Sir Miles Glover sat in the Prime Minister’s room at the Federal Parliament House. Beside the Prime Minister stood his secretary.
“I thought you had better see it,” said the secretary, and as Sir Miles only pinched his shaven chin and stared at the opposite wall, he went on, “It reads like another lunatic in places, and yet ——” He stopped and looked down at the quiet figure of his chief, who had bent to re-read the letter on the table before him.
“And yet — there’s a distinct trace of method in the madness. Still, you’ll remember that your friend, who announced himself as the Messiah, wrote an excellent letter.” Sir Miles looked up as he spoke, and the secretary looked away, for he did not like to be reminded of that episode. “I’m afraid,” the Prime Minister went on, and there was a shadow of a smile at the corners of the straight mouth, “that the Archbishop has never quite forgiven my passing him along. Really, he should have been grateful for an opportunity to investigate the matter. Still, as you say, there may be something in this. Have you spoken to Professor Gordon?’
“No,” answered the secretary, “I thought if you wished to go further into the matter you might like to speak to the professor yourself.”
Sir Miles nodded. “Very well, get him for me now.” The secretary took up the desk telephone, and the Prime Minister stared thoughtfully at the letter.
“Here he is now,” said the secretary presently, and passed the receiver over.
Said Sir Miles, “Hello! is that you, Ginger?” and an irreverent small voice answered back, “’Tis I, Smiler; how goes the ship of State?” There were few men who would have cared to address Professor Gordon, plus quite a lot of the alphabet, as “Ginger,” and still fewer who would have cared to address Sir Miles Glover as “Smiler.”
This is what the secretary heard:— “The ship of State is making bad weather — no, not as bad as the press would have you believe. We’ll ride the session out. No; I don’t know that you could help much. It would create rather a bad impression if I arranged with you to poison a few of the opposition. Three or four hundred years ago, and — perhaps. Ah, well, it’s gone out of fashion. Truth? I daren’t. They might indulge in reprisals — Ginger, consider the effect on the electors if the truth were told about any of us. Well, perhaps you’re right, they would not believe it. No — I wanted to know if you are acquainted with a man named — wait a moment — a man named Richard Barry, M D., of Glen Cairn. At least, I think that’s it; he writes an appalling fist — Ah — I see — pretty level-headed? No traces of insanity, for instance? Well, he has written for an interview — wants it urgently. Extremely mysterious. No hint of his reasons. You see I’m too busy to be bothered by cranks, but there’s something about this letter that seems genuine — ah, you would? Well, yes. He referred me to you. Begged I would communicate with you before refusing to see him. All right, Ginger, and I’ll scalp you if he turns out a fraud or a bore — I’m rather out of practice, but I’ll give you a round on Sunday. Yes, thanks, she’s well. Good-bye.”
He hung up the receiver and turned to the secretary, who was standing by silently, “Very good. Wire this man and tell him I will see him at two o’clock tomorrow. No, there’s nothing else just now.” The secretary turned away, and as he reached the door, Sir Miles looked up from his papers. “Oh! tell him to be punctual,” and before the door had closed he was deep in his work again.
* * * * * *
That same afternoon Barry reached his home after a weary round. Madam Kitty, all concern for his welfare, met him in the doorway. “Very tired, Dick?” she asked. Barry laughed lightly. “I’ve felt fresher in my time, Kit. Anything turned up?”
“Come and have a cup of tea first,” she answered. It was a rule of Kitty’s that her man should have his tea in the afternoon, unworried, and it was not until he had finished that she placed a telegram in his hand. “This came just before you got back.”
Barry opened the message. “Sir Miles Glover will see Doctor Barry at two to-morrow afternoon, twenty-third. Please be punctual.” Dick read, and handed the paper across to Kitty. She read the paper, and looked over at him, her eyes two big notes of interrogation.
“Listen, Kit. There’s something very wrong going on. I’ve not worried you with it. In fact, I couldn’t very well. I wrote to the Prime Minister, asking him for an interview, and that’s the answer. I’m going down to Melbourne by to-night’s train, and you’ll be the only one who will know I have gone. But, little woman, there are most urgent reasons (some day I’ll tell you all about it) why my movements are to be kept secret. I won’t take the train at Glen Cairn; I’ll drive down to Ronga, and get it there. If you should be asked by anyone, mind, even your dearest friend, I have been called to Ronga on an urgent case.” He took the telegram from her fingers, and slipped it into his pocket wallet.
“But, Dick, may I not know?”
“Not just now, Kitty, for your own sake.”
She rose swiftly, and went over to him. “Dick! There is some trouble, some danger. Dick, what is it?”
He took her outstretched hands. “Trust me, Kitty. I don’t think there is danger, but there may be annoyance,” he lied carefully. “It is better at present that you know nothing, then you will not be worried.”
“How long?” she asked with a sigh.
“Oh! Cheer up, Kit. I’ll be able to get the night train back to-morrow, so I’ll be here early on the following morning. Will that do, Storm Bird?”
She smiled back at him. “I suppose it must, though I know you have had loads on your mind lately.”
“We’ll let it go at that, Kit,” he said lightly. “No one called?”
Whereat his wife sprang to sudden attention. “Oh, Dick, I’m positively idiotic to have forgotten. Marian Seymour is here.”
Barry looked round. “Here — where?”
“It was after the telegram came. Dick, she was looking wretched. She asked for you, and seemed upset because you were away. She drove in, so I persuaded her to have the horse put in the stable, and a little while ago I managed to get her to lie down until you came back. She’s in the spare room.”
“Is she ill?” asked Barry.
His wife looked at him a moment, and then looked away. “It’s not fair to give a girl away, Dick; anyway her complaint isn’t recognisable by the faculty. It’s a broken heart, Dick. Oh! I should like to tell Alan Dundas what I think of him.”
“Steady, Kit; don’t jump to conclusions. I know it’s a bad business, but Dundas is not so bad as you give him credit, or discredit, for. As for the rest — well — a broken heart ——” He broke off abruptly. “I’d better see her at once.”
“Here?” asked Kitty.
“No, bring her to the surgery,” and Barry passed into the next room. A few minutes later Kitty followed him, leading Marian, and then at a glance from Dick, she disappeared, leaving the two together.
Barry placed the girl in a comfortable chair, and seated himself at his table. He felt as he glanced at her that it was a case more for a diplomat than a doctor. He saw that she was holding herself in hand, and that the calm exterior covered a mental tempest. She kept her face turned partly away, and her eyes were hidden by their long lashes, but the dark shadows below them told their tale of sustained endurance.
“Marian,” he said presently, “am I wrong in thinking that you want a friend’s advice rather than a doctor’s?” She flashed a grateful glance at him, and smiled faintly. “You see, Marian, we are used to hearing things that are kept from even your nearest and dearest, and it helps to make us wise. What can I do for you?”
She was silent a moment. “I told Kitty you were an understanding dear, Doctor Dick, and I do want a friend’s advice. I’m desperately worried.”
“Let’s hear the trouble, Maid Marian, but take your time; there’s no need for hurry.” He crossed over, and took a chair closer to her.
For a few minutes the girl seemed irresolute, then she spoke suddenly, as though taking the plunge in desperation. “I wanted to talk to you about Alan Dundas ——” She broke off, but, gathering courage, went on again. “I am terribly anxious about him. It’s hard to explain to anyone, but I feel that he is in some terrible danger. Oh! I am sure of it. I’ve no right to interfere, and I don’t know what you’ll think of me, Doctor Dick, but I feel that you know more than anyone else, and you can guide me. Tell me, have you seen him lately?”
Barry took the outstretched, trembling hands in his strong grasp. “I feared that was the trouble, Marian, and I don’t know what to say to reassure you. I have seen Alan quite recently, but I have not been to ‘Cootamundra’ for some time. I can tell you that up to a few days ago he was safe and well.”
She looked up at him suddenly. “Tell me, on your word of honour, that you, too, are not anxious about him, and I will believe you.”
Barry mentally anathematised the deadly intuition of the sex. There was no evasion possible under the clear, steady eyes. Indeed, she did not wait for an answer. “I knew it, and you fear because of that woman. Oh! she is terrible. I hate her! I hate her!”
There was something deeper than mere jealousy in the outburst, and Barry recognised the note. It was that of a woman in love at bay, and fighting for the man she loved. He spoke gently. “One thing I can assure you of, Marian, and that is that he is in no danger from her. I know that she wishes for nothing but his welfare. How far her influence may affect his future I cannot say, but I know she would not willingly harm him.”
The girl stood up and turned away. “Oh! Dick, I know you are right. I know she loves him. I know he loves her, but it is her influence that I fear.” She sank into a chair by the table, and buried her face in her hands, and a few minutes passed in silence that was broken by the girl speaking suddenly and desperately. “Oh! why should I be ashamed to say it? You must see it, Dick. I love him too. Don’t think he is to blame.” Her words came in a torrent now that the barrier of reserve had broken down. “He is not to blame. How could he help loving her? How could any man help it? Oh! she is so beautiful; the most beautiful thing God ever made, and the most evil. I feel it. Oh! Dick, what hope had I to win him against her? And yet, Dick, he loved me, I know it, before she came and took him from me, but for all that, if I thought she would make him happy, I could stand aside and see them together, and thank God that he was happy. Yes, Dick, though it would kill me, I could stand aside, for I love him that much.”
“Perhaps we are both wrong, Marian. I admit that I’m a little anxious, but she cares for him very much, I know.”
“Dick, I may as well tell you everything, but I’m afraid you’ll think my anxiety has affected my reason. But first tell me, who is she? Where did she come from? You know, I am sure.”
Barry looked at her in deep perplexity. How could he explain? Explanation at the moment was out of the question. “I’m afraid, Marian, that the secret of her history is not mine to disclose; at any rate, not now.” He turned his eyes away from the searching gaze of the girl.
She sighed and thought for a moment before she spoke. “Dick, I saw her last night and spoke to her.”
Barry sat erect in astonishment. “You have seen and spoken to her?” he said incredulously. “Where?”
“In my own room at home,” said the girl quietly. Then, mistaking the expression in Barry’s eyes, she protested: “Don’t think I was dreaming, Dick, or that I imagined it. She was really there.”
Barry waved aside the protest. “I understand, Marian. Indeed I feel sure you have not been dreaming. I was surprised for the moment that she had gone to you. But ——”
Barry smiled grimly. “It just occurred to me that it was folly on my part to think that I could gauge either her motives or her intentions. Tell me what happened.”
The girl looked at him thoughtfully. “It is only because you know her that I am telling you this. I would not dare to tell anyone else. Even now, after I have thought it over quietly, it seems too fantastic to be real. Last night it was late when I went to my room. You know our house, with the French windows opening onto the verandah. I always sleep with the windows open. I had put out my lamp, but there was a night-light burning. For a long time I could not sleep. I was thinking of that woman and who she could be. I think I must have dozed. You know last night was dark, but very clear and calm. There was absolutely not a breath of wind. Then suddenly I became wide awake. One does sometimes, you know, without apparent cause. I did not move, but lay quite still. Then — Dick — the curtains of my window moved, not as in a draught, but as though someone had touched them. But I could see through quite distinctly, and there was no one there. Then they were drawn apart. Dick, it was just awful. I could see them gathered together on each side as though two hands had caught them, and they stood wide apart for, it seemed, an age. It was as though someone were standing in the window holding back the curtain looking down at me. But I could see distinctly, and there was nothing there. Then they fell together again, but every nerve and fibre of me told me that there was some being in the room.”
“That was pretty awful, Maid Marian,” said Barry quietly. “What did you do?”
The girl gave a little shiver. “What could I do? I lay there looking through my half-closed eyelids, and I seemed frozen. I didn’t have the strength to scream. It was too like a nightmare. Then — oh! Dick, tell me that you believe what I am saying. I don’t want to go on if you think it was all nerves and imagination.”
Barry patted her arm gently. “Tell me all, Marian. I understand. I know it was all real.”
She hesitated a moment. “Then, Dick, she suddenly appeared. One moment the room was empty except for myself, and the next that woman was standing beside my bed looking down at me.” She stopped and looked at him anxiously. “It happened just as I tell you, Dick.”
Barry nodded. “I expected what you were going to say, Marian. I know and understand. Go on.”
“For a moment I was too astounded to move, though I knew in an instant who she was. Then — it may seem strange to you — but all the fear vanished. I think the only feeling I had was anger that she should have dared to come to me like that. I didn’t think to be amazed at how she had come. It was just anger that she was there at all. I know I started, and half sat up with my elbow on the pillow, looking at her. And we just stayed like that for a minute without a word. Then she let her hood slip back from her head, and I could see her quite distinctly in the glow from the night-light.” She stopped, and looked at Barry, smiling faintly. “Women are queer creatures, Dick. I had seen her that day on the tennis-courts, and I knew she was beautiful, and as I lay there looking at her, one half of me was worshipping her for her beauty, and the other half of me was hating her for it. Oh! Dick, she looked perfectly lovely. I would not speak first. I waited for her. She stood there looking at me with those big inscrutable eyes of hers for so long before she spoke that I felt almost ready to scream; it seemed as if she were staring into my very soul. Then she said very quietly, as if it were merely a matter of no moment: ‘I did not think it possible for one woman to hate another as you hate me. I hoped we might have been friends.’ I was furious, Dick, because she seemed so absolutely unmoved, but I think I spoke as quietly as she did when I answered, ‘You are right; I wish I could tell you how much I do hate you.’ And then she gave that slow, thoughtful smile of hers: ‘Ah, there is no need to try. I know; yes, I knew even better than you know yourself. And yet I came as a friend.’ It was queer, Dick, for I knew she meant it when she said she came as a friend; yet that seemed to make me even more angry. I wanted to hurt her. ‘Do you fear that he will leave you as he has left me? He will tire of your beauty. Have you nothing else to offer him?’ Dick, it was simply cattish, nothing else, and I knew it while I spoke, and I felt mean.”
Barry smiled and shook his head. “It would take heavier metal than that to worry, her, Marian.”
The girl was silent for a moment, and then said, wearily: “Oh, I knew that at the time. She seemed so absolutely self-assured and aloof, I felt as though she did not belong to this world, and I was a puny mortal fighting an immortal.” It was as well she did not see the look on Barry’s face as she said this. “But it didn’t matter; she only smiled again in that pitying way that hurt me more than if she had struck me. Then she said, ‘Even yet I am your friend, and I have come to help you.’ I said: ‘You help! You! Can you give him back to me?’ Dick, it didn’t occur to me till afterwards that I’d only seen her once before for a few minutes, and that I’d never spoken to her before, and yet, although no name was ever mentioned, we both understood. She thought for a moment, and then she said: ‘I could not give him back. Always his memory of me would stand between you; but I can make you forget. Yes, I can make you forget him and ease the pain of memory. Although you hate me so.’ I could take nothing from her, not even that, and I felt sure that she could do as she said. I sat up and faced her. ‘No, I will have no gift of yours. Who you are or what you are I cannot tell, but this I feel in my very soul, that you will bring him evil and sorrow. His very love for you and yours for him will wreck your lives. If I must live for ever in pain, I will do so rather than take your friendship.”
Barry interposed gently, “Were you wise to refuse, Marian? I know she could have done it.”
The girl shook her head impatiently. “What does it matter, Dick? It is over now. She — yes, I know she could. I knew what I had refused when I looked up into her calm, lovely face. I knew she wanted to be my friend; but I couldn’t, I couldn’t; and she only said, ‘It is written. I will go now, you poor foolish child,’ and as she spoke she stepped backwards to the window, and passed through the curtain, and I was alone again.” Then, after a pause, Marian went on again. “Dick, I don’t know what mystery surrounds that woman. I think you do; but this I feel, that she is something to fear; something for Alan to fear, too, instead of to love. Oh! Dick, can you not help me to get him away from her — to help him?”
Barry shook his head sadly. “Marian, I wish I could help. But you must believe me when I tell you we are both powerless. I cannot tell you anything about her yet. Her story is incredible, but this you may know, that to my mind she is more dangerous even than you can imagine.” He saw the look of pain in her eyes, and went on hastily. “Not to Alan. I do not mean that, for I do not think she would harm him; she cares too much for him. But the danger from her is for others.”
“Surely Alan can see it. Surely you can make him see it,” she said with a sob in her voice.
“Alan can see no wrong in her,” said Barry, grimly. “You, who have seen her, cannot wonder at that.”
Marian smiled faintly. “The queen can do no wrong.”
“Exactly,” said Barry, emphatically. “The worst of it is that I know that she would not hesitate to kill without mercy or scruple if she should be interfered with, and that’s why I feel anxious about you, Marian, more so than for him. You must wait to see how things turn out.” He paused for a moment. “There is one chance, and I am going to take it. I am telling you this because I know you won’t repeat it, because if you do it may cost me my life; but I will know on the day after to-morrow; and I will see you again then. Until then you must be patient.”
She looked at him anxiously. “Dick, may I not help? May I not take this risk?”
He shook his head. “No, I must work alone. I can only ask you to be brave, until I know the best or the worst.”
“Would she really kill, Dick?” Marian asked, quietly.
Barry smiled. “I only tell you this because you know her — a little, and I wish you to be forearmed. I know she would kill, if she thought fit, and we are absolutely helpless against her. So, Marian, you must wait; there is nothing else to be done. If you can help in any way I will tell you.”
The girl stood up. “It is good to talk it over with someone, Dick. I could not go to mother, even, with this story.”
“I’m afraid I’ve given you no comfort, Marian, but I want you to guard yourself, and not do anything reckless. If anything comes of my plan I will let you know.”
They went into the next room, and Barry handed over his charge to Kitty, and busied himself making his preparations for his journey.
Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 354-367
[Editor: Replaced the comma after “she answered” with a full stop.]