THE garden lay dozing in the summer sun, a sun, too, that was really hot and luminous, worthy of mid-June, and Philip Home had paid his acknowledgments to its power by twice moving his chair into the shifting shade of the house, which stood with blinds drawn down, as if blinking in the brightness. Somewhere on the lawn below him, but hidden by the flower-beds of the terraced walk, a mowing-machine was making its clicking journeys to and fro, and the sound of it seemed to him to be extraordinarily consonant to the still heat of the afternoon. Entirely in character also with the day was the light hot wind that stirred fitfully among the garden beds as if it had gone to sleep there, and now and then turned over and made the flowers rustle and sigh. Huge Oriental poppies drooped their scarlet heads, late wall-flowers still sent forth their hot, homely odour, peonies blazed and flaunted, purple irises rivalled in their fading glories the budding stars of clematis that swarmed up the stone vases on the terrace, golden rain showered from the laburnums, lilacs stood thick in fragrant clumps and clusters. Canterbury bells raised spires of dry, crinkly blue, and forget-me-nots—nearly over—made a dim blue border to the glorious carpet of the beds. For the warm weather this year had come late but determinedly, spring flowers still lingered, and the later blossoms of early summer had been forced into premature appearance. This fact occupied Philip at this moment quite enormously. What would the garden be like in July? There must come a break somewhere, when the precious summer flowers were over, and before the autumn ones began.
THE CALL FROM WITHOUT
Colonel Fanshawe was riding slowly back to his bungalow about an hour before the sunset of a hot and brilliant day in the middle of March. He had spent a long day in the saddle, for the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Forces was at Peshawar on a visit of inspection, and he had reviewed and inspected and inspected and reviewed and given medals and colours and compliments and criticism till the whole garrison, who had been under arms on the parade ground since an early hour that morning, was ready to drop with a well-earned fatigue. That evening there was to be a great dinner-party followed by a dance at the house of the Resident. To-morrow the Commander-in-Chief was to go up the Khyber pass, returning just in time to catch the night train to Lahore, arriving there at daybreak, and prepared to spend another day similar to this. And yet, so reflected Colonel Fanshawe, he was made, to all appearance, of flesh and blood, exactly like anybody else: indeed, he was endowed with flesh to a somewhat phenomenal extent; for, though not of unusual height, he swung a full eighteen stone into his saddle, ate and drank in perfectly amazing quantities, and, without doubt, would to-night prance genially and colossally from beginning to end of every dance with a succession of the prettiest girls in Peshawar. It was equally certain that at the conclusion he would go in person to the bandmaster and beg as a personal favour for an extra or two....
There is a very large class of persons alive to-day who believe that not only is communication with the dead possible, but that they themselves have had actual experience of it. Many of these are eminent in scientific research, and on any other subject the world in general would accept their evidence.
There is possibly a larger class of persons who hold that all such communications, if genuine, come not from the dead but from the devil. This is the taught opinion of the Roman Catholic Church.
A third class, far more numerous than both of these, is sure that any one who holds either of these beliefs is a dupe of conjurers, or the victim of his own disordered brain. This type of robust intellect has, during the last ten decades, affirmed that hypnotism, aviation in machines heavier than air, telepathy, wireless telegraphy, and other non-proved phenomena, are superstitious and unscientific balderdash. In an earlier century it was equally certain that the earth did not go round the sun. It is, happily, never disconcerted by the frequency with which the superstitions and impossibilities of one generation become the science of the next.
The first part of this book may be accepted by the first of these three classes, the second by the second, and none of it by the third. Its aim is to state rather than solve the subject with which it deals, and to suggest that the dead and the devil alike may be able to communicate with the living.
There was a new class-room in course of construction for the first form at Helmsworth Preparatory School, and the ten senior boys, whose united ages amounted to some hundred and thirty years, were taken for the time being in the school museum. This was a big boarded room, covered with corrugated iron and built out somewhat separate from the other class rooms at the corner of the cricket-field. The arrangement had many advantages from the point of view of the boys, for the room was full of agreeably distracting and interesting objects, and Cicero almost ceased to be tedious, even when he wrote about friendship, if, when you were construing, you could meditate on the skeleton of a kangaroo which stood immediately in front of you, and refresh yourself with the sight of the stuffed seal on whose nose the short-sighted Ferrers Major had balanced his spectacles before Mr. Dutton came in. Or, again, it was agreeable to speculate on the number of buns a mammoth might be able to put simultaneously into his mouth, seeing that a huge yellowish object that stood on the top of one of the cases was just one of his teeth. . . .
Of course it depended on how many teeth a mammoth had, but the number of a boy’s teeth might be some guide, and David, in the throes of grinding out the weekly letter to his father, passed his tongue round his own teeth, trying to count them by the sensory quality of it. But, losing count, he put an inky forefinger into his mouth instead. There seemed to be fourteen in his lower jaw and thirteen and a half in the upper, for half of a front tooth had been missing ever since, a few weeks ago, he had fallen out of a tree on to his face, and the most industrious scrutiny of that fatal spot had never resulted in his finding it. In any case, then, he had twenty-seven and a half teeth, and it was reasonable to suppose that a mammoth, therefore, unless he had fallen out of a tree (if there were such in the glacial age) had at least twenty-eight. That huge yellow lump of a thing, then, as big as David’s whole head, was only one twenty-eighth of his chewing apparatus. Why, an entire bun could stick to it and be unobserved. A mammoth could have twenty-eight buns in his mouth and really remain unaware of the fact. Fancy having a bun on every tooth and not knowing! How much ought a mammoth’s pocket-money to be if you had to provide on this scale? And when would its mouth be really full? And how . . . David was growing a little sleepy.
Daisy Hanbury poked her parasol between the bars of the cage, with the amiable intention of scratching the tiger's back. The tiger could not be expected to know this all by himself, and so he savagely bit the end of it off, with diabolical snarlings. Daisy turned to her cousin with a glow of sympathetic pleasure.
"What a darling!" she said. "He didn't understand, you see, and was perfectly furious. And it cost pounds and pounds, and I've spent all my allowance, and so I can't buy another, and my complexion will go to the dogs. Let's go there, too; the dingoes are absolutely fascinating. We'll come back to see these angels fed."
"Daisy, you have got the most admirable temper," she said. "I should have called that brute any names except 'darling' and 'angel.'"
"I know you would, because you don't understand either it or me. I understand both perfectly. You see, you don't love fierce wild things--things that are wicked and angry, and, above all, natural. I don't mind good, sweet, gentle things, like--oh, like almost everybody, if only they are sweet and good naturally. But generally they are not. Their sweetness is the result of education or morality, or something tedious, not the result of their natures, of themselves. Oh, I know all about it! Gladys, this parasol is beyond hope. Let's conceal it in the bushes like a corpse."
Daisy looked round with a wild and suspicious eye.
Poets of all ages and of all denominations are unanimous in assuring us that there was once a period on this grey earth known as the Golden Age. These irresponsible hards describe it in terms of the vaguest, most poetic splendour, and, apart from the fact, upon which they are all agreed, that the weather was always perfectly charming, we have to reconstruct its characteristics in the main for ourselves. Perhaps if the weather was uniformly delightful, even in this nineteenth century, the golden age might return again. We all know how perceptibly our physical, mental and spiritual level is raised by a few days of really charming weather; but until the weather determines to be always golden, we can hardly expect it of the age. Yet even now, even in England, and even in London, we have every year a few days which must surely be waifs and strays from the golden age, days which have fluttered down from under the hands of the recording angel, as he tied up his reports, and, after floating about for years in dim, interplanetary space, sometimes drop down upon us. They may last a week, they have been known to last a fortnight; again, they may curtail themselves into a few hours, but they are never wholly absent.
At the time at which this story opens, London was having its annual golden days; days to be associated with cool, early rides in the crumbly Row, with sitting on small, green chairs beneath the trees at the corner of the Park; with a general disinclination to exert oneself, or to stop smoking cigarettes; with a temper distinctly above its normal level, and a corresponding absence of moods. The crudeness of spring had disappeared, but not its freshness; the warmth of the summer had come, but not its sultriness; the winter was definitely over and past, and even in Hyde Park the voice of the singing bird was heard, and an old gentleman, who shall be nameless, had committed his annual perjury by asserting in the Morning Post that he had heard a nightingale in the elm-trees by the Ladies' Mile, which was manifestly impossible.
The big pink and white dining-room at the Carlton was full to suffocation of people, mixed odours of dinner, the blare of the band just outside, and a babel of voices. In the hall theatre-goers were having their coffee and cigarettes after dinner, while others were still waiting, their patience fortified by bitters, for their parties to assemble. The day had been very hot, and, as is the manner of days in London when June is coming to an end, the hours for most people here assembled had been pretty fully occupied, but with a courage worthy of the cause they seemed to behave as if nothing of a fatiguing nature had occurred since breakfast. The band played loud because it would otherwise have been inaudible above the din of conversation, and people talked loud because otherwise nobody could have heard what anybody else said. To-night everybody had a good deal to say, for a case of the kind that always attracts a good deal of attention had just been given that lengthy and head-lined publicity which is always considered in England to be inseparable from the true and indifferent administration of justice, and the vultures of London life found the banquet extremely to their taste. So they ate their dinner with a sense of special gaiety, pecked ravenously at the aforesaid affair, and all talked loudly together. But nobody talked so loud as Mrs. Lewis S. Palmer.
The little red-roofed town of Hayes lies in a furrow of the broad-backed Wiltshire Downs; it was once an important posting station, and you may still see there an eighteenth century inn, much too large for the present requirements of the place, and telling of the days when, three times a week, the coach from London used to pull up at its hospitable door, and wait there half-an-hour while its passengers dined. The inn is called the Grampound Arms, and you will find that inside the church many marble Grampounds recline on their tombs, or raise hands of prayer, while outside in the churchyard, weeping cherubs, with reversed torches, record other pious and later memories of the same family.
But almost opposite the Grampound Arms you will notice a much newer inn, where commercial gentlemen make merry, called the Aston Arms, and on reference to monumental evidence, you would also find that cherubs are shedding similar pious tears for a Sir James Aston, Bart., and his wife, and, thirty years later, for James Aston, first Lord Hayes, and his wife. But for the Astons, no marble knights keep watch on Gothic tombs.
The river Kennet, in its green wanderings, has already passed, before it reaches Hayes, two houses, one close down by the river, the other rather higher up and on the opposite bank. The smaller and older of the two is the residence of Mr. Grampound, the larger and newer of Lord Hayes. These trifling facts, which almost all the inhabitants of Hayes could tell you, will sufficiently indicate the mutual position of the two families in the latter half of the nineteenth century.