The Haunted Woman, by David Lindsay

Chapter 19

The Flash of Day

The mist came on thicker. It was so wetting that her clothes and face streamed with moisture, though she was too distressed to think of seeking shelter. The upper lawn appeared as a dark shadow against the paler grey of the sky, while the house itself was out of sight.

As she stood trying to overcome her agitation, something began to affect her ears. It was not exactly a sound, but was more like a heavy pulsing. Her head throbbed with it, till she thought she should go mad. Then it ceased abruptly.

Five minutes later, the figure of a man loomed up out of the mist and approached her. It was Judge. Isbel pressed her fur tightly to her throat and turned away.

“So it is you!”

When he replied, there was a suppressed exuberance in his voice which immediately arrested her attention by its unusualness.

“Yes, it is I.”

“Then you told me an untruth? You have not gone to London?”

“I called here on my way back.”

“Well, I got your letter. Perhaps you are wondering why I have followed you here, after having received my dismissal. I don’t want anything from you, and I don’t know myself why I came. Mrs. Richborough led me here. I know now that she’s dead, but I have seen her and spoken to her, for all that.”

Judge seemed not to remark her statement, for he asked another question:

“Did you hear my playing?”

“Your playing?”

“Yes.” . . . He eyed her curiously. “Your manner is very extraordinary. Surely you recognise where you are? Are you awake or asleep?”

“I’m quite awake and I fully realise where I am, Mr. Judge. I’m trespassing in your grounds — but it won’t be for long. I’m going home now.”

“Haven’t you been to the house?”

“Your house? Hardly, I think.”

He drew a step closer, and for the first time she observed that he was not wearing a hat.

“Tell me where you think you are?”

“I have already told you. It is your manner which is very singular, Mr. Judge. Are you quite well?”.

“Listen! I am talking with you here, and I am where we wished to be yesterday. Does it not seem so to you, too?”

“I don’t understand you. Where did we wish to be yesterday?”

He gave her another searching look. “So you really are seeing differently. And you have not been up that staircase to-day?”

“I haven’t set foot inside your house, I tell you. Have you lost your senses?”

“No; but I have been up that staircase to-day, and I have not yet come down again.”

“Oh, my God!” said Isbel quietly.

“I was wretched, and could not keep away from the house. It contained all my memories. The stairs were there; I climbed them. Passing straight into that other room, I got through the window, and succeeded in reaching the ground without accident, though it was not easy . . . ”

She stared at him with frightened eyes. “And where are you now?”

“I am standing beside you in the open country, in full sunshine — and it is spring, not autumn.”

“You cannot believe it. You must see for yourself that it isn’t so. Feel me — I’m wet with the fine rain.”

But he came no nearer.

“The man is asleep, and the sight of his instrument put an idea into my head. I could not see you, but I felt you were somewhere in the neighbourhood — so I played to you . . . ”

“What man?”

“The man we saw from the window yesterday.”

There was an embarrassed silence.

“But this is awful!” said Isbel . . . “You must be attempting to mystify me, Mr. Judge. If not . . . ”

“No, I am speaking the truth, Isbel; and I am quite rational.”

The blood came to her face. “You have not yet acquired the right to call me by that name, Mr, Judge.”

“You don’t understand — but matters can be set right.”

“Where are you now going?”

He had started to move off, but stopped at her question.

“I shall play again.”

“But this is sheer insanity.”

“You did not think so last evening, when we heard that music in the hall.”

She said nothing.

“Let me go,” proceeded Judge quietly. “I ask you only to reserve your judgement for five minutes, and in the meantime to wait here. Should I fail to open your eyes by then, I give you full permission to think of me what you will. Please wait.”

Isbel stared after him with a puzzled frown, as he made his way up and across the long, wet grass. He had hardly taken ten steps before his form merged into the grey of the mist and was swallowed up. She heard nothing but the dripping of the sodden trees.

While waiting, with a fast-beating heart, for the outcome of this strange business, she experienced the same sensations in her ears as before. It was an inaudible throbbing, too marked to be disregarded, but so unassociated that she was unable even to decide if its cause were internal or external. After continuing for a minute or two, it left off as suddenly as it had started. Nearly at the same time she was surprised to see the day rapidly brightening. The sky grew lighter, and the mists thinner; she could look further away each moment. In less than five minutes after Judge’s departure the sun itself had come through. The blue sky appeared, the ground vapours dispersed, and the whole country became visible. The transition was so abrupt that she scarcely knew how to take it; almost in a flash, to the radiance and heat of an early summer day. A wind sprang up, and long before she had accommodated herself to the change there was not a wisp of cloud in the sky. She loosened her fur wrap.

She was standing in the same attitude — looking up towards the house. Suddenly a shock passed through her system. She had just realised the house was gone. It had vanished, absolutely and entirely. And not only the house, but its grounds as well, including the very lawn on which her foot had been resting . . . She discovered herself to be on the side of a steep, grassy hill, through the turf of which the naked chalk showed. She was some way down from the top, but there was not the least room for doubt that there was no building there; its bare ridge joined the sky from end to end . . . Here was a miracle indeed! . . .

Upon turning swiftly to see what was behind her, she was bewildered to meet the identical panorama which she and Judge had viewed yesterday from that window. The hillside she stood on was where the strangely-dressed man had been; she recognised at once by its general configuration and relation to the landscape. The sharp, smooth slope descended to the same little valley, along which flowed the same little brook; beyond it was that other hill, with the unbroken forest stretching to the horizon . . . after staring for a few moments, she clapped her hand to her eyes, and cried out. She could not understand it, and she feared she was on the point of losing her reason. But when she looked again she saw the same things, down to the smallest detail, and all was so brightly-coloured, so solid, so real in appearance, that she could not hesitate any longer to accept the scene as being actually existent . . . And it was so beautiful! The forest trees were clothed in fresh green leaves, the smaller trees in the valley underneath were smothered with white blossom, song-birds trilled and twittered, a wood pigeon was cooing softly, two distant cuckoos seemed to be answering each other, high overhead a lark fluttered and sang. The caressing wind brought to her the rich, moist fragrance of the whole countryside . . . Yes, yes — it was spring! . . .

She remembered everything. Every particular of her three visits to those other rooms at Runhill returned to her with startling distinctness, so that she was amazed how she could ever have forgotten. Moreover, her whole relation to Henry, both in private and in public, was suddenly made clear. She saw how worldly prudence on his side, angry pride on hers, had nearly succeeded in wrecking their happiness, and how this state of affairs had arisen, not from any fault of character on either part, not from any insufficiency of love, but from pure ignorance of the fact. They had not known that they belonged to each other . . .

Her heart sang as she saw him approaching her from higher up. He was only a short distance away. Still further back, behind him, she caught a glimpse of the gaily-dressed musician. He was lying on his side, head uphill, back towards her, apparently asleep; hiss fiddle-shaped instrument was beside him. Isbel gave him a silent welcome, but at that moment Henry was the more wonderful vision of the two. She had no real eyes for anything but him.

They hastened to each other with outstretched hands.

“You heard me this time?” laughed Henry, enfolding her and looking down into her eyes.

“My ears throbbed — was that really you? . . . Oh, Henry, what a terribly narrow escape we’ve had! How could we have been so absolutely insane? Surely we must have know that that ring was not thrown away for nothing? . . . ”

“Some kind fate is watching over us, evidently. Whether we deserve it by our stupidity is quite another matter . . . However, you see now I’m not so mad as you thought I was?”

“It’s heaven, I think. But is it true? . . . Where has the house gone to?”

“We’re in the house.”

Even while they were speaking, the brightness of the day began perceptibly to fade, almost as though a solar eclipse were creeping on. The sun became obscured by haze, the blue of the sky grew paler and paler, thin mists commenced again to crawl about the lower regions. The wind dropped, and a sort of hush came over the scene. The birds sang more fitfully.

“It’s getting darker,” whispered Isbel, with a slight shiver, uneasily drawing her fur closer to her.

“No, no. Dismiss the possibility. It can’t change now.” His strong-featured face smiled down at her protectingly.

“Let’s hope not . . . How do you mean —‘we’re in the house’?”

“I entered it from the grounds, and I haven’t passed out again into the grounds, therefore I’m still in it — and you’re with me. I don’t profess to understand, but it is so, and it can’t be otherwise.”

The mist sensibly thickened. Isbel could scarcely distinguished the trees on the opposite side of the valley. The sun disappeared, the sky was a whitish grey, while the air felt cold and damp.

“Henry, I’m going!” she said, quietly detaching herself from his embrace . . . “Everything’s falling back . . . ”

His face fell in alarm. “What’s the matter? What’s happening to you? . . . ”

“We’re returning to the old state. The sun’s gone in, and it’s growing misty and cold . . . Oh, can’t you see it?”

“No, I can’t. There’s no difference at all — the day is as glorious as ever it was . . . Exert your will! . . . ”

“My mind is getting all mixed up, too. I seem to be losing my grip of things . . . Do you know, I can hardly remember yesterday?”

“My poor, poor girl! Make an effort. Force yourself to see that it isn’t so.”

“Unfortunately, one cannot conquer facts. Oh, I’m going back right enough. It’s been a short-lived dream this time — but it doesn’t signify.”

Judge bit his nails in agitation. “What’s to be done? Something must be done. I must think of something . . . ”

“I verily believe you are more concerned than I,” she replied smiling. “You had better wake that man. Is he still lying there? I can no longer see.”

“Wake him?”

“Is he too terrible to be waked?”

“His face is buried in his arm.”

“Perhaps he will help us. He has done so before. But he quick! It will soon be too late.”

“I’ll go at once. May it turn out well! There’s something very unusual in his appearance.”

By the time both the crest of the hill and the valley beneath were blotted out. She was unable to see for more than a few feet around her, while the mist resembled a fine, driving rain, which did its work none the less effectually because it was impalpable.

She signed to Judge to stop, and, after staring at him for a few moments, with knitted brows, said:

“I’m afraid I’ve lost the thread of my ideas. Of whom are we speaking?”

“Of that man. The musician.”

“What man? What musician?”

“Isbel! . . . ”

“Mr. Judge,” she said quietly, “my head is very confused, and I have to plead guilty to not remembering what or whom we were talking about; but one thing I do recollect. I requested you a short time ago to address me with the same courtesy which you would use towards any other lady of your acquaintance.”

Judge turned pale, and bowed.

“You left me a few minutes ago,” she went on, “and it seems you’ve come back. Is there any advantage to be gained by our pursuing this conversation?”

“I have no explanation to offer which you would at present be able to understand. I will absent myself once more. Please be good enough to wait here a few moments longer. I have complete confidence that everything will be made clear to you.”

His features bore an expression of earnestness and humility which succeeded only in still further irritating her.

“No, I’m going home. Your conduct ever since yesterday, Mr. Judge, is entirely beyond my comprehension, but I will put the most charitable construction upon it that I can, and give you a word of advice. Continue your journey to London with as little delay as possible, and lose not time in seeking your medical adviser.”

Judge bowed again.

“I think we shall not see one another again,” proceeded Isbel. “I will take this opportunity of saying good-bye. It has been a very . . . broken friendship.”

Without waiting for any further speech from him, she started slowly to mount the lawn, having no definite plans for getting back to Brighton, but feeling that she would gain her bearings better from the house in the first place. She did not rust herself to retrace the route by which she had come. The thick, white, rolling vapours shut her in, as in a prison . . . Judge, standing there in brilliant sunshine and an atmosphere which showed everything as clear-cut and painted, saw her one moment, and failed to see her the next. She had disappeared before his eyes. He made a gesture of dismay, and began in hot haste to scramble up the hillside obliquely, in the direction of the sleeping musician.

* * *

Isbel heard a long, low, scraping sound, like the slow drawing of a bow across the low string of a deep-toned viol. It was succeeded by silence.

She was by this time close up to the house, and she looked towards it, but was unable to understand where she had come to. It was a different building. As well as could be distinguished through the mist, it was constructed entirely of unpainted timber, from top to bottom; the roof was flat, without gables, and there appeared to be four storeys. Then the fog shut out the vision again.

A strange warmth was running through her body. All her other sensations seemed to be merged in the recollection that she was a woman . . . Fever was abroad in the air, and her blood grew hotter and hotter . . .

That musical noise returned, but now the note was low, fierce, passionate, exactly resembling a deep, forced human cry of love-pain . . .

Everything happened in a single second. Between twin periods of fog and gloom, came one flash of summer sunlight. It entered upon her with the abrupt unexpectedness of a stroke, and before she realised where she was, or what had happened to her, it had departed again leaving her stunned and terrified. Meanwhile, this is what she seemed to see. She was standing in sunshine again, on that bare hill, gazing at the distant forest, across the valley. The sky was cloudless. She was nearly at the top of the hill, and the house had vanished . . . She recollected everything, but could settle to nothing. Her mood was one of unutterable excitement and reckless audacity; she appeared to herself to be laughing and sobbing under her breath . . .

Henry and that other man were facing each other on the hillside, a little way below her. The man was tall and stout, and, in his bright-coloured, archaic garments, cut an extraordinary figure. He held his instrument against his chest, and was in the act of drawing his bow across it — the note she had heard had not yet come to an end. His back was turned towards her, so that she could not see his face, but Henry, who was standing erect and motionless beyond, was looking right into it, and, from his expression, it was as though he were beholding some appalling vision! . . . She screamed and ran towards him, calling him by name. Before she had taken three steps, however, the musician jerked his whole force savagely into his bow-arm, and she was brought up with a violent shock. Such sharp brutality of passion she had never heard expressed by any sound . . . The sunlight grew suddenly hotter and darker, the landscape appeared to close rapidly in upon her, some catastrophe was impending; her blood was boiling and freezing . . .

At that moment it seemed to her that yonder strange man was the centre around which everything in the landscape was moving, and that she herself was no more than his dream! . . .

And then Henry’s face was crossed by an expression of sickness; he changed colour; she caught a faint groan, and directly afterwards he sank helplessly to the ground, where he continued lying quite still . . . she stood paralysed, staring in horror . . .

The sunlight vanished instantaneously. Everything was grey and cold again, the sky was leaden; she saw nothing but driving rain-mists . . . She rubbed her eyes with her knuckels, wondering what had occurred, how she came to be standing there, as in a dream, why she felt so sick and troubled? . . .

Then she quietly fainted where she stood.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49