Authors: Eleanor Scott
“If it wasn’t that I’d promised,” said Grindley next evening, with an abruptness strange to him, “I’d never say a word. And, mind, it isn’t what you expect, any of you. I didn’t see a thing.”
His eyes, flickering and dark in his white face, glanced nervously round the group of men. He passed his tongue rapidly over his lips.
“But – something happened?” asked Vernon.
“Yes – oh yes! Something happened all right. But what it was I don’t know – a dream, or a vision, or – an incarnation.”
They looked at him intently. Could this nervous boy be the calm and slightly superior Grindley who had talked so fluently and well of the power of the trained intellect?
“P’raps once I tell you I’ll get over it a bit,” he broke out at last. “I think – I’m – possessed. No, I mean it absolutely literally. I never guessed before what it meant…
“I didn’t take long over going to bed. It’s a pleasant enough room, you know, and I was a bit sleepy after the warmth and the talking and that, and I never for a moment thought I’d be disturbed. If I’d known, nothing in this world – or the next – would ever have persuaded me to sleep in that cursed – yes, I mean it,
He paused a moment, trying to recover some of his wonted calm.
“Well, I went to bed, and, I suppose, to sleep. I never before quite understood what Hamlet meant about the dreams that might come when you’re lying in the grave, dead. I thought I did, but I didn’t. And he only guessed what the dreams of death might be. I
“I don’t mean you to think that I just had a bad dream. I quite literally
became someone else
– in every nerve of my body, in every thought of my mind – yes, and in every secret wish of my heart. I knew myself intimately. I was myself in another incarnation, older, stronger, freer, nearer to elemental things, but still myself… I wish I could make you understand!” He broke off abruptly, and as abruptly resumed:
“Of course you all know the story of Dr. Faustus. It’s a fine, dramatic story, you think, and Marlowe made a glorious, marvellous poem of it. You don’t know – thank God every day of your lives that you don’t know – what a fearful story it is. I do know. Last night – and God only knows how long before – I
“I-I’d done it, you know. I’d abandoned all goodness: I’d made my intellect,
my God, and worshipped it. I’d blasphemed, and – I had sold my soul.
“I can’t attempt to tell you what it was like. You couldn’t ever imagine it if you hadn’t felt it. I was terrified at what I’d done. I was the living home of everything evil – I tell you, I was evil through and through, as if some fearful vapour had surrounded and soaked me. And – I was
I tried to pray, and I knew it was hopeless. How could I hope to be heard? Oh, it’s easy to talk of Despair – you don’t know, you can never guess, what it is! I fought and struggled. I began broken prayers, and abandoned them at the first word, knowing I couldn’t pray…
“I can’t tell you how long it lasted. I lived a whole spiritual life through. No words can tell you what it was – it was a living hell, and it’s – it’s heaven to be awake.”
“Grindley, old chap,” said Reece softly, “it-it wasn’t
you know. It was some evil outside of you. It wasn’t the real you.”
Grindley turned a haggard face.
“It was – a possible me. I might have been – I nearly was – just that, blasphemous, hopeless. But – I know in time… I’m going out,” he added abruptly. “Reece, will you come?”
Reece rose – Reece, on whom Grindley had often exercised a pretty wit; Reece the plain, the stupid, the comical and the kindly; and, without a word, they set out together.
The others lit pipes and cigarettes, poked the fire, mixed drinks; they breathed more freely.
“‘Pon my word,” said Vernon between puffs, “I’d no idea Grindley was such a kid. Expect he was horribly jumpy the whole time. Poor kid, he’s beastly upset! And all about a dream!”
“Well, but it must have been a horribly vivid and peculiarly beastly dream,” said Massingham. “He looks quite changed. Poor old Grindley!”
“Why ’poor’?” asked Ladislaw. “I call him lucky.”
exclaimed two or three of the others. And “How d’you make that out?” asked Vernon.
“Well – he knows in time. He’s warned. It
in him, you know – that ambition and pride of intellect. Well – he’s cured.”
“Want to back out, Vernon?” asked Massingham, grinning. “Your shot tonight, you know. Don’t think there’s much chance of your letting your ambition and intellect sell
soul to the devil, you lazy swine. You’ll sell it another way.”
Vernon grinned blandly.
“If the bed’s warm and comfortable I’ll be all right, thanks,” he yawned. “Don’t mind how soon I get off, either. Say goodnight to the others for me, will you?”
He rose, stretching his arms, a fine figure of a man, verging on the corpulent, a little spoilt by good living, but handsome still.
It was very late when Grindley and Reece returned. They went upstairs, still together.
Everyone noticed how odd Vernon looked at breakfast. He did not look terrified and – yes, possessed – like Grindley; he looked like a man who has been brought face to face with some disgusting sight – white and shaken and sick. He ate nothing; he sat and crumbled bread with trembling fingers, and every now and then he would lift his eyes and look at one or another of them in a queer appealing way, as if he were guilty of some sin, and sorry for it, and his friends were his judges.
Everybody was a little uncomfortable and ill at ease: it was so odd to see Vernon, the debonair and confident Vernon, so piteously shaken. Breakfast was a hasty meal, for everyone was anxious to get it over and escape from those troubled questioning eyes.
But as chairs were pushed back and pipes lighted, Vernon suddenly spoke.
“I’m not going to make any story for you chaps tonight,” he said abruptly. “There isn’t one – for you. Yes, I’ve seen something. And I shan’t forget what I’ve seen, as long as I live.” Sweat started out on his forehead. “I’m not going to try and tell you what it was,” he went on jerkily. “I’d as soon try to describe the most loathsome surgical operation or the most indecent physical illness. And if I wanted to, I couldn’t. Thank Heaven, we haven’t made the words for what I saw.”
Eyes met startled eyes over the untidy table. It was mad, the whole business – a ghost hinted at while the remains of breakfast still littered the table; Vernon, of all people, confused, ashamed, disgusted, and – yes – penitent.
“Grindley was right,” said Vernon heavily; “that place is cursed. And he’s right, too, when he says that no one who hasn’t tried can even guess what evil it puts into your mind, and how it brings out the vile things you have in your own soul. Only I’d rather have had his – dream, or incarnation, or whatever it was, than -”
There was silence in the room. Suddenly Vernon stood up. Involuntarily everyone looked at him – at the handsome face, now tormented with a kind of passion of disgust and remorse, at the haunted eyes that used to be so gay.
“I’m-I’m not so bad as that yet!” he cried with a sound like a sob, and left them sitting there.
Grindley rose, and soon was seen passing the window, making for the stables. Ladislaw sat with bowed head, contemplating his plate. Reece and Amory murmured together, and Massingham caught the words “holy water.” He got up and went across to them.
“I say, you men, shall we drop it?” he asked. He was quite pale. “Grindley’s collapse didn’t altogether surprise me, but when poor old Vernon gets bowled over like this it’s too much of a good thing. He looks ghastly. I didn’t think he had it in him to feel like that.”
The others glanced at one another.
“There must be some – well, influence or something – in that room,” Massingham continued. “Something pretty awful, too. And I don’t want anybody to go in there just out of bravado and get – well, damaged.”
“I agree,” said the Parson gravely, “that there must be something evil in that room. It’s not contrary to dogma to believe that some places are soaked, as it were, in evil influence. But that’s all the more reason, Massingham, for me to spend the night there. If exorcism and prayer can lay your ghost, I promise you it shall be laid.”
“I know you’re not afraid,” said Massingham. “I’ll admit that in a way it’s your job. But, Amory, you know that young Grindley wasn’t just a frightened kid last night. Something
happened to him – something pretty awful. And God only knows what it can have been that poor old Vernon saw. He’s horrified – and I should have said that no god or devil could horrify Vernon.”
“Whatever it is,” said Amory steadily – “and I don’t think we can deny that there is something – it’s not stronger, nor half as strong, as the Powers that will be on my side. I am going into that room tonight, Massingham, convinced that there is in it some shocking evil, and equally convinced that I shall overcome it. It cannot withstand the minister of God.”
Massingham flushed, as some men do when asked to talk familiarly of God. He preferred to speak of Providence.
“Well, Amory, you know best,” he said. “Do as you think right. Only, for Heaven’s sake, if you feel the smallest reluctance when it comes to the point, do chuck it! Swear you will.”
“I am going to lay that spirit,” said the Parson, steadily as ever, with a set mouth and a light in his eyes that warned Massingham that remonstrance was useless. He shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s a pity you weren’t born in the days of martyrs, Amory,” he remarked. “You’d have enjoyed going to the stake for your principles.”
Amory said nothing. Perhaps it was as well.
There was an unusual silence in the smoking-room that night. Grindley had been out in the wind and rain all day, and looked more his normal self though there was an odd hesitation in his manner and dread still lurked in his eyes. He glanced over his shoulder often, like a man who fears a horrible presence at his elbow; and he kept close to Reece. Vernon sat, his head sunk between his shoulders, staring sombrely at the fire. No one knew where he had been all that long and dreary day. The Parson sat apart, reading with moving lips, a look of exaltation on his face. Ladislaw and Massingham made an idle pretence at talk.
Suddenly Amory rose.
“Good-night, all of you,” he said. “It will be all right in the morning.”
Massingham got slowly to his feet.
“Amory,” he began doubtfully; but the Parson’s eyes were bright and his face transfigured.
“Hush, Massingham,” he said. “Nothing you can say shall stop me. This is my duty, and I shall do it. I will crush this evil thing down into the everlasting fire of punishment-”
A quick cry broke in on him.
“Don’t! Don’t talk of everlasting punishment! You don’t know what it means. God wouldn’t – He
“Grindley, God is, before all, just. Evil must receive its reward. By God’s grace, I hope to be His minister in dealing out that punishment.”
Massingham looked at him heavily.