“Don’t shoot!” he said.
DAWN found them there, and the risen sun laid its beams on the rough floor of the bungalow, before either of the men was conscious of the passage of time. Bernald, vaguely trying to define his own state in retrospect, could only phrase it: “I floated ... floated. ...”
The gist of fact at the core of the extraordinary experience was simply that John Pellerin, twenty-five years earlier, had voluntarily disappeared, causing the rumour of his death to be reported to an inattentive world; and that now he had come back to see what that world had made of him.
“You’ll hardly believe it of me; I hardly believe it of myself; but I went away in a rage of disappointment, of wounded pride—no, vanity! I don’t know which cut deepest—the sneers or the silence—but between them, there wasn’t an inch of me that wasn’t raw. I had just the one thing in me: the message, the cry, the revelation. But nobody saw and nobody listened. Nobody wanted what I had to give. I was like a poor devil of a tramp looking for shelter on a bitter night, in a town with every door bolted and all the windows dark. And suddenly I felt that the easiest thing would be to lie down and go to sleep in the snow. Perhaps I’d a vague notion that if they found me there at daylight, frozen stiff, the pathetic spectacle might produce a reaction, a feeling of remorse. ... So I took care to be found! Well, a good many thousand people die every day on the face of the globe; and I soon discovered that I was simply one of the thousands; and when I made that discovery I really died—and stayed dead a year or two. ... When I came to life again I was off on the under side of the world, in regions unaware of what we know as ‘the public.’ Have you any notion how it shifts the point of view to wake under new constellations? I advise any who’s been in love with a woman under Cassiopeia to go and think about her under the Southern Cross. ... It’s the only way to tell the pivotal truths from the others. ... I didn’t believe in my theory any less—there was my triumph and my vindication! It held out, resisted, measured itself with the stars. But I didn’t care a snap of my finger whether anybody else believed in it, or even knew it had been formulated. It escaped out of my books—my poor still-born books—like Psyche from the chrysalis and soared away into the blue, and lived there. I knew then how it frees an idea to be ignored; how apprehension circumscribes and deforms it. ... Once I’d learned that, it was easy enough to turn to and shift for myself. I was sure now that my idea would live: the good ones are self-supporting. I had to learn to be so; and I tried my hand at a number of things ... adventurous, menial, commercial. ... It’s not a bad thing for a man to have to live his life—and we nearly all manage to dodge it. Our first round with the Sphinx may strike something out of us—a book or