The Door in the Wall, and Other StoriesH. G. Wells / Fantasy
This etext was created by Judith Boss, Omaha, Nebraska.The equipment: an IBM-compatible 486/50, a Hewlett-PackardScanJet IIc flatbed scanner, and Calera Recognition Systems'M/600 Series Professional OCR software and RISC accelerator boarddonated by Calera Recognition Systems.
THE DOORIN THE WALLAnd Other Stories
BYH. G. WELLS
The Door in the Wall 5The Star 27A Dream of Armageddon 43The Cone 75A Moonlight Fable 91The Diamond Maker 99The Lord of the Dynamos 111The Country of the Blind 125
THE DOOR IN THE WALLAND OTHER STORIES
THE DOOR IN THE WALL
One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace toldme this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thoughtthat so far as he was concerned it was a true story.
He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction thatI could not do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning,in my own flat, I woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay inbed and recalled the things he had told me, stripped of the glamourof his earnest slow voice, denuded of the focussed shaded tablelight, the shadowy atmosphere that wrapped about him and thepleasant bright things, the dessert and glasses and napery of thedinner we had shared, making them for the time a bright littleworld quite cut off from every-day realities, I saw it all asfrankly incredible. He was mystifying! I said, and then: Howwell he did it!. . . . . It isn't quite the thing I should haveexpected him, of all people, to do well.
Afterwards, as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, Ifound myself trying to account for the flavour of reality thatperplexed me in his impossible reminiscences, by supposing they didin some way suggest, present, convey--I hardly know which word touse--experiences it was otherwise impossible to tell.
Well, I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got overmy intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the momentof telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability stripthe truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, oronly thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of aninestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannotpretend to guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended mydoubts forever, throw no light on that. That much the reader mustjudge for himself.
I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved soreticent a man to confide in me. He was, I think, defendinghimself against an imputation of slackness and unreliability I hadmade in relation to a great public movement in which he haddisappointed me. But he plunged suddenly. I have he said, apreoccupation--
I know, he went on, after a pause that he devoted to thestudy of his cigar ash, I have been negligent. The fact is--itisn't a case of ghosts or apparitions--but--it's an odd thing totell of, Redmond--I am haunted. I am haunted by something--thatrather takes the light out of things, that fills me with longings. . . . .
He paused, checked by that English shyness that so oftenovercomes us when we would speak of moving or grave or beautifulthings. You were at Saint Athelstan's all through, he said, andfor a moment that seemed to me quite irrelevant. Well--and hepaused. Then very haltingly at first, but afterwards more easily,he began to tell of the thing that was hidden in his life, thehaunting memory of a beauty and a happiness that filled his heartwith insatiable longings that made all the interests and spectacleof worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain to him.
Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems writtenvisibly in his face. I have a photograph in which that look ofdetachment has been caught and intensified. It reminds me of whata woman once said of him--a woman who had loved him greatly.Suddenly, she said, the interest goes out of him. He forgetsyou. He doesn't care a rap for you--under his very nose . . . . .
Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he washolding his attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be anextremely successful man. His career, indeed, is set withsuccesses. He left me behind him long ago; he soared up over myhead, and cut a figure in the world that I couldn't cut--anyhow.He was still a year short of forty, and they say now that he wouldhave been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if he hadlived. At school he always beat me without effort--as it were bynature. We were at school together at Saint Athelstan's College inWest Kensington for almost all our school time. He came into theschool as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a blaze ofscholarships and brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a fairaverage running. And it was at school I heard first of the Door inthe Wall--that I was to hear of a second time only a month beforehis death.
To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door leadingthrough a real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quiteassured.
And it came into his life early, when he was a little fellowbetween five and six. I remember how, as he sat making hisconfession to me with a slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned thedate of it. There was, he said, a crimson Virginia creeper init--all one bright uniform crimson in a clear amber sunshineagainst a white wall. That came into the impression somehow,though I don't clearly remember how, and there were horse-chestnutleaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They wereblotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so thatthey must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. Ilook out for horse-chestnut leaves every year, and I ought to know.
If I'm right in that, I was about five years and four months old.
He was, he said, rather a precocious little boy--he learned totalk at an abnormally early age, and he was so sane andold-fashioned, as people say, that he was permitted an amount ofinitiative that most children scarcely attain by seven or eight.His mother died when he was born, and he was under the lessvigilant and authoritative care of a nursery governess. His fatherwas a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave him little attention, andexpected great things of him. For all his brightness he found lifea little grey and dull I think. And one day he wandered.
He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him toget away, nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads.All that had faded among the incurable blurs of memory. But thewhite wall and the green door stood out quite distinctly.
As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he didat the very first sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion,an attraction, a desire to get to the door and open it and walk in.And at the same time he had the clearest conviction that either itwas unwise or it was wrong of him--he could not tell which--toyield to this attraction. He insisted upon it as a curious thingthat he knew from the very beginning--unless memory has played himthe queerest trick--that the door was unfastened, and that he couldgo in as he chose.
I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn andrepelled. And it was very clear in his mind, too, though why itshould be so was never explained, that his father would be veryangry if he went through that door.
Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me withthe utmost particularity. He went right past the door, and then,with his hands in his pockets, and making an infantile attempt towhistle, strolled right along beyond the end of the wall. There herecalls a number of mean, dirty shops, and particularly that of aplumber and decorator, with a dusty disorder of earthenware pipes,sheet lead ball taps, pattern books of wall paper, and tins ofenamel. He stood pretending to examine these things, and coveting,passionately desiring the green door.
Then, he said, he had a gust of emotion. He made a run forit, lest hesitation should grip him again, he went plump withoutstretched hand through the green door and let it slam behindhim. And so, in a trice, he came into the garden that has hauntedall his life.
It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense ofthat garden into which he came.
There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated,that gave one a sense of lightness and good happening and wellbeing; there was something in the sight of it that made all itscolour clean and perfect and subtly luminous. In the instant ofcoming into it one was exquisitely glad--as only in rare momentsand when one is young and joyful one can be glad in this world.And everything was beautiful there . . . . .
Wallace mused before he went on telling me. You see, hesaid, with the doubtful inflection of a man who pauses atincredible things, there were two great panthers there . . . Yes,spotted panthers. And I was not afraid. There was a long widepath with marble-edged flower borders on either side, and these twohuge velvety beasts were playing there with a ball. One looked upand came towards me, a little curious as it seemed. It came rightup to me, rubbed its soft round ear very gently against the smallhand I held out and purred. It was, I tell you, an enchantedgarden. I know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide,this way and that. I believe there were hills far away. Heavenknows where West Kensington had suddenly got to. And somehow itwas just like coming home.
You know, in the very moment the door swung to behind me, Iforgot the road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs andtradesmen's carts, I forgot the sort of gravitational pull back tothe discipline and obedience of home, I forgot all hesitations andfear, forgot discretion, forgot all the intimate realities of thislife. I became in a moment a very glad and wonder-happy littleboy--in another world. It was a world with a different quality, awarmer, more penetrating and mellower light, with a faint cleargladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud in the bluenessof its sky. And before me ran this long wide path, invitingly,with weedless beds on either side, rich with untended flowers, andthese two great panthers. I put my little hands fearlessly ontheir soft fur, and caressed their round ears and the sensitivecorners under their ears, and played with them, and it was asthough they welcomed me home. There was a keen sense ofhome-coming in my mind, and when presently a tall, fair girlappeared in the pathway and came to meet me, smiling, and said'Well?' to me, and lifted me, and kissed me, and put me down, andled me by the hand, there was no amazement, but only an impressionof delightful rightness, of being reminded of happy things that hadin some strange way been overlooked. There were broad steps, Iremember, that came into view between spikes of delphinium, and upthese we went to a great avenue between very old and shady darktrees. All down this avenue, you know, between the red chappedstems, were marble seats of honour and statuary, and very tame andfriendly white doves . . . . .
And along this avenue my girl-friend led me, looking down--Irecall the pleasant lines, the finely-modelled chin of her sweetkind face--asking me questions in a soft, agreeable voice, andtelling me things, pleasant things I know, though what they were Iwas never able to recall . . . And presently a little Capuchinmonkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy brown and kindly hazeleyes, came down a tree to us and ran beside me, looking up at meand grinning, and presently leapt to my shoulder. So we went onour way in great happiness . . . .
Go on, I said.
I remember little things. We passed an old man musing amonglaurels, I remember, and a place gay with paroquets, and camethrough a broad shaded colonnade to a spacious cool palace, full ofpleasant fountains, full of beautiful things, full of the qualityand promise of heart's desire. And there were many things and manypeople, some that still seem to stand out clearly and some that area little vague, but all these people were beautiful and kind. Insome way--I don't know how--it was conveyed to me that they allwere kind to me, glad to have me there, and filling me withgladness by their gestures, by the touch of their hands, by thewelcome and love in their eyes. Yes--
He mused for awhile. Playmates I found there. That was verymuch to me, because I was a lonely little boy. They playeddelightful games in a grass-covered court where there was asun-dial set about with flowers. And as one played one loved . . . .
But--it's odd--there's a gap in my memory. I don't remember thegames we played. I never remembered. Afterwards, as a child, Ispent long hours trying, even with tears, to recall the form of thathappiness. I wanted to play it all over again--in my nursery--bymyself. No! All I remember is the happiness and two dearplayfellows who were most with me . . . . Then presently came asombre dark woman, with a grave, pale face and dreamy eyes, asombre woman wearing a soft long robe of pale purple, who carrieda book and beckoned and took me aside with her into a gallery abovea hall--though my playmates were loth to have me go, and ceasedtheir game and stood watching as I was carried away. 'Come back tous!' they cried. 'Come back to us soon!' I looked up at her face,but she heeded them not at all. Her face was very gentle andgrave. She took me to a seat in the gallery, and I stood besideher, ready to look at her book as she opened it upon her knee. Thepages fell open. She pointed, and I looked, marvelling, for in theliving pages of that book I saw myself; it was a story aboutmyself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me sinceever I was born . . . .
It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book werenot pictures, you understand, but realities.
Wallace paused gravely--looked at me doubtfully.
Go on, I said. I understand.
They were realities--yes, they must have been; people movedand things came and went in them; my dear mother, whom I had nearforgotten; then my father, stern and upright, the servants, thenursery, all the familiar things of home. Then the front door andthe busy streets, with traffic to and fro: I looked and marvelled,and looked half doubtfully again into the woman's face and turnedthe pages over, skipping this and that, to see more of this book,and more, and so at last I came to myself hovering and hesitatingoutside the green door in the long white wall, and felt again theconflict and the fear.
'And next?' I cried, and would have turned on, but the coolhand of the grave woman delayed me.
'Next?' I insisted, and struggled gently with her hand,pulling up her fingers with all my childish strength, and as sheyielded and the page came over she bent down upon me like a shadowand kissed my brow.
But the page did not show the enchanted garden, nor thepanthers, nor the girl who had led me by the hand, nor theplayfellows who had been so loth to let me go. It showed a longgrey street in West Kensington, on that chill hour of afternoonbefore the lamps are lit, and I was there, a wretched littlefigure, weeping aloud, for all that I could do to restrain myself,and I was weeping because I could not return to my dearplay-fellows who had called after me, 'Come back to us! Come backto us soon!' I was there. This was no page in a book, but harshreality; that enchanted place and the restraining hand of the gravemother at whose knee I stood had gone--whither have they gone?
He halted again, and remained for a time, staring into the fire.
Oh! the wretchedness of that return! he murmured.
Well? I said after a minute or so.
Poor little wretch I was--brought back to this grey worldagain! As I realised the fulness of what had happened to me, Igave way to quite ungovernable grief. And the shame andhumiliation of that public weeping and my disgraceful homecomingremain with me still. I see again the benevolent-looking oldgentleman in gold spectacles who stopped and spoke to me--proddingme first with his umbrella. 'Poor little chap,' said he; 'and areyou lost then?'--and me a London boy of five and more! And he mustneeds bring in a kindly young policeman and make a crowd of me, andso march me home. Sobbing, conspicuous and frightened, I came fromthe enchanted garden to the steps of my father's house.
That is as well as I can remember my vision of thatgarden--the garden that haunts me still. Of course, I can conveynothing of that indescribable quality of translucent unreality,that difference from the common things of experience that hungabout it all; but that--that is what happened. If it was a dream,I am sure it was a day-time and altogether extraordinary dream . .. . . . H'm!--naturally there followed a terrible questioning, bymy aunt, my father, the nurse, the governess--everyone . . . . . .
I tried to tell them, and my father gave me my firstthrashing for telling lies. When afterwards I tried to tell myaunt, she punished me again for my wicked persistence. Then, as Isaid, everyone was forbidden to listen to me, to hear a word aboutit. Even my fairy tale books were taken away from me for atime--because I was 'too imaginative.' Eh? Yes, they did that! Myfather belonged to the old school . . . . . And my story was drivenback upon myself. I whispered it to my pillow--my pillow that wasoften damp and salt to my whispering lips with childish tears. AndI added always to my official and less fervent prayers this oneheartfelt request: 'Please God I may dream of the garden. Oh! takeme back to my garden! Take me back to my garden!'
I dreamt often of the garden. I may have added to it, I mayhave changed it; I do not know . . . . . All this you understandis an attempt to reconstruct from fragmentary memories a very earlyexperience. Between that and the other consecutive memories of myboyhood there is a gulf. A time came when it seemed impossible Ishould ever speak of that wonder glimpse again.
I asked an obvious question.
No, he said. I don't remember that I ever attempted tofind my way back to the garden in those early years. This seemsodd to me now, but I think that very probably a closer watch waskept on my movements after this misadventure to prevent my goingastray. No, it wasn't until you knew me that I tried for thegarden again. And I believe there was a period--incredible as itseems now--when I forgot the garden altogether--when I was abouteight or nine it may have been. Do you remember me as a kid atSaint Athelstan's?
I didn't show any signs did I in those days of having a secret dream?
He looked up with a sudden smile.
Did you ever play North-West Passage with me? . . . . . No,of course you didn't come my way!
It was the sort of game, he went on, that every imaginativechild plays all day. The idea was the discovery of a North-WestPassage to school. The way to school was plain enough; the gameconsisted in finding some way that wasn't plain, starting off tenminutes early in some almost hopeless direction, and working one'sway round through unaccustomed streets to my goal. And one day Igot entangled among some rather low-class streets on the other sideof Campden Hill, and I began to think that for once the game wouldbe against me and that I should get to school late. I tried ratherdesperately a street that seemed a _cul de sac_, and found apassage at the end. I hurried through that with renewed hope. 'Ishall do it yet,' I said, and passed a row of frowsy little shopsthat were inexplicably familiar to me, and behold! there was mylong white wall and the green door that led to the enchantedgarden!
The thing whacked upon me suddenly. Then, after all, that garden,that wonderful garden, wasn't a dream! . . . .
I suppose my second experience with the green door marks theworld of difference there is between the busy life of a schoolboyand the infinite leisure of a child. Anyhow, this second time Ididn't for a moment think of going in straight away. You see . . .For one thing my mind was full of the idea of getting to schoolin time--set on not breaking my record for punctuality. I mustsurely have felt _some_ little desire at least to try thedoor--yes, I must have felt that . . . . . But I seem to rememberthe attraction of the door mainly as another obstacle to myovermastering determination to get to school. I was immediatelyinterested by this discovery I had made, of course--I went on withmy mind full of it--but I went on. It didn't check me. I ran pasttugging out my watch, found I had ten minutes still to spare, andthen I was going downhill into familiar surroundings. I got toschool, breathless, it is true, and wet with perspiration, but intime. I can remember hanging up my coat and hat . . . Went rightby it and left it behind me. Odd, eh?
He looked at me thoughtfully. Of course, I didn't know thenthat it wouldn't always be there. School boys have limitedimaginations. I suppose I thought it was an awfully jolly thing tohave it there, to know my way back to it, but there was the schooltugging at me. I expect I was a good deal distraught andinattentive that morning, recalling what I could of the beautifulstrange people I should presently see again. Oddly enough I had nodoubt in my mind that they would be glad to see me . . . Yes, Imust have thought of the garden that morning just as a jolly sortof place to which one might resort in the interludes of a strenuousscholastic career.
I didn't go that day at all. The next day was a halfholiday, and that may have weighed with me. Perhaps, too, my stateof inattention brought down impositions upon me and docked themargin of time necessary for the detour. I don't know. What I doknow is that in the meantime the enchanted garden was so much uponmy mind that I could not keep it to myself.
I told--What was his name?--a ferrety-looking youngster weused to call Squiff.
Young Hopkins, said I.
Hopkins it was. I did not like telling him, I had a feelingthat in some way it was against the rules to tell him, but I did.He was walking part of the way home with me; he was talkative, andif we had not talked about the enchanted garden we should havetalked of something else, and it was intolerable to me to thinkabout any other subject. So I blabbed.
Well, he told my secret. The next day in the play intervalI found myself surrounded by half a dozen bigger boys, half teasingand wholly curious to hear more of the enchanted garden. There wasthat big Fawcett--you remember him?--and Carnaby and MorleyReynolds. You weren't there by any chance? No, I think I shouldhave remembered if you were . . . . .
A boy is a creature of odd feelings. I was, I reallybelieve, in spite of my secret self-disgust, a little flattered tohave the attention of these big fellows. I remember particularlya moment of pleasure caused by the praise of Crawshaw--you rememberCrawshaw major, the son of Crawshaw the composer?--who said it wasthe best lie he had ever heard. But at the same time there was areally painful undertow of shame at telling what I felt was indeeda sacred secret. That beast Fawcett made a joke about the girl ingreen--.
Wallace's voice sank with the keen memory of that shame. Ipretended not to hear, he said. Well, then Carnaby suddenlycalled me a young liar and disputed with me when I said the thingwas true. I said I knew where to find the green door, could leadthem all there in ten minutes. Carnaby became outrageouslyvirtuous, and said I'd have to--and bear out my words or suffer.Did you ever have Carnaby twist your arm? Then perhaps you'llunderstand how it went with me. I swore my story was true. Therewas nobody in the school then to save a chap from Carnaby thoughCrawshaw put in a word or so. Carnaby had got his game. I grewexcited and red-eared, and a little frightened, I behavedaltogether like a silly little chap, and the outcome of it all wasthat instead of starting alone for my enchanted garden, I led theway presently--cheeks flushed, ears hot, eyes smarting, and my soulone burning misery and shame--for a party of six mocking, curiousand threatening school-fellows.
We never found the white wall and the green door . . .
I mean I couldn't find it. I would have found it if I could.
And afterwards when I could go alone I couldn't find it. Inever found it. I seem now to have been always looking for itthrough my school-boy days, but I've never come upon it again.
Did the fellows--make it disagreeable?
Beastly . . . . . Carnaby held a council over me for wantonlying. I remember how I sneaked home and upstairs to hide themarks of my blubbering. But when I cried myself to sleep at lastit wasn't for Carnaby, but for the garden, for the beautifulafternoon I had hoped for, for the sweet friendly women and thewaiting playfellows and the game I had hoped to learn again, thatbeautiful forgotten game . . . . .
I believed firmly that if I had not told-- . . . . . I hadbad times after that--crying at night and wool-gathering by day.For two terms I slackened and had bad reports. Do you remember?Of course you would! It was _you_--your beating me in mathematicsthat brought me back to the grind again.
For a time my friend stared silently into the red heart of thefire. Then he said: I never saw it again until I was seventeen.
It leapt upon me for the third time--as I was driving toPaddington on my way to Oxford and a scholarship. I had just onemomentary glimpse. I was leaning over the apron of my hansomsmoking a cigarette, and no doubt thinking myself no end of a manof the world, and suddenly there was the door, the wall, the dearsense of unforgettable and still attainable things.
We clattered by--I too taken by surprise to stop my cab untilwe were well past and round a corner. Then I had a queer moment,a double and divergent movement of my will: I tapped the littledoor in the roof of the cab, and brought my arm down to pull out mywatch. 'Yes, sir!' said the cabman, smartly. 'Er--well--it'snothing,' I cried. '_My_ mistake! We haven't much time! Goon!' and he went on . . .
I got my scholarship. And the night after I was told of thatI sat over my fire in my little upper room, my study, in myfather's house, with his praise--his rare praise--and his soundcounsels ringing in my ears, and I smoked my favourite pipe--theformidable bulldog of adolescence--and thought of that door in thelong white wall. 'If I had stopped,' I thought, 'I should havemissed my scholarship, I should have missed Oxford--muddled all thefine career before me! I begin to see things better!' I fellmusing deeply, but I did not doubt then this career of mine was athing that merited sacrifice.
Those dear friends and that clear atmosphere seemed verysweet to me, very fine, but remote. My grip was fixing now uponthe world. I saw another door opening--the door of my career.
He stared again into the fire. Its red lights picked out astubborn strength in his face for just one flickering moment, andthen it vanished again.
Well, he said and sighed, I have served that career. Ihave done--much work, much hard work. But I have dreamt of theenchanted garden a thousand dreams, and seen its door, or at leastglimpsed its door, four times since then. Yes--four times. For awhile this world was so bright and interesting, seemed so full ofmeaning and opportunity that the half-effaced charm of the gardenwas by comparison gentle and remote. Who wants to pat panthers onthe way to dinner with pretty women and distinguished men? I camedown to London from Oxford, a man of bold promise that I have donesomething to redeem. Something--and yet there have beendisappointments . . . . .
Twice I have been in love--I will not dwell on that--butonce, as I went to someone who, I know, doubted whether I dared tocome, I took a short cut at a venture through an unfrequented roadnear Earl's Court, and so happened on a white wall and a familiargreen door. 'Odd!' said I to myself, 'but I thought this place wason Campden Hill. It's the place I never could find somehow--likecounting Stonehenge--the place of that queer day dream of mine.'And I went by it intent upon my purpose. It had no appeal to methat afternoon.
I had just a moment's impulse to try the door, three stepsaside were needed at the most--though I was sure enough in my heartthat it would open to me--and then I thought that doing so mightdelay me on the way to that appointment in which I thought myhonour was involved. Afterwards I was sorry for my punctuality--Imight at least have peeped in I thought, and waved a hand to thosepanthers, but I knew enough by this time not to seek againbelatedly that which is not found by seeking. Yes, that time mademe very sorry . . . . .
Years of hard work after that and never a sight of the door.It's only recently it has come back to me. With it there has comea sense as though some thin tarnish had spread itself over my world.I began to think of it as a sorrowful and bitter thing that I shouldnever see that door again. Perhaps I was suffering a little fromoverwork--perhaps it was what I've heard spoken of as the feelingof forty. I don't know. But certainly the keen brightness thatmakes effort easy has gone out of things recently, and that justat a time with all these new political developments--when I ought tobe working. Odd, isn't it? But I do begin to find life toilsome,its rewards, as I come near them, cheap. I began a little while agoto want the garden quite badly. Yes--and I've seen it three times.
No--the door! And I haven't gone in!
He leaned over the table to me, with an enormous sorrow in hisvoice as he spoke. Thrice I have had my chance--_thrice!_ If everthat door offers itself to me again, I swore, I will go in out ofthis dust and heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out of thesetoilsome futilities. I will go and never return. This time I willstay . . . . . I swore it and when the time came--_I didn't go_.
Three times in one year have I passed that door and failed toenter. Three times in the last year.
The first time was on the night of the snatch division on theTenants' Redemption Bill, on which the Government was saved by amajority of three. You remember? No one on our side--perhaps veryfew on the opposite side--expected the end that night. Then thedebate collapsed like eggshells. I and Hotchkiss were dining withhis cousin at Brentford, we were both unpaired, and we were calledup by telephone, and set off at once in his cousin's motor. We gotin barely in time, and on the way we passed my wall and door--lividin the moonlight, blotched with hot yellow as the glare of ourlamps lit it, but unmistakable. 'My God!' cried I. 'What?' saidHotchkiss. 'Nothing!' I answered, and the moment passed.
'I've made a great sacrifice,' I told the whip as I got in.'They all have,' he said, and hurried by.
I do not see how I could have done otherwise then. And thenext occasion was as I rushed to my father's bedside to bid thatstern old man farewell. Then, too, the claims of life wereimperative. But the third time was different; it happened a weekago. It fills me with hot remorse to recall it. I was with Gurkerand Ralphs--it's no secret now you know that I've had my talk withGurker. We had been dining at Frobisher's, and the talk had becomeintimate between us. The question of my place in the reconstructedministry lay always just over the boundary of the discussion.Yes--yes. That's all settled. It needn't be talked about yet, butthere's no reason to keep a secret from you . . . . . Yes--thanks!thanks! But let me tell you my story.
Then, on that night things were very much in the air. Myposition was a very delicate one. I was keenly anxious to get somedefinite word from Gurker, but was hampered by Ralphs' presence.I was using the best power of my brain to keep that light andcareless talk not too obviously directed to the point that concernsme. I had to. Ralphs' behaviour since has more than justified mycaution . . . . . Ralphs, I knew, would leave us beyond theKensington High Street, and then I could surprise Gurker by asudden frankness. One has sometimes to resort to these littledevices. . . . . And then it was that in the margin of my field ofvision I became aware once more of the white wall, the green doorbefore us down the road.
We passed it talking. I passed it. I can still see theshadow of Gurker's marked profile, his opera hat tilted forwardover his prominent nose, the many folds of his neck wrap goingbefore my shadow and Ralphs' as we sauntered past.
I passed within twenty inches of the door. 'If I saygood-night to them, and go in,' I asked myself, 'what will happen?'And I was all a-tingle for that word with Gurker.
I could not answer that question in the tangle of my otherproblems. 'They will think me mad,' I thought. 'And suppose Ivanish now!--Amazing disappearance of a prominent politician!'That weighed with me. A thousand inconceivably petty worldlinessesweighed with me in that crisis.
Then he turned on me with a sorrowful smile, and, speakingslowly; Here I am! he said.
Here I am! he repeated, and my chance has gone from me.Three times in one year the door has been offered me--the door thatgoes into peace, into delight, into a beauty beyond dreaming, akindness no man on earth can know. And I have rejected it,Redmond, and it has gone--
How do you know?
I know. I know. I am left now to work it out, to stick tothe tasks that held me so strongly when my moments came. You say,I have success--this vulgar, tawdry, irksome, envied thing. I haveit. He had a walnut in his big hand. If that was my success,he said, and crushed it, and held it out for me to see.
Let me tell you something, Redmond. This loss is destroyingme. For two months, for ten weeks nearly now, I have done no workat all, except the most necessary and urgent duties. My soul isfull of inappeasable regrets. At nights--when it is less likely Ishall be recognised--I go out. I wander. Yes. I wonder whatpeople would think of that if they knew. A Cabinet Minister, theresponsible head of that most vital of all departments, wanderingalone--grieving--sometimes near audibly lamenting--for a door, fora garden!
I can see now his rather pallid face, and the unfamiliarsombre fire that had come into his eyes. I see him very vividlyto-night. I sit recalling his words, his tones, and last evening's_Westminster Gazette_ still lies on my sofa, containing thenotice of his death. At lunch to-day the club was busy with himand the strange riddle of his fate.
They found his body very early yesterday morning in a deepexcavation near East Kensington Station. It is one of two shaftsthat have been made in connection with an extension of the railwaysouthward. It is protected from the intrusion of the public by ahoarding upon the high road, in which a small doorway has beencut for the convenience of some of the workmen who live inthat direction. The doorway was left unfastened through amisunderstanding between two gangers, and through it he made hisway . . . . .
My mind is darkened with questions and riddles.
It would seem he walked all the way from the House thatnight--he has frequently walked home during the past Session--andso it is I figure his dark form coming along the late and emptystreets, wrapped up, intent. And then did the pale electric lightsnear the station cheat the rough planking into a semblance ofwhite? Did that fatal unfastened door awaken some memory?
Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?
I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me.There are times when I believe that Wallace was no more than thevictim of the coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented typeof hallucination and a careless trap, but that indeed is not myprofoundest belief. You may think me superstitious if you will,and foolish; but, indeed, I am more than half convinced that he hadin truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something--I know notwhat--that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, asecret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogethermore beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed himin the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmostmystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination.We see our world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit. By ourdaylight standard he walked out of security into darkness, dangerand death. But did he see like that?