Mr. Dyson drew in a long breath of the air of the hills and felt all the enchantment of the scene about him. It was very early morning, and he stood on the terrace in the front of the house.
Vaughan’s ancestor had built on the lower slope of a great hill, in the shelter of a deep and ancient wood that gathered on three sides about the house, and on the fourth side, the southwest, the land fell gently away and sank to the valley, where a brook wound in and out in mystic esses, and the dark and gleaming alders tracked the stream’s course to the eye. On the terrace in the sheltered place no wind blew, and far beyond, the trees were still. Only one sound broke in upon the silence, and Dyson heard the noise of the brook singing far below, the song of clear and shining water rippling over the stones, whispering and murmuring as it sank to dark deep pools.
Across the stream, just below the house, rose a grey stone bridge, vaulted and buttressed, a fragment of the Middle Ages, and then beyond the bridge the hills rose again, vast and rounded like bastions, covered here and there with dark woods and thickets of undergrowth, but the heights were all bare of trees, showing only grey turf and patches of bracken, touched here and there with the gold of fading fronds; Dyson looked to the north and south, and still he saw the wall of the hills, and the ancient woods, and the stream drawn in and out between them; all grey and dim with morning mist beneath a grey sky in a hushed and haunted air.
Mr. Vaughan’s voice broke in upon the silence.
“I thought you would be too tired to be about so early,” he said. “I see you are admiring the view. It is very pretty, isn’t it, though I suppose old Meyrick Vaughan didn’t think much about the scenery when he built the house. A queer grey, old place, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and how it fits into the surroundings; it seems of a piece with the grey hills and the grey bridge below.”
“I am afraid I have brought you down on false pretences, Dyson,” said Vaughan, as they began to walk up and down the terrace. “I have been to the place, and there is not a sign of anything this morning.”
“Ah, indeed. Well, suppose we go round together.”
They walked across the lawn and went by a path through the ilex shrubbery to the back of the house. There Vaughan pointed out the track leading down to the valley and up to the heights above the wood, and presently they stood beneath the garden wall, by the door.
“Here, you see, it was,” said Vaughan, pointing to a spot on the turf. “I was standing just where you are now that morning I first saw the flints.”
“Yes, quite so. That morning it was the Army, as I call it; then the Bowl, then the Pyramid, and, yesterday, the Half moon. What a queer old stone that is,” he went on, pointing to a block of limestone rising out of the turf just beneath the wall. ‘It looks like a sort of dwarf pillar, but I suppose it is natural.”
“Oh, yes, I think so. I imagine it was brought here, though, as we stand on the red sandstone. No doubt it was used as a foundation stone for some older building.”
“Very likely,” Dyson was peering about him attentively, looking from the ground to the wall, and from the wall to the deep wood that hung almost over the garden and made the place dark even in the morning.
“Look here,” said Dyson at length, “it is certainly a case of children this time. Look at that.” He was bending down and staring at the dull red surface of the mellowed bricks of the wall.
Vaughan came up and looked hard where Dyson’s finger was pointing, and could scarcely distinguish a faint mark in deeper red.
“What is it?” he said. “I can make nothing of it.”
“Look a little more closely. Don’t you see it is an attempt to draw the human eye?”
“Ah, now I see what you mean. My sight is not very sharp. Yes, so it is, it is meant for an eye, no doubt, as you say. I thought the children learnt drawing at school.”
“Well, it is an odd eye enough. Do you notice the peculiar almond shape; almost like the eye of a Chinaman?”
Dyson looked meditatively at the work of the undeveloped artist, and scanned the wall again, going down on his knees in the minuteness of his inquisition.
“I should like very much,” he said at length, “to know how a child in this out of the way place could have any idea of the shape of the Mongolian eye. You see the average child has a very distinct impression of the subject; he draws a circle, or something like a circle, and put a dot in the centre. I don’t think any child imagines that the eye is really made like that; it’s just a convention of infantile art. But this almond-shaped thing puzzles me extremely. Perhaps it may be derived from a gilt Chinaman on a tea-canister in the grocer’s shop. Still that’s hardly likely.”
“But why are you so sure it was done by a child?”
“Why! Look at the height. These old-fashioned bricks are little more than two inches thick; there are twenty courses from the ground to the sketch if we call it so; that gives a height of three and a half feet. Now, just imagine you are going to draw something on this wall. Exactly; your pencil, if you had one, would touch the wall somewhere on the level with your eyes, that is, more than five feet from the ground. It seems, therefore, a very simple deduction to conclude that this eye on the wall was drawn by a child about ten years old.”
“Yes, I had not thought of that. Of course one of the children must have done it.”
“I suppose so; and yet as I said, there is something singularly unchildlike about those two lines, and the eyeball itself, you see, is almost an oval. To my mind, the thing has an odd, ancient air; and a touch that is not altogether pleasant. I cannot help fancying that if we could see a whole face from the same hand it would not be altogether agreeable. However, that is nonsense, after all, and we are not getting farther in our investigations. It is odd that the flint series has come to such an abrupt end.”
The two men walked away towards the house, and as they went in at the porch there was a break in the grey sky, and a gleam of sunshine on the grey hill before them.
All the day Dyson prowled meditatively about the fields and woods surrounding the house. He was thoroughly and completely puzzled by the trivial circumstances he proposed to elucidate, and now he again took the flint arrow-head from his pocket, turning it over and examining it with deep attention. There was something about the thing that was altogether different from the specimens he had seen at the museums and private collections; the shape was of a distinct type, and around the edge there was a line of little punctured dots, apparently a suggestion of ornament. Who, thought Dyson, could possess such things in so remote a place; and who, possessing the flints, could have put them to the fantastic use of designing meaningless figures under Vaughan’s garden wall? The rank absurdity of the whole affair offended him unutterably; and as one theory after another rose in his mind only to be rejected, he felt strongly tempted to take the next train back to town. He had seen the silver plate which Vaughan treasured, and had inspected the punch-bowl, the gem of the collection, with close attention; and what he saw and his interview with the butler convinced him that a plot to rob the strong box was out of the limits of enquiry. The chest in which the bowl was kept, a heavy piece of mahogany, evidently dating from the beginning of the century, was certainly strongly suggestive of a pyramid, and Dyson was at first inclined to the inept manoeuvres of the detective, but a little sober thought convinced him of the impossibility of the burglary hypothesis, and he cast wildly about for something more satisfying. He asked Vaughan if there were any gipsies in the neighbourhood, and heard that the Romany had not been seen for years. This dashed him a good deal, as he knew the gipsy habit of leaving queer hieroglyphics on the line of march, and had been much elated when the thought occurred to him. He was facing Vaughan by the old-fashioned hearth when he put the question, and leaned back in his chair in disgust at the destruction of his theory.
“It is odd,” said Vaughan, “but the gipsies never trouble us here. Now and then the farmers find traces of fires in the wildest part of the hills, but nobody seems to know who the fire-lighters are.”
“Surely that looks like gipsies?”
“No, not in such places as those. Tinkers and gipsies and wanderers of all sorts stick to the roads and don’t go very far from the farmhouses.”
“Well, I can make nothing of it. I saw the children going by this afternoon, and, as you say, they ran straight on. So we shall have no more eyes on the wall at all events.”
“No, I must waylay them one of these days and find out who is the artist.”
The next morning when Vaughan strolled in his usual course from the lawn to the back of the house he found Dyson already awaiting him by the garden door, and evidently in a state of high excitement, for he beckoned furiously with his hand, and gesticulated violently.
“What is it?” asked Vaughan. “The flints again?”
“No; but look here, look at the wall. There; don’t you see it?”
“There’s another of those eyes!”
“Exactly. Drawn, you see, at a little distance from the first, almost on the same level, but slightly lower.”
“What on earth is one to make of it? It couldn’t have been done by the children; it wasn’t there last night, and they won’t pass for another hour. What can it mean?”
“I think the very devil is at the bottom of all this,” said Dyson. “Of course, one cannot resist the conclusion that these infernal almond eyes are to be set down to the same agency as the devices in the arrow-heads; and where that conclusion is to lead us is more than I can tell. For my part, I have to put a strong check on my imagination, or it would run wild.”
“Vaughan,” he said, as they turned away from the wall, “has it struck you that there is one point — a very curious point — in common between the figures done in flints and the eyes drawn on the wall?”
“What is that?” asked Vaughan, on whose face there had fallen a certain shadow of indefinite dread.
“It is this. We know that the signs of the Army, the Bowl, the Pyramid, and the Half moon must have been done at night. Presumably they were meant to be seen at night. Well, precisely the same reasoning applies to those eyes on the wall.”
“I do not quite see your point.”
“Oh, surely. The nights are dark just now, and have been very cloudy, I know, since I came down. Moreover, those overhanging trees would throw that wall into deep shadow even on a clear night.”
“What struck me was this. What very peculiarly sharp eyesight, they, whoever ‘they’ are, must have to be able to arrange arrow-heads in intricate order in the blackest shadow of the wood, and then draw the eyes on the wall without a trace of bungling, or a false line.”
“I have read of persons confined in dungeons for many years who have been able to see quite well in the dark,” said Vaughan.
“Yes,” said Dyson, “there was the abbé in Monte Cristo. But it is a singular point.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58