The Black Blow

: The Mystery Of The Green Ray

"Oh, Ronnie, darling," Myra asked, in a pitiful voice that went to my

heart. "What can it mean? I--I--I can't see--anything at all."

"It's the sun, darling; it will be all right in a minute or two.

There, lie in my arms, dear, and close your poor eyes. It will be all

right soon, dearest."

I tried to comfort her, to assure her that it was just the glare on

the water, that she would be able to
see again in a moment, but I felt

the pitiful inadequacy of my empty words, and it seemed that the light

had gone out of my life. I pray that I may never again witness such a

harrowing sight as that of Myra, leaning her beautiful head on my

shoulder, suddenly stricken blind, doing her best to pacify her dog,

who was heart-broken in the instinctive knowledge of a new, swift

grief which he could not understand.

I must ask the reader to spare me from describing in detail the

terrible agony of the next few days, when the hideous tragedy of

Myra's blindness overcame us all in its naked freshness. I cannot

bring myself to speak of it even yet. I would at any time give my life

to save Myra's sight, her most priceless possession. I make this as a

simple statement of fact, and in no spirit of romantic arrogance, and

I think I would rather die than live again the gnawing agony of those


I took Myra in my arms, and carried her back to the house. Poor child;

she realised almost immediately that I was as dumbfounded as she was

herself at the terrible blow which had befallen her, and that I had no

faith in my empty assurances that it would soon be all right again,

and she would be able to see as well as ever in an hour or two, at

most. So she at once began to comfort me! I marvelled at her bravery,

but she made me more miserable than ever. I felt that she might have a

sort of premonition that she would never see again. As we crossed the

stream above the fall I saw again the reflected light from Hilderman's

window, and a pang shot through me as I remembered her words on that

very spot--that she would rather die than be unable to see her beloved


I clutched her in my arms, and held her closer to me in dumb despair.

"Am I very heavy, Ron, dear?" she asked presently. "If you give me

your hand, dear, I could walk. I think I could even manage without it;

but, of course, I should prefer to have your hand at any time." She

gave a natural little laugh, which almost deceived me, and again I

marvelled at her pluck. I had known Myra since she was four, and I

might have expected that she would meet her tragic misfortune with a


"You're as light as a feather, dearest," I protested, "and, as far as

that goes, I'd rather carry you at any time."

"I'm glad you were here when it happened, dear," she whispered.

"Tell me, darling, how did it happen?" I asked. "I mean, what did it

seem like? Did things gradually grow duller and duller, or what?"

"No," she answered; "that was the extraordinary part of it. Quite

suddenly I saw everything green for a second, and then everything went

out in a green flash. It was a wonderful, liquid green, like the sea

over a sand-bank. It was just a long flash, very quick and sharp, and

then I found I could see nothing at all. Everything is black now, the

black of an intense green. I thought I'd been struck by lightning.

Wasn't it silly of me?"

"My poor, brave little woman," I murmured. "Tell me, where were you


"Just where you found me, on the Chemist's Rock. I call it the

Chemist's Rock because it's shaped like a cough-lozenge. I was casting

from there; it makes a beautiful fishing-table. I looked up, and

then--well, then it happened."

"We're just coming to the house," said Myra suddenly. "We're just

going to turn on to the stable-path."

"Darling!" I cried, nearly dropping her in my excitement; "you can see


"Oh, Ronnie, I'm so sorry," she said penitently. "I only knew by

the smell of the peat stacks." I could not restrain a groan of

disappointment, and Myra stroked my face, and murmured again, "I'm

sorry, dearest."

"Will you please put me down now?" she asked. "If daddy saw you

carrying me to the house he'd have a fit, and the servants would go

into hysterics." So I put her tenderly on her feet, and she took my

arm, and we walked slowly to the house. She could see nothing, not

even in the hazy confusion of the nearly blind; yet she walked to the

house with as firm a step and as natural an air as if she had nothing

whatever the matter with her.

"You had better leave dad to me, Ron," she suggested. "We understand

each other, and I can explain to him. You would find it difficult, and

it would be painful for you both. Just tell him that I'm not feeling

very well, and he'll come straight to me. Don't tell him I want to see

him. Give me your arm to my den, dear."

I led her to her "den," a little room opening on to the verandah.

There was a writing-table in the window covered with correspondence

in neat little piles, for Myra was on all the charity committees in

the county, and the rest of the room was given up to a profusion of

fishing tackle, shooting gear, and books. Sholto followed us, every

now and then rubbing his great head against her skirt. I left her

there, and turned into the hall, where I met the General. He had

heard us return.

"You're back early, my boy," he remarked.

"Yes," I said, taking out my cigarette-case to give myself an air of

assurance which was utterly unknown to me. "Myra is not feeling very

well. She's resting for a bit."

"Not well?" he exclaimed, in surprise. "Very unusual, very unusual

indeed." And he turned straight into Myra's room without waiting for

an answer to his quiet tap on the door. With a heavy heart I went

upstairs to the old schoolroom, now given over to Mary McNiven, Myra's

old nurse.

"Master Ronald! I am glad," she cried, when I accepted her

invitation to "come in." Mary had boxed my ears many times in my

boyhood, and the fact that we were old friends made it difficult for

me to tell her my terrible news. I broke it as gently as I could, and

warned her not to alarm the servants, and very soon she wiped away her

tears and went downstairs to see what she could do. I went out into

the fresh air for a moment to pull myself together, marvelling at the

unreasoning cruelty of fate. I turned into the hall, and met the

General coming out of Myra's room. He was talking to Mary and one of

the housemaids.

"These things often occur," he was explaining in a very matter-of-fact

voice. "They are unusual, though not unheard-of, and very distressing

at the time. But I am confident that Miss Myra will be quite herself

again in a day or two. Meanwhile, she had better go to bed and rest,

and take care of herself while Angus fetches Doctor Whitehouse. No

doubt he will give her some lotion to wash her eyes with, and it will

be only a day or two before we see Miss Myra about again as usual. You

must see that she has no light near her, and that she rests her eyes

in every possible way. There is nothing whatever for you girls to get

anxious or frightened about. I have seen this sort of thing before,

though usually in the East."

The old man dismissed the maids, and went into the drawing-room, while

I spent a few moments with Myra. I was delighted to see the General

taking it so well, as I had even been afraid of his total collapse, so

I took what comfort I could from his ready assurance that he was quite

accustomed to that sort of thing. But when, some twenty minutes later,

I went to look for him in the drawing-room, and found him prostrate on

the sofa, his head buried in his arms, I realised whence Myra had

derived her pluck. He looked up as he heard the door open, and tears

were streaming down his rugged old face.

"Never mind me, Ronald," he said brokenly. "Never mind me. I shall be

all right in a minute. I--I didn't expect this, but I shall be all

right in a minute." I closed the door softly and left him alone.

I found Angus had harnessed the pony, and was just about to start for

Glenelg to fetch Doctor Whitehouse. So I told him to tell the General

that I should be better able to explain to the doctor what had

happened, and, glad of the diversion, I drove in for him myself. But

when he arrived he made a long and searching examination, patted

Myra's head, and told her the nerve had been strained by the glare on

the water, and rest was all that was needed; and, as soon as he got

outside her door, he sighed and shook his head. In the library he made

no bones about it, and her father and I were both grateful to him.

"It's not a bit of use my saying I know when I don't," the doctor

declared emphatically. "I'm puzzled--indeed, I'm absolutely beaten.

This is a thing I've not only never come across before, but I've never

even read about it. This green flash, the suddenness of it, the

absence of pain--she says she feels perfectly well. She could see

wonderfully well up to the second it happened; no warning headaches,

and nothing whatever to account for it. I have known a sudden shock to

the system produce instantaneous blindness, such as a man in a very

heated state diving into ice-cold water. But in this case there is

nothing to go by. I can only do her harm by pretending to know what I

don't know, and you know as much as I do. She must see a specialist,

and the sooner the better. I would recommend Sir Gaire Olvery; that

would mean taking her up to London. Mr. Herbert Garnesk is the second

greatest oculist in the country; but undoubtedly Sir Gaire is first.

Meanwhile I will give her a little nerve tonic; it will do her no

harm, and will give her reason to think that we know how to treat her,

so that it may do her good. She must wear the shade I brought her, and

take care her eyes are never exposed to the light."

"The fact that you yourself can make nothing of it is for us or

against us?" asked the General, in an anxious voice.

He was looking haggard and tired out.

"In what way?" queried the doctor.

"I mean that if she had--er--totally lost her--the use of her

eyes--for all time, could you be certain of that or not? Or can

you give us any reason to hope that the very fact of your not

understanding the nature of the case points to her getting over it?"

"Ah," said the doctor, "I'm not going to be so unfair to you as to say

that. I will say emphatically that she has not absolutely hopelessly

lost her sight. The nerves are not dead. This green veil may be

lifted, possibly, as suddenly as it fell; but I am talking to men, and

I want you to understand that I can give no idea as to when that may

be. I pray that it may be soon--very soon."

"I'm glad you're so straightforward about it, Whitehouse," said the

old man, as he sank into a chair. "I don't need to be buoyed up by any

false hopes. You can understand that it is a very terrible blow to Mr.

Ewart and myself."

"I can indeed," said the doctor solemnly. "I brought her into the

world, you know. It is a tragic shock to me. I'll get back now, if

you'll excuse me. I have a very serious case in the village, but I'll

be over first thing in the morning, and I'll bring you a small bottle

of something with me. You'll need it with this anxiety."

"Nonsense, Whitehouse," declared the General stoutly. "I'm perfectly

all right. There's nothing at all the matter with me. I don't need any

of your begad slush."

"Now, my dear friend," said the medical man cunningly, "it's my

business to look ahead. In the next few days you'll be too anxious to

eat, so I'm going to bring you something that will simply stimulate

your appetite and make you want to eat. It's not good for any man to

go without his meals, especially when that man's getting on for


"Thank ye, my dear fellow," said the old man, more graciously.

"I'm sorry to be such a boor, but I thought you meant some begad

tonic." The General was getting on for seventy; to be exact, he was

sixty-nine--he married at forty-six--and when the medicine came he

took it, "because, after all, it was begad decent of Whitehouse to

have thought of it."

I spent a miserable night. I went to bed early, and lay awake till

daybreak. The hideous nightmare of the green ray kept me awake for

many nights to come. The General agreed with me that we must waste no

time, and it was arranged that we should take Myra up to London the

next day.

"You know, Ronald," said the old man to me as we sat together after

the mockery that would otherwise have been an excellent dinner, "I

was particularly glad to see you to-day. I've been very worried

about--well, about myself lately. I had an extraordinary experience

the other day which I should never dare to relate to anyone whom I

could not absolutely rely on to believe me. I've been fidgeting for

the last month or two, and that window that you say you saw to-day has

got very much on my nerves. I've been imagining that it's a heliograph

from an enemy encampment. Simply nerves, of course; but nerves ought

not to account for extraordinary optical delusions or hallucinations."

"Hallucinations?" I asked anxiously. "What sort of hallucinations?"

"I hardly like to tell you, my boy," he answered, nervously twirling

his liqueur glass in his fingers. "You see, you're young, and

I'm--well, to tell you the truth, I'm getting old, and when you get

old you get nerves, and they can be terrible things, nerves." I looked

up at the haggard face, drawn into deep furrows with the new trouble

that had fallen on the old man, and I was shocked and startled to see

a look of absolute fear in his eyes. I leaned forward, and laid my

hand on his wrist.

"Tell me," I suggested, as gently as I could. He brightened at once,

and patted my arm affectionately.

"I couldn't tell the little woman," he muttered. "She--she'd have been

frightened, and she might have thought I was going mad. I couldn't

bear that. I hadn't the courage to tell Whitehouse either; but you're

a good chap, Ronald, and you're very fond of my girlie, and your

father and I were pals, as you boys would say. I daresay it was only

a sort of waking dream, or----" He broke off and stared at the

table-cloth. I took the glass from his hand, and filled it with

liqueur brandy, and put it beside him. He sipped it thoughtfully.

Suddenly he turned to me, and brought his hand down on the table with

a bang.

"I swear I'm not mad, Ronald!" he cried fiercely. "There must be some

explanation of it. I know I'm sane."

"What was it exactly?" I asked quietly. "Nothing on God's earth will

persuade me that you are mad, sir."

"Thank you, my boy. I'll tell you what happened to me. You won't be

able to explain it, but you shall hear just what it was. You may think

it's silly of me to get nervous of what sounds like an absurdity, but

you see it happened where--where to-day's tragedy happened."

"What Myra calls the Chemist's Rock?" I asked, by this time intensely


"At the Chemist's Rock," he replied. "It was a lovely afternoon, just

such an afternoon as to-day. I had been going to fish with girlie, but

I was a little tired, and--er--I had some letters to write, so I said

I would meet her later in the afternoon. It was agreed we should meet

at the Chemist's Rock at half-past four. I left the house about a

quarter-past, and strolled down the river to the Fank Pool, crossed

the stream in the boat that lies there, and walked up the opposite

bank past Dead Man's Pool towards the Chemist's Rock. I mention all

this to show you that I was feeling well enough to enjoy a stroll, and

a very rocky stroll at that, because, if I hadn't been feeling

perfectly fit, I should have gone up the back way past the stable, the

way you came back this afternoon. So you see, I was undoubtedly quite

well, my boy. However, to get on with the tale. As soon as I came in

sight of our meeting-place I looked up to see if girlie had got there

before me. She was not there. I looked further up stream, and saw

Sholto come tearing down over the rocks. I knew that he had seen me,

and that she was following him. I naturally strolled on to go to the

rock--I say I went----" He broke off, and passed his hands across his


"Yes," I said softly; "you went to the rock, and Myra met you----"

"No," he said; "I didn't. I didn't go to the rock."

"But I don't understand," I said, as he remained silent for some

moments. The old man leaned forward, and laid a trembling,

fever-scorched hand on mine.

"Ronald," he said, in a voice that shook with genuine horror, and sent

a cold shiver down my spine, "I did not go to the rock. The rock came

to me."