The Third Window. Ii


THEY were sitting next day in a sunny hollow of the moors. Above their heads the spring air was chill, and as they walked they had felt the wind; but, sunken in this little sheltered cup, summer was almost with them, and the grass and heather exhaled a summer fragrance.

Bevis had insisted on the walk, saying that he could manage it perfectly; and indeed they were half a mile from the house before he had owned that they had gone far enough for his strength — a little too far, he was aware, as they sank down on the grass; and he was sorry, for he knew from Antonia’s face that she was going to talk to him, and that all his strength and resource would not be too much for the interview.

‘I’ve been thinking, Bevis,’ she began at once, sitting a little below him, her hands clasped round her keees. ‘ I want to tell you everything. In the first place, let me be quite straight. I do love you,’ she said, without looking round at him. ‘I am in love with you.’

‘Yes,’ he assented.

‘What happened yesterday morning could n’t have happened had I not been,’ she defined for herself. ‘Not that I mean it exonerates me.’

‘Or me?’

‘You don’t need exoneration. You are not unfaithful.’

‘No; I’m not unfaithful, and I don’t think you are. But go on.’

She paused for a moment as if his assurance hurt rather than helped her. ‘That is what it all comes back to, for me, Bevis. Am I unfaithful? If Malcolm were alive, I should be.’

‘If Malcolm were alive, you would n’t be in love with me,’ he set her straight.

‘I’m so glad you see that and believe it,’ she murmured, while he saw the slow flush in her cheek. ‘That’s one of the things I most wanted to make clear.’

‘You had no need to, my dear girl. I know how it was with you and Malcolm.’

‘You know. You remember. Yes.’ She drew a deep breath. He had comforted her. ‘So, you see, I’m only in love with you because he is n’t here any longer. If he were here, I could n’t love any one but him.’ She stopped for a moment. ‘Bevis, that is what it comes to. Is he here?’

‘Here? How do you mean?’ the young man asked.

‘Are we immortal? Do we survive death? Does Malcolm, somewhere, still love me?’

She kept her face turned from him, and he was aware that he felt her questions irrelevant, and that this was wrong of him, or, perhaps, came of his being tired. Or perhaps it came from the fact that the soft edges and tips of Antonia’s averted profile, soft yet so clear, shadowed yet so pale, against the sky, were more relevant than any such questions.

He looked away from her, calling himself to order, and then, in a different voice, — for, though he still felt her questions irrelevant, he was able to think of them, — he said, ‘I see.’

What he seemed first to see was himself as he had been not many years ago, a youth in his rooms at Oxford. Books piled beside him, a pipe between his teeth, he saw himself staring into the fire, while, in a sad yet pleasant perplexity, he had brooded on such questions. Body and soul; appearance and reality; the temporal and the eternal consciousness — the old words chimed in his brain. Then came a swift memory of Antonia and himself dancing the tango in London; and then the memory of the dead face of a little French poilu he had come upon one evening in France, by the roadside, a face sweet and childlike. How many dead faces he had seen since he had danced the tango with Antonia, and how wraith-like, beside the agonies he had since passed through, were the mental disciplines and distractions of his studious youth! Yet it all held together. It was because of the agonies that the answers had come.

Antonia’s voice broke in upon his reverie and his eyes were brought back to her. ‘ Help me, Bevis,’ she said.

Something in that made him dimly smile. ‘ Help you in what way, my dear girl? Which do you want most — to have me and to believe that Malcolm does n’t exist any longer; or to believe him immortal and to lose me?’

He had not meant to be cruel; he was placing the dilemma before himself as well as her; but he saw that he had been, when her slow, helpless gaze of pain turned upon him and her eyes filled with tears.

' Why do you always show me that I must despise myself?’ she said. ‘How can I know what I want?’

‘Dear Tony,’ he said gently, ‘what you want, what you really want, is me; and I don’t despise you for that.’

‘Oh — it’s not so simple, Bevis; oh, it’s not! I want you; but if he were here, I’d go to him and leave you without a pang.’

‘No, you would n’t.’ He smiled grimly. ‘ You’d leave me, of course, because he has been far more in your life than I have — and he is your husband. But it would n’t be without a pang.’

‘With a pang, then’; she was brave and faced it. ‘ But that would pass when I had told him everything and been forgiven. Malcolm, I know, would forgive me.’

‘ I should rather say he would! ’ Still the young man laughed a little grimly. ‘Why should n’t he? If a man returns from the dead, he must expect to find that the world has gone on without him, must n’t he? After all, Tony dear, Malcolm has n’t merely gone to Australia or Patagonia; he’s dead; and that does make a difference.’

She was the most generous and unresentful of creatures. A warm flood of recognition filled him as he saw how he still hurt her and how she took it. And he was harsh and crabbed. He had always had an ironic tongue and an ironic eye for reality, in himself and in others. And now, entangled in his own passion and in the web of her dreams and difficulties, he recognized something perfidious in his nature, something which, while it adored her, yet found pleasure, or relief, in dealing her now and then, as a punishment for what she made him suffer, the light lash of his unentangled and passionless perception. And who was he, to lash Tony?

‘Forgive me,’ he said, leaning over and looking down at her. ‘I am a brute, as I told you. Why am I not merely grateful to you for loving anyone so useless? I’ll help you in anyway I can, Tony. What do you really want to ask me? Perhaps what makes me so odious to you is that I’ve got no help for you.’

Perhaps it was. A shrinking from the issue she put before him had been in him from the first. And poor Tony did not suspect what he meant; did not, for all her attempt at clearness, see in what way she really wanted him to help her.

‘Please, please do,’ she said. ‘Try to be gentle and to understand. I ’ll go by what you say. So there it is: do you believe in immortality, Bevis ? ’

There it was, indeed, and no wonder he had shrunk. If it had come to him as a test before the war, how easy it would have been, with a sincerity sad for all its personal gain, to say, ‘I don’t know, I really don’t know what I believe, darling; but it does n’t seem to me at all likely.’ But now, leaning over her, still looking at her, he had to answer in the only verbal form that fitted with his thought; and as he did so, he felt himself grow pale. ‘Yes,’ he said; ‘I do believe in immortality, Tony.’

She, too, then, grew very pale. It was as he had foreseen. She had not really believed. It had only been a haunting dream. And her hope had been that he would tell her that to him, too, it was only a dream. Poor child! Poor, poor, child! And poor Malcolm. Was it with this face he was welcomed back among the realities of her world ?

She continued to look at him in silence, taking it all in, with a trust, an acceptance, pitiful, indeed; and suddenly, seeing in her despair his full justification, he took her into his arms — was it to comfort, or to claim her, against his conviction and her despair?

‘My darling,’ he said, pressing his head against hers, ‘it can’t part us. It shan’t part us. I won’t let you destroy your life and mine.’

She had, piteously, put her arms around his neck, and she clung to him like a frightened child.

‘Listen, dearest,’ he said; ‘when I say it, I don’t mean it in the way you feel and fear it. I don’t know how to say what I believe. It does n’t go into words. But it all means love. That’s what I’ve come to know. I can’t explain how. It came to me, one night, in a sort of inner vision, Tony, after dreadful things had happened — over there, you know. But he is safe, and we are safe. We are all held round by love. That’s what I believe, Tony. It’s God that makes the meaning of immortality, not immortality that makes the meaning of life.’

Nothing, he knew it as he held her, could ever bring them nearer than this moment. He had never in his life been so near any creature. Never in his life could he have believed himself capable of uttering such words. It was doing himself a violence to utter them, yet sweet to do himself the violence for her; and as if he had cut out his heart to show it to her, it seemed to him that it must bring her his conviction, must light faith in her from the flame it bared.

But, in the silence that followed, and as she still clung to him, his child and not his lover, it came to him that he had lighted nothing.

‘ But he’s there,’ she said. ‘ He knows and feels and suffers, still, if he’s there.

‘I don’t believe he suffers. I believe that our love, here, in the world he’s left, may be joy, not sorrow, to him.’

Now he was using words; he had fallen back into the world of words. This was not the light he had tried to show her.

‘ But you can’t believe it in the way you believe the other,’ she said. ‘If love is around us there, it’s around us here, too; yet people suffer terribly. They may go on suffering terribly when they are gone. You can’t know what they feel when they are gone, Bevis.’

‘No; I can’t know.’

Everything had crumbled. He knew his faith, but he no longer felt it. And her fear, too, had its infecting power. A pang did stir his heart.

‘If it’s still Malcolm, he must still love me, must n’t he? We did so love each other, Bevis! though you may say I have forgotten him.’

‘No, no, you have not forgotten him.’

‘ But must he not be waiting for me, then? Wanting me? And has n’t love like that something special and unshareable? Oh, you know it has. It must be two, it can’t be three. How could I go to him, with you? Which one would be my other self? You know you could not share me. We could not hold each other, like this, and love each other, if Malcolm stood before us now.’

‘ I know,’ he said; and his deep fatigue was in his voice. ‘Perhaps one must accept that there is loss and suffering always. Perhaps Malcolm does grieve to see you with me. Who can tell? I can’t. All I can say, Tony, is that, if you felt him so near and real that my love could only hurt you, I’d go away and leave you in peace. But it’s not like that. It would n’t be to leave you in peace. You could n’t bear to have me go. Something quite different has happened. You’ve fallen in love with me.’

She sat silent in his arms, her head still leaning on his shoulder, and he knew from her slow, careful breathing that she was intently thinking and that he had not helped her. If only he had not been so tired to begin with! Perhaps he might have found something more. But he was now horribly tired, and his artificial leg began to pull at him; and though he sat very still, she must at last have guessed at his growing exhaustion, for, raising herself, she drew away, saying, in a dulled and gentle voice, ‘Shall we walk back? Your leg must be getting stiff.’

He took her hand, as she rose and stood beside him, and kissed it without speaking, and he saw that she turned her head away, then, to hide her tears.

They walked slowly up toward the house, by the winding path among the heather. The house stood high, and they had to climb a little. Only when they drew near did she speak, and in a trembling voice.

‘You’ve shown me all the truth. I’ve been unfaithful. I am unfaithful. If I’d loved him enough, if I’d loved him as he should have been loved, I could n’t have fallen in love with you.’

‘Perhaps,’ said the young man.

‘What I say to myself is this,’ Antonia went on. ‘If he had been alive and had gone away, as you said, to Australia or Patagonia, and during his absence I had grown fond of you and fallen in love — what I say to myself is that, of course, I should have fought against the feeling and avoided seeing you; and when he came back I should have confessed to him what had happened. And he would have forgiven me. It would make him very unhappy, but I know that Malcolm would forgive me.’

‘Right you are, my dear Tony: he would. And you’d have fallen out of love with me and gone on living happily ever after.’

She ignored his jaded lightness. ‘Well, is n’t it like that now? Can’t I do that now?’

She stopped in the little path, and her soft exhausted face dwelt on him.

‘No,’ said Bevis patiently, but his own exhaustion was in his voice; ‘it is n’t like that now. As I’ve said, the difference is that he won’t come back; that he is dead.’

‘But immortal, Bevis.’

‘I believe, immortal.’

‘Could n’t I, in the same way, when I find him again, confess and be forgiven?’

‘You’d not need to, my child.’ A certain dryness was in his voice. ‘He’d know all about it, I imagine; and more than you do.’

‘You mean that he knows and has forgiven already?’

‘He has n’t much to forgive!’ Bevis could not repress, with a dryer smile.

‘You are unkind.’

‘I know. Forgive me, Tony dear; but you are tormenting. Don’t let us talk about it any more. There’s nothing to be gained by it.’

‘I don’t mean to be tormenting. Is n’t it for your sake, too?’

‘I can bear more,’ he laughed now, ‘if you can assure me of that!’

‘There may be a way out, Bevis; there may be a way out, though you can’t show it to me, though I can’t find it yet. But you do believe that everything is changed after we die? You do believe that it does not hurt him?’ She was supplicating him.

‘Yes; that’s about it,’ he nodded; and, glancing up at the house, as she had laid her hand on his arm, he added, ‘Miss Latimer is looking out at us. Don’t take your hand off quickly, all the same.’

She had not controlled herself, however, from looking round at the house, in an upper window of which they saw a curtain fall.

‘It makes no difference,’ she said. ‘ She must know why you ’re here. She must know I’m very fond of you.’

‘Must she?’

‘Why are you so cold,’ she murmured, ‘when I need help most of all?’

‘My dear,’ he said, ‘I’m frightfully tired. You’re twice as strong as I am. And I think you help yourself most when I don’t try to help you. I’m not cold, only worn out. What I’d like,’ and putting his hand within her arm, indifferent to the possible spectator, he glanced round at her with a smile half melancholy and half whimsical, ‘would be to be with you in the firelight somewhere, and put my head on your breast and go to sleep, for hours and hours, held in your arms. Is that cold, Tony?’

In spite of everything, was he not, implicitly, an accepted lover? They had faced, now, everything together, and he had shown her in a clear light the shapes of her half-seen fears. She must now, for the first time, accept such fears, fully; but might she not, as a result, find herself able to consent to them and live with them?


The fact of a great step taken seemed apparent when she said to him next morning, ‘ I talked to Cicely, last night.’

‘Did you?’ he answered.

She would n’t, surely, have done that unless it had been to prepare Cicely for a coming change in her state. Yet he was not glad to hear that Cicely was in their counsels.

‘ I did n’t tell her, of course, that I was in love with you and was wondering whether I might marry you,’ Antonia went on; ‘but I think she knows it. I said nothing about myself, really. What we talked of was immortality. I asked her what she believed.’

Bevis, at this, said nothing, knocking the ash from his cigarette with a gesture that betrayed his displeasure.

‘She does n’t think as you do,’ said Antonia, in a carefully steady voice. ‘I mean, her belief is much more definite than yours — much deeper, Bevis; for she’s always believed, and you, I think, from what you said, have n’t. And, oh, passionate! I can’t express to you how I felt that. A white flame of certitude.’

‘Ah!’ the young man murmured. ‘No. I’ve no white flames about me.’

Antonia did not pause for his irony. ‘And we spoke of Malcolm, quite simply and directly. I asked her if she expected to see him again, as she knew him here, unchanged. And she does. And she told me something else. Malcolm believed like that, too. He and she talked about it — twice, she said: once when he was hardly more than a boy, and once before he went to France, on the last night he spent here with her and his mother. He came up here to see them before saying good-bye to me in London, you know. He was sure, too. He believed that he was to see me, and her, again. Cicely cried and cried in telling me. I never saw her cry before.’

‘Did Malcolm ever talk to you about it?’ Bevis asked her after a moment.

She was steady while she told her story; but he had by now realized that her steadiness was not reassuring, and that he had a new factor to deal with in their situation.

‘Never like that,’ she said. ‘I think, perhaps, he took it for granted. But I remember, in looking back, things he said that meant it.’

He recognized then, and only then, when she answered him with such unsuspecting candor, the treacherous suggestion in his question. Could he really have wanted to hint that Malcolm’s deepest confidence had been given to his cousin and not to her? Could he really have hoped that a touch of spiritual jealousy might help him? How close the bond between her and her husband, how complete her trust, was further revealed to him, for his own discomfiture, as she went on; —

‘And it was of me they talked that last night, Bevis — of our love for each other. Cicely was the only person in the world he could have talked to of it.’

They sat silent for a little while after that, Antonia on her settee, with idle hands, her eyes fixed before her, a new hardness in their gaze. She was this morning, he saw it clearly at last, neither the frightened child nor the helpless lover. She had withdrawn from him, and whether in coldness or control he could not tell. But it was not with her own strength she was armed. She had withdrawn in order to think, without his help, and with the help of Miss Latimer.

‘Well, what does it all come to, for you, now?’ he asked; and he heard the coldness in his voice, a coldness not for her, but for the new opponent he had now to deal with.

‘It makes it all more terrible, does n’t it?’ she said, sitting there and not looking at him.

‘You mean her belief has so much more weight with you than mine?’

‘Does it contradict yours?’

‘You know it does; or why should things be more difficult for you this morning? I think definiteness in such matters pure illusion, and I only ask you to realize that it’s easy to a simple nature like Miss Latimer’s. She is unaware of the complexity of the problem.’

‘You think that Malcolm, too, was so simple?’

‘He was simpler than I am.’

‘Was n’t their definiteness, then, intuition rather than illusion? Is n’t intuition easier for the simple than for the complex ? ’

‘Intuition is n’t definiteness — that’s just what it is n’t. As for its being easier — everything is easier, of course, to simple people.’

She was not simple — she was, like himself, complex; yet his terrible disadvantage with her was that, while too clever to be satisfied by anything she did not understand, she was too ignorant, really, to understand the cogency of what he might have found to say. Miss Latimer’s simplicities would have more weight with her.

‘Something must be definite,’ she said. ‘Immortality means nothing unless it means memory and personality. So that Malcolm must exist now as he existed here: unchanged; loving me; and waiting for me.’

She had come back to it and Miss Latimer had fixed her in it.

‘Perhaps he’s fallen in love with someone else,’ Bevis suggested. ‘You ’ve changed to that extent, after all. And you ’re not longing for him. Quite the contrary.’

Somehow he could not control these exhibitions of his exasperation, nor could he unsay them, ashamed of them as he immediately was. Her dark gaze rested on him, unresentful still, but with, at last, an almost recognized hostility. He was ashamed, yet more exasperated than ever, as he saw it.

‘It’s almost as if you tried to insult me with my infidelity,’ she murmured. ‘It’s as if, already, you had no respect for me because you know I am unfaithful. Take care, Bevis, for, after all, I may get over you.’

‘And I may get over you,’he said, looking not at her but at the fire, and slightly wagging his remaining foot, crossed over the artificial knee.

She was very silent at that and, shame deepening and anger dropping (it was n’t anger against her; she must know that), he glanced up at her and found her gaze still on him.

‘My dear,’ he muttered, smiling wryly, ‘you stick your needles too deeply into my heart. What’s sport to you is death to me. No; I don’t mean that. All I really mean is that we must n’t be like children in a nursery, slapping at each other. You’re as unlikely to get over me as I am to get over you, and I ask you, in deep seriousness, to accept that fact with all its implications. There it is, and what are you going to do with it and with me?’

She had now risen from her seat and walked away from him, vaguely, and she went toward the third window and stood looking out. She stood there a long time, without moving, and, remembering what she had said to him of it the other day, and of her fear, a discomfort — yet comparatively, it was a comfort to feel it after their personal dispute — stirred him, so that, rising, with a sigh, he followed her and, as he had done the other day, looked out over her shoulder at the great cedar, the quiet fountain, and the white fritillaries in their narrow beds. He saw from her fixed face that she had forgotten her fear of the harmless scene. Her gaze, with its new, cold grief, was straight before her.

‘Tony; dear Tony!’ he said, laying his hand on her shoulder.

She did not move or look at him.

‘ Let’s go away,’ he said. ‘Let’s leave this place. It’s bad for us both. Sell it. Give it to Miss Latimer. Chuck it all, Tony, and start a new life with me. Chuck the whole ghoulish business of Malcolm and his feelings and your own infidelity. It has nothing to do with love and heaven; really it has n’t. You ’ll see it yourself some day. Let’s go away at once, darling, and get married.’

The urgency of what he now saw as escape was suddenly so strong in him that he really meant it, really planned, while he spoke, the southern flight: Tony deposited at her safe London house that very evening and the license bought next day. Why not? Was n’t it the only way with her? As long as she was allowed to hesitate, her feet would remain fixed in this quagmire.

She hardly heard his words; he saw that, as she turned her eyes on him; but she heard his ardor, and it had broken down her withdrawal.

‘I’m so frightened, Bevis,’ she murmured. ‘You don’t understand. You are so bitter; so cruel. You frighten me more than I can tell you. I seemed to see, just now, when you said that, about getting over me, that I should lose your love, and his love, too; that that would be my punishment.’

This, after all, was a fear easy to deal with. He passed his arm in hers and drew her from the window, feeling a foretaste of the final triumph as he did so, for, child, adorable child that she was, she had forgotten already the former fear.

‘ But you know what a nasty cantankerous creature I am, darling,’ he said, making her walk up and down with him. ‘You don’t really take my flings seriously. And did n’t you begin? How like a woman! What a woman you are! You know that I shan’t get over you. And I assure you that I don’t think less well of Malcolm’s fidelity.’

‘But the bitterness, Bevis. Why were you so bitter?’ Her voice trembled. ‘I am never bitter with you.’

‘ And I’m never bitter with you — though I’m a bitter person, which you are n’t. You knew perfectly well that it was Miss Latimer whose neck I wanted to wring. Beastly little stone-curlew, with her stare and her wailing!’

‘It felt like my neck. Was it only Cicely’s then? Poor little Cicely.’

‘Poor little Cicely, as much as you please. Only I’m sick of her and want to get away from her, and to get you away. Seriously, Tony, why should n’t we be off at once?’

‘ At once? ’ Her wavering smile, while her eyes dwelt on him, had the plaintive warmth of her returning confidence. ‘But that’s impossible, dear, absurd Bevis.’

‘Why impossible?’

‘ Why I could n’t get married like that, at a day’s notice. And I could n’t run away. I’m not afraid of Cicely, though you seem to be. And I could n’t leave her like that, when I’ve only just arrived. It would be too unkind.’

The fact that she felt it necessary to argue it all out was in itself of good augury. He could afford to relinquish his project, though he did so reluctantly.

‘I’m not afraid of her,’ he said, ‘except when she frightens you.’

‘She does n’t, Bevis. You are the only one who frightens me, when you tell me the truth; when you tell me that I am unfaithful and that I’ve fallen in love with you, although my husband is n’t really dead; and that perhaps, if I go on tormenting you too much, you ’ll get over me.’

She looked steadily at him while she spoke, though still she tried to smile.

‘Do you want another truth, Tony?’ he said, putting her hair back from her forehead, doting on her, in her loveliness, her foolishness, her pathos, while he drew her more closely to him: ‘it’s the last that frightens you most of all, and it never can come true.’

‘Never? Never?’ she whispered, while she, too, came closer, yielding to his arms. ‘Nothing can ever come between us? You will be able to take care of me, always?’

‘It’s all I ask,’ he assured her, with his dry, cherishing smile.


He had learned to distrust Antonia’s recoveries, but that evening it would have been difficult to believe that their troubles were not over. The very drawing-room, as they came back to it after dinner, looked, he felt, like the drawing-room of a lovely young widow who was soon to marry again. It seemed, with clustered candles, and flowers where he had never seen them before, to have escaped from its modern formula of permitted gayety and intended austerity, no longer to wait upon events, but to celebrate them; and Antonia herself, standing before the fire and knitting, in absurd contrast to her bare arms and pearl-clasped hair, a charity sock, had herself an air of celebration and decision. It was for him, he felt, that her hair had been so clasped, and, as she knew he loved to see it, tossed back from her brow. For him, too, the dress as of a Charles the First lady, with falls of lace at elbow and the lace-edged cape held with diamonds and pearls at her breast. Long pearls were in her ears — he had not seen them there since before the war — and pearls about her throat; and, beloved, and unaccountable creature, why, unless in some valiant reaction to life and sanity, should she show this revival?

‘ What shall we do to amuse ourselves to-night, Cicely? ’ she asked.

She had never asked it before. It had never before been a question of amusing themselves. But, though Miss Latimer, evidently, had ‘cried and cried,’ she herself was not without signs of the evening’s magic. Her little pre-war dress, pathetic in its arrested fashion, its unused richness, became her. She, too, wore pearls and she, too, oddly, with the straight line of her fringe across her forehead, recalled, all pinched and pallid though she was, the court of Charles the First. No one could have looked less likely to be amused, yet she struck him, to-night, as almost charming.

‘ Shall we have some dummy bridge? ’ Antonia went on, ' Cicely is very good at bridge, Bevis.’

‘By all means,’ said the young man, smiling across at her from his sofa.

‘Or,’ Antonia amended, starting a new row of her sock, ‘shall it be tableturning? Cicely is good at that, too. It always turns for her. Do you remember what fun we’ve had with it, Cicely? The night the Austins came, and it hopped into the corner. And the night it rapped out that rude message to Mr. Foster. How angry he was and how comic it was to watch his face!’

‘Yes; I remember,’ said Miss Latimer gently, while she looked before her into the fire.

‘Let us do that, then. It would certainly be amusing. Do you feel like it, Cicely? You are the medium, of course. It never did anything without you.’

Miss Latimer did not, for some moments, raise her eyes from the fire. She seemed to deliberate. When she looked up it was to say, ‘One hardly could — with only three.’

‘Only three! Why you and I and Mr. Foster sat alone that very evening when it went so well.’

‘I imagine he had power.’

‘Power! Mr. Foster! Why he did nothing but protest that he did n’t believe one atom in it.’

‘That would not prevent him having power. I think I’d rather not,’ Miss Latimer said, ‘unless you want to very much.’

‘ But I do want to very much. I want Bevis to see it. Have you ever done any sitting, Bevis?’

‘Once or twice. It’s not a game I like. I agree with Miss Latimer.’

He felt, as he spoke, that he disliked it very much; so strongly did he dislike it, that he wondered at Antonia for her suggestion.

‘Oh, how solemn, Bevis! When it’s only a game! I believe you are afraid, like Mr. Foster, and think it may rap out something rude. You have a guilty secret you think it may reveal! ’

‘Many, no doubt.’

‘You do believe in it, then — that it’s supernatural?’

From his sofa, where he smoked, his eye at this met hers with a sort of reminder, half grim, half weary. ‘Still catechisms? ’ it asked her. She laughed, and now he knew that in her laugh he heard bravado.

‘As if a game could be! ’ she answered herself. ‘At the worst, it’s only Cicely’s subconscious trickery! Are you really too tired, Cicely? I am longing for it now. It’s just what we need. It will do us good.’

‘I am not tired; but why do you think a game will do us good, Antonia? ’ Miss Latimer asked.

Antonia looked down at her fondly, but did he not now detect the fever in her eye? ‘Games are good for dreary people. We are all dreary, are n’t we? I know, at least, that I am. So be kind, both of you, and play with me. Our table is in the passage, is n’t it?’

Now she tossed her knitting aside and left the room, and Bevis, looking after her for a moment, rose and limped to join her. She was just outside the door, lifting a bowl of flowers from the little mahogany table that stood there. Bevis closed the door behind them. Then he laid his hands on the table, arresting her.

‘Stop it,’ he said. The door was closed, but he spoke in a low voice. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘Why not?’ She also spoke in a low voice; and she stood still, her eyes on his.

‘I don’t like it,’ he repeated. ‘It’s not right. Not now. After what’s happened in these years.’

Oh, what a blunder! What a cursed blunder! He saw, as he spoke the words, the fire they lighted in her. She had been an actress, dressed for a part, pretending gayety and revival to inveigle him into an experiment. Over the table, her hands leaning on the edge, she kept her eyes fixed on him.

‘You do believe in it, then? — that the spirits of the dead speak through it?’

Cursed blunder! How pale she had become, as if beneath the actress’s rouge. There was no laughter left, or pretence of gayety.

‘No; I don’t believe it’s spirits. I believe, as you said, that it’s subconscious trickery. And it’s not a time to mess about with it. That’s all. It’s ugly, out of place.’

‘If it’s only that, subconscious trickery, — that’s what I believe too, — why should you mind so much; or even ugliness?’

‘And why should you want so much to do it, if that’s all you believe? It’s because you believe more, or are afraid of more, that I ask you to give it up.’

‘ But is n’t that the very reason why you should consent? So that my mind may be set at rest? Don’t be angry with me, Bevis. That frightens me more than anything — as you told me. I am not afraid of this, unless you make me so by taking it so seriously.’

She had him there, neatly. And why should he mind so much? He did mind, horridly. But that was all the more reason for pretending not to.

‘Very well,’ he said dryly. ‘I’m not angry. I don’t consent, though; I submit. Here; let me carry it for you.’

But he had forgotten his leg. He stumbled as he lifted the table, and could only help Antonia carry it into the room and set it down before the fire.

‘There; it will do nicely there,’ said Antonia. ‘And those three little chairs.’ Her voice was still unsteady.

Miss Latimer looked round at them as they entered, and then rose. ‘Is n’t this table a little ricketty?’ she asked, placing her finger-tips upon it and slightly shaking it. He saw that she was genuinely reluctant.

‘It’s the one we always use,’ said Antonia. ‘It’s quite solid. If you wanted to tip it, you could n’t.’

‘I’ve seen larger and firmer tables tipped, by people who wanted to do it,’ said Miss Latimer. ‘I have, I am sorry to say, often seen people cheat at table-turning. That’s the reason I don’t like it.’

‘You don’t suspect Bevis, or me, I hope!’ laughed Antonia, taking her place.

‘Not at all. But people don’t suspect themselves,’ said Miss Latimer. She, too, sat down.

‘It’s very good of you, of both of you, to humor me,’ said Antonia, still laughing. ‘I promise you both not to cheat.’

‘Shall I put out the lamps?’ asked Bevis coldly.

And it was still Antonia who directed the installation, replying, ‘Oh, no; that’s not at all necessary. We have never sat in the dark. It was broad daylight, before tea, with the Austins.’

Bevis took his place, and they laid their hands lightly on the table.

‘And we may go on talking,’ Antonia added.

But they did not talk. As if the very spirit of dumbness had emanated from their outspread hands, they sat silent, and Bevis seemed at once to hear the muffled rhythm of their hearts beating in syncopated measure.

The pulsations were heavy in his finger-tips and seemed to be sending little electric currents into the wood beneath them. Observant, skeptical, and, with it all, exasperated, he watched himself, and felt sure that soon the table, yielding to some interplay of force, would begin to tip.

But long moments passed, and it did not stir, and after his first intense anticipation, his attention dropped, with a sense of comparative relief, to more familiar uses. He had not looked at either of his companions, but he now became aware of them, of their breathing and their heart-beats, with an intimacy which, he felt, turning his thoughts curiously, savored of the unlawful. People were not meant to be aware of each other after such a fashion, with consciousnesses fallen far below the normal mental meeting-ground to the fundamental crucibles of the organism where the physical machinery and the psychical personality became so mysteriously intermingled. There, in the first place, — it pleased him to trace it out, and he was glad to keep his mind occupied, — there lay the basis of his objection to the ambiguous pastime. As he meditated it, his awareness of this intimacy became so troubling that, withdrawing his thoughts from it decisively, he fixed them upon the mere visual perception of Antonia’s hands, and Miss Latimer’s.

Miss Latimer’s were small, dry, light. The thumb curled back and, though the palm was broad, the finger-tips were pointed. He had no link with them, no clue to them, and, though he strove to see them as objects only, as pale patterns on the dark wood, he was aware, disagreeably, that he shrank from them and their hidden, yet felt, significance.

Antonia’s hands he knew so well. But he was not to rest in the mere contemplation of their beauty. Everywhere, to-night, the veils of appearance were melting before the emergence of some till now unseen reality; and so it was that Antonia’s hands, as he looked at them, ceased to express her soft, sweet life, its luxury, its mournfulness, its merriment, and, like the breathing and the heart-beats, conveyed to him the mysterious and fundamental part of her being, all in her that she was unconscious of expressing. Laid out upon the darkness, they were piteous hands — helpless and abandoned to destiny.

And his own? As he examined them, he felt himself sinking still further into the sense of forbidden revelation. Small, delicately fashioned, if strong and resolute, they expressed his own personality in what it had of closest and most alien. He did not like himself, seen at these close quarters; or, rather, he frightened himself: the physical machinery was too fragile an apparatus in his make-up. It did not secure him sufficiently. It did not sufficiently secure Antonia. For, while there was the strength, the resoluteness, there was fear in his hands; more fear than in hers. He saw more than she did; or was it that he was more alert to fear, more aware of what was to be feared ? While she wandered sadly in dreams and abandoned herself to peril because she did not know where peril lay, he saw and felt reality, sharply, subtly, like a scent upon the breeze, like a shadow cast by an unseen presence; and because he was so subtle, so conscious and resolute, he was responsible.

That was what it came to for him, with a suddenness that had in it an element of physical shock. It was he alone who saw where peril lay, and he alone who could withhold Antonia from thus spreading her spirit on the darkness. He looked back at her hands, and a pang of terror sped through him. Something had happened to them; something had passed from them, or into them. He was an ass, of course, an impressionable, nervous ass; yet he saw them as doomed, unresisting creatures; and, while he controlled himself to think, knowing himself infected with the virus of the horrid game, the table suddenly, as if with a long-drawn, welling sigh, stirred, rose, — he felt it rising under his fingers, — and slowly tipped toward Miss Latimer.

It was Antonia, then, who said, almost as if with frivolity, ‘We’re off!’

Miss Latimer sat silent, her head bent down in an attitude brooding and remote.

The table, returning to the level, after a pause rocked slowly to and fro.

‘Cicely, if it raps, will you say the alphabet for it, while I spell?’ Antonia murmured.

He recognized the forced commonplace of her voice. Miss Latimer bowed her head in answer.

The table rocked more and more violently. Antonia had half to rise in her chair to keep her hands upon it as it tipped from her toward Miss Latimer. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was still, and then he heard a soft yet sharp report, as of a small electric shock in the very wood itself. One, two, three; a pause; and, one, two, three, again. A rhythm distinct and detestable.

Conjecture raced through his mind. He had said that he had played the game; but he had only seen the table turned and tipped; he had never heard these sounds. Unable to distrust his senses, though aware that anyone else’s he would have distrusted, he located them in the very wood under their hands. They did not come from Miss Latimer’s toe-joints; nor from his or Tony’s. Well, what of it? It was some oddity of magnetism, like the tipping; and now that the experience was actually upon them, he felt, rather than any panic, a dry, almost a light curiosity, seeing, with relief for his delay, that to have interfered, to have stopped the game and made a row, would have been to dignify it and fix it in Tony’s unsatisfied mind stamped with a fear more definite than any she had felt.

‘Are you there?’ Miss Latimer was saying, in a prim, automatic voice, as of one long-accustomed to these communions. ‘One for no, and three for yes, and two for uncertain. Is that agreed ?’

The table rapped three times.

‘Are you ready? Shall I begin the alphabet?’

Again three raps.

Her voice now altered. It was almost drowsily, with head bent down, that she began, evenly, to enumerate the letters. ‘A, B’ — A rap fell neatly at the second sound.

‘B,’ Antonia announced.

Miss Latimer resumed: ‘A, B, C, D, E ’ — Another rap arrested her.

‘ Oh — it is going to be “ Bevis ”! ’ Antonia murmured. ‘ It’s for you, Bevis!’

‘Rap!’ said the table.

‘That is no; it is not for Captain Saltonhall,’ said Miss Latimer drowsily; and, drowsily, she took up the alphabet.

The table, uninterrupted by any comment, spelled out the word ‘Beside.’

‘Beside. How odd!’ said Antonia.

It was very wearisome. Already they seemed to have sat there for hours. His fear had not returned; but curiosity no longer consciously sustained him. An insufferable languor, rather, fell upon him, and fumes of sleep seemed to coil heavily about his eyelids. He wished he could have a cigarette. He wished the thing would go more quickly and be over.

‘T, H, E,’ had been spelled out, and Antonia had reported ‘the.’ Miss Latimer’s drugged voice had taken up the alphabet again, and the table had rapped at ‘F.’

Now the word demanded nearly the whole alphabet for the finding of its letters. ‘O,’ came. Then ‘U.'

Antonia sat still. Her eyes were fixed, strangely, devouringly, on Miss Latimer, whose head, drooping forward, seemed that of a swooning person.

‘F, O, U, N, T,’ was rapped out.

Not till then did it flash upon him, and it came to him from Antonia’s face rather than from the half-forgotten phrase. He sprang up on his insecure leg, righting himself by a snatch at the table.

‘Stop the damned thing!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s quoting you!’

Miss Latimer’s hands slid into her lap. She sat as if profoundly asleep.

Antonia rose from her place, and at last she looked at him.

‘Beside the fountain. Beside the fountain. He is there,’ she said.

Bevis seized her by the wrist. ‘Nonsense!’ he said loudly. ‘Miss Latimer is a medium — as you know. Her subconsciousness got at yours. They are the words you used the other morning.’

‘He is there,’ Antonia repeated, ‘and I must see him.’

He held her for a moment, measuring his fear by hers. Then, releasing her, ‘All right,’ he said. ‘I’ll come, too. We shall see nothing.’ But he was not sure.

They crossed the room, Antonia swiftly going before him. She paused so that he might come up with her before she drew back the curtain from the third window. The moon was high. The cedar was black against the brightness. They looked down into the flagged garden and saw the empty moonlight. Empty. Nothing was there.

‘Are you satisfied?’ Bevis asked her. He placed his arm around her waist and a passionate triumph filled him. Empty. They were safe. Motionless within his grasp, she started and stared and found nothing. Only the fountain was there, a thin spear of wavering light, and the fritillaries, rising like ghosts from their narrow beds.

‘Are you satisfied?’ Bevis repeated. They seemed measurelessly alone there at the exorcised window — alone, after the menace, as they had never been. He held her closely while they looked out, putting his other arm around her, too, as if for final security. ‘Will you come away with me to-morrow?’ he whispered.

She looked at him. No, it was not triumph yet. Her eyes were empty — but of him, too. They showed him only a blank horror.

‘What does it mean?’ she said.

Dropping the curtain behind them, he looked round at Miss Latimer. Had she just moved forward? Or for how long had she been leaning like that on the table, her head upon her arms?

‘It means her,’ he said. ‘She read your fears; she saw them. Have you had enough of it, Tony? Have you done playing with madness?’

‘How could she read my fear? I was not thinking of it. I had forgotten it. It was not she. It came from something else.’ She was shuddering within his arms and her eyes, with their devouring question, were on the seated figure.

‘No, it did n’t. From nothing else at all. It came from you and from me — and from her — all of us together. It was some power in her that conveyed it to our senses.’

‘You, I, and she — and something else,’ said Antonia.

She drew away from him and went toward the fire, but so unsteadily that she had to pause and lay her hand on a chair as she went. At the table she stopped. Miss Latimer still sat fallen forward upon it. Silently Antonia stood, looking at her.

‘She’s asleep, I think,’ said Bevis. He wished that she were dead. ‘It has exhausted her.’

Antonia put out her hand and touched her. ‘It never was like this before. — Yes,’ she said, after a pause, ‘she is breathing very quietly. She must be asleep. And I will go now.’

She moved away swiftly; but, striding after her, he caught her at the door, seizing her hand on the lock.

‘What do you want? she said, stopping still and looking at him.

He said nothing for a moment. ‘You must n’t be alone,’ he then answered.

‘What do you want?’ she repeated; and she continued to look at him with a cold gentleness. ‘I must be alone.’

‘ I must come with you. I make my claim, in spite of what you feel — for your sake.’

Still with the cold gentleness, she shook her head. ‘You don’t understand,’ she said. ‘You could n’t say that if you understood. Good-night.’

When she had closed the door behind her, he stood beside it for a long moment, wondering, even still, if he should not follow her. Then he remembered Miss Latimer, sleeping there — or was she sleeping? — behind him. He went back round the screen. She had not stirred and, after looking at her for a moment, he leaned over her, as Antonia had done, and listened. She was breathing quietly, but now he felt sure that she was not asleep. The pretence was a refuge she had taken against revelations overpowering to her as well as to Antonia. She was not asleep, and should he leave her alone in the now haunted room?

Restless, questioning, he limped up and down, and, going again to the window, he drew the curtain and again looked out. Nothing. Of course, nothing. Only the fountain and the white fritillaries — strange, ghostly, pallid and brooding. Well, they would get through the night. To-morrow should be the end of it. He promised himself, as he turned away, that Antonia should come with him to-morrow.

(To be concluded)