It was past ten o’clock that
Sunday evening when Elsie arrived home. Athelstan
and George were waiting up for her. ’Again
the mysterious appointment?’ asked the former.
’Are we to know anything yet?’ Elsie
shook her head. ’Not to-night?
Very good. You look tired, Elsie.’
’I am tired, thank you.
And and I think I would rather not talk
to-night. I will go to my own room. Have
patience, both of you, for a day or two longer.
Believe me, everything is going well. The only
reason why I cannot tell you what I have been doing
is that it is so strange so wonderful that
I have not been able even to shape it into words in
my own mind. What is to-day? The 1st
‘Only eleven days yet eleven
long days,’ said George, ’but also eleven
’I do not forget. Well you
may both of you sit down go about your
business you need do nothing more.
As for me, I think you will have to get on without
me every evening this week. But be quite easy.
The thing is done.’ And with that, nodding
and laughing, she ran out of the room.
‘It is done,’ repeated
George. ‘The thing is done. Which thing?’
‘It is done,’ repeated
Athelstan. ’What is done? How was it
done? Who did it? When was it done?’
’Since Elsie says it is done,
I am bound to accept her assurance. Presumably,
she has caught old Checkley at South Square, in the
very act. Never mind; I am quite sure that Elsie
knows what she says.’
In her own retreat Elsie sat down to consider.
If you think of it, she had a good
deal to consider. She had, in fact, a tremendous
weapon, an eighty-ton Woolwich, in her possession;
a thing which had to be handled so that when it was
fired it should not produce a general massacre.
All those who had maligned and spoken and thought
evil of her brother and her lover should, she thought,
be laid prostrate by the mere puff and whiff of the
discharge. Checkley should fall backwards, and
raise a bump at the back of his head as big as an
egg. Sir Samuel and Hilda should be tumbled down
in the most ignominious fashion, just as if they had
no money at all. And her mother should be forced
to cry out that she had been wrong and hasty.
She held in her own hands nothing
less than the complete demolition of all this erection
of suspicion and malignity. Nothing less.
She could restore to her brother that which he had
never lost, save in the eyes of his own people, who
should have been the most jealous to preserve it.
No greater service could be rendered to him.
And she could clear from her lover’s name whatever
shreds and mists had been gathered round it by the
industrious breath of Checkley that humble
Cloud Compeller. You see, we all have this much
of Zeus in us, even in the compelling of Clouds:
every man by the exercise of a little malignity, a
little insinuation and a few falsehoods, can raise
quite a considerable mist about the head or the name
or the figure or the reputation of anyone. Women some
women, that is are constantly engaged in
this occupation; and after they have been at their
work, it is sometimes hard for the brightest sunshine
to melt those mists away.
To be able to clear away clouds is
a great thing. Besides this, Elsie had found
out what the rest had failed to find out and
by the simplest method. She had learned from
the only person who knew at what hour she should be
most likely to find the mysterious Edmund Gray, and
she had then waited on the stairs until he came.
No method more direct yet nobody thought
of it except herself. She had done it. As
the result, there was no longer any mystery.
The man who forged the first cheque: the man
who wrote those letters and conducted their transfer:
was, as they all thought at first, Edmund Gray.
No other. And Edmund Gray was Edward Dering,
one and the same person and Edward Dering
was a Madman, and this discovery it was which so profoundly
impressed her. There were no confederates:
there was no one wanted to intercept the post:
no one had tampered with the safe: the Chief
himself had received the letters and conducted the
correspondence alternately as Edmund Gray himself,
or Edmund Gray acting unconsciously for Edward Dering.
Perfectly impossible Perfectly
simple Perfectly intelligible. As
for the impossibility, a fact may remain when its
impossibility is established. Elsie was not a
psychologist or a student of the brain. She knew
nothing about mental maladies. She only said after
what she had seen and heard: ‘The man is
Then she thought how she should best
act. To establish the identity of Mr. Dering
and Edmund Gray must be done. It was the one thing
necessary. Very well. That could easily
be done, and in a simple way. She had only to
march into his office at the head of a small band of
witnesses and say: ’You wanted us to find
out Edmund Gray! I have found him. And thou
art the man!’
He would deny it. He certainly
knew nothing about it. Then she would call upon
her witnesses. First, Athelstan’s commissionaire,
who declared that he should remember, even after eight
years or eighty years, the gentleman who sent him
to cash that cheque. ’Who is this man,
‘That is Mr. Edmund Gray.’
Next the landlord of his chambers. ‘Who
is this man?’
‘That is Mr. Edmund Gray, my tenant for nine
Then she would call the eminent Barrister,
Mr. Langhorne. ’Do you know this man?’
‘He is my neighbour, Mr. Edmund Gray.’
And Freddy Carstone the Coach.
‘He is my neighbour, Mr. Edmund Gray.’
And the laundress, and she would say:
’I have done for the gentleman for nine years.
He’s a very good gentleman, and generous and
his name is Mr. Edmund Gray.’
And the people from the Hall and
they would make answer, with one consent: ‘That
is Mr. Edmund Gray, our preacher and our teacher.’
And she herself would give her testimony:
’I have sat with you in your Chambers.
I have heard you lecture in your Hall, surrounded by
these good people, and you are Edmund Gray.’
The thing was quite easy to do.
She could bring forward all this evidence at once,
and it would be unanswerable and convincing even to
Except for one thing which made it difficult.
The discovery would be a most dreadful a
most terrible revelation to one who believed
himself to be the most respectable solicitor in the
whole of London; the most trustworthy; the clearest
in mind; the keenest in vision; the coldest in judgment.
He would learn without the least previous suspicion
or preparation, or any softening of the blow, that
for many years he had been What?
Is there any other word any kinder word any
word less terrifying or less humiliating by which the
news could be conveyed to him that he had been Mad Mad Mad?
Heavens! what a word it is! How terrible to look
at with its three little letters which mean so much!
All the words that mean much are monosyllables:
God Love Joy Hate Fear Glad Sad Mad Bad Hell Home Wife
Child House Song Feast Wine Kiss everything they
are the oldest words, you see; they have been used
from time immemorial by prehistoric man as well as
Mr. Dering had to be told that he
was Mad. Somehow or other, he must be told that.
It seemed at first the only way out of the difficulty.
How could this girl communicate the dreadful news
to her guardian, who had always been to her considerate,
and even affectionate? She shrank from the task.
Then she thought she would hand it over to her brother
Athelstan. But he was far more concerned about
clearing up the hateful business than about softening
the blow for Mr. Dering. Or of communicating
it to George. What should she do? Mr. Dering
was mad. Not mad all the time, but mad now and
then, sometimes every day, sometimes with intervals.
This kind of madness, I believe, takes many forms a
fact which should make the strongest men tremble.
Sometimes it lasts a long time before it is found
out. Sometimes even it is never found out at
all. Solicitors and doctors tell queer stories
about it. For instance, that story quite
a common story of an old gentleman of irreproachable
reputation, a speaker and leader in religious circles,
a man enormously respected by all classes, concerning
whom not his bitterest enemy had a word of scandal yet,
after his death, things deplorable, things incredible,
things to be suppressed at any cost, were brought
to the knowledge of his lawyers. At certain times
he went mad, you see. Then he forgot who he was:
he forgot his reputation, his place in the world,
and the awful penalties of being found out: he
went down: he lived among people of the baser
sort, and became an inferior man with another name,
and died without ever knowing his own dreadful record.
Another of whom I have heard was mad for fifteen years,
yet the Chief of a great House, who all the time conducted
the business with great ability. He was found
out at last because he began to buy things. Once
he sent home six grand pianos: another time he
bought all the cricket bats that were in stock in
a certain shop; and another time he bought all the
hats that fitted him at all the hatters’ shops
within a circle whose centre was Piccadilly Circus
and the radius a mile long. After this they gave
him a cheerful companion, who took walks abroad with
him, and he retired from active business.
Some philosophers maintain that we
are all gone mad on certain points. In that case,
if one does not know it or suspect it, and if our friends
neither know nor suspect it, what does it matter?
There are also, we all know, points on which some
of us are mad, and everybody knows it. There
is the man who believes that he is a great poet, and
publishes volume after volume, all at his own expense,
to prove it: there is the man but
he ought to be taken away and put on a treadmill who
writes letters to the papers on every conceivable
subject with the day before yesterday’s wisdom:
there is the man who thinks he can paint we
all know plenty of men mad like unto these, and we
are for the most part willing to tolerate them.
Considerations, however, on the universality of the
complaint fail to bring consolation to any except those
who have it not. In the same way, nobody who
dies of any disease is comforted with the thought
of the rarity or the frequency of that disease; its
interesting character has no charm for him. Nor
is the man on his way to be hanged consoled by the
reminder that thousands have trodden that flowery way
before him. To Mr. Dering, proud of his own intellect,
self-sufficient and strong, the discovery of these
things would certainly bring humiliation intolerable,
perhaps even shame unto Death
itself. How oh! how could things be
managed so as to spare him this pain?
Elsie’s difficulties grew greater
the more she pondered over them. It was past
midnight when she closed the volume of thought and
her eyes at the same moment.
In the morning, Athelstan kissed her gravely.
’Do you remember what you said
last night, Elsie? You said that we could rest
at peace because the thing was done.’
’Well, Athelstan, the words
could only have one meaning, could they? I mean,
if you want me to be more explicit, that the thing
is actually done. My dear brother, I know all
about it now. I know who signed that first cheque who
sent the commissionaire to the Bank who
received the notes who placed them in the
safe who wrote about the transfers who
received the letters and carried on the whole business.
I can place my hand upon him to-day if necessary.’
‘Without doubt? With proofs, ample proofs?’
’Without the least doubt with
a cloud of witnesses. My dear brother, do not
doubt me. I have done it. Yet for
a reason to spare one most deeply concerned for
the pity of it if you knew give
me a few days a week, perhaps, to find
a way if I can. If I cannot, then the cruel truth
must be told bluntly, whatever happens.’
‘Remember all the mischief the old villain has
‘The old villain? Oh! you mean Checkley?’
‘Of course; whom should I mean?’
Brother, if you bid me speak to-day, I will speak.
No one has a better right to command. But if
this this person were to die
to-day, my proofs are so ample that there could be
no doubt possible. Yes even my mother it
is dreadful to say it but she is so hard
and so obstinate even my mother would acknowledge
that there is no doubt possible.’
Athelstan stooped and kissed her.
’Order it exactly as you please, my child.
If I have waited eight long years, I can wait another
week. Another week. Then I shall at last
be able to speak of my people at home. I shall
go back to California with belongings like other men.
I shall be able to make friends; I can even, if it
comes in my way, make love, Elsie. Do you think
you understand quite what this means to me?’
He left her presently to go about his work.
In the corner of the room stood her
easel with the portrait, the fancy portrait, of Mr.
Dering the Benevolent Mr. Dering the Optimist Mr.
Dering as he might be with the same features and the
least little change in their habitual setting.
Elsie stood before this picture, looking at it curiously.
‘Yes,’ she murmured, ’you
are a dear, tender-hearted, kindly, benevolent, simple
old Thing. You believe in human nature: you
think that everybody is longing for the Kingdom of
Heaven. You think that everybody would be comfortable
in it: that everybody longs for honesty.
Before I altered you and improved your face, you were
Justice without mercy: you were Law without leniency:
you were Experience which knows that all men are wicked
by choice when they get the chance: you had no
soft place anywhere: you held that Society exists
only for the preservation of Property. Oh! you
are so much more lovable now, if you would only think
so if you only knew. You believe in
men and women: that is a wonderful advance and
you have done well to change your old name to your
new name. I think I should like you always to
be Edmund Gray. But how am I to tell you?
How, in the name of wonder, am I to tell you that
you are Edmund Gray? First of all, I must see
you I must break the thing gently
I must force you somehow to recollect, as soon as
possible. I must make you somehow understand what
She had promised to meet Mr. Edmund
Gray at his Chambers that evening at five. He
showed his confidence in her by giving her a latch-key,
so that she might let herself in if he happened not
to be in the Chambers when she called, at five.
She would try, then, to bring him back to himself.
She pictured his amazement his shame at
finding himself in strange rooms under another name,
preaching wild doctrines. It would be too much
for him. Better go to Mr. Dering, the real Mr.
Dering, and try to move him in his own office, to
recollect what had happened. Because, you see,
Elsie, unacquainted with these obscure forms of brain
disease, imagined that she might by artful question
and suggestion clear that clouded memory, and show
the lawyer his double figuring as a Socialist.
She waited till the afternoon.
She arrived at New Square about three, two hours before
her engagement at Gray’s Inn.
Mr. Dering received her with his usual
kindness. He was austerely benignant.
‘I tried to see you last night,’
she said, untruthfully, because the words conveyed
the impression that she had called upon him.
‘No no. I was
I suppose I was out. I went out ’
His face clouded, and he stopped.
‘Yes you were saying, Mr. Dering,
that you went out.’
‘Last night was Sunday, wasn’t
it? Yes; I went out. Where did I go?’
He drummed the table with his fingers irritably.
’Where did I go? Where? What
does it matter?’
‘Nothing at all. Only it
is strange that you should not remember.’
‘I told you once before, Elsie,’
he said, ’I suffer I labour under
curious fits of forgetfulness. Now, at this moment,
I it really is absurd I cannot
remember where I was last night. I am an old man.
It is the privilege of age to forget yesterday, and
to remember fifty years ago.’
’I was talking last night to
an old gentleman who said much the same. He has
Chambers where he goes to write: he has a Lecture
Hall where he preaches to the people
Mr. Dering looked at her in mild surprise.
What did she mean? Elsie coloured.
‘Of course,’ she said, ‘this has
nothing to do with you.’
‘How I spent the evening I know
very well,’ Mr. Dering went on. ’Yet
I forget. That is the trouble with me. My
housekeeper will not give me dinner on Sunday evening,
and on that day I go to my Club. I get there
about five or six: I read the magazines till seven.
Sometimes I drop off to sleep we old fellows
will drop off, you know about seven I have
dinner. After dinner I take my coffee, and read
or talk if there is any one I know. About nine
I walk home. That has been my custom for many
years. Therefore, that is how I spent the evening
of yesterday. But, you see, I cannot remember
it. Breakfast I remember, and the Church service
afterwards. Luncheon I remember: getting
home at ten I remember. But the interval between
I cannot remember.’
’Do you forget other things?
Do you remember Saturday afternoon, for instance?’
I left the office about five. I walked straight
home. No no that isn’t
right. It was nearly eight when I got home.
I remember. The dinner was spoiled. No I
did not go straight home.’
‘Perhaps you stayed here till past seven?’
’No no. I remember
looking at the clock as I put on my hat. It was
half-past five when I went out Five.
What did I do between half-past five o’clock
and eight? I forget. You see, my trouble,
Elsie I forget. Perhaps I went to
the Club: perhaps I strolled about: perhaps
I came back here. There are three hours to account
for and I have forgotten them all.’