Sanderson accordingly came down, and
on the whole his short visit was a success. Why
he came at all was a mystery to those who heard of
it, for he never paid visits and was certainly not
the kind of man to court a customer. There must
have been something in Bittacy he liked.
Mrs. Bittacy was glad when he left.
He brought no dress-suit for one thing, not even a
dinner-jacket, and he wore very low collars with big
balloon ties like a Frenchman, and let his hair grow
longer than was nice, she felt. Not that these
things were important, but that she considered them
symptoms of something a little disordered. The
ties were unnecessarily flowing.
For all that he was an interesting
man, and, in spite of his eccentricities of dress
and so forth, a gentleman. “Perhaps,”
she reflected in her genuinely charitable heart, “he
had other uses for the twenty guineas, an invalid
sister or an old mother to support!” She had
no notion of the cost of brushes, frames, paints, and
canvases. Also she forgave him much for the sake
of his beautiful eyes and his eager enthusiasm of
manner. So many men of thirty were already blase.
Still, when the visit was over, she
felt relieved. She said nothing about his coming
a second time, and her husband, she was glad to notice,
had likewise made no suggestion. For, truth to
tell, the way the younger man engrossed the older,
keeping him out for hours in the Forest, talking on
the lawn in the blazing sun, and in the evenings when
the damp of dusk came creeping out from the surrounding
woods, all regardless of his age and usual habits,
was not quite to her taste. Of course, Mr. Sanderson
did not know how easily those attacks of Indian fever
came back, but David surely might have told him.
They talked trees from morning to
night. It stirred in her the old subconscious
trail of dread, a trail that led ever into the darkness
of big woods; and such feelings, as her early evangelical
training taught her, were temptings. To regard
them in any other way was to play with danger.
Her mind, as she watched these two,
was charged with curious thoughts of dread she could
not understand, yet feared the more on that account.
The way they studied that old mangy cedar was a trifle
unnecessary, unwise, she felt. It was disregarding
the sense of proportion which deity had set upon the
world for men’s safe guidance.
Even after dinner they smoked their
cigars upon the low branches that swept down and touched
the lawn, until at length she insisted on their coming
in. Cedars, she had somewhere heard, were not
safe after sundown; it was not wholesome to be too
near them; to sleep beneath them was even dangerous,
though what the precise danger was she had forgotten.
The upas was the tree she really meant.
At any rate she summoned David in,
and Sanderson came presently after him.
For a long time, before deciding on
this peremptory step, she had watched them surreptitiously
from the drawing-room window her husband
and her guest. The dusk enveloped them with its
damp veil of gauze. She saw the glowing tips
of their cigars, and heard the drone of voices.
Bats flitted overhead, and big, silent moths whirred
softly over the rhododendron blossoms. And it
came suddenly to her, while she watched, that her
husband had somehow altered these last few days since
Mr. Sanderson’s arrival in fact. A change
had come over him, though what it was she could not
say. She hesitated, indeed, to search. That
was the instinctive dread operating in her. Provided
it passed she would rather not know. Small things,
of course, she noticed; small outward signs. He
had neglected The Times for one thing, left
off his speckled waistcoats for another. He was
absent-minded sometimes; showed vagueness in practical
details where hitherto he showed decision. And he
had begun to talk in his sleep again.
These and a dozen other small peculiarities
came suddenly upon her with the rush of a combined
attack. They brought with them a faint distress
that made her shiver. Momentarily her mind was
startled, then confused, as her eyes picked out the
shadowy figures in the dusk, the cedar covering them,
the Forest close at their backs. And then, before
she could think, or seek internal guidance as her
habit was, this whisper, muffled and very hurried,
ran across her brain: “It’s Mr. Sanderson.
Call David in at once!”
And she had done so. Her shrill
voice crossed the lawn and died away into the Forest,
quickly smothered. No echo followed it. The
sound fell dead against the rampart of a thousand
“The damp is so very penetrating,
even in summer,” she murmured when they came
obediently. She was half surprised at her open
audacity, half repentant. They came so meekly
at her call. “And my husband is sensitive
to fever from the East. No, please do not throw
away your cigars. We can sit by the open window
and enjoy the evening while you smoke.”
She was very talkative for a moment;
subconscious excitement was the cause.
“It is so still so
wonderfully still,” she went on, as no one spoke;
“so peaceful, and the air so very sweet ... and
God is always near to those who need His aid.”
The words slipped out before she realized quite what
she was saying, yet fortunately, in time to lower her
voice, for no one heard them. They were, perhaps,
an instinctive expression of relief. It flustered
her that she could have said the thing at all.
Sanderson brought her shawl and helped
to arrange the chairs; she thanked him in her old-fashioned,
gentle way, declining the lamps which he had offered
to light. “They attract the moths and insects
so, I think!”
The three of them sat there in the
gloaming. Mr. Bittacy’s white moustache
and his wife’s yellow shawl gleaming at either
end of the little horseshoe, Sanderson with his wild
black hair and shining eyes midway between them.
The painter went on talking softly, continuing evidently
the conversation begun with his host beneath the cedar.
Mrs. Bittacy, on her guard, listened uneasily.
“For trees, you see, rather
conceal themselves in daylight. They reveal themselves
fully only after sunset. I never know a
tree,” he bowed here slightly towards the lady
as though to apologize for something he felt she would
not quite understand or like, “until I’ve
seen it in the night. Your cedar, for instance,”
looking towards her husband again so that Mrs. Bittacy
caught the gleaming of his turned eyes, “I failed
with badly at first, because I did it in the morning.
You shall see to-morrow what I mean that
first sketch is upstairs in my portfolio; it’s
quite another tree to the one you bought. That
view” he leaned forward, lowering
his voice “I caught one morning about
two o’clock in very faint moonlight and the
stars. I saw the naked being of the thing ”
“You mean that you went out,
Mr. Sanderson, at that hour?” the old lady asked
with astonishment and mild rebuke. She did not
care particularly for his choice of adjectives either.
“I fear it was rather a liberty
to take in another’s house, perhaps,” he
answered courteously. “But, having chanced
to wake, I saw the tree from my window, and made my
“It’s a wonder Boxer didn’t
bit you; he sleeps loose in the hall,” she said.
“On the contrary. The dog
came out with me. I hope,” he added, “the
noise didn’t disturb you, though it’s rather
late to say so. I feel quite guilty.”
His white teeth showed in the dusk as he smiled.
A smell of earth and flowers stole in through the
window on a breath of wandering air.
Mrs. Bittacy said nothing at the moment.
“We both sleep like tops,” put in her
husband, laughing. “You’re a courageous
man, though, Sanderson, and, by Jove, the picture
justifies you. Few artist would have taken so
much trouble, though I read once that Holman Hunt,
Rossetti, or some one of that lot, painted all night
in his orchard to get an effect of moonlight that
He chattered on. His wife was
glad to hear his voice; it made her feel more easy
in her mind. But presently the other held the
floor again, and her thoughts grew darkened and afraid.
Instinctively she feared the influence on her husband.
The mystery and wonder that lie in woods, in forests,
in great gatherings of trees everywhere, seemed so
real and present while he talked.
“The Night transfigures all
things in a way,” he was saying; “but
nothing so searchingly as trees. From behind a
veil that sunlight hangs before them in the day they
emerge and show themselves. Even buildings do
that in a measure but trees particularly.
In the daytime they sleep; at night they wake, they
manifest, turn active live. You remember,”
turning politely again in the direction of his hostess,
“how clearly Henley understood that?”
“That socialist person, you
mean?” asked the lady. Her tone and accent
made the substantive sound criminal. It almost
hissed, the way she uttered it.
“The poet, yes,” replied
the artist tactfully, “the friend of Stevenson,
you remember, Stevenson who wrote those charming children’s
He quoted in a low voice the lines
he meant. It was, for once, the time, the place,
and the setting all together. The words floated
out across the lawn towards the wall of blue darkness
where the big Forest swept the little garden with
its league-long curve that was like the shore-line
of a sea. A wave of distant sound that was like
surf accompanied his voice, as though the wind was
fain to listen too:
Not to the staring Day,
For all the importunate questionings he
In his big, violent voice,
Shall those mild things of bulk and multitude,
The trees God’s sentinels
Yield of their huge, unutterable selves
But at the word
Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night,
Night of many secrets, whose effect
Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread
Themselves alone may fully apprehend,
They tremble and are changed:
In each the uncouth, individual soul
Looms forth and glooms
Essential, and, their bodily presences
Touched with inordinate significance,
Wearing the darkness like a livery
Of some mysterious and tremendous guild,
They brood they menace they
The voice of Mrs. Bittacy presently
broke the silence that followed.
“I like that part about God’s
sentinels,” she murmured. There was no
sharpness in her tone; it was hushed and quiet.
The truth, so musically uttered, muted her shrill
objections though it had not lessened her alarm.
Her husband made no comment; his cigar, she noticed,
had gone out.
“And old trees in particular,”
continued the artist, as though to himself, “have
very definite personalities. You can offend, wound,
please them; the moment you stand within their shade
you feel whether they come out to you, or whether
they withdraw.” He turned abruptly towards
his host. “You know that singular essay
of Prentice Mulford’s, no doubt ’God in
the Trees’ extravagant perhaps, but
yet with a fine true beauty in it? You’ve
never read it, no?” he asked.
But it was Mrs. Bittacy who answered;
her husband keeping his curious deep silence.
“I never did!” It fell
like a drip of cold water from the face muffled in
the yellow shawl; even a child could have supplied
the remainder of the unspoken thought.
“Ah,” said Sanderson gently,
“but there is ‘God’ in the
trees. God in a very subtle aspect and sometimes I
have known the trees express it too that
which is not God dark and terrible.
Have you ever noticed, too, how clearly trees show
what they want choose their companions,
at least? How beeches, for instance, allow no
life too near them birds or squirrels in
their boughs, nor any growth beneath? The silence
in the beech wood is quite terrifying often!
And how pines like bilberry bushes at their feet and
sometimes little oaks all trees making a
clear, deliberate choice, and holding firmly to it?
Some trees obviously it’s very strange
and marked seem to prefer the human.”
The old lady sat up crackling, for
this was more than she could permit. Her stiff
silk dress emitted little sharp reports.
“We know,” she answered,
“that He was said to have walked in the garden
in the cool of the evening” the gulp
betrayed the effort that it cost her “but
we are nowhere told that He hid in the trees, or anything
like that. Trees, after all, we must remember,
are only large vegetables.”
“True,” was the soft answer,
“but in everything that grows, has life, that
is, there’s mystery past all finding out.
The wonder that lies hidden in our own souls lies
also hidden, I venture to assert, in the stupidity
and silence of a mere potato.”
The observation was not meant to be
amusing. It was not amusing. No one
laughed. On the contrary, the words conveyed in
too literal a sense the feeling that haunted all that
conversation. Each one in his own way realized with
beauty, with wonder, with alarm that the
talk had somehow brought the whole vegetable kingdom
nearer to that of man. Some link had been established
between the two. It was not wise, with that great
Forest listening at their very doors, to speak so plainly.
The forest edged up closer while they did so.
And Mrs. Bittacy, anxious to interrupt
the horrid spell, broke suddenly in upon it with a
matter-of-fact suggestion. She did not like her
husband’s prolonged silence, stillness.
He seemed so negative so changed.
“David,” she said, raising
her voice, “I think you’re feeling the
dampness. It’s grown chilly. The fever
comes so suddenly, you know, and it might be wide
to take the tincture. I’ll go and get it,
dear, at once. It’s better.”
And before he could object she had left the room to
bring the homeopathic dose that she believed in, and
that, to please her, he swallowed by the tumbler-full
from week to week.
And the moment the door closed behind
her, Sanderson began again, though now in quite a
different tone. Mr. Bittacy sat up in his chair.
The two men obviously resumed the conversation the
real conversation interrupted beneath the cedar and
left aside the sham one which was so much dust merely
thrown in the old lady’s eyes.
“Trees love you, that’s
the fact,” he said earnestly. “Your
service to them all these years abroad has made them
“Made them, yes,” he
paused a moment, then added, “made
them aware of your presence; aware of a force
outside themselves that deliberately seeks their welfare,
don’t you see?”
“By Jove, Sanderson !”
This put into plain language actual sensations he
had felt, yet had never dared to phrase in words before.
“They get into touch with me, as it were?”
he ventured, laughing at his own sentence, yet laughing
only with his lips.
“Exactly,” was the quick,
emphatic reply. “They seek to blend with
something they feel instinctively to be good for them,
helpful to their essential beings, encouraging to
their best expression their life.”
“Good Lord, Sir!” Bittacy
heard himself saying, “but you’re putting
my own thoughts into words. D’you know,
I’ve felt something like that for years.
As though ” he looked round to make
sure his wife was not there, then finished the sentence “as
though the trees were after me!”
the best word, perhaps,” said Sanderson slowly.
“They would draw you to themselves. Good
forces, you see, always seek to merge; evil to separate;
that’s why Good in the end must always win the
day everywhere. The accumulation in
the long run becomes overwhelming. Evil tends
to separation, dissolution, death. The comradeship
of trees, their instinct to run together, is a vital
symbol. Trees in a mass are good; alone, you
may take it generally, are well, dangerous.
Look at a monkey-puzzler, or better still, a holly.
Look at it, watch it, understand it. Did you
ever see more plainly an evil thought made visible?
They’re wicked. Beautiful too, oh yes!
There’s a strange, miscalculated beauty often
in evil ”
“That cedar, then ?”
“Not evil, no; but alien, rather.
Cedars grow in forests all together. The poor
thing has drifted, that is all.”
They were getting rather deep.
Sanderson, talking against time, spoke so fast.
It was too condensed. Bittacy hardly followed
that last bit. His mind floundered among his
own less definite, less sorted thoughts, till presently
another sentence from the artist startled him into
“That cedar will protect you
here, though, because you both have humanized it by
your thinking so lovingly of its presence. The
others can’t get past it, as it were.”
“Protect me!” he exclaimed. “Protect
me from their love?”
Sanderson laughed. “We’re
getting rather mixed,” he said; “we’re
talking of one thing in the terms of another really.
But what I mean is you see that
their love for you, their ‘awareness’ of
your personality and presence involves the idea of
winning you across the border into
themselves into their world of living.
It means, in a way, taking you over.”
The ideas the artist started in his
mind ran furious wild races to and fro. It was
like a maze sprung suddenly into movement. The
whirling of the intricate lines bewildered him.
They went so fast, leaving but half an explanation
of their goal. He followed first one, then another,
but a new one always dashed across to intercept before
he could get anywhere.
“But India,” he said,
presently in a lower voice, “India is so far
away from this little English forest.
The trees, too, are utterly different for one thing?”
The rustle of skirts warned of Mrs.
Bittacy’s approach. This was a sentence
he could turn round another way in case she came up
and pressed for explanation.
“There is communion among trees
all the world over,” was the strange quick reply.
“They always know.”
“They always know! You think then ?”
“The winds, you see the
great, swift carriers! They have their ancient
rights of way about the world. An easterly wind,
for instance, carrying on stage by stage as it were linking
dropped messages and meanings from land to land like
the birds an easterly wind ”
Mrs. Bittacy swept in upon them with the tumbler
“There, David,” she said,
“that will ward off any beginnings of attack.
Just a spoonful, dear. Oh, oh! not all
!” for he had swallowed half the contents at
a single gulp as usual; “another dose before
you go to bed, and the balance in the morning, first
thing when you wake.”
She turned to her guest, who put the
tumbler down for her upon a table at his elbow.
She had heard them speak of the east wind. She
emphasized the warning she had misinterpreted.
The private part of the conversation came to an abrupt
“It is the one thing that upsets
him more than any other an east wind,”
she said, “and I am glad, Mr. Sanderson, to hear
you think so too.”