Wednesday, January 31, 2007

DEAD AND SORTA LIKING IT

The Gothic Horror genre in literature, film and in life has a special draw for

many, a special distaste for others. Is the gothic horror genre for the gloom

and doom dark sided among us? Or is it a reflection of the shadows in the soul

inherent in the human condition? Henry_Allen

http://www.student.oulu.fi/~sairwas/frameX/horror/
http://www.gothic.net/_blog/index.php

CLASSICAL SHORT STORY parte the firste

THE MAN WHOM THE TREES LOVED

ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

1912




~I~

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential
qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for
instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why
no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to
paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality
of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it
was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his
drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree
Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost
approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that
particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush--shining, frowning,
dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It
emerged.

There was nothing else in the wide world that he could paint; flowers
and landscapes he only muddled away into a smudge; with people he was
helpless and hopeless; also with animals. Skies he could sometimes
manage, or effects of wind in foliage, but as a rule he left these all
severely alone. He kept to trees, wisely following an instinct that was
guided by love. It was quite arresting, this way he had of making a tree
look almost like a being--alive. It approached the uncanny.

"Yes, Sanderson knows what he's doing when he paints a tree!" thought
old David Bittacy, C.B., late of the Woods and Forests. "Why, you can
almost hear it rustle. You can smell the thing. You can hear the rain
drip through its leaves. You can almost see the branches move. It
grows." For in this way somewhat he expressed his satisfaction, half to
persuade himself that the twenty guineas were well spent (since his wife
thought otherwise), and half to explain this uncanny reality of life
that lay in the fine old cedar framed above his study table.

Yet in the general view the mind of Mr. Bittacy was held to be austere,
not to say morose. Few divined in him the secretly tenacious love of
nature that had been fostered by years spent in the forests and jungles
of the eastern world. It was odd for an Englishman, due possibly to that
Eurasian ancestor. Surreptitiously, as though half ashamed of it, he had
kept alive a sense of beauty that hardly belonged to his type, and was
unusual for its vitality. Trees, in particular, nourished it. He, also,
understood trees, felt a subtle sense of communion with them, born
perhaps of those years he had lived in caring for them, guarding,
protecting, nursing, years of solitude among their great shadowy
presences. He kept it largely to himself, of course, because he knew the
world he lived in. HE also kept it from his wife--to some extent. He
knew it came between them, knew that she feared it, was opposed. But
what he did not know, or realize at any rate, was the extent to which
she grasped the power which they wielded over his life. Her fear, he
judged, was simply due to those years in India, when for weeks at a time
his calling took him away from her into the jungle forests, while she
remained at home dreading all manner of evils that might befall him.
This, of course, explained her instinctive opposition to the passion for
woods that still influenced and clung to him. It was a natural survival
of those anxious days of waiting in solitude for his safe return.

For Mrs. Bittacy, daughter of an evangelical clergy-man, was a
self-sacrificing woman, who in most things found a happy duty in sharing
her husband's joys and sorrows to the point of self-obliteration. Only
in this matter of the trees she was less successful than in others. It
remained a problem difficult of compromise.

He knew, for instance, that what she objected to in this portrait of the
cedar on their lawn was really not the price he had given for it, but
the unpleasant way in which the transaction emphasized this breach
between their common interests--the only one they had, but deep.

Sanderson, the artist, earned little enough money by his strange talent;
such checks were few and far between. The owners of fine or interesting
trees who cared to have them painted singly were rare indeed, and the
"studies" that he made for his own delight he also kept for his own
delight. Even were there buyers, he would not sell them. Only a few, and
these peculiarly intimate friends, might even see them, for he disliked
to hear the undiscerning criticisms of those who did not understand. Not
that he minded laughter at his craftsmanship--he admitted it with
scorn--but that remarks about the personality of the tree itself could
easily wound or anger him. He resented slighting observations concerning
them, as though insults offered to personal friends who could not answer
for themselves. He was instantly up in arms.

"It really is extraordinary," said a Woman who Understood, "that you can
make that cypress seem an individual, when in reality all cypresses are
so _exactly_ alike."

And though the bit of calculated flattery had come so near to saying the
right, true, thing, Sanderson flushed as though she had slighted a
friend beneath his very nose. Abruptly he passed in front of her and
turned the picture to the wall.

"Almost as queer," he answered rudely, copying her silly emphasis, "as
that _you_ should have imagined individuality in your husband, Madame,
when in reality all men are so _exactly_ alike!"

Since the only thing that differentiated her husband from the mob was
the money for which she had married him, Sanderson's relations with that
particular family terminated on the spot, chance of prospective orders
with it. His sensitiveness, perhaps, was morbid. At any rate the way to
reach his heart lay through his trees. He might be said to love trees.
He certainly drew a splendid inspiration from them, and the source of a
man's inspiration, be it music, religion, or a woman, is never a safe
thing to criticize.

"I do think, perhaps, it was just a little extravagant, dear," said Mrs.
Bittacy, referring to the cedar check, "when we want a lawnmower so
badly too. But, as it gives you such pleasure--"

"It reminds me of a certain day, Sophia," replied the old gentleman,
looking first proudly at herself, then fondly at the picture, "now long
gone by. It reminds me of another tree--that Kentish lawn in the spring,
birds singing in the lilacs, and some one in a muslin frock waiting
patiently beneath a certain cedar--not the one in the picture, I know,
but--"

"I was not waiting," she said indignantly, "I was picking fir-cones for
the schoolroom fire--"

"Fir-cones, my dear, do not grow on cedars, and schoolroom fires were
not made in June in my young days."

"And anyhow it isn't the same cedar."

"It has made me fond of all cedars for its sake," he answered, "and it
reminds me that you are the same young girl still--"

She crossed the room to his side, and together they looked out of the
window where, upon the lawn of their Hampshire cottage, a ragged Lebanon
stood in a solitary state.

"You're as full of dreams as ever," she said gently, "and I don't regret
the check a bit--really. Only it would have been more real if it had
been the original tree, wouldn't it?"

"That was blown down years ago. I passed the place last year, and
there's not a sign of it left," he replied tenderly. And presently, when
he released her from his side, she went up to the wall and carefully
dusted the picture Sanderson had made of the cedar on their present
lawn. She went all round the frame with her tiny handkerchief, standing
on tiptoe to reach the top rim.

"What I like about it," said the old fellow to himself when his wife had
left the room, "is the way he has made it live. All trees have it, of
course, but a cedar taught it to me first--the 'something' trees possess
that make them know I'm there when I stand close and watch. I suppose I
felt it then because I was in love, and love reveals life everywhere."
He glanced a moment at the Lebanon looming gaunt and somber through the
gathering dusk. A curious wistful expression danced a moment through his
eyes. "Yes, Sanderson has seen it as it is," he murmured, "solemnly
dreaming there its dim hidden life against the Forest edge, and as
different from that other tree in Kent as I am from--from the vicar,
say. It's quite a stranger, too. I don't know anything about it really.
That other cedar I loved; this old fellow I respect. Friendly
though--yes, on the whole quite friendly. He's painted the friendliness
right enough. He saw that. I'd like to know that man better," he added.
"I'd like to ask him how he saw so clearly that it stands there between
this cottage and the Forest--yet somehow more in sympathy with us than
with the mass of woods behind--a sort of go-between. _That_ I never
noticed before. I see it now--through his eyes. It stands there like a
sentinel--protective rather."

He turned away abruptly to look through the window. He saw the great
encircling mass of gloom that was the Forest, fringing their little
lawn. It pressed up closer in the darkness. The prim garden with its
formal beds of flowers seemed an impertinence almost--some little
colored insect that sought to settle on a sleeping monster--some gaudy
fly that danced impudently down the edge of a great river that could
engulf it with a toss of its smallest wave. That Forest with its
thousand years of growth and its deep spreading being was some such
slumbering monster, yes. Their cottage and garden stood too near its
running lip. When the winds were strong and lifted its shadowy skirts of
black and purple.... He loved this feeling of the Forest Personality; he
had always loved it.

"Queer," he reflected, "awfully queer, that trees should bring me such a
sense of dim, vast living! I used to feel it particularly, I remember,
in India; in Canadian woods as well; but never in little English woods
till here. And Sanderson's the only man I ever knew who felt it too.
He's never said so, but there's the proof," and he turned again to the
picture that he loved. A thrill of unaccustomed life ran through him as
he looked. "I wonder; by Jove, I wonder," his thoughts ran on, "whether
a tree--er--in any lawful meaning of the term can be--alive. I remember
some writing fellow telling me long ago that trees had once been moving
things, animal organisms of some sort, that had stood so long feeding,
sleeping, dreaming, or something, in the same place, that they had lost
the power to get away...!"

Fancies flew pell-mell about his mind, and, lighting a cheroot, he
dropped into an armchair beside the open window and let them play.
Outside the blackbirds whistled in the shrubberies across the lawn. He
smelt the earth and trees and flowers, the perfume of mown grass, and
the bits of open heath-land far away in the heart of the woods. The
summer wind stirred very faintly through the leaves. But the great New
Forest hardly raised her sweeping skirts of black and purple shadow.

Mr. Bittacy, however, knew intimately every detail of that wilderness of
trees within. He knew all the purple coombs splashed with yellow waves
of gorse; sweet with juniper and myrtle, and gleaming with clear and
dark-eyed pools that watched the sky. There hawks hovered, circling hour
by hour, and the flicker of the peewit's flight with its melancholy,
petulant cry, deepened the sense of stillness. He knew the solitary
pines, dwarfed, tufted, vigorous, that sang to every lost wind,
travelers like the gypsies who pitched their bush-like tents beneath
them; he knew the shaggy ponies, with foals like baby centaurs; the
chattering jays, the milky call of the cuckoos in the spring, and the
boom of the bittern from the lonely marshes. The undergrowth of watching
hollies, he knew too, strange and mysterious, with their dark,
suggestive beauty, and the yellow shimmer of their pale dropped leaves.

Here all the Forest lived and breathed in safety, secure from
mutilation. No terror of the axe could haunt the peace of its vast
subconscious life, no terror of devastating Man afflict it with the
dread of premature death. It knew itself supreme; it spread and preened
itself without concealment. It set no spires to carry warnings, for no
wind brought messages of alarm as it bulged outwards to the sun and
stars.

But, once its leafy portals left behind, the trees of the countryside
were otherwise. The houses threatened them; they knew themselves in
danger. The roads were no longer glades of silent turf, but noisy, cruel
ways by which men came to attack them. They were civilized, cared
for--but cared for in order that some day they might be put to death.
Even in the villages, where the solemn and immemorial repose of giant
chestnuts aped security, the tossing of a silver birch against their
mass, impatient in the littlest wind, brought warning. Dust clogged
their leaves. The inner humming of their quiet life became inaudible
beneath the scream and shriek of clattering traffic. They longed and
prayed to enter the great Peace of the Forest yonder, but they could not
move. They knew, moreover, that the Forest with its august, deep
splendor despised and pitied them. They were a thing of artificial
gardens, and belonged to beds of flowers all forced to grow one way....

"I'd like to know that artist fellow better," was the thought upon which
he returned at length to the things of practical life. "I wonder if
Sophia would mind him for a bit--?" He rose with the sound of the gong,
brushing the ashes from his speckled waistcoat. He pulled the waistcoat
down. He was slim and spare in figure, active in his movements. In the
dim light, but for that silvery moustache, he might easily have passed
for a man of forty. "I'll suggest it to her anyhow," he decided on his
way upstairs to dress. His thought really was that Sanderson could
probably explain his world of things he had always felt about--trees. A
man who could paint the soul of a cedar in that way must know it all.

"Why not?" she gave her verdict later over the bread-and-butter pudding;
"unless you think he'd find it dull without companions."

"He would paint all day in the Forest, dear. I'd like to pick his brains
a bit, too, if I could manage it."

"You can manage anything, David," was what she answered, for this
elderly childless couple used an affectionate politeness long since
deemed old-fashioned. The remark, however, displeased her, making her
feel uneasy, and she did not notice his rejoinder, smiling his pleasure
and content--"Except yourself and our bank account, my dear." This
passion of his for trees was of old a bone of contention, though very
mild contention. It frightened her. That was the truth. The Bible, her
Baedeker for earth and heaven, did not mention it. Her husband, while
humoring her, could never alter that instinctive dread she had. He
soothed, but never changed her. She liked the woods, perhaps as spots
for shade and picnics, but she could not, as he did, love them.

And after dinner, with a lamp beside the open window, he read aloud from
_ The Times_ the evening post had brought, such fragments as he thought
might interest her. The custom was invariable, except on Sundays, when,
to please his wife, he dozed over Tennyson or Farrar as their mood might
be. She knitted while he read, asked gentle questions, told him his
voice was a "lovely reading voice," and enjoyed the little discussions
that occasions prompted because he always let her with them with "Ah,
Sophia, I had never thought of it quite in _that_ way before; but now
you mention it I must say I think there's something in it...."

For David Bittacy was wise. It was long after marriage, during his
months of loneliness spent with trees and forests in India, his wife
waiting at home in the Bungalow, that his other, deeper side had
developed the strange passion that she could not understand. And after
one or two serious attempts to let her share it with him, he had given
up and learned to hide it from her. He learned, that is, to speak of it
only casually, for since she knew it was there, to keep silence
altogether would only increase her pain. So from time to time he skimmed
the surface just to let her show him where he was wrong and think she
won the day. It remained a debatable land of compromise. He listened
with patience to her criticisms, her excursions and alarms, knowing that
while it gave her satisfaction, it could not change himself. The thing
lay in him too deep and true for change. But, for peace' sake, some
meeting-place was desirable, and he found it thus.

It was her one fault in his eyes, this religious mania carried over from
her upbringing, and it did no serious harm. Great emotion could shake it
sometimes out of her. She clung to it because her father taught it her
and not because she had thought it out for herself. Indeed, like many
women, she never really _thought_ at all, but merely reflected the
images of others' thinking which she had learned to see. So, wise in his
knowledge of human nature, old David Bittacy accepted the pain of being
obliged to keep a portion of his inner life shut off from the woman he
deeply loved. He regarded her little biblical phrases as oddities that
still clung to a rather fine, big soul--like horns and little useless
things some animals have not yet lost in the course of evolution while
they have outgrown their use.

"My dear, what is it? You frightened me!" She asked it suddenly, sitting
up so abruptly that her cap dropped sideways almost to her ear. For
David Bittacy behind his crackling paper had uttered a sharp exclamation
of surprise. He had lowered the sheet and was staring at her over the
tops of his gold glasses.

"Listen to this, if you please," he said, a note of eagerness in his
voice, "listen to this, my dear Sophia. It's from an address by Francis
Darwin before the Royal Society. He is president, you know, and son of
the great Darwin. Listen carefully, I beg you. It is _most_ significant."

"I _am_ listening, David," she said with some astonishment, looking up.
She stopped her knitting. For a second she glanced behind her. Something
had suddenly changed in the room, and it made her feel wide awake,
though before she had been almost dozing. Her husband's voice and manner
had introduced this new thing. Her instincts rose in warning. "_Do_
read it, dear." He took a deep breath, looking first again over the rims
of his glasses to make quite sure of her attention. He had evidently
come across something of genuine interest, although herself she often
found the passages from these "Addresses" somewhat heavy.

In a deep, emphatic voice he read aloud:

'"It is impossible to know whether or not plants are conscious; but it
is consistent with the doctrine of continuity that in all living things
there is something psychic, and if we accept this point of view--'"

"_If_," she interrupted, scenting danger.

He ignored the interruption as a thing of slight value he was accustomed
to.

'"If we accept this point of view,'" he continued, '"we must believe
that in plants there exists a faint copy of _what we know as
consciousness in ourselves_ .'"

He laid the paper down and steadily stared at her. Their eyes met. He
had italicized the last phrase.

For a minute or two his wife made no reply or comment. They stared at
one another in silence. He waited for the meaning of the words to reach
her understanding with full import. Then he turned and read them again
in part, while she, released from that curious driving look in his eyes,
instinctively again glanced over her shoulder round the room. It was
almost as if she felt some one had come in to them unnoticed.

"We must believe that in plants there exists a faint copy of what we
know as consciousness in ourselves."

"_If_," she repeated lamely, feeling before the stare of those
questioning eyes she must say something, but not yet having gathered her
wits together quite.

"_Consciousness_," he rejoined. And then he added gravely: "That, my
dear, is the statement of a scientific man of the Twentieth Century."

Mrs. Bittacy sat forward in her chair so that her silk flounces crackled
louder than the newspaper. She made a characteristic little sound
between sniffling and snorting. She put her shoes closely together, with
her hands upon her knees.

"David," she said quietly, "I think these scientific men are simply
losing their heads. There is nothing in the Bible that I can remember
about any such thing whatsoever."

"Nothing, Sophia, that I can remember either," he answered patiently.
Then, after a pause, he added, half to himself perhaps more than to her:
"And, now that I come to think about it, it seems that Sanderson once
said something to me that was similar.

"Then Mr. Sanderson is a wise and thoughtful man, and a safe man," she
quickly took up, "if he said that."

For she thought her husband referred to her remark about the Bible, and
not to her judgment of the scientific men. And he did not correct her
mistake.

"And plants, you see, dear, are not the same as trees," she drove her
advantage home, "not quite, that is."

"I agree," said David quietly; "but both belong to the great vegetable
kingdom."

There was a moment's pause before she answered.

"Pah! the vegetable kingdom, indeed!" She tossed her pretty old head.
And into the words she put a degree of contempt that, could the
vegetable kingdom have heard it, might have made it feel ashamed for
covering a third of the world with its wonderful tangled network of
roots and branches, delicate shaking leaves, and its millions of spires
that caught the sun and wind and rain. Its very right to existence
seemed in question.



~II~

Sanderson accordingly came down, and on the whole his short visit
was a success. Why he came at all was a mystery to those who heard of
it, for he never paid visits and was certainly not the kind of man to
court a customer. There must have been something in Bittacy he liked.

Mrs. Bittacy was glad when he left. He brought no dress-suit for one
thing, not even a dinner-jacket, and he wore very low collars with big
balloon ties like a Frenchman, and let his hair grow longer than was
nice, she felt. Not that these things were important, but that she
considered them symptoms of something a little disordered. The ties were
unnecessarily flowing.

For all that he was an interesting man, and, in spite of his
eccentricities of dress and so forth, a gentleman. "Perhaps," she
reflected in her genuinely charitable heart, "he had other uses for the
twenty guineas, an invalid sister or an old mother to support!" She had
no notion of the cost of brushes, frames, paints, and canvases. Also she
forgave him much for the sake of his beautiful eyes and his eager
enthusiasm of manner. So many men of thirty were already blase.

Still, when the visit was over, she felt relieved. She said nothing
about his coming a second time, and her husband, she was glad to notice,
had likewise made no suggestion. For, truth to tell, the way the younger
man engrossed the older, keeping him out for hours in the Forest,
talking on the lawn in the blazing sun, and in the evenings when the
damp of dusk came creeping out from the surrounding woods, all
regardless of his age and usual habits, was not quite to her taste. Of
course, Mr. Sanderson did not know how easily those attacks of Indian
fever came back, but David surely might have told him.

They talked trees from morning to night. It stirred in her the old
subconscious trail of dread, a trail that led ever into the darkness of
big woods; and such feelings, as her early evangelical training taught
her, were temptings. To regard them in any other way was to play with
danger.

Her mind, as she watched these two, was charged with curious thoughts of
dread she could not understand, yet feared the more on that account. The
way they studied that old mangy cedar was a trifle unnecessary, unwise,
she felt. It was disregarding the sense of proportion which deity had
set upon the world for men's safe guidance.

Even after dinner they smoked their cigars upon the low branches that
swept down and touched the lawn, until at length she insisted on their
coming in. Cedars, she had somewhere heard, were not safe after sundown;
it was not wholesome to be too near them; to sleep beneath them was even
dangerous, though what the precise danger was she had forgotten. The
upas was the tree she really meant.

At any rate she summoned David in, and Sanderson came presently after
him.

For a long time, before deciding on this peremptory step, she had
watched them surreptitiously from the drawing-room window--her husband
and her guest. The dusk enveloped them with its damp veil of gauze. She
saw the glowing tips of their cigars, and heard the drone of voices.
Bats flitted overhead, and big, silent moths whirred softly over the
rhododendron blossoms. And it came suddenly to her, while she watched,
that her husband had somehow altered these last few days--since Mr.
Sanderson's arrival in fact. A change had come over him, though what it
was she could not say. She hesitated, indeed, to search. That was the
instinctive dread operating in her. Provided it passed she would rather
not know. Small things, of course, she noticed; small outward signs. He
had neglected _The Times_ for one thing, left off his speckled
waistcoats for another. He was absent-minded sometimes; showed vagueness
in practical details where hitherto he showed decision. And--he had
begun to talk in his sleep again.

These and a dozen other small peculiarities came suddenly upon her with
the rush of a combined attack. They brought with them a faint distress
that made her shiver. Momentarily her mind was startled, then confused,
as her eyes picked out the shadowy figures in the dusk, the cedar
covering them, the Forest close at their backs. And then, before she
could think, or seek internal guidance as her habit was, this whisper,
muffled and very hurried, ran across her brain: "It's Mr. Sanderson.
Call David in at once!"

And she had done so. Her shrill voice crossed the lawn and died away
into the Forest, quickly smothered. No echo followed it. The sound fell
dead against the rampart of a thousand listening trees.

"The damp is so very penetrating, even in summer," she murmured when
they came obediently. She was half surprised at her open audacity, half
repentant. They came so meekly at her call. "And my husband is sensitive
to fever from the East. No, _please do not throw away your cigars. We
can sit by the open window and enjoy the evening while you smoke_."

She was very talkative for a moment; subconscious excitement was the
cause.

"It is so still--so wonderfully still," she went on, as no one spoke;
"so peaceful, and the air so very sweet ... and God is always near to
those who need His aid." The words slipped out before she realized quite
what she was saying, yet fortunately, in time to lower her voice, for no
one heard them. They were, perhaps, an instinctive expression of relief.
It flustered her that she could have said the thing at all.

Sanderson brought her shawl and helped to arrange the chairs; she
thanked him in her old-fashioned, gentle way, declining the lamps which
he had offered to light. "They attract the moths and insects so, I
think!"

The three of them sat there in the gloaming. Mr. Bittacy's white
moustache and his wife's yellow shawl gleaming at either end of the
little horseshoe, Sanderson with his wild black hair and shining eyes
midway between them. The painter went on talking softly, continuing
evidently the conversation begun with his host beneath the cedar. Mrs.
Bittacy, on her guard, listened--uneasily.

"For trees, you see, rather conceal themselves in daylight. They reveal
themselves fully only after sunset. I never _know_ a tree," he bowed
here slightly towards the lady as though to apologize for something he
felt she would not quite understand or like, "until I've seen it in the
night. Your cedar, for instance," looking towards her husband again so
that Mrs. Bittacy caught the gleaming of his turned eyes, "I failed with
badly at first, because I did it in the morning. You shall see to-morrow
what I mean--that first sketch is upstairs in my portfolio; it's quite
another tree to the one you bought. That view"--he leaned forward,
lowering his voice--"I caught one morning about two o'clock in very
faint moonlight and the stars. I saw the naked being of the thing--"

"You mean that you went out, Mr. Sanderson, at that hour?" the old lady
asked with astonishment and mild rebuke. She did not care particularly
for his choice of adjectives either.

"I fear it was rather a liberty to take in another's house, perhaps," he
answered courteously. "But, having chanced to wake, I saw the tree from
my window, and made my way downstairs."

"It's a wonder Boxer didn't bit you; he sleeps loose in the hall," she
said.

"On the contrary. The dog came out with me. I hope," he added, "the
noise didn't disturb you, though it's rather late to say so. I feel
quite guilty." His white teeth showed in the dusk as he smiled. A smell
of earth and flowers stole in through the window on a breath of
wandering air.

Mrs. Bittacy said nothing at the moment. "We both sleep like tops," put
in her husband, laughing. "You're a courageous man, though, Sanderson,
and, by Jove, the picture justifies you. Few artist would have taken so
much trouble, though I read once that Holman Hunt, Rossetti, or some one
of that lot, painted all night in his orchard to get an effect of
moonlight that he wanted."

He chattered on. His wife was glad to hear his voice; it made her feel
more easy in her mind. But presently the other held the floor again, and
her thoughts grew darkened and afraid. Instinctively she feared the
influence on her husband. The mystery and wonder that lie in woods, in
forests, in great gatherings of trees everywhere, seemed so real and
present while he talked.

"The Night transfigures all things in a way," he was saying; "but
nothing so searchingly as trees. From behind a veil that sunlight hangs
before them in the day they emerge and show themselves. Even buildings
do that--in a measure--but trees particularly. In the daytime they
sleep; at night they wake, they manifest, turn active--live. You
remember," turning politely again in the direction of his hostess, "how
clearly Henley understood that?"

"That socialist person, you mean?" asked the lady. Her tone and accent
made the substantive sound criminal. It almost hissed, the way she
uttered it.

"The poet, yes," replied the artist tactfully, "the friend of Stevenson,
you remember, Stevenson who wrote those charming children's verses."

He quoted in a low voice the lines he meant. It was, for once, the time,
the place, and the setting all together. The words floated out across
the lawn towards the wall of blue darkness where the big Forest swept
the little garden with its league-long curve that was like the
shore-line of a sea. A wave of distant sound that was like surf
accompanied his voice, as though the wind was fain to listen too:

Not to the staring Day,
For all the importunate questionings he pursues
In his big, violent voice,
Shall those mild things of bulk and multitude,
The trees--God's sentinels ...
Yield of their huge, unutterable selves
But at the word
Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night,
Night of many secrets, whose effect--
Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread--
Themselves alone may fully apprehend,
They tremble and are changed:
In each the uncouth, individual soul
Looms forth and glooms
Essential, and, their bodily presences
Touched with inordinate significance,
Wearing the darkness like a livery
Of some mysterious and tremendous guild,
They brood--they menace--they appall.

The voice of Mrs. Bittacy presently broke the silence that followed.

"I like that part about God's sentinels," she murmured. There was no
sharpness in her tone; it was hushed and quiet. The truth, so musically
uttered, muted her shrill objections though it had not lessened her
alarm. Her husband made no comment; his cigar, she noticed, had gone
out.

"And old trees in particular," continued the artist, as though to
himself, "have very definite personalities. You can offend, wound,
please them; the moment you stand within their shade you feel whether
they come out to you, or whether they withdraw." He turned abruptly
towards his host. "You know that singular essay of Prentice Mulford's,
no doubt 'God in the Trees'--extravagant perhaps, but yet with a fine
true beauty in it? You've never read it, no?" he asked.

But it was Mrs. Bittacy who answered; her husband keeping his curious
deep silence.

"I never did!" It fell like a drip of cold water from the face muffled
in the yellow shawl; even a child could have supplied the remainder of
the unspoken thought.

"Ah," said Sanderson gently, "but there _is_ 'God' in the trees. God in
a very subtle aspect and sometimes--I have known the trees express it
too--that which is _not_ God--dark and terrible. Have you ever noticed,
too, how clearly trees show what they want--choose their companions, at
least? How beeches, for instance, allow no life too near them--birds or
squirrels in their boughs, nor any growth beneath? The silence in the
beech wood is quite terrifying often! And how pines like bilberry bushes
at their feet and sometimes little oaks--all trees making a clear,
deliberate choice, and holding firmly to it? Some trees obviously--it's
very strange and marked--seem to prefer the human."

The old lady sat up crackling, for this was more than she could permit.
Her stiff silk dress emitted little sharp reports.

"We know," she answered, "that He was said to have walked in the garden
in the cool of the evening"--the gulp betrayed the effort that it cost
her--"but we are nowhere told that He hid in the trees, or anything like
that. Trees, after all, we must remember, are only large vegetables."

"True," was the soft answer, "but in everything that grows, has life,
that is, there's mystery past all finding out. The wonder that lies
hidden in our own souls lies also hidden, I venture to assert, in the
stupidity and silence of a mere potato."

The observation was not meant to be amusing. It was _not_ amusing. No
one laughed. On the contrary, the words conveyed in too literal a sense
the feeling that haunted all that conversation. Each one in his own way
realized--with beauty, with wonder, with alarm--that the talk had
somehow brought the whole vegetable kingdom nearer to that of man. Some
link had been established between the two. It was not wise, with that
great Forest listening at their very doors, to speak so plainly. The
forest edged up closer while they did so.

And Mrs. Bittacy, anxious to interrupt the horrid spell, broke suddenly
in upon it with a matter-of-fact suggestion. She did not like her
husband's prolonged silence, stillness. He seemed so negative--so
changed.

"David," she said, raising her voice, "I think you're feeling the
dampness. It's grown chilly. The fever comes so suddenly, you know, and
it might be wide to take the tincture. I'll go and get it, dear, at
once. It's better." And before he could object she had left the room to
bring the homeopathic dose that she believed in, and that, to please
her, he swallowed by the tumbler-full from week to week.

And the moment the door closed behind her, Sanderson began again, though
now in quite a different tone. Mr. Bittacy sat up in his chair. The two
men obviously resumed the conversation--the real conversation
interrupted beneath the cedar--and left aside the sham one which was so
much dust merely thrown in the old lady's eyes.

"Trees love you, that's the fact," he said earnestly. "Your service to
them all these years abroad has made them know you."

"Know me?"

"Made them, yes,"--he paused a moment, then added,--"made them _aware
of your presence_; aware of a force outside themselves that
deliberately seeks their welfare, don't you see?"

"By Jove, Sanderson--!" This put into plain language actual sensations
he had felt, yet had never dared to phrase in words before. "They get
into touch with me, as it were?" he ventured, laughing at his own
sentence, yet laughing only with his lips.

"Exactly," was the quick, emphatic reply. "They seek to blend with
something they feel instinctively to be good for them, helpful to their
essential beings, encouraging to their best expression--their life."

"Good Lord, Sir!" Bittacy heard himself saying, "but you're putting my
own thoughts into words. D'you know, I've felt something like that for
years. As though--" he looked round to make sure his wife was not there,
then finished the sentence--"as though the trees were after me!"

"'Amalgamate' seems the best word, perhaps," said Sanderson slowly.
"They would draw you to themselves. Good forces, you see, always seek to
merge; evil to separate; that's why Good in the end must always win the
day--everywhere. The accumulation in the long run becomes overwhelming.
Evil tends to separation, dissolution, death. The comradeship of trees,
their instinct to run together, is a vital symbol. Trees in a mass are
good; alone, you may take it generally, are--well, dangerous. Look at a
monkey-puzzler, or better still, a holly. Look at it, watch it,
understand it. Did you ever see more plainly an evil thought made
visible? They're wicked. Beautiful too, oh yes! There's a strange,
miscalculated beauty often in evil--"

"That cedar, then--?"

"Not evil, no; but alien, rather. Cedars grow in forests all together.
The poor thing has drifted, that is all."

They were getting rather deep. Sanderson, talking against time, spoke so
fast. It was too condensed. Bittacy hardly followed that last bit. His
mind floundered among his own less definite, less sorted thoughts, till
presently another sentence from the artist startled him into attention
again.

"That cedar will protect you here, though, because you both have
humanized it by your thinking so lovingly of its presence. The others
can't get past it, as it were."

"Protect me!" he exclaimed. "Protect me from their love?"

Sanderson laughed. "We're getting rather mixed," he said; "we're talking
of one thing in the terms of another really. But what I mean is--you
see--that their love for you, their 'awareness' of your personality and
presence involves the idea of winning you--across the border--into
themselves--into their world of living. It means, in a way, taking you
over."

The ideas the artist started in his mind ran furious wild races to and
fro. It was like a maze sprung suddenly into movement. The whirling of
the intricate lines bewildered him. They went so fast, leaving but half
an explanation of their goal. He followed first one, then another, but a
new one always dashed across to intercept before he could get anywhere.

"But India," he said, presently in a lower voice, "India is so far
away--from this little English forest. The trees, too, are utterly
different for one thing?"

The rustle of skirts warned of Mrs. Bittacy's approach. This was a
sentence he could turn round another way in case she came up and pressed
for explanation.

"There is communion among trees all the world over," was the strange
quick reply. "They always know."

"They always know! You think then--?"

"The winds, you see--the great, swift carriers! They have their ancient
rights of way about the world. An easterly wind, for instance, carrying
on stage by stage as it were--linking dropped messages and meanings from
land to land like the birds--an easterly wind--"

Mrs. Bittacy swept in upon them with the tumbler--

"There, David," she said, "that will ward off any beginnings of attack.
Just a spoonful, dear. Oh, oh! not _all_ !" for he had swallowed half
the contents at a single gulp as usual; "another dose before you go to
bed, and the balance in the morning, first thing when you wake."

She turned to her guest, who put the tumbler down for her upon a table
at his elbow. She had heard them speak of the east wind. She emphasized
the warning she had misinterpreted. The private part of the conversation
came to an abrupt end.

"It is the one thing that upsets him more than any other--an east wind,"
she said, "and I am glad, Mr. Sanderson, to hear you think so too."



~III~

A deep hush followed, in the middle of which an owl was heard calling
its muffled note in the forest. A big moth whirred with a soft collision
against one of the windows. Mrs. Bittacy started slightly, but no one
spoke. Above the trees the stars were faintly visible. From the distance
came the barking of a dog.

Bittacy, relighting his cigar, broke the little spell of silence that
had caught all three.

"It's rather a comforting thought," he said, throwing the match out of
the window, "that life is about us everywhere, and that there is really
no dividing line between what we call organic and inorganic."

"The universe, yes," said Sanderson, "is all one, really. We're puzzled
by the gaps we cannot see across, but as a fact, I suppose, there are no
gaps at all."

Mrs. Bittacy rustled ominously, holding her peace meanwhile. She feared
long words she did not understand. Beelzebub lay hid among too many
syllables.

"In trees and plants especially, there dreams an exquisite life that no
one yet has proved unconscious."

"Or conscious either, Mr. Sanderson," she neatly interjected. "It's only
man that was made after His image, not shrubberies and things...."

Her husband interposed without delay.

"It is not necessary," he explained suavely, "to say that they're alive
in the sense that we are alive. At the same time," with an eye to his
wife, "I see no harm in holding, dear, that all created things contain
some measure of His life Who made them. It's only beautiful to hold that
He created nothing dead. We are not pantheists for all that!" he added
soothingly.

"Oh, no! Not that, I hope!" The word alarmed her. It was worse than
pope. Through her puzzled mind stole a stealthy, dangerous thing ...
like a panther.

"I like to think that even in decay there's life," the painter murmured.
"The falling apart of rotten wood breeds sentiency, there's force and
motion in the falling of a dying leaf, in the breaking up and crumbling
of everything indeed. And take an inert stone: it's crammed with heat
and weight and potencies of all sorts. What holds its particles together
indeed? We understand it as little as gravity or why a needle always
turns to the 'North.' Both things may be a mode of life...."

"You think a compass has a soul, Mr. Sanderson?" exclaimed the lady with
a crackling of her silk flounces that conveyed a sense of outrage even
more plainly than her tone. The artist smiled to himself in the
darkness, but it was Bittacy who hastened to reply.

"Our friend merely suggests that these mysterious agencies," he said
quietly, "may be due to some kind of life we cannot understand. Why
should water only run downhill? Why should trees grow at right angles to
the surface of the ground and towards the sun? Why should the worlds
spin for ever on their axes? Why should fire change the form of
everything it touches without really destroying them? To say these
things follow the law of their being explains nothing. Mr. Sanderson
merely suggests--poetically, my dear, of course--that these may be
manifestations of life, though life at a different stage to ours."

"The '_ breath_ of life,' we read, 'He breathed into them. These things
do not breathe." She said it with triumph.

Then Sanderson put in a word. But he spoke rather to himself or to his
host than by way of serious rejoinder to the ruffled lady.

"But plants do breathe too, you know," he said. "They breathe, they eat,
they digest, they move about, and they adapt themselves to their
environment as men and animals do. They have a nervous system too... at
least a complex system of nuclei which have some of the qualities of
nerve cells. They may have memory too. Certainly, they know definite
action in response to stimulus. And though this may be physiological, no
one has proved that it is only that, and not--psychological."

He did not notice, apparently, the little gasp that was audible behind
the yellow shawl. Bittacy cleared his throat, threw his extinguished
cigar upon the lawn, crossed and recrossed his legs.

"And in trees," continued the other, "behind a great forest, for
instance," pointing towards the woods, "may stand a rather splendid
Entity that manifests through all the thousand individual trees--some
huge collective life, quite as minutely and delicately organized as our
own. It might merge and blend with ours under certain conditions, so
that we could understand it by _being_ it, for a time at least. It
might even engulf human vitality into the immense whirlpool of its own
vast dreaming life. The pull of a big forest on a man can be tremendous
and utterly overwhelming."

The mouth of Mrs. Bittacy was heard to close with a snap. Her shawl, and
particularly her crackling dress, exhaled the protest that burned within
her like a pain. She was too distressed to be overawed, but at the same
time too confused 'mid the litter of words and meanings half understood,
to find immediate phrases she could use. Whatever the actual meaning of
his language might be, however, and whatever subtle dangers lay
concealed behind them meanwhile, they certainly wove a kind of gentle
spell with the glimmering darkness that held all three delicately
enmeshed there by that open window. The odors of dewy lawn, flowers,
trees, and earth formed part of it.

"The moods," he continued, "that people waken in us are due to their
hidden life affecting our own. Deep calls to sleep. A person, for
instance, joins you in an empty room: you both instantly change. The new
arrival, though in silence, has caused a change of mood. May not the
moods of Nature touch and stir us in virtue of a similar prerogative?
The sea, the hills, the desert, wake passion, joy, terror, as the case
may be; for a few, perhaps," he glanced significantly at his host so
that Mrs. Bittacy again caught the turning of his eyes, "emotions of a
curious, flaming splendor that are quite nameless. Well ... whence come
these powers? Surely from nothing that is ... dead! Does not the
influence of a forest, its sway and strange ascendancy over certain
minds, betray a direct manifestation of life? It lies otherwise beyond
all explanation, this mysterious emanation of big woods. Some natures,
of course, deliberately invite it. The authority of a host of
trees,"--his voice grew almost solemn as he said the words--"is
something not to be denied. One feels it here, I think, particularly."

There was considerable tension in the air as he ceased speaking. Mr.
Bittacy had not intended that the talk should go so far. They had
drifted. He did not wish to see his wife unhappy or afraid, and he was
aware--acutely so--that her feelings were stirred to a point he did not
care about. Something in her, as he put it, was "working up" towards
explosion.

He sought to generalize the conversation, diluting this accumulated
emotion by spreading it.

"The sea is His and He made it," he suggested vaguely, hoping Sanderson
would take the hint, "and with the trees it is the same...."

"The whole gigantic vegetable kingdom, yes," the artist took him up,
"all at the service of man, for food, for shelter and for a thousand
purposes of his daily life. Is it not striking what a lot of the globe
they cover ... exquisitely organized life, yet stationary, always ready
to our had when we want them, never running away? But the taking them,
for all that, not so easy. One man shrinks from picking flowers, another
from cutting down trees. And, it's curious that most of the forest tales
and legends are dark, mysterious, and somewhat ill-omened. The
forest-beings are rarely gay and harmless. The forest life was felt as
terrible. Tree-worship still survives to-day. Wood-cutters... those who
take the life of trees... you see a race of haunted men...."

He stopped abruptly, a singular catch in his voice. Bittacy felt
something even before the sentences were over. His wife, he knew, felt
it still more strongly. For it was in the middle of the heavy silence
following upon these last remarks, that Mrs. Bittacy, rising with a
violent abruptness from her chair, drew the attention of the others to
something moving towards them across the lawn. It came silently. In
outline it was large and curiously spread. It rose high, too, for the
sky above the shrubberies, still pale gold from the sunset, was dimmed
by its passage. She declared afterwards that it move in "looping
circles," but what she perhaps meant to convey was "spirals."

She screamed faintly. "It's come at last! And it's you that brought it!"

She turned excitedly, half afraid, half angry, to Sanderson. With a
breathless sort of gasp she said it, politeness all forgotten. "I knew
it ... if you went on. I knew it. Oh! Oh!" And she cried again, "Your
talking has brought it out!" The terror that shook her voice was rather
dreadful.

But the confusion of her vehement words passed unnoticed in the first
surprise they caused. For a moment nothing happened.

"What is it you think you see, my dear?" asked her husband, startled.
Sanderson said nothing. All three leaned forward, the men still sitting,
but Mrs. Bittacy had rushed hurriedly to the window, placing herself of
a purpose, as it seemed, between her husband and the lawn. She pointed.
Her little hand made a silhouette against the sky, the yellow shawl
hanging from the arm like a cloud.

"Beyond the cedar--between it and the lilacs." The voice had lost its
shrillness; it was thin and hushed. "There ... now you see it going
round upon itself again--going back, thank God!... going back to the
Forest." It sank to a whisper, shaking. She repeated, with a great
dropping sigh of relief--"Thank God! I thought ... at first ... it was
coming here ... to us!... David ... to _you_ !"

She stepped back from the window, her movements confused, feeling in the
darkness for the support of a chair, and finding her husband's
outstretched hand instead. "Hold me, dear, hold me, please ... tight. Do
not let me go." She was in what he called afterwards "a regular state."
He drew her firmly down upon her chair again.

"Smoke, Sophie, my dear," he said quickly, trying to make his voice calm
and natural. "I see it, yes. It's smoke blowing over from the gardener's
cottage...."

"But, David,"--and there was a new horror in her whisper now--"it made a
noise. It makes it still. I hear it swishing." Some such word she
used--swishing, sishing, rushing, or something of the kind. "David, I'm
very frightened. It's something awful! That man has called it out...!"

"Hush, hush," whispered her husband. He stroked her trembling hand
beside him.

"It is in the wind," said Sanderson, speaking for the first time, very
quietly. The expression on his face was not visible in the gloom, but
his voice was soft and unafraid. At the sound of it, Mrs. Bittacy
started violently again. Bittacy drew his chair a little forward to
obstruct her view of him. He felt bewildered himself, a little, hardly
knowing quite what to say or do. It was all so very curious and sudden.

But Mrs. Bittacy was badly frightened. It seemed to her that what she
saw came from the enveloping forest just beyond their little garden. It
emerged in a sort of secret way, moving towards them as with a purpose,
stealthily, difficultly. Then something stopped it. It could not advance
beyond the cedar. The cedar--this impression remained with her
afterwards too--prevented, kept it back. Like a rising sea the Forest
had surged a moment in their direction through the covering darkness,
and this visible movement was its first wave. Thus to her mind it
seemed... like that mysterious turn of the tide that used to frighten
and mystify her in childhood on the sands. The outward surge of some
enormous Power was what she felt... something to which every instinct in
her being rose in opposition because it threatened her and hers. In that
moment she realized the Personality of the Forest... menacing.

In the stumbling movement that she made away from the window and towards
the bell she barely caught the sentence Sanderson--or was it her
husband?--murmured to himself: "It came because we talked of it; our
thinking made it aware of us and brought it out. But the cedar stops it.
It cannot cross the lawn, you see...."

All three were standing now, and her husband's voice broke in with
authority while his wife's fingers touched the bell.

"My dear, I should _not_ say anything to Thompson." The anxiety he felt
was manifest in his voice, but his outward composure had returned. "The
gardener can go...."

Then Sanderson cut him short. "Allow me," he said quickly. "I'll see if
anything's wrong." And before either of them could answer or object, he
was gone, leaping out by the open window. They saw his figure vanish
with a run across the lawn into the darkness.

A moment later the maid entered, in answer to the bell, and with her
came the loud barking of the terrier from the hall.

"The lamps," said her master shortly, and as she softly closed the door
behind her, they heard the wind pass with a mournful sound of singing
round the outer walls. A rustle of foliage from the distance passed
within it.

"You see, the wind _is_ rising. It _was_ the wind!" He put a
comforting arm about her, distressed to feel that she was trembling. But
he knew that he was trembling too, though with a kind of odd elation
rather than alarm. "And it _was_ smoke that you saw coming from
Stride's cottage, or from the rubbish heaps he's been burning in the
kitchen garden. The noise we heard was the branches rustling in the
wind. Why should you be so nervous?"

A thin whispering voice answered him:

"I was afraid for _you_, dear. Something frightened me for _you_.
That man makes me feel so uneasy and uncomfortable for his influence
upon you. It's very foolish, I know. I think... I'm tired; I feel so
overwrought and restless." The words poured out in a hurried jumble and
she kept turning to the window while she spoke.

"The strain of having a visitor," he said soothingly, "has taxed you.
We're so unused to having people in the house. He goes to-morrow." He
warmed her cold hands between his own, stroking them tenderly. More, for
the life of him, he could not say or do. The joy of a strange, internal
excitement made his heart beat faster. He knew not what it was. He knew
only, perhaps, whence it came.


She peered close into his face through the gloom, and said a curious
thing. "I thought, David, for a moment... you seemed... different. My
nerves are all on edge to-night." She made no further reference to her
husband's visitor.

A sound of footsteps from the lawn warned of Sanderson's return, as he
answered quickly in a lowered tone--"There's no need to be afraid on my
account, dear girl. There's nothing wrong with me. I assure you; I never
felt so well and happy in my life."

Thompson came in with the lamps and brightness, and scarcely had she
gone again when Sanderson in turn was seen climbing through the window.

"There's nothing," he said lightly, as he closed it behind him.
"Somebody's been burning leaves, and the smoke is drifting a little
through the trees. The wind," he added, glancing at his host a moment
significantly, but in so discreet a way that Mrs. Bittacy did not
observe it, "the wind, too, has begun to roar... in the Forest...
further out."

But Mrs. Bittacy noticed about him two things which increased her
uneasiness. She noticed the shining of his eyes, because a similar light
had suddenly come into her husband's; and she noticed, too, the apparent
depth of meaning he put into those simple words that "the wind had begun
to roar in the Forest ...further out." Her mind retained the
disagreeable impression that he meant more than he said. In his tone lay
quite another implication. It was not actually "wind" he spoke of, and
it would not remain "further out"...rather, it was coming in. Another
impression she got too--still more unwelcome--was that her husband
understood his hidden meaning.



~IV~

"David, dear," she observed gently as soon as they were alone
upstairs, "I have a horrible uneasy feeling about that man. I cannot get
rid of it." The tremor in per voice caught all his tenderness.

He turned to look at her. "Of what kind, my dear? You're so imaginative
sometimes, aren't you?"

"I think," she hesitated, stammering a little, confused, still
frightened, "I mean--isn't he a hypnotist, or full of those theosophical
ideas, or something of the sort? You know what I mean--"

He was too accustomed to her little confused alarms to explain them away
seriously as a rule, or to correct her verbal inaccuracies, but to-night
he felt she needed careful, tender treatment. He soothed her as best he
could.

"But there's no harm in that, even if he is," he answered quietly.
"Those are only new names for very old ideas, you know, dear." There was
no trace of impatience in his voice.

"That's what I mean," she replied, the texts he dreaded rising in an
unuttered crowd behind the words. "He's one of those things that we are
warned would come--one of those Latter-Day things." For her mind still
bristled with the bogeys of the Antichrist and Prophecy, and she had
only escaped the Number of the Beast, as it were, by the skin of her
teeth. The Pope drew most of her fire usually, because she could
understand him; the target was plain and she could shoot. But this
tree-and-forest business was so vague and horrible. It terrified her.
"He makes me think," she went on, "of Principalities and Powers in high
places, and of things that walk in the darkness. I did _not_ like the
way he spoke of trees getting alive in the night, and all that; it made
me think of wolves in sheep's clothing. And when I saw that awful thing
in the sky above the lawn--"

But he interrupted her at once, for that was something he had decided it
was best to leave unmentioned. Certainly it was better not discussed.

"He only meant, I think, Sophie," he put in gravely, yet with a little
smile, "that trees may have a measure of conscious life--rather a nice
idea on the whole, surely,--something like that bit we read in the Times
the other night, you remember--and that a big forest may possess a sort
of Collective Personality. Remember, he's an artist, and poetical."

"It's dangerous," she said emphatically. "I feel it's playing with fire,
unwise, unsafe--"

"Yet all to the glory of God," he urged gently. "We must not shut our
ears and eyes to knowledge--of any kind, must we?"

"With you, David, the wish is always farther than the thought," she
rejoined. For, like the child who thought that "suffered under Pontius
Pilate" was "suffered under a bunch of violets," she heard her proverbs
phonetically and reproduced them thus. She hoped to convey her warning
in the quotation. "And we must always try the spirits whether they be of
God," she added tentatively.

"Certainly, dear, we can always do that," he assented, getting into bed.

But, after a little pause, during which she blew the light out, David
Bittacy settling down to sleep with an excitement in his blood that was
new and bewilderingly delightful, realized that perhaps he had not said
quite enough to comfort her. She was lying awake by his side, still
frightened. He put his head up in the darkness.

"Sophie," he said softly, "you must remember, too, that in any case
between us and--and all that sort of thing--there is a great gulf fixed,
a gulf that cannot be crossed--er--while we are still in the body."

And hearing no reply, he satisfied himself that she was already asleep
and happy. But Mrs. Bittacy was not asleep. She heard the sentence, only
she said nothing because she felt her thought was better unexpressed.
She was afraid to hear the words in the darkness. The Forest outside was
listening and might hear them too--the Forest that was "roaring further
out."

And the thought was this: That gulf, of course, existed, but Sanderson
had somehow bridged it.

It was much later than night when she awoke out of troubled, uneasy
dreams and heard a sound that twisted her very nerves with fear. It
passed immediately with full waking, for, listen as she might, there was
nothing audible but the inarticulate murmur of the night. It was in her
dreams she heard it, and the dreams had vanished with it. But the sound
was recognizable, for it was that rushing noise that had come across the
lawn; only this time closer. Just above her face while she slept had
passed this murmur as of rustling branches in the very room, a sound of
foliage whispering. "A going in the tops of the mulberry trees," ran
through her mind. She had dreamed that she lay beneath a spreading tree
somewhere, a tree that whispered with ten thousand soft lips of green;
and the dream continued for a moment even after waking.

She sat up in bed and stared about her. The window was open at the top;
she saw the stars; the door, she remembered, was locked as usual; the
room, of course, was empty. The deep hush of the summer night lay over
all, broken only by another sound that now issued from the shadows close
beside the bed, a human sound, yet unnatural, a sound that seized the
fear with which she had waked and instantly increased it. And, although
it was one she recognized as familiar, at first she could not name it.
Some seconds certainly passed--and, they were very long ones--before she
understood that it was her husband talking in his sleep.

The direction of the voice confused and puzzled her, moreover, for it
was not, as she first supposed, beside her. There was distance in it.
The next minute, by the light of the sinking candle flame, she saw his
white figure standing out in the middle of the room, half-way towards
the window. The candle-light slowly grew. She saw him move then nearer
to the window, with arms outstretched. His speech was low and mumbled,
the words running together too much to be distinguishable.

And she shivered. To her, sleep-talking was uncanny to the point of
horror; it was like the talking of the dead, mere parody of a living
voice, unnatural.

"David!" she whispered, dreading the sound of her own voice, and half
afraid to interrupt him and see his face. She could not bear the sight
of the wide-opened eyes. "David, you're walking in your sleep. Do--come
back to bed, dear, _please!_"

Her whisper seemed so dreadfully loud in the still darkness. At the
sound of her voice he paused, then turned slowly round to face her. His
widely-opened eyes stared into her own without recognition; they looked
through her into something beyond; it was as though he knew the
direction of the sound, yet cold not see her. They were shining, she
noticed, as the eyes of Sanderson had shone several hours ago; and his
face was flushed, distraught. Anxiety was written upon every feature.
And, instantly, recognizing that the fever was upon him, she forgot her
terror temporarily in practical considerations. He came back to bed
without waking. She closed his eyelids. Presently he composed himself
quietly to sleep, or rather to deeper sleep. She contrived to make him
swallow something from the tumbler beside the bed.

Then she rose very quietly to close the window, feeling the night air
blow in too fresh and keen. She put the candle where it could not reach
him. The sight of the big Baxter Bible beside it comforted her a little,
but all through her under-being ran the warnings of a curious alarm. And
it was while in the act of fastening the catch with one hand and pulling
the string of the blind with the other, that her husband sat up again in
bed and spoke in words this time that were distinctly audible. The eyes
had opened wide again. He pointed. She stood stock still and listened,
her shadow distorted on the blind. He did not come out towards her as at
first she feared.

The whispering voice was very clear, horrible, too, beyond all she had
ever known.

"They are roaring in the Forest further out... and I... must go and
see." He stared beyond her as he said it, to the woods. "They are
needing me. They sent for me...." Then his eyes wandering back again to
things within the room, he lay down, his purpose suddenly changed. And
that change was horrible as well, more horrible, perhaps, because of its
revelation of another detailed world he moved in far away from her.

The singular phrase chilled her blood, for a moment she was utterly
terrified. That tone of the somnambulist, differing so slightly yet so
distressingly from normal, waking speech, seemed to her somehow wicked.
Evil and danger lay waiting thick behind it. She leaned against the
window-sill, shaking in every limb. She had an awful feeling for a
moment that something was coming in to fetch him.

"Not yet, then," she heard in a much lower voice from the bed, "but
later. It will be better so... I shall go later...."

The words expressed some fringe of these alarms that had haunted her so

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