Holy Terrors, by Arthur Machen

The Tree of Life

i

The Morgans of Llantrisant were regarded for many centuries as among the most considerable of the landed gentry of South Wales. They had been called Reformation parvenus, but this was a piece of unhistorical and unjust abuse. They could trace their descent back, without doubt, certainly as far as Morgan ab Ifor, who fought and, no doubt, flourished in his way c. 980. He, in his turn, was always regarded as of the tribe of St. Teilo; and the family kept, as a most precious relic, a portable altar which was supposed to have belonged to the saint. And for many hundred years, the eldest son had borne the name of Teilo. They had intermarried, now and again, with the Normans, and lived in a thirteenth-century castle, with certain additions for comfort and amenity made in the reign of Henry VII, whose cause they had supported with considerable energy. From Henry, they had received grants of forfeited estates, both in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire. At the dissolution of the religious houses, the Sir Teilo of the day was given Llantrisant Abbey with all its possessions. The monastic church was stripped of its lead roof, and soon fell into ruin, and became a quarry for the neighbourhood. The abbot’s lodging and other of the monastic buildings were kept in repair, and being situated in a sheltered valley, were used by the family as a winter residence in preference to the castle, which was on a bare hill, high above the abbey. In the seventeenth century, Sir Henry Morgan — his elder brother had died young — was a Parliament man. He changed his opinions, and rose for the King in 1648; and, in consequence, had the mortification of seeing the outer wall of the castle on the hill, not razed to the ground, but carefully reduced to a height of four or five feet by the Cromwellian major-general commanding in the west. Later in the century, the Morgans became Whigs, and later still were able to support Mr. Gladstone, up to the Home Rule Bill of 1886. They still held most of the lands which they had gathered together gradually for eight or nine hundred years. Many of these lands had been wild, remote, and mountainous, of little use or profit save for the sport of hunting the hare; but early in the nineteenth century mining experts from the north, Fothergills and Renshaws, had found coal, and pits were sunk in the wild places, and the Morgans became wealthy: in the modern way. By consequence, the bad seasons of the late ‘seventies and the agricultural depression of the early ‘eighties hardly touched them. They reduced rents and remitted arrears and throve on their mining royalties: they were still great people of the county. It was a very great pity that Teilo Morgan of Llantrisant was an invalid and an enforced recluse; especially as he was devoted to the memories of his house, and to the estate, and to the interests of the people on it.

The Llantrisant Abbey of his day had been so altered from age to age that the last abbot would certainly have seen little that was familiar to his eyes. It was set in rich and pleasant meadow-land, with woods of oak and beech, and ash and elm all about it. Through the park ran the swift, clear river, Avon Torfaen, the stone or boulder-crusher, so named from its furious courses in the mountains where it rose. And the hills stood round the Abbey on every side. Here and there in the southern-facing front of the house, there could be seen traces of fifteenth-century building; but on this had been imposed the Elizabethan gables of the first lay resident, and Inigo Jones was said to have added the brick wing with the Corinthian pilasters, and there was a stuccoed projection in the sham Gothic of the time of George II. It was architecturally ridiculous, but it was supposed to be the warmest part of the house, and Teilo Morgan occupied a set of five or six rooms on the first floor, and often looked out on the park, and opened the windows to hear the sound of the pouring Avon, and the murmur of the wood-pigeons in the trees, and the noise of the west wind from the mountain. He longed to be out among it all, running as he saw boys running on the hill-side through a gap in the wood; but he knew that there was a gulf fixed between him and that paradise. There was, it seemed, no specific disease but a profound weakness, a marasmus that had stopped short of its term, but kept the patient chronically incapable of any physical exertion, even the slightest. They had once tried taking him out on a very fine day in the park, in a wheeled chair; but even that easy motion was too much for him. After ten minutes, he had fainted, and lay for two or three days on his back, alive, but little more than alive. Most of his time was spent on a couch. He would sit up for his meals and to interview the estate agent; but it was effort to do so much as this. He used to read in county histories and in old family records of the doings of his ancestors; and wonder what they would have said to such a successor. The storming of castles at dead darkness of night, the firing of them so that the mountains far away shone, the arrows of the Gwent bowmen darkening the air at Crécy, the battle of the dawn by the river, when it was seen scarlet by the first light in the east, the drinking of Gascon wine in hall from moonrise to sunrise; he was no figure for the old days and works of the Morgans.

It was probable that his feeble life was chiefly sustained by his intense interest in the doings of the estate. The agent, Captain Vaughan, a keen, middle-aged man, had often told him that a monthly interview would be sufficient and more than sufficient. “I’m afraid you find all this detail terribly tiring,” he would say. “And you know it’s not really necessary. I’ve one or two good men under me, and between us we manage to keep things in very decent order. I do assure you, you needn’t bother. As a matter of fact; if I brought you a statement once a quarter, it would be quite enough.”

But Teilo Morgan would not entertain any such laxity.

“It doesn’t tire me in the least,” he always replied to the agent’s remonstrances. “It does me good. You know a man must have exercise in some form or another. I get mine on your legs. I’m still enjoying that tramp of yours up to Castell-y-Bwch three years ago. You remember?”

Captain Vaughan seemed at a loss for a moment.

“Let me see,” he said. “Three years ago? Castell-y-Bwch? Now, what was I doing up there?”

“You can’t have forgotten. Don’t you recollect? It was just after the great snowstorm. You went up to see that the roof was all right, and fell into a fifteen-foot drift on the way.”

“I remember now,” said Vaughan. “I should think I do remember. I don’t think I’ve been so cold and so wet before or since — worse than the Balkans. I wasn’t prepared for it. And when I got through the snow, there was an infernal mountain stream still going strong beneath it all.”

“But there was a good fire at the pub when you got there?”

“Half-way up the chimney; coal and wood mixed; roaring, I’ve never seen such a blaze: six foot by three, I should think. And I told them to mix it strong.”

“I wish I’d been there,” said the squire. “Let me see; you recommended that some work should be done on the place, didn’t you? Re-roofing, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, the slates were in a bad way, and in the following March we replaced them by stone tiles, extra heavy. Slates are not good enough, half-way up the mountain. To the west, of course, the place is more or less protected by the wood, but the south-east pine end is badly exposed and was letting the wet through, so I ran up an oak frame, nine inches from the wall, and fixed tiles on that. You remember passing the estimate?”

“Of course, of course. And it’s done all right? No trouble since?”

“No trouble with wind or weather. When I was there last, the fat daughter was talking about going to service in Cardiff. I don’t think Mrs. Samuel fancied it much. And young William wants to go down the pit when he leaves school.”

“Thomas is staying to help his father with the farm, I hope? And how is the farm doing now?”

“Fairly well. They pay their rent regularly, as you know. In spite of what I tell them, they will try to grow wheat. It’s much too high up.”

“How do the people on the mountain like the new parson?”

“They get on with him all right. He tries to persuade them to come to Mass, as he calls it, and they stay away and go to meeting. But quite on friendly terms — out of business hours.”

“I see. I should think he would be more at home in one of the Cardiff parishes. We must see if it can’t be worked somehow. And how about those new pigsties at Ty, Captain? Have you got the estimate with you? Read it out, will you? My eyes are tired this morning. You went to Davies for the estimate? That’s right: the policy of the estate is, always encourage the small man. Have you looked into that business of the marsh?”

“The marsh? Oh, you mean at Kemeys? Yes, I’ve gone into it. But I don’t think it would pay for draining. You’d never see your money back.”

“You think not? That’s a pity.”

Teilo Morgan seemed depressed by the agent’s judgment on the Kemeys marshland. He weighed the matter.

“Well; I suppose you are right. We mustn’t go in for fancy farming. But look here! It’s just struck me. Why not utilise the marsh for growing willows? We could run a sluice from the brook right across it. It might be possible to start basket-making — in a small way, of course, at first. What do you think?”

“That wants looking into,” said Captain Vaughan. “I know a place in Somerset where they are doing something of the kind. I’ll go over on Wednesday and see if I can get some useful information. I hardly think the margin of profit would be a big one. But you would be satisfied with two per cent?”

“Certainly. And here’s a thing I’ve been wanting to talk to you about for a long time — for the last three or four Mondays&mdashand I’ve always forgotten: You know the Graeg on the home farm? A beautiful southern exposure, and practically wasted. I feel sure that egg-plants would do splendidly there. Could you manage to get out some figures for next Monday? There’s no reason why the egg-plant shouldn’t become as popular as the tomato and the banana; if a cheap supply were forthcoming. You will see to that, won’t you? If you’re busy, you might put off going to Somerset till next week: no hurry about the marsh.”

“Very good. The Graeg: egg-plants.” The agent made an entry in his note-book, and took his leave soon afterwards. He paced a long corridor till he came to the gallery, from which the main staircase of the Abbey went down to the entrance hall. There he encountered an important-looking personage, square-chinned, black-coated, slightly grizzled.

“As usual, I suppose?” the personage enquired.

“As usual.”

“What was it this time?”

“Egg-plants.”

The important one nodded, and Captain Vaughan went on his way.

ii

As soon as the agent had gone, Teilo Morgan rang a bell. His man came, and lifted him skilfully out of the big chair, and laid him on the day-bed by the window, propping him with cushions behind his back.

“Two cushions will be enough,” said the squire. “I’m rather tired this morning.”

The man put the bell within easy reach, and went out softly. Teilo Morgan lay back quite still; thinking of old days, and of happy years, and of the bad season that followed them. His first recollections were of a little cottage, snow-white, high upon the mountain, a little higher than the hamlet of Castell-y-Bwch, of which he had been talking to the agent. The shining walls of the cottage, freshly whitened every Easter, were very thick, and sloped outward to the ground: the windows were deep-set in the wall. By the porch which sheltered the front door from the great winds of the mountain, were two shrubs, one on each side, that were covered in their season with orange-coloured flowers, as round as oranges, and these golden flowers were, in his memory, tossed and shaken to and fro, in the breeze that always blew in that high land, when every leaf and blossom of the lower slopes were still. About the house was the garden, and a rough field, and a small cherry orchard, in a sheltered dip of land, and a well dripping from the grey rock with water very clear and cold. Above the cottage and its small demesne came a high bank, with a hedge of straggling, wind-beaten trees and bramble thickets on top of it, and beyond, the steep and wild ascent of the mountain, where the dark green whin bushes bore purple berries, where white cotton grew on the grass, and the bracken shimmered in the sun, and the imperial heather glowed on golden autumn days. Teilo remembered well how, a long age ago, he would stand in summer weather by the white porch, and look down on the great territory, as if on the whole world, far below: wave following wave of hill and valley, of dark wood and green pastures and cornfields, pale green or golden, the white farms shining, the mist of blue smoke above the Roman city, and to the right, the far waters of the yellow sea. And then there were the winter nights: all the air black as pitch, and a noise of tumult and battle, when the great winds and driving rain beat upon wall and window; and it was praise and thanksgiving to lie safe and snug in a cot by the settle near the light and the warmth of the fire, while without the heavens and the hills were confounded together in the roaring darkness.

In the white cottage on the high land, Teilo had lived with his mother and grandmother, very old, bent and wrinkled; with a sallow face, and hair still black in spite of long years. But he was a very small boy, when a gentleman who had often been there before, came and took his mother and himself away, down into the valley; and his next memories were of the splendours of Llantrisant Abbey, where the three of them lived together, and were waited on by many servants, and he found that the gentleman was his father: a cheerful man, always laughing, with bright blue eyes and a thick, tawny moustache, that drooped over his chin. Here Teilo ran about the park, and raced sticks in the racing Avon, and climbed up the steep hill they called the Graeg, and liked to be there because with the shimmering, sweet-scented bracken it was like the mountain-side. His walks and runs and climbs did not last long. The strange illness that nobody seemed to understand struck him down, and when after many weeks of bitter pains and angry, fiery dreams, the anguish of day and night left him; he was weak and helpless, and lay still, waiting to get well, and never got well again. Month after month be lay there in his bed, able to move his hands faintly, and no more. At the end of a year he felt a little stronger and tried to walk, and just managed to get across the room, helping himself from chair to chair. There was one thing that was for the better: he had been a silent child, happy to sit all by himself hour after hour on the mountain and then on the steep slope of the Graeg, without uttering a word or wanting anyone to come and talk to him. Now, in his weakness, he chattered eagerly, and thought of admirable things. He would tell his father and mother all the schemes and plans he was making; and he wondered why they looked so sadly at him.

And then, disaster. His father died, and his mother and he had to leave Llantrisant Abbey; they never told him why. They went to live in a grey, dreary street somewhere in the north of London. It was a place full of ugly sights and sounds, with a stench of burning bones always in the heavy air, and an unseemly litter of egg-shells and torn paper and cabbage-stalks about the gutters, and screams and harsh cries fouling the ears at midnight. And in winter, the yellow sulphur mist shut out the sky and burned sourly in the nostrils. A dreadful place, and the exile was long there. His mother went out on most days soon after breakfast, and often did not come back till ten, eleven, twelve at night, tired to death, as she said, and her dark beauty all marred and broken. Two or three times, in the course of the day, a neighbour from the floor below would come in and see if he wanted anything; but, except for these visits, he lay alone all the hours, and read in the few old books that they had in the room. It was a life of bewildered misery. There was not much to eat, and what there was seemed not to have the right taste or smell; and he could not understand why they should have to live in the horrible street, since his mother had told him that now his father was dead, he was the rightful master of Llantrisant Abbey and should be a very rich man. “Then why are we in this dreadful place?” he asked her; and she only cried.

And then his mother died. And a few days after the funeral, people came and took him away; and he found himself once more at Llantrisant, master of it all, as his mother had told him he should be. He made up his mind to learn all about the lands and farms that he owned, and got them to bring him the books of the estate, and then Captain Vaughan began to come and see him, and tell him how things were going on, and how this farmer was the best tenant in the county, and how that man had nothing but bad luck, and John Williams would put gin in his cider, and drive breakneck down steep, stony lanes on market nights, standing up in the cart like a Roman charioteer. He learnt about all these works and ways, and how the land was farmed, and what was done and what was needed to be done in the farmhouses and farm-buildings, and asked the agent about all his visits of inspection and enquiry, till he felt that he knew every field and footpath on the Llantrisant estate, and could find his way to every farm-house and cottage chimney corner from the mountain to the sea. It was the absorbing interest and the great happiness of his life; and he was proud to think of all he had done for the land and for the people on it. They were excellent people, farmers, but apt to be too conservative, too much given to stick in the old ruts that their fathers and grandfathers had made, obstinately loyal to old methods in a new world. For example, there was Williams, Penyrhaul, who almost refused to grow roots, and Evan Thomas, Glascoed, who didn’t believe in drainpipes, and tried to convince Vaughan that bush drainage was better for the land, and half a dozen, at least, who were sure that all artificials exhausted the soil, and the silly fellow who had brought his black Castle Martins with him from Pembrokeshire, and turned up his nose at Shorthorns and Herefords. Still, Vaughan had a way with him, and made most of them see reason sooner or later; and they all knew that there was not another estate in England or Wales that was so ready to meet its tenants halfway, and do repairs and build new barns and cowsheds very often before they were asked. Teilo Morgan gave his agent all the credit he deserved, but at the same time he could not help feeling that in spite of his disabilities, of the weakness that kept him a prisoner to these four or five rooms, so that he had not once gone over the rest of the Abbey since his return to it; in spite of his invalid and stricken days, a great deal was owing to himself and to the fresh ideas that he had brought to the management of the estate. He took in the farming journals, and was thoroughly well read in the latest literature that dealt with the various branches of agriculture, and he knew in consequence that he was well in advance of his time, in advance even of the most forward agriculturalists of the day.

There were methods and schemes and ideas in full course of practical and successful working on the Llantrisant property that were absolutely unheard of on any other estate in the country. He had wanted to discuss some of these ideas in the Press; but Vaughan had dissuaded him; he said that for the present the force of prejudice was too strong. Vaughan was possibly right; all the same Teilo Morgan knew that he was making agricultural history. In the meantime, he was jotting down careful and elaborate notes on the experiments that were being tried, and in a year or two he intended to put a book on the stocks: The Llantrisant Estates: a New Era in Farming.

He was pondering happily in this strain, when, in a flash, a brilliant, a dazzling notion came to him. He drew a long breath of delighted wonder; then rang his hand-bell, and told the man that he might now put in the third cushion —“and give me my writing things.” A handy contraption, with paper, ink and the rest was adjusted before him, and as soon as the servant was gone, Teilo began a letter, his eyes bright with excitement.

“Dear Vaughan

“I know you think I’m inclined to be rather too experimental in my farming; I believe that this time you will agree that I have hit on a great idea. Don’t say a word to anybody about it. I am astonished that it hasn’t been thought of long ago, and my only fear is that we may be forestalled. I suppose the fact is that it has been staring us all in the face so long that we haven’t noticed it!

“My idea is simply this; a plantation, or orchard, if you like, of the Arbor Vitæ; and I know the exact place for it. You have often told me how Jenkins of the Garth insists on having those fields of his by the Soar down in potatoes, a most unsuitable place for such a crop. I want you to go and see him as soon as you have time, and tell him we want the use of the fields — about five acres, if I remember. Of course, he must be compensated, and, within reason, you can be as liberal as you like. I have understood from you that the soil is a deep, rich loam, in very good heart; it should be an ideal position for the culture I intend. I believe that the Arbor Vitæ will flourish anywhere, and is practically indifferent to climatic conditions: ‘makes its own climate,’ as one writer rather poetically expresses it. Still, its culture in this county is an experiment; and I am sure Mharadwys — I think that’s the old name of those fields by the Soar — is the very spot.

“The land must be thoroughly trenched. Get this put in hand as soon as you can possibly manage it. Let them leave it in ridges, so that the winter frosts can break it up. Then, if we give it a good dressing of superphosphate of lime and bone meal in the spring, and plough in September, everything will be ready for the autumn planting. You know I always insist on shallow planting; don’t bury the roots in a hole; spread them out evenly within five or six inches of the surface; let them feel the sun. And when it comes to staking; mind that each tree has two stakes, crossed at the top, with the, points driven into the ground at a good distance from the, roots. I am sure that the single stake, close to the tree stem, with its point driven through the roots is very bad practice.

“Of course, you will appreciate the importance of this new culture. The twelve distinct kinds of fruit produced by this extraordinary tree, all of them of delicious flavour, render it absolutely unique. Whatever the cost of the experiment may be, I am sure it will be made good in a very short time. And it must be remembered that while the name, Tous les mois, given to a kind of strawberry cultivated on the continent, really only implies that the plants fruit all through the summer and early autumn, in the case of the Arbor Vitæ, the claim may be made with literal truth. As the old writers say: ‘The Arbor yielded her fruit ever month.’ No other cropper, however heavy, can be compared with it. And in addition to all this, the leaves are said to possess the most valuable therapeutic qualities.

“Don’t you agree with me this will prove by far the most important and far-reaching of all our experiments?

“I remain,
“Yours sincerely,
Teilo Morgan.

“P.S. On consideration; I think it might be better to keep the dressing of super and bone meal till the autumn, just before ploughing.

“And you might as well begin to look up the Nurserymens’ Catalogues. As we shall be giving a large order, you may have to place it with two or three firms. I think you will find the Arbor Vitæ listed with the Coniferæ.”

iii

Long years after all this, two elderly men were talking together in a club smoking-room. They had the place almost to themselves; most of the members, having lunched and taken their coffee and cigarettes, had strolled away. There was a small knot of men with their heads close together over the table, chuckling and relating and hearing juicy gossip. Two or three others were dotted about the solemn, funebrous room, each apart with his paper, deep in his arm-chair. Our two were in a retired corner, which might have been called snug in any other place. They were old friends, it appeared, and one, the less elderly, had returned not long before from some far place, after an absence of many years.

“I haven’t seen anything of Harry Morgan since I’ve been home,” he remarked. “I suppose he’s still in town.”

“Still in Beresford Street. But he doesn’t get out so much now. He’s getting a bit stiff in the joints. A good ten years older than I am.”

“I should like to see him again. I always thought him a very good fellow.”

“A first-rate fellow. You know that story about Bartle Frere? Man was sent to meet him at the station, and asked how he should know him. They told him to look out for an old gentleman with grey whiskers helping somebody — and he found Frere helping an old woman with a big basket out of a third-class carriage. Harry Morgan was like that — except for the whiskers.”

There was a pause; and then the man who had retold the old Sir Bartle Frere story began again.

“I don’t suppose you ever heard the kindest thing Morgan ever did — one of the kindest things I’ve ever heard of. You know I come from his part of the country: my people used to have Plas Henoc, only a few miles from Llantrisant Abbey, the Morgans’ place. My father told me all about it; Harry kept the thing very dark. Upon my word! what is it about a man not letting his left hand know what his right hand is about? Morgan has lived up to that if any man ever did. Well, it was like this:

“Have you ever heard of old Teilo Morgan? He was a bit before our day. Not an old man, by the way; I don’t suppose he was much over forty when he died. Well, he went the pace in the old style. He was very well known in town, not in society, or rather in damned bad society, and not far from here either. They had a picture of him in some low print of the time, with those long whiskers that used to be worn then. They didn’t give his name; just called it, ‘The Hero of the Haymarket.’ You wouldn’t believe it, would you, but in those days the Haymarket was the great place for night-houses — Kate Hamilton and all that lot. Morgan was in the thick of it all; but that picture annoyed him; he had those whiskers of his cut off at Truefitt’s the very next day. He was the sort of man they got the silver dinner service out for, when he entertained his friends at Cremorne. And ‘Judge and Jury,’ and the poses plastiques, and that place in Windmill Street where they fought without the gloves — and all the rest of it.

“And it was just as bad down in the country. He used to take his London friends, male and female, down there, and lead the sort of life he lived in town, as near as he could make it. They used to tell a story, true very likely, of how he and half a dozen rapscallions like himself were putting away the port after dinner, and making a devil of a noise, all talking and shouting and cursing at the top of their, voices, when Teilo seemed to pull himself together and get very grave all in a minute. ‘Silence! gentlemen!’ he called out. The rest of them took no notice; one of them started a blackguard song, and the others got ready to join in the chorus. ‘Hold your damned tongues, damn you!’ Morgan bawled at them, and smashed a big decanter on the table. ‘D’you think,’ he said, ‘that that’s the sort of thing for youngsters to listen to? Have you no sense of decency? Didn’t I tell you that the children were coming down to dessert?’ With that, he rang a bell that was by him on the table and — so the story goes — six young fellows and six girls came trooping down the big staircase: without a single stitch on them, calling out in squeaky voices: ‘Oh, dear Papa, what have you done to dear Mamma?’ And the rest of it.”

The phrase was evidently an inclusive, vague, but altogether damnatory clause with this teller of old tales.

“Well,” he continued, “you can imagine what the county thought of all that sort of thing. Teilo Morgan made Llantrisant Abbey stink in their nostrils. Naturally, none of them would go near the place. The women, who were, perhaps, rather more particular about such matters than they are now, simply wouldn’t have Morgan’s name mentioned in their presence. The Duke cut him dead in the street. His subscription to the Hunt was returned. I don’t think he cared. You know Garden Parties were beginning to get fashionable then, and they say Morgan sent out engraved invitation cards, with a picture of a Nymph and a Satyr on them that some artist fellow had done for him — not a nice picture at all according to county standards. And what d’ye think he had at the bottom of the card instead of R.S.V.P.? —‘No clothes by request.’ He was a damned impudent fellow, if you like. I believe the party came off all right, with more friends from town, and most unusual games and sports on the lawn and in the shrubberies. It was said that Treowen, the Duke’s son, was there; but he always swore through thick and thin that it was a lie. But it was brought up against him afterwards when he stood with Herbert for the county.

“And what d’ye think happened next? A most extraordinary thing. Nobody was prepared for it. Everyone said he would just drink and devil and wench himself to death, and a damned good riddance. Well, I’ll tell you. There was one thing, you know, that everybody had to confess: in his very worst days Teilo Morgan always left the country girls alone. Never interfered with the farmers’ daughters or cottage girls or anything in that way. And then, one fine day when he was up with a keeper looking after a few head of grouse he had on the mountain, what should he do but fall in love with a girl of fifteen, who lived with her mother or grandmother, I don’t know which, in a cottage right up there. Mary Trevor, I believe her name was. My father had seen her once or twice afterwards driving with Morgan in his tandem: he said she was a most beautiful creature, a perfectly lovely woman. She was a type that you see sometimes in Wales: very dark, black eyes, black hair, oval face, skin a pale olive — not at all unlike those girls that used to prance up and down Arles in Southern France, with their hair done up in velvet ribbons; I don’t know whether you’ve ever been there? There’s something Oriental about that style of beauty; it doesn’t last long.

“Anyhow, Teilo Morgan fell flat on the spot. He went straight down to the Abbey and packed the whole company back to town — told them they could go to hell, or bloody Jerusalem, or the Haymarket, for all he cared. As soon as they’d all gone, he was off to the mountain again. He wasn’t seen at the Abbey for weeks. I am sure I don’t know why he didn’t marry the girl straight away; nobody knew. She said that he did marry her; but we shall come to that presently. In due course, the baby came along, and Morgan wanted to pension off the old lady and take the mother and child down to Llantrisant. But the doctors advised against it. I believe Morgan got some very good men down, and they were all inclined to shake their heads over the child. I don’t think they committed themselves or named any distinct disease or anything of that kind; but they were all agreed that there was a certain delicacy of constitution, and that the boy would have a much better chance if they kept him up in the mountain air for the first few years of his life. Llantrisant Abbey, I should tell you, is right down in the valley by the river, with woods and hills all round it; fine place, but rather damp and relaxing, I dare say. So, the long and short of it was that young Teilo stayed up with his mother and the old woman, and old Teilo used to come and see them for week-ends, as they say now, till the boy was four or five years old; and then the old lady was looked after somewhere or other, and the mother and son went to live at the Abbey.

“Everything went on all right — except that the county people kept away — for three or four years. The child seemed well and strong, and the tutor they got in for him said he was a tremendous fellow with his books, well in advance of his age, unusually interested in his work and all that. Then he got ill, very ill indeed. I don’t know what it was; some brain trouble, I should think, meningitis or something of that sort. It was touch and go for weeks, and it left the unfortunate little chap an absolute wreck at the end of it. For a long time they thought he was paralysed; all the strength had gone out of his limbs. And the worst of it was, the mind was affected. He seemed bright enough, mind you; nothing dull or heavy about him; and I’m told you might listen to him chattering away for half an hour on end, and go away thinking he was a perfect phenomenon of a child for intelligence. But if you listened long enough, you’d hear something that would pull you up with a jerk. Crazy? — yes, and worse than crazy — mixed up in a way with a kind of sense, so that you might begin to wonder which was queer, yourself or the boy. It was a dreadful grief to the parents, especially to his father. He used to talk about his sins finding him out. I don’t know, there may have been something in that. ‘Whips to scourge us’— perhaps so.

“They got the tutor back after some time; the child begged so hard for him that they were afraid he’d worry himself into another brain fever if they didn’t give way. So he came along with instructions to make the lessons as much a farce as he liked, and the more the better; not on any account to press the boy over his work. And from what my father told me, young Teilo nearly drove the poor man off his head. He was far sharper in a way than he’d ever been before, with a memory like Macaulay’s — once read, never forgotten — and an amazing appetite for learning. But then the twist in the brain would come out. Mathematics brilliant; and at the end of the lesson he’d frighten that tutor of his with a new theory of figures, some notion of the figures that we don’t know of, the numbers that are between the others, something rather more than one and less than two, and so forth. It was the same with everything: there was the Secret Conquest of England a hundred years ago, that nobody was allowed to mention, and the squares that were always changing their shape in geometry, and the great continent that was hidden because Africa was on top of it, so that you couldn’t see it. Then, when it came to the classics, there were fresh cases for the nouns and new moods for the verbs: and all the rest of it. Most extraordinary, and very sad for his father and mother. The poor little fellow took a tremendous interest in the family history and in the property; but I believe he hashed all that up in some infernal way. Well; it seemed there was nothing to be done.

“Then his father died. Of course, the question of the succession came up at once. Poor Mrs. Morgan, as she called herself to the last, swore she was married to Teilo, but she couldn’t produce any papers — any papers that were evidence of a legal marriage anyhow. I fancy the truth was that they were married in some forgotten little chapel up in the mountains by a hedge preacher or somebody of that kind, who didn’t know enough to get in the registrar. Of course, Teilo ought to have known better, but probably he didn’t bother at the time so long as he satisfied the girl. He may have meant to make it all right eventually, and left it too late: I don’t know. Anyhow, Payne Llewellyn, the family solicitor, gave the poor woman to understand that she and the boy would have to leave Llantrisant Abbey, and off they went. They had one room in a miserable back street in Islington or Barnsbury or some such God-forsaken place and she earned a bare living in a sweater’s workshop.

“Meanwhile, the property had passed to a cousin; Harry Morgan. And he hadn’t been heard of, or barely heard of, for some years. He had gone off exploring Central Asia or the sources of the Amazon when Teilo Morgan was in his glory — if you can put it that way. He hadn’t heard a word of Teilo’s reformation or of Mary Trevor and her boy; and when old Llewellyn was able to get at him after considerable difficulty and delay, he never mentioned the woman or her son. When Morgan did come home at last, he found he didn’t fancy the old family place; called it a dismal hole, I believe. Anyhow, he let it on a longish lease to a mental specialist — mad doctors, they called them then — and he turned the Abbey into a lunatic asylum.

“Then somebody told Harry about Mary Trevor, and the poor child, and the marriage or no-marriage. He was furious with Llewellyn. He had a search made, and when he found them, it was just too late so far as Mary Trevor was concerned. She had died, of grief and hard work and semi-starvation, no doubt. But Harry took the boy away, and finding how he was longing to go back to the Abbey — he was quite convinced, you see, that he was the owner of it and of all the Morgan estates — Harry got the doctor who was running the place to take Teilo as a patient. He was given a set of rooms to himself in a wing, right away from the other patients. Everything was done to encourage him in his notion that he was Teilo Morgan of Llantrisant Abbey. Going back to the old place had stirred up all his enthusiasm for the family, and the property, and the management of the estates, and it became the great interest of his life. He quite thought he was making it the best-managed estate in the county: inaugurating a new era in English farming, and all the rest of it. Harry Morgan instructed Captain Vaughan, the Estate Agent, to see Teilo once a week, and enter into all his schemes and pretend to carry them out, and I believe Vaughan played up extremely well, though he sometimes found it difficult to keep a straight face; You see, that twist in the brain wasn’t getting any better, and when it went to work on practical farming it produced some amazing results. Vaughan would be told to get this bit of land ready for pineapples, and somewhere else they were to grow olives; and what about zebras for haulage? But it kept him happy to the last. D’you know, the very day he died, he wrote a long letter of instructions to Vaughan. What d’you think it was about? You won’t guess. He told Vaughan to plant the Tree of Life in a potato patch by the Soar, and gave full cultural directions.”

“God bless me! You don’t say so?”

The Major, who had listened to the long story, ruminated awhile. He had been brought up in an old-fashioned Evangelical household, and had always loved “Revelation.” The text burned and glowed into his memory, and he said in a strong voice:

“‘In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’”

There was only one man beside our two friends left in the darkening room; and he had fallen fast asleep in his arm-chair, with his paper on the ground before him. The Major’s clear intonation woke him with a crash, and when he heard the words that were being uttered, he was seized with unspeakable and panic terror, and ran out of the room, howling (more or less) for the Committee.

But the Major having ended his text, said:

“I always thought Harry Morgan was a good fellow. But I didn’t know he was such a thundering good fellow as that.”

And that was his Amen.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/machen/arthur/holy-terrors/chapter2.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:39