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   Chapter 4 No.4

Across the Plains, with Other Memories and Essays By Robert Louis Stevenson Characters: 59276

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Lady Davidstow and Miss Bampton were sitting together that night in Lady Davidstow's bedroom. She had sent her maid away, saying that she would not want her again that night, and now she held in her hand the sheet of paper covered with lines of meaningless scribbles, with the one intelligible sentence at the end, which Archie had written that day when he should have been doing his copy. In the other hand she held a letter written in ink that was now rather faded, and she was comparing the two. She looked at them for some time in silence, then turned to Miss Bampton.

"Yes, you are quite right, Cathie," she said. "What Archie wrote might actually be in Martin's handwriting. Look for yourself: there's the last letter he ever wrote to me."

Miss Bampton took the two papers from her.

"There's absolutely no difference," she said. "The moment I saw what Archie had written, I thought of Martin's handwriting. And then it was signed 'Martin.' Are you sure he has never heard of him? Not that that would account for the handwriting."

Lady Davidstow shook her head.

"I think it's impossible," she said. "Jeannie assured me she had never spoken to him about Martin, nor has Blessington. He may have heard his name. He probably has heard his name mentioned. I remember mentioning it in Archie's hearing the other day, but he didn't pay the slightest attention. And he can't possibly recollect him even in the vaguest way. It is five years now since Martin died, and Archie was then only just two, and for six months before that Martin was with me at Grives."

Cathie Bampton laid down the two papers.

"I can't think why you never told Archie about him," she said.

Lady Davidstow's great grey eyes grew dim.

"Ah, my dear, if you were Martin's mother and Archie's mother you would know," she said. "If you had seen your eldest son die of consumption and your second son threatened with it, you would understand how natural it was not to tell Archie yet of the brother he had never consciously seen. Jack agreed with me, too. I have long been prepared for Archie asking questions, which certainly I would answer truthfully, and let the knowledge come to him quietly by degrees. I may have done wrong; I don't know. But I think I did right. I couldn't begin saying to Archie, 'You had a brother, but he died.' More would have come out; that he died of consumption; that for fear of that Archie lives so much in the open air."

"But, my dear, how will Archie begin to know unless you tell him?"

"Oh, in many ways. There is Martin's picture, for instance, in my room. Archie may ask who it is. Or, when he hears Martin's name mentioned, he will ask some time who Martin was. Indeed, I have often thought it odd that he hasn't. Only the other day Jack was talking to me about it, suggesting that it was time that Archie knew. Indeed, he rather urged me to tell him. And now, all of a sudden, we find Archie writing in Martin's handwriting, and signing with Martin's name."

"Shall you tell Lord Davidstow?" asked Miss Bampton.

"No, I certainly shall not. Jack hates all that approaches the neighbourhood of anything that might be called occult or spiritualistic. He says 'Pshaw,' as you know, if even hypnotism is mentioned. I did tell him about Archie's intuition in that guessing game, and, as you again know, he asked you not to play it any more, though at the same time he insisted that it was a mere guess on Archie's part."

Cathie was silent a moment.

"And those scribbles of Archie's?" she asked. "Do they not make it more difficult for you to tell him about Martin now? A sensitive boy like that might get it into his head that his dead brother was writing to him."

"Certainly I don't want Archie to think that," said his mother. "No, I shall put off telling him now."

"And if he asks?" said Miss Bampton.

"I have an idea that he won't ask."

She got up and moved about the room for a moment in silence.

"My dear, all children have got a secret life of their own," she said, "and, oh, how their mothers want to be admitted! But every young thing has a walled-up place in his heart, to which he admits nobody, and, if you ask to be admitted, not only is the door shut, but locked. We all had our secret places, and I make a guess that this bit of paper-by the way, mind you put it back in the school-room where Archie left it-lives in Archie's secret place. How I long to get in, the darling! But all I can do is to wait outside, and take what he gives me. Archie doesn't tell me everything, why should he? He didn't tell me what it was that made him put the burning coals out of the fire on to my hearthrug."

"Probably he didn't know."

"Something inside him knew, or else he wouldn't have done it. All we do is accountable for by what is inside us. Impulses come from within."

"But they are suggested by what is without," said Miss Bampton.

"Yes; that's the box on which the match is struck, but the fire is in the match. All you can do for a child, even your own child, is to suggest, and hope he'll take your suggestions."

Miss Bampton got up.

"It's late; I must go," she said. "But I want to ask you one thing. Do you believe in the possibility of Martin's having made a communication to Archie?"

"Yes; I think I do. That's why this affair has upset me so. The idea is so strange and new, that I'm frightened about it, though why I should be so I can't tell. With my whole heart I believe that my darling is living somewhere in an existence as individual as ever, and even more vivid, because the weakness and the illness and the weariness are past. So why should I be frightened at the thought that he could communicate with Archie? Ah, my dear, if only he would communicate with me! Or with Jack! Poor Jack, how he would scout the idea! How shocked he would be! I suppose that's part of my secret garden which I keep from Jack!"

She held her friend a moment after kissing her.

"Jack never really got over Martin's death," she said. "He couldn't bring himself into line with it. It was then that it became a settled habit with him to try to forget… Just lately he has been very bad. There, good-night, my dear; I can't talk about it."

* * * * *

The whole incident affected Archie far less than it affected either his mother or his governess, and next day when he found his scribbled paper lying where he had left it the day before, it excited no further curiosity in his mind. He put the thought of it away on his shelf of secret things which had nothing to do with his ordinary normal life. In certain moods, which, after all only lasted for a moment or two, the things that shelf contained became far more real to him than any other of his experiences; but for weeks and months at a time its contents remained out of his reach, and if he shared them, as his mother had said, with nobody else, he had no share in them himself except at these odd, queer moments. So when, next day, he came across this curious sentence again, caught by him, as by some process of wireless telegraphy, he felt but little interest in it, though he sat for a couple of minutes with his pen held idly in his hand, just to see if anything else happened. But there was no sensation that ever so faintly resembled the twitching and yearning of his hand to write he knew not what, and he crumpled the paper up, and put it into the fire. Somewhere below the threshold of his conscious self lay the perceptions that were concerned with it, those perceptions that guessed what Miss Bampton had thought of, that somehow swam up to the surface, as he used to lie in bed of a morning, and sink into the depths that lay below the green-tinted ceiling of his room; and, while they lay dormant, it was as if they never existed.

But now for some weeks there had been no light whatever on his ceiling, and morning after morning he awoke with no sense of exhilaration at all in the coming of another day, but with a drowsy depression lying thick upon him, as he heard the rustle of the endless rain in the shrubs outside, and languidly went through those exercises that used to invigorate him but now only tired him. All through the month the damp chilly weather persisted, and day after day the same lowering heavens obscured the sun; never in this bright Sussex upland had there been so continuous a succession of rain-streaked hours. The wonder of seeing the lake slowly rising till it engulfed the lower end of the lawn, and made an island of the summer-house failed to stir him, and there was no magic in the unique experience of punting across the lawn to it. Then, one morning early in December, the deluge was stayed, once more the sun slid up a cloudless sky, and the whole nature of the world was changed.

Archie had again been indoors for a couple of days, with a return of the cold that really was responsible for the burning of his mother's hearthrug, and once more the ecstasy of living possessed him. As consolation for his imprisonment, he and Jeannie were both given a holiday, and, breakfast over, they scampered out, and once more saw their shadows racing in front of them. The game was to tread on somebody else's shadow. Blessington's shadow did not count because anybody could tread on that; but it required real agility to tread on Jeannie's, for it had the nippiest way of dodging before your foot could really descend on it. So they ran in circles round Blessington, and Marco, the collie, ran in circles round them; and though it counted two to tread on Marco's shadow (you must not hold Marco and then stamp on his shadow), no one had got nearer than a doubtful claim to have trod on his tail.

Quite suddenly Archie stopped; he had an odd, warm sensation in his mouth that required investigation. Two days ago Jeannie's nose had bled, which Archie thought rather grand. There had been rather a fuss about it: she was laid down on the floor, and Miss Bampton put the door-key down her back, and eventually some ice was brought, and it was all quite important. But now it was not his nose that was bleeding, but his mouth.

"Oh, I say, I'm bleeding in my mouth," he said. "That's just as good as

Jeannie's nose."

Even while he spoke he felt rather giddy, and instantly Blessington's arm was round him.

"Eh, my dear," she said. "That'll never do. You lean against me, and we'll go home very quietly. You mustn't chase any more shadders this morning."

As a matter of fact, Archie did not want to. He felt a rather enjoyable lightness in his head, but he felt weak also, and disinclined to run.

"Oh, here it is again," he said, and once more, now with a sensation of choking, he coughed up blood.

He saw Blessington's tender, anxious face above him, exactly as it had appeared in the earliest of all his memories, and, as then, felt absolutely comfortable in the thought that she was there. Her arm was close round his neck now, and with her other hand she made a sign to Jeannie.

"Run straight back home, dear," she said, "and tell your mamma to come out here at once, and bring William. Master Archie and I are going to sit down quietly till she comes."

Archie rather enjoyed all this. He was completely in Blessington's hands, and utterly content to be so. Then Blessington did a very odd thing.

"Well, I'm so hot with seeing you and Miss Jeannie running about," she said, "that I'm going to sit down, and wait for a bit. And you'll wait with me, dear, won't you? There! Put your head on my knee and lie down. I know you're hot with running about."

As by a conjuring trick, Archie knew that Blessington's cloak with its collar of rabbit's fur was tucked round him. It was rather odd to be lying with his head on Blessington's knee out of doors in the winter, but he had no desire to question the propriety of all this, for it fitted in so well with his main desire, which was to stop still. A couple of minutes ago he had been running about at top-speed; now he had no wish except to do as he was told, to put himself into responsible hands. It was all rather dreamlike; his mother and William were coming here soon, but that seemed quite natural. And it was still rather grand to bleed at the mouth. Then came a gentle singing in his ears, a pleasant sense of complete indolence, that never quite passed into unconsciousness, and presently it was just as natural to find himself in William's arms. Out of a half-opened eye he saw William was in livery, for the blue and white stripes of his low waistcoat were close to him, and his cheek rested on William's shirt-front. And then he saw that there was a bright red stain there which certainly was not part of William's ordinary livery.

"Oh, William, I've messed you," he said. "I am sorry."

"That's all right, Master Archie," said William. "It wasn't a new shirt this morning."

Some dim reminiscence about something William had told him concerning beer-money and washing came into his head. William had beer-money or washing; he could not remember which.

"I shall pay for it anyhow," he said.

Still feeling rather dizzy, he had the impression of his own room with Blessington and his mother near him. Apparently he had been laid on the floor, for his bed looked tall beside him. Then he was not on the floor any more, but in his bed, and whether it was at once or later, he never knew, but presently there was in the room the stranger who once had made him play the pointless game of saying "ninety-nine!" Here he was again with a plug against Archie's chest, and two other plugs in his own ears. Archie remembered him quite distinctly: he was a doctor who didn't give any medicine.

"Shall I say 'ninety-nine'?" he asked.

"No, just think 'ninety-nine,' and don't talk. If you think 'ninety-nine' it will do just as well."

Archie had no desire to do anything beyond what he was told to do. He thought "ninety-nine," and the stranger smiled very kindly at him.

"That's capital," he said. "Now just go on thinking 'ninety-nine'…" and whether he floated out of the window, or vanished like the Cheshire cat, or walked away in the ordinary manner, Archie was quite unaware.

Then he was hungry, and, behold, there was Blessington with boiled rabbit, and he was sleepy and hungry again, and again sleepy. Sometimes his mother was there, and sometimes his father, who looked rather odd, and sometimes William brought coals, though the housemaid usually did that; and there was Blessington again, who washed his face, and then, uncovering him limb by limb, washed these also. Archie could not understand why he acquiesced in this odd state of things, or why he did not ask to get up and run about and play the shadow-game again. But merely he was quite content to lie still, and he hoped that when Jeannie came and talked to him she would not suggest the resumption of the game that had been so ecstatic but had been interrupted so suddenly. And Miss Bampton came in, and read to him something she had been writing. He noticed that she read from printed pages, not like the pages of an ordinary book, but long strips. It appeared that it was a story she had written which had got printed, and he asked whether his story about "the merderer" would ever get printed. They all came in, and talked gently and melted away again.

Then arrived a memorable morning when, instead of being gently awakened by Blessington, he awoke entirely of his own accord, and felt strong and cross. Cross he certainly proved to be, for when the morning washing began, which hitherto had been a pleasant and luxurious performance, he found that Blessington could do nothing right. She put soap into his eyes, she tickled his feet and scratched his shoulder with her disgusting flannel. Archie made firm complaints against each of these outrages, of a sort that would usually lead to rebuke on Blessington's part. Indeed, he had not been nearly so rude on the occasion when he had been told to apologize to her.

But now she merely beamed at each disagreeable remark, and, instead of scolding him, she made a most cryptic answer.

"Eh, my darling," she said. "Thank God you feel like blaming me again."

"What do you mean, Blessington?" said Archie angrily. "Oh, do take care of my little toe. You've nearly pulled it off once already."

"Well then, I'll kiss it," said Blessington. And did.

Archie looked at her.

"Why are you crying?" he asked, wriggling his foot away from her. He did not want it to be kissed.

"Crying? I'm just laughing," said Blessington. And that was true; she was laughing. But she was crying also.

An idea struck Archie which had not occurred to him before.

"Am I ill, Blessington?" he asked. "Am I going to die?"

At that there was no question of what Blessington was doing. Her laughing quite ceased, and she gave a great sob.

"No, my darling, you're not going to die," she said. "Get that out of your silly head. You're not…"

And then she broke down altogether, and hid her face in the towel with which she had been washing Archie's left foot. He saw her shoulders shaking; he knew that, for some reason, she could not speak. But she was crying, and was not cross with him for being cross. It behoved a man to administer consolation.

"Oh, don't cry, Blessington," he said. "What is there to cry about?

Unless it's because I'm so cross."

"I don't mind your crossness," she said. "You let me finish wiping your foot. And then I'll go down and tell your mamma-"

"Oh, don't say I was cross," said Archie. "I'm sorry I was cross."

"Nay, I'll just tell her how much better you feel this morning. And I shouldn't wonder if there was a great treat coming, something you'll like ever so much."

"Is it another train?" asked Archie.

"Bless the boy!" said she. "How you think about trains!"

* * * * *

Archie ate his breakfast, and passed an entrancing morning. Everybody seemed desirous of congratulating him, as if he had done something particularly meritorious, as on the occasion of his not getting drowned when he jumped out of the boat after the pike. He held a sort of levee, the most remarkable incident of which was the appearance of Miss Bampton with a piece of white chalk, with which she drew on the green drugget by his bed, so that he could easily see it, a great map of England and Central Europe. There was the South of England, with London written large, and here was Lacebury also conspicuously marked. Then there was the English Channel with France below it, and Paris in the middle, and away to the right, some distance below, the Lake of Geneva. Then, still explaining, she made marks like caterpillars which were mountains, and said that now the mountains were covered with snow, even down to the tails of the caterpillars and below was the Lake of Geneva, quite blue. All the roads were covered with snow up by the caterpillars' tails, and there were no wheels on the carriages, but they slid over the frozen snow instead. There was skating up there, for they made lakes which were covered with ice. They just put water into flat places, and there was your lake, and it instantly froze. It never rained there, but if it wanted to do anything, it just snowed. Usually it didn't want to do anything, and there was the sun and the snow, and wouldn't it be jolly to go there?

This presented itself to Archie's mind as a purely abstract proposition. Of course it would be jolly to go to a place where you saw the real mountains and had a glimpse of the real Lake of Geneva, and slid instead of walking; but what next? Did any one ever go there?

Apparently. Right at the tail of the caterpillar was a place called Grives. There it was, written down: the railway only went as far as Bex, and there the sledges began. And always the sun shone, so that you sat out of doors with the snow all round you, and felt perfectly warm.

Suddenly Archie could stand it no longer. It was like talking to a starving man about roast beef. There was roast beef somewhere in the world, and he wanted it so badly. In the same way something inside Archie starved for sun and snow and thin air.

"Oh, shut up, Miss Bampton," he said. "I want it so frightfully."

His mother was sitting on the edge of his bed watching the map of

Europe.

"Archie, we're going to Grives in a few days," she said. "You and

Blessington and Jeannie and I."

* * * * *

It was memorable moment when the boat rose up and then curtsied to the big seas that were jostling each other up the Channel. Archie's only knowledge of the sea was culled from a single visit to Brighton two years ago, and the sea to him then appeared but one among an assembly of unusual bright objects: nigger-minstrels and tin buckets and piers and penny-in-the-slot machines. But on this bright winter day he hailed a new and glorious creature, when he saw the steep white-capped waves, grey in the bulk but lit with lovely green where they grew thin, come streaming up to the ship's side and fall away again in puffs of white smoke and squirts of high-flung foam. Warmly wrapped up in his new fur-coat, he sat on deck sheltered from the weather and watched with ecstatic wonder the rollicking, untamed creatures that sent the boat now over on one side, now on the other, and threw it up and caught it again within their firm, liquid embrace. Behind it lay a wake of white foam, like a long string still tying them to dazzling chalk cliffs and the wave-smothered pier, and overhead the masts, thrumming to the wind, struck right and left across a wide arc of the sky, and their shadows sped across the deck. These swervings and upliftings and descents of the ship as she whacked her way across the shifting mountains produced in him no physical discomfort, but only the sense that a new and glorious being had come into his life.

All too soon, even as the jig-saw puzzle of the map of Europe had warned him by the narrowness of the straits, the shores of France began to rear themselves up above the wave-moulded horizon, and presently another pier received them, and men spoke a strange tongue (probably French, though it might have been Hebrew) and made novel gestures, and wore blouses, and boots that turned up at the toes more than was usual in England. There were no platforms: you had to climb the sheer carriage side from ground-level, and the engines were altogether different, and the movement of the train was other than that he was accustomed to. Then, sure enough, they came after nightfall to a great town, and drove across it, keeping firmly to the wrong side of the road, though, as everybody else did the same, there were not so many collisions as might have been expected. Then came the novelty of eating dinner in a restaurant perched up in another station, from the windows of which you could romantically observe train after train sliding out into the winter night. Before long Archie's train did the same, and then came the glorious experience of undressing in a train, while it was going at full speed. There was never so remarkable a bedroom, all gold and looking-glass and stamped leather, and instead of his bed and Blessington's being put on the floor, one, which Archie begged to have, was put above the other. Close by him in the roof of the carriage was the electric light which, when you turned a small handle the requisite distance, dwindled to a mere speck. At some timeless hour he woke up, and found a very polite stranger in his bedroom, to whom Blessington explained that they had neither spirits nor lace nor tobacco in their luggage. And the total stranger then apparently guessed that he had been misinformed, for he went away again without another word.

The clever train found its way without any mistake through the darkness of the long winter's night, for next morning it was skimming along by the edge of a lake so large that no wonder it appeared on the jig-saw map of Europe. The lake at home, once an almost boundless sheet of water, was no more than a wayside puddle to this; the hills at home were no more than the tunnelled earth of moles compared with those slopes on which the rows of pines looked smaller than the edging of a table-cloth against the blue. Blue? Archie thought he had never known what blue was till now, not what sunshine was until he saw the dazzle of it on those sparkling slopes. And they, so his mother told him, were not mountains at all: they were only hills; but soon he should see what mountains meant. As they passed through the glittering towns that stood on the edge of the lake, he could see the sleighs sliding over the streets with jingle of bells crisply sounding in the alert air. Other smaller sleighs were drawn by pleased, smiling dogs. There was never such a morning of discoveries. The only drawback was that, though it ought only to have been ten o'clock, the Swiss chose that it should be eleven, and thus an hour of this immortal day was lost; but his mother told him that the French had taken care of it, and would give it back to them when they returned.

All this was romantic enough, but the romance grew more deep-hued yet when, in the early afternoon, Archie was packed into a sleigh and the journey up through the pine-woods began. White-capped and white-cloaked stood the red-trunked trees, and now and then, with a falling puff of snow, a laden branch, free of its burden, sprang upwards again. Then the pines were tired of climbing, and the sleigh left them and came out on to a plateau high above the valley. And could that have been sunshine down there? For the valley seemed choked with grey fog, and here above was real sunshine and air that refreshed you as with wine. The hills that had appeared so gigantic had sunk below them, but behind them rose the spears and precipices, remote and blue, of the real mountains, and, as they went upwards, these soared ever above them, and presently the blue on them was tinged with apricot and rose in the glow of the declining sun. And the driver cracked his whip, and the horses jingled their bells in response, and, pointing with it to a row of toy houses still far above them, he grinned at Archie and said "Grives."

The rose of sunset had faded and the snows were turned to ivory-crystal beneath the full moon when they entered the long, lit village street, with its old carved wooden houses, deep-balconied towards the south, and the modern hotels now just opening again for the winter season. These, too, they left behind them, and again mounting a steep slope, came to where, round a sudden corner, stood the big chalet which Archie's mother had taken.

"And here we are," she said.

Archie sat staring. Somehow he felt he knew the house; perhaps it was a house he had dreamed of. There were pines to right and left of it, just as there were in this picture of a house that existed somewhere in his mind; it had the same broad balconies, where you could lie all day in the sun, and look over the village roofs below and across the valley from which all afternoon they had climbed. He felt he knew it inside too: there would be rooms with wooden walls, and china stoves-where had he heard of china stoves?-and the smell of pine-wood haunting all the house. It was extraordinarily interesting…

A big, genial woman had turned up the electric light outside the door when she heard the crack of the driver's whip, and stood bareheaded, ready to welcome them. Archie felt that he knew something about her too.

"Ah, miladi," she said to his mother in very crisp good English, yet with a funny precision, as if she had learned it as a lesson, "I give you welcome back to Grives. And how is my dear Madame Blessington?"

Archie thought his mother interrupted these greetings rather suddenly.

"How are you madame Seiler?" she said. "And here is my daughter Jeannie and Archie"-and she added something in an undertone, which sounded like the language Miss Schwarz used to talk.

Madame Seiler whisked round with renewed cordiality.

"And such lovely weather you have come to," she said. "The sun all day and the frost all night. But we keep out the frost and let the sun in."

They passed into the entrance-hall, aromatic and warm, heated by a big china stove that roared pleasantly, and instantly, without any reason, there came into Archie's mind the remembrance of the words his hand had scribbled one morning with the signature "Martin." It came out of the darkness like a light seen distantly at night; it flashed like a signal and vanished again. But for one second it had been there, remote, but visible and luminous.

Lady Davidstow, for some obscure and grown-up reason, thought good at supper that night to explain incidentally that she had written to Madame Seiler that Blessington was coming, and that was how she had known Blessington's name. Archie had a very strong and wholesome confidence in his mother, but he knew that grown-up people sometimes made statements which have got (by the rules) to be accepted, but which do not always convince. Blessington's saying that she could not run any more because she had a bone in her leg was an instance of this class of statement, as also was the occasion when his mother spoke, a year ago, about Abracadabra's sneezings. This mode of accounting for Madame Seiler's knowing Blessington's name came under the same head: as far as it went it might be true, and though it did not particularly interest him whether it was true, so to speak, all the way, he felt that there was something mildly mysterious about it. And, having made this unconvincing statement, his mother at once passed

on to more interesting topics.

It was a blow, when Blessington called him next morning, to be told that he was tired with the journey and must stop in bed for breakfast. That was a perfectly unfounded statement, but, like those others, had grumblingly to be accepted, though Archie knew quite well that he had never felt less tired.

"You mayn't feel it, dear," said Blessington, "but you are."

"I should think I ought to know best," said Archie.

"No, I know best," said Blessington firmly. "And your mamma says so, too."

Archie began to wonder they were not right. He did not feel tired, as he had told Blessington, but something inside him said that it did not want to run about, or even skate, but it was very well pleased that his body, well wrapped up, should sit up in bed, and bask in the sun which blazed in through the opened French window communicating with the big balcony outside his room. Then, after breakfast, there came in his mother with a big jovial man, whose name was Dr. Dobie.

"I never saw such a lazy fellow," exclaimed this rather attractive person. "Fancy not being up yet!"

"They wouldn't let me," said Archie.

"Well, as soon as I've had a look at you, up you shall get," said the doctor. "But I can't wait till you're dressed. Now, undo your coat a minute."

Once again the instrument with plugs was produced, and the ninety-nine game played.

"That's capital," said the doctor, "and now in a minute I'll have done with you. Just put that into your mouth with the end under your tongue. There, like that."

This was a very short process, and Dr. Dobie got up.

"Now, my plan for you is this," he said. "You shall dress and lie out in the sun on your balcony. And, after you've had dinner, you shall go for a sleigh drive, and walk a little on your way back. Then balcony again, till it's dark."

"But mayn't I skate?" asked Archie, who didn't really want to.

"No, not just yet. We'll have you skating before long, but not at present. The more you do as you're told, the sooner you'll skate."

During the next week, but so gradually that at no moment was it a discovery, it dawned on Archie that he was ill, and that his illness dated from the time when his mouth bled. The knowledge did not in the least depress him, because with it came the absolute certainty in his own mind that he was going to get quite well again. For the most part he did not feel ill, though there was often an uncomfortable period towards evening when he felt sometimes hot and sometimes cold, and one moment would want another coat on, and soon would have liked to throw off all the clothes he had. These odd feelings were accompanied by a sort of extra vividness in his perceptions: he felt tingling and alert, and the lights seemed brighter than their wont. But when this had been more marked than usual in the evening, he always felt very tired next day, and more than once he did not get up at all but had his bed pulled out on to the balcony. Then, as the weeks passed on, there was less of this, and before long he was allowed to tie his toboggan to the back of the sleigh, and be towed up-hill through the pine-wood that climbed the slopes behind the village. That was a delightful experience; on each side stood the snowy trees frosted like a Christmas cake, now almost meeting above the narrow track, and then standing away from it again, so that the deluge of sun poured down as into a pool, while from in front came the jingle of the horse's bells, and from below him the squeak of his runners. Then they came out again on to the ski-ing slopes, where visitors to Grives played the entrancing game of seeing, apparently, who could fall down most often in the most complicated manner. Where the slope was steepest there was erected a sort of platform, so that the runner, flying down the slope above, was shot into the air, touching ground again yards below. Or, on other mornings, when things went well, and there had been no hot-and-cold period the evening before, he tobogganed down the slope below the house to the edge of the skating-rink and sat there in the snow, with everything round frozen hard, yet feeling perfectly warm, so potent were the beams of this ineffable sun through the thin, dry air. Jeannie was learning to skate and progressed, in wobbling half-circles, and shrilly announced that this and no other was the outside edge. Or four of the experts in a railed-off and hallowed place at the end of the huge rink would put down an orange, and proceed to weave a mystic dance in obedience to the shouted orders of one of them. At one moment all four would be swiftly converging on a back-edge to their orange, and, just at the moment when a complicated collision seemed imminent, would somehow change their direction, and, lo, all four were sailing outwards and forwards again in big, sweeping curves. Then there were the hoarse, angry cries of the curlers to listen to, and the pleasant sight of the stone sliding swiftly down the ice and butting, with a hollow chunk, into any other that stood in its way. And then a slow sliding stone would come down, and people swept violently in front of it to encourage it not to lie down and die, which for the most part it did. But always too soon, his mother or Blessington would come to tell him that it was time to go home again and he would tie his toboggan to the back of the sleigh, and be pulled up-hill to the house. That was a tiresome moment, and Archie found himself wondering, with a pang of jealousy, why, when so many were hale and hearty round him, it should be just he who was obliged to go and lie down on the roofed balcony, instead of skating or curling. But even when he had set-backs, and had to lie all day on the balcony, he never faltered in his belief that he was going to get well.

Here then, in brief, were the outward aspects of Archie's life at Grives, new and attractive and full of sun and dry, powdery snow. He took no active part in the activities, and was but an observer, but all the time there were inward aspects of his life, which no one shared with him, and which no one ever observed. He was always on the alert, even on those mornings of tiredness after he had had a rise of temperature the evening before, for the development of a certain thing, the existence of which came to him only in hints and whispers. But the thing itself was always there, though he had no control over its manifestations. He could no more bring it into the exterior life of the senses, he could no more see or hear it or produce any evidence of it, as he willed, than he could make the sun pierce and scatter the clouds, which for a whole week in January alternately rained and snowed on to Grives. All he could do was to wait for it, and he waited in a perpetual serene excitement. It came always when he was alone: he got to think of solitude, in this present stage, as an essential for its manifestation. And, as the weeks went on, he associated it more and more with the balcony on which he lay for the greater part of the day. It, the thing he waited for, and was completely silent about even when he had intimate good-night talks with his mother, was no other than "Martin" (whoever Martin might be) whose presence had come into his mind with such unexpected vividness when first he saw the chalet. Never was the idea of "Martin" absent from his mind: it might lurk concealed behind the excitement of trailing after the sleigh, or of watching the skaters on the ice, but at all times it was ready to enfilade him. And, among all the diversions of the snow and the ice and the sun, he had an inward eye turned towards this inscrutable "Martin"-no winged nester in the sand-cliffs, but somebody, somebody…

Lessons in a mild way had begun again before this wretched rainy and snowy week, and Miss Bampton sent out from home the most entrancing and topical copies. "Hot outside-edge for lunch," was one, in allusion to the news of Jeannie's skating; "Cold inside-edge for dinner" was another. Whatever the weather was, Archie was out of doors all day, and Jeannie, during lesson-time, used to sit out on his balcony and do her more advanced tasks, which, with his, were taken in to Lady Davidstow for correction. More often his mother used to sit on the balcony, too, but during this damp, abominable week she suffered from a heavy cold, and the lessons were brought to her by Jeannie. And on this particular morning, Jeannie had finished her French translation first, and so went in to her mother to have it corrected, leaving Archie to finish the last three lines of his copy.

Ever since his first entry into the house, there had been for him nothing more than the perception of Martin's presence. With the patience of a child who wants something, a thing only equalled by the patience of a cat watching a mouse-hole, he had never taken his inward eye off this. He was always ready for it. As Jeannie went in with her completed French lesson, he laid down his pen, and looked for a moment at the streaming icicles on the eaves of his shelter, and listened with a sense of depression to the drip of the melted water that formed grey pits in the whiteness of the snow below. Because there was a thaw, the air felt colder than when there were twenty degrees of frost, and the blanket on his couch was studded with condensed moisture. "It is warmer," thought Archie to himself, "so it ought to be warmer. But it's colder."

At this moment he felt a sudden thrill in his right wrist, and thought that a melted drop had fallen on it. But he saw there was no drop there, and wondered at this sensation of touch. Then he saw his fingers begin to twitch, and instantly recognized the sensation he had felt once before. He swept his incomplete copy off his pad of blotting-paper, and took his pen up again. Surely he could write on his blotting-paper.

At first the meaningless scribbles appeared, made more grotesque and senseless by the running of the ink. There was a pencil on the table by him, and he took that up instead of the pen, while his hand twitched and jerked to be at its task again. The day before he had pinched his finger in the hinge of a slamming window, and he saw the moon-shaped blot of blood below the nail quivering as his fingers starved to hold an instrument of writing again. Then his hand settled down, like a hovering bird on to a bough, as he picked up the pencil.

For a little while the scribbles went on: then, watching the marks on the blotting-paper just as an excited spectator watches the action of a play, he saw words coming. His brain did not know what they were till they appeared on the paper.

"Archie, Archie," said the pencil, "I want to talk to you. I can't always, but sometimes I can. Dear Archie, try to be ready when I get through. Lovely to talk to you. Can't to mother."

An incontrollable excitement seized the boy. "Oh, who is it?" he said aloud. "Is it Martin?"

He felt the twitching die away in his fingers, and presently he was left sitting there, his copy on the floor and the scrawl on the blotting-paper. But he had, somewhere inside him, a sense of extraordinary satisfaction. Something or somebody had "got through," whatever that meant. The words in pencil on his blotting-paper had "got through." And he turned it over hastily, and picked up the unfinished copy, as the door-handle into his room rattled, and Jeannie came out on to the balcony again with her corrected French exercise.

Several days of this chilly dripping weather, with the foehn wind from the south went by, and when that ceased, and the wind veered to the north, blowing high over Grives, and raising feathers of snowdust on the peaks to the north, while the sheltered valley basked in calm and sunlight again, there were eventful days of carting the snow from the rinks before any further development took place in Archie's secret life. This carting of the snow was splendid fun, for, when a hand-sleigh of it was piled high, Archie would squat on the front of it (thereby adding considerably to the weight) and in a shrill voice direct the men who pushed it to right or left, in order to reach the steep bank down which they discharged their burden. When they were come to the edge of it, some large, strong man lifted Archie off his perch, and waited with him, while the sleigh was pushed to the very brink, and its burden overturned in a jolly lumpy avalanche that poured down the built-up bank of the rink. Then Archie mounted his throne again and was pulled back to where the men with spades loaded up again… When the sleigh seemed to be sufficiently full he called out "Stop," and made the return journey to the side of the rink. This was all tremendously grand, and he had an idea that the clearing of the rink could never have taken place without him. Certainly his sleigh worked much faster than any other, for, in his honour, those who pushed always ran to discharge their burden at top speed, instead of going slowly like the others.

"Oh, that was a pace," he would say as somebody lifted him off. "Look, mummy, they're going to turn it over."

The rink then was clear again (thanks to Archie's great exertions) before his secret life made any step forward. But one afternoon, when he had been watching the skating from his balcony, something further occurred. He was alone, for his mother had gone down with Jeannie to the rink, and Blessington had gone shopping, and there was a bell by him, by means of which he could summon Madame Seiler if he wanted anything. But he had no thoughts of summoning Madame Seiler; he was extremely content to lie in the sun, and watch the rink sometimes, and sometimes to read a fascinating book called The Rose and the Ring, which his mother had given him. There were absurd pictures of Prince Bulbo, an enormously fat young gentleman, whom Archie did not wish to resemble, but was rather afraid of resembling, since Dr. Dobie at his last visit had told him he was getting fat…

It was all very peaceful and happy, and he had lost interest in Jeannie's falls and even in Prince Bulbo's executions, and was staring placidly at a very bright spot of glistening snow which caught the sun at the edge of the rink, when lines of shadow began to pass over the field of his vision, exactly as they used to pass over the green-lit ceiling of his night-nursery at home. This was interesting: he did not feel in the least sleepy, but very wide awake, and was conscious of sinking down through this lovely luminous air, with the bright spot of light getting every moment higher above him, when he suddenly heard his name called.

"Archie, Archie," said the voice, which was close to him, and wonderfully friendly. And at the same moment he felt on the back of his hand the touch of another hand that was smooth and young and somehow familiar, though he had never felt it before.

He tried not to disturb the impression. There was some sort of spell on him, light as a gossamer-web, which the slightest movement, physical or mental, on his part, might break.

"Yes, I'm Archie," he said.

But, the moment he spoke, he knew that he had spoken somehow in the wrong way. Another part of him, not his lips and their voluntary movements, should have answered. He ought to have thought the answer with that part of him that saw the lines of shadow passing across the bright steel surface of the rink below, that felt himself sinking down and down beneath the bright spot opposite… He could not have explained, but he knew it was so, and instantly there was he back on his balcony again with The Rose and the Ring in his hand, and Jeannie on the rink. Madame Seiler clattering dishes in the kitchen, and himself all alone, lying in the sunshine. He knew that something inside him had been tremendously happy when his name was called and his hand touched in that intimate manner, and, now that the touch and the voice were gone, he felt something akin to what he felt when he was feverish, and Blessington had said "good-night" and left him. But then, he always knew that Blessington had only gone into the next room, and could be summoned. And he could not summon him who had called "Archie" to him. He had not the least doubt that it was Martin who had called, that it was Martin's hand that had been laid on his. But who was this dear person called "Martin," and where was Martin? Secure in the knowledge that it was Martin who had come to him, and touched him and called to him, he put down his book, and shut his eyes so that his feeling of being alone should be intensified.

"Martin," he whispered. "Oh, Martin!"

He lay there tense and excited, sure that Martin would come again. Then in a dim, child-like manner, not formulating anything to himself, but only feeling his way, he knew he had called wrong. He must call differently, if he hoped to have any reply, call from inside. But, the more earnestly he attempted to "call from inside," the further he got away from that "inside" mood, which he knew, but could not recapture.

"Oh, what rot!" he said at length, and picked up The Rose and the Ring again to ascertain whether Bulbo was really going to be executed on this second occasion when he piled his table on his bed and his chair on his table, and his hat-box on his chair, and peeped out of the window from his horrid cell, to see whether it was eight o'clock yet…

Every day, in this return of frost and sunshine, Archie felt stronger, and soon the desire to skate took firm hold of him. Oddly enough, the pleasant Dr. Dobie began to agree with him, and within a day or two of the time when Archie's desire to skate became a pressing need, Dr. Dobie sanctioned it, and Archie had a humiliating hour or two. He had seen Jeannie lean outwards, and announce the outside edge, he had seen Jeannie lean a little inwards and proclaim the inside edge and round she went in curves that Archie could not but envy. He had only got to lean outwards and inwards like that, and surely he was master of his curves. But he found that his curves were master of him, and tumbled him down instead, or would have done so if a kind Swiss on skates had not always been on hand to prevent any disaster of this kind. But then Jeannie had learned, so it seemed to Archie, by falling down, and he resented the hand that saved him from falling.

"Do let me fall down," he said. "I can't learn unless I fall down."

"Better not fall down, sir," said this amiable young man. "I hold you; you learn best so."

"But Jeannie didn't," said Archie.

"No; but she is a girl," whispered his Swiss.

"Oh, ought girls to fall down and not boys?" asked Archie, rather interested in this new difference between the sexes.

* * * * *

Archie was allowed, by the end of January, to skate for half an hour before lunch with his Swiss hovering over him like a friendly eagle, to have lunch with Jeannie seated side by side on a toboggan at the edge of the rink, and skate for half an hour again afterwards at the end of which time a second eagle appeared in the person of Blessington or his mother, and carried him off to the sleigh. Right on through half February lasted the golden frosty weather; then came a great snowfall, and with that the frost broke. The snow degenerated into rain, the wind veered again into the slack south, and the roofs dripped and the trees tossed their white burdens from them. But, as the snow melted, wonderful things happened in the earth at the summons of the suns of spring, for gentians pushed their lengthening stems up through the thinning crust, and put forth their star-like flowers, deep as the blue of night and brilliant as the blue of day. The call of the spring, though yet the snow-wreaths lingered, pierced through them, and the listening grasses and bulbs pricked up their little green ears above the soil. Wonderful as last spring had been, the first that Archie had ever consciously noticed, this Alpine Primavera was twice as magical, for winter was caught in her very arms, and warmed to life again. Morning by morning the pine-woods steamed like the hot flank of a horse, and when the mists cleared nature's great colour-box had been busy again with fresh greens, and more vivid reds on the tree-trunks, and weak, pale snowdrops and mountain crocuses shone like silver and gold in the sheltered hollows. A more tender blue took the place of the crystallized skies of winter, and for the barren, brilliant light of the January sun was exchanged a fruitful and caressing luminousness that flooded the world instead of merely looking down upon it. Soon from the lower slopes the snow was quite vanished, and instead of the tinkle of sleigh-bells there came from the pastures the deeper note from the bells of feeding cattle, which all winter long had been penned up in chalets, eating the dry cakes of last year's harvest of grass.

Archie had been lying in his balcony one morning writing an account of these things to Miss Bampton. His mother had gone back to England to take Jeannie home, but would be back at the end of the week, and in the absence of an instructor Archie's task was to write a long letter daily to somebody at home. This he enjoyed doing, for the search for words in which to express himself had begun to interest him, and he had just written: "If you listen very hard, you can almost hear the grass and the flowers fizzing. Is it the sap? It's like fizzing anyhow. That's what I mean."

As he paused at the end of his third page, he felt something in his hand that also reminded him of fizzing. There was that queer thrill and twitching in his fingers, which he recognized at once, and words, not searched for by him, but coming from some other source, began to trace themselves on the blank fourth page. To-day there were no preliminary scrawls, the firm, upright handwriting was coherent from the first.

"Archie, I've got through again," it wrote. "Isn't it fun? If you want a test ("Test?" thought Archie, "what's that?") you'll find a circle cut on the bark of the pine opposite the front-door. Dig in the earth just below it. There's a box and some things in it. I hid them."

A wave of conscious excitement came over the boy, and instantly his hand stopped writing.

"Oh, bother; it's stopped," he said to himself. "I wish I hadn't interrupted it."

But he had interrupted it, and, since he could not get back into that particular quiescence which, he had begun to see, always accompanied these manifestations, he could at least do what the writing suggested, and, slipping off his couch, he tip-toed downstairs in order not to let Blessington hear his exit.

There were two pine-trees, either of which might have been described as opposite the front-door, and he searched in vain round the first of these for any sign of the circle cut on the bark. Then, coming to the other, he at once saw, with a sudden beating of his heart, a rough circle cut in the bark just opposite his eyes. A grey ring of lichen had grown into it, making it so conspicuous that he wondered he had never noticed it before. Next moment he was down on his knees, grubbing up the loose earth directly below it, with the eager, absolute certainty of success. The earth came away very easily, and his hole was not yet a foot deep when he saw something white and shining at the bottom of it, and presently he drew out a small, round tin box, like that which stood on the table in his father's study, and held tobacco. He hastily filled the earth into his excavation again, and, undetected, tip-toed back to his balcony.

For a while the lid resisted his efforts to open it, but soon he got it loose and looked inside. On the top lay a folded piece of paper; below there was a stick of chocolate in lead paper, a pencil, a match-box, and a photograph of a boy about nine years old whom Archie instantly knew to be like himself. Then he opened the piece of folded paper, and saw words written on it in a hand he knew quite well:

"This is Martin Morris's," was the inscription, "and belongs to him alone, and not anybody else at all ever."

Archie read this, looked at the photograph again, and a flood of light poured in on his mind. It was no wonder that he had felt that Martin was friendly and affectionate, that Martin wanted to talk to him, that Martin told him of the cache he had made, for to whom should he tell it but to his brother?

Yes: Martin was here, for Martin had written to him, had called him… And then, in a moment, more light flashed on him. Certainly Martin was alive, but he was not alive in the sense that his mother was alive or Blessington. In that sense Martin was dead. There was nothing in the least shocking or terrifying in the discovery, and it burst upon him as the sense of spring had done. It was just a natural thing, wonderfully beautiful, to find out for certain, as he felt he had found out, that there was close to him, always perhaps, and certainly at times, this presence of the brother whom he had never seen, but who in some way, not more inexplicable than the appearance of the blue gentians pricking up through the snow, could occasionally speak to him, calling him by name, or using his hand to write with.

A few days afterwards Lady Davidstow arrived back from England, and on the first evening of her return, after dusk had fallen, Archie was sitting on the floor against her knee in front of the one open fire-place in the house, where pine-logs fizzed and smouldered and burst into flame, and glowed into a core of heat. Sometimes, for that pleasant hour before bed-time, she read to him, but to-night there had been no reading, for she had been telling him of the week she had passed at home. They had moved up to London while she was there, and London was miry and foggy and cold.

"Altogether disgusting, dear," she said. "You don't want to go there, do you?"

"Not an atom," said Archie firmly. "I like this place better than any I have ever been in."

"I'm so glad, Archie. I was afraid you would dislike it after the frost went."

Archie was staring dreamily at the fire, and suddenly he knew that Martin was here, and he looked quickly round wondering if, by any new and lovely miracle, he should see the boy whose face was now familiar to him from the photograph. But there was nothing visible; only the firelight leaped on the wooden walls.

"What is it, Archie?" asked his mother.

Suddenly Archie felt that he could preserve his secret no longer. As on the day in church when he wanted his mother to share with him the pleasure of that glorious comedian, the man with the wagging beard, so now he wanted her to share with him the secret joy of Martin's presence.

"Mummy, I want to tell you about Martin," he said. "You know whom I mean: Martin, my brother."

"Archie, who has been telling you about Martin?" she asked.

Archie laughed.

"Why, Martin, of course. It's too lovely. Once he called me out loud, and he writes for me. He's written for me three times, once at home and twice here. I knew he was particularly here, the moment we got here. And last time he told me about what he had hidden under the pine-tree, and I found it. Don't you want to see it? I hid it away in the paper in my portmanteau. Oh, and what is a test? He said it was a test."

"A test? A test is a proof."

Archie laughed again.

"That makes sense," he said. "Now shall I show you the test? I kept it all together with what he wrote to me about it first."

He came back in a moment with his precious possession.

"Look, that's what he wrote on the paper of my letter to Miss Bampton," he said. "He said there was a circle cut on the pine-tree, and I found it, and I dug as he told me, and found this. Look! Isn't it lovely, and that's Martin's photograph, isn't it?"

It was impossible to question the validity of this evidence, and, indeed, Lady Davidstow had no desire to do so. For herself, she believed implicitly in the fact of life everlasting, without which the whole creation of God, with its pains and its agonies and its yearning and its love, becomes the cruellest of all sorry jests concocted by the omnipotent power of a mind infinitely brutal and cynical, who tortures the puppets He has created with unutterable anguish, or ravishes their souls with a joy as meaningless as dreams. Well she remembered Martin's cutting the circle on the pine-tree, but what its significance was he had never told her. But now, five years after his death, he had told it, she could not doubt, to the brother who had no normal remembrance of him. There they were, the little pathetic tokens of his childish secrecy, a pencil, a piece of chocolate, a photograph, and, above all, the well-formed, upright handwriting identical with that of the message traced on the last page of Archie's unsent letter. How it happened, what was the strange mechanism that fashioned by material means this mysterious communication between the living and the dead she had no idea, but of its having happened she had no doubt.

She turned these relics over, she kissed the handwriting so long buried, and tears of tender amazement rose in her eyes.

"Oh Archie, my darling," she said. "You lucky boy!"

"Aren't I?" said Archie. "But does Martin never write to you?"

"No, dear; I suppose he cannot."

"And why is he so particularly here?" demanded Archie.

She paused a moment.

"He died here," she said.

"In this house?" asked he. "Which room?"

"Blessington's."

Archie gave a great sigh.

"Oh, mummy, do let me have that room instead of mine!" he said.

BOOK II

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