The Door In The Wall
: The Door In The Wall And Other Stories
One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told
me this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought
that so far as he was concerned it was a true story.
He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction that
I 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 in
bed and recalled the things he had told me, stripped of the glamour
of his earnest slow voice, denuded of the focussed shaded table
light, the shadowy atmosphere that wrapped about him and the
pleasant bright things, the dessert and glasses and napery of the
dinner we had shared, making them for the time a bright little
world quite cut off from every-day realities, I saw it all as
frankly incredible. "He was mystifying!" I said, and then: "How
well he did it!. . . . . It isn't quite the thing I should have
expected him, of all people, to do well."
Afterwards, as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, I
found myself trying to account for the flavour of reality that
perplexed me in his impossible reminiscences, by supposing they did
in some way suggest, present, convey--I hardly know which word to
use--experiences it was otherwise impossible to tell.
Well, I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got over
my intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the moment
of telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability strip
the truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, or
only thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of an
inestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannot
pretend to guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended my
doubts forever, throw no light on that. That much the reader must
judge for himself.
I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved so
reticent a man to confide in me. He was, I think, defending
himself against an imputation of slackness and unreliability I had
made in relation to a great public movement in which he had
disappointed me. But he plunged suddenly. "I have" he said, "a
"I know," he went on, after a pause that he devoted to the
study of his cigar ash, "I have been negligent. The fact is--it
isn't a case of ghosts or apparitions--but--it's an odd thing to
tell of, Redmond--I am haunted. I am haunted by something--that
rather takes the light out of things, that fills me with longings
. . . . ."
He paused, checked by that English shyness that so often
overcomes us when we would speak of moving or grave or beautiful
things. "You were at Saint Athelstan's all through," he said, and
for a moment that seemed to me quite irrelevant. "Well"--and he
paused. Then very haltingly at first, but afterwards more easily,
he began to tell of the thing that was hidden in his life, the
haunting memory of a beauty and a happiness that filled his heart
with insatiable longings that made all the interests and spectacle
of worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain to him.
Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems written
visibly in his face. I have a photograph in which that look of
detachment has been caught and intensified. It reminds me of what
a woman once said of him--a woman who had loved him greatly.
"Suddenly," she said, "the interest goes out of him. He forgets
you. He doesn't care a rap for you--under his very nose . . . . ."
Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he was
holding his attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be an
extremely successful man. His career, indeed, is set with
successes. He left me behind him long ago; he soared up over my
head, 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 would
have been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if he had
lived. At school he always beat me without effort--as it were by
nature. We were at school together at Saint Athelstan's College in
West Kensington for almost all our school time. He came into the
school as my co-equal, but he left far above me, in a blaze of
scholarships and brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a fair
average running. And it was at school I heard first of the Door in
the Wall--that I was to hear of a second time only a month before
To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door leading
through a real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quite
And it came into his life early, when he was a little fellow
between five and six. I remember how, as he sat making his
confession to me with a slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned the
date of it. "There was," he said, "a crimson Virginia creeper in
it--all one bright uniform crimson in a clear amber sunshine
against a white wall. That came into the impression somehow,
though I don't clearly remember how, and there were horse-chestnut
leaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They were
blotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so that
they must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. I
look 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 to
talk at an abnormally early age, and he was so sane and
"old-fashioned," as people say, that he was permitted an amount of
initiative that most children scarcely attain by seven or eight.
His mother died when he was born, and he was under the less
vigilant and authoritative care of a nursery governess. His father
was a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave him little attention, and
expected great things of him. For all his brightness he found life
a little grey and dull I think. And one day he wandered.
He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him to
get away, nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads.
All that had faded among the incurable blurs of memory. But the
white wall and the green door stood out quite distinctly.
As his memory of that remote childish experience ran, he did
at 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 it
was unwise or it was wrong of him--he could not tell which--to
yield to this attraction. He insisted upon it as a curious thing
that he knew from the very beginning--unless memory has played him
the queerest trick--that the door was unfastened, and that he could
go in as he chose.
I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn and
repelled. And it was very clear in his mind, too, though why it
should be so was never explained, that his father would be very
angry if he went through that door.
Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me with
the utmost particularity. He went right past the door, and then,
with his hands in his pockets, and making an infantile attempt to
whistle, strolled right along beyond the end of the wall. There he
recalls a number of mean, dirty shops, and particularly that of a
plumber and decorator, with a dusty disorder of earthenware pipes,
sheet lead ball taps, pattern books of wall paper, and tins of
enamel. He stood pretending to examine these things, and coveting,
passionately desiring the green door.
Then, he said, he had a gust of emotion. He made a run for
it, lest hesitation should grip him again, he went plump with
outstretched hand through the green door and let it slam behind
him. And so, in a trice, he came into the garden that has haunted
all his life.
It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense of
that garden into which he came.
There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated,
that gave one a sense of lightness and good happening and well
being; there was something in the sight of it that made all its
colour clean and perfect and subtly luminous. In the instant of
coming into it one was exquisitely glad--as only in rare moments
and when one is young and joyful one can be glad in this world.
And everything was beautiful there . . . . .
Wallace mused before he went on telling me. "You see," he
said, with the doubtful inflection of a man who pauses at
incredible things, "there were two great panthers there . . . Yes,
spotted panthers. And I was not afraid. There was a long wide
path with marble-edged flower borders on either side, and these two
huge velvety beasts were playing there with a ball. One looked up
and came towards me, a little curious as it seemed. It came right
up to me, rubbed its soft round ear very gently against the small
hand I held out and purred. It was, I tell you, an enchanted
garden. I know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide,
this way and that. I believe there were hills far away. Heaven
knows where West Kensington had suddenly got to. And somehow it
was just like coming home.
"You know, in the very moment the door swung to behind me, I
forgot the road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs and
tradesmen's carts, I forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to
the discipline and obedience of home, I forgot all hesitations and
fear, forgot discretion, forgot all the intimate realities of this
life. I became in a moment a very glad and wonder-happy little
boy--in another world. It was a world with a different quality, a
warmer, more penetrating and mellower light, with a faint clear
gladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud in the blueness
of its sky. And before me ran this long wide path, invitingly,
with weedless beds on either side, rich with untended flowers, and
these two great panthers. I put my little hands fearlessly on
their soft fur, and caressed their round ears and the sensitive
corners under their ears, and played with them, and it was as
though they welcomed me home. There was a keen sense of
home-coming in my mind, and when presently a tall, fair girl
appeared in the pathway and came to meet me, smiling, and said
'Well?' to me, and lifted me, and kissed me, and put me down, and
led me by the hand, there was no amazement, but only an impression
of delightful rightness, of being reminded of happy things that had
in some strange way been overlooked. There were broad steps, I
remember, that came into view between spikes of delphinium, and up
these we went to a great avenue between very old and shady dark
trees. All down this avenue, you know, between the red chapped
stems, were marble seats of honour and statuary, and very tame and
friendly white doves . . . . .
"And along this avenue my girl-friend led me, looking down--I
recall the pleasant lines, the finely-modelled chin of her sweet
kind face--asking me questions in a soft, agreeable voice, and
telling me things, pleasant things I know, though what they were I
was never able to recall . . . And presently a little Capuchin
monkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy brown and kindly hazel
eyes, came down a tree to us and ran beside me, looking up at me
and grinning, and presently leapt to my shoulder. So we went on
our way in great happiness . . . ."
"Go on," I said.
"I remember little things. We passed an old man musing among
laurels, I remember, and a place gay with paroquets, and came
through a broad shaded colonnade to a spacious cool palace, full of
pleasant fountains, full of beautiful things, full of the quality
and promise of heart's desire. And there were many things and many
people, some that still seem to stand out clearly and some that are
a little vague, but all these people were beautiful and kind. In
some way--I don't know how--it was conveyed to me that they all
were kind to me, glad to have me there, and filling me with
gladness by their gestures, by the touch of their hands, by the
welcome and love in their eyes. Yes--"
He mused for awhile. "Playmates I found there. That was very
much to me, because I was a lonely little boy. They played
delightful games in a grass-covered court where there was a
sun-dial set about with flowers. And as one played one loved . . . .
"But--it's odd--there's a gap in my memory. I don't remember the
games we played. I never remembered. Afterwards, as a child, I
spent long hours trying, even with tears, to recall the form of that
happiness. I wanted to play it all over again--in my nursery--by
myself. No! All I remember is the happiness and two dear
playfellows who were most with me . . . . Then presently came a
sombre dark woman, with a grave, pale face and dreamy eyes, a
sombre woman wearing a soft long robe of pale purple, who carried
a book and beckoned and took me aside with her into a gallery above
a hall--though my playmates were loth to have me go, and ceased
their game and stood watching as I was carried away. 'Come back to
us!' they cried. 'Come back to us soon!' I looked up at her face,
but she heeded them not at all. Her face was very gentle and
grave. She took me to a seat in the gallery, and I stood beside
her, ready to look at her book as she opened it upon her knee. The
pages fell open. She pointed, and I looked, marvelling, for in the
living pages of that book I saw myself; it was a story about
myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me since
ever I was born . . . .
"It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were
not pictures, you understand, but realities."
Wallace paused gravely--looked at me doubtfully.
"Go on," I said. "I understand."
"They were realities--yes, they must have been; people moved
and things came and went in them; my dear mother, whom I had near
forgotten; then my father, stern and upright, the servants, the
nursery, all the familiar things of home. Then the front door and
the busy streets, with traffic to and fro: I looked and marvelled,
and looked half doubtfully again into the woman's face and turned
the pages over, skipping this and that, to see more of this book,
and more, and so at last I came to myself hovering and hesitating
outside the green door in the long white wall, and felt again the
conflict and the fear.
"'And next?' I cried, and would have turned on, but the cool
hand of the grave woman delayed me.
"'Next?' I insisted, and struggled gently with her hand,
pulling up her fingers with all my childish strength, and as she
yielded and the page came over she bent down upon me like a shadow
and kissed my brow.
"But the page did not show the enchanted garden, nor the
panthers, nor the girl who had led me by the hand, nor the
playfellows who had been so loth to let me go. It showed a long
grey street in West Kensington, on that chill hour of afternoon
before the lamps are lit, and I was there, a wretched little
figure, weeping aloud, for all that I could do to restrain myself,
and I was weeping because I could not return to my dear
play-fellows who had called after me, 'Come back to us! Come back
to us soon!' I was there. This was no page in a book, but harsh
reality; that enchanted place and the restraining hand of the grave
mother at whose knee I stood had gone--whither have they gone?"
He halted again, and remained for a time, staring into the fire.
"Oh! the wretchedness of that return!" he murmured.
"Well?" I said after a minute or so.
"Poor little wretch I was--brought back to this grey world
again! As I realised the fulness of what had happened to me, I
gave way to quite ungovernable grief. And the shame and
humiliation of that public weeping and my disgraceful homecoming
remain with me still. I see again the benevolent-looking old
gentleman in gold spectacles who stopped and spoke to me--prodding
me first with his umbrella. 'Poor little chap,' said he; 'and are
you lost then?'--and me a London boy of five and more! And he must
needs bring in a kindly young policeman and make a crowd of me, and
so march me home. Sobbing, conspicuous and frightened, I came from
the enchanted garden to the steps of my father's house.
"That is as well as I can remember my vision of that
garden--the garden that haunts me still. Of course, I can convey
nothing of that indescribable quality of translucent unreality,
that difference from the common things of experience that hung
about it all; but that--that is what happened. If it was a dream,
I am sure it was a day-time and altogether extraordinary dream . .
. . . . H'm!--naturally there followed a terrible questioning, by
my aunt, my father, the nurse, the governess--everyone . . . . . .
"I tried to tell them, and my father gave me my first
thrashing for telling lies. When afterwards I tried to tell my
aunt, she punished me again for my wicked persistence. Then, as I
said, everyone was forbidden to listen to me, to hear a word about
it. Even my fairy tale books were taken away from me for a
time--because I was 'too imaginative.' Eh? Yes, they did that! My
father belonged to the old school . . . . . And my story was driven
back upon myself. I whispered it to my pillow--my pillow that was
often damp and salt to my whispering lips with childish tears. And
I added always to my official and less fervent prayers this one
heartfelt request: 'Please God I may dream of the garden. Oh! take
me back to my garden! Take me back to my garden!'
"I dreamt often of the garden. I may have added to it, I may
have changed it; I do not know . . . . . All this you understand
is an attempt to reconstruct from fragmentary memories a very early
experience. Between that and the other consecutive memories of my
boyhood there is a gulf. A time came when it seemed impossible I
should ever speak of that wonder glimpse again."
I asked an obvious question.
"No," he said. "I don't remember that I ever attempted to
find my way back to the garden in those early years. This seems
odd to me now, but I think that very probably a closer watch was
kept on my movements after this misadventure to prevent my going
astray. No, it wasn't until you knew me that I tried for the
garden again. And I believe there was a period--incredible as it
seems now--when I forgot the garden altogether--when I was about
eight or nine it may have been. Do you remember me as a kid at
"I didn't show any signs did I in those days of having a secret dream?"
He looked up with a sudden smile.
"Did you ever play North-West Passage with me? . . . . . No,
of course you didn't come my way!"
"It was the sort of game," he went on, "that every imaginative
child plays all day. The idea was the discovery of a North-West
Passage to school. The way to school was plain enough; the game
consisted in finding some way that wasn't plain, starting off ten
minutes early in some almost hopeless direction, and working one's
way round through unaccustomed streets to my goal. And one day I
got entangled among some rather low-class streets on the other side
of Campden Hill, and I began to think that for once the game would
be against me and that I should get to school late. I tried rather
desperately a street that seemed a cul de sac, and found a
passage at the end. I hurried through that with renewed hope. 'I
shall do it yet,' I said, and passed a row of frowsy little shops
that were inexplicably familiar to me, and behold! there was my
long white wall and the green door that led to the enchanted
"The thing whacked upon me suddenly. Then, after all, that garden,
that wonderful garden, wasn't a dream!" . . . .
"I suppose my second experience with the green door marks the
world of difference there is between the busy life of a schoolboy
and the infinite leisure of a child. Anyhow, this second time I
didn't for a moment think of going in straight away. You see . . .
For one thing my mind was full of the idea of getting to school
in time--set on not breaking my record for punctuality. I must
surely have felt some little desire at least to try the
door--yes, I must have felt that . . . . . But I seem to remember
the attraction of the door mainly as another obstacle to my
overmastering determination to get to school. I was immediately
interested by this discovery I had made, of course--I went on with
my mind full of it--but I went on. It didn't check me. I ran past
tugging out my watch, found I had ten minutes still to spare, and
then I was going downhill into familiar surroundings. I got to
school, breathless, it is true, and wet with perspiration, but in
time. I can remember hanging up my coat and hat . . . Went right
by it and left it behind me. Odd, eh?"
He looked at me thoughtfully. "Of course, I didn't know then
that it wouldn't always be there. School boys have limited
imaginations. I suppose I thought it was an awfully jolly thing to
have it there, to know my way back to it, but there was the school
tugging at me. I expect I was a good deal distraught and
inattentive that morning, recalling what I could of the beautiful
strange people I should presently see again. Oddly enough I had no
doubt in my mind that they would be glad to see me . . . Yes, I
must have thought of the garden that morning just as a jolly sort
of place to which one might resort in the interludes of a strenuous
"I didn't go that day at all. The next day was a half
holiday, and that may have weighed with me. Perhaps, too, my state
of inattention brought down impositions upon me and docked the
margin of time necessary for the detour. I don't know. What I do
know is that in the meantime the enchanted garden was so much upon
my mind that I could not keep it to myself.
"I told--What was his name?--a ferrety-looking youngster we
used to call Squiff."
"Young Hopkins," said I.
"Hopkins it was. I did not like telling him, I had a feeling
that in some way it was against the rules to tell him, but I did.
He was walking part of the way home with me; he was talkative, and
if we had not talked about the enchanted garden we should have
talked of something else, and it was intolerable to me to think
about any other subject. So I blabbed.
"Well, he told my secret. The next day in the play interval
I found myself surrounded by half a dozen bigger boys, half teasing
and wholly curious to hear more of the enchanted garden. There was
that big Fawcett--you remember him?--and Carnaby and Morley
Reynolds. You weren't there by any chance? No, I think I should
have remembered if you were . . . . .
"A boy is a creature of odd feelings. I was, I really
believe, in spite of my secret self-disgust, a little flattered to
have the attention of these big fellows. I remember particularly
a moment of pleasure caused by the praise of Crawshaw--you remember
Crawshaw major, the son of Crawshaw the composer?--who said it was
the best lie he had ever heard. But at the same time there was a
really painful undertow of shame at telling what I felt was indeed
a sacred secret. That beast Fawcett made a joke about the girl in
Wallace's voice sank with the keen memory of that shame. "I
pretended not to hear," he said. "Well, then Carnaby suddenly
called me a young liar and disputed with me when I said the thing
was true. I said I knew where to find the green door, could lead
them all there in ten minutes. Carnaby became outrageously
virtuous, and said I'd have to--and bear out my words or suffer.
Did you ever have Carnaby twist your arm? Then perhaps you'll
understand how it went with me. I swore my story was true. There
was nobody in the school then to save a chap from Carnaby though
Crawshaw put in a word or so. Carnaby had got his game. I grew
excited and red-eared, and a little frightened, I behaved
altogether like a silly little chap, and the outcome of it all was
that instead of starting alone for my enchanted garden, I led the
way presently--cheeks flushed, ears hot, eyes smarting, and my soul
one burning misery and shame--for a party of six mocking, curious
and threatening school-fellows.
"We never found the white wall and the green door . . ."
"I mean I couldn't find it. I would have found it if I could.
"And afterwards when I could go alone I couldn't find it. I
never found it. I seem now to have been always looking for it
through my school-boy days, but I've never come upon it again."
"Did the fellows--make it disagreeable?"
"Beastly . . . . . Carnaby held a council over me for wanton
lying. I remember how I sneaked home and upstairs to hide the
marks of my blubbering. But when I cried myself to sleep at last
it wasn't for Carnaby, but for the garden, for the beautiful
afternoon I had hoped for, for the sweet friendly women and the
waiting playfellows and the game I had hoped to learn again, that
beautiful forgotten game . . . . .
"I believed firmly that if I had not told-- . . . . . I had
bad times after that--crying at night and wool-gathering by day.
For two terms I slackened and had bad reports. Do you remember?
Of course you would! It was you--your beating me in mathematics
that brought me back to the grind again."
For a time my friend stared silently into the red heart of the
fire. Then he said: "I never saw it again until I was seventeen.
"It leapt upon me for the third time--as I was driving to
Paddington on my way to Oxford and a scholarship. I had just one
momentary glimpse. I was leaning over the apron of my hansom
smoking a cigarette, and no doubt thinking myself no end of a man
of the world, and suddenly there was the door, the wall, the dear
sense of unforgettable and still attainable things.
"We clattered by--I too taken by surprise to stop my cab until
we were well past and round a corner. Then I had a queer moment,
a double and divergent movement of my will: I tapped the little
door in the roof of the cab, and brought my arm down to pull out my
watch. 'Yes, sir!' said the cabman, smartly. 'Er--well--it's
nothing,' I cried. 'My mistake! We haven't much time! Go
on!' and he went on . . .
"I got my scholarship. And the night after I was told of that
I sat over my fire in my little upper room, my study, in my
father's house, with his praise--his rare praise--and his sound
counsels ringing in my ears, and I smoked my favourite pipe--the
formidable bulldog of adolescence--and thought of that door in the
long white wall. 'If I had stopped,' I thought, 'I should have
missed my scholarship, I should have missed Oxford--muddled all the
fine career before me! I begin to see things better!' I fell
musing deeply, but I did not doubt then this career of mine was a
thing that merited sacrifice.
"Those dear friends and that clear atmosphere seemed very
sweet to me, very fine, but remote. My grip was fixing now upon
the world. I saw another door opening--the door of my career."
He stared again into the fire. Its red lights picked out a
stubborn strength in his face for just one flickering moment, and
then it vanished again.
"Well", he said and sighed, "I have served that career. I
have done--much work, much hard work. But I have dreamt of the
enchanted garden a thousand dreams, and seen its door, or at least
glimpsed its door, four times since then. Yes--four times. For a
while this world was so bright and interesting, seemed so full of
meaning and opportunity that the half-effaced charm of the garden
was by comparison gentle and remote. Who wants to pat panthers on
the way to dinner with pretty women and distinguished men? I came
down to London from Oxford, a man of bold promise that I have done
something to redeem. Something--and yet there have been
disappointments . . . . .
"Twice I have been in love--I will not dwell on that--but
once, as I went to someone who, I know, doubted whether I dared to
come, I took a short cut at a venture through an unfrequented road
near Earl's Court, and so happened on a white wall and a familiar
green door. 'Odd!' said I to myself, 'but I thought this place was
on Campden Hill. It's the place I never could find somehow--like
counting Stonehenge--the place of that queer day dream of mine.'
And I went by it intent upon my purpose. It had no appeal to me
"I had just a moment's impulse to try the door, three steps
aside were needed at the most--though I was sure enough in my heart
that it would open to me--and then I thought that doing so might
delay me on the way to that appointment in which I thought my
honour was involved. Afterwards I was sorry for my punctuality--I
might at least have peeped in I thought, and waved a hand to those
panthers, but I knew enough by this time not to seek again
belatedly that which is not found by seeking. Yes, that time made
me very sorry . . . . .
"Years of hard work after that and never a sight of the door.
It's only recently it has come back to me. With it there has come
a sense as though some thin tarnish had spread itself over my world.
I began to think of it as a sorrowful and bitter thing that I should
never see that door again. Perhaps I was suffering a little from
overwork--perhaps it was what I've heard spoken of as the feeling
of forty. I don't know. But certainly the keen brightness that
makes effort easy has gone out of things recently, and that just
at a time with all these new political developments--when I ought to
be working. Odd, isn't it? But I do begin to find life toilsome,
its rewards, as I come near them, cheap. I began a little while ago
to want the garden quite badly. Yes--and I've seen it three times."
"No--the door! And I haven't gone in!"
He leaned over the table to me, with an enormous sorrow in his
voice as he spoke. "Thrice I have had my chance--thrice! If ever
that door offers itself to me again, I swore, I will go in out of
this dust and heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out of these
toilsome futilities. I will go and never return. This time I will
stay . . . . . I swore it and when the time came--I didn't go.
"Three times in one year have I passed that door and failed to
enter. Three times in the last year.
"The first time was on the night of the snatch division on the
Tenants' Redemption Bill, on which the Government was saved by a
majority of three. You remember? No one on our side--perhaps very
few on the opposite side--expected the end that night. Then the
debate collapsed like eggshells. I and Hotchkiss were dining with
his cousin at Brentford, we were both unpaired, and we were called
up by telephone, and set off at once in his cousin's motor. We got
in barely in time, and on the way we passed my wall and door--livid
in the moonlight, blotched with hot yellow as the glare of our
lamps lit it, but unmistakable. 'My God!' cried I. 'What?' said
Hotchkiss. 'Nothing!' I answered, and the moment passed.
"'I've made a great sacrifice,' I told the whip as I got in.
'They all have,' he said, and hurried by.
"I do not see how I could have done otherwise then. And the
next occasion was as I rushed to my father's bedside to bid that
stern old man farewell. Then, too, the claims of life were
imperative. But the third time was different; it happened a week
ago. It fills me with hot remorse to recall it. I was with Gurker
and Ralphs--it's no secret now you know that I've had my talk with
Gurker. We had been dining at Frobisher's, and the talk had become
intimate between us. The question of my place in the reconstructed
ministry lay always just over the boundary of the discussion.
Yes--yes. That's all settled. It needn't be talked about yet, but
there's no reason to keep a secret from you . . . . . Yes--thanks!
thanks! But let me tell you my story.
"Then, on that night things were very much in the air. My
position was a very delicate one. I was keenly anxious to get some
definite word from Gurker, but was hampered by Ralphs' presence.
I was using the best power of my brain to keep that light and
careless talk not too obviously directed to the point that concerns
me. I had to. Ralphs' behaviour since has more than justified my
caution . . . . . Ralphs, I knew, would leave us beyond the
Kensington High Street, and then I could surprise Gurker by a
sudden frankness. One has sometimes to resort to these little
devices. . . . . And then it was that in the margin of my field of
vision I became aware once more of the white wall, the green door
before us down the road.
"We passed it talking. I passed it. I can still see the
shadow of Gurker's marked profile, his opera hat tilted forward
over his prominent nose, the many folds of his neck wrap going
before my shadow and Ralphs' as we sauntered past.
"I passed within twenty inches of the door. 'If I say
good-night to them, and go in,' I asked myself, 'what will happen?'
And I was all a-tingle for that word with Gurker.
"I could not answer that question in the tangle of my other
problems. 'They will think me mad,' I thought. 'And suppose I
vanish now!--Amazing disappearance of a prominent politician!'
That weighed with me. A thousand inconceivably petty worldlinesses
weighed with me in that crisis."
Then he turned on me with a sorrowful smile, and, speaking
slowly; "Here I am!" he said.
"Here I am!" he repeated, "and my chance has gone from me.
Three times in one year the door has been offered me--the door that
goes into peace, into delight, into a beauty beyond dreaming, a
kindness no man on earth can know. And I have rejected it,
Redmond, and it has gone--"
"How do you know?"
"I know. I know. I am left now to work it out, to stick to
the tasks that held me so strongly when my moments came. You say,
I have success--this vulgar, tawdry, irksome, envied thing. I have
it." He had a walnut in his big hand. "If that was my success,"
he said, and crushed it, and held it out for me to see.
"Let me tell you something, Redmond. This loss is destroying
me. For two months, for ten weeks nearly now, I have done no work
at all, except the most necessary and urgent duties. My soul is
full of inappeasable regrets. At nights--when it is less likely I
shall be recognised--I go out. I wander. Yes. I wonder what
people would think of that if they knew. A Cabinet Minister, the
responsible head of that most vital of all departments, wandering
alone--grieving--sometimes near audibly lamenting--for a door, for
I can see now his rather pallid face, and the unfamiliar
sombre fire that had come into his eyes. I see him very vividly
to-night. I sit recalling his words, his tones, and last evening's
Westminster Gazette still lies on my sofa, containing the
notice of his death. At lunch to-day the club was busy with him
and the strange riddle of his fate.
They found his body very early yesterday morning in a deep
excavation near East Kensington Station. It is one of two shafts
that have been made in connection with an extension of the railway
southward. It is protected from the intrusion of the public by a
hoarding upon the high road, in which a small doorway has been
cut for the convenience of some of the workmen who live in
that direction. The doorway was left unfastened through a
misunderstanding between two gangers, and through it he made his
way . . . . .
My mind is darkened with questions and riddles.
It would seem he walked all the way from the House that
night--he has frequently walked home during the past Session--and
so it is I figure his dark form coming along the late and empty
streets, wrapped up, intent. And then did the pale electric lights
near the station cheat the rough planking into a semblance of
white? Did that fatal unfastened door awaken some memory?
Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?
I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me.
There are times when I believe that Wallace was no more than the
victim of the coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented type
of hallucination and a careless trap, but that indeed is not my
profoundest belief. You may think me superstitious if you will,
and foolish; but, indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had
in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something--I know not
what--that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a
secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether
more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed him
in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmost
mystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination.
We see our world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit. By our
daylight standard he walked out of security into darkness, danger
and death. But did he see like that?