The garden lay outspread before him, calm, uninvaded by any alien being, man or animal. The great ilex trees were immobile, fixed as the eternal stars overhead. And he shrank in swift protest, almost in terror, being called on thus to face things apparently super-normal, forces unexplored and uncharted, defying reason, giving the lie to ordinary experience and ordinary belief. Reality and hallucination, jostled one another in his thought, a giant note of interrogation written against each. For which was the true and which the false? Of necessity he distrusted the evidence of his own senses, finding sight and hearing in direct conflict thus.
The two or three minutes that followed were among the most profoundly disagreeable Tom ever had spent. But at last, a door opened below, letting forth a shaft of mellow lamp-light. It touched the flower-beds on the left edging the lawn, giving the geraniums form and colour, laying down a delicate carpet of green, transmuting black into glowing scarlet. Tall and spare in his grey and white sleeping-suit, Sir Charles Verity sauntered out, and stood, smoking, looking out to sea.
Earlier that night, downstairs in the sitting-room, he seemed a storm centre, generating much perplexity and disquiet. But now Tom welcomed his advent with a sense of almost absurd satisfaction. To see what was solidly, incontrovertibly, human could not but be, in itself, a mighty relief.—Things began to swing into their natural relation, man, living man, the centre, the dominant factor once more. He, Tom, could now shift all responsibility, moreover. If the master of the house was on guard, he might wash his hands of these hateful ghostly goings on—if ghostly they were—leaving the whole matter to one far stronger and more competent than himself.
Whereupon he went back to bed; and slept profoundly, royally, until Hordle the man-servant, moving about the bright chintz bedecked room, preparing his bath and laying out his clothes, awoke him to the sweetness of another summer day.
BETWEEN RIVER AND SEA
“We had a grand talk last night—Sir Charles was in splendid form. I enjoyed it down to the ground.”
Tom Verity lay, at full length on the upward sloping, sun-warmed bank of sand and shingle. Only to youth is given enjoyment of perfect laziness joined with perfect physical vigour. Just because he felt equal to vaulting the moon or long-jumping an entire continent, should such prodigious feats be required of him, could he lie thus in glorious idleness letting the earth cradle and the sun soak into him. Doubts and disturbances of last night melted in daylight to an almost ludicrous nothingness and self-confidence reigned; so that he declared the world a super-excellent place, snapping his fingers at problems and mysteries. A spark of curiosity pricked him still, it is true, concerning the origin of certain undeniably queer aural phenomena. He meant to satisfy that curiosity presently; but the subject must be approached with tact. He must wait on opportunity.