The Door in the Wall and Other Stories Read online

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  THE DOORIN THE WALLAnd Other Stories



  The Door in the Wall 5The Star 27A Dream of Armageddon 43The Cone 75A Moonlight Fable 91The Diamond Maker 99The Lord of the Dynamos 111The Country of the Blind 125




  One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace toldme this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thoughtthat so far as he was concerned it was a true story.

  He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction thatI could not do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning,in my own flat, I woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay inbed and recalled the things he had told me, stripped of the glamourof his earnest slow voice, denuded of the focussed shaded tablelight, the shadowy atmosphere that wrapped about him and thepleasant bright things, the dessert and glasses and napery of thedinner we had shared, making them for the time a bright littleworld quite cut off from every-day realities, I saw it all asfrankly incredible. "He was mystifying!" I said, and then: "Howwell he did it!. . . . . It isn't quite the thing I should haveexpected him, of all people, to do well."

  Afterwards, as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, Ifound myself trying to account for the flavour of reality thatperplexed me in his impossible reminiscences, by supposing they didin some way suggest, present, convey--I hardly know which word touse--experiences it was otherwise impossible to tell.

  Well, I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got overmy intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the momentof telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability stripthe truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, oronly thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of aninestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannotpretend to guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended mydoubts forever, throw no light on that. That much the reader mustjudge for himself.

  I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved soreticent a man to confide in me. He was, I think, defendinghimself against an imputation of slackness and unreliability I hadmade in relation to a great public movement in which he haddisappointed me. But he plunged suddenly. "I have" he said, "apreoccupation--"

  "I know," he went on, after a pause that he devoted to thestudy of his cigar ash, "I have been negligent. The fact is--itisn't a case of ghosts or apparitions--but--it's an odd thing totell of, Redmond--I am haunted. I am haunted by something--thatrather takes the light out of things, that fills me with longings. . . . ."

  He paused, checked by that English shyness that so oftenovercomes us when we would speak of moving or grave or beautifulthings. "You were at Saint Athelstan's all through," he said, andfor a moment that seemed to me quite irrelevant. "Well"--and hepaused. Then very haltingly at first, but afterwards more easily,he began to tell of the thing that was hidden in his life, thehaunting memory of a beauty and a happiness that filled his heartwith insatiable longings that made all the interests and spectacleof worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain to him.

  Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems writtenvisibly in his face. I have a photograph in which that look ofdetachment has been caught and intensified. It reminds me of whata woman once said of him--a woman who had loved him greatly."Suddenly," she said, "the interest goes out of him. He forgetsyou. He doesn't care a rap for you--under his very nose . . . . ."

  Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he washolding his attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be anextremely successful man. His career, indeed, is set withsuccesses. He left me behind him long ago; he soared up over myhead, and cut a figure in the world that I couldn't cut--anyhow.He was still a year short of forty, and they say now that he wouldhave been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if he hadlived. At school he always beat me without effort--as it were bynature. We were at school together at Saint Athelstan's College inWest Kensington for almost all our school time. He came into theschool as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a blaze ofscholarships and brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a fairaverage running. And it was at school I heard first of the Door inthe Wall--that I was to hear of a second time only a month beforehis death.

  To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door leadingthrough a real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quiteassured.

  And it came into his life early, when he was a little fellowbetween five and six. I remember how, as he sat making hisconfession to me with a slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned thedate of it. "There was," he said, "a crimson Virginia creeper init--all one bright uniform crimson in a clear amber sunshineagainst a white wall. That came into the impression somehow,though I don't clearly remember how, and there were horse-chestnutleaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They wereblotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so thatthey must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. Ilook out for horse-chestnut leaves every year, and I ought to know.

  "If I'm right in that, I was about five years and four months old."

  He was, he said, rather a precocious little boy--he learned totalk at an abnormally early age, and he was so sane and"old-fashioned," as people say, that he was permitted an amount ofinitiative that most children scarcely attain by seven or eight.His mother died when he was born, and he was under the lessvigilant and authoritative care of a nursery governess. His fatherwas a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave him little attention, andexpected great things of him. For all his brightness he found lifea little grey and dull I think. And one day he wandered.

  He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him toget away, nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads.All that had faded among the incurable blurs of memory. But thewhite wall and the green door stood out quite distinctly.

  As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he didat the very first sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion,an attraction, a desire to get to the door and open it and walk in.And at the same time he had the clearest conviction that either itwas unwise or it was wrong of him--he could not tell which--toyield to this attraction. He insisted upon it as a curious thingthat he knew from the very beginning--unless memory has played himthe queerest trick--that the door was unfastened, and that he couldgo in as he chose.

  I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn andrepelled. And it was very clear in his mind, too, though why itshould be so was never explained, that his father would be veryangry if he went through that door.

  Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me withthe utmost particularity. He went right past the door, and then,with his hands in his pockets, and making an infantile attempt towhistle, strolled right along beyond the end of the wall. There herecalls a number of mean, dirty shops, and particularly that of aplumber and decorator, with a dusty disorder of earthenware pipes,sheet lead ball taps, pattern books of wall paper, and tins ofenamel. He stood pretending to examine these things, and coveting,passionately desiring the green door.

  Then, he said, he had a gust o