Into the Outer Darkness

Guy Boothby

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Into the Outer Darkness

“I am not wrath, my own lost love, although

My heart is breaking — wrath I am not, no!

For all thou dost in diamonds blaze, no ray

Of light into thy heart’s night finds its way.

I saw thee in a dream. Oh, piteous sight!

I saw thy heart all empty, all in night;

I saw the serpent gnawing at thy heart;

I saw how wretched, oh, my love, thou art!”


You will, perhaps, remember how the soul of Tom Guilfoy was saved by his wife, how Godfrey Halkett was killed by his sweetheart, and how the plans of the Kangaroo Girl were shattered at one blow by a certain grandee aide-de-camp. All those things are matters of history. This is a story of a similar nature, but with a somewhat different ending.

I am not going to tell you how I acquired my information, nor shall I say in which Australian colony the events occurred. If you have ever originated a scandal yourself, you will understand why and sympathise with me. Remember, however, personally, I don’t blame them. Situated as they were, they couldn’t have done otherwise. But I do contend that it refutes the charge globe-trotters bring against us when they say there is nothing underneath the surface of Australian society.

Officially, and for the purposes of trade, the man was named Cyril George Paton Haywood; his friends, however, called him Lancelot. The woman’s maiden name was Alice Mary Whittaker, otherwise Guinevere; and as Lancelot and Guinevere, they are as famous through three colonies as a certain governor’s mislaid particular despatch.

Lancelot was in the Civil Service, Deputy-Assistant-Registrar-General of Lands, Titles, or something brilliant of that description. Departmentally, he ranked high, was entitled to wear a uniform on occasion, and boasted the right of private entrée at vice-regal levees; financially, however, he was too low altogether. The greyheads lost no opportunity of affirming that he was too young, and even cadets know that it is impossible for a man to be accounted brilliant until age has removed the opportunity of showing it. That is why, according to the peculiarity of our legislation, we venerate and retain fossils to the detriment of younger and abler men.

Among other things Lancelot was consumptive, and, apart from his salary, penniless. So he naturally loved Guinevere, with a love that was dog-like in its faithfulness, and she returned his passion with equal fervour. For three seasons, to my certain knowledge, they drove together, sat out dances together, and met on every conceivable opportunity. She was desperately thorough in everything she undertook. Any man who has ever danced with her will confirm this statement.

Then King Arthur appeared on the scene, and languid society — we were in the hills for the hot months — sat down to watch results.

Arthur was not an ideal knight in any way. His past was a sealed book, therefore it was adjudged disreputable; his present was a golden age, so he had evidently turned over a new leaf. He was worth a quarter of a million, men said; but even that couldn’t prevent him from being a podgy little red man with a double chin, always horribly clean, and given to the display of many diamonds. He told Mrs. Whittaker, in confidence, at the Bellakers’ ball, that he was anxious to marry and settle down if he could only meet the right sort of girl; and, being a good mother, she informed her husband, in the brougham on the way home, that she could put her hand on just the very identical maid.

Whittaker said nothing, for he was fighting a financial crisis at the time; and, besides, he had every confidence in his wife.

About a month later Arthur purchased a gorgeous summer palace half-way up the mountain-road, furnished it magnificently, and set himself to entertain on his own lines. He had for neighbours a dignified judge and a popular widow. The judge lent him tone, the widow gave him female society. Indirectly, he paid through the nose for both.

Needless to say, every one was disposed to be cordial, for he gave delightful impromptu dances on cool summer evenings, and his iced champagne-cup was undeniable. He threw his tennis-courts open to society generally, and his billiard-room was the rendezvous for youths of sporting tastes for miles round. He also organized lovely moonlight riding picnics; and after a day in the sweltering heat of the plains, it was vastly refreshing to dodge through the cool gullies in congenial company.

Early in the summer Lancelot took rooms in the township down the hillside, and in the evenings he would stroll quietly along the mountain roads with Guinevere. Of course every one else was strolling too, but that only gave zest to the affair; and as most of them were also playing at love, their presence hardly mattered.

In the autumn, when people were beginning to think of returning to the city, Whittaker died, leaving his family almost unprovided for.

King Arthur was among the first to tender his sympathies, and, I’m told, after five minutes’ preamble, asked point-blank for Guinevere’s hand in marriage.

In spite of her grief, Mrs. Whittaker was able to grasp the majesty of his offer, and took care that night to show her daughter how necessary it was, for all their sakes, that she should marry well. Guinevere, however, could not see it in the same light. If it had been Lancelot, she would have been only too happy, she said; but even for her family’s sake she was not going to marry anybody else. The mother postponed the matter for a week, then she argued, pleaded, threatened, and finally wept; but her daughter remained obstinate.

Knowing all this, you can imagine our surprise when, two months later, the engagement of King Arthur to beautiful Guinevere was publicly announced. But what amazed us still more was the fact that Lancelot did not seem to be affected thereby in the very smallest degree. His heart complaint was rapidly developing itself, and perhaps his valve demanded his complete attention.

If, however, we had seen a certain little letter, smeared with tear-stains and innumerable blotches, we might have understood matters; but as we did not, we had, like a certain lady of scriptural fame, to argue on what might be called insufficient premises.

Towards the end of June, Arthur and Guinevere were married in the Anglican Cathedral, the Lord Bishop officiating.

It was in all respects a brilliant wedding, and the bridegroom’s present to the bride was a thing to see and marvel over. Guinevere walked through the ceremony as if she had been doing nothing else from childhood. (As I have said, she was desperately thorough in all she undertook.) Lancelot was not present; his health would not permit of it, he said.

The happy couple left the same day in the steamer Chang-Sha, to spend their honeymoon in Japan.

One morning, on arrival at the office, Lancelot found a letter on his table. It was from an eminent firm of English solicitors, and informed him of the death of an unknown relative, who, in consideration perhaps of their never having met, had left him the sum of thirty thousand pounds snugly invested.

He was barely interested, and asked what earthly manner of use it was to him now? Any one could see that he was growing daily worse, and I believe it was that very week that his doctor first insisted that he should resign his appointments and settle down in some quiet place, where he could not be excited in any shape or form. He was only thirty-three, but a very old man.

Early in December the happy couple returned to the south. The hot weather had commenced, again everybody was resident in the hills. Arthur and his wife went straight to the palace on the mountain-road, and on her first “afternoon,” Guinevere’s large drawing-room was filled with callers. Two things were painfully evident to the least observant: she was only a walking skeleton, while her husband was cleaner and more distressfully polite than ever. At first, we didn’t know how to account for it; but men who saw his brandy-pegs understood what they meant, and told their women-folk, who, as usual, spread the report abroad.

Lancelot called on the Monday following their return, and Arthur welcomed him, if anything, a little too effusively. Guinevere crossed the room to shake hands, and the afternoon light enabled them to take stock of each other properly. They were a pair of ghosts, and each was shocked almost beyond the bounds of decency at the change in the other. He followed her to the Japanese afternoon tea-table, and took a cup of tea from her hands. The tremor of the cup and saucer told their own tale. Arthur watched them from the fireplace with the blandest of smiles upon his face. It pleased him to see the tears gather in his wife’s eyes, as she recognised the change in her old lover. From that day forward, Lancelot was made free of the house, and Arthur insisted that he should be asked to every function, however great or small.

Whatever his own thoughts might have been, Lancelot could not fail to see the pleasure his society gave Guinevere, so he settled it in his own mind that the invitations emanated from her. His health was too feeble to admit of his riding or playing tennis; but driving along the mountain-roads, strolling in the gardens, or idling in the music-room, he was her constant companion. Naturally, folk talked, though Arthur assured them that he was only too glad to see his wife happy with her old friends. But it was not true, the long brandy pawnee glasses in his study said so most emphatically.

This sort of thing went on all through the summer months, until the roses began to bloom again in Guinevere’s cheeks. Her husband noticed the change, but did not comment on it; he was going to have his day of reckoning by-and-by.

One day Lancelot called upon a certain famous specialist (I’ll tell you a pretty piece of scandal about his wife some day), and after a brief wait was shown into the consulting-room. He sniffed the professional smell of the place for five minutes, and while listening to the ticking of the clock upon the mantelpiece, made up his mind on a certain subject.

After the specialist had completed a searching examination, Lancelot said — “As you see, I am growing thinner every day; it nearly kills me to walk fifty yards, and my appetite has forsaken me completely. It’s not the first time you’ve told men their fate: tell me mine. What is the length of my tether?”

“My dear sir, my very dear sir!” that worthy man replied, as he put his paraphernalia back into their respective cases, “we must not despair! While there is life there is hope; with proper care you may yet ——”

“But I shall take no care. How long have I to live?”

“As I have said, with scrupulous attention to detail and proper advice, say twelve months, possibly more.”

“And without that care?”

“I cannot tell you — perhaps five minutes, perhaps five months; it depends upon yourself.”

“I am glad to hear that. Good-day!”

As he stepped into his buggy a letter crinkled in his breast-pocket. He laid himself back on the seat, murmuring Heine’s

“Lay your dear little hand on my heart, my fair!
Ah! you hear how it knocks on its chamber there?
In there dwells a carpenter grim and vile,
And he’s shaping a coffin for me the while.
“There is knocking and hammering night and day;
Long since they have frightened my sleep away.
Oh, carpenter, show that you know your trade,
That so to sleep I may soon be laid!”

Half-way up the mountain-road, Arthur overtook the buggy and cantered alongside.

“You’re looking pretty cheap, old man,” he said; “better come to dinner to-night, and see if we can’t cheer you up — 7.30 as usual!”

“Thanks! I think I will,” answered Lancelot. “I don’t feel particularly bright!”

Immediately after dessert Guinevere retired, leaving her husband and their guest together.

As Lancelot drew his handkerchief from his pocket, a letter came with it and fell unnoticed to the floor.

On rising Arthur saw it and picked it up. He read it without apology, and as he did so his face set. Then he politely handed it to his guest, saying —

“I must beg your pardon, this is evidently your property!”

Lancelot did not speak, but sank back in his chair while the other continued — “This is really a most unfortunate affair; and so my wife is about to dishonour my name, in order to devote herself more exclusively to the care of your health?”

“The fault is mine,” stammered Lancelot, “only mine!”

“My dear fellow, not at all. Judging from that letter, she is in love with you — possibly she is right. We won’t argue that matter. She seems fond of playing the rôle of St. Mary Magdala.”

“What do you mean to do?”

“Turn her out of my house to-night, or settle the matter with you!”

“Settle with me; but for God’s sake spare her!”

“Very well! Let us discuss the question quietly. As you know, I do not believe in what is called sentiment, and fortunately I am able to say, with a clear conscience, that I am not in love with my wife. Probably if I were, I should act otherwise. Now, what I propose is, that chance shall decide for us whether my wife leaves Australia, as she suggests, with you, or whether you go alone concealing your destination and promising never to communicate in any way with her again. Both are unpleasant alternatives, but my gain is, that in either case I shall be rid of you!”

“Good God, man, what an unholy arrangement! Supposing I refuse?”

“For her sake you cannot. I assure you I should turn her out of my house to-night!”

“But will you treat her kindly if I agree?”

“Isn’t that rather a curious question from you to me? You must see that it depends entirely on her. Do you agree to my proposal?”

“God help me, I have no alternative!”

There was a long pause, during which Guinevere’s music came faintly from the drawing-room.

“Very well; in that case, we had better decide at once. What is my wife playing?”

“An Andante and Scherzo of Beethoven’s.”

“Do you know it?”


“Then you have that much in your favour. See, here, it is just three and a half minutes to nine by that clock. If she stops before the first stroke of the hour, I win, and she stays with me, and vice versâ. Do you agree?”

“I cannot do otherwise. God help her; it is all my fault!”

“Not at all, I assure you. Let us make ourselves comfortable. Will you try that port? No? You are foolish; it is an excellent vintage. Ah! one minute gone! What a lovely melody it is; and she plays it charmingly. The laughter of the Scherzo is delicious! May I trouble you for that decanter? Thank you! Two minutes gone. It appears as if my luck is going to fail me at last. Well, it can’t be helped. I don’t know which of us will be the gainer by the change. By the way, let me recommend you to go to Europe, and you might winter in Algiers; the climate you will find most ben —— Ah! she has stopped. Well, I am afraid, Mr. Haywood, Fate has decided against you. Shall I order your carriage?”

Lancelot did not answer save by a little convulsive gasp. Then a little trickle of blood ran from his lips down his chin. The excitement had been too much for him; the frail cord that bound him to life had snapped, and he was dead.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005