ALL THIS WHILE, it seems, Maggie had kept her promise not to “use her witchcraft on him.” It was an easy promise, for she had no idea how she could break it. But with a view to the possibility that later she might have to exercise whatever powers she had (if indeed she had any), she set about exploring and experimenting. She was handicapped by complete ignorance, and a vague revulsion against the whole matter. For years she had been leaning more and more toward common sense, matter-of-factness, natural science. Apart from shadowy memories of her great-aunt’s stones, and of her own doubtful paranormal experiences in early youth, and the obviously quite uncritical beliefs of some of her acquaintances, she had no reason to believe in “the occult.”
She began to attend some sort of spiritualist seance that was held weekly in her neighbourhood. She tried to test the medium by asking for an interview with her dead brother. The results were not completely negative, but far too ambiguous to satisfy Maggie’s shrewd intelligence. On the other hand, she could not help being impressed by the fact that the medium at once treated her as a colleague, and told her that she must “learn quickly to use her powers, or it would be too late.” But each week she became more violently hostile to the emotional atmosphere of the seances. Had she attended the meetings in her early impressionable period, under the influence of her great-aunt, she might well have accepted without question these all-too — human communications from the dead, these carefully ambiguous prophecies, these bits of platitudinous advice given to simple souls in the grip of real heart-rending conflicts, or misfortunes. On the other hand, had she encountered “spiritualism” in the stage when she was reacting strongly against the old ways and values, she would have scornfully dismissed the whole matter as trickery. But now, under the influence of Victor’s cautious criticism alike of the old and the new superstitions, and moreover stirred by the mystery of her relation with him, she was unable either to accept or reject, but was forced to remain in painful doubt. Something real and out of the ordinary, she felt, was indeed sometimes at work in the seances; but far more often nothing happened that could not plausibly be explained as a combination of coincidence and deception.
On one occasion tile medium gave a display of “psychometry.” A sitter would hand her some personal article such as a glove or scarf or watch, and after fingering it for a while she would make pronouncements abut the character or circumstances of the owner. Maggie produced a pencil that Victor had formerly carried in his pocket. The medium handled it in silence for some time; then, in a voice no longer luscious and soothing but staccato and uneasy, she said, “There’s something queer about this, something that goes beyond my powers. There’s someone who is — well more than human, more than ordinary-human; but — torn apart, somehow. He needs help. But he’s proud. Help him at once, even if he’s too proud.” She paused, then hastily returned the pencil, saying. “Take it! I’m frightened.” Naturally Maggie was impressed by this reaction; and alarmed by the advice. But later, during a very emotional scene in which “ectoplasm” was supposed to have issued from the medium’s mouth. Maggie had an access of revulsion and scepticism. Several of the company were profoundly impressed, and in a state verging on hysterics. Maggie, on a sudden impulse, reached out and snatched the “ectoplasm.” which turned out to be a piece of crepe. There was an uproar. The medium angrily maintained that the “young witch” had used her powers to change the genuine ectoplasm into a seeming piece of crepe, and that she herself was gravely damaged by the loss of part of her psychical anatomy. She then screamed, and fell into a coma. So at least most of the group believed. But Maggie was convinced that she was shamming, and watching all the while under lowered eyelids. Maggie ceased to attend the meetings.
But she was undertaking experiments of her own. In the hotel dining-room, when she was standing waiting while the residents finished a course, she would concentrate her attention on one of them, and try to will him (or her) to turn and look at her, or to sneeze, or show a change of mood. Occasionally she seemed to have a striking success; but generally nothing happened. She could not exclude the possibility that her seeming successes were illusory.
One of the residents was a sad and taciturn old lady. Maggie determined to make her talk to people and enjoy life. After a week or so of concentration on her “patient,” Maggie was delighted to see the ancient dame looking about her at her fellow guests with a bright and interested expression. Next day she actually opened a conversation with a young woman who sat alone at the next table. She seemed to have pleased the girl, for henceforth they shared a table, and were at no loss for conversation. This remarkable change in the old lady went far to convince Maggie that she had indeed supernormal powers. But her conviction was shaken when she overheard “her patient” remark to the younger woman that her doctor’s new medicine seemed to have worked a miraculous cure of the indigestion that had overclouded her life for twenty years.
Another of the residents was a morose man well advanced in middle age, who drank far too much, and indeed seemed to have nothing else to do. Mindful of Victor, Maggie considered him a very suitable subject for experiment; for he was obviously, as she put it to herself, “a decent sort gone wrong.” Her general aim was to find some way of “waking” people to what Victor would have called the most lucid and sensitive range of consciousness possible to them. If she could learn this art, she would be equipped to help Victor to keep the Dolt at bay for ever.
She had no certainty that she had any powers at all; but if she had, they seemed to consist at bottom in the power to direct the “patient’s” attention to something within the range of his vision but persistently ignored.
She began her new experiment by trying to make her man notice things in the room; the sunlight falling on a vase of daffodils, the sleek dignity of the hotel cat as it paced across the floor, the man-to-man relations of a mother and her small boy at a neighbouring table, the crisply rippling patter of two French voices at the far end of the room, the far from obvious expression of saintliness that sometimes interfered with the sophisticated manner of the young woman at the old lady’s table. After some days she was inclined to think that she was having a certain amount of success. She now tried to direct her “patient’s” attention to the opinion that the other residents had of him, carefully selecting those who did not loathe or despise him but were grieved that a man who must formerly have been well-set-up and attractive should have gone to pieces. After a few days she thought he was spending less time in the bar. Then he gave up alcohol entirely. Maggie was convinced that her experiment was succeeding. Then one day as she was about to enter the lounge to attend to the fire, she heard her “patient” within the room earnestly saying, to someone unseen, “By simply being yourself, you have saved me. If you won’t accept me, I shall go to pieces again.” Maggie stood to listen. The voice of the sophisticated young woman replied, “I tell you it’s no good, I hardly know you. I don’t intend to marry you for your money, and I didn’t save you. You must have saved yourself. Please let me go!” There was a sound as of a slight scuffle, and Maggie hastily retired. Later, as she was serving at dinner she overheard a snatch of conversation between the young woman and her aged friend. “I merely smiled at him, no more; and now I am supposed to be his guardian angel.”
The upshot of this experiment, like the others, was that Maggie was still uncertain whether she really had “magical” powers; but on the whole she was sufficiently encouraged to pursue her experiments. It even seemed that she was working in the right direction for their development as a means of helping Victor.
When it was clear that the flow of letters from Victor had ceased, she felt that she was absolved from her promise to refrain from influencing him, and she applied such technique as she had acquired to the task of strengthening the lucid Victor against his somnolent other self. But this was a far more formidable venture than any of her experiments, since Victor was at a distance. And she had no means of knowing how, if at all, he was responding. On the whole, she felt that the most hopeful method was to transmit to Victor clear images of her own face, and memories of their most stimulating conversations. With this end in view she used to steal moments to gaze at herself in a mirror, so that she might have as precise an image as possible to send to Victor.
Meanwhile she was becoming more and more anxious and impatient. At last she decided to go over to Victor’s town and make enquiries at his address, well aware that by doing so she might compromise both herself and Victor. What she learned from Victor’s landlady was very disturbing.
I will tell the story as I was told it by Victor himself in our London hotel. After his last visit to Maggie, he had no further attacks. He conscientiously practised his new “discipline” and avoided overstrain. As time passed, he became confident that he was once more firmly established, and little by little he turned less careful. At the end of the session he attended a “social” organized by the students in a distant town. On this occasion, in order to enter into the spirit of the party, he allowed himself a dispensation from his temporary total abstinence from alcohol, and he drank a fair amount of beer. I have already mentioned that in his awake state he was little affected by alcohol. On this occasion, however, he noticed a slight dizziness. He therefore refused any more drinks. It is not clear whether the disaster was brought on by alcohol or by the fact that on the journey home in the train a heavy suitcase fell from the rack above him on to his head, and for a moment he was stunned. He arrived in his lodgings very tired, and with a splitting headache. He went straight to bed.
Next day he awoke as “the Dolt.” He had therefore no recollection of events since he stood at the altar to be married to Edith two years earlier. He woke in broad daylight and in a completely unknown and rather cheap little bedroom. Under the pillow he found his own wrist-watch. It registered 10.20. He sprang out of bed, bewildered, and with a throbbing head. On a chair were clothes, some of which he recognized. On the dressing table was some loose cash, a wallet, pen, pencil, and so on, most of which he recognized. He put on his familiar dressing gown, which was far shabbier than he had supposed it, and opened the door, which led into an obviously “lodging-house” sitting-room. The fire in the grate had been recently fed. The table was laid for breakfast for one, but had not been used. A newspaper lay folded on the plate. It was the Manchester Guardian, a very wrong-headed paper from the Dolt’s point of view. Victor glanced at the date, February 24th, 1923. He subsided in an easy chair, feeling sick and frightened.
On the opposite chair was a pile of books and papers. He reached out for some of these. The books were mostly inscribed “Victor Smith” (not Cadogan–Smith), and were dry tomes on industrial history. The papers were written in a handwriting that was presumably his own, but there was something strange about it. Though neater and more legible, it struck him as less impressive than his own dashing hand.
Casting the papers aside, he opened the other door of the sitting-room, in search of the lavatory and bathroom. After a hasty wash and shave, he went back to his bedroom to dress, then returned to sit by the fire and consider his position. Taking out his wallet, he found in it two pound notes and an opened letter addressed in a careful but unformed hand to “Victor Smith” (not even Mr.), c/o Mrs. Wheelwright, at an address in a Yorkshire provincial town. Inside were a letter and a photograph of a remarkably ugly girl whom he recognized as one of the waitresses at the hotel where he had stayed for his wedding. The letter began “Dearest Victor,” and continued in the same strain, with many references to someone called “the Dolt,” against whom the writer, “Maggie,” wanted to help Victor in some mysterious way. Victor felt an irrationally violent surge of hostility to the girl. He threw letter and photograph into the fire.
By the mantelpiece there was a bell-push. Victor pressed it. After a while a smiling, motherly, middle-aged woman appeared. She said, “Good-morning, Mr. Smith! You have had a good lie-in!” Then she noticed something unusual about her lodger. In a rather affected voice, very unlike the voice she knew as Victor’s (so she told Maggie), he demanded his breakfast. This was a shock to Mrs. Wheelwright, for it had been his habit to go downstairs and talk to his good friend and landlady while she cooked his bacon. Bewildered, she stood silent for a moment. Victor added coldly, “As soon as possible, please.” She left him.
Continuing his exploration of the room, he found a cheque-book, a bank passbook (showing a balance of some forty pounds), several folios of neat notes on economics and industrial history, a file of correspondence, mostly about adult educational arrangements, and a small collection of letters from Maggie. These he read through with increasing disgust and horror. In one of them Maggie told the story of her relations with low-class men in Aberdeen, and ended with an account of her adventures with her Negro lover. When the Dolt had finished reading the whole bundle, he flung them into the fire and stabbed at them with the poker till all were safely burnt. This act of self-emancipation gave him (so the awakened Victor told me during our long talk in the hotel) an extravagant vindictive satisfaction.
Mrs. Wheelwright returned with the breakfast. He announced that he would be leaving during the afternoon, and asked for his bill. She expressed surprise that he was starting on his holiday so soon. He said he was leaving for good. She was distressed, and said, “But you have always seemed so happy here. And you know how I love having you. You are like a son, more than a lodger.” Tears were in her eyes, and she approached to put a hand on his shoulder, saying, “Please, tell me what’s the matter.” He shrank away from her, and said merely, “I am changing my work, and leaving this town. The bill, please.” She left him. Over breakfast he looked up trains to his father’s home. When his meal was done he piled all the notes and correspondence together. Mrs. Wheelwright brought the bill. He wrote a cheque, and made no offer to pay her anything additional on account of leaving without notice. She did not mention the matter, being more concerned with their personal than their financial relations. He told her to burn the lecture notes and correspondence, and dispose of the books as she thought fit. He then went in search of his bank and drew out all that would remain of his balance after the payment of Mrs. Wheelwright’s bill. Returning to his lodgings, he packed his possessions in two large suitcases that he found under the bed, telephoned for a taxi, gave his tearful landlady a perfunctory “goodbye,” and left for the station.
My account of Sir Geoffrey’s dealings with his son at this time is based partly on a long conversation with the old gentleman himself in the following year, while I was still in France. Knowing my admiration for, and intimacy with, his son, he asked me to meet him in Paris when he was on his way through to the Riviera. I gave him all the help I could in his effort to understand Victor’s case; and in return he told me, with considerable emotion, about the happenings which I am about to relate. I was surprised to find him so ready to help. As I shall tell in due course, he had come to feel a sharp conflict of loyalties in his own heart over the two antagonistic personalities of his son. Evidently it was a relief to him to unburden himself.
At the time when “the Dolt” suddenly appeared at Sir Geoffrey’s country house, the father had long ago overcome the indignation which he had felt over his son’s marriage fiasco, and he had several times written to Victor to persuade him to come back and start a new business career. But the awake Victor had always firmly though amiably refused, declaring that he must, for a while at least, make a complete break with his past. He never told his father that he regarded his former self as not himself at all.
But now at last Victor had come of his own accord. He was obviously in a state of great distress and confusion. He at once told his father that he had lost all memory of the events that had happened since he stood at the altar for marriage. When his father told him of his outrageous conduct, and that he had not married Edith after all, he was overwhelmed with mortification. The consequent ruin of his business career deemed to distress him far more than the harm he had done to Edith.
Sir Geoffrey suggested that his son ought to have medical attention, but Victor was violently opposed to “getting into the clutches of the doctors.” It was decided that for a while he should remain quietly at home to rest and consider his plans. Sir Geoffrey was much distressed by his son’s distress; and at the same time relieved to learn that Victor’s disgraceful conduct had been due to definite mental aberration. He was eager to believe that the young man’s other personality must be no more than a perverted and crippled part of his “true self.” How otherwise could he have treated Edith so shamefully, and sacrifice his own career just when he was finding his feet? How otherwise could he have got himself entangled with a waitress, and moreover with one who, so Victor affirmed, was so plain, uneducated, and coarse-grained. The Dolt had at first intended to keep silent about this disreputable business, but in the end he had been unable to refrain from seeking his father’s sympathy and advice. In former days he had seldom taken his father into his confidence, but in his present suffering he seemed to long to pour out his woes.
It was through this new talkativeness that he first made Sir Geoffrey wonder whether the Victor whom he had known in the past, and had now with him, was quite such an admirable person as he had formerly supposed. Evidently in the old days the son had successfully maintained a mask such as his father could respect; though even then Sir Geoffrey had sometimes felt disturbed by Victor’s ruthless “realism” in dealings with persons less fortunate than himself. Now, the harsh snobbery and careerism of the boy was becoming painfully obvious. His father was eager to excuse this as an exaggerated revulsion from the other personality; but he did seriously begin to wonder which of his “two sons” was in fact the more developed and integrated person.
In the end Sir Geoffrey decided on two actions. He would privately consult a personal friend who was a distinguished psychiatrist, telling him all that he knew of Victor’s case, and arranging for his friend to meet Victor casually and “accidentally,” so as to be able to study the unhappy young man without betraying the fact that he was doing so.
In addition, Sir Geoffrey decided to make some discreet investigations about the doings of the other personality during the previous three years. He wrote to the Extramural Department of the university under which Victor had worked, saying that his son had come home suffering from a serious mental breakdown, and requesting, for medical purposes, an account of his recent life, and the opinion of his employers about him. Did he, for instance, ever show signs of mental disorder? Sir Geoffrey received a prompt reply, to the effect that Victor’s disappearance had surprised and distressed all who knew him, and that he was an able scholar and a brilliant teacher universally admired and liked. The letter continued, “Far from showing signs of mental disorder, he struck us as thoroughly sane. No doubt some of his opinions were novel and daring, but as a person he was always completely reliable and capable of shrewd judgment about individuals. His, obviously, is a very original mind, and he has an extraordinary gift of sympathetic insight into the minds of others. If all goes well, he should some day make an outstanding contribution to social thought.” Enclosed was a cheque for Victor’s services during the recent session. This, it was explained, had been returned from his lodgings, which he had left without giving an address.
Pursuing his researches, Sir Geoffrey contrived to visit Victor’s recent landlady, of course without telling the young man himself. Mrs. Wheelwright was overawed by the well-dressed, and slightly pompous visitor, who introduced himself with a visiting card inscribed “Sir Geoffrey Cadogan–Smith.” But the two had a common interest in Victor; and she was soon unburdening her heart of warm feelings and anxiety on behalf of her lodger, who, she said, had been more like a son to her. He gave her no trouble, he helped her with odd jobs in the house, he nursed her and cooked for her when she was down with ‘flu, he had a way of making her feel “wanted,” and often she found herself talking freely to him about her private affairs, including her great tragedy, the loss of her husband and only son in the recent war. She assured Sir Geoffrey that “he was one in a thousand, was my Mr. Smith.. Sir Geoffrey made discreet enquiries about Victor’s relations with a certain young woman. But on this subject she could not or would not help him. She said merely that Victor had spoken of a young lady whom he hoped to marry some day, but he must not do so until he was sure he was good enough for her. He had shown her the girl’s photograph. A strange-looking young lady, not a beauty, but she might be very good-hearted. Probably she was not really half good enough for Mr. Smith.
Sir Geoffrey was too much of an aristocrat (or would-be aristocrat) not to feel that his son’s hob-nobbing with persons of the lower orders was a mistake. It sprang from sentimental idealism, and was probably a morbid reaction against the snobbery of the other Victor. All the same the father could not help being impressed by the way in which his “unknown son” had won people’s hearts.
Hoping for some further insight into Victor’s mind, he said he would take a glance at his son’s books. As he was casting his eyes over the shelves, he was disturbed to notice, along with the solid works on economics and history, which were the tools of Victor’s trade, a number of socialistic and even Marxist tracts. There were also works on psychology by that dirty-minded fellow, Freud, who was becoming fashionable; also a few volumes on the new mind-twisting theory of relativity; and a sprinkling of modern poetry, which, Sir Geoffrey felt, was going badly astray.
While Sir Geoffrey was poking about among his son’s books, Mrs. Wheelwright had continued prattling on about Victor. But presently she made a statement that attracted her visitor’s attention. On the day of his departure Victor had told her to burn all his notes, but she had not been able to bring herself to do so. She had stored them in her own room. Perhaps it would be a breach of confidence to let the father see the son’s private papers; but perhaps, for her lodger’s own sake, she ought to show them, in case they threw any light on his “trouble.” Sir Geoffrey urged her to let him take them away to study at leisure; but this she firmly refused to allow. Finally it was agreed that he should stay on for a few hours to study them in her house. She gladly provided Sir Geoffrey with a meal, and left him to himself.
Most of the notes which she entrusted to him were material for lectures, quite unexceptionable from Sir Geoffrey’s point of view, save for a general tendency to argue that throughout history the rich had given the poor a raw deal, and that this, would continue until the control of “the major means of production” was in the hands of the representatives of the people. But there was also a crowded notebook which was obviously the first draft of a book in which Victor was attempting to state his whole philosophy of life. Sir Geoffrey was soon deeply absorbed in this. Much struck him as wild and dangerous stuff, much he sadly recognized, was simply beyond him, parts expressed with great clarity ideas that he and his generation had been vainly trying to formulate. Gradually it was borne in on the father that, however wrong-headed and revolutionary his “unknown son” might be in some respects, his was indeed a very original mind. Sir Geoffrey even began to entertain the possibility that, when they differed, the son might not always be in the wrong. But no! The boy was still young and extravagant; also, perhaps, unbalanced owing to his mental disorder. Sir Geoffrey came to a passage of veiled autobiography stating that each of us is really two men, a dolt and a being of sensibility and intelligence. There followed a very moving account of the struggle between the two. Suddenly the father became painfully conscious of the fact that he was prying. Reluctantly he closed the notebook, summoned Mrs. Wheelwright and gave all the manuscripts back into her charge.
Before he left, the landlady showed him a treasured photograph of her recent lodger. Sir Geoffrey was struck both by the likeness to his known son, and to certain differences. The eyes were alert and smiling, the mouth fuller yet firmer. Sir Geoffrey looked long at the photograph, then handed it back in silence.
On the journey home he had much to occupy his mind. His researches had gone far to confirm his suspicion that his other, unknown son, was indeed a completer man than the son to whom he was now returning. What then ought he to do, or rather, try to do? It was all too likely that he could do nothing. Then what, at any rate, should he hope for? Should he desire the re-establishment of his familiar Victor, of whom in the past he had often been proud on account of his successes and his rather stereotyped brilliance; and for whom, in spite of misgivings, he still retained a strong paternal affection? Or should he hope for the final annihilation of the familiar Victor for the sake of that other Victor, whom he did not know, and had never even met; that eccentric, remarkable, rather wrong-headed and dangerous but warm-hearted, creative intelligence? Or should he perhaps rather look for some sort of integration of the two Victors in one complete individual? On the whole his intellect affirmed that the familiar Victor was by now, at any rate, a poor creature, and the other an outstanding personality. But to his paternal heart the familiar though no longer respected son remained irrationally dearer than the brilliant stranger. To work for the familiar son’s annihilation seemed like murder.
When Sir Geoffrey met his son at home, he was oppressed by the contrast with Mrs. Wheelwright’s photograph of the other son. The sagging eyelids, the drooping ends of the mouth, gave an impression of humourless self-concern. The father reminded himself that this morbid condition was, of course, exaggerated by the boy’s present unhappy state. His conversation, too, contrasted unfavourably with the other’s manuscript which Sir Geoffrey had so recently been reading. The present Victor seemed to be obsessed with anxiety to wriggle back into his former post. Could his father pull wires for him? After all, he argued, in spite of aberrations his record had not been undistinguished. And what about Edith? Was there any chance that she would forgive him and marry him after all? When he learned that Edith was already married he was distressed, but not broken-hearted. Indeed, to his father’s shame he was soon making enquiries about other eligible girls.
When Sir Geoffrey suggested that he had better not worry over marriage till he was cured of his illness, Victor replied with some warmth, “But don’t you see! I must get myself legally tied to some decent girl as soon as possible. If I go sick again, I may marry that awful slut. But if I am already legally tied to another, the second marriage will be invalid.” Sir Geoffrey was shocked by this heartless remark. He protested that it was a low trick to marry a girl simply to render a subsequent marriage bigamous. Victor hastily added that of course he was assuming that he would find a girl whom he really loved. Sir Geoffrey could not help contrasting the present Victor’s attitude with the other’s scruples about marrying Maggie.
In due course Sir Geoffrey’s psychiatrist friend turned up, and contrived to have a good deal of conversation with Victor. He was also told the results of Sir Geoffrey’s researches. He was convinced that the other Victor was the real Victor, or rather the more developed part of the whole Victor, and the present Victor a mere splinter. Integration of the two personalities, he suggested might produce a Victor no less brilliant than the absent one, but also better balanced. He insisted that the case could not be tackled unless the young man was brought to his private mental home for constant treatment. Sir Geoffrey promised that he would try to persuade his son voluntarily to comply with this suggestion. But when he broached the matter, Victor responded with neurotic anger and self-pity.
The weeks slipped by. Nothing was done about recovering Victor’s job. Sir Geoffrey was convinced, but did not say so, that the boy was in no fit state to undertake responsibility. He was still subject to attacks of black depression, and he sometimes fell into a state verging on coma. When he was more or less fit, he spent most of his time motoring very fast about the country. (His sports car had been preserved for him.) He also did a good deal of shooting. And he tried to stage a comeback into local society. In this he was not very successful, for people were on their guard against anyone who was known to have behaved eccentrically.
After a couple of months it was clear to Sir Geoffrey that his son was not making any progress. He complained of violent headaches, which often ended in a twelve-hour sleep. On one occasion he declared that he was fighting desperately for sanity “against the forces of darkness.” Pressed to amplify this statement, he said that ideas utterly alien to his nature kept breaking in on him, crazy fragments of thought about social strife, about irreligion, about sexual licentiousness. Also he complained that he was being haunted by “the filthy face of the slut.” Sir Geoffrey reluctantly decided that the time was at hand when it would be necessary to over-ride Victor’s wishes and send him away for treatment.
The idea did cross his mind that Maggie might possibly be able to settle the conflict of the two Victors by restoring the one whom she loved. He considered making contact with her, but postponed doing so, fearing awkward complications. It was Maggie herself who finally took action.
When at last she visited Victor’s lodgings, she found his landlady very much on her guard, for she did not consider that this ugly girl was good enough for her dear lodger. However, Maggie’s obvious sincerity and distress gradually won her, and she told Maggie of Sir Geoffrey’s visit, and gave his address. Maggie promptly wrote, telling him the main facts about her relations with his son, and imploring him to let her meet Victor, in the hope that her presence might “restore him to sanity.” Meanwhile she privately redoubled her efforts to cure him by telepathic influence.
Sir Geoffrey feared that if Victor were confronted with Maggie in person he would be driven to frenzy, and might break down completely. But the father came to feel that at least he had better meet the girl himself to form some opinion of her character, with a view to enlisting her help in some way or other, if in his view she passed muster. So he replied to her letter cautiously, and said he would prefer to discuss the whole matter with her before allowing her to see his son. He therefore proposed to meet her. At first he found himself in some doubt about the correct way of effecting an interview with a servant girl on such a delicate subject; but a little consideration made him realize that, if Maggie was to be of any use at all, she must be treated with the respect due to the woman whom Victor had admired. He therefore arranged to have her to lunch on her “day off” in a respectable though unobtrusive restaurant in the town where she worked.
Maggie’s presence had a disturbing effect on Sir Geoffrey. Like the Dolt, he found her face repugnant; but like the true Victor he was attracted by her direct and genial personality. Indeed, by the time they had reached the coffee he was beginning, in spite of his conventional standards of feminine beauty, to feel a fascination even in her strange face. Obviously she was of far too lowly a social class to be a desirable match for the son of a successful colonial administrator; but, damn it, she was not the slut that the present Victor had described. Indeed, much to his surprise Sir Geoffrey found his manner changing from formal politeness to real friendliness. But he refused to let Maggie see his son. The shock, he insisted, would be too great. Instead, he proposed to tell Victor that he had met her, and to build up in the young man’s mind a true picture of the girl whom, in his other phase, he loved. With this end in view he encouraged Maggie to tell him more about her past relations with his son, and her own past life. This she gladly did, trying (as she told me) to infuse the old gentleman’s mind with a sense of the joyful harmony and mutual dependence that had sprung up between Victor and herself. Excusably she said nothing about the more sordid side of her life in Aberdeen and Glasgow.
When Sir Geoffrey reached home and met Victor again, his son seemed to sense that his father had somehow betrayed him. Indeed, he became so suspicious and despondent that Sir Geoffrey felt it would be unwise to tell him about the recent interview while he was so unbalanced. Next day Victor complained of a “terrible headache,” and vertigo. “That foul woman,” he said, “has been attacking me again, It’s worse than ever.” Sir Geoffrey changed his mind and took the plunge. “You have got the girl all wrong,” he said. “I have seen her, and though she certainly is remarkably plain, she strikes me as being an admirable person.” Victor had stretched himself out on a couch, and at this information he fell into a spluttering, trembling, impotent rage. Presently he closed his eyes and assumed the expression of a martyr. His father felt acute disgust in watching his son, so he rose and walked about the room, recounting his impressions of Maggie. Presently he stopped, and noticed that Victor was apparently asleep, with his head back and his jaw dropped. His father tried to wake him, but he was in a deep coma. Wondering what to do next, Sir Geoffrey sat down and watched his son. Presently the mouth closed, the eyes opened. Sir Geoffrey noticed a subtle change of expression. The eyes were wide and alert. The father saw at once that he was confronted with the face of the photograph in Mrs. Wheelwright’s possession. Victor sat up, stretched his arms, and laughed. He said, “Thank God I’m awake again!” For a few seconds only, he looked about him in some bewilderment. Then his eyes met his father’s with a steady, smiling gaze. Presently he said, “Thanks, Dad, for being so good to me during these wretched weeks, and coming round to take my side against that somnolent ass that masquerades as me.” Sir Geoffrey said nothing. He was fascinated by the change in his son. Victor said, “Look! After lunch I’ll rush off to see Maggie and get everything straight. Then, if I may, I’ll come back here some time, and tell you all about her. Believe me, I appreciate my father much better: than that other son does; specially after these weeks, and after what you said about Maggie just now.” He smiled brightly, like the photograph.
The new Victor was, of course in possession of the old Victor’s memories. After his moment of bewilderment, he knew perfectly well where he was, and had a clear recollection of all the Dolt’s conversations with his father. “Of course,” he told me, “I was not awake at the time, but after only a few seconds of confusion I could remember all that I had done in that foul sleep-walk of a life.” Latterly the Dolt had been tormented by obsessive images and thoughts that (said Victor) must have originated with Maggie. He felt confident that some strange telepathic influence from Maggie had been the main cause of his waking to his true self. His one desire was to see her at once and tell her that she had saved him. His father tried to persuade him to stay at least for one night to rest, but Victor said that he would feel much more secure if he could be with Maggie that very day. Sir Geoffrey admitted the force of this argument.
Father and son had a long talk before they parted. Sir Geoffrey admitted that he had read part of Victor’s manuscript, and they drifted into a general discussion. The upshot for Sir Geoffrey was that he had no further doubt as to which was the better Victor; and he saw that this new Victor must be helped by every possible means to become firmly established. Yet he could not feel for the new Victor the warm parental affection which he had always felt for the familiar Victor, even when he had been most critical of him. This new son of his was a stranger; a brilliant and a generous-minded stranger, no doubt, but a person whom his father did not really know, and one whose opinions were in many ways rash and subversive. Though the old Victor had treated him with a kind of respectful contempt, the father had never felt resentful; probably because he so earnestly longed to be able to regard his son as his superior. On the other hand, the new Victor treated his father with man-to-man equality and friendliness. But at every turn his quick mind had to wait for the old man to catch up. When the father had occasion to protest against the wild views of the son, Victor attended earnestly to his criticism, but demolished it ruthlessly, not hesitating to charge his parent with sheer muddle-headedness. His attitude was that of a friendly but outspoken equal. Sir Geoffrey had been accustomed to deference. At first he was a little bewildered.
Victor wired to Maggie to expect him that evening, and to Mrs. Wheelwright to re-engage his rooms, if they were still vacant. When he met Maggie he told her that she had saved him. The detached reader will note that there is no real proof that she ever did on any occasion actually exercise any supernormal or occult powers over him. The dreams and visions that plagued the Dolt might well have risen from the suppressed side of his own nature. On the other hand, the final changeover to the true Victor may, of course, be fairly plausibly explained as the work of some sort of telepathic influence from Maggie, directed through the medium of Sir Geoffrey, whose mind had so recently been deeply affected by her. This is what Maggie and Victor believed; but the sceptic is quite entitled to his doubts. Subsequent events, which I shall relate in due course, do not suggest to me that Maggie’s supernormal powers, if they existed, were very effective. Victor, however, was always convinced that they had saved him, and that he constantly depended on her influence.
Maggie was now determined to live with Victor so as to use all her influence to keep the Dolt at bay. She proposed to give a month’s notice to her employers and have the wedding as soon as she was free. Victor was torn between the desire to be united with Maggie as soon as possible and fear of tying her to the Dolt. She confidently believed that the Dolt could never return as long as she was constantly with Victor. The awake Victor was still dismayed by the recent dominance of the Dolt, and therefore hesitant about involving Maggie in a permanent relationship. In the end it was agreed that they should wait for a few weeks to see how things went.
Time passed, and it did indeed seem that Victor was thoroughly re-established in self-possession. He met Maggie every week, and they slid easily back into the old life, with the difference that they were now acknowledged lovers, and she proudly wore an engagement ring. They frequented all their old haunts, and everything was transfigured by the knowledge that now at last they were pledged to one another. Yet the future was uncertain, for Victor still retained his scruples.
The time came for Maggie to have her short annual holiday. In the past she had generally used it for a hasty visit to Shetland, though on one occasion she had joined Katie in a trip to London. This time, both she and Victor assumed that the two of them would spend Maggie’s holiday together. But in what capacity? As newly-weds? As unmarried lovers? If so, they would certainly have to masquerade as a married pair if they wanted to share a room. But the scruples which held Victor back from marrying Maggie, prevented him also from having a temporary union with her. He himself (he told me) scarcely understood his motive. Obviously it was not conventional morality that restrained him, for it had not restrained him before. Vaguely he felt that to consummate their “spiritual marriage,” even without a legal union, would entangle her too deeply with him to allow her to free herself if the Dolt were to return. Always he was haunted by the fear that he might at any moment give place to the Dolt. Moreover, he felt that, quite apart from his own uncertainty, it would be wiser, in view of Maggie’s former revulsion against sex, not to mate with her until they were even more deeply involved mentally.
In view of these scruples, Victor suggested to Maggie that they should go on holiday together as brother and sister. This proposal distressed Maggie. It revived her old suspicion that, in spite of all his affection for her, Victor suffered from an unacknowledged physical repulsion. This suspicion in turn, made her behave less warmly toward him.
However, they spent their holiday as he wished. They did a walking tour in the Lakes, from Youth Hostel to Youth Hostel; and they walked so strenuously that their vow of chastity was re-enforced by fatigue. They climbed all the main heights, for Maggie was a sturdy young woman and eager to prove her mettle. Victor persuaded her to venture on a little rock-climbing, “just to know what it’s like,” but she soon decided that “risking one’s neck for the mere thrill of it was a mug’s game.” Sitting on the loose summit of Nape’s Needle, she vowed that if she got down safely she would never climb again. Victor did not press her. Indeed, he admitted that, if you felt no need to test yourself, it was foolish to do so. Rock-climbing therefore gave place to scrambling and walking, watching buzzards and ravens, admiring the skill of sheep-dogs, conversing with their masters, bathing in tarns, and looking forward to the next meal. One day on High Street they encountered seven red deer, including a “stag of ten.” This incident stirred them both, but especially Victor. “Extraordinary,” he told me, “how the wild animal in its native environment seems quite a different creature from the same kind in the zoo. Those free beasts were so lithe and lean and sleek, in fact in perfect training. They stood for a moment taking the scent of us with dilating nostrils, then turned and cantered away over the deep heather with their easy bounds, like sailing boats in a fair breeze, breasting the waves. Somehow we felt that, though we were much cleverer animals, they had something more important than cleverness, something that we had lost, perfect rapport with the environment, harmony with the universe, intimacy with God!” Victor laughed, apologizing for this fantasy.
It was shortly after this holiday that Victor wrote to me to suggest a meeting.
Talking late into the night in the hotel lounge, he at last completed his story. He looked at me quizzically, and said, “Well, what would you do in my position? Marry her? Live with her ‘in sin’? Carry on still longer in the present uncomfortable way? Or cut adrift altogether?” All I could find to say was that if he did not want to entangle her, he should not have allowed himself to see so much of her. He said, “Of course! But here I am, in a fix. What would you do now?” After a long silence, I brought myself to say, “Either marry her as soon as possible, or give her up completely. Don’t go on havering.” For some minutes he said nothing. Then, knocking out his pipe and rising, he said, “Well, thanks! You are a damned good listener. Queer how talking to you clears my mind, even if I don’t finally act on your advice.” We both went up to our rooms.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13