Beatrice Harraden.

Thirteen all told online

. (page 2 of 23)
Online LibraryBeatrice HarradenThirteen all told → online text (page 2 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


any occasion he had seen her since many years. She
had grown important with prosperity; and Importance,
of course, is far more separating than Death. You may
lose a person by Death physically, but not necessarily
spiritually. But by Importance you lose a person abso-
lutely. Elizabeth had not been important that after-
noon. She was the Elizabeth of his childhood again,
who had played and quarrelled with him, run races,
climbed trees, and later, climbed mountains in the Ber-
nese Oberland, seen with him the beckoning snow-peaks
and the tenderness of the Alpine glow.

He stood thinking of her for a long time after she had
gone.



LATE one afternoon, when Keith returned home, he had
scarcely opened the door with his latch-key, when he
heard the sound of children's laughter and voices. Even
the most stereotyped journalist could not have described
it as shrill. It was clear, bell-like, but subdued, as though
it were wafted from a far distance.

" No, no, it's your turn to catch me," someone cried.

"Go on then, I'll give you a good start," cried some-
one else.

There was a scampering across the hall right up against
Keith, and a mad rushing up the staircase and a dashing
into all the rooms, and a subdued yell when pursuer caught
the pursued, Sounds but no visible signs of the childreni



14 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

Keith stood still with a smile on his face. There was
no need to ask whether the children had been too quick
for him to see, whether Mr. Halton had been receiving
guests, or Mrs. Wedderburn entertaining relatives. These
were some of the Children Presences of the house. They
belonged here.

He felt it.

Were the Presences really going to make themselves
known to him ? The very thought thrilled him. And
if so, how entirely delightful that the joy in store for him
should start with the children. He must tell Halton
that something had begun. It had been agreed between
them that he must find out everything for himself, with
no promptings from Halton, but that it would be quite
safe to report the different stages of his admittance into
the inner life of the house.

So he knocked at Mr. Halton's door, was told to come
in, and found the old man as usual deep in his books, but
as usual, quite ready for Keith's companionship. Not
that he often ventured to disturb Mr. Halton. Keith
was sensitive, and the mere fact that the old man was
the first of them to live in the house, gave added reason
that his seclusion should be respected and his method of
life not interrupted. Mrs. Wedderburn had received
strict injunctions on that point. She, therefore, never
intruded on him, and Keith but seldom. But now it
was an absolute necessity that Mr. Halton should be
told the news, and Keith was so excited that he could
scarcely get it out.

" Ah, so you have begun with the children," Halton
said, putting down his book on the Dialects of India,
and smiling in sympathy with Keith's eagerness. " No
doubt you love children. I am sure you do. Well, you
will love these children very specially. They have great
charms, and are subject to bouts of excessive naughtiness.
I trust it will not be long before you see them as well as
hear them. They kept me some time waiting, but then
I am not exceptionally attached to children or was not.
I am attached to them now. But you, loving children
already, will have a better chance."



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 15

He then returned to his Indian Dialects, and Keith could
get nothing further out of him.

A day or two afterwards Keith, sitting alone in his room,
became acutely aware of Presences ; and these fragments
of conversation were borne to him.

" Yes, the sweet peas are very beautiful," said a voice.
" Thank you for bringing them. Your experiments,
have been most successful. I have never seen such
large ones nor such tender colouring. And their fra-
grance is delicious. You ought to feel triumphant and
happy. You won't get a prize, of course, but you will
not mind that, Peter."

" No, I think I can survive that tragic deprivation,"
said Peter, laughing. " Flowers bring their own reward
of an abiding joy. Wonderful things flowers increas-
ingly wonderful, I think them."

" You have a way with them," said the other. " You
could conjure up a rose garden with a wave of your little
finger. I wish you'd take a look at the garden here, and
deprive it of its complacent smugness. It's too well
cared for in the wrong way. Marian won't change the
gardener because he has a large family to support with
three sets of twins. So we have to put up with his effici-
ency. Perhaps you could have a talk with him, and under-
mine some of his best professional qualities. Do, Peter."

" I'll try," laughed Peter. " But efficient gardeners
are almost as impenetrable as Permanent Officials. And
we all know what we think of them."

A little soft chuckle of amusement followed and
then silence.

That same evening, Keith, feeling restless, wandered
over the house, and came finally to the garret where,
on the occasion of his first visit, he had received his strong-
est impressions of the all- pervading happiness. The door
was shut. He paused on the threshold. He knew per-
fectly well that the room was empty : and yet it was borne
in on him that he must ask permission before entering.
He knocked.

" Come in, come in," said a voice, joyously.



16 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

Keith opened the door. He saw no one.

" You have just come at the right moment," said the
voice. " I've finished my Ode to the Dawn. Oh, the
travail of creation but the joy the ineffable joy ! Noth-
ing can take that from one neither failure nor success.
Yes yes, the dawn breaking on the distant scene
liberty, freedom of spirit, fetters unfastened for ever-
more."

Keith had ever loved poets. He believed them to be
the salvation of the world. And as he stood there, a
great longing and sympathy and gratitude surged up
within him. He stretched out his arms to that invisible
Presence.

And, slowly, slowly, it materialised. He saw the form
of a man, dimly outlined, small, ordinary, insignificant,
but in his eyes the fire of vision, and on his countenance,
written large, the thought that penetrates the ages to
come.

It faded and was gone.



VI

ONE day Mrs. Wedderburn came to Keith's sitting-room
and said that a young lady had called and asked whether
she might see him for a minute. She was waiting down-
stairs in the hall.

" Are you sure she has not come from one of the fur-
nishing firms ? " Keith asked apprehensively.

" I am not sure, sir," Mrs. Wedderburn answered.
" But she does not look like that. And she hasn't a
business manner at all. She almost skipped into the
hall when I opened the door, and said aloud, 'Oh, the
darling old place.' "

" Sensible girl," Keith remarked, smiling. " She deserves
to be received. But if she should prove to be a disguised
emissary from Hampton's or Shoolbred's or any of those
Hostile Houses, what on earth am I to do ? "

" Ring, sir," suggested Mrs. Wedderburn. " And then
leave me to manage her. I'll soon tell her we don't want
no furniture here artd no carpets'"



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 17

The visitor was shown in, and Keith rose to receive her.

" Good morning," he said gravely but courteously.
" I think I had better say at once that I trust you have
not come from Hampton's or Shoolbred's."

" Well, it is curious you should mention it," she replied,
" but I have this moment come from Shoolbred's."

" Ah, I feared so," he said, moving in the direction of
the bell. " But I can assure you I am not in need of their
help. I need neither carpets nor furniture."

She laughed merrily, and very charming she looked, her
eyes dancing with amusement, and a slight flush Nature's
unaided tint, on her face.

" Oh, I understand," she said. " You thought I was
a representative of the firm intent on business. But I'm
not. And I've only been to Shoolbred's to buy a couple of
tea-trays. I am sorry if I have alarmed you. I really ought
not to have come at all, but I could not resist. You see,
we lived here for some time. Some friends lent us the
house whilst they were away in South Africa. And I was
never so happy in my life. I was passing near, and
felt I must come in."

Keith moved away from the bell. His manner under-
went a complete change.

" You lived here," he repeated, smiling. " Then I am
sure you are most welcome. I can well understand that
anyone who has once lived here, would never pass the
house without wishing to come in. In fact it would be
impossible."

" Yes, it would be, wouldn't it ? " she said eagerly.

" Roam through the house at your leisure," he went on.
;< You will need to be alone to collect old memories, so I
will not come with you. If you wish to see me again,
you will find me here."

She lingered for a moment before wandering off.
< " It was most curious," she said half -dreamily, " how
happy I was here. I don't think I am by nature a happy
person, and we have always had great tragedies in our
family, which have helped to make us all sorrowful. But
you would have been amused to see the change in us here.
None of the others knew the reason of the change. They
2



18 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

were light-hearted and at ease in body and spirit without
realising that they were under some influence. But I
knew. After I had been here a day or two, I had learnt
the secret of the house."

" Ah," said Keith quietly, " a beautiful secret, isn't
it? "

" Yes," she answered, her eyes shining.

She passed swiftly up the staircase. Keith heard
her singing as she went. He recognised the song. It
was " UHeureux Vagabond," a little song by Alfred
Bruneau.

He felt certain that there was a stir in the atmosphere.
He could well imagine that she was being welcomed as one
in perfect accord with the harmonies of the house.

She bore the signs of pleasurable excitement on her
radiant countenance when she came downstairs again.

" Darling old place," she said, " I love every inch of it.
But I must see what used to be the dining-room in our
time. May I ? The dining-room was to me the most
wonderful room in the house."

Keith hesitated.

" I don't know whether we can disturb Mr. Halton," he
said. " I found him here in possession of that room, and
here he abides. But wait a moment. Perhaps he is
asleep, and then you could steal in and sit awhile."

He opened the door very cautiously. Mr. Halton was
fast asleep in his armchair. His book on Indian Dialects
had fallen on the ground. Keith beckoned to his visitor,
and she crept in on tiptoe.

" What a grand-looking old man," she whispered.
"He is the right personage to be here. He belongs to
the room."

Keith nodded, put his finger to his lips to enjoin silence,
and pointed to a chair in the corner and left her. He did
not close the door. He waited in the hall, wondering what
she was feeling, what she was hearing, seeing, thinking.
He longed to ask, but he knew well that he would never
dream of taking that liberty. If she told him anything,
spontaneously, of her own free will, he would be glad.
Would she tell him ?



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 19

It was only about ten minutes, but it seemed to him
ten years, before she came out.

" The old man is still fast asleep," she said. " I scarcely
breathed lest I should rouse him."

And she added :

" The peace in that room is just as wonderful more
wonderful, and my favourite landscape more beautiful
than ever. I always loved that silvery backwater with
its grey reeds. I hope the dear old man sees it and enjoys
it."

" I have not a doubt he does see and enjoy it," Keith
said gravely.

She held out her hand to him.

" You have been very kind to me," she said, smiling.
" Thank you ever so much. I feel buoyed up with happi-
ness."

Then she darted off like a bird, and Keith heard her
singing that same little song as she danced down the path-
way.

" Je m'en vais par les chemins, lirelin, et la plaine,
Dans mon sacj'ai du pain blanc, lirelin, et trois ecus dans ma poche."

Keith stood for a moment lost in thought ; and then he
stole into Halton's room, and glanced at the empty walls
with the marks left of the places where pictures had hung.
There were none now.

" A silvery backwater with its grey reeds," he mur-
mured. " Perhaps I shall see it one day."

By degrees the Enchanted House yielded up more and
more of its secrets. Keith caught glimpses of the Pres-
ences at nearer intervals ; and snatches of conversation
were always reaching him. Laughter broke upon his hearing
happy laughter, never sinister, always reassuring.
Music greeted him sometimes. And he heard the open-
ing movement of Beethoven's String Quartette in F,
known as the Harp- Quartette. On that occasion he
did not see the players, but later they revealed themselves
to him, two men and two women, and they seemed in
a state of beatific enjoyment over their own performance.



20 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

" We're playing very well, to-night, aren't we," said the
leading violinist, who was a woman. " We're eclipsing
ourselves. We shall soon be playing at St. James's
Hall."

" Let us finish up with a Mozart," said the 'cellist,
" so pleasant and comforting."

The sounds and the vision faded, but Keith knew he
had made new friends. And later, added to them, were
two women, one of whom was bending over some exqui-
site embroidery work, and the other, an exceedingly
beautiful personage, was engaged on some chemical
experiment in her laboratory.

And not so long afterwards, in his own room, the veil
lifted and showed him, for one brief moment, the picture
of a little girl curled up in an armchair. She was writing
hard, and her little thin face, tense though it was with eager-
ness, was lit up with a marvellous radiance, that strange
radiance seen only on the countenances of those to whom
the gods have given the mystic gift of genius. Her doll
was lying pathetic and neglected on the ground. A tall,
grave-looking man, with grey hair and a grey beard, was
bending over her.

" My little one hard at work," he said, " far, far away
in her own world, and with no thoughts for her old father
or her old doll."

" Darling father," she cried impulsively, and flung her
arm round him.

Keith saw the expression of pride and love on the man's
face and then the veil descended.

One night before Keith went to bed, he strolled out
into the garden to enjoy the moon and stars which were
making of the heavens a silver paradise. He was filled
with wonder at them and with gratitude for their splendour
thus spread before him in a healing lavishness. When
he returned to the house, he heard a voice saying :

" But as I have often told you, I never have painted for
the present. I do not expect that my meaning and method
will be understood now. My eyes have always been fixed
on the distant scene,"



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 21

" Very distant is that distant scene," said another voice,
not mockingly, but on the contrary with anxious concern.
" Let it be," said the first voice. " I make towards
it it is my goal. You would not like me to be prosper-
ous like Bridge. Don't ask it of me. I really could not
oblige you."

The other laughed. Then there was silence. Keith
had a sort of feeling that the two friends went off arm
in arm together.

He thought constantly about that artist whose eyes
were fixed on the distant scene. And of course he longed
to see one of his pictures, and hoped, almost prayed, that
one day he might behold the work of a man who cared
not for the praise and profit of the moment, but was content
to steer towards a far-off goal. For Keith himself was
unworldly, free, unmanacled. If he had been a writer
or a painter or a .creative genius of any kind, his eyes
would have been fixed on the distant scene.

Keith's hope was realised at last. He saw the artist
working in his studio a tall, grave, grey haired man, the
father of the little girl who wrote and wrote curled up
in an armchair. He was alone now, alone with his aims
and ambitions, and he was finishing an amazing picture,
quite different from anything that Keith had ever imagined.

You had to look at it a long time before you realised that
it was supposed to represent peaks of snow mountains
freeing themselves from the mists. The method, the
colouring, the conception were startling in the extreme ; but
when you had recovered from the bewilderment, you began
to think that here indeed were the peaks themselves,
here indeed the mists themselves, and here before your
very eyes Nature at work jewelling the snow with emer-
alds and rubies as the sun leapt joyously to greet the
liberated prisoners.

VII

To Keith's amazement Elizabeth's husband arrived one
evening about six o'clock. It chanced that Mrs. Wedder-
burn was constructing her famous dish of macaroni cheese



22 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

at the time, and the fragrance of it was wafted benevo-
lently upstairs. The Q.C. sniffed it, and said to himself :

" Ha, something good cooking here. I must enquire
into this."

It gave him an unexpectedly favourable impression of
the place. He had come intending to be patronising
and satirical, for he had always fostered a contempt for
Keith and all his ways. But he could not be contemptuous
confronted with a succulent aroma of this description. The
thing was not possible.

" So this is your new home, Wilberforce," he said
affably. " Well, I hope you will continue to be happy
in it. Elizabeth seemed to think you had settled down
very comfortably."

" I have, thank you," Keith said icily. He did not
like John Fortescue.

" Elizabeth enjoyed her afternoon here," the Q.C.
continued. " I must say I have never known her for
many years to be so light-hearted. Something here
seems to have pleased her extraordinarily."

" Indeed," remarked Keith. " I am glad."

" You look very well, Wilberforce," Fortescue said.
" Very well and astonishingly young."

" Thank you, I feel both," Keith said with the same
stiffness of manner which the Q.C. always provoked in him.

" Not burdened with furniture, I perceive," Fortescue
remarked, looking round. " Is there by any chance a
chair in the establishment ? I was never one for standing."

" My bedroom and sitting-room are furnished," Keith
said rather more pleasantly. " Come in and sit down
in my easy-chair in my den."

" Ah, that's better," Fortescue said as he followed
Keith into the sitting-room and sank down into a com-
fortable armchair. He lit a cigar and spread himself, as
if he were entirely welcome and could do as he pleased.
Prosperity had made him sure of himself, and he had never
been dowered with even a minimum of sensitiveness.
Keith watched him, wondered why he had come, wondered
how long he was going to stay, and wondered what Eliza-
beth had ever found to like in him.



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 23

" Curious idea of yours, Wilberforce," he said, " to
take a big house after all your protestations against nouses
and your theories about freedom from unnecessary respon-
sibilities and so forth."

" Yes, very curious," Keith agreed gocd-temperedly.
" No one could be more surprised than myself."

" If it isn't an impertinence, I would like to ask why you
did it," Fortescue said, rather coaxingly, as if he were
attempting professionally to wheedle a bit of informa-
tion out of a stubborn witness. " I have always been
interested in motives."

"It is an impertinence," Keith said, smiling. " I
might just as well ask you why you moved to Curzon
Street."

" Oh, that's easily answered," Fortescue said, laughing.
" It was the obvious thing to do in my position and I
did it. Prosperity has to proclaim itself to be believed
in, and to accumulate compound interest. I don't mind
telling you that I am not at all happy in Curzon Street.
But I had to go. That's all."

" That is exactly my case," Keith said. " I had to
come here. Only I had no motive that I was conscious
of."

" Perhaps it was for space," Fortescue suggested.
" You have always cramped yourself up."

" No, it was not," Keith replied. " I have never
cared for space in itself and don't now."

" Well, you have plenty of space here whether you like
it or not," said the other. " Empty space. It ought by
rights to feel desolate ; but I am bound to confess it doesn't."

Keith was on the point of stating that it was not empty
and could not feel desolate, when he restrained himself ;
for it had never been his habit to talk intimately with
Elizabeth's husband on the few occasions when it was
his misfortune to be brought into contact with him. But
oddly enough, to-day he felt it to be less of a misfortune ;
and although he was not intending to give Fortescue
confidences, he neither resented his questions nor even
his presence. For the first time in their intercourse Keith
did not actively dislike him. In fact he found himself



24 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD

owning that there was a sort of boyish charm on Fortes-
cue's face which he had never noticed before, and a sugges-
tion of good-nature making an unconscious appeal for a
belated appreciation.

The door opened at this juncture, and Mrs. Wedder-
burn appeared with the evening tray, from which the
cheese macaroni sent forth an enticing invitation.

" By Jove, what a jolly good smell ! " said Fortescue
boyishly. " You've got a good cook here, Wilberforce.
Plenty of space, no furniture but a good cook. Well,
well ! "

Mrs. Wedderburn was pleased.

" Shall I bring another plate, sir ? " she asked of Keith.

" Yes," Keith answered, laughing. " You'd better
prove your statement, Jack."

Jack Fortescue proved it, and when he returned home,
surprised Elizabeth by telling her that he had paid that
queer old Wilberforce a visit, and found him greatly
changed for the better, more companionable and easy to
be with, and obviously happy and contented.

" As for his macaroni cheese," he added, " well, words
fail me."

It was evident that whatever the cause macaroni cheese
or the Secret of the House he had passed a pleasant
evening, and had absorbed some of the happiness of the
surroundings.

He went whistling into his library.



vrn

ONE day when Keith was sitting with Mr. Halton, he
suddenly saw the landscape of the silvery backwater
with its grey reeds.

" The silvery backwater ! " he cried aloud joyously.

" Ah, I am glad you see it," the old man said. " I
always hoped you would. It speaks of peace and calm
trust and everything beautiful. It has been a great com-
fort to me. If you had turned me away, I should have
mourned for it."



THE ENCHANTED HOUSE 25

" I could not have turned you away," Keith said kindly.
" It would not have been possible."

" No, I do not think it would," Halton said. " You do
not like to give pain to anyone. I am sure of that. And
you have been rewarded as you ought to be."

"I don't- in the least deserve to be rewarded," Keith
said, smiling. " But I have been. All my life I have
longed for the sort of companionship we have here. Out
in the world they call real, it was unattainable. I have
no key with which to unlock the gate which shuts off
ordinary ungifted people from intimate contact with the
great. I had no aims, no attributes to serve as passport,
no right of entry. Nothing except a great longing. One
saw them from afar, and now to be with them in their
midst seems "

He broke off. Voices were heard in the room.

" The fact is I can never tell you or anyone how great the
conflict in my own spirit has been," said one of them.
" You know I have cared passionately for my art, Ned,
and yet for many years I have been torn by the feeling
that I must devote more of my strength to public service.
I have envied those who, likey our self, were able to remain
outside the region of that insistent call. Still, if one
hears a call, one has got to answer to it and these labour
questions are awfully pressing. If we don't handle them
now don't begin to handle them now, I mean we are
storing up endless difficulties and multiplying tenfold the
injustices which we refuse to remedy."

" Poor old chap, I do wish you were not obsessed by
injustices," said the other voice. " No one has your
touch. No one paints a sunrise on the sea like you. Any-
one can look after injustices. They're not nearly as
important as sunrises on the sea."

" Aren't they though ! " laughed the other. " That's
the trouble. Well, I must be off. I've got to speak at
the Working Men's College to-night. Don't take any
notice of my outpouring. I'm an awfully happy fellow
when all is said and done. Wouldn't be without my
contradictory calls for all the peace of spirit in this life or
hereafter. So long."



26 THIRTEEN ALL TOLD


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryBeatrice HarradenThirteen all told → online text (page 2 of 23)