. The physique of the
two men accorded with these former temperaments. Harding's commanding
height, large frame, big, powerful face and head, rather hard gray eyes,
even his large white teeth, his bony, determined hands, his firmly
treading feet, suggested force, a dominating will, the capacity, and
the intention, to rule. Henry Chichester's fleshly envelop, on the other
hand, cherubic, fair, and delicate, his blue eyes, small bones, the shape
of forehead and chin, the line of the lips, hinted at--surely more than
that, surely stated mildly--the existence within it of a nature retiring,
meek, and ready to be ruled by others. No wonder if Chichester had been,
as Lady Mansford had said, completely under the rector's thumb, no wonder
if he had been unable to "call his soul his own" and had "worshiped
Marcus."

Yes, if there had been these secret sittings by these two men, it was
Harding who had persuaded Chichester to take part in them. And what had
these sittings led to, what had been their result?

The ignorant outsider, the hastily skeptical, of course would say that
there could have been no result. Malling, knowing more, knew better. He
had seen strange cases of temporary confusion of a man's will brought
about by sittings, of what had seemed temporary change even of a man's
nature. When a hitherto sane man goes mad he often becomes the opposite
of what he was. Those whom he formerly loved he specially singles out
for hatred. That which he delighted to do he shrinks from with horror.
Once good-natured, he is now of an evil temper, once gentle, he is
fiercely obstinate, once gay, he cowers and weeps. So Malling had known
a man, while retaining his sanity, to be transformed by the apparently
trivial fact of sitting at a table with a friend, and placing his hands
upon it with the hands of another man. He himself had sat with an Oxford
friend,--who in later sittings became entranced,--and at the very first
experiment this man had said to him, "It's so strange, now that I am
sitting with you like this I feel filled with hatred toward you." This
hatred, which had come upon this man at every successive sitting, had
always faded away when the sitting was over. But was it certain that the
feelings generated in sittings never persisted after they were broken
up? Was it certain that in every case the waters that had been
mysteriously troubled settled into their former stillness?

Harding and Chichester, for instance! Had the strong man troubled the
waters of the weaker man's soul, and were those waters still agitated?
That was perhaps possible. But Malling thought it was possible also, and
he had suggested this to Professor Stepton, that the weaker man had
infused some of his weakness, his self-doubtings, his readiness to be
affected by the opinion of others, into his dominating companion. Malling
believed it possible that the wills of the two clergymen, in some
mysterious and inexplicable way, had mingled during their sittings, and
that they had never become completely disentangled. If this were so, the
result was a different Harding from the former Harding, and a different
Henry Chichester from the former Henry Chichester.

What puzzled Malling, however, was the fact, if fact it were, that the
difference in each man was not diminishing, but increasing.

Could they be continuing the sittings, if there had ever been sittings?
All was surmise. As the professor had said, he, Malling, was perhaps
deducing a good deal from very little. And yet was he? His instinct told
him he was not. Yet there might no doubt be some ordinary cause for the
change in Mr. Harding. Some vice, such as love of drink, or morphia,
something that disintegrates a man, might have laid its claw upon him.
That was possible. What seemed to Malling much more unaccountable was the
extraordinary change in the direction of strength in Chichester. And the
relations between the two men, if indeed the curate had once worshiped
his rector, were mysteriously transformed. For now, was it not almost as
if something of Harding in Chichester watched, criticized, Chichester in
Harding?

But now--to study Lady Sophia! For if there was really anything in
Malling's curious supposition, the woman must certainly be strangely
affected. He remembered the expression in her eyes when her husband
was preaching, her manner when she spoke of the curate as one of her
husband's swans.

And he longed to see her again. She had said that she hoped he would come
again to St. Joseph's and to her house, but he knew well that any such
desire in her had arisen from her wounded pride in her husband. She
wished Malling to know what the rector could really do. When she thought
that the rector had recovered his former powers, his hold upon the minds
of men, then she would invite Malling to return to St. Joseph's, but not
before.

And when would that moment come?

It might not come for weeks, for months. It might never come. Malling did
not mean to await it. Nevertheless he did not want to do anything likely
to surprise Lady Sophia, to lead her to think that he had any special
object in view in furthering his acquaintance with her.

While he was casting about in his mind what course to take, chance
favored him.

Four days later, when he was strolling round the rooms in Burlington
House, he saw not far in front of him the tall and restless figure of
a woman. She was alone. For some time Malling did not recognize her.
She did not turn sufficiently for him to see her face, and her almost
feverish movements, though they attracted and fixed his attention, did
not strike him as familiar. His thought of her, as he slowly followed
in the direction she was taking, was, "What a difficult woman that would
be to live with!" For the hands were never still; the gait was uneasy;
nervousness, almost a sort of pitiful irritation, seemed expressed by her
every movement.

In the big room this woman paused before the picture of the year, which
happened to be a very bad one, and Malling, coming up, at last recognized
her as Lady Sophia Harding.

He took off his hat. She seemed startled, but greeted him pleasantly, and
entered into a discussion of the demerits which fascinate the crowd.

"You prefer seeing pictures alone, perhaps?" said Malling, presently.

"Indeed I don't," she answered. "I was coming to-day with my husband. We
drove up together. But at the last moment he thought he remembered
something,--some appointment with Mr. Chichester,--and left me."

There were irony and bitterness in her voice.

"He said he'd come back and meet me in the tea-room presently," she
added.

"Shall we go there and wait for him?" asked Malling.

"But I'm afraid I'm taking up your time."

"I have no engagements this afternoon. I shall enjoy a quiet talk with
you."

"It's very good of you."

They descended, and sat down in a quiet corner. In the distance a few
respectable persons were slowly eating bath-buns with an air of fashion,
their duly marked catalogues laid beside them on marble.

Far-off waiters, standing with their knees bent, conversed in
undertones. A sort of subterranean depression, peculiar to this
fastness of Burlington House, brooded over the china and the provisions.

"It reminds me of the British Museum tearoom," said Lady Sophia. "Here is
tea! What a mercy! Modern pictures sap one's little strength."

She looked haggard, and was obviously on the edge of her nerves.

"Marcus might have come in," she added. "But of course he wouldn't--or
couldn't."

"Doesn't he care for pictures?"

She slightly shrugged her shoulders.

"He used to. But I don't know that he does now."

"I suppose he has a tremendous amount to do."

"He used to do much more at Liverpool. If a man wishes to come to the
front he mustn't sit in an armchair with folded hands."

There was a sharp sound of criticism in her voice which astonished
Malling. At the luncheon, only about a fortnight ago, she had shown
herself plainly as the adoring wife, anxious for her husband's success,
nervously hostile to any one who interfered with it, who stood between
him and the homage of his world. Now Malling noted, or thought he noted,
a change in her mental attitude. He was instantly on the alert.

"I'm sure that's the last thing Mr. Harding would do," he said.

She shot a glance at him out of her discontented dark eyes.

"Are you?" she said.

And sarcasm crept in the words. She gave to Malling at this moment the
impression of a woman so strung up as to be not her natural self, so
tormented by some feeling, perhaps long repressed, that her temperament
was almost furiously seeking an outlet, knowing instinctively, perhaps,
that only there lay its salvation.

"His record proves it," said Malling, with serenely smiling assurance.

Lady Sophia twisted her lips. The Academy tea was very strong. Perhaps
it had been standing. She drank a little, pulled at her long gloves
restlessly, and looked at Malling. He knew she was longing to confide
in somebody. If only he could induce her to confide in him!

"Oh, my husband's been a very active man," she said. "Everybody knows
that. But in this modern world of ours one must not walk, or even
run along, one must keep on rushing along if one intends to reach the
goal."

"And by that you mean--?"

"Mean! The topmost height of your profession, or business, of whatever
career you are in."

"You are ambitious," he said.

"Not for myself," she answered quickly. "I have no ambition for myself."

"But perhaps the ambition to spur on another successfully? That seems to
me the truest, the most legitimate ambition of the woman all men worship
in their hearts."

Suddenly tears started into her eyes. She was sitting opposite Malling,
the tea-table between them. Now she leaned forward across it. By nature
she was very sensitive, but she was not a self-conscious, woman. She was
not self-conscious now.

"It is much better to be selfish," she said earnestly. "That is where we
women make such a fatal mistake. Instead of trusting to ourselves, of
relying on ourselves, and of having a personal ambition, we seek always
another in whom we may trust; we are unhappy till we rely on another; it
is for another we cherish, we hug, ambition. And then, when all founders,
we realize too late what I dare say every man knows."

"What is that?"

"That we women are fools--fools!"

"For being unselfish?"

"For thinking we have power when we are impotent."

She made a gesture that was surely one of despair.

"No one--at any rate, no woman--has power for another," she added, with
almost terrible conviction. "That is all a legend, made up to please us,
I suppose. We draw a sword against darkness and think we are fighting.
Isn't it too absurd?"

With the last words she changed her tone, trying to make it light, and
she smiled.

"We take everything too seriously. That's the trouble!" she said. "And
men pretend we take nothing seriously."

"Very often they don't understand."

"Oh, please say never!" she exclaimed. "They never understand."

Suddenly Malling resolved on a very bold stroke.

"But I'm a man," he said, as if that obvious fact shattered her
contention.

"What has that got to do with it?" she said, in obvious surprise.

"Because I do not understand."

For a moment she was silent. He thought he read what was passing through
her mind, as he knew he had read her character. She was one of those
women who must be proud of their men, who love to be ruled, but only
by a conqueror, who delight to sink themselves, but in power, not in
impotence. And now she was confronted by the shipwreck not merely of
her hopes, but also of her belief. She saw a hulk drifting at the mercy
of the waves that, perhaps, would soon engulf it. But she was not only
despairing, she was raging too. For she was a woman with nervous force
in her, and it is force that rages in the moments of despair, seeking,
perhaps unconsciously, some means of action and finding none.

"Why should there not be some hope?" asked Malling, quietly.

"To-morrow is Sunday. If you go to morning church at St. Joseph's, and
then to evening church, you will see if there is any hope."

"To evening church?"

"Yes, yes."

She got up.

"You are going?"

"I must. Forgive me!"

She held out her hand.

"But--"

"No, don't come with me, please."

"If I go to St. Joseph's to-morrow, afterward may I see you again?"

"If you think it's worth while."

Her face twisted. Hastily she pulled down her veil, turned away and left
him.




VI


Malling went the next day to morning and evening service at St. Joseph's.
He was not invited to lunch in Onslow Gardens, and he did not see Lady
Sophia. On the whole, he was glad of this. He had enough to keep in his
mind that day. The matter in which he was interested seemed growing
before his eyes, like a thing coming out of the earth, but now beginning
to thrust itself up into regions where perhaps it would eventually be
hidden in darkness, with the great company of mysteries whose unraveling
is beyond the capacity of man.

He had now, he felt sure, a clear comprehension of Lady Sophia. Their
short interview at Burlington House had been illuminating. She was a
typical example of the Adam's-rib woman; that is, of the woman who,
intensely, almost exaggeratedly feminine, can live in any fullness only
through another, and that other a man. Through Mr. Harding Lady Sophia
had hitherto lived, and had doubtless, in her view, triumphed. Obviously
a woman not free from a nervous vanity, and a woman of hungry ambition,
her vanity and ambition had been fed by his growing notoriety, his
increasing success and influence. The rib had thrilled with the body to
which it belonged.

But that time of happy emotion, of admiration, of keen looking forward,
was the property of the past. Lawn sleeves, purple, perhaps,--for who
is more hopeful than this type of woman in the golden moments of
life?--perhaps even an archiepiscopal throne faded from before the eyes
they had gladdened--the eyes of faith in a man.

And a different woman was beginning to appear--a woman who might be as
critical as she had formerly been admiring, a woman capable of becoming
embittered.

On the Sunday of Malling's visit to Onslow Gardens, Mr. Harding's failure
in the pulpit had waked up in his wife eager sympathy and eager spite,
the one directed toward the man who had failed, the other toward the man
who, as Malling felt sure, had caused the failure.

In Burlington House that woman, whom men with every reason adore, had
given place to another less favorable toward him who had been her hero.

It seemed to Malling as if in the future a strange thing might happen,
almost as if it must happen: it seemed to him as if Chichester might
convey his view of his rector to his rector's wife.

"Study the link," Stepton had said. "There will be development in the
link."

Already the words had proved true. There had been a development in Lady
Sophia such as Malling had certainly not anticipated. Where would it end?
Again and again, as he listened to the morning and evening sermons,
Malling had asked himself that question; again and again he had recalled
his conversation at Burlington House with Lady Sophia.

In the morning at St. Joseph's Mr. Harding had preached to a church
that was half filled; in the evening Henry Chichester had preached to a
church that was full to the doors. And each of the clergymen in turn had
listened to the other, but how differently!

Mr. Harding had ascended to the pulpit with failure staring him in
the face, and whereas on the Sunday when Malling first heard him he
had obviously fought against the malign influence which eventually
had prevailed over him, this time he had not had the vigor to make a
struggle. Certainly he had not broken down. It might be said of him,
as it was once said of a nation, that he had "muddled through." He had
preached a very poor sermon in a very poor way, nervously, indeed,
almost timidly, and with the manner of a man who was cowed and hopeless.
The powerful optimism for which he had once been distinguished had
given way to an almost unhealthy pessimism, alien surely to the minds
of all believers, of all who profess to look forward to that life of
which, as Tolstoi long ago said, our present life is but a dream. Even
when he was uttering truths he spoke them as if he had an uneasy
suspicion that they were lies. At moments he seemed to be almost
pleading with his hearers to tolerate him, to "bear with him." Indeed,
several times during his disjointed remarks he made use of the latter
expression, promising that his discourse should be a short one. Very
carefully he included himself among those aware of sin, very humbly he
declared the unworthiness of any man to set himself up as a teacher and
leader of others.

Now, humility is all very well, but if carried to excess, it suggests
something less than a man. Mr. Harding almost cringed before his
congregation. Malling did not feel that his humility was a pretense.
On the contrary, it struck him as abominably real, but so excessive as
to be not natural in any thorough man in a normal condition of mind and
of body. It was the sort of humility that creates in the unregenerate a
desire to offer a good kicking as a corrective.

Very different was the effect created by Chichester's sermon in the
evening. Malling, aware though he had become of the great strengthening
of Chichester, was amazed when he heard him preach.

Often it is said of a very fine preacher that he preached as one
inspired. Chichester preached as one who knew. Never before had Malling
been so impressed with the feeling that he was listening to truth,
absolute truth, as he was while he listened to Chichester. There was
something, though, that was almost deadly about it. It pierced like a
lancet. It seared like a red-hot iron. It humbled almost too much.
Here was no exaggerated humility, no pleading to be borne with, no
cringing, and no doubt. A man who knew was standing up, and, with a
sort of indifference to outside opinion that was almost frightening,
was saying some of the things he knew about men, women--and surely God!

The subject was somewhat akin to that of the first sermon of Mr. Harding
which Malling had heard. The rector then had preached on self-knowledge.
The curate, now, preached on hypocrisy. Incidentally he destroyed his
rector's sermon, flung it away on the scrap-heap, and passed on. This was
not done viciously, but it was done relentlessly. Indeed, that was the
note of the whole sermon. It was relentless, as truth is relentless, as
death is relentless. And besides being terribly true, it was imaginative.
But the preacher almost succeeded in conveying the impression to his
congregation that what is generally called imagination is really vision,
that the true imagination is seeing what is, but is often hidden, knowing
what is, but is often unknown. The latter part of the sermon struck
Malling as very unusual, even as very daring.

The preacher had spoken of the many varieties of hypocrisy. Finally he
drew a picture of a finished hypocrite. And the man lived as a man lives
in the pages of a great writer. One could walk round him, one knew him.
And then Chichester treated him as the writer treats his creation; he
proceeded to show his hypocrite in action.

The man, happy, almost triumphant,--for he now often looked upon himself
with the eyes of others who knew him not,--was walking to his home on a
winter's evening along a country road, passing now and then rustics who
respectfully saluted him, neighbors who grasped his hand, children who
innocently smiled at him, women who whispered that he was a fine fellow,
the clergyman of his parish, who gave him God-speed upon his way as to
one who deserved that God should speed him because his way was right.
Snow was upon the ground. Such light as there was began to fade. It was
evident that the night, which was very still, was going to be very dark.
And the man stepped out briskly. Presently, at a lonely part of the road,
happening to look down, he saw footprints in the freshly fallen snow.
They were of feet that had recently passed on the way he was following.
They had attracted, they continued to attract, his attention, he knew not
why. And as he went on, his eyes were often upon them.

Presently he began to wonder about the feet which had made the prints he
saw. Did they belong to a man or a woman? The prints were too large to
have been made by the feet of a child. He gazed at them searchingly, and
made up his mind that it was a man who had recently trodden this road.
And what sort of man was it that thus preceded him not very far away? He
became deeply engrossed with this question. His mind revolved about this
unknown traveler, floating forward in surmises, till, by chance, he
happened to set his right foot in one of the prints left in the snow.
His foot exactly filled it. This fact, he knew not why, startled him.
He stopped, bent down, examined the snow closely, measured very carefully
his feet with the prints before him, now rather faintly discerned in
the gathering darkness. The prints might have been made by his own feet.
Having ascertained this, and reflected for a moment, he went forward, now
assailed by a growing curiosity as to the personality and character of
the stranger. But perhaps he was not a stranger. He might surely well be
a neighbor, an acquaintance, perhaps even a friend. The man meant, if
possible, to come up with him, whoever he was, and he now hurried along
with the intention of joining the unknown whose footprints were the same
as his own.

At this point in his sermon Chichester paused for a moment. And
Malling, who seldom felt any thrill at a seance, and who had often
remained calmly watchful and alert during manifestations which amazed
or terrified others, was aware of a feeling of cold, which seemed to
pass like a breath through his spirit. The congregation about him,
perhaps struck by the unusual form of the sermon, remained silent and
motionless, waiting. In his stall sat the rector with downcast eyes.
Malling could not at that moment discern his expression. His large
figure and important powerful head and face showed almost like those
of a carven effigy in the lowered light of the chancel. The choirboys
did not stir, and the small, fair man in the pulpit, raising his thin
hands, and resting them on the marble ledge, continued quietly, taking
up his sermon with a repetition of the last words uttered, "whose
footprints were the same as his own."

Again the cold breath went through Malling's spirit. He leaned slightly
forward and gazed at Chichester.

For some time the man thus went onward, following the footprints in
the snow, but not overtaking any one, and becoming momentarily more
eager to satisfy his curiosity. Then, on a sudden, he started, stopped,
and listened. It had now become very dark, and in this darkness, and
the great stillness of night, he heard the faint sound of a footfall
before him, brushing through the crisp snow, which lay lightly, and not
very deep, on the hard highroad leading to the village on the farther
outskirts of which his house was situated. He could not yet see any one,
but he felt sure that the person who made this faint sound was no other
than he in whose steps he had been treading. It would now be a matter of
only a minute or two to come up with him. And the man went on, but more
slowly, whether because he was now certain of attaining his object or
for some other reason.

The sound of the footfall persisted, and was certainly not far off. The
prints in the snow were so fresh that they seemed not quite motionless,
as if the snow were only now settling after the pressure it had just
suffered. The man slackened his pace. He did not like the sound which
he heard. He began to feel as if he by whom it was made would not prove
a companion to his taste. Yet his curiosity continued. There began within
him a struggle between his curiosity and another sensation, which was
of repugnance, almost of fear. And so equal were the combatants that
the lights of the village were in sight, and he had not decreased the
distance between himself and the other. Seeing the lights, however, his
curiosity got the upper hand. He slightly quickened his pace, and almost
immediately beheld the shape of a man relieved against the night, and
treading onward through the snow. And as the sound of the footsteps had
been disagreeable to his nerves, so the contours of the moving blackness
repelled him. He did not like the look of this man whose footprints were
the same as his own, and he decided not to join him. But, moving rather
cautiously, he gained a little upon him, in order to make sure, if
possible, whether or not he was a neighbor or an acquaintance.

The figure seemed somehow familiar to our man, indeed, oddly familiar.
Nevertheless, he was unable to identify it. As he followed it, more and
more certain did he become that he had seen it, that he knew it. And
yet--did he know it? Had he seen it? It was almost as if one part of him
denied while the other affirmed. He longed, yet feared, to see the face.
But the face never looked back. And so, one at a little distance behind
the other, they came into the village.

Here a strange thing occurred.

There were very few people about, but there were a few, and two or
three of them, meeting the person our man was following, greeted him
respectfully. But these same people, when immediately afterward they
encountered the other, who had known them for years, and whom they of
course knew, showed the greatest perturbation; one, a woman, even signs
of terror. They gave him no greeting, shrank from him as he passed,
and stared after him, as if bemused, when he was gone by. Their behavior
was almost incredible. But he was so set on what was before him that he
stopped to ask no questions.

The village was a long one. Always one behind the other, walking at an
even pace, the two men traversed it, approaching at last the outskirts,
where, separated from the other habitations, and surrounded by a garden
in which the trees were laden with snow, stood the house of the man who
now watched and followed, with a growing wonder and curiosity, combined
with an ever-growing repugnance, him who made the footprints, who had
been saluted by the villagers, whose figure and general aspect seemed in
somewise familiar to him, and yet whom he could not recognize. Where
could this person be going? The man asked himself, and came to a resolve
not to follow on into the darkness of the open country, not to proceed
beyond his own home, of which now he saw the lights, but to make an
effort to see the face of the other before the garden gate was reached.

In this attempt, however, he was destined to be frustrated. For as he
determinedly quickened his steps, so did the other, who gained the gate
of the garden, unlatched it, turned in, and walked on among the trees
going toward the principal door.

A visitor, then! The man paused by his garden gate, whence he could see
his house front, with the light from the window of his own sitting-room
streaming over the porch. The stranger stood before it, made a movement
as if searching in his pocket, drew out his hand, lifted it. The door
opened at once. He disappeared within, and the door closed after him.

He had opened the door with a key.

The man at the gate felt overcome by a sensation almost of horror,
which he could not explain to himself. It was not that he was horrified
by the certainly extraordinary fact of some one possessing a key to his
house, and using it in this familiar fashion. It was not even that he
was horrified at seeing a man, perhaps a stranger, disappearing thus
into his home by night, uninvited, unexpected. What horrified him was
that this particular man, whose footprints he had followed and measured
with his foot, whose footfalls he had heard, whose form he had seen
outlined against the night, should be within his house, where his wife
and his children were, and where his venerable mother was sitting beside
the fire. That this man should be there! He knew now that from the first
moment when he had been aware of his existence he had hated him, that his
subconscious mind had hated him.

But who was he? The natural thing would have been to follow quickly into
the house, to see who had entered, to demand an explanation. But he could
not do this. Why? He himself did not know why. But he knew that he dared
not do this. And he waited, expecting he knew not what; a cry, a summons,
perhaps, some manifestation that would force him to approach.

None came. Steadily the lights shone from the house. There was no sound
but the soft fall of a block of snow from an overladen fir branch in the
garden. The man began to marvel. Who could this be whose familiar entry
into his--_his_ home thus at night caused no disturbance? There were dogs
within: they had not barked. There were servants: apparently they had not
stirred. It was almost as if this stranger's permanence was accepted by
the household. A long, long time had slipped by.

The man at length, making an almost fierce effort, partly dominated the
unreasoning sense of horror which possessed him. He opened the gate,
stepped into the garden, and made his way slowly and softly toward the
house door. But suddenly he stopped. Through the unshuttered window of
his sitting-room, the room in which for years he had spent much of his
time, in which he had concocted many schemes to throw dust in the
eyes of his neighbors, and even of his own relatives, in which he had
learned very perfectly to seem what he was not, and to hide what he
really was, he perceived the figure of a man. It crossed the lighted
space slowly, and disappeared with a downward movement. He knew it was
the man he had been following and whom he had seen enter his house.

For a long while he remained where he was on the path of the garden.
The night deepened about him. A long way off, at the other end of the
village, a clock chimed the hours. In the cottages the lights were
extinguished. The few loungers disappeared from the one long street
vanishing over the snow. And the man never moved. A numb terror possessed
him. Yet, despite his many faults and his life of evil, he had never been
physically a coward. Always the light shone steadily from the window of
his study, making a patch of yellow upon the snow. Always the occupant
of the room must be seated tranquilly there, like an owner. For no figure
had risen, had repassed across the unshuttered space.

The man told himself again and again that he must go forward till
he gained the window, that he must at least look into the room; if he
dared not enter the house to confront the intruder, to demand an
explanation. But again and again something within him, which seemed to
be a voice from the innermost chamber of his soul, whispered to him not
to go, whispered to him to leave the intruder alone, to let the intruder
do what he would, but not to approach him, above all, not to look upon
his face. And the man obeyed the voice till a thing happened which roused
in him a powerful beast, called by many the natural man.

He saw his wife, whom he loved in his way, though he had tricked and
deceived her again and again, cross the window space, smiling, and
disappear with a downward movement, as the other had disappeared. Then
she rose into his range of vision, and stood for a moment so that he
could see her clearly, smiling, talking, making little gestures that
he knew, carrying her hand to her face, stretching it out, dropping it.
Finally she lifted it to her lips, half-closing her eyes at the same
time, took it away quickly, with a sort of butterfly motion, and
vanished, going toward the left, where the room door was.

So had she many and many a time bidden him, her husband, good night.
Instantly, with an impulse which seemed combined of rage and terror,
both now full of a driving force which was irresistible, the man sprang
forward to the window, seized the stone coping with his hands and stared
into his room.

Seated in a round chair at his writing-table, by a lamp with a green
shade, was the man who had entered his house. He was writing busily in
a book with a silver clasp that could be locked with a key, and he leaned
a little over the table with his head turned away. The shape of his head,
his posture, even the manner in which he used his pen as he traced line
after line in the book, made an abominable impression upon the man
staring in at the window. But the face--the face! He must see that! And
he leaned forward, trembling, but fiercely, and, pressing his own face
against the pane, he looked at the occupant of his room as men look
sometimes with their souls.

The man at the table lifted his head. He laid down the pen, blotted the
book in which he had been writing, shut it up, clasped it, locked it with
a tiny key, and put it carefully into a drawer of the table, which also
he locked. He got up, stood for an instant by the table with one hand
upon it, then turned slowly toward the window, smiling, as men smile to
themselves when they are thinking of their own ingenuities.

The man outside the window fell back into the snow as if God's hand had
touched him. He had seen his own face! So he smiled sometimes at the end
of a day, when he had finished writing down in his diary some of the
hidden things of his life.

He turned, and as the window through which he had been looking suddenly
darkened, he fled away into the night.

When the lights, which at St. Joseph's were always kept lowered during
the sermon, once more strongly illuminated the chancel, Mr. Harding
turned a ghastly face toward the pulpit. In the morning Chichester had
listened to him, as a man of truth might listen to a man who is trying
to lie, but who cannot deceive him. In the evening Mr. Harding had
listened to Chichester--how? What had been the emotions only shadowed
faintly forth in that ghastly face?

When Malling got home, he asked himself why Chichester had made such
an impression upon his mind. His story of the double, strange enough,
no doubt, in a sermon, could not surely have come upon Malling with any
of the force and the interest of the new. For years he had been familiar
with tales of ghosts, of voices, of appearances at the hour of death, of
doubles. Of course in the sermon there had been a special application of
the story. It had been very short. Chichester had suggested that if, as
by a miracle, the average self-contented man could look at himself with
the eyes of his soul full of subliminal self-knowledge and with the
bodily eyes, he would be stricken down by a great horror.

And he had spoken as a man who knew. Indeed, it seemed to Malling that he
had spoken as might have delivered himself the man who had followed his
double through the snow, who had looked in upon him by night from the
garden, if he had faced, instead of flying from, the truth; if he had
stayed, if he had persistently watched his double leading the life he had
led, if he had learned a great lesson that perhaps only his double could
teach him.

But if the man had stayed, what would have been the effect on the double?
Malling sat till deep in the night pondering these things.




VII


Lady Sophia had said to Malling that if he went to the two services at
St. Joseph's on the Sunday she would invite him to see her again. She
was as good as her word. In the middle of the week he received a note
from her, saying she would be at home at four on Thursday, if he was
able to come. He went, and found her alone. But as soon as he entered
the drawing-room and had taken her hand, she said:

"I am expecting Mr. Chichester almost immediately. He's coming to tea."

"I shall be glad to meet him," said Malling, concealing his surprise,
which was great.

Yet he did not know why it should be. For what more natural than that
Chichester should be coming?

"I heard of you at St. Joseph's," Lady Sophia continued. "A friend of
mine, Lily Armitage, saw you there. I didn't. I was sitting at the back.
I have taken to sitting quite at the back of the church. What did you
think of it?"

"Do you wish me to be frank, and do you mean the two sermons?"

She hesitated for an instant. Then she said:

"I do mean the sermons, and I do wish you to be frank."

"I thought Mr. Chichester's sermon very remarkable indeed."

"And my husband's sermon?"

Her lips twisted almost as if with contempt when she said the words, "my
husband's."

"Why doesn't Mr. Harding take a long rest?" said Malling, speaking
conventionally, a thing that he seldom did.

"You think he needs one?"

"He has a tiresome malady, I understand."

"What malady?"

"Doesn't he suffer very much from nervous dyspepsia?"

She looked at him with irony, which changed almost instantly into serious
reflection. But the irony returned.

"Now and then he has a touch of it," she said. "Very few of us don't have
something. But we have to go on, and we do go on, nevertheless."

"I think a wise doctor would probably order your husband away," said
Malling, though Mr. Harding's departure was the last thing he desired
just then.

"Even if he were ordered away, I don't know that he would go."

"Why not?"

"I don't think he would. I don't feel as if he could get away," she said,
with what seemed to Malling a sort of odd obstinacy. "In fact, I know
he's not going," she abruptly added. "I have an instinct."

Malling felt sure that she had considered, perhaps long before he had
suggested it, this very project of Mr. Harding's departure for a while
for rest, and that she had rejected it. Her words recalled to his mind
some other words of her husband, spoken in Mr. Harding's study: "Surely
one ought to get out of such an atmosphere, to get out of it, and to keep
out of it. But how extraordinary it is the difficulty men have in getting
away from things!"

Perhaps Lady Sophia was right. Perhaps the rector could not get away from
the atmosphere which seemed to be destroying him.

"I dare say he is afraid to trust everything to his curates," observed
Malling, prosaically.

"He needn't be--now," she replied.

In that "now," as she said it, there lay surely a whole history. Malling
understood that Lady Sophia, suddenly perhaps, had given her husband up.
Since Malling had first encountered her she had cried, _"Le roi est
mort!"_ in her heart. The way she had just uttered the word "now" made
Malling wonder whether she was not about to utter the supplementary cry,
_"Vive le roi!"_

As he looked at her, with this wonder in his mind, Henry Chichester came
into the room.

There was an expression of profound sadness on his face, which seemed to
dignify it, to make it more powerful, more manly, than it had been. The
choir-boy look was gone. Malling of course knew how very much expression
can change a human being; nevertheless, he was startled by the alteration
in the curate's outward man. It seemed, to use the rector's phrase, that
he had "shed his character." And now, perhaps, the new character,
mysteriously using matter as the vehicle of its manifestation, was
beginning to appear to the eyes of men. He showed no surprise at the
sight of Malling, but rather a faint, though definite, pleasure. The
way in which Lady Sophia greeted him was a revelation to Malling, and
a curious exhibition of feminine psychology.

She looked up at him from the low chair in which she was sitting, gave
him her left hand, and said, "Are you very tired?" That was all. Yet
it would have been impossible to express more clearly a woman's mental,
not affectional, subjugation by a man, her instinctive yielding to power,
her respect for authority, her recognition that the master of her master
had come into the room.

Her "_Vive le roi!_" was said.

Chichester accepted Lady Sophia's subtle homage with an air of
unconsciousness. His interior melancholy seemed to lift him above the
small things that flatter small men. He acknowledged that he was tired,
and would be glad of tea. He had been down in the East End. The rector
had asked him to talk over something with Mr. Carlile of the Church Army.

"You mean that you suggested to the rector that it would be wise to see
Mr. Carlile," said Lady Sophia.

"Is the rector coming in to tea?" asked Chichester.

"Possibly he may," she replied. "He knew Mr. Malling was to be here. Did
you tell him you were coming?"

"No. I was not certain I should get away in time."

"I think he will probably turn up."

A footman brought in tea at this moment, and Malling told the curate he
had heard him preach in the evening of last Sunday.

"It was a deeply interesting sermon," he said.

"Thank you," said Chichester, very impersonally.

The footman went away, and Lady Sophia began to make tea.

"When I went home," Malling continued, "I sat up till late thinking
it over. Part of it suggested to my mind one or two rather curious
speculations."

"Which part?" asked Lady Sophia, dipping a spoon into a silver tea-caddy.

"The part about the man and his double."

She shivered, and some of the tea with which she had just filled the
spoon was shaken out of it.

"That was terrible," she said.

"What were your speculations?" said Chichester, showing a sudden and
definite waking up of keen interest.

"One of them was this--"

Before he could continue, the door opened again, and the tall and
powerful form of the rector appeared. And as the outer man of Chichester
seemed to Malling to have begun subtly to change, in obedience surely
to the change of his inner man, so seemed Mr. Harding a little altered
physically, as he now slowly came forward to greet his wife's two
visitors. The power of his physique seemed to be struck at by something
within, and to be slightly marred. One saw that largeness can become
but a wide surface for the tragic exhibition of weakness. As the rector
perceived the presence of Chichester, an expression of startled pain fled
over his face and was gone in an instant. He greeted the two men and sat
down.

"Have you just begun tea?" he asked, looking now at his wife.

"We are just going to begin it," she replied. "We are talking about the
sermon of last Sunday."

"Oh," rejoined the rector.

He turned to Malling.

"Did you come to hear me preach again?"

There was a note as of slight reassurance in his voice.

"Mr. Chichester's sermon," said Lady Sophia.

"Oh, I see," said the rector. He glanced hastily from one to the other of
the three people in the room, like a man searching for sympathy or help.
"What were you saying about our friend Chichester's sermon?" he asked,
with a forced air of interest.

Lady Sophia distributed cups for tea.

"I was speaking of that part of it which dealt with the man who followed
his double," said Malling.

"Ah?" said the rector.

He was holding his tea-cup. His hand trembled slightly at this moment,
and the china rattled. He set the cup down on the small table before
him.

"You said," observed Chichester--toward whom Lady Sophia immediately
turned, with an almost rapt air--"that it suggested some curious
speculations to your mind. I should very much like to know what they
were."

"One was this. Suppose the man in the garden, who looked in upon his
double, had not fled away. Suppose he had had the courage to remain,
and, in hiding--for the sake of argument we may assume the situation to
be possible--"

"Ah, indeed! And why not?" interrupted Chichester.

His voice, profoundly melancholy, fell like a weight upon those who heard
him. And again Malling thought of him almost as some one set apart from
his fellows by some mysterious knowledge, some heavy burthen of truth.

"--and in hiding had watched the life of his double. I sat up speculating
what effect such an observation, terrible no doubt and grotesque, would
be likely to have on the soul of the watching man. But there was another
speculation with which I entertained my mind that night."

"Let us have it," said Chichester, leaning forward, and, with the gesture
characteristic of him, dropping his hands down between his knees. "Let us
have it."

"Suppose the man to remain and, in hiding, to watch the life of his
double, what effect would such an observation be likely to have upon the
double?"

Malling paused. The rector, with an almost violent movement of his big
hand and arm, took his cup from the table and drank his tea.

"It didn't occur to you, I suppose, when composing your sermon to follow
that train of thought?" said Malling to Chichester.

"No," replied the curate, slowly, and like one thinking profoundly. "I
was too engrossed with the feelings of the man. But, then, you thought
of the double as a living man, with all the sensations of a man?"

"That was your fault," said Malling.

"His fault!" said Lady Sophia, with a sort of latent sharpness, and
laying an emphasis on the second word.

"Certainly; for making the narrative so vital and human."

He addressed himself again to the curate.

"Did you not give to the double the attributes of a man? Did you not
make his wife come to bid him good night, bend down to kiss him, waft
him a characteristic farewell?"

"It is true. I did," said Chichester, still speaking like a man in deep
thought.

"That was the most terrible part of all," said Lady Sophia. In her voice
there was an accent almost of horror. "It sickened me to the soul,"
she continued--"the idea of a woman bidding a tender good night to an
apparition."

"I took it as a man," said Malling.

They had all three, strangely, left the rector out of this discussion,
and he seemed willing that it should be so. He now sat back in his chair
listening to all that was being said, somewhat as he had listened to the
sermon of Chichester, in a sort of ghastly silence.

"How could a man's double be a man?" said Lady Sophia.

"We are in the region of assumption and of speculation," returned
Malling, quietly, "a not uninteresting region either, I think. The other
night for a whole hour, having assumed the double man, I speculated on
his existence, spied upon by his other self. And you never did that?"

He looked at Chichester.

"When I was making my sermon I was engrossed by the thought of the
watching man."

Malling's idea had evidently laid a grip upon Chichester's mind.

"Tell me what the double's existence would be, according to you," he
said. "Tell me."

"You imagined the lesson learnt by the man so terrible that he fled away
into the night."

"Yes."

"Had he been strong enough to stay--"

"Strong enough!" interposed Chichester. "Better say, had he been obliged
to stay."

"Very well. Given that compulsion, in my imagination the double must have
learnt a lesson, too. If we can learn by contemplation, can we not, must
we not, learn by being contemplated? Life is permeated by reciprocity. I
can imagine another sermon growing out of yours of last Sunday."

"Yes, you are right--you are right," said Chichester.

"The double, then, in my imagination, would gradually become uneasy
under this secret observation. You described him as, his wife gone,
sitting down comfortably to write some account of the hidden doings
of his life, as, the writing finished, the diary committed to the
drawer and safely locked away, rising up to go to rest with a smile of
self-satisfaction. It seemed to me that, given my circumstance of the
persistent observation, a few nights later matters would have been very
different within that room. The hypocrite is happy, if he is happy at
all, when he is convinced that his hypocrisy is successful. Take away
that certainty, and he would be invaded by anxiety. Set any one to watch
him closely, he would certainly suffer, if he knew it."

"If he knew it! That is the point," said Chichester. "You put the man
watching the double in hiding."

"There are influences not yet fully understood which can traverse space,
which can touch not as a hand touches, but as unmistakably. I imagined
the soul of the double touched in this way, the waters troubled."

"Troubled! Troubled!"

It was Mr. Harding who had spoken, almost lamentably. His powerfully
shaped head now drooped forward on his breast.

"I imagined," continued Malling, "a sort of gradual disintegration
beginning, and proceeding, in the double--a disintegration of the soul,
if such a thing can be conceived of."

His piercing eyes went from Chichester to Harding.

"Or, no," he corrected himself. "Perhaps that is an incorrect description
of my--very imaginative--flight through speculation the other night.
Possibly I should say a gradual transference, instead of disintegration
of soul. For it seemed to me as if the man who watched might gradually,
as it were, absorb into himself the soul of the double, but purified. For
the watcher has the tremendous advantage of seeing the hypocrite living
the hypocrite's life, while the hypocrite is only seen. Might not the
former, therefore, conceivably draw in strength, while the other faded
into weakness? Ignorance is the terrible thing in life, I think. Now the
man who watched would receive knowledge, fearful knowledge, but the man
who was watched, while perhaps suffering first uneasiness, then possibly
even terror, would not, in my conception, ever clearly understand. He
would not any longer dare at night to sit down alone to fill up that
dreadful diary. He would not any longer perhaps--I only say perhaps--dare
to commit the deeds the record of which in the past the diary held. But
his lesson would be one of fear, making for weakness, finally almost for
nothingness. And the other night I conceived of him at last fading away
in the gloom of his room with the darkened window."

"That was your end!" said Mr. Harding, in a low voice.

"Yes, that was my end."

"Then," said Chichester, "you think the lesson men learn from being
contemplated tends only to destroy them?"

But Malling, now with a smiling change to greater lightness and ease,
hastened to traverse this statement.

"No, no," he replied. "For the contemplation of a man by his fellow-men
must always be an utterly different thing from his own contemplation by
himself. For our fellow-men always remain in a very delightful ignorance
of us. Don't they, Lady Sophia? And so they can never destroy us, luckily
for us."

He had done what he wished to do, and he was now ready for other
activities. But he found it was not easy to switch his companions off
onto another trail. Lady Sophia, now that he looked at her closely, he
saw to be under the influence of fear, provoked doubtless by the subject
they had been discussing. Chichester, also, had a look as of fear in his
eyes. As to the rector, he sat gazing at his curate, and there had come
upon his countenance an expression of almost unnatural resolution, such
as a coward's might wear if terror forced him into defiance.

In reply to Malling's half-laughing question, Lady Sophia said:

"You've studied all these things, haven't you?"

"Do you mean what are sometimes called occult questions?"

"Yes."

"I have."

"And do you believe in them?"

"I'm afraid I must ask you to be a little more definite."

"Do you believe that there are such things as doubles?"

"I have no reason to believe that there are, unless you include wrongly
in the term the merely physical replica. It appears to be established
that now and then two human beings are born who, throughout their
respective lives remain physically so much alike that it is difficult,
if not impossible, to distinguish between them."

"I didn't mean only that," she said quickly.

"You meant the double in mind and soul as well as in body," said
Chichester.

"Yes."

"How can one see if a soul is the double of another soul?" said Malling.

"Then you think such a story as Mr. Chichester related in his sermon all
nonsense?" said Lady Sophia, almost hotly, and yet, it seemed to Malling,
with a slight lifting of the countenance, as if relief perhaps were
stealing through her.

"I thought it a legitimate and powerful invention introduced to point a
moral."

"Nothing more than that?" said Lady Sophia.

Malling did not reply; for suddenly a strange question had risen up in
him. Did he really think it nothing more than that? He glanced at
Chichester, and the curate's eyes seemed asking him to say.

The rector's heavy and powerful frame shifted in his chair, and his voice
was heard saying:

"My dear Sophy, I think you had better leave such things alone. You do
not know where they might lead you."

There was in his voice a sound of forced authority, as if he had been
obliged to "screw himself up" to speak as he had just spoken. Lady Sophia
was about to make a quick rejoinder when, still with a forced air of
resolution, Mr. Harding addressed himself to Chichester.

"Since I saw you this morning," he said, "I find that I shall not be here
next Sunday."

He looked about the circle at his wife and Malling.

"The doctor has ordered me away for a week, and I've decided to go."

His introduction of the subject had been abrupt. As if almost in despite
of themselves, Lady Sophia and Malling exchanged glances. Chichester
said nothing.

"You can get on without me quite well, of course," continued the rector.

"Are you going to be away long?" said Chichester.

"No; I think only for a week or so. The doctor says I absolutely need a
breath of fresh air."

Malling got up to go.

"I hope you'll enjoy your little holiday," he said. "Are you going far?"

"Oh, dear, no. My doctor recommends Tankerton on the Kentish coast. It
seems the air there is extraordinary. When the tide is down it comes off
the mud flats. A kind parishioner of mine--" he turned slightly toward
his wife: "Mrs. Amherst, Sophy--has a cottage there and has often offered
me the use of it. I hope to accept her offer now."

Lady Sophia expressed no surprise at the project, and did not inquire
whether her husband wished her to accompany him.

But when she shook hands with Malling, her dark eyes seemed to say to
him, "I was wrong."

And he thought she looked humbled.




VIII


_"Could you come down stay with me Saturday till Monday all alone air
delicious feel rather solitary glad of your company Marcus Harding Minors
Tankerton Kent."_

Such was the telegram which Evelyn Malling was considering on the
following Friday afternoon. The sender had paid an answer. The
telegraph-boy was waiting in the hall. Malling only kept him five
minutes. He went away with this reply:

_"Accept with pleasure will take four twenty train at Victoria Saturday
Malling."_

Malling could not have said with truth that he had expected a summons
from Mr. Harding, yet he found that he was not surprised to get it. The
man was in a bad way. He needed sympathy, he needed help. That was
certain. But whether he could help him was more than doubtful, Malling
thought. Perhaps, really, a doctor and the wonderful air from the mud
flats of Tankerton! But here Malling found that a strong incredulity
checked him. He did not believe that the rector would be restored by a
doctor's advice and a visit to the sea.

That afternoon he went to Westminster, and asked for Professor Stepton.

"He is away, sir," said the fair Scotch parlormaid.

"For long?"

"We don't know, sir. He has gone into Kent, on research business, I
believe."

Agnes had been for a long time in the professor's service, and was
greatly trusted. The professor had come upon her originally when making
investigations into "second sight," a faculty which she claimed to
possess. By the way she was also an efficient parlor-maid.

"Kent!" said Malling. "Do you know where he is staying?"

"The address he left is the Tankerton Hotel, Tankerton, near
Whitstable-on-Sea, sir."

"Thank you, Agnes," said Malling.

"It is a haunted house somewhere Birchington way the professor is after,
I believe, sir."

"Luck favors me!" said Malling to himself, unscientifically, as he walked
away from the house.

On the following day it was in a singularly expectant and almost
joyously alert frame of mind that he bought a first-class ticket
for Whitstable-on-Sea, which is the station for Tankerton.

He would involve Stepton in this affair. There was a mystery in it.
Malling was now convinced of that. And his original supposition did not
satisfy him. But perhaps Mr. Harding meant to help him. Perhaps Mr.
Harding intended to be explicit. The difficulty there was that he also
was walking in darkness, as Malling believed. His telegram had come like
a cry out of this darkness.

"Faversham! Faversham!" the fair Kentish porters were calling. Only about
twenty minutes now! Would the rector be at the station?

He was. As the train ran in alongside the wooden platform, Mailing caught
sight of the towering authoritative figure. Was it his fancy which made
him think that it looked slightly bowed, even perhaps a little shrunken?

"Good of you to come!" said the rector in a would-be hearty voice, but
also with a genuine accent of pleasure. "All the afternoon I have been
afraid of a telegram."

"Why?" asked Malling, as they shook hands.

"Oh, when one is anxious for a thing, one does not always get it. Ha,
ha!"

He broke into a covering laugh.

"Here is a porter. You've only got this bag. Capital! I have a fly
waiting. We go down these steps."

As they descended, Malling remarked:

"By the way, we have a friend staying here. Have you come across him?"

"No, I have seen nobody--that is, no acquaintance. Who is it?"

"Stepton."

"The professor down here!" exclaimed Mr. Harding, as if startled.

"At the hotel, I believe. He's come down to make some investigation."

"I haven't seen him."

They stepped into the fly, and drove through the long street of
Whitstable toward the outlying houses of Tankerton, scattered over
grassy downs above a quiet, brown sea.

"The air is splendid, certainly," observed Malling, drinking it in almost
like a gourmet savoring a wonderful wine.

"It must do me good. Don't you think so?"

The question sounded anxious to Malling's ears.

"It ought to do every one good, I should think."

"Here is Minors."

The fly stopped before a delightfully gay little red doll's house--so
Malling thought of it--standing in a garden surrounded by a wooden
fence, with the downs undulating about it. Not far off, but behind it,
was the sea. And the rector, pointing to a red building in the distance,
on the left and much nearer to the beach, said:

"That is the hotel where the professor must be staying, if he is here."

"I'll go over presently and ask about him."

"Oh," said Mr. Harding. "Bring in the bag, please, Jennings. The room on
the right, at the top of the stairs."

Malling had believed in London that Mr. Harding's telegram to him was a
cry out of darkness. That first evening in the cheerful doll's house he
knew his belief was well founded. When they sat at dinner, like two
monsters, Malling thought, who had somehow managed to insert themselves
into a doll's dining-room, it was obvious that the rector was ill at
ease. Again and again he seemed to be on the verge of some remark,
perhaps of some outburst of speech, and to check himself only when the
words were almost visibly trembling on his lips. In his eyes Malling
saw plainly his longing for utterance, his hesitation; reserve and a
desire to liberate his soul, the one fighting against the other. And at
moments the whole man seemed to be wrapped in weakness like a garment,
the soul and the body of him. Then, as a light may dwindle till it seems
certain to go out, all that was Marcus Harding seemed to Malling to
dwindle. The large body, the powerful head and face, meant little, almost
nothing, because the spirit was surely fading. But these moments passed.
Then it was as if the light flared suddenly up again.

When dinner was over, Mr. Harding asked Malling if he would like to take
a stroll.

"The sea air will help us to sleep," he said.

"I should like nothing better," said Malling. "Haven't you been sleeping
well lately?"

"Very badly. We had better take our coats."

They put the coats on, and went out, making their way to the broad,
grassy walk raised above the shingle of the beach. The tide was far
down, and the oozing flats were uncovered. So still, so waveless was
the brown water that at this hour it was impossible to perceive where
it met the brown land. In the distance, on the right, shone the lights
of Herne Bay, with its pier stretching far out into the shallows. Away
to the left was the lonely island of Sheppey, a dull shadow beyond the
harbor, where the oyster-boats lay at rest. There were very few people
about: some fisher-lads solemnly or jocosely escorting their girls, who
giggled faintly as they passed Mr. Harding and Malling; two or three
shopkeepers from Whitstable taking the air; a boatman or two vaguely
hovering, with blue eyes turned from habit to the offing.

The two men paced slowly up and down. And again Malling was aware of
words trembling upon the rector's lips--words which he could not yet
resolve frankly to utter. Whether it was the influence of the faintly
sighing sea, of the almost sharply pure air, of the distant lights
gleaming patiently, or whether an influence came out from the man beside
him and moved him, Malling did not know; but he resolved to do a thing
quite contrary to his usual practice. He resolved to try to force a
thing on, instead of waiting till it came to him naturally. He became
impatient, he who was generally a patient seeker.

"You remember our former conversations with regard to Henry Chichester?"
he said abruptly, changing the subject of their discourse.

"Chichester? Yes--yes. What of him?"

"I wish to tell you that I think you are right, that I think there is an
extraordinary, even an amazing, change in Chichester."

"There is, indeed," said Mr. Harding. "And--and it will increase."

He spoke with a sort of despairing conviction.

"What makes you think so?"

"It must. It cannot be otherwise--unless--"

He paused.

"Yes," said Malling; "unless--"

"A thing almost impossible were to happen."

"May I, without indiscretion, ask what that is?"

"Unless he were to leave St. Joseph's, to go quite away."

"Surely that would not be impossible!"

"I often think it is. Chichester will not wish to go."

"Are you certain of that?" asked Malling, remembering the curate's remark
in Horton Street, that perhaps he would not remain at St. Joseph's much
longer.

The rector turned his head and fixed his eyes upon Malling.

"Has he said anything to you about leaving?" he asked, suddenly raising
his voice, as if under the influence of excitement. "But of course he
has not."

"Surely it is probable that such a man may be offered a living."

"He would not take it."

They walked on a few steps in silence, turned, and strolled back. It was
now growing dark. Their faces were set toward the distant gleam of the
Herne Bay lights.

"I am not so sure," at length dropped out Malling.

"Why are you not so sure?"

"Why do you think Chichester's departure from St. Joseph's impossible?"

Malling spoke strongly to determine, if possible, the rector to speak, to
say out all that was in his heart.

"Can I tell you?" Mr. Harding almost murmured. "Can I tell you?"

"I think you asked me here that you might tell me something."

"It is true. I did."

"Then--"

"Let us sit down in this shelter. There is no one in it. People are going
home."

Malling followed him into a shelter, with a bench facing the sea.

"I thought perhaps here I might be able to tell you," said Mr. Harding.
"I am in great trouble, Mr. Malling, in great trouble. But I don't know
whether you, or whether any one, can assist me."

"If I may advise you, I should say--tell me plainly what your trouble
is."

"It began--" Mr. Harding spoke with a faltering voice--"it began a good
while ago, some months after Mr. Chichester came as a curate to St.
Joseph's. I was then a very different man from the man you see now.
Often I feel really as if I were not the same man, as if I were radically
changed. It may be health. I sometimes try to think so. And then I--" He
broke off.

The strange weakness that Malling had already noticed seemed again to be
stealing over him, like a mist, concealing, attenuating.

"Possibly it is a question of health," said Malling, rather sharply.
"Tell me how it began."

"When Chichester first joined me, I was a man of power and ambition. I
was a man who could dominate others, and I loved to dominate."

His strength seemed returning while he spoke, as if frankness were to him
a restorative of the spirit.

"It was indeed my passion. I loved authority. I loved to be in command.
I was full of ecclesiastical ambition. Feeling that I had intellectual
strength, I intended to rise to the top of the church, to become a bishop
eventually, perhaps even something greater. When I was presented to St.
Joseph's,--my wife's social influence had something to do with that,--I
saw all the gates opening before me. I made a great effect in London.
I may say with truth that no clergyman was more successful than I was--at
one time. My wife spurred me on. She was immensely ambitious for me. I
must tell you that in marrying me she had gone against all her family.
They thought me quite unworthy of her notice. But from the first time I
met her I meant to marry her. And as I dominated others, I completely
dominated her. But she, once married to me, was desperately anxious that
I should rise in the world, in order that her choice of me might be
justified in the eyes of her people. You can understand the position, I
dare say?"

"Perfectly," said Malling.

"I may say that she irritated my ambition, that she stung it into almost
a furious activity. Women have great influence with us. I thought she was
my slave almost, but I see now that she also influenced me. She worshiped
me for my immediate success at St. Joseph's. You may think it very
ridiculous, considering that I am merely the rector of a fashionable
London church, but there was a time when I felt almost intoxicated by
my wife's worship of me, and by my domination over the crowds who came to
hear me preach. Domination! That was my fetish! That was what led me
to--oh, sometimes I think it must end in my ruin!"

"Perhaps not," said Malling, quietly. "Let us see."

His words, perhaps even more his manner, seemed greatly to help Mr.
Harding.

"I will tell you everything," he exclaimed. "From the first I have
felt as if you were the man to assist me, if any man could. I had
always, since I was an undergraduate at Oxford,--I was a Magdalen
man,--been interested in psychical matters, and followed carefully
all the proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. I had also
at that time,--in Oxford,--made some experiments with my college
friends, chiefly in connection with will power. My influence seemed to
be specially strong. But I need not go into all that. After leaving
Oxford and taking orders, for a long time I gave such matters up. I
feared, if I showed my strong interest in psychical research, especially
if I was known to attend seances or anything of that kind, it might be
considered unsuitable in a clergyman, and might injure my prospects. It
was not until Henry Chichester came to St. Joseph's that I was tempted
again into paths which I had chosen to consider forbidden to me.
Chichester tempted me! Chichester tempted me!"

He spoke the last words with a sort of lamentable energy.

"Such a gentle, yielding man as he was!"

"It was just that. He came under my influence at once, and showed it in
almost all he said and did. He looked up to me, he strove to model
himself upon me, he almost worshiped me. One evening,--it was in the
pulpit!--the idea shot through my brain, 'I could do what I like with
that man, make of him just what I choose, use him just as I please.' And
I turned my eyes toward the choir where Chichester sat in the last stall,
hanging on my words. At that instant I can only suppose that what people
sometimes call the _maladie de grandeur_--the mania for power--took
hold upon me, and combined with my furtive longing after research in
those mysterious regions where perhaps all we desire is hidden. Anyhow,
at that instant I resolved to try to push my influence over Chichester to
its utmost limit, and by illegitimate means."

"Illegitimate?"

"I call them so. Yes, yes, they are not legitimate. I know that now. And
he--but I dare not think what he knows!"

The rector was greatly moved. He half rose from the bench on which they
were sitting, then, making a strong effort, controlled himself, sank
back, and continued:

"At that time, in the early days of his association with me, Chichester
thought that everything I did, everything I suggested, even everything
that came into my mind, must be good and right. He never dreamed of
criticizing me. In his view, I was altogether above criticism. And if I
approached him with any sort of intimacy he was in the greatest joy. You
know, perhaps, Mr. Malling, how the worshiper receives any confidence
from the one he worships. He looks upon it as the greatest compliment
that can be paid him. I resolved to pay that compliment to Henry
Chichester.

"You must know that although I had entirely given up the occult
practices--that may not be the exact term, but you will understand
what I mean--I had indulged in at Oxford, I had never relaxed my deep,
perhaps my almost morbid interest in the efforts that were being made
by scientists and others to break through the barrier dividing us on
earth from the spirit world. Although I had chosen the career of a
clergyman,--alas! I looked upon the church, I suppose, as little more
than a career!--I was not a very faithful man. I had many doubts which,
as clergymen must, I concealed. By nature I suppose I had rather an
incredulous mind. Not that I was a skeptic, but I was sometimes a
doubter. Rather than faith, I should have much preferred to have
knowledge, exact knowledge. Often I even felt ironical when confronted
with the simple faith we clergymen should surely encourage, sustain, and
humbly glory in, whereas with skepticism, even when openly expressed, I
always felt some part of myself to be in secret sympathy. I continued to
study works, both English and foreign, on psychical research. I followed
the experiments of Lodge, William James, and others. Myers's great work
on human personality was forever at my elbow. And the longer I was
debarred--self-debarred because of my keen ambition and my determination
to do nothing that could ever make me in any way suspect in the eyes of
those to whom I looked confidently for preferment--from continuing the
practices which had such a fascination for me, the more intensely I
was secretly drawn toward them. The tug at my soul was at last almost
unbearable. It was then I looked toward Chichester, and resolved to take
him into my confidence--to a certain extent.

"I approached the matter craftily. I dwelt first upon the great spread
of infidelity in our days, and the necessity of combating it by every
legitimate means. I spoke of the efforts being made by earnest men of
science--such men as Professor Stepton, for instance--to get at the truth
Christians are expected to take on trust, as it were. I said I respected
such men. Chichester agreed,--when did he not agree with me at that
time?--but remarked that he could not help pitying them for ignoring
revelation and striving to obtain by difficult means what all Christians
already possessed by a glorious and final deed of gift.

"I saw that though Chichester was such a devoted worshiper of mine, if I
wanted to persuade him to my secret purpose,--no other than the effort,
to be made with him, to communicate with the spirit world,--I must be
deceptive, I must mask my purpose with another.

"I did so. I turned his attention to the subject of the human will. Now,
at that time Chichester knew that his will was weak. He considered that
fact one of his serious faults. I hinted that I agreed with him. I
proposed to join with him in striving to strengthen it. He envied my
strength of will. He looked up to me, worshiped me almost, because of it.
I drew his mind to the close consideration of influence. I gave him two
or three curious works that I possessed on this subject. In one of them,
a pamphlet written by a Hindu who had been partly educated at Oxford,
and whom I had personally known when I was an undergraduate, there was a
course of will-exercises, much as in certain books on body-building there
are courses of physical exercises. I related to Chichester some of the
extraordinary and deeply interesting conversations I had had with this
Hindu on the subject of the education of the will, and finally I told a
lie. I told Chichester that I had gained my powerful will while at Oxford
by drawing it from my Hindu friend in a series of sittings that we two
had secretly undertaken together. This was false, because I had been born
with a strong, even a tyrannical, will, and I had never sat with the
Hindu.

"Chichester, though at first startled, was fascinated by this untruth,
and, to cut the matter short, I persuaded him to begin with me a series
of secret sittings, in which I proposed to try to impart to him, to
infuse into him, as it were, some of my undoubted power--the power which
he daily saw me exercising in the pulpit and over the minds of men in my
intercourse with them.

"What I really wished to do, what I meant to do, if possible, was to use
Chichester as a medium, and to try through him to communicate with the
spirit world. I had taken it into my head--no doubt you will say quite
unreasonably--that he must be entirely subject to my will in a sitting,
and that if I willed him to be entranced, it was certain that he would
become so. But my own entirely selfish desires I concealed under the
cloak of an unselfish wish to give power to him. I even pretended, as you
see, to have a highly moral purpose, though it is true I suggested trying
to effect it in an unconventional and very unecclesiastical manner.

"Chichester, though, as I have said, at first startled, of course
eventually fell in with my view. We sat together in his room at Hornton
Street.

"Now, Mr. Malling, some of what I have told you may appear to be almost
contradictory. I have spoken of my _maladie de grandeur_ as if it were
a reason why I wished to sit with Henry Chichester, and then of my desire
to communicate, if possible, with the spirit world as my reason."

"I noticed that," observed Malling, "and purposed later to point it out
to you."

"How can I explain exactly? It is so difficult to unravel the web of
motives in a mind. It was my _maladie de grandeur_, I think, that made
me long to use my worshiper Chichester as a mere tool for the opening of
that door which shuts off from us the region the dead have entered. My
mind at that time was filled with a mingled conceit, amounting at moments
almost to an intoxication, and a desire for knowledge. I reveled in my
power when preaching, but was haunted by genuine doubts as to truth. My
egoism longed to make an utter slave of Chichester (I nearly always
lusted to push my influence to its limit). But my desire to know made me
conceive the pushing of it in a direction, in this instance, which would
perhaps gratify a less unworthy desire than that merely of subjugating
another. The two birds and the one stone! I thought of them. I loved the
idea of making a tool. I loved also the idea of using the tool when made.
And I pretended I had only Chichester's moral interest at heart. I have
been punished, terribly punished.

"We sat, as I say, in Hornton Street, secretly, and of course at night.
My wife knew nothing of it. I made excuses to get away--parish matters,
meetings, work in the East End. I had no difficulty with her. She thought
my many activities would bring me ever more and more into the public
eye, and she encouraged them. The people in the house where Chichester
lodged were simple folk, and were ready to go early to bed, leaving
rector and curate discussing their work for the salvation of bodies and
souls.

"At first Chichester was reluctant, I know. I read his thoughts. He was
not sure that it was right to approach such mysteries; but, as usual, I
dominated him silently. And soon he fell completely under the fascination
peculiar to sittings."

Again Mr. Harding paused. For a moment his head sank, his powerful body
drooped, he was immersed in reverie. Malling did not interrupt him. At
last, with a deep sigh, and now speaking more slowly, more unevenly, he
continued:

"What happened exactly at those sittings I do not rightly know. Perhaps
I shall never rightly know. What did not happen I can tell you. In the
first place, although I secretly used my will upon Chichester, desiring,
mentally insisting, that he should become entranced, he never was
entranced when we sat together. Something within him--was it something
holy? I have wondered--resisted my desire, of which, so far as I know,
he was never aware. Perhaps 'beneath the threshold' he was aware. Who
can say? But though my great desire was frustrated in our sittings, the
desire of Chichester, so different, perhaps so much more admirable than
mine, and, at any rate, not masked by any deceit, began, so it seemed,
to be strangely gratified. He declared almost from the first that, when
sitting with me, he felt his will power strengthened. 'You are doing me
good,' he said. Now, as my professed object in contriving the sittings
had been to lift up Chichester toward my level,"--with indescribable
bitterness Mr. Harding dwelt on these last words,--"I could only express
rejoicing. And this I did with successful hypocrisy. Nevertheless,
I was greatly irritated. For it seemed to me that, when we sat,
Chichester triumphed over me. He obtained his desire while mine remained
ungratified. This was an outrage directed against my supremacy over him,
which I had designed to increase. I gathered together my will power to
check it. But in this attempt I failed.

"Nothing is stranger, I think, Mr. Malling, than the fascination of a
sitting. Even when nothing, or scarcely anything, happens, the mind, the
whole nature seems to be mysteriously grasped and held. New senses in you
seem to be released. Something is alert which is never alert--or, at
all events, never alert in the same way--in other moments of life. One
seems to become inexplicably different. Chichester was aware of all this.
At the first sitting nothing happened, and I feared Chichester would wish
to give the matter up. But, no! When we rose from our chairs late in the
night he acknowledged that he had never known two hours to pass so
quickly before. At following sittings there were slight manifestations
such as, I suppose, are seldom absent from such affairs,--perfectly
trivial to you, of course,--movements of the table, rappings, gusts of
what seemed cold air, and so forth. All that is not worth talking about,
and I don't mean to trouble you further with it. My difficulty is, when
so little, apparently, took place, to make you understand the tremendous
thing that did happen, that must have been happening gradually during
our sittings.

"At the very first, as I told you, or nearly so,--I wish to be
absolutely accurate,--Chichester began to be aware of a strengthening
of his will. At this time I was almost angrily unaware of any change
either in him or in myself. At subsequent sittings--I speak of the
earlier ones--Chichester reiterated more strongly his assertion of
beneficent alteration in himself. I did not believe him, though I did
believe he was absolutely sincere in his supposition. It seemed to me
that he was 'suggestioned,' partly perhaps by his implicit trust in me,
partly by his own desire that something curious should happen. However,
still playing a part in pursuance of my resolve not to let Chichester
know my real object in this matter, I pretended that I, too, perceived an
alteration in him, as if his personality were strengthening. And not
once, but on several occasions, I spoke of the change in him as almost
exactly corresponding with the change that had taken place in me when
I sat with my Hindu friend.

"All this time, with a force encouraged by the secret anger within me,
I violently, at last almost furiously, willed that Chichester should
become entranced.

"But at length, though I willed furiously, I felt as if I were not
willing with genuine strength, as if I could not will with genuine
strength any longer. It is difficult, almost impossible, to explain
to you exactly the sensation that gradually overspread me; but it used
always to seem to me, when I self-consciously exerted my will, as if
I held within me some weapon almost irresistible, as if I forced it
forward, as if its advance, caused by me, could not be withstood. I
now felt as if I still possessed this weapon, but could not induce it
to move. It was there, like a heavy, useless thing, almost like a burden
upon me.

"And Chichester continued to assert that he felt stronger, more resolute,
less plastic.

"Things went on thus till something within me, what we call instinct, I
suppose, became uneasy. I heard a warning voice which said to me, 'Stop
while there is time!' And I resolved to obey it.

"One night, when very late Chichester and I took our hands from the
table in his little room, I said that I thought we had had enough of
the sittings, that very little happened, that perhaps he and I were not
really _en rapport_, and that it seemed to me useless to continue them.
I suppose I expected Chichester to acquiesce. I say I suppose so, because
till that moment he had always acquiesced in any proposition of mine. Yet
I remember that I did not feel genuine surprise at what actually
happened."

Mr. Harding stopped, took a handkerchief from his pocket, lifted the brim
of his hat, and passed the handkerchief over his forehead two or three
times.

"What happened was this, that Chichester resisted my proposal, and that
I found myself obliged to comply with his will instead of, as usual,
imposing mine upon him.

"This was the beginning--" the rector turned a little toward Malling,
and spoke in a voice that was almost terrible in its sadness--"this was
the beginning of what you have been witness of, my unspeakable decline.
This was the definite beginning of my horrible subjection to Henry
Chichester."

He stopped abruptly. After waiting for a minute or two, expecting him to
continue, Malling said:

"You said that you found yourself _obliged_ to comply with Chichester's
will. Can you explain the nature of that obligation?"

"I cannot. I strove to resist. We argued the matter. He took his stand
upon the moral ground that I was benefiting him enormously through our
sittings. As I had suggested having them ostensibly for that very
purpose, you will see my difficulty."

"Certainly."

"My yielding seemed perfectly natural, perhaps almost inevitable. The
point is that, without drastic change in me, it was quite unnatural. My
will was unaccustomed to brook any resistance, and troubled itself not
at all with argument. Till then what I wished to do I did, and there was
an end. I now for the first time found myself obliged to accept a moral
bondage imposed upon me by my curate. The term may sound exaggerated;
I can only say that was how the matter presented itself to me. From the
moment I did so, I took second place to him.

"We continued to sit from time to time. And the strange, to me
inexplicable, situation rapidly developed.

"To put it before you in few words and plainly: Chichester seemed to suck
my will away from me gradually but surely, till my former strength was
his. But that was not all. With the growth of his will there was another
and more terrible growth: there rose in him a curiously observant
faculty."

Again the rector took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow.

"A curiously critical faculty. How shall I say? Perhaps you may know,
Mr. Malling, how the persistent attitude of one mind may influence
another. For instance, if a man always expects ill of another--treachery,
let us say, bad temper, hatred, fear, inducing trickery, perhaps, that
other is turned toward just such evil manifestations in connection with
that man. If some one with psychic force thinks all you do is wrong,
soon you begin to do things wrongly. A fearful uneasiness is bred. The
faculties begin to fail. The formerly sure-footed stumbles. The formerly
self-confident takes on nervousness, presently fear.

"So it came about between Chichester and me. I felt that his mind was
beginning to watch me critically, and I became anxious about this
criticism. Like some subtle acid it seemed to act destructively upon
the metal, once so hard and resistant, of my self-confidence, of my
belief in myself. Often I felt as if an eye were upon me, seeing too
much, far too much, coldly, inexorably, persistently. This critical
observation became hateful to me. I suffered under it. I suffered
terribly. Mr. Malling, if I am to tell you all,--and I feel that unless
I do no help can come to me,--I must tell you that I have not been in my
life all that a clergyman should be. There have been occasions, and even
since my marriage, when I have yielded to impulses that have prompted me
to act very wrongly.

"Now, Chichester was a saint. Hitherto I had neither been troubled by
my own grave shortcomings nor by Chichester's excellence of character.
I had always felt myself set far above him by my superior mental
faculties and my greater will power over the crowd, though, alas! not
always over my own demon. I began to writhe now under the thought of
Chichester's crystal purity and of my own besmirched condition of soul.
All self-confidence departed from me; but I endeavored, of course, to
conceal this from the world, and especially from Chichester. With the
world for a time no doubt I succeeded. But with Chichester--did I ever
succeed? Could I ever succeed with such an one as he had become? It
seemed to me, it seems to me far more terribly now, that nothing I did,
or was, escaped him. He attended mentally, spiritually even, to
everything that made up me. At first I felt this curiously, then
anxiously, then often with bitter contempt and indignation, sometimes
with a great melancholy, a sort of wide-spreading sadness in which I
was involved as in an icy sea. I can never make you fully understand
what I felt, how this mental and spiritual observation of Chichester
affected me. It--it simply ate me away, Malling! It simply ate me away!"

The last words came from Mr. Harding's lips almost in a cry.

"And how long did you continue the sittings?"

Very quietly Malling spoke, and he just touched the rector's arm.

"For a long while."

"Had you ceased from them when I first met you?"

"On Westminster Bridge? No."

"Have you ceased from them now?"

The rector shifted as if in physical distress.

"Chichester constrains me to them even now," he replied, like a man
bitterly ashamed. "He constrains me to them. And is that goodness,
righteousness? I said he was a saint; but now! Is it saintliness to
torture a fellow-creature?"

Malling remembered how he had once, and not long ago, asked himself
whether Chichester's mouth and eyes looked good.

"Have you ever told Chichester what grave distress he is causing you?"
said Malling.

"No, never, never! I can't!"

"Why not?"

"A great reserve has grown up between us. I could never try to break
through it."

"You say a great reserve. But does he never criticize you in words? Does
he never express an adverse opinion upon what you say or do?"

"Scarcely ever--after it is said or done. But sometimes--"

"Yes?"

"Sometimes--often I think--he tries to prevent me from saying or doing
something. Often he checks me with a look when I am in the midst of
some speech. It is intolerable. Why do I bear it? But I have to bear it.
Sometimes I exert myself against him. Why, that first day I met you--you
must have noticed it--he tried to prevent me from walking home with you."

"I did notice it."

"Then I resisted him, and he had to yield. But even when he yields in
some slight matter it makes no difference in our relations. He is always
there, at the window, watching me."

"What do you say?"

Malling's exclamation was sharp.

"That sermon of his!" said the rector. "That fearful sermon! Ever since
I heard it I have felt as if I were the double within that house, as
if Chichester were the man regarding my life in hiding. Why you--you
yourself put my feeling into words! You suggested to Chichester and
my wife that if the man had stayed, had spied upon him who was within
the room, the hypocrite--"

He broke off. He got up from his seat.

"Let us walk," he said. "I cannot sit here. The air--the lights--let
us--"

Almost as if blindly he went forth from the shelter, followed by Malling.

"It's better here," he said. "Better here! Mr. Malling, forgive me,
but just then a hideous knowledge seemed really to catch me by the
throat. Chichester is turning my wife against me. There is a terrible
change in her. She is beginning to observe me through Chichester's eyes.
Till quite recently she worshiped me. She noticed the alteration in me,
of course,--every one did,--but she hated Chichester for his attitude
toward me. Till quite lately she hated him. Now she no longer hates him;
for she begins to think he is right. At first I think she believed the
excuse I put forward for my strange transformation."

"Do you mean your nervous affection?"

"Yes."

"Just tell me, have you any trouble of that kind, or did you merely
invent it as an excuse for any failure you made from time to time?"

"I used it insincerely as an excuse. But I really do suffer from time
to time physically. But physical suffering is nothing. Why should we
waste a thought on such nonsense?"

"In such a strange case as this I believe everything should be taken
carefully into consideration," observed Malling in his most prosaic
voice.

The rector's attention seemed to be suddenly fixed and powerfully
concentrated. The feverish excitement he had been displaying gave place
to a calmer, more natural mood.

"Tell me," he said, "do you think your knowledge can help me? I am aware
that you have made many strange investigations. Is there anything to be
done for me, anything that will restore me to my former powers? Will you
credit me when I declare to you that it was only by making a terrible
effort that I was able to get away from Chichester's companionship and
to come down here? If I had not said that I meant to do so while you were
in the room, I doubt if I should ever have had the courage. There is
something inexplicable that seems to bind me to Chichester. Sometimes
there have been moments when I have thought that he longed to be far
away from me. And it has seemed to me that he, too, would find escape
difficult, if not impossible."

"You wish very much that Chichester should resign his curacy and go
entirely out of your life?" asked Malling.

"Wish!" cried Mr. Harding, almost fiercely. "Oh, the unutterable relief
to me if he were to go! Even down here, away from him for a day or two,
 I sometimes feel released. And yet--" he paused in his walk--"I shall
have to go back--I know it--sooner than I meant to, very soon."

He spoke with profound conviction.

"Chichester will mean me to go back, and I shall not be able to stay."

"And yet you say it has occurred to you that possibly Chichester may be
as anxious as yourself to break away from the strange condition of things
you have described to me."

"Have you," exclaimed Mr. Harding--"have you some reason to believe
Chichester has ever contemplated departure?"

Malling moved slowly on, and the rector was forced to accompany him.

"It has occurred to me," he said, evading the point, "that possibly Henry
Chichester might be induced to go out of your life."

"Never by me! I should never have the strength to attempt compulsion with
Chichester."

"Some one else might tackle him."

"Who?" cried out Mr. Harding.

"Some man with authority."

"Do you mean ecclesiastical authority?"

"Oh, dear, no! I was thinking of a man like, say, Professor Stepton."

As Malling spoke, a curious figure seemed almost to dawn upon them,
sidewise, becoming visible gently in the darkness; a short man, with
hanging arms, a head poked forward, as if in sharp inquiry, and rather
shambling legs, round which hung loosely a pair of very baggy, light
trousers.

"And here is the professor!" said Malling, stopping short.




IX


That night when, very late, Mr. Harding and Malling returned to the red
doll's house and let themselves into it with a latch-key, they found
lying upon the table in the little hall a brown envelop.

"A telegram!" said the rector.

He took it into his hand and read the name on the envelop.

"It's for me. Malling, do you know whom this telegram is from?"

"How can I, or you, for that matter?"

"It is from Henry Chichester, and it is to recall me to London."

"It may be so."

"It is so. Open it for me."

Malling took the telegram from him and tore it open, while he sat heavily
down by the table.

"_Please return if possible difficulties in the parish Benyon ill need
your presence Chichester._"

Malling looked down at the rector.

"You see!" Mr. Harding said slowly.

"What do you mean to do?"

Mr. Harding got up from his chair with an effort like that of a weary
man.

"I wonder where the railway-guide is?" he said. "Excuse me for a moment,
Mr. Malling."

He went away into the drawing-room, and returned with the railway-guide
open in his hand.

"Malling," he said, using the greater familiarity he had for a moment
discarded, "I am about to do a rude thing, but I ask you, I beg of
you, to acquit me of any rude intention toward yourself. I have been
looking up the Sunday trains. I find I can catch a good one at Faversham
to-morrow morning. There is a motor I can hire in the town to get there.
It stands just by the post-office, where the road branches." He paused,
looking into Malling's face as if in search of some sign of vexation or
irony. "With a large parish on my hands," he went on, "I have a great
responsibility. And if Benyon, my second curate, is ill, they will
be short-handed."

"I see."

"What distresses me greatly--greatly--is leaving you, my guest, at such
short notice. I cannot say how I regret it."

He stopped. Purposely, to test him, Malling said nothing, but waited with
an expressionless face.

"I cannot say. But how can I do otherwise? My duty to the parish must
come before all things."

"I see," said Malling again.

Looking greatly disturbed, Mr. Harding continued:

"I will ask you to do me a very great favor. Although I am obliged to go,
I hope you will stay, I entreat you to stay till Monday. The professor is
here. You will not be companionless. The servants will do everything to
make you comfortable. As to food, wine--everything is provided for. Will
you stay? I shall feel more at ease in going if I know my departure has
not shortened your visit."

"It is very good of you," Malling replied. "I'll accept your kind offer.
To tell the truth, I'm in no hurry to leave the Tankerton air."

"Thank you," said the rector, almost with fervor. "Thank you."

So, the next morning, Mr. Harding went away in the hired motor, and
Malling found himself alone in the red doll's house.

He was not sorry. The rector's revelation on the previous night had well
repaid him for his journey; then the air of Tankerton really rejoiced
him; and he would have speech of the professor.

"I shall lay it before Stepton," he had said to Mr. Harding the previous
night, after they had parted from the professor.

And he had spoken with authority. Mr. Harding's confidence, his
self-abasement, and his almost despairing appeal, had surely given
Malling certain rights. He intended to use them to the full. The
rector's abrupt relapse into reserve, his pitiful return to subterfuge,
after the receipt of that hypnotizing telegram, had not, in Malling's
view, abrogated those rights.

When the motor disappeared, he strolled across the grass with a towel
and had a dip in the brown sea, going in off the long shoal that the
Whitstable and Tankerton folk call "the Street." Then he set out to
find the professor.

His interview with Stepton on the previous night in the presence of
Mr. Harding had been rather brief. Stepton had been preoccupied and
monosyllabic. Agnes had been right as to his reason for honoring the
coast of Kent with his company, but wrong as to the haunted house's
location. It was not in Birchington, but lay inland, within easy reach
of Tankerton. When he met Malling and Harding, the professor was going
to his hotel, where a motor was waiting to convey him to the house, in
which he intended to pass the night. His mind was fixed tenaciously upon
the matter in hand. Malling had realized at once that it was not the
moment to disturb him by the introduction of any other affair, however
interesting. But his suggestion of a meeting the next morning was thus
welcomed:

"Right! I shall be at home at churchtime--as you're not preaching."

The second half of the sentence was directed to Mr. Harding, who said
nothing.

"And you might give me a cup of tea in the afternoon," the professor
had added, looking at the rector rather narrowly before shambling off
to his hotel to get the plaid shawl which he often wore at night.

"With the greatest pleasure. Minors is the name of the house," had been
Mr. Harding's reply.

Whereupon the professor had vanished, muttering to himself:

"Minors! And why not Majors, if you come to that? Perhaps too suggestive
of heart-breaking military men. Minors is safer in a respectable seaside
place."

The professor had been up all night, but looked much as usual, and was
eating a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs in the cheerful coffee-room
when Malling arrived. He scarcely ever ate at orthodox hours, and had
frequently been caught lunching at restaurants in London between four and
five in the afternoon.

"Where's the rector? At church?" was his greeting.

"The rector has gone back to London," replied Malling, sitting down by
the table.

"What about my cup of tea, then?" snapped Stepton.

"I will be your host. I'm here till to-morrow. Any interesting
manifestations?"

"A rat or two and a hysterical kitchen-maid seem to be the responsible
agents in the building up of the reputation of the house I kept awake
in last night."

"I believe I have a more interesting problem for you."

The professor stretched out a sinewy hand.

"Cambridge marmalade! Most encouraging!" he muttered. "Have the reverend
gentlemen of St. Joseph's been at it again--successfully?"

"I want you to judge."

And thereupon Malling laid the case faithfully before the professor,
describing not only the dinner in Hornton Street and his interview with
Lady Sophia, but also the two sermons he had heard at St. Joseph's, and
the rector's lamentable outburst of the previous night. This last, having
a remarkably retentive memory, he reproduced in the main in Mr. Harding's
own words, omitting only the rector's reference to his moral lapses.
During the whole time he was speaking Stepton was closely engaged with
the Cambridge marmalade, and showed no symptoms of attention to anything
else. When he ceased, Stepton remarked:

"Really, clergymen are far more to be depended upon for valuable
manifestations than a rat or two and a hysterical kitchen-maid. Come
to my room, Malling."

The professor had a bedroom facing the sea. He led Malling to it, shut
the door, gave Malling a cane chair, sat down himself, in a peculiar,
crab-like posture, upon the bed, and said:

"Now give me as minute a psychological study of the former and actual
Henry Chichester as you can."

Malling complied with this request as lucidly and tersely as he could,
wasting no words.

"Any unusual change in his outward man since you knew him two years ago?"
asked the professor, when he had finished.

Malling mentioned the question as to the curate's eyes and mouth which
had risen in his mind, and added:

"But the character of the man is so changed that it may have suggestioned
me into feeling as if there were physical change in him, too."

"More than would be inevitable in any man in a couple of years. And now
as to his digestive organs."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Malling.

The apparent vagaries of his companion very seldom surprised him, but
this time he was completely taken aback.

"Are they what they were? Assuming, on your part, a knowledge of what
they were."

"I don't know either in what condition they are now, or in what condition
they were once."

"Ah! Now I must draw up a report about last night. I'll come for that cup
of tea to Minors--might almost as well have been Majors, even granting
the military flavor--about five."

Malling took his departure.

At a quarter to five he heard the click of the garden gate, and looking
out at the latticed window of the hall, he saw the professor walking
sidewise up the path, with a shawl round his shoulders. He went to let
him in, and took him into the tiny drawing-room.

"An odd shell for Harding!" observed the professor. "More suitable to a
bantam than to a Cochin-China!"

"It doesn't belong to him."

"Nor he to it. Very wise and right of him to go back to Onslow Gardens."

A maid brought in the tea, and the professor, spread strangely forth in a
small, chintz-covered arm-chair, enjoyed it while he talked about oysters
and oyster-beds. He was deeply interested in the oysters of Whitstable,
and held forth almost romantically on their birth and upbringing, the
fattening, the packing, the selling, and the eating of them--"with lemon,
not vinegar, mind! To eat vinegar with a Whitstable native is as vicious
as to offer a libation of catchup at the altar of a meadow mushroom just
picked up out of the dew."

Malling did not attempt to turn his mind from edibles. The professor had
to be let alone. When tea was finished and cleared away, he observed:

"And now, Malling, what is your view? Do you look upon it as a case of
transferred personality? I rather gathered from your general tone that
you were mentally drifting in that direction."

"But are there such cases? Of double transfer, I mean?"

"Personally I have never verified one. When you spoke of the reverend
gentlemen for the first time, I said, 'Study the link!' There will be
development in the link if--all the rest of it."

"There has been development, as I told you. The link is on his side now."

"That's remarkable, undoubtedly. Has it ever struck you that Harding was
almost too successful a clergyman to be a genuinely holy man?"

"What do you mean?"

"There's a modesty in holiness that is hardly adapted to catch smart
women."

"You used to go to hear Harding preach."

"And d'you know why I liked his sermons?"

"Why?"

"Because he understood doubt so well. That amused me. But the man who has
such a comprehensive understanding of skepticism, is very seldom a true
believer. One thing, though, Harding certainly does believe in, judging
by a sermon I once heard him preach."

"And that is?"

"Manicheism. Chichester, you say, was a saint?"

"He was, if a man can be a saint who has a certain amiable weakness of
character."

"And now? You think he would be a difficult customer to tackle now?"

"Harding finds him so."

"And Harding was an overwhelming chap, cocksure of himself. Chichester
must be difficult. Shall I tackle him?"

"I wish you would. But how? Do you wish me to introduce him to you?"

"Let me see."

The professor dropped his head and remained silent for a minute or two.

"Tell me something," he at length remarked, lifting his head and assuming
his most terrier-like aspect. "Do you think Harding a whited sepulcher?"

"Possibly."

"And do you think his saintly curate has found it out?"

"Do you think that would supply a natural explanation of the mystery?"

"Should you prefer to search for it in that malefic region which is the
abiding-place of nervous dyspepsia?"

"How could--"

"Acute nervous dyspepsia, complicated by a series of sittings under the
rose, might eat away the most brazen self-confidence. That's as certain
as that I wear whiskers and you don't. Shall we do an addition sum? Shall
we add Chichester's discovery of secret lapses in his worshiped rector's
life, to the nervous dyspepsia and the sittings? Shall we do that?"

"And Lady Sophia?"

"There's a sunflower type of woman. The rising sun can't escape her
inevitable worship."

"The change in Harding may be a natural one. But there is something
portentous in the change in Chichester," said Malling. "You know I'm
a rather cool hand, and certainly not inclined to easy credulity. But
there's something about Chichester which--well, Professor, I'll make a
confession to you that isn't a pleasant one for any man to make. There's
something about Chichester which shakes my nerves."

"And you haven't got nervous dyspepsia?"

"Should I be even a meliorist--as I am--if I had?"

"I must know Chichester. It's a pity I didn't know him formerly."

"I don't believe that matters," said Malling, with intense conviction.
"There is that in him which must strike you and affect you, whether you
knew him as he was or not."

"So long as I don't turn tail and run from him, all's well. I will
tackle Chichester. In the interests of science I will face this curate.
But how shall I approach him? As in golf, the approach is much, if not
everything."

He sat thinking for some minutes, with his eyebrows twitching. Then he
said:

"The question is, Should the approach be casual or direct? Shall I
describe a curve, or come to him as the crow comes when making for a
given point--or is said to come, for I've never investigated that
matter? What do you say?"

"It's very difficult to say. On the day I dined in Hornton Street,
Chichester certainly wanted to tell me something. He asked me to dine,
I am almost sure, in order that he might tell it to me."

"About the sittings with Harding, no doubt."

"That, perhaps, and something more."

"But he told you nothing."

"Directly."

"Do you think he would be more or less likely to unbosom himself now than
he was then?"

"Less likely."

"You might give me his address."

Malling did so. The professor wrote the address down on a slip of paper,
pinned the slip carefully to the yellow lining of his jacket, and then
got up to go.

But Malling detained him.

"Professor," he said, speaking with an unusual hesitation, "you know why
I told you all this."

"In the interests of science?"

"No, in the interest of that miserable man, Marcus Harding. I want you
to break the link that binds him to Henry Chichester--if there is one.
I want you to effect his release."

"I'm afraid you've come to the wrong man," returned Stepton, dryly. "My
object in entering into this matter is merely to increase my knowledge,
not to destroy my chance of increasing it."

"But surely--"

"We shall never get forward if we move in the midst of a fog of pity and
sentiment."

Malling said no more; but as he watched the professor shambling to the
garden gate, he felt as if he had betrayed Marcus Harding.




X


Soon after Malling had returned to London, he received the following note
from Mr. Harding:

_Onslow Gardens_, June --th.

_Dear Mr. Malling:_

I seem to have some remembrance of your saying to me at Tankerton that
you wished to speak to Professor Stepton with regard to a certain matter.
I may be wrong in my recollection. If, however, I am right, I now beg
you not to speak to the professor. I have, of course, the very highest
regard for his discretion; nevertheless, one must not be selfish. One
must not think only of one's self. I have obligations to others, and I
fear, when we were together at Tankerton, I forgot them. A word of
assurance from you that Professor Stepton knows nothing of our
conversation will set at rest the mind of

Yours sincerely,

_Marcus Harding._

As soon as he had read this communication, Malling realized that he
had been right in his supposition that a new reserve was growing up
in Henry Chichester. He was aware of Chichester's reserve in the letter
of the rector. He was aware, too, of the latter's situation as he had
never been aware of it before. Often a trifle illuminates a life, as a
search-light brings some distant place from the darkness into a fierce
radiance that makes it seem near. So it was now.

"Poor Harding!" thought Malling, with an unusual softness. "But this
letter comes too late."

What answer should he return to the rector? He hated insincerity, but on
this occasion he stooped to it. He had not only the fear of Stepton upon
him; he had also the desire not to add to the deep misery of Marcus
Harding. This was his answer:

_Cadogan Square_, June --.

_Dear Mr. Harding:_

In reply to your letter, I will not now repeat our conversation of the
other evening to Professor Stepton. He is, as you say, a man of the
highest discretion, and should you feel inclined yourself to take him
into your confidence at any time, I think you will not regret it.

Yours sincerely,

_Evelyn Malling_.

As he put this note into an envelope, Malling said to himself:

"Some day I'll let him know I deceived him; I'll let him know I had
already told the professor."

Two or three days later Malling heard of the professor having been at a
party in Piccadilly at which Lady Sophia was a guest.

"And do you know, really,"--Malling's informant, a lively married woman,
concluded,--"those old scientific men are quite as bad as any of the boys
who only want to have a good time. The professor sat in Lady Sophia's
pocket the whole evening! Literally in her pocket!"

"I didn't know modern women had pockets," returned Malling.

"They don't, of course; but you know what I mean."

Malling understood that the professor was beginning his "approach."

A week went by, and at a man's dinner, Malling chanced to sit next to
Blandford Sikes, one of the most noted physicians of the day. In the
course of conversation the doctor remarked:

"Is your friend Stepton going to set up in Harley Street?"

"Not that I know of," said Malling. "What makes you ask?"

"He came to consult me the other day, and when I told him he was as sound
as Big Ben he sat with me for over half an hour pumping me unmercifully
on the subject of nervous dyspepsia. The patient who followed, and who
happened to be a clergyman, looked fairly sick when he was let in at
last."

Who happened to be a clergyman! Malling had longed to ask Blandford
Sikes a question--who that clergyman was. But he refrained. To do so,
would doubtless have seemed oddly inquisitive. It was surely enough for
him to know that the professor was busily at work in his peculiar way.
And Malling thought again of that "approach." Evidently the professor
must be describing the curve he had spoken of. When would he arrive at
Henry Chichester? There were moments when Malling felt irritated by
Stepton's silence. That it was emulated by Marcus Harding, Lady Sophia,
and Henry Chichester did not make matters easier for him. However, he
had deliberately chosen to put this strange affair into Stepton's hands.
Stepton had shown no special alacrity with regard to the matter. Malling
felt that he could do nothing now but wait.

He waited.

Now and then rumors reached him of Marcus Harding's fading powers, now
and then he heard people discussing one of Henry Chichester's "remarkable
sermons," now and then in society some feminine gossip murmuring that
"Sophia Harding seems to be perfectly sick of that husband of hers. She
probably wishes now that she had taken all her people's advice and
refused him. Of course if he had been made a _bishop_!"

The season ended. Goodwood was over, and Malling went off to Munich and
Bayreuth for music. Then he made a walking-tour with friends in the
Oberammergau district, and returned to England only when the ruddy
banners of autumn were streaming over the land.

Still there was no communication from the professor. Malling might of
course have written to him or sought him. He preferred to possess his
soul in patience. Stepton was an arbitrary personage, and the last man
in the world to consent to a process of pumping.

Meanwhile Stepton had forgotten all about Malling. He was full of work
of various kinds, but the work that most interested him was connected
with the reverend gentlemen of St. Joseph's. As Malling surmised, he had
lost little time in beginning his "approach," and that approach had been
rather circuitous. He had taken his own advice and studied the link.
This done, the intricate and fascinating subject of nervous dyspepsia
had claimed his undivided attention. When he had finished his prolonged
interview with Blandford Sikes, sidling back to the waiting-room to
gather up various impedimenta, he had encountered the unfortunate
clergyman whom he had kept waiting. Marcus Harding was the man. They
exchanged only a couple of words, but the sight of the flaccid bulk,
the hanging cheeks and hands, the eyes in which dwelt a sort of faded
despair, whipped up into keen alertness every faculty of the professor's
mind. As he walked into Cavendish Square he muttered to himself:

"I never saw a clergyman look more promising for investigation, by Jove!
Never! There's something in it. Malling was not entirely wrong. There's
certainly something in it."

But what? Now for Henry Chichester!

Stepton was by nature unemotional, but he was an implicit believer in
the hysteria of others, and he thought clergymen, as a class, more liable
to that malady than other classes of men. Curates, being as a rule young
clergymen, were, in his view, specially subject to the inroads of the
cloudy complaint, which causes the mind to see mountains where only
mole-hills exist, and to appreciate anything more readily and accurately
than the naked truth. Henry Chichester was young and he was a curate.
He was therefore likely to be emotional and to be attracted by the
mysterious, more especially since he had recently been knocking on
its door, according to Malling's statement.

After a good deal of thought, the professor resolved to cast aside
convention, and to make Chichester's acquaintance without any
introduction; indeed, with the maximum of informality.

He learned something about Chichester's habits, and managed to meet him
several times when he was walking from the daily service at St. Joseph's
to his rooms in Hornton Street. In this walk Chichester passed the South
Kensington Museum. What more natural than that the professor should
chance to be coming out of it?

The first time they met, Stepton looked at the curate casually, the
second time more sharply, the third time with scrutiny. He knew how to
make a crescendo. The curate noticed it, as of course the professor
intended. He did not know who Stepton was, but he began to wonder about
this birdlike, sharp-looking man, who evidently took an interest in him.
And presently his wonder changed into suspicion. This again accorded with
the professor's intention.

One day, after the even-song at St. Joseph's, Stepton saw flit across
the face of the curate, whom he was meeting, a flicker of something
like fear. The two men passed each other, and immediately, like one
irresistibly compelled, the professor looked back. As he did so,
Chichester also turned round to spy upon this unknown. Encountering
the gaze of the professor, he started, flushed scarlet, and pursued his
way, walking with a quickened step.

The professor went homeward, chuckling.

"To-day's Tuesday," he thought. "By Saturday, at latest, he'll have
spoken to me. He'll have to speak to me to relieve the tension of his
nerve-ganglions."

Chichester did not wait till Saturday. On Friday afternoon, coming
suddenly upon Stepton at a corner, he stopped abruptly, and said:

"May I ask if you want anything of me?"

"Sir!" barked Stepton. "Mr. Chichester!"

"You know my name?" said the curate.

"And probably you know mine--Professor Stepton."

A relief that was evidently intense dawned in the curate's face.

"You are Professor Stepton! You are Mr. Malling's friend!"

"Exactly. Good day."

And the professor marched on.

Chichester did not follow, but the next day, on the pavement not far from
the museum, he stopped once more in front of the professor with a "Good
afternoon."

"Good day," said Stepton.

"Since you know who I am," began the curate, "and I have heard so much of
you, I hope you will forgive me for asking you something."

"Certainly."

"What is it in me which has attracted your attention?"

"I wish I knew," returned the professor.

"You wish you knew! Do you mean that you don't know?"

"I don't know at all."

"But--but--you--I was not wrong in feeling sure that you were--that
something in me had aroused your attention?"

"Not wrong at all; but 'something' is not the word."

"What is the word?"

"Everything. Everything in you rouses my attention, Mr. Chichester. But
I can't think why."

"Did you know I was Mr. Harding's curate the first time you met me?"

"Yes; I had seen you at St. Joseph's once or twice when I came to hear
your rector preach. You didn't interest me at all then, I'm bound to
say."

Chichester stood in silence for a minute. Then he said:

"I might walk a little way back with you, if you have no objection."

Stepton jerked his head in assent. And so the acquaintance of these two
men was begun. Their first conversation was a delight to the professor.
After a short silence the curate said:

"I could not help seeing each time we have met how your attention was
fastened upon me."

"Just so," rejoined Stepton, making no apology.

"And I really think," continued Chichester, with a sort of pressure--"I
really think I am entitled to ask for some explanation of the matter."

"Certainly you are."

"Well?" He paused, then said again, "Well, Professor Stepton?"

"I'm afraid I've nothing to tell you, I like to stick to facts."

"I only ask you for facts."

"The facts amount to very little. Coming from the museum I ran across
a man. You were the man. My attention was riveted at once. I said to
myself, 'I must see that man again.' Next day I took my chance. I had
luck. You were there at pretty much the same hour."

"I always come from St. Joseph's--"

"Exactly. And so it's happened on several days. And that's all I have to
tell you."

"But surely you can indicate why--"

"No, I can't. All I can say is that for some reason, quite inexplicable
by me, if I had come upon you in a crowd of a thousand, I should have had
to attend to you."

"That's very strange," said Chichester, in a low voice; "very strange
indeed."

"There's a reason for it, of course. There's a reason for everything, but
very often it isn't found." At this point the professor thrust his head
toward Chichester, and added, "you can't tell me the reason, I suppose?"

Chichester looked much startled and taken aback.

"I--oh, no!"

"Then we must get along in the dark and make the best of it."

Having said this, the professor abruptly dismissed the subject and began
to talk of other things. When he chose he could be almost charming.
He chose on this occasion. And when at last he hailed a bus, declaring
that he was due at home, Chichester expressed a hope that some day
he would find himself in Hornton Street, and visit number 4a.

The professor assented, and was carried westward.

Several days passed, but he did not find himself near Horton Street, and
he had ceased to visit the South Kensington Museum. Then the curate
wrote and invited him to tea. Despite a pretence at indifference in the
phraseology of the note, the professor discovered a deep anxiety in the
writing. Among other things he had studied, and minutely, graphology.

He sat down and very politely refused the invitation.

Then Chichester came to call on him, and caught him at home.

It was six o'clock in the evening, and the heavens were opened. Agnes,
the Scotch parlor-maid who claimed to have second sight, opened the door
to Chichester, who, speaking from beneath a dripping umbrella, inquired
for the professor.

"He's in, sir, but he's busy."

"Could you take him my card?"

Agnes took it, much to her own surprise, and carried it to the
professor's study.

"A gentleman, sir."

"I told you, Agnes--"

"I couldn't say no to him, sir."

"Why not? Here!" he took the card.

"Why not?" he repeated, when he had read the name.

"It wasn't in me to, sir."

"Well, then I shall have to see him. Show him up. But never again will
I call you by the proud name of Cerberus."

So, putting the onus upon Agnes, the professor yielded, murmuring to
himself:

"It wasn't in her to! Very expressive! And Cerberus, by the way, was
always ready to let 'em in. It was when they wanted to get out that--Good
evening. I hope you don't mind climbing."

"Thank you, no," said Chichester.

"Sit down."

"I am afraid I disturb you."

"I'm bound to say you do. But what does it matter?"

"As you didn't find your way to Hornton Street, I thought I would
venture."

"Very good of you. This is a soft chair."

Chichester sat down. It had been evident to Stepton from the moment
when his visitor came in that he was in great agony of mind. There was
in his face a sort of still and abject misery which Stepton thought
exceedingly promising. As he turned round, leaning his sharp elbow on
his writing-table, Stepton was considering how to exploit this misery
for the furthering of his purpose.

"I want you to tell me something," Chichester began. "I want to know
why your attention was first attracted to me. I feel sure that you must
be able to give a reason. What is it?"

"Well, now, I wish I could," returned Stepton.

To himself he gave the swift admonition, "Play for hysteria, and see what
comes of it."

"I wish I could; but it's a mystery to me. But now--let's see."

He knitted his heavy brows.

"A long while ago I picked a man out, met him in a crowd, at the Crystal
Palace, followed him about, couldn't get away from him. That same evening
he was killed on the underground. I read of it in the paper, went to see
the body, and there was my man."

"Do you claim to have some special faculty?" asked Chichester.

"Oh, dear, no. Besides, you haven't been killed on the underground--yet."

A curious expression that seemed mingled of disappointment and of
contempt passed across Chichester's face. Stepton saw it and told
himself, "No hysteria."

"Possibly the reason may be a more intellectual one," observed the
professor. "I hear you have been preaching some very remarkable sermons.
I haven't heard them. Still, others who have may have 'suggestioned' me.
Three quarters of any man's fame, you know, are due to mere suggestion."

"You're not the man to be the prey of that, I fancy--not the easy prey,
at any rate."

"Then we're left again with no explanation at all, unless, as I believe
I hinted once before, you can give us one."

Chichester looked down; without raising his eyes he presently said in a
constrained voice:

"If I were to give you one you might not accept it."

"Probably not," said Stepton, briskly. "In my life I've been offered a
great many explanations, and I'm bound to say I've accepted remarkably
few."

Chichester looked up quickly, and with the air of a man nettled.

"You'll forgive me, I hope, for saying that you scientific men very often
seem to have a great contempt for those who are more mystically minded,"
he observed.

"I've hit the line!" thought Stepton, with a touch of exultation, as he
dropped out a negligent, "Forgive you--of course."

"I dare say it seems to you extraordinary that any man should be able
to be a clergyman, genuinely believing what he professes and what he
preaches."

"Very few things seem to me extraordinary."

"Perhaps because you are skeptical of so much in which others believe."

"That may be it. Quite likely."

"And yet isn't there a saying of Newton's, 'A little science sends man
far away from God, a great deal of science brings man back to God?'
You'll forgive the apparent rudeness. All I mean is--"

"That the sooner I try to get more science the better for me," snapped
out Stepton, brusquely interrupting his visitor, but without heat.
"Let me tell you that I pass the greater part of my time in that very
effort--to acquire more exact knowledge than I possess. Well--now then!
Now then!"

Turning round still more toward the curate he looked almost as if he were
about to "square up" to him. A dry aggressiveness informed him, and his
voice had a rasping timbre as he continued:

"But I decline to take leaps in the dark like--" Here he mentioned a
well-known man of science--"and I decline to reject evidence like--" Here
he named a professor even more famous.

The mention of the last name evidently excited Chichester's curiosity.

"What evidence has he rejected?" he exclaimed.

"Last week he held a sitting to examine the pretensions of Mrs. Groeber,
the German medium. Westcott was also present, a man on whose word the
very devil--if there is such a person, which I don't yet know--would
rely. Some apparently remarkable phenomena occurred.--" Here he mentioned
the professor--"was convinced that they could only have been brought
about by supernormal means. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Westcott had
seen the trickery which produced them. When the seance was over he
explained what it was to ----. What did this _so-called_ man of science
do? Refused to accept Westcott's evidence, clung to his own ridiculous
belief,--savage's fetish belief, nothing more,--and will include the
Groeber manifestations as evidence of supernormal powers in his next
volume. And I say, I say"--he raised his forefinger--"that clergymen are
doing much the same thing pretty nearly every day of their lives. Seek
for truth quietly, inexorably, and you may get it; but don't prod men
into falsehood, or try to, as you've been trying to in this very room."

"I!" cried out Chichester.

"You. I told you I had no reason to give you as to why you attracted my
attention in the street. Were you satisfied with that? Not at all. You
must needs come here,--very glad to see you!--and say, 'I feel sure you
must be able to give me a reason. What is it?' You clamor for a lie.
And that's what men are perpetually doing--clamoring for lies. And they
get 'em, from clergymen, from mediums, from so-called scientific men,
and from the dear delightful politicians. There now!"

And the professor dropped his forefinger and flung himself back in his
chair.

"And"--Chichester in his turn leaned forward, but he spoke with some
hesitation--"and suppose I were to tell you a truth, a strange, an
amazing truth?"

He paused.

"Go on!" said the professor.

"Wouldn't you do just the opposite? You say men accept lies. I say you
would probably reject truth."

"_Cela depend_. What you believed to be truth might not be truth at
all. It might be hysteria, it might be nervous dyspepsia, it might be
overwork, it might be a dozen things."

"Just what I say," exclaimed Chichester. "Men of science delight in
nothing so much as in finding excuses for rejecting the greatest truths."

"Do you mean the greatest truths in the possession of Anglican
clergymen?"

"I dare say you think it impossible that a clergyman should know more
than a scientific man?"

"Oh, no. But he's out for faith, and I happen to be out for facts. I like
hard facts that can be set down with a fountain-pen in my note-book, and
that, taken together, are convincing to all men of reasonable intellect.
Very dull, no doubt; but there you have it. Clergymen, as a rule, move in
what are called lofty regions--the realms of heart, conscience, and what
not. Now, I'm very fond of the region of gray matter--gray matter."

"And yet you are one of the chief of the investigators in the field of
psychical research."

"Do you think there's no room for pencil and note-book there? What about
Podmore,--there's a loss!--and a dozen others? Psychic matters have got
to be lifted out of the hands of credulous fetish-worshiping fools, and
the sooner the better."

"It's easy to call people credulous," said Chichester, with decided heat.
"By being so readily contemptuous, Professor Stepton, you may often keep
back evidence that might be of inestimable value to your cause. A man in
possession of a great truth may keep it to himself for fear of being
laughed at or called a liar."

"Then all I can say is that he's a coward--an arrant abject coward."

Chichester sat in silence. Again he was looking down. Now that his eyes
were hidden by their drooping lids, and that he was no longer speaking,
the sadness of his aspect seemed more profound. It dignified his rather
insignificant features. It even seemed, in some mysterious way, to infuse
power into his slight and unimportant figure. After sitting thus for
perhaps three minutes he raised his head and got up from his chair.

"I must not take up your time any longer," he said. "It was very good of
you to see me at all." He held out his hand, which Stepton took, and
added, "I'll just say one thing."

"Do!"

"It isn't always cowardice which causes a man to keep a secret--a secret
which might be of value to the world."

"I never said it was."

"No; but still--you spoke just now of my sermons. I preached one not very
long ago which I have typed myself. If I send it to you do you think you
could find time to read it?"

"Certainly."

"I will send it, then. Good night."

"I'll come down with you."

The professor let Chichester out. The rain was still falling in torrents.
Shrouded in his mackintosh, protected by his umbrella, the curate walked
away. Looking after him, Stepton thought:

"Very odd! It isn't only in the face. Even the figure, all covered up and
umbrella-roofed, seems to have something--he'll send me the sermon of the
man and his double to-morrow."

And on the morrow that sermon came by the first post. Having read it, the
professor promptly returned it to Chichester with the following note:

_The White House, Westminster.

Dear Mr. Chichester:_

Very glad to have had the opportunity of reading your interesting
discourse. If I had not known it was yours, and a sermon, I should have
said "a posthumous work of Robert Louis Stevenson." It does credit to
your imagination. If you care to publish, I should suggest "The
Cornhill." I know nothing about their terms.

Yours faithfully,

_G.R.E. Stepton._

By return of post, there came an urgent invitation to the professor to
visit Chichester's rooms in Hornton Street, "to continue a discussion
which has a special interest for me at this moment."

"Discussion!" thought Stepton, sitting down to accept, "What my man wants
is for me to goad him into revelation; and I'll do it."

The professor knew enough of psychology to be aware that in the very
depths of the human heart there is a desire which may perhaps be called
socialistic--the desire to share truth with one's fellow-men. Chichester
was scourged by this desire. But whether what he wished to share was
truth, or only what he believed to be truth, was the question. Anyhow,
Stepton was determined to make him speak. And he set off to Hornton
Street little doubting that he would find means to carry his
determination into effect.

He arrived about half-past five. He did not turn the corner into
Kensington High Street on his homeward way until darkness had fallen,
having passed through some of the most extraordinary moments that had
ever been his.

When he was shown into the curate's sitting-room, his first remark was:

"Sent that very interesting story to 'The Cornhill' yet?"

"I don't think you quite understand, Professor," replied Chichester.
"I did not type it with a view to sending it in anywhere for publication.
You'll have tea with me, I hope? Here it is, all ready."

"Thank you."

"Oh, Ellen!"

Chichester went to the door, and Stepton heard the words, "Nobody, you
understand," following on a subdued murmuring.

"And Mr. Harding, sir?" said the maid's voice outside.

"Mr. Harding won't come to-day. That will do, Ellen."

The professor heard steps descending. His host shut the door and
returned.

"You typed it for your own use?" said Stepton.

"That sermon? Yes. I wished to keep it by me as a record."

He sat down, and poured out the tea.

"A record of an imagined experience. Exactly. Then why not publish?"

"It is not fiction."

"Well, it isn't fact."

The professor drank his tea, looking at his host narrowly over the cup.

"Do you say such an experience as that described in my sermon is
impossible?"

"Do you say it is possible?"

"If I were to say so would you believe me?"

"Certainly not, unless I could make an investigation and personally
satisfy myself that what you said was true. You wouldn't expect anything
else, I'm sure."

"You can believe nothing on the mere word of another?"

"Very little. I am an investigator. I look for proof."

"With your pencil in one hand, your note-book in the other."

In Chichester's last remark there was a note of sarcasm which thoroughly
roused Stepton, for it sounded like the sarcasm of knowledge addressed
to ignorance. Stepton had a temper. This touch of superiority, not
vulgar, but very definite, fell on it like a lash.

"Now I'll go for the reverend gentleman of St. Joseph's!" he thought.

And for a moment he forgot his aim in remembering himself. Afterward,
in thinking matters over, he offered a pinch of incense at the altar
of his egoism.

"So, the modern clergyman still believes in slip-slop, does he?" he
exclaimed in his most aggressive manner. "Even now hasn't he learnt the
value of the matter-of-fact? The clergyman is the doctor of the soul,
isn't he? And the doctor, isn't he the clergyman of the body? I wonder,
I do wonder, how long the average doctor would keep together his practice
if he worked with no more precision than the average clergyman. The
contempt of the pencil and note-book! The contempt of proper care in
getting together and coordinating facts! The contempt of proof--the
appeal to reason! And so we get to the contempt of reason. And let me
tell you--" he struck the tea-table with his lean hand till the curate's
cups jumped--"that scarcely ever have I heard a sermon in which was not
to be found somewhere the preacher's contempt for reason, the bread of
the intellect of man."

"The soul is not the intellect."

"Don't you think it higher?"

"I do."

"And so you put it on slops!"

The professor got up from his chair, and began to sidle up and down the
small room.

"You put it on slops, as if it were a thing with a disordered stomach.
That's your way of showing it respect. You approach the shrine with an
offering of water gruel. Now look ye here!"--The professor paused beside
the tea-table--"The soul wants its bread, depends upon it, as much as
the body, and the church that is free with the loaves is the church to
get a real hold on real men. Flummery is no good to anybody. Rhetoric's
no good to anybody. Claptrap and slipslop only make heads swim and
stomachs turn. The pencil and note-book, observation and the taking down
of it, these bring knowledge to the doors of men. And when you sneer at
them, you sneer at bread, on the eating of which--or its equivalent,
basis-nourishment--life depends."

"I wonder whether you, and such as you, really know on what the true life
of the soul depends," said Chichester, with an almost dreadful quietness.

The professor sat down again.

"Such as I?" he said. "You are good enough to do me the honor of putting
me in a class?"

"As you have so far honored me," returned Chichester.

"Ha!" ejaculated Stepton.

He had quite got the better of his egoism, but he by no means regretted
his outburst.

"Do you claim to stand outside the ranks of the clergy?" he asked.

"Do you claim to stand outside the ranks of the scientists?"

"Oh, dear, no. And now--you?"

Chichester said nothing for a moment. Then, lifting up his head, and
gazing at the professor with a sort of sternness of determination, he
said:

"Remember this! You yourself told me that in a crowd of a thousand you
must have fixed your attention on me."

For a moment the professor had it in his mind to say that this statement
of his had been a lie invented to make an impression on Chichester. But
he resisted the temptation to score--and lose. He preferred not to score,
and to win, if possible.

"I did," he said.

"Could this be so if I were like other men, other clergymen?"

"Well, then, what is the mighty difference between you and your reverend
brethren--between you, let us say, and your rector, Mr. Harding?"

Very casually and jerkily the professor threw out this question.

Not casually did Chichester receive it. He moved almost like a man who
had been unexpectedly struck, then seemed to recover himself, and to
nerve himself for some ordeal. Leaning forward, and holding the edge of
the table with one hand, he said:

"How well do you know Mr. Harding?"

"Pretty well. Not intimately."

"You have seen him since he--altered?"

"I saw him only the other day when I was at a specialist's in Harley
Street."

"A specialist's?"

"For nervous dyspepsia."

Again the look of contempt flickered over Chichester's face.

"Do you think the alteration in Mr. Harding may be due to nervous
dyspepsia?"

"Probably. There are few maladies that so sap the self-confidence of a
man."

Chichester laughed.

For the first time since he had entered the little room the professor
felt a cold sensation of creeping uneasiness.

"Apparently you don't agree with me," he said.

"I am not a doctor, and I know very little about that matter."

"Then I'm bound to say I don't know what you find to laugh at."

"For a man who has spent so much time in psychical research you seem to
have a rather material outlook upon--"

"Mr. Harding?"

"And all that he represents."

"Suppose we stick to Mr. Harding," said the professor, grittily. "He is
typical enough, even if you are not."

"In what respect do you consider Mr. Harding typical?"

"I am speaking of the Harding before the fall into the abysses of nervous
dyspepsia."

"Very well. In what respects was Mr. Harding typical?"

"In the sublime self-confidence with which he proclaimed as facts, things
that have never been proved to be facts."

"Do men want facts?" said Chichester, almost as one speaking alone to
himself.

"I do. I want nothing else. Possibly Mr.
Harding had none to give me. I don't blame
him."

"Perhaps it is a greater thing to give men faith than to give them
facts."

"Give them the first by giving them the second, if you can! And that,
by the way, is the last thing the average clergyman is able to do."

Chichester sat silent for nearly a minute looking at the professor with a
strange expression, almost fiery, yet meditative, as if he were trying to
appraise him, were weighing him in a balance.

"Professor," he said at last, "I suppose your passion for facts has led
men to put a great deal of faith in you. Hasn't it?"

"I dare say my word carries some weight. I really don't know," responded
Stepton, with an odd hint of something like modesty.

"I had thought of Malling first," almost murmured Chichester.

"What's that about Malling?"

"I think he would have accepted what I have to give more readily than you
would. There seems to me something in him which stretches out arms toward
those things in which mystics believe. In you there seems to me something
which would almost rather repel such things."

"I beg your pardon. I am quiescent. I neither seek to summon nor to
repel."

"I couldn't tell Malling," said Chichester. "His readiness stopped me. It
struck me like a blow."

"Malling prides himself on being severely neutral in mind."

"And you on being skeptical?"

"I await facts."

"Shall I give you some strange facts, the strangest perhaps you have ever
met with?"

Stepton smiled dryly.

"You'll forgive me, but some such remark has been the prelude to so many
figments."

"Figments?"

"Of the imagination."

An expression of anger--almost like a noble anger it seemed--transformed
Chichester's face. It was as a fine wrath which looked down from a
height, and in an instant it melted into pity.

"How much you must have missed because of your skepticism!" he said. "But
I shall not let it affect me. You are a man of note-book and pencil. Will
you promise me one thing? Will you give me your word not to share what I
shall tell you with any one, unless, later on, I am willing that you
should?"

"Oh, dear, yes!" said the professor.

And again he smiled. For even now he believed the curate to be wavering,
swayed by conflicting emotions, and felt sure that a flick of the whip
to his egoism would be likely to hasten the coming of what he, the
professor, wanted.

A loud call rose up from the street. A wandering vender of something
was crying his ware. In his voice was a sound of fierce melancholy.
Chichester went to the window and shut it down.

"I wish it was night," he said as he turned.

The professor jerked out his watch.

"It must be getting late," he observed. "Past six! by Jove!"

He made an abrupt movement.

"What?" said Chichester. "You are going!"

He came up to the table.

"Sometimes I think," he said, "that men hate and dread nothing as they
hate and dread facts which may upset the theories they cherish."

"You're perfectly right. Well, very glad to have seen you in your
own room." The professor got up. "By their rooms shall ye know them."
He glanced round.

"Ah, I see you have Rossetti's delightfully anemic Madonna, and Holman
Hunt's 'Light of the World.' A day or two ago I was talking to a lady
who pronounced that--" he extended his finger toward the Hunt--"the
greatest work of art produced in the last hundred years. Her reason?
Its comforting quality. I am sure you agree with her. Good-by."

He made a sidling movement toward the door. Perhaps it was that movement
which finally decided the curate to speak.

"Professor," he said, "I don't want you to go yet."

"Why not?" jerked out Stepton, with one hand on the door-knob.

"You collect 'cases.' I have a case for you. You are a skeptic: you say
men should be brought to faith by facts. Sit down. I will give you some
facts."

The professor came slowly back, looking dry and cold, and sat down by the
table, facing the Rossetti Madonna.

"Always ready for facts," he said.




XI


"You have heard of doubles, of course, Professor?" said Chichester,
leaning his arms on the table and putting his hands one against the
other, as if making a physical effort to be very calm.

"Of course. There was an account of one in that sermon of yours."

"Have you ever seen a double?"

"No; not to my knowledge."

"I suppose you disbelieve in them?"

"I have no reason to believe in them. I have not collected enough
evidence to convince me that there are such manifestations."

"You know a double at this moment."

"Do I, indeed? And may I ask the manifestation's name?"

"Marcus Harding."

"Marcus Harding is a double, you say. Whose?"

"Mine," said Chichester in a low voice.

He clasped and unclasped his hands.

"I don't understand you," said Stepton, rather disdainfully.

"I will try to make you." And Chichester began to speak, at first in a
low, level voice. "That sermon of mine," he said, "was a sort of shadow
of a truth that I wanted to reveal,--that I dared not fully reveal.
Already I had tried to tell Evelyn Malling something of it. I had failed.
When the moment came, when Malling was actually before me, I could not
speak out. His mind was trying to track the truth that was in me. He
got, as it were, upon the trail. Once he even struck into the truth. Then
he went away to Marcus Harding. I remained in London. When I knew that
those two were together I felt a sort of jealous fear of Malling. For
there was pity in him. Despite his intense curiosity he had a capacity
for pity. I realized that it might possibly interfere with--with
something that I was doing. And I recalled Marcus Harding to London.
From that moment I have avoided Malling. I could never tell him. But you,
hard searcher after truth as you are--you could never find it in you to
drag away another from the contemplation of truth. Could you? Could you?"

"Probably not," said Stepton. "I usually let folks alone even when
they're glaring at falsehood. Ha!"

He settled himself in his chair, looking sidewise toward Chichester.

"You, like every one else, have noticed the tremendous change in Marcus
Harding," Chichester went on. "That change, the whole of that change, is
solely owing to me."

"Very glad to have your explanation of that."

"I am going to give it you. The beginning of that change came about
through the action of Marcus Harding. He wished for facts that are,
perhaps,--indeed, probably,--withheld deliberately from the cognizance
of man. You have sneered at those who live by faith, you have sneered at
priests. Well, you can let that Marcus Harding go free of your sarcasm.
Although a clergyman he was not a faithful man. And he wanted facts to
convince him that there was a life beyond the grave. Henry Chichester--"

"You! You!" interjected Stepton, harshly.

"I, then, came into his life. He thought he would use me to further his
purpose. He constrained me to sittings such as you have often taken part
in, with a view to sending me into a trance and employing me, when in
that condition, as a means of communication with the other world--if
there was one. We sat secretly in this room, at this table."

"You need not give me ordinary details of your sittings," said the
professor. "I am familiar with them, of course."

"Henry Chichester--"

"You! You! Don't complicate matters!"

"I never was entranced; but presently I felt myself changing subtly."

"People very often imagine they are developing into something wonderful
at seances. Nothing new in that."

"Please try to realize the facts of my case without assuming that it
resembles a thousand others. I believe, I feel sure, that it resembles no
other case that has come under your observation. To grasp it you must
grasp the characters of two men, Marcus Harding as he was--and myself,
as I was."

"Put them before me, then."

"That Marcus Harding you knew. He was the type of the man who, sublimely
self-confident, imposes his view of himself upon other men and especially
upon women. He had strength--strength of body and strength of mind. And
he had the strength which a devouring ambition sheds through a man. A
fine type of the worldly clergyman he was, of the ardent climber up
the ladder of preferment. To him the church was a career, and he meant
to succeed in it. If he had to begin as a curate he meant to end as a
bishop, perhaps as an archbishop. And he had will to help him, and
vitality to help him, and the sort of talent that brings quick notice
on a man. And he had also a woman to help him, his wife, Lady Sophia.
He chose well when he chose her for his helpmate, though he may not think
so now. He should have been content with what he had. But he wanted more,
and he thought he might perhaps get what he wanted through me. Marcus
Harding was a full-blooded type of the clerical autocrat. I once was an
equally complete type of the clerical slave--slave to conscience, slave
to humble-mindedness, slave to my rector as soon as I knew him.

"St. Francis of Assisi was the character I worshiped. I strove after
simple goodness. I desired no glories of this world, no praises of men.
I did not wish to be clever or to shine, but only to do my duty to my
fellow-men, and so toward God. When I was first to make the acquaintance
of Marcus Harding, with a view to becoming his senior curate if he
thought fit, I felt some alarm. I had heard so much of his great energy
and his remarkable talents. The day came. I paid my visit to Onslow
Gardens. For the first time I saw--" Chichester paused. His face became
distorted. He turned toward the window as if anxious to hide his face
from the professor's small, keen eyes. "I saw--that man," he continued,
in a withdrawn and husky voice, and still looking away.

Stepton sat motionless and silent, sidewise, with his arms hanging.

Chichester, after another long pause, again faced him.

"My very first impression was unfavorable. I attributed this to his
great size, which had startled me. I now know I was wrong in thinking
I took that impression from the outer man. It was the inner man who in
that moment announced himself to me. But almost instantly he had surely
withdrawn himself very far away, and I, then, had no means of following
him. So he escaped from me, and I fell under the influence that Marcus
Harding was able to exert at will.

"I was dominated. Buoyancy, life, energy, self-confidence, radiated from
that man. He steeped me in his vigor. He seemed kind, cordial. He won my
heart. My intellect, of course, was dazzled. But--he won my heart. And I
felt not only, 'Here is a man far greater than myself to whom I can look
up,' but also, 'Here is a man to whom I must look up, because he is far
better than myself.' At that interview it was settled that I should
become senior curate at St. Joseph's.

"As you know, I became, and still am, senior curate. As I grew to know
Marcus Harding better I admired him more. In fact, my feeling for him
was something greater than admiration. I almost worshiped him. His will
was law to me in everything. His slightest wish I regarded as a behest.
His talents amazed me. But I thought him not only the cleverest, but the
best of men. It seemed to me right that such a man should be autocratic.
A beneficent autocracy became my ideal of government. That my rector's
will should be law to his wife, his servants, his curates, his organist,
his choir, to those attached to his schools, to those who benefited by
the charities he organized, seemed to me more than right and proper. I
could have wished to see it law to all the world. If any one ventured
to question any decision of his, or to speak a word against him, I felt
almost hot with anger. In a word, I was at his feet, as the small and
humble-minded man often is at the feet of the man who has talents and
who is gifted with ambition and supreme self-confidence.

"For a long time this condition of things continued, and I was happy in
it. Probably it might have continued till now, if--if that accursed idea
had not come to Marcus Harding."

Again Chichester paused. In speaking he had evidently become gradually
less aware of his companion's presence and personality. His subject
had gripped him. Memory had grown warm within him. He lived in the days
that were past.

"That accursed idea," he repeated slowly, "to use me as his tool in an
endeavor to break down the barrier which divides men from the other
world.

"As I told you, we began to sit secretly. Marcus Harding wished me to
fall into the entranced condition. I did not know this at first, so at
first I did not consciously resist his desire. He had told me a lie. He
had told me that he desired only one thing in our sittings, to give to
me something of the will power that made him a force in the world. He had
declared that this was possible. I believed him unquestioningly. I
thought he was trying to send some of his power into me. Soon I felt that
he was succeeding in this supposed endeavor. Soon I felt that a strange
new power was filtering into me."

Chichester fixed his eyes on Stepton as he said the last words, and
seemed to emerge from his former condition of self-absorption.

"You have sat often. Have you ever felt such a sensation? It is like
growth," he said.

"When one first begins to sit at seances, one is apt to imagine all sorts
of things in the darkness," returned Stepton. "I dare say I did, like
other folk."

"I understand," said Chichester, with a sort of strange condescension.
"You think I was merely the victim of absurdity. The sense of this coming
of power grew slowly, but steadily, within me. And presently it was
complicated by another development, which involved--or began to involve,
let me say at this point--my companion, Marcus Harding. I think I ought
to tell you that in beginning the sittings I had had certain doubts,
which were swept away by my admiration of, and faith in, my rector.
Hitherto I had always thought that our human knowledge was deliberately
limited by God, and that it was very wrong to strive to know too much.
The man of science no doubt believes that it is impossible to know too
much; but I have thought that many great truths are kept from us because
we are not yet in a condition properly to understand them. I had,
therefore, begun these practices with a certain tremor, and possibly a
certain feeling of resistance, in the depths of my soul. As I felt the
power coming to me I had put away my fears. They did not return. Yet
surely the new development within me, of which I now became aware, was
connected with those fears, however subtly. It was a sensation almost of
hostility directed against Marcus Harding."

"Ah, now!" ejaculated the professor, as if in despite of himself. "And
where's the connection you speak of?"

"Marcus Harding had constrained me to do a thing that in my soul I had
believed to be wrong and that had roused my fear. As power dawned in me,
directing itself upon everything about me, it was instinctively hostile
to him who had dominated me before I had any power, and who, by
dominating me, had for a moment made me afraid."

"Retrospective enmity! Very well!" muttered the professor. "I understand
you. Keep on!"

"This hostility--if I may call a feeling at first not very definite by
so definite a name--induced in me a critical attitude of mind. I found
myself, to my surprise, secretly criticizing the man whom till now I had
regarded as altogether beyond the reach of criticism. I felt that Marcus
Harding was giving me power. I was grateful to him for doing so; yet I
began to see him in a new, and at moments an unpleasant light. Presently,
after trying in vain to combat this novel sensation, which seemed to me
almost treacherous, almost disloyal, I sought about for a reason, to give
myself at least some justification for it. I sought, and one night it
seemed to me that I found.

"On that night I was more than ever aware that strength of some kind was
pouring into me. I had an almost heady sensation, such as one who drinks
a generous wine may experience. When we rose from the table I told my
rector so. He stared at me very strangely. Then he said: 'Good! Good!
Didn't I tell you I would give you some of my power?' He paused. Then he
added: 'It will come! It must come!' As he spoke the last words he
frowned, and all his face seemed to harden, as if he were making a
violent mental effort to which the body was obliged to respond. And at
that instant I was aware that the reason Marcus Harding had given to me
to persuade me to these sittings was not the true one, that his purpose
was quite other than that which I had hitherto supposed it to be. I was
suddenly aware of this, and I thought: 'I must already have been aware of
it subconsciously, and that accounts for my sensation of hostility toward
the rector.' A lie had been told to me. My new self-confidence resented
this; and I said to myself, 'If Marcus Harding can tell a lie to me, who
almost worshiped him, he must be an arrant hypocrite.'

"We sat again, and again I knew that there was something in the mind
of my companion which he concealed from me, something to which I should
strongly object if I knew what it was, something which troubled the
atmosphere, the mental atmosphere, of the sitting. Instead of being
in accord, we were engaged in a silent, but violent, struggle. I was
determined not to be overcome. A sort of fierce desire for tyranny
sprang up in me. I longed to see Marcus Harding at my feet.

"Again and again we sat. My hostile feeling grew. My critical feeling
grew. My longing to tyrannize increased, till I was almost afraid of it,
so cruel did I feel it to be. 'Down! Down under my feet!' That was what
my soul was secretly saying now to the man whose will had been as law to
me. And one night, as if he heard that ugly voice of my soul, he abruptly
got up from the table and said: 'It seems to me that you and I are not
_en rapport_. It seems to me that no more good can come of these
sittings. We had better not sit again."

"We must sit again," I replied.

"Marcus Harding turned scarlet with anger. He looked at me. He opened his
lips to speak. I let him speak. I even argued the question with him. I
pointed out to him that his only design--the only design acknowledged by
him, at any rate, in beginning these practices--had been to give me
strength such as, he had declared to me, he himself had drawn while at
Oxford from a Hindu comrade. In carrying out this design, I now told him,
he was being successful. I felt that I was growing in power of will, in
self-confidence. How, then, could he refuse to continue when success was
already in sight? 'Unless,' I concluded, 'you had some other design in
persuading me to sit, which I did in the first instance against my
secret desire, and you feel that there is now no probability of carrying
that design into effect.'

"He gave in. I had him beaten. Hastily he muttered a good-night and left
me. I let him out into the night. As soon as the street door had shut on
him I ran upstairs. I went to that window,--" Chichester flung out his
hand--"pushed it up, leaned out, and watched him down the street. I saw
him pass under a gas-lamp and I said to myself: 'You have submitted to my
will, and you shall submit again. I am the master now.'

"In that moment all the domination which I had so joyously endured, which
I had even surely reveled in,--for there are those who can revel in their
slavery,--abruptly became in my mind a reason for revenge. Marcus Harding
disappeared in the night; but still I leaned out, staring down the way he
had gone, and thinking, 'You shall pay me back for it. You shall pay me
back.'

"From that night I made no effort to check the critical faculty, the
exercise of which at first had seemed to me a sort of treachery. And as
I let myself criticize, I saw more clearly. The scales fell from my eyes.
I realized that I had been nothing less than blind in regard to Marcus
Harding. I saw him now as he was, a victim of egomania, a worldling,
tyrannical, falsely sentimental, and unfaithful steward, a liar--perhaps
even an unbeliever. His whole desire--I knew it now--was not to be good,
but to be successful. His charity, his pity for the poor, his generosity,
his care for his church, for his schools--all was pretence. I saw Marcus
Harding as he was. And what followed?"

Chichester leaned forward to the professor.

"Fear followed," he said in a withdrawn voice.

"Fear!" said Stepton, clearing his throat with a loud, rasping noise.

"Whenever I was with Marcus Harding in any public place I was now
companioned by fear. I dreaded unspeakably lest others should begin to
see what I saw. When he preached, I could hardly sit to listen: I felt
as if any shame falling upon him would overwhelm me also. I strove in
vain to combat this strange, this, then, inexplicable sensation. With
every sitting this terror grew upon me. It tortured me. It obsessed me.
It drove me into action. When I was with my rector, I tried perpetually
to prevent him from exposing his true self to the world, by changing
the conversation, by attenuating his remarks, by covering up his actions
with my own, sometimes even by a brusque interruption. But in the pulpit
he escaped from me. I was forced to sit silent and to listen while he
preached doctrine in which he had no belief, and put forward theories
of salvation, redemption by faith, and the like, which meant less than
nothing to him. Finding this presently unendurable by me, I strove to
govern him mentally when he was in the pulpit, to track him, as it were,
with my mind, to head him off with my mind when he was beginning to take
the wrong path."

"Did you succeed in that effort?" interrupted the professor.

"I made an impression, a terrible impression, upon him. I almost broke
him down. I sapped his self-confidence. His power as a preacher deserted
him, as his power outside the pulpit deserted him. With every day I felt
that I saw more clearly into every recess, every cranny, of his mind and
nature. Just at first this frightfully clear sight was mine only when we
were sitting; but presently it was mine whenever I was with him. And he
knew it, and went in fear of me. Gradually, very gradually, it came about
that our former positions were reversed; for as he sank down in the human
scale, I mounted. As he lost in power, I gained. And especially in the
pulpit I felt that now I had force, that I could grip my hearers, could
make a mighty impression upon those with whom I was brought into contact.

"But I must tell you that now I gained no satisfaction from my own
improvement, if so it may be called. My whole life was vitiated by my
secret terror lest Marcus Harding should be found out, should ever be
known for what he was. His actions, and even his thoughts, affected me
with an intimacy that was inexplicable."

"You were in telepathic communication with him!" interjected Stepton.

"Call it so if you like. Often I felt what he was thinking, almost as if
each thought of his were a hand laid upon me--a hand from which I shrank
with an almost trembling repugnance. Sometimes when he thought something
contemptible or evil, I shrank as if from a blow.

"There was a link between us. Presently, soon, I knew it. We seemed in
some dreadful way to belong to each other, so that whatever was thought,
said, done by him, whatever happened to him, reacted upon me.

"At this time Lady Sophia Harding hated me with a deadly hatred. Formerly
she had been indifferent to me. Concentrated upon her husband, adoring
him, vain of him, greedily ambitious for his advancement, she had had no
time to bestow on a clerical nonentity. But as I grew to understand
what her husband really was she grew to hate me. She was almost rude to
me. She spoke ill of me behind my back. She even tried to oust me from my
position as senior curate of St. Joseph's. Why did not she succeed? Are
you thinking that?"

"Well, what if I was?" snapped the professor, moving in his chair.

"Marcus Harding could not make a move to get rid of me. There was a link
between us which he could not even try to break.

"One night--one night--I discovered what that link was."

It was growing dark in the room. The Rossetti Madonna, thin, anemic,
with hanging hair, seemed fading away on the somber, green wall. The
window-panes looked spectral and white. The faint murmur of the city
sounded a little deeper and much sadder than in the light of day.
Stepton was aware of a furtive but strong desire for artificial light in
the room, but he did not choose to mention it. And Chichester, whose
voice--so it seemed to his hearer--began to have that peculiar almost
alarming timbre which belongs to a voice speaking not for the ears of
another, but for the satisfaction only of the soul which it expresses,
continued his narrative, or confession, as if unaware of the dying of
day.

"During the day which preceded it I had been haunted by the thought of
myself doing what Marcus Harding could not do. Why should not I of my own
will leave St. Joseph's, get away from this dreadful contemplation which
obsessed me, from this continual anxiety--almost amounting to terror at
moments--which gnawed me? Why should not I break this mysterious link,
impalpable yet strong? If I did, should I not again find peace? But my
sittings with Marcus Harding would be at an end. Could I give them up?
I asked myself that, and I felt as if I could not. Through them, by means
of them, I felt as if I might attain to something wonderful--terrible
perhaps, but wonderful. I felt as if I were approaching the threshold of
absolute truth. A voice within me whispered, 'Go no further.' Was it the
voice of conscience? I did not heed it. Something irresistible urged me
forward. I thrust away from me with a sort of crude mental violence the
haunting thought. And when the darkness came I greeted it.

"For he came with the darkness."

On the wall opposite to the professor the thin Madonna faded away.

"As I heard his heavy step on the stairs that night I said to myself, 'At
all hazards I will see, I will know, more. I will see, I will know--all.'
When he entered at that door"--a thin darkness moved in the darkness as
Chichester pointed--"he was dreadfully white and looked sad, almost
terrified. He suggested that we should break through our plan and not
sit. I refused. He then said he wished to sit in light. I refused. He was
become my creature. He dared not disobey my desires! We placed our hands
on this table, not touching. I could no longer endure the touch of his
hand. We remained motionless. A long time passed. There were no rappings.
A strange deadness seemed to prevail in the room. Presently it faded
away, and I had the sensation that I was sitting quite alone.

"At first it seemed to me that my companion must have crept out of the
room silently, leaving me by myself in the darkness. I shuddered at the
thought that I was alone. But then I said to myself that Marcus Harding
must be there in the blackness opposite to me, and I moved my hands
furtively on the table, thinking to prove his presence to myself by
touch. I did not prove it. Suddenly I had no need to touch him in order
to know that he was there."

"Why not?" said the professor, and started at the sound of his own voice
in the little room.

"Something made me realize that he was still within the room.
Nevertheless, I felt that I was alone. How could that be? I asked myself
that question. This answer came as it were sluggishly into my mind, 'You
are alone not because Marcus Harding is away, but because Henry
Chichester is away.' For a long while I sat there stagnantly dwelling on
this knowledge which had come to me in the blackness. It was as if I knew
without understanding, as a man may know he is involved in a catastrophe
without realizing how it has affected his own fate. And then slowly there
came to me, or grew in me, an understanding of how I was alone. I was
alone with Marcus Harding at that moment because I was Marcus Harding. A
shutter seemed to slide back softly, and for the first time I, Marcus
Harding, stared upon myself out of the body of another man, of Henry
Chichester. I was alone with my soul double. Motionless, silent, I gazed
upon it. Now I understood why I had been tortured with anxiety lest
the world should learn to comprehend Marcus Harding as I comprehended
him. Now I understood why neither he nor I had been able to break that
mysterious link which our sittings had forged between us. I had been
trying ignorantly to protect myself, to conceal my own shortcomings, to
cover my own nakedness. I had sweated with fear lest my own truth should
be discovered by all those to whom for so many years I had been
presenting a lie. Yes, I had sweated with fear; but even then how little
I had known! A voice cried out suddenly, 'Turn on the light!' It was
the voice of my double. It seemed to awake, or to recall perhaps,--how
can I say?--Henry Chichester. I was aware of a shock; it seemed strongly
physical. I got up at once and turned the light on. Marcus Harding was
before me, trembling, ashen. 'What is it? What has happened?' he said in
a broken voice. I made no reply. He left me. I heard his step in the
street--out there!"

Chichester was silent. The professor said nothing for a moment, but
passed his tongue twice over his lips and swallowed, sighing immediately
afterward.

"Transferred personality!" he muttered--"transferred personality. Is that
what you'd have me believe?"

"I'll tell you the rest. When Marcus Harding's steps died away down the
street I remained here. Since that shock I have spoken of, I felt that I
was again Henry Chichester, changed, as I had long been changed--charged
with new force, new knowledge, new discrimination, new power over others,
gifted with a penetrating vision into the very soul of the man I had
worshiped, yet Henry Chichester. And as Henry Chichester I suffered; I
condemned myself. This I said to myself that night, 'I was determined to
see. I disregarded the voice within me which warned me that I was
treading a forbidden path. God has punished me. He has allowed me to see.
But this shall be the end. I will never sit again. I will give up my
curacy. I will leave St. Joseph's at once. Never more will I set eyes on
Marcus Harding.' I was in a condition of fierce excitement--"

"Ah, exactly," muttered the professor, almost as if consoled--"fierce
excitement!"

"I could not think of sleep. For a long time I remained in here,
sitting, standing, pacing, opening books; I scarcely know what I did
or did not do. At last a sensation of terrible exhaustion crept over me.
I undressed. I threw myself on my bed. I tried to sleep. I turned,
shifted, got up, let in more air, again lay down, lay resolutely still
in the dark, tried not to think. But always my mind dwelt on that matter.
In those few frightful moments what had become of myself, of Henry
Chichester? Had the powerful personality of that man whom once I had
almost worshiped thrust him away, submerged him, stricken him down in a
sort of deathlike trance? What I had seen I remembered now as Henry
Chichester. What I had known in those moments I still knew now as Henry
Chichester. In vain I revolved this matter in my feverish mind. It was
too much for me. I was in deep waters.

"I closed my eyes. The fatigue wrapped me more closely. Sleep at last was
surely drawing near. But suddenly I knew--how I cannot exactly say--that
once more the shutter was to be drawn back for me. This knowledge
resembled a horrible physical sensation. The entry of it into my mind, or
indeed into my very soul, was as the dawning of a dreadful and unnatural
pain in the body. This pain increased till it became agony. Although I
still lay motionless, I felt like one involved in a furious struggle in
which the whole sum of me took violent part. And there came to me the
simile of a man seized by tremendous hands, and held before a window
opening into a room in which something frightful was about to take place.
And the shutter slipped back from the window.

"Again I looked upon myself. That was my exact sensation. The shutter
drawn back, I assisted at the spectacle of Marcus Harding's life. And it
was my life. I knew with such frightful intimacy that my knowledge was as
vision. Therefore, I say, I saw. Not only my spirit seemed to be gazing,
but also my bodily eyes.

"I saw myself in the night slowly approaching my house in Onslow Gardens,
ashen pale, shaken, terrified. At a corner I passed a policeman. He knew
me and saluted me with respect. I made no gesture in response. He stared
at me in surprise. Then a smile came into his face--the smile of a man
who is suddenly able to think much less of another than he thought
before. I left him smiling thus, reached my house, and stood before it.

"Now I must tell you, and I rely absolutely on your regarding this as
said in the strictest, most inviolable confidence--"

"Certainly. Word of honor, and so forth!" said the professor, quickly and
sharply.

"I must tell you that Marcus Harding is a sinner, and not merely in the
sense in which all men are sinners. There have been recurring moments in
his life when he has committed actions which, if publicly known, would
ruin him in the eyes of the world and put an end to his career. As I
looked at myself standing before my house, I saw that I was hesitating
whether to go in with my misery, or whether to seek for it the hideous
alleviation of my beloved sin.

"Professor,"--it seemed to Stepton at this moment as if Chichester's
voice loomed upon him out of the darkness by which they were now
enshrouded,--"it has been said that nothing shocks a man so terribly as
the sight of his body-double; that to see what appears to be himself,
even if only standing at a window or sitting before a fire, causes
in a man a physical horror which seems to strike to the very roots of his
physical being. I looked now upon my soul-double, piercing the fleshly
envelop and it was my very soul that sweated and turned cold. For I
perceived the dreadful action which, if known, would certainly ruin me,
being committed by the spirit. The slavish body had not yet bowed down
and done its part; but it was about to obey the impulse of the spirit.
Slowly the body turned away from its home. The spirit was driving it. The
demon with the whip was at work in the night. I looked till the dawn
came. And only when at last my double crept, like a thief, into its
house, did sleep take me for a little while--sleep that was alive with
nightmare."

Chichester was silent. The professor heard him breathing quickly, saw
him, almost as a shadow just shown by the faint light that entered from
the street through the two small windows, clasp and unclasp his hands,
touch his forehead, his eyelids, move in his chair, like a man profoundly
stirred and unable to be at ease.

"When I woke," he continued, after a long pause, which the professor did
not break by a word or a movement, "I woke to combat. As I told you, I
had resolved at once to resign my curacy, and never to see that man
again. In the light of the morning I sat down to write my letter of
resignation; but I could not do it. A fearful compulsion to remain was
upon me. I wrote a few words. I stopped, tore the note up, began again.
But writing was impossible. Then I resolved to visit Marcus Harding and
to tell him that I must go. I went to his house. He was at home. When I
saw him I told him that I wished him to sit again that night. He strove
to refuse. He did not understand the truth, but he was terrified. I
ordered him to come to my rooms that night, and left him. As I was going
away I met Lady Sophia. To my amazement, she stopped me, spoke to me
kindly, even more than kindly, looked at me with an expression in her
eyes that almost frightened me. I said to myself, 'But those are a
slave's eyes!' as I left her. Never before had any woman looked at me
like that. In that moment, I think, she began to turn from him toward
me, to forsake weakness for strength. Yes, I say strength. I was rent by
the tumult within me, but I had strength. I have it now. For, despite
his hypocrisy, his unbelief, his active sinning, Marcus Harding had been
a strong man. And even Henry Chichester, with all his humbleness, his
readiness to yield to others, to think nothing of himself, had had the
strength that belongs to purity of soul. And then there is the strength
the soul draws from looking upon truth. There was strength, there is now,
for the woman to follow. And instinct has surely guided her. She does
not, she cannot know. And yet instinct sends her in search of the
strength."

"What do you mean by that? What do you claim?"

"You read that sermon?"

"I did."

"Don't you understand? I am that man at the window. He did not flee
away. He could not. He was, he is, compelled to remain. He watches that
dreadful life. And the other within the room is fading. The strength,
the authority, the power, are coming to me. Every sitting broadens that
bridge across which the deserters are passing. When I preached that
sermon my congregation sat as if numbed by terror. And he in the choir
listened, never moving. I saw his spirit, dazed, stretching out to grasp
the truth, slipping back powerless to do it. It was like a thing moving
through the gloom of deep waters--of deep, deep waters."

Again Chichester's voice died away. In the silence that followed the
professor heard the faint ticking of a clock. He had not noticed it
before. He could not tell now whether it came from within the room or
from the room behind the folding-doors. It seemed to him as if this
ticking destroyed his power to think clearly, as if it threw his brain
into an unwonted confusion which made him feel strangely powerless. He
was aware of a great uneasiness approaching, if not actually amounting to
fear. This uneasiness made him long for light. Yet he knew that he
dreaded light; for he was aware of an almost unconquerable reluctance to
look upon the face of his companion. Beset by conflicting desires,
therefore, and the prey of unwonted emotion, he sat like one paralyzed,
listening always to the faint ticking of the clock, and striving to
reduce what was almost like chaos to order in his brain.

"Why have you selected me to be the hearer of this--this very
extraordinary statement?" he forced himself at length to say prosaically.
The sound of his own dry voice somewhat reassured him, and he added:
"Though there is nothing very extraordinary in the facts you have
related. Telepathic communication between one mind and another is a
commonplace of to-day, an old story. Every one of course accepts it as
possible. What novelty do you claim to present to startle science?"

"I say that telepathy does not explain the link between Marcus Harding
and myself."

The professor struck his hand on the table. It seemed to him that if only
he could get into an argument this strange confusion and fear might leave
him. He would be on familiar ground.

"What you call vision might be merely mind-reading, what you call
perceiving the action of the spirit, mind-reading. Your terror lest
others should find out bad truths about Marcus Harding would spring
naturally enough from your lingering regard for him. Your acute anxiety
when he is preaching arises of course from the fact that, owing to bodily
causes, no doubt, his mental powers are failing him, and he is no longer
able to do himself justice."

"You don't understand. What I desired in our sittings was to draw into
myself strength, power, will from--him. What have I done? I have drawn
into myself the very man. That night when the shutter slipped back he
looked out from the body of Henry Chichester. His mind worked, his soul
was alive, within the cage of another man. And meanwhile Henry Chichester
lay as if submerged, but presently stirred, and, however feebly, lived
again. He lives now. But not from him comes my frightful comprehension of
Marcus Harding. Not him does Marcus Harding fear. Not to him does she,
the woman, look with the eyes of a slave. It is not he who dominates the
crowds in St. Joseph's. It is not he who conceived that sermon of the man
and his double. It is not he who has sometimes been terribly afraid."

"Afraid! Afraid!"

"There have been moments when I have been moved to snatch my double out
of the sight of men. That day when we met Evelyn Malling I feared as I
left them alone together; and when I found Malling intimately there in
that house, I felt like one coming upon an ambush which might be
destructive of his safety. My instinct was to detach Malling from my
double, to attach him to myself. My conduct startled him. I saw that
plainly. Yet I tried to win him over, as it were, to my side. He came to
me. I strove to tell him, but something secret prevented me. And
how could he assist me?"

Chichester got up from the table. The professor saw a darkness moving as
he went to stand by the empty fireplace.

"I must look on truth," he continued; "I have to. The fascination of
staring upon the truth of oneself is deadly, but it surpasses all other
fascination. He sins more often now. I watch him sin. Sometimes under
my contemplation I see him writhing like a thing in a trap--the semblance
of myself. How the woman despises him now! Sometimes I feel deeply sad
at my own ruthlessness. It is frightful to contemplate the physical wreck
of a being whom, in some strange and hideous way, one always feels to
be oneself. When I look at him it is as if his fallen face, his hanging
nerveless hands, his down-drooping figure and eyes lit with despair were
mine. His poses, his gestures, his physical tricks, they are all mine.
I watch them with a cold, enveloping disgust, frozen in criticism of
everything he does, anticipating every movement, every look, hating
it when it comes, because it is bred out of the remnant of a spirit
I despise as no man surely has ever despised before. Henry Chichester
would pity, but he is overborne. He is in me as a drop may be in the
ocean. I am most aware of him when my double sins. Only last night we
sat"--Chichester came back to the table, and stood there, very faintly
relieved against the darkness by the dim light which penetrated through
the windows--"we sat in the darkness, and more deeply than ever before
I went down into the darkness. I felt as if I were penetrating into the
last recesses of a ruined temple. And there, in the ultimate chamber
crouched all that was left of the inmate, terrified, helpless, and
ignorant. As I looked upon him I understood why man is never permitted
really to know himself unless, in an access of mad folly and overweening
pride, he succeeds in crossing the boundary which to pass is sheer
wickedness. And I tried to turn away, but I could not--I could not.
I made a supreme effort. It was in vain.

"I saw him go home. At last he was sick of his sin. There rose within him
that strange longing for goodness, for purity and rest, that terrible,
aching desire to be what those who once loved him for long had thought
him to be, which perhaps never dies in the soul of a human being. Is it
the instinct of the Creator burning like an undying spark in the created?
And, as he drew near to his house, there came to him the resolve to
speak, to acknowledge, to say, 'This is what I am. Know me as I am! Care
for me still, in spite of what I am!' He went in, and sought her--the
woman. She was alone. Sleep had not come to her. Perhaps some instinct
had told her she must wake and be ready for something. Then he gathered
together the little that was left to him of courage, and he strove to
tell her, to make her understand some of the truth, to obtain from her
the greatest of human gifts--the love of one from whom a man has no
secrets that he can tell.

"She listened for a moment, then she thrust out her hands as if to push
the truth of him out of her life. And last night she left him--going in
fear of him."

The professor shook his narrow shoulders, and sprang abruptly to his
feet. The ticking of the clock now sounded almost like a hammer beating
in his ears.

"It's time we had some light," he said in rather a loud voice.

The darkness that was Chichester moved. A gleam of light shone in the
little room, revealing the thin Madonna, "The Light of the World," the
piano, the neatly bound books of the curate of St. Joseph's; revealing
Chichester, who now stood facing the professor, white, drawn, lined, but
with eyes full of almost hideous resolution and power.

"I advise," said the professor--"I advise you from this time forward--"

He stared into the eyes of the man opposite to him, and his voice died
away in his throat.

When, immediately afterward, he found himself walking hurriedly toward
Kensington High Street the sweat was pouring down his face.




XII


One night of that autumn, driven by an overmastering impulse, Evelyn
Malling set out toward Kensington. He felt that he must know something
more of the matter between Marcus Harding and Henry Chichester. Stepton
still kept silence. Malling had not approached him. But why should he not
call upon Chichester, an acquaintance, almost a friend? It was true that
he had resolved, having put the affair into Stepton's hands, to wait. It
had come to this, then, to-night that he could be patient no longer? As
he stood at the corner of Hornton Street, he asked himself that question.
He drew out his watch. It was already past eleven, an unholy hour for an
unannounced visit. But slowly he turned into Hornton Street, slowly went
down that quiet thoroughfare till he was opposite to the windows of the
curate's sitting-room. A light shone in one of them. The rest of the
house was dark. Even the fanlight above the small front door displayed no
yellow gleam. No doubt the household had retired to rest and Henry
Chichester was sitting up alone. A rap would probably bring him down to
open to his nocturnal visitor. But now Malling bethought himself
seriously of the lateness of the hour, and paced slowly up and down,
considering whether to seek speech of the curate or to abandon that idea
and return to Cadogan Square. As in his mental debate he paused once more
opposite to the solitary gleam in the first-floor window, an incident
occurred which startled him, and gave a new bent to his thoughts. It was
this: The light in the window was obscured for a moment as if by some
solid body passing before it. Then the window was violently thrown up,
the large figure of a man, only vaguely perceived by Malling, appeared at
it, and a choking sound dropped out into the night. The man seemed to be
leaning out as if in an effort to fill his lungs with air, or to obtain
the relief of the cool night wind for his distracted nerves. His attitude
struck Malling as peculiar and desperate. Suddenly he moved. The light
showed, and Malling saw for an instant a second figure, small, slight,
commanding. The big man seemed to be sucked back toward the center of the
room. Down came the window; the tranquil gleam of the light shone as
before; then abruptly all was dark.

Malling realized at once what was happening in the curate's lodgings. As
he paused, gazing at the dark house, he knew that the miserable Marcus
Harding was within, constrained to endure the observation which, to use
his own hideous but poignant phrase, was "eating him away." It was he who
had appeared at the window, like a tortured being endeavoring to escape
into the freedom of the night. It was Henry Chichester who had followed
him, who had drawn him back, who had plunged him into darkness.

The street was deserted. No policeman passed, regarding him with
suspicion, and Mailing went on sentinel duty. The dark house fascinated
him. More than once a desire came to him to make an effort for the
release of Marcus Harding, to cross the street and to hammer brutally
at the green door. He recalled Henry Chichester's strange sermon, and
he felt as if he assisted at the torture of the double, which he himself
had imaginatively suggested to the two clergymen in Lady Sophia's
drawing-room. Ought he not to interrupt such a torture?

Midnight struck, and he had not knocked. One o'clock struck; he had paced
the street, but had never gone out of sight of the curate's door. It was
nearly two, and Mailing was not far from the High Street end of the
thoroughfare when he heard a door bang. He turned sharply. A heavy
uncertain footstep rang on the pavement. Out of the darkness emerged a
tall figure with bowed head. As it moved slowly forward once or twice it
swayed, and a wavering arm shot out as if seeking for some support.
Malling stood where he was till he saw the broad ghastliness of Marcus
Harding's white face show under the ray of a lamp. He discerned no eyes.
The eyes of the unhappy man seemed sunken out of recognition in the
dreadful whiteness of his countenance. The gait was that of one who
believes himself dogged, and who tries to slink furtively, but who has
partly lost control of his bodily powers, and who starts in terror at his
own too heavy and sounding footfalls.

This figure went by Malling, and was lost in the lighted emptiness of the
High Street. Malling did not follow it. Now he had a great desire, born
out of his inmost humanity, to speak with Henry Chichester. He made up
his mind to return to the curate's door: if he saw a light to knock and
ask for admittance; if the window was dark to go on his way. He retraced
his steps, looked up, and saw a light. Then it was to be. That man and he
were to speak together. But as he looked, the light was extinguished.
Nevertheless he struck upon the door.

No one answered. He struck again, then stepped back into the roadway, and
looked up at Chichester's window. The curate must surely have heard. Yes,
for even as Malling gazed the window moved. No light appeared. But after
a pause a voice above said:

"Is that you, Mr. Harding?"

The dim figure of a man was apparent, standing a little back and half
concealed by a darkness of drooping curtains.

"It is I--Evelyn Malling," said Malling.

The form at the window started.

"Mr. Malling!" the words came uncertainly. "What is it? Has--has anything
happened to--why do you want me at such an hour?"

"I chanced to be in your street and saw your light. I thought I would
give you a hail."

"Do you mean that you want to come in?"

After a short pause Malling answered, "Yes."

"I cannot let you in!" the voice above cried out lamentably.

Then the window was shut very softly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later Malling saw in the papers the news of the complete
breakdown of Marcus Harding. "Nervous prostration," was the name given by
the doctors to his malady, and it was announced that he had been ordered
to take a sea voyage, and was preparing to start for Australia with a
nurse.

Soon afterward Malling was walking in the afternoon down Pall Mall,
wondering deeply what would happen, whether the rector would ever start
on that voyage, when he came upon Professor Stepton sidling out of the
Athenaeum.

"Heard about Harding?" jerked out the professor.

"Yes. Has he sailed for Australia?"

"Dead. Died at half-past three o'clock this morning."

Malling turned cold.

"Poor fellow!" he said. "Poor fellow!"

The professor was drawing his plaid shawl round his shoulders. When it
was properly adjusted, he began to walk on. Malling kept almost
mechanically beside him.

"Did you expect this?" Malling asked.

"Well, I knew he was failing."

"And Chichester? Have you seen Chichester since his death?"

"No. Would you like to see him for me?"

Malling was deep in thought and did not answer.

"Do you think?" said the professor, "that Henry Chichester will be
greatly affected by this death?"

"Affected? Do you mean by grief?"

"Yes."

"I should suppose that to be highly improbable."

The professor shot a very sharp glance at Malling.

"I'm not sure that I agree with you," he observed dryly.

"Have you seen him lately?" asked Malling.

"Not quite recently. But if I had seen him, say, yesterday, I don't think
that would greatly affect my present dubiety. I should, however, like to
set that dubiety at rest. Are you busy to-day?"

"No."

"I am. Will you make a little investigation for me? Will you go and pay a
visit of condolence to Chichester on the death of his rector, and then
come round to the White House and report?"

"I will if you wish it."

"I shall be in after seven."

"Very well."

"I dare say you will be surprised," observed Stepton. "I see my bus."

Malling left him imperatively waving his arm, and, turning, walked toward
Kensington.

What were his expectations? He did not know. Stepton had upset his mind.
As he went on slowly he strove to regain his mental equilibrium. But he
could not decide exactly what Stepton had meant. He felt inferior to the
professor as he turned into Hornton Street.

He did not hesitate, but went at once to the curate's door and rapped. No
one answered. He rapped again, and touched the bell, half hoping, even
while he did so, that there was no one within to hear.

But an inquiring head appeared in the area, observed, and was sharply
withdrawn. Steps sounded in the passage, and the maid Ellen presented
herself, looking somewhat disordered.

"Yes, sir?" she said.

"Is Mr. Chichester at home?"

"He is in, sir, poor gentleman," replied the maid. "Did you want to see
him?"

"Yes."

"I'm sure I don't know whether he will see you, sir."

"Is he ill?"

"Not to say ill, sir. But haven't you heard?"

"What?"

"His poor rector's gone, sir, what used to come here to visit him so
regular. I never see a gentleman in such a way. Why, he's so changed I
don't hardly know him."

"Have you been here long?" said Mailing, abruptly.

"Only six months, sir."

The maid began to look rather astonished.

"And so Mr. Chichester is quite altered by his grief?"

"You never did, sir! He was so firm, wasn't he, above every one! Even his
rector used to look to him and be guided by him. And now he's as gentle
and weak almost as a new-born child, as they say."

Malling thought of Stepton. Had he looked forward to some such change?

"Perhaps I could console Mr. Chichester in his grief," he said. "Will you
take him this card and ask if I can see him? I knew Mr. Harding, too. I
might be of use, possibly."

"I'll ask him, sir. He's laying down on the bed, I do believe."

Ellen hurried up-stairs with the card. It seemed to Malling that she was
away for a long time. At last she returned.

"If you please, sir, Mr. Chichester wants to know if it's anything
important. He's feeling very bad, poor gentleman. But of course if it's
anything important, he wouldn't for all the world say no."

"It is important."

"Then I was to ask you to walk in, sir, please."

Chichester's sitting-room was empty when Malling came into it, and the
folding-doors between it and the bedroom were shut. Ellen went away,
and Malling heard a faint murmur of voices, and then Ellen's footstep
retreating down the stairs. Silence followed. He waited, at first
standing. Then he sat down near the piano. Not a sound reached him from
the bedroom. On the curate's table lay a book. Malling took it up. The
title was "God's Will be Done." The author was a well-known high-church
divine, Father Rowton. To him, then, Henry Chichester betook himself for
comfort. The piano stood open. On it was music. Malling looked and saw,
"Oh, for the wings, for the wings of a dove!" by Mendelssohn. The little
room seemed full of pious orthodoxy. Surely its atmosphere was utterly
changed since Malling last was in it. The melody of "Oh, for the wings!"
went through his brain. That the Henry Chichester he had recently known,
that cruel searcher after and expounder of truth, that he should be
helped by those words, by that melody, in an hour of sorrow!

There was a movement in the bedroom. The folding-doors opened inward,
and the curate appeared. He was very pale, and looked really ill. His
face had fallen in. His fair hair was slightly disordered, and his blue
eyes were surrounded by red rims. His expression suggested that he had
recently undergone an extremely violent shock, which had shaken badly
both body and mind. He looked dazed. Coming forward feebly, he held
out his hand.

"I believe it is something important," he said in a gentle, rather
wavering voice; "otherwise--I am hardly fit, I fear, to be with my kind.
I"--He sat down--"I have had a terrible shock, Mr. Malling. You have
heard?"

"You mean Mr. Harding's death?"

"Yes."

"I have just heard of it."

"It occurred at half-past three o'clock last night, or, rather, this
morning. He had been declining for a long while. At the last he just
faded out, as it were. The strange thing is that I knew the exact moment
when he entered into rest."

"You weren't with him?"

"Oh, no. I was here, asleep. But at three o'clock I awoke. I felt
violently agitated. I can scarcely describe the sensation. It was
as if I was torn, as if mind and body, or spirit and body, were torn,
lacerated. I suffered the greatest conceivable agony. I tried to cry
out, but I could not. Nor could I move. Then everything suddenly seemed
to fail, all in a moment, and I was at peace. But it was like the peace
of death, I think. And I was aware--I don't know how--that Mr. Harding
was dead. I moved. I looked at my watch. It was a minute after half-past
three. I noted down the time. And this morning--I heard."

"And then?"

"Only then I understood my loss--the loss to us all. Ah, Mr. Mailing,
you knew him, but not as I did! Few or none knew him as I did. He was
the greatest and best of men, full of power, but full of kindness and
goodness, too. He guided me in everything. I can never tell you how I
looked up to him, how I trusted him. His judgment was extraordinary, his
reading of character was unerring. I do believe he knew me better than I
knew myself. What shall I do without him?"

The curate's grief was almost as genuine and unself-conscious as a
child's, and Malling felt as if at that moment, like a child, he felt
himself adrift in a difficult world. His gentle, kindly, but not strong
face was distorted, but not hardened, by his distress, which seemed
begging for sympathy. And Malling remembered the Henry Chichester he had
known some years ago, before the days of St. Joseph's, the saintly but
rather weak man, beloved by every one, but ruling no one. That man was
surely before him, and that man knew not how to play a hypocrite's part.
Yet Malling felt he must test him.

"His death is very sad," he replied; "but surely his powers had been on
the decline for a long while."

"His powers, but not his capacity for goodness. His patience was
angelic. Even when the cruelest blow of all fell upon him, even when
his wife--whom, God forgive me! I don't think some of us can ever
forgive--even when she deserted him in his hour of need, he never
complained. He knew it was God's hand upon him, and he submitted.
He has taught me what true patience is. What I owe to him! What I owe
to him!"

As if distressed beyond measure, the curate got up, almost wringing his
thin hands.

"It was he who sacrificed his time for me!" he continued, moving
restlessly about the room. "But I seem to remember I told you. Didn't I
tell you--or was it some one else?--how he gave up the hours which should
have been hours of repose in order that my will might be strengthened,
that I might be developed into a man more worthy to be his coadjutor?
When I think, when I remember--"

His light, tenor voice failed. Tears stood in his gentle, blue eyes.

"If I am worth anything at all," he suddenly cried out, "if I have gained
any force of character, any power for good at all, I owe it all to my
rector's self-sacrificing endeavors on my behalf--of course, through
God's blessing."

"Then," said Malling, "you think that Mr. Harding changed you by his
influence?"

"He helped me to develop, he brought me on. Jealousy was unknown to him.
I was a very poor preacher. He taught me how to hold people's attention.
When I knew he was near me I sometimes seemed almost inspired. I was
inspired by him. I preached almost as if out of his mouth. And now!"

He made a despairing gesture.

"Now it will all be different!" he exclaimed.

And almost involuntarily Malling found himself echoing:

"Yes, now it will all be different."

He had seen, he had heard, enough to make his report to the professor,
and he resolved to go. He held out his hand.

"Oh, but," said Chichester, pressing one hand to his forehead, "I'm so
selfish, so forgetful in my great grief! Surely you said you had come
on some matter of importance."

"It will wait," said Malling. "Another day. Go and rest now. You need
rest. Any one can see that."

"Thank you, thank you," said Chichester, with quivering lips. "You are
very thoughtful, very good."

Malling took his hand in farewell. As he did so there was a sharp knock
at the front door. Chichester started violently.

"Oh, I do hope it is no one for me!" he cried out. "I cannot--"

He opened the door of the sitting-room a little way and listened. Voices
were audible below, Ellen's voice and another woman's.

"You, ma'am! Oh, of course he will see you!"

"Of course."

"I didn't know who it was, ma'am."

"Is it this way?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'll show you. We do feel it, ma'am. The poor gentleman used
to come here so often of nights."

"Did he? I didn't know that."

Malling recognized the second voice as Lady Sophia's. A moment, and she
was ushered into the room. She was dressed in black, but not in widow's
weeds, and wore a veil which she pushed hastily up as she came in almost
with a rush. When she saw Malling, for a moment she looked disconcerted.

"Oh, I thought--" she began. She stood still. Chichester said nothing,
and did not move. Malling went toward her.

"I was very much grieved," he said, "at the news I heard to-day."

She gave him her hand. He knew his words were conventional. How could
they be anything else? But Lady Sophia's manner in giving him her hand
was not conventional. She stretched it out without even looking at him.
She said nothing. Her eyes were fixed upon Chichester, who stood on the
other side of the little room in a rigid attitude, with his eyes cast
down, as if he could not bear to see the woman who had just entered.

"I offer you my sympathy," Malling added.

"Sympathy!" said Lady Sophia, with a sharp note in her voice suggestive
of intense, almost febrile excitement. "Then didn't you know?"

She stared at him, turning her head swiftly.

"Know?"

"That I had left him? Yes, I left him, and now he is dead. Do you expect
me to be sorry? Well, I am not sorry. Ah, I see you don't understand!"

She made a movement toward Chichester. It was obvious that she was so
intensely excited that she had lost the power of self-control.

"Nobody understands me but you!" she cried out to Chichester. "You
knew what he was, you knew what I endured, you know what I must feel
now. Oh, it's no use pretending. I'm sick of pretence. You have taught me
to care for absolute truth and only that. My relations, my friends--ah!
to-day I have been almost suffocated with hypocrisy! And now, when I
come here--" she flung out her hand toward Mailing--"to get away from it
all--'grieved,' 'my sympathy!' I can't bear any more of that. Tell him!
You tell him! You're so strong, so terribly sincere! One can rest upon
your strength when all else fails one!"

She tottered. For an instant it seemed to Malling that she was going to
fall against Chichester's shoulder; but she caught at a chair, and saved
herself.

"Mr. Chichester!" she said, "tell him! Tell him for me!"

"I have nothing to tell him," said Chichester, with a sort of mild,
almost weak coldness, and wearily.

"Nothing!" She went nearer to him. "But--you don't welcome me!"

Chichester looked up, but immediately cast down his eyes again.

"I cannot," he said. "At this moment I simply cannot."

An expression of terrified surprise transformed Lady Sophia's face. She
went close up to Chichester, staring at him.

"Why not?" she asked.

"You must know that."

She stood still, always staring at him, as if searching for something
which she did not find.

"Why not?" she repeated.

"You left--him when he needed you most. You left him to die alone."

Lady Sophia suddenly turned round to Malling and scrutinized his face, as
if demanding from him sympathy in her horrified amazement. He regarded
her calmly, and she turned again to the curate.

"What do you mean?" she said, and her voice had changed.

"That his friends can never be yours", said Chichester, as if making a
great effort, driven to it by some intense feeling.

"You call yourself his friend!" said Lady Sophia. Her voice vibrated with
scorn.

"At any rate, he was mine, my best friend. And now he has gone forever!"

Lady Sophia drew in her breath.

"You hypocrite!" she said. "You hypocrite!"

She spoke like one under the influence of an emotion so intense that it
could not be gainsaid.

"To pretend you admired him, loved him--_you_!"

"I did admire and love him."

She seemed to be struck dumb by his quiet manner, by the conviction in
his voice. In a moment she turned round again toward Malling. Her face
had quite changed. It was working nervously. The mouth quivered. She
stood for a moment, then suddenly she made for the door. As she passed
Malling, she whispered: "The strength--where is it? Oh, I'm afraid of
him! I'm afraid of him!"

She disappeared. Almost immediately Mailing heard the street door shut.

"I--I cannot pretend to her," Chichester said, "even in my own house."

He seemed greatly moved, almost on the verge of tears.

"I'll leave you alone," said Mailing. "You need to be alone."

"Thank you! Thank you!" said Chichester.

And without another word he went into the bedroom, shutting the
folding-doors behind him.

At half-past seven that same evening Malling was with Professor Stepton,
and made what the professor called his "report."

"Ah!" said the professor when he had finished.

"Did you expect Chichester to behave like that, to be like that?" asked
Mailing.

"I hoped he would."

"Hoped! Why?"

"Because it enables me to accept as facts certain things about which I
must otherwise have remained in doubt. Of course I must see Chichester
for myself. But he'll be just the same, just the same."

The professor's eyes shone, and he poked his chin forward.

"The reverend gentlemen of St. Joseph's have provided me with a basis,"
he exclaimed emphatically.

"A basis! For what?" asked Mailing.

"For future experiments and investigations of a highly interesting
nature. Ruskin was very often wrong, but he was right when he said, in a
lucid moment, that every creature is precious. Well, good-night, Malling.
I must get to work. I'll explain everything to you later."

Almost joyously he shut the door on his friend. Almost joyously he sat
down once more before his writing-table and seized his pen and his
note-book.

But he did not begin to write. His face suddenly changed. He put his pen
down, pushed his note-book away, sat back in his chair, and let his
pointed chin drop toward his breast. And presently he began to mutter to
himself.

"A little science!" he muttered. "A little science sends man far away
from God. A great deal of science brings man back to God. Which is it
now--you professor, you? Which is it now?"



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