The Web of Maya

The Web of Maya

By

Ella D'Arcy

I

Le Tas is the name of the land lying at the southern extremity
of the Isle of Saint Maclou. It would form a separate islet
by itself, but that it is joined to the larger one by an isthmus, a
wall of rock, of such dizzy height, of such sheer descent, that
the narrow road on top gropes falteringly its perilous way from
side to side.

The fishermen of Saint Maclou, who are also its farmers, its
field-labourers, its coachmen, when driving a party of trippers
over to Le Tas, get down at the beginning of the Coupée, as
this strange isthmus is called, and, in their courteous broken English,
invite their fares to get down too. Then, holding the horse by
the bridle, and walking backwards before him, the driver leads
him over the Coupée, turning an anxious eye this side and the
other, to see that the wheels keep within the meagre limits : for, a
careless movement here—a false step—and you would be precipitated
down a clear three hundred feet to the sea below. But it is only
an experienced fisherman who will take you over the Coupée at
all. If a young man happens to be driving, he will send you into

Le

292 The Web of Maya

Le Tas on foot, while he smokes his cigar, as he waits for you in
safety at the Saint Maclou end.

Le Tas, as its name suggests, is just a mound or heap of rocks.
Flung up there by the sea, ages ago, the same sea has already so
undermined it, so under-tunnelled it, that with a few ages more
it must crumble in, and sink again to the ocean bed from which
it came.

There are very few houses on Saint Maclou ; besides the
Seigneurie, the Rectory, and the Belle Vue Hotel, perhaps only
some forty homesteads and cottages. On Le Tas there are
but five all told. You come upon four of these shortly after
crossing the Coupée. Grouped together in a hollow which
hides them from the road, they are still further hidden by
the trees planted to shelter them from the great westerly gales.
But, should you happen to make your way down to them, you
would discover a homely and genial picture : little gardens ablaze
with flowers, tethered cows munching the grass, fowls clacking,
pigeons preening themselves and cooing, children playing on the
thresholds, perhaps a woman, in the black sun-bonnet of the
Islands, hanging her linen out to dry, between the gnarled apple
trees of the little orchard on the right.

When you have left these cottages behind you, Le Tas
grows wilder and more barren with every step you take. At first
you walk through gorse and bracken ; patches of purple heather
contrast with straggling patches of golden ragwort. But, further
on, nothing grows from the thin layer of wind-carried soil, save a
short grass, spread out like a mantle of worn green velvet, through
which bare granite knees and elbows protrude at every point.
You see no sign of life, but a goat or two browsing on the steep
declivities, the rabbits scudding among the ferns, the rows of
cormorants standing in dark sedateness on the rocks below. You

hear

By Ella D'Arcy 293

hear nothing but the strange complaining cry of the sea-gull, as
it floats above your head on wide-spreading motionless wings, and
draws, as by an invisible string, a swift-flying shadow far behind
it, over the sunny turf.

Here, at the very end of Le Tas, facing the sea, stands the
fifth house, a low squalid cottage, or rather a row of cottages, built
of wood, and tarred over, with a long, unbroken, shed-like roof of
slate. It has no garden, no yard, nor any sort of enclosure, but
stands set down barely there upon the grass, as a child sets down
a toy-house upon a table.

It was built to lodge the miners, when, forty years since, great
hopes were entertained of extracting silver from the granite of Le
Tas. Shafts were sunk, a plant imported, a row of half-a-dozen
one-roomed cottages run up on the summit of the rock. But the
little silver that was found never paid the expenses of working.
The mines were long ago abandoned, though the stone chimneys
of their shafts still raise their heads among the bracken, and, white-
washed over, serve as extra landmarks to the boatmen out at sea.

The cottages had been long disused, or only intermittently in-
habited, until, one day, Philip Le Mesurier, of Jersey, called upon
the Seigneur, and offered to rent them for himself. It was just
after Le Mesurier's six years of unhappy married life had come to
an end. Mrs. Le Mesurier had, one night, without any warning,
left Rozaine Manor, taking her little son with her, and she had
absolutely refused to go back, or to live with her husband again.
There had been a great scandal. The noise of it had spread
through the islands. It had even reached Saint Maclou. Women
said that Le Mesurier had ill-used his wife shamefully, had beaten
her before the servants, had habitually permitted himself the most
disgusting language. He was known to have the Le Mesurier
violent temper ; he was suspected of having the Le Mesurier taste

for

294 The Web of Maya

for drink. Lily Le Mesurier, on the other hand, was spoken of
as the sweetest, the most long-suffering of God's creatures, a
martyred angel, against whom, though she was young and pretty,
no worse fault could be alleged than that she was " clever " and
read " deep " books. A most devoted mother, it was only when
she at last realised that she must not expose her child to the daily
degradation of his father's example, that she had finally deter-
mined upon a step so inexpressibly painful to her feelings as a
separation.

A few men shrugged their shoulders ; said they should like to
hear Le Mesurier's side of the story ; but knew they would never
hear it, as he was much too proud to stoop to self-excusings.

The Seigneur of Saint Maclou was among those whose sym-
pathies went with Le Mesurier. They had a club acquaintance-
ship in Jersey. He welcomed him to Saint Maclou ; converted
the " Barracks," as the cottages on Le Tas were called, into a
single house, more or less convenient ; and hoped that during
the short time Le Mesurier would probably remain on the island,
he would come often to the Seigneurie.

The young man thanked him, sent over a little furniture, came
himself, with his guns and his fishing tackle, and took up his
residence in the Barracks. But he went very seldom to the
Seigneurie, where he ran the risk of meeting visitors from Jersey ;
and when this had happened a second time, he went there no more.
And he stayed on at Le Tas long after the reason he had given
for his presence—that he had come for a holiday, to sketch, to
shoot, to fish—had ceased to find credence. He stayed on
through the autumn, through the winter, through the spring ; he
neither fished, nor shot, nor painted ; he held no intercourse with
anyone ; he lived entirely alone. The only person with whom
he ever exchanged a word was Monsieur Chauchat, the French

pastor.

By Ella D'Arcy 295

pastor. Sometimes, in the evening, Le Mesurier would walk over
to Saint Maclou, and smoke a pipe at the Rectory ; sometimes,
when the weather was tempting, the old clergyman, who liked
him and pitied him, would come up in the afternoon to pay a
visit to the Barracks ; but these meetings between them were
rare, and, as Le Mesurier grew more moody, and Chauchat more
feeble, they became rarer still.

But one day, in the dirty living-room of his cottage, Le
Mesurier sat and entertained an unexpected and most unwel-
come guest.

Outside the window nothing was visible but whiteness—an
opaque, luminous, sun-suffused whiteness, which obliterated earth
and sky and sea. For Le Tas, and Saint Maclou, and the whole
Island Archipelago, were enveloped in one of those wet and
hurrying mists so common here in August. It blew from the
north-east ; broke against the high cliffs of Saint Maclou, as a
river breaks against a boulder ; overflowed the top ; lay in every
valley like some still inland lake ; and, pouring down every head-
land on the south and west, swept out again to sea.

The cottage on Le Tas, at all times solitary, was this afternoon
completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Le Mesurier's living-room, in its dirt and its disorder, showed
plainly that no woman ever came there. Unwashed cooking
utensils and crockery littered up the hearth and dresser ; the baize
cover and cushions of the jonquière, often lain upon, were never
shaken or cleaned ; rusting guns, disordered fishing tackle, can
-vases, a battered oil-paint box, spoke of occupations thrown
aside and tastes forgotten. On a table in the window were
writing-materials, a couple of dog-eared books, a tobacco-jar, a

pipe,

296 The Web of Maya

pipe, and a bottle of whisky. These last, of all the articles in
the room, alone showed the lustre which comes from frequent use.

The host's appearance matched his surroundings. He wore a
dirty flannel shirt, a ragged, paint-stained coat, burst canvas shoes.
His hands were unwashed ; his hair and beard were uncombed,
and neither had been touched by scissors for the last six months.

The guest, on the contrary, was clean, fragrant, irreproachable
at every point ; in a light grey summer suit, and brown boots ;
with glossy linen, and glossy, well-kept finger-nails. He had a
trick of drawing these together in an even row over the palm
of his hand, while he contemplated them admiringly, his head a
little on one side. The dabs of light reflected from their surface
made them look like a row of polished pink shells. Le Mesurier
remembered this trick of old, and hated Shergold for it, but not
more than he hated him for everything else.

Shergold, on his arrival, had asked for something to eat ; and
Le Mesurier had taken bread and cheese from the cupboard, and
flung them down on the table before him, and had filled a great
tin jug—one of the curious tin jugs never seen elsewhere than in
the Islands—with cider from the cask in the corner.

" Yes," Shergold was saying, " we were two hours late ; and,
but that old Hamon piloted us, we might never have got here at
all. I don't believe any one but Hamon could have kept us off
the rocks to-day. I only hope we shall make better time going
back, or I shall lose the boat for Jersey. That would mean staying
in Jacques-le-Port until Monday, and I'm anxious to get to Lily
at once. She will be so glad to know I have seen you, to hear all
about you."

Le Mesurier's dull, quiescent hate sprang suddenly into activity.
He felt he could have throttled the man who sat so calmly on the
other side of the table, eating, and speaking between his mouthfuls

of

By Ella D'Arcy 297

of Le Mesurier's wife. He could have throttled him for the
unctuous correctness of his appearance, for his conventional,
meaningless good looks, for those empty, showy eyes of his,
which the fools who believed in him called " flashing " and
" intellectual ; " he could have throttled him for the air of self-
satisfaction, of complacency, breathed by his whole person ; he
could have throttled him for the amiable lie he had just told of
Lily's anxiety for news of himself, her husband. All Lily was
anxious to hear, of course, was that Shergold had obtained Le
Mesurier's consent to the business proposition over which they
had been corresponding for so long, and which to-day was the
occasion of Shergold's visit.

But he concealed his rage, and only showed his surprise at
hearing that Lily was again in Jersey. For one of the many
subjects of disagreement between her and himself, one of their
many causes of quarrel, had been her persistent detestation of
Jersey.

Shergold explained : " Yes. I hadn't time to mention it in my
last letter ; but Lily left London on Monday, and has gone to
some very nice rooms I was able to secure for her at Beaumont.
In fact, my old rooms—you will remember them—when I was at
the College."

"She might at least have gone home," said Le Mesurier,
with bitterness, " since I'm not there to contaminate the place.
Rozaine, as she knows, is always at her service."

"Ah, yes—of course—thank you—you are very kind. But the
air at Rozaine is hardly sufficiently bracing. You see, it's on
account of the boy. He has been overworking at his studies,
and needs sea-bathing, tonic, ozone."

The impertinence of Shergold's thanks might have stung
Le Mesurier to an angry retort, but that the mention of his little

The Yellow Book—Vol. VII. R

son.

298 The Web of Maya

son, whom he had not seen for more than a year, turned his
thoughts and feelings upon a different bent. He caught himself
wishing that he could have him out here on Le Tas. The keen
air, the free, out-of-door, wholesome life, would soon put health
into the body, and colour into the pale little face, that rose
so vividly before the father's mind. Another of the causes of
dissension between Le Mesurier and Lily had been the system,
inspired by Shergold, which she had rigorously insisted upon
following in the training and education of the child. Every day
had its regular set programme of lessons and of play ; but the play
consisted of formal exercise—" Calisthenics," as Shergold termed
it—which at stated hours the boy was obliged to accomplish ; so
that, to his constrained young spirit, it no doubt became as irk-
some as a task. And then, Shergold, though a hearty consumer
of butcher's meat in practice, was, in theory, a convinced vege-
tarian ; and Lily, despite her husband's most earnest, most violent
opposition, would allow little Phil no stronger nourishment than
such as might be contained in beans and lentils.

Le Mesurier spoke aloud, impulsively. " Lily might send
Phil to me for a few weeks, I think. It would do him all the
good in the world. It is much healthier here than at Beaumont."

Shergold raised his eyebrows, and took a comprehensive glance
round the unswept, uncleaned, undusted room.

" Oh, I'd have a woman in. I'd have all this set right," said
the father, eagerly.

"You can hardly be serious," answered Shergold. " You know
Lily's views. You could hardly expect her to let Phil stop here
alone with you."

Le Mesurier flushed angrily.

" After all, he's my own child. If I chose to assert my rights
—if I should insist on having him—"

"Oh,

By Ella D'Arcy 299

" Oh, your rights ! " interrupted Shergold. " Come, come.
You're forgetting our agreement. The boy remains in his
mother's care, and under her control, till he's one-and-twenty,
and you're not to interfere."

"But it was understood that I could see him whenever I
wished."

"And so you can. But you must go to see him ; Lily can't
let him leave her, to come to you. If you choose to exile your-
self to Le Tas, and lead this solitary, half-savage sort of life, you
can't complain that you're prevented from seeing Phil. It's your
own fault. You ought to be living at Rozaine."

"Tell my wife what she ought or ought not to do, since she's
fool enough to listen to you," broke out Le Mesurier hotly, " and
be damned to you both ! I shall do as I please. What business
is it of yours where or how I live ? "

Shergold shrugged his shoulders.

"You appear to be as violent in temper, and as unrestrained in
language, as ever," he said calmly. " A pretty example you'd set
your son ! But we're straying from the point. Let's give our
attention to the business that brought me here, and get it done
with." He drew a large envelope from the inner breast-pocket of
his coat.

" You may save yourself the trouble of opening that," Le
Mesurier informed him. " Let Lily send me the boy for a month,
and I'll consider the matter. Under present conditions, I refuse
even to discuss it with you."

" Nonsense," said Shergold. " You know she won't send you
the boy. The notion is preposterous. Now, as for these
papers—"

"I refuse to discuss the matter," Le Mesurier repeated. " Send
me Phil, and we'll see. But, until then, I refuse to discuss it

with

300 The Web of Maya

with you. If Lily hesitates, use your influence with her," he
added sardonically. " The notion's preposterous, if you like, but
you've persuaded her to more preposterous courses still, before
now. You've persuaded her to leave her husband, to give up her
position, her duties ; you've persuaded her to go and live in
London, to be near you, to complete her education, to develop
her individuality, and a lot of damned rot of that sort. Well, now,
persuade her to this. Persuade her to let me have the boy for a
time. Persuade her that it's for Phil's own good. And tell her
roundly that I refuse absolutely to hold any kind of business
discussions with either her or her agent, until I've got the boy."

"You're mad, Le Mesurier. It is I, as you know, who have
consistently advised Lily, on the contrary, to remove the boy as
far as possible from your influence. If you are serious in asking
me now to urge her to let him come here, and live alone with
you, day in and day out, for a month—really, you must be
mad."

" Very good. Mad or not, you have heard my last word.
And if you cannot see your way to meeting my wishes in
the matter, I don't know that there's anything that need detain
you here longer."

He looked significantly from Shergold to the door. The mist
was lifting a little. A pale sun was just visible behind it, a disc
of gold shining through a veil ; and here and there, through rifts,
one could catch glimpses of faint blue sky.

Shergold, vexed, hesitant, looked at his watch.

" You're wasting precious time," he said, impatiently.
" What's the use of opening old sores ? You know our decision
about the child is irrevocably fixed. You yourself assented to it
long ago. What's the sense of letting this new idea of yours—
this freak—this whim, to have him here—interfere with business

of

By Ella D'Arcy 301

of importance—business about which I've taken the trouble to
pay you this altogether distasteful visit ?"

But Le Mesurier merely opened the door, and with a gesture
invited Shergold to pass out. His expression was so menacing,
his gesture might so easily have transformed itself into the pre-
paration for a blow, that Shergold instinctively moved towards
the threshold.

" You refuse to consider the matter ? " he asked.

"Let Lily send the boy, and I'll consider it."

" That's your last word ?"

" No ! " shouted Le Mesurier, suddenly losing all control of
himself. " Go to Hell, you sneaking Jesuit ! That's my last
word." Then, finding a certain childish joy in the mere calling
of names—the mere utterance of his hate, his fury : " You empty
wind-bag ! You low-bred pedant ! You bloated mass of self-
conceit ! Go to Hell ! "

And he flung the door to, in Shergold's astonished face.

Le Mesurier stood alone in the cottage, shaken by impotent
rage. His thoughts followed Shergold going away ; unsuccessful,
indeed, but superior, calm, self-satisfied ; full of a lofty contempt,
a Pharisaic pity, for Le Mesurier's violence, for his childishness,
his ineffectual profanity, his miserable mode of life. Le Mesurier
could imagine Shergold telling Lily of her husband's churlish
refusal to discuss the business that had taken him to Saint Maclou ;
of the impossible condition he had imposed ; of his dirty surround-
ings, his neglected appearance, his brutal language, his ungovern-
able temper. Le Mesurier saw the disgust such a narration would
inspire in his wife, the fresh justification she would find in it for
all her past conduct. And he imagined how, while Shergold and

Lily

302 The Web of Maya

Lily talked him over, Phil, the child, his son, would catch a word
here and there, as children do, and would unconsciously conceive
a prejudice against his father, which would influence him through
life. . . . God! it was unendurable. Was there no way? . . . .

Then, all at once, he laughed. An idea had begun to push its
head insidiously up from among the confusion of his thoughts.
The idea surprised him, pleased him, tempted him ; and, as he
contemplated it, he laughed. . . .

In a moment he opened the door and hurried out, after
Shergold.

The sun was again hidden, the blue rifts had closed, the mist
was thicker than before. But, a little distance ahead, a dark
form was silhouetted on the whiteness ; and, thrilling with ex-
citement, in a glow of irresponsible gaiety, Le Mesurier, following
noiselessly over the grass, kept this form in view.

Along the meandering foot-worn track, which leads from the
Barracks back over Le Tas ; down through the gorse and bracken ;
on through the lane that skirts the tree-sheltered cottages ; and so
to the beginning of the Coupée, where the land falls away, and
nothing is left but the narrow road that creeps tremulously over
the top of the rock wall, three hundred feet high, with a precipice
on either side, and the sea at the bottom : Le Mesurier stealthily
followed Shergold.

And when the middle of the Coupée was reached, Le Mesurier
knew that the moment had come. He acted promptly. Before there
was time for speech between the men, the thing was done, and he
stood there on the road alone—a startled broken cry still ringing
in his ears ; then, after what seemed a long interval of silence, a
splash, a far-away muffled splash, from deep below, as if he had
dropped a stone, wrapped in a blanket, into the water.

Le Mesurier waited till the silence grew round and complete

again.

By Ella D'Arcy 303

again. And presently he turned away light-heartedly, and walked
back to the Barracks.

II

He was glad, very glad, that his enemy was dead.

This was the thought, this the feeling—a feeling of gladness,
a thought, "But I am glad, glad, glad!"—which kept him
company all the succeeding days.

The knowledge that he would never have to see him again—
never again look upon his fatuous, handsome face—never again
listen to his voice, his smooth, even, complacent voice—this
knowledge poured through him with warm comfort.

He would lie out on the grass, in the sun, revelling in a sensa-
sation of well-being that was almost physical, and rehearsing in
memory the events as they had happened : Shergold's arrival,
their conversation, Shergold's departure ; the great, good, satisfying
outburst of vituperation with which Le Mesurier had pursued him
from his threshold ; and then that brief moment of soul-filling
consummation, of tangible, ponderable joy, on the Coupée.

Remorse ? No, he did not feel the slightest remorse.
" Remorse ?—I thought a man who had killed another always
felt remorse," he said to himself, with a vague sort of surprise, but
with very certain exultation. Hitherto, he had accepted tacitly
the conventional teachings on the subject. Bloodguiltiness must
be followed by remorse, as certainly as night by morning. The
slayer destroyed, along with his victim, his own peace for ever.
He could no more enjoy food, rest, or pleasant indolence. And sleep
—" Macbeth has murdered sleep ! " He must always be haunted by
the reproachful phantom of the dead, and shaken by continual ague-
fits of terror, gnawed by perpetual dread, lest his crime should be

discovered

304 The Web of Maya

discovered and brought home to him. These were the ready-made
notions the truth of which Le Mesurier had taken for granted :
but now he had tested them ; he had tested them, and behold,
they were false. After all, he told himself, every man's experience
is individual ; you can learn nothing from books, nothing from
the experience of others. Hearsay evidence is worthless. " I am
a murderer, as it is called. I should inevitably be hanged if they
could prove the thing against me. And yet—remorse ? " No ;
he felt himself to be a thousand times happier, a thousand times
easier in his mind, a thousand times more contented, more at
peace, than he had ever been in the days of his innocence. In killing
Shergold, he had simply removed an intolerable burden from his
spirit.

He found himself singing, whistling, scraps of opera, snatches
of old ballads, as he went about the daily routine of preparing his
food, or as he wandered hither and thither over the scant sun-
burned grass of the islet. After all, Shergold had well-deserved
his fate. It was owing to him that Le Mesurier's life was ruined,
his home broken up, his boy separated from him, his wife's affec-
tions alienated. It was thanks to Shergold that he had come here,
more than a year ago, to lead the life of a misanthrope, alone in
this melancholy cottage on Le Tas.

And yet, Shergold was not his wife's lover ; had never been her
lover ; never, Le Mesurier knew, had desired to be her lover. He
thought he could almost have forgiven Shergold more easily if he
had been her lover ; the situation would have seemed, somehow,
less abnormal than the actual one. But Shergold had got at her
intellectually, had seduced her mind, had subjugated her spiritually.
He had known her before her marriage, ever since she was a girl
of sixteen. He had given her lessons in Greek, in mathematics.
Possibly, had he not been a married man himself at the time, he

might

By Ella D'Arcy 305

might have thought of marrying her. But it was after her
marriage, and after his own wife's death, about a year afterwards, that
his ascendancy over her became marked, that his constant presence
at Rozaine began vaguely to irritate Le Mesurier.

He was such a cold, self-righteous, solemn, pompous pedant,
and withal such an ass, so shallow, so empty, so null, Le Mesurier
felt. His pose of mental superiority was so unwarranted, so
odious. He betrayed in a hundred inflections of his voice, in
perpetual supercilious upliftings of his eyebrows, the contempt he
entertained for Lily's husband, as for a mere eating, drinking,
sport-loving animal, without
culture, without fineness, without
acquirements, but unfairly endowed by Fortune with large estates
and a charming wife ; a wife who, in other hands, with a wise and
discerning helpmeet, might (to use one of Shergold's own irrita-
ting catch-words), "have raised the pyramid of self-culture to the
highest point." Shergold imagined himself to be like Goethe, to
resemble him physically, as well as temperamentally, and in the
character of his mind ; and he was constantly adopting, and adapting
to the exigencies of the moment, tag-ends of the poet's phrases.
He had a deep-seated, intimate conviction—a conviction based
not on evidence, not on experience, not on work accomplished,
but born, full-fledged, of his own instinctive egotism—that he was,
not merely a clever man, not merely a man of uncommon parts,
but a Great Man, a Man of transcendent Genius. It was as
a Man of Genius that Lily Le Mesurier looked up to him ; it was
as a Man of Genius that he looked down upon Lily Le Mesurier's
husband. And yet Philip, modest enough, and unpretentious,
could not help realising in his heart, that, of the two, he himself
was, in point of real native intelligence, the better man.

Shergold displayed a silent commiseration for Lily which in-
furiated Le Mesurier. He taught her to commiserate herself.

She

306 The Web of Maya

She turned to him for sympathy in all her imagined troubles ; she
sought his advice on every point. She put the management of
the child virtually into his hands. He was always at Rozaine.
He came up there every day, directly his duties at the College
left him free. Lily kept him to dinner three or four times a
week. If Le Mesurier grumbled, she complained that he grudged
her her only amusement—good conversation ; that, save Professor
Shergold, she never met any one worth listening to, worth talking
to. He was the only man who understood her. Life was dull
enough, Heaven knew, at Rozaine ; and, if Philip was going to
object to the Professor's visits, she would not be able to live there at
all. It was an effective threat, the value of which Lily thoroughly
appreciated, a threat she did not scruple to employ as often as
occasion demanded, that she would "not be able to go on living
at Rozaine ; " for Le Mesurier had a dumb passion for the place,
and an immense pride in it : it was his home, his birthplace, it had
been in his family for generations. His love for Lily was a
passion too. To live at Rozaine with her—with children possibly
—he had pictured to himself as the ideal of absolute happiness.
He could as little imagine himself living anywhere else, as he
could imagine himself living without Lily. So what could he do
but submit, and confirm Lily's constant invitations to Shergold,
with such cordiality as he could feign, and sit silent at the head of
his table, while these two talked radicalism, agnosticism, blatant
futilities, cheap enthusiasms of all sorts ? The Emancipation of
Woman, the Abolition of Monarchy, State Socialism, Disestablish-
ment. . . . And Le Mesurier was conservative, as all the Islanders
are, and religious as men go. That is to say, he honoured the
Church in which he had been brought up, and in which all those
whom he had cared for had lived and died.

It troubled him, therefore, that, when little Phil began to talk,

Lily

By Ella D'Arcy 307

Lily protested against the child's being taught any prayers. The
Professor, she said, held it criminal to fill a child's mind with
discredited theologies. No mention of the Christian Myth
should be permitted in his presence till he was old enough to
judge, to discriminate for himself. " It was just as criminal as it
would be to offer him innutritious or deleterious food for his physical
sustenance," Shergold explained. When Phil was three years
old, Le Mesurier put his foot down, and declared that the child
must be brought up a Christian. There was a great scene, at the
end of which Le Mesurier's anger exploded in curses ; and Lily
seized the opportunity for the appropriate sneer that " if that sort
of language was Christian, she preferred the language of Atheists."
Shergold urged, "But my dear fellow! Be reasonable. You
don't want to teach your son demoralising superstitions. The exis-
tence of a God, the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth—I can prove to
you the absurdity of both in five minutes, if you will listen. It's
monstrous to instil such unscientific and pernicious dogmas into
the brain of a three-year-old infant." Le Mesurier took Phil on
his knee, alone in the nursery, and taught him the simple prayer
he himself had used as a child.

After their discussion, and Le Mesurier's burst of profanity,
Shergold had left the house in injured dignity ; and Lily had
retired to her room, and remained there for forty-eight hours. At
the end of that time Le Mesurier was reduced to submission.
Lily insisted on his going down to the College, and bringing the
Professor back to dinner. The old footing was resumed, and
things went from bad to infinitely worse. Every periodic out-
break on Le Mesurier's part was more violent than the last, and
every reparation exacted from him was more galling. The legend
of his violence, of his ill-conduct, began to spread about the
Island, and to form one of the chosen themes of gossip at the club,

and

308 The Web of Maya

and at St. Hélier's tea-parties. The absolutely platonic nature of
the Professor's relations with Lily seemed to be understood, for in
a place where scandal is peculiarly rife, their friendship never
excited any.

In the course of six years Le Mesurier had become a cipher in
his own house, and Shergold ruled by suggestion in small things
as well as in great. Le Mesurier covered an intolerable hatred
with a sullen and morose manner, and had endured with apparent
insensibility many keener mortifications than the one which
finally brought matters to a crisis.

He had come home tired one day from the golf links, and
found Shergold, as usual, discoursing to Lily in the drawing-
room. Le Mesurier threw himself into an easy chair, conscious
of no more than his habitual annoyance. The drawing-room tea
had been taken away, and it wanted about half-an-hour to dinner.
Shergold commented on his fagged appearance, and offered him
refreshment.

" Come now, do take a glass of wine," he said, " or some
brandy and soda ; " with all the cordial civility of a man dispensing
hospitality from his own hearth-rug. " Let me ring for it."

But before he could touch the bell, Le Mesurier was on his
feet, his temper boiling over, his mouth spluttering forth indignant
protestations. The infernal insolence of the man, to play the
host to him in his own house ! " By God," he cried, " I think
this really is the limit ! "

The Professor, always coldly superior, and deaf to Lily's
entreaties where his own dignity was at stake, took up his hat,
and left the room. A moment later he was passing before the
windows on his way to the lodge-gates.

Then came a scene with Lily, more shattering than anything
Le Mesurier could have imagined. In her cool little voice, she said

the

By Ella D'Arcy 309

the cruellest things. Her tongue cut like the lash of a cunningly
contrived whip, and she brought it down again and again on the
most sensitive places of his soul ; those secret places which no
mere enemy could have discovered, but which, because of his love
for her, he had exposed fearlessly to her mercy. His pain turned
to anger : his anger became really a brief madness. He had
suddenly found himself standing over her, holding her by the
shoulder, shaking her violently. " Damn you, you little devil ! "
he had shouted, and his ringers had thrilled to strike her on her
pale provocative face ; but instinct, rather than deliberate forbear-
ance, had saved him from this, and he had gripped her shoulder
instead. Then at that very moment the door had opened, and
Harris had entered to announce dinner. She had stood and
looked at him with narrowing, malignant eyes—God, those eyes
he had so worshipped !—" You need not strike me before the
servants," she had said, just as though he had been in the habit
of striking her, and she had raised her clear voice a little,
obviously that the man might hear. Le Mesurier had hastily
moved back a step, but his cuff-link had caught in the filmy stuff
that filled in the neck of her dress, and a portion of it had torn
away, and hung in a long fluttering strip from his sleeve. She
had made no movement to cover her bare neck ; on the contrary,
she pushed up her shoulder through the gap, and turned her eyes,
now tender, grieving eyes, to look at the five angry crimson
marks rising up on the white skin. Harris, of course, had seen
them plainly too. She had refused to go into dinner, she had
gone to her room ; when, later, Le Mesurier went there to ask
forgiveness, he could not find her. The boy's crib in the next
room was empty. His wife had left Rozaine, and taken the child
with her. She had gone to an hotel in St. Hélier's for the night,
and left for her father's house in England the next morning.

She

310 The Web of Maya

She had steadfastly refused to return, and Shergold had
supported her in her refusal. He had shortly after this given
up his appointment at Saint Hélier's for a better one in London,
where he had lived near Lily, influencing her as much as
ever, seeing her, doubtless, every day. In the few letters
which Lily had written her husband since the separation—
letters dealing always with points of business, with money
arrangements, rendered necessary by their altered relations—
Le Mesurier recognised, in the cold, judicial tone, the well-
arranged phrases, Shergold's guiding hand. He at first had
answered them briefly, latterly not at all, and it was his final
persistent silence which had brought his enemy in person to
Le Tas, and delivered him into his hands.—Oh, he was glad he
had killed him ! Shergold had ruined his life, and he had taken
Shergold's. They were quits at last. No, he felt no remorse.

But neither did he feel any fear ; and this surprised him, for
that the transgressor should fear discovery and retribution was
within every man's experience. He began to ask himself how
this was, and he came to believe that it arose from the fact that
he had in reality no cause for fear. Discovery was practically an
impossibility. In the first place, no one knew that Shergold had
come to Saint Maclou at all. He had told Le Mesurier it was a
sudden idea which had occurred to him during dinner, on which
he had acted the same night. Then the boat had been so late,
that, to save time, he had not gone into the hotel, where he
might have been remembered, but had come up to Le Tas over
the cliffs, without notice or recognition from anybody. That he
should have been seen between leaving the cottage and reaching
the Coupée was impossible. Le Mesurier had followed him closely

enough

By Ella D'Arcy 311

enough all the way to know that no one else had been at any
time in sight. So thick was the mist, that a third person, to have
seen him at all, must have passed within arm's length. From all
danger of an eye-witness to his being in Shergold's company, or
to the supreme moment on the Coupée, Le Mesurier felt secure.

But there was the chance that the body might be recovered.
It might be washed up on the Island or elsewhere. The body
of young Hamon, who had fallen from the cliffs the previous
summer, while searching for gulls eggs, had been found three
weeks later, so far away as the Isle of Wight. It had been
unrecognisable, for the face was completely destroyed, but it
had been identified by a pocket-knife with the lad's name engraved
upon the haft. Le Mesurier wondered whether there was any-
thing on Shergold's person to identify him. Letters? The water
would have reduced these to pulp. A ring? The hands and
fingers were always the parts first attacked by the fish.

He recalled the gruesome stories told by the boatmen as they
row you from point to point, or which the women repeat to
each other during the long winter evenings as they sit over the
peat fires : stories of the cave-crabs, of the voracious fish which
swarm round these coasts ; of the mackerel which come in shoals,
hundreds of thousands strong, roughening the calm sea like a wind,
making a noise like thunder or the engines of some great steamer,
as they cut through the surface of the water in pursuit of the
little fish that fly before them. One story goes that a man
swimming out from Grève de la Mauve unwittingly struck into
such a shoal, and in an instant was pulled down by a million
tenacious mouths and never seen again. . . . No, there was not
much fear that Shergold's body would be found.

But even supposing the body were found and were recognised ;
even supposing Shergold's movements could be traced to Saint

Maclou,

312 The Web of Maya

Maclou, that his visit to Le Mesurier could be proved : there was
no iota of evidence to connect Le Mesurier with his death.
Le Mesurier's policy would be frankly to acknowledge the visit, to
describe how Shergold had left him, and to call to remembrance
the mist which had prevailed on that day. What more natural
than that Shergold should have met with a misadventure on the
way back, have walked over the cliff's edge instead of keeping to
the path, have missed his footing and fallen from the Coupée ?
Such misadventures were constantly happening, even among the
fishermen. There was not a point on the Island which was not
already the scene of some such tragedy. Le Mesurier assured
himself he had no cause for fear.

But as the days and weeks went by, what did surprise him
exceedingly was that he received no communication from Lily to
acquaint him with the Professor's disappearance. It had seemed
certain that she would write. For long ago Shergold must have
been missed ; first by his landlady, then by his friends. There
would have been much speculation, anxious enquiries, newspaper
paragraphs, in which his person would be described, a reward
offered. Then, as time went on, and nothing was heard of him,
the anxiety must have grown. There must have been an
immense noise, a tremendous amount of talk. For he was, in
his way, a well-known man, a person of consideration ; he held a
responsible post. Le Mesurier never saw a newspaper ; not more
than a dozen, perhaps, were read in the whole of Saint Maclou,
and these were chiefly local papers from Jacques-le-Port ; but
he could imagine the excitement of the London Press, the
articles which were being written on the subject, the letters, the
suggestions, which every day must be bringing forth.

And

By Ella D'Arcy 313

And nevertheless, Le Mesurier received no notification from
Lily ; no news of any sort, no rumour touching Shergold's fate
was ever carried to Le Tas. The strangeness of such a silence
could only confirm him in the belief that Shergold had spoken to
no one of his intended journey to Saint Maclou, and he again told
himself he was absolutely safe. He turned to dismiss the subject
from his mind.

But he found to his astonishment that he could not dismiss it, that
it had become a fixed idea, an obsession, which overpowered his will.
He was as impotent to chase Shergold from his waking thoughts
as from his troubled nightly dreams. If he looked up suddenly
to the window, it was because he fancied he had seen Shergold's
head passing rapidly by ; if he caught himself listening intently
in the stillness, he knew a moment later that it was because he
fancied Shergold had spoken, and that the vibrations of his voice
still shook the air. It was a horrible disappointment to learn that
instead of ridding himself of Shergold, as he had hoped, he seemed
to have bound himself up with him inseparably for ever. While
he had been alive, Le Mesurier, once out of his presence, had often
forgotten him for days at a time ; now that he was dead, Le
Mesurier could think of nothing else.

But a more curious development was, that as time went by, he
noticed that his old, hearty, satisfying hatred for the man was
fading away. Does not absence always weaken hatred ? And
when you realise the absence to be eternal, to be the immutable
absence of death, is not hatred extinguished ? Love is stronger
than death, for love is positive, affirmative. But hatred ? Hatred
is negative ; hatred is a manifestation of the transitory Nay, not
of the everlasting Yea. Is it possible to hate the dead ?

The Yellow Book—Vol. VII. s

Le Mesurier

314 The Web of Maya

Le Mesurier no longer hated the man he had killed. A faint,
hesitant sort of consideration, even of fellow-feeling for him, began
gradually to edge its way in among his thoughts. He would
sometimes try to put himself in Shergold's place ; he would try
to reconstruct the past from Shergold's point of view.

He found he could no longer persuade himself that Shergold
had been conscious of the evil he had wrought. On the contrary,
he recognised that the man had been honest according to his lights ;
that he had committed no crime against the accepted code. He
might have acquired his influence over Lily, through no wish, no
effort of his own. He had been one of those showy characters
whom women always worship ; he had possessed that superficial
glittering cleverness that always catches a woman's fancy, he had
talked with the fluent self-assurance which always wins a woman's
approval. Probably he had never realised how obnoxious his
presence at Rozaine was to Le Mesurier. He was sufficiently
proud to have withdrawn from a society where he was not wanted,
but his self-conceit was too magnificent for him ever to imagine
such a contingency possible. And then, no doubt, his sense of
conscious rectitude had rendered him particularly obtuse. Had
he been playing the role of lover, a guilty conscience would have
made him more sensitive to Le Mesurier's uncordial attitude.
Looking back upon it all now, Le Mesurier could almost pity
him for such blindness.

One day, lying in a hollow of the cliff, hidden from every
eye but that of cormorant or sea-gull, playing abstractedly with a
pebble which found itself under his fingers, he saw a yard away
from him a sharp-nosed, grey-coated mole running from one point
to another across the grass. He shot the pebble from his hand,

and

By Ella D'Arcy 315

and the little beast rolled over dead. He took it up, and looked
at it curiously. He smoothed with his fingers its warm, velvety
coat. He was sorry he had killed it. A second ago it had been
enjoying the sunshine, the warm air, its own sense of well-being.
And now it was utterly destroyed, utterly annihilated, and no one
could restore to it the life which he had wantonly taken.

The thought of Shergold, always present at the back of his
mind, pressed forward imperatively. Shergold had not believed in
soul or immortality. He had believed that with death the life of
a man comes to an end, just as does the life of a mouse. Le
Mesurier had often listened, perforce, to his dogmatising on such
views to Lily ; to his proclaiming that each individual life is but a
flash of light between two eternities of darkness ; that just as
the body returns to the elements from which it came, so the spirit is
reabsorbed into the forces and energies which move the world.
And because Shergold had no belief in another life, he had set an
immense value upon this one. In his self-engrossed, pedantic way,
he had thoroughly enjoyed every hour, every moment of it. Sup-
posing his views were true, then the greatest injury one could
inflict on such a man would be to deprive him of this life which
he prized, suddenly to extinguish him like a candle, to annihilate
him like this poor little mole.

He laid the body of the mole down upon the turf, and walked
away. He no longer sang or whistled to himself. The monot-
onous days seemed intolerably long.

III

Three months had gone by. Le Mesurier, in the solitude of
Le Tas, had suffered every pang a guilty conscience can inflict,
had been through every phase of remorse and of despair.

The

316 The Web of Maya

The burden on his mind was growing intolerably heavy. Every
moment it cried out to him that he must share it with another,
or be crushed beneath its weight. He would have gone down to
see the Pastor, but that to do so he must cross the Coupée. He
had not the courage actually to pass the spot from which his
thoughts were never long absent. And while his mind tossed
distressfully this way and that, Monsieur Chauchat chanced to
come up to see him.

The sight of a real human face, the sound of a real human
voice, unlocked his heart, set his tongue going. In spite of the
old man's many attempted interruptions, he poured out the whole
story ; all the injuries, real or fancied, he had received at Shergold's
hands, his own hatred for him, the man's fate, his own impotent
repentance. "And now," he said, simply, when he had concluded,
" I wish to give myself up. Tell me what I am to do."

Chauchat looked at him with infinite pity, and showed neither
horror nor surprise. Le Mesurier was even conscious of a certain
movement of indignation within his own bosom, that any one
should hear of the murder of a fellow-creature so composedly.

" You must give up this kind of life," said the Pastor gently.
"It is terribly bad for you. You must have society, you must
travel."

Le Mesurier was amazed at such irrelevance. He looked at
Chauchat curiously. He thought him aged, whiter, feebler than
ever before. He wondered whether he still had all his faculties.
And he answered impatiently, " But what has that to do with
what I have been telling you ? "

" You must take care," said the old man ; " solitude brings delu-
sions, hallucinations ; to indulge in them is to shake the mind's
stability. You must come back into the world. You must mix
with other men."

He

By Ella D'Arcy 317

He divined that Chauchat believed him to be dreaming.
This was natural perhaps ; how could the good, simple-minded
old clergyman believe in the reality of such a crime? But he
must convince him of the miserable truth. He must begin again
and describe it all more circumstantially. He must go on until
he saw conviction dawn in the eyes that now looked at him with
such friendly pity, until he saw that pity change to aversion
and fear. He began over again.

But Chauchat laid a hand upon his arm.

" One moment ! You say you killed this man ? "

"Yes, I killed him."

" You threw him over the Coupée ? "

" I followed him from the house, and threw him over the
Coupée."

" No, my poor boy ; no, no, no ! Thank God, you did not.
Thank God, you are dreaming. You have had some strange,
some horrible delusion. But Shergold is alive, is well, I have but
just now come from him. He, indeed, is the reason of my visit.
I come as a messenger from him, a mediator between him and
you."

Le Mesurier sat there stunned, dazed, vacant. Was
Chauchat mad ? The old man's voice buzzed in his ears ; he
was still talking, explaining how Shergold had come over by the
morning's boat ; how he had called at the parsonage, and told the
story of his last visit to Le Mesurier, of the deed of assignment,
and of Le Mesurier's refusal to sign it ; of the pressing need
there was that it should be signed ; how he had begged Chauchat
to use his influence with Le Mesurier, and so Chauchat was here,
while Shergold was staying till to-morrow at the Belle Vue
Hotel, and was quite prepared to meet Le Mesurier on amicable
terms, if he would go down there and see him.

Was

318 The Web of Maya

Was Chauchat mad ? Yes, clearly. How otherwise could he
imagine that he had come from Shergold, that he had spoken with
a dead man ? Shergold's death—that was the one certain fact in all
this bewildering world. He had sat there, at the table, just where
Chauchat was seated now. They had quarrelled. Le Mesurier
had followed him from that very door, out into the mist. . . .

But all at once a point of doubt pierced his soul. Had he
followed Shergold ? Had he in truth followed Shergold out into
the mist ?

Was Chauchat mad ? Or—or—was he mad himself? Something
inside his head throbbed so violently, he could not even
think. He sat stunned and dazed by the table holding his head in his
hands, while the old man talked on. But while he sat there in
dumb, inert confusion, his sub-conscious brain was at work,
rearranging the past, disentangling the threads of illusion from
those of reality, arranging these on this side, those on that, clearly,
unmistakably. And when all was ready, suddenly the web of
deception fell from before his eyes, and he saw clearly. Up to
the moment of Shergold's leaving the cottage all had passed as he
remembered it : the rest had been a mere phantasmal creation of
his own brain.

His hands were clean of blood, he had committed no crime, he
might go where he chose, he was guiltless, he was free. . . . .
And—and during all the past months, when he had been tortured
with self-condemnations, Shergold had been living his usual
happy, respectable and respected life, seeing Lily every day, seeing
the child . . . . Oh ! . . . . Le Mesurier's feelings underwent a
complete revulsion ; his remorse shrivelled up, his pity vanished,
his old hatred returned reinforced a thousandfold—and he was
filled with regret, a gnawing, an intolerable regret that his hand
had failed to accomplish the sin which his heart had desired.





MLA citation: D'Arcy, Ella. “The Web of Maya.” The Yellow Book 7 (Oct. 1895): 291-318. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and  Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson  University, 2012. Web. [Date of access].