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Glen Aline

Glen Aline is probably the loneliest place in the lone moorlands of Western Galloway. The country is entirely pastoral, and I fancy that the very pasture is bad enough. Stretches of deer-grass and ling, rolling endlessly to the feet of Cairnsmure and the circle of the eastern hills, cannot be good feeding for the least Epicurean of sheep, and sheep do not care for the lank and sour herbage by the sides of the “lanes,” as the half-stagnant, black, deep, and weedy burns are called in this part of the country. The scenery is not unattractive, but tourists never wander to these wastes where no inns are, and even the angler seldom visits them. Indeed, the fishing is not to be called good, and the “lanes,” which “seep,” as the Scotch say, through marshes and beneath low hillsides, are not such excellent company as the garrulous and brawling brooks of the Border or of the Highlands. As the lanes flow, however, from far-away lochs, it happens that large trout make their way into them, trout which, if hooked, offer a gallant resistance before they can be hauled over the weeds that usually line the watercourses.

Partly for the sake of trying this kind of angling, partly from a temporary distaste for the presence of men and women, partly for the purpose of finishing a work styled “A History of the Unexplained,” I once spent a month in the solitudes of Glen Aline. I stayed at the house of a shepherd who, though not an unintelligent man was by no means possessed of the modern spirit. He and his brother swains had sturdily and successfully resisted an attempt made by the schoolmaster at a village some seven miles off to get a postal service in the glen more frequently than once a week. A post once a week was often enough for lucky people who did not get letters twice a year. It was not my shepherd, but another, who once came with his wife to the village, after a twelve miles’ walk across the hills, to ask “what the day of the week was?” They had lost count, and the man had attended to his work on a day which the dame averred to be the Sabbath. He denied that it was the Sabbath, and I believe that it turned out to be a Tuesday. This little incident gives some idea of the delightful absence of population in Glen Aline. But no words can paint the utter loneliness, which could actually be felt—the empty moors, the empty sky. The heaps of stones by a burnside, here and there, showed that a cottage had once existed where now was no habitation. One such spot was rather to be shunned by the superstitious, for here, about 1698, a cottar family had been evicted by endless unaccountable disturbances in the house. Stones were thrown by invisible hands, though occasionally, by the way, a white hand, with no apparent body attached to it, was viewed by the curious who came to the spot. Heavy objects of all sorts floated in the air; rappings and voices were heard; the end wall was pulled down by an unknown agency. The story is extant in a pious old pamphlet called “Sadducees Defeated,” and a great deal more to the same effect, a masterpiece by the parish minister, signed and attested by the other ministers of the Glen Kens. The Edinburgh edition of the pamphlet is rare; the London edition may be procured without much difficulty.

The site of this ruined cottage, however, had no terrors for the neighbours, or rather for the neighbour, my shepherd. In fact, he seemed to have forgotten the legend till I reminded him of it, for I had come across the tale in my researches into the Unexplained. The shepherd and his family, indeed, were quite devoid of superstition, and in this respect very unlike the northern Highlanders. However, the fallen cottage had nothing to do with my own little adventure in Glen Aline, and I mention it merely as the most notable of the tiny ruins which attest the presence, in the past, of a larger population. One cannot marvel that the people “flitted” from the moors and morasses of Glen Aline into less melancholy neighbourhoods. The very sheep seemed scarcer here than elsewhere; grouse-disease had devastated the moors, sportsmen consequently did not visit them; and only a few barren pairs, with crow-picked skeletons of dead birds in the heather now and then, showed that the shootings had once perhaps been marketable. My shepherd’s cottage was four miles from the little-travelled road to Dalmellington; long bad miles they were, across bog and heather. Consequently I seldom saw any face of man, except in or about the cottage. My work went on rapidly enough in such an undisturbed life. Empires might fall, parties might break like bursting shells, and banks might break also: I plodded on with my labour, and went a-fishing when the day promised well. There was a hill loch (Loch Nan) about five miles away, which I favoured a good deal. The trout were large and fair of flesh, and in proper weather they rose pretty freely, and could be taken by an angler wading from the shore. There was no boat. The wading, however, was difficult and dangerous, owing to the boggy nature of the bottom, which quaked like a quicksand in some places. The black water, never stirred by duck or moorhen, the dry rustling reeds, the noisome smell of decaying vegetable-matter when you stirred it up in wading, the occasional presence of a dead sheep by the sullen margin of the tarn, were all opposed to cheerfulness. Still, the fish were there, and the “lane,” which sulkily glided from the loch towards the distant river, contained some monsters, which took worm after a flood. One misty morning, as I had just topped the low ridge from which the loch became visible, I saw a man fishing from my favourite bench. Never had I noticed a human being there before, and I was not well pleased to think that some emissary of Mr. Watson Lyall was making experiments in Loch Nan, and would describe it in “The Sportsman’s Guide.” The mist blew white and thick for a minute or two over the loch-side, as it often does at Loch Skene; so white and thick and sudden that the bewildered angler there is apt to lose his way, and fall over the precipice of the Grey Mare’s Tail. When the curtain of cloud rose again, the loch was lonely: the angler had disappeared. I went on rejoicing, and made a pretty good basket, as the weather improved and grew warmer, a change which gives an appetite to trout in some hill lochs. Among the sands between the stones on the farther bank I found traces of the angler’s footsteps; he was not a phantom, at all events, for phantoms do not wear heavily nailed boots, as he evidently did. The traces, which were soon lost, of course, inclined me to think that he had retreated up a narrow green burnside, with rather high banks, through which, in rainy weather, a small feeder fell into the loch. I guessed that he had been frightened away by the descent of the mist, which usually “puts down” the trout and prevents them from feeding. In that case his alarm was premature. I marched homewards, happy with the unaccustomed weight of my basket, the contents of which were a welcome change from the usual porridge and potatoes, tea (without milk), jam, and scones of the shepherd’s table. But, as I reached the height above the loch on my westward path, and looked back to see if rising fish were dimpling the still waters, all flushed as they were with sunset, behold, there was the Other Man at work again!

I should have thought no more about him had I not twice afterwards seen him at a distance, fishing up a “lane” ahead of me, in the loneliest regions, and thereby, of course, spoiling my sport. I knew him by his peculiar stoop, which seemed not unfamiliar to me, and by his hat, which was of the clerical pattern once known, perhaps still known, as “a Bible-reader’s” a low, soft, slouched black felt. The second time that I found him thus anticipating me, I left off fishing and walked rather briskly towards him, to satisfy my curiosity, and ask the usual questions, “What sport?” and “What flies?” But as soon as he observed me coming he strode off across the heather. Uncourteous as it seems, I felt so inquisitive that I followed him. But he walked so rapidly, and was so manifestly anxious to shake me off, that I gave up the pursuit. Even if he were a poacher whose conscience smote him for using salmon-roe, I was not “my brother’s keeper,” nor anybody’s keeper. He might “otter” the loch, but how could I prevent him?

It was no affair of mine, and yet—where had I seen him before? His gait, his stoop, the carriage of his head, all seemed familiar, but a short-sighted man is accustomed to this kind of puzzle: he is always recognising the wrong person, when he does not fail to recognise the right one.

I am rather short-sighted, but science has its resources. Two or three days after my encounter with this very shy sportsman, I went again to Loch Nan. But this time I took with me a strong field-glass. As I neared the crest of the low heathery slope immediately above the loch, whence the water first comes into view, I lay down on the ground and crawled like a deer-stalker to the skyline.

Then I got out the glass and reconnoitred. There was my friend, sure enough; moreover, he was playing a very respectable trout. But he was fishing on the near side of the loch, and though I had quite a distinct view of his back, and indeed of all his attenuated form, I was as far as ever from recognising him, or guessing where, if anywhere, I had seen him before. I now determined to stalk him; but this was not too easy, as there is literally no cover on the hillside except a long march dyke of the usual loose stones, which ran down to the loch-side, and indeed three or four feet into the loch, reaching it at a short distance to the right of the angler. Behind this I skulked, in an eagerly undignified manner, and was just about to climb the wall unobserved, when two grouse got up, with their wild “cluck cluck” of alarm, and flew down past the angler and over the loch. He did not even look round, but jerked his line out of the water, reeled it up, and set off walking along the loch-side. He was making, no doubt, for the little glen up which I fancied that he must have retreated on the first occasion when saw him. I set off walking round the tarn on my own side, the left side, expecting to anticipate him, and that he must pass me on his way up the little burnside. But I had miscalculated the distance, or the pace. He was first at the burnside; and now I cast courtesy and everything but curiosity to the winds, and deliberately followed him. He was a few score of yards ahead of me, walking rapidly, when he suddenly climbed the burnside to the left, and was lost to my eyes for a few moments. I reached the place, ascended the steep green declivity and found myself on the open undulating moor, with no human being in sight!

The grass and heather were short. I saw no bush, no hollow, where he could by any possibility have hidden himself. Had he met a Boojum he could not have more “softly and suddenly vanished away.”

I make no pretence of being more courageous than my neighbours, and, in this juncture, perhaps I was less so. The long days of loneliness in waste Glen Aline, and too many solitary cigarettes, had probably injured my nerve. So, when I suddenly heard a sigh and the half-smothered sound of a convulsive cough-hollow, if ever a cough was hollow, hard by me, at my side as it were, and yet could behold no man, nor any place where a man might conceal himself, nothing but moor and sky and tufts of rushes, then I turned away, and walked down the glen: not slowly. I shall not deny that I often looked over my shoulder as I went, and that, when I reached the loch, I did not angle without many a backward glance. Such an appearance and disappearance as this, I remembered, were in the experience of Sir Walter Scott. Lockhart does not tell the anecdote, which is in a little anonymous volume, “Recollections of Sir Walter Scott,” published before Lockhart’s book. Sir Walter reports that he was once riding across the moor to Ashiesteil, in the clear brown summer twilight, after sunset. He saw a man a little way ahead of him, but, just before he reached the spot, the man disappeared. Scott rode about and about, searching the low heather as I had done, but to no purpose. He rode on, and, glancing back, saw the same man at the same place. He turned his horse, galloped to the spot, and again, nothing! “Then,” says Sir Walter, “neither the mare nor I cared to wait any longer.” Neither had I cared to wait, and if there is any shame in the confession, on my head be it!

There came a week of blazing summer weather; tramping over moors to lochs like sheets of burnished steel was out of the question, and I worked at my book, which now was all but finished. At length I wrote THE END, and “ô le bon ouff! que je poussais,” as Flaubert says about one of his own laborious conclusions. The weather broke, we had a deluge, and then came a soft cloudy day, with a warm southern wind suggesting a final march on Loch Nan. I packed some scones and marmalade into my creel, filled my flask with whiskey, my cigarette-case with cigarettes, and started on the familiar track with the happiest anticipations. The Lone Fisher was quite out of my mind; the day was exhilarating, one of those true fishing-days when you feel the presence of the sun without seeing him. Still, I looked rather cautiously over the edge of the slope above the loch, and, by Jove! there he was, fishing the near side, and wading deep among the reeds! I did not stalk him this time, but set off running down the hillside behind him, as quickly as my basket, with its load of waders and boots, would permit. I was within forty yards of him, when he gave a wild stagger, tried to recover himself, failed, and, this time, disappeared in a perfectly legitimate and accountable manner. The treacherous peaty bottom had given way, and his floating hat, with a splash on the surface, and a few black bubbles, were all that testified to his existence. There was a broken old paling hard by; I tore off a long plank, waded in as near as I dared, and, by help of the plank, after a good deal of slipping, which involved an exemplary drenching, I succeeded in getting him on to dry land. He was a distressing spectacle—his body and face all blackened with the slimy peat-mud; and he fell half-fainting on the grass, convulsed by a terrible cough. My first care was to give him whiskey, by perhaps a mistaken impulse of humanity; my next, as he lay, exhausted, was to bring water in my hat, and remove the black mud from his face.

Then I saw Percy Allen—Allen of St. Jude’s! His face was wasted, his thin long beard (he had not worn a beard of old), clogged as it was with peat-stains, showed flecks of grey.

“Allen, Percy!” I said; “what wind blew you here?”

But he did not answer; and, as he coughed, it was too plain that the shock of his accident had broken some vessel in the lungs. I tended him as well as I knew how to do it. I sat beside him, giving him what comfort I might, and all the time my memory flew back to college days, and to our strange and most unhappy last meeting, and his subsequent inevitable disgrace. Far away from here, Loch Nan and the vacant moors, my memory wandered.

It was at Blocksby’s auction-room, in a street near the Strand, on the eve of a great book-sale three years before, that we had met, for almost the last time, as I believed, though it is true that we had not spoken on that occasion. It is necessary that I should explain what occurred, or what I and three other credible witnesses believed to have occurred; for, upon my word, the more I see and hear of human evidence of any event, the less do I regard it as establishing anything better than an excessively probable hypothesis.

To make a long story as short as may be, I should say that Allen and I had been acquainted when we were undergraduates; that, when fellows of our respective colleges, our acquaintance had become intimate; that we had once shared a little bit of fishing on the Test; and that we were both book-collectors. I was a comparatively sane bibliomaniac, but to Allen the time came when he grudged every penny that he did not spend on rare books, and when he actually gave up his share of the water we used to take together, that his contribution to the rent might go for rare editions and bindings. After this deplorable change of character we naturally saw each other less, but we were still friendly. I went up to town to scribble; Allen stayed on at Oxford. One day I chanced to go into Blocksby’s rooms; it was a Friday, I remember, there was to be a great sale on the Monday. There I met Allen in ecstasies over one of the books displayed in the little side room on the right hand of the sale-room. He had taken out of a glass case and was gloating over a book which, it seems, had long been the Blue Rose of his fancy as a collector. He was crazed about Longepierre, the old French amateur, whose volumes, you may remember, were always bound in blue morocco, and tooled, on the centre and at the corners, with his badge, the Golden Fleece. Now the tome which so fascinated Allen was a Theocritus, published at Rome by Caliergus—a Theocritus on blue paper, if you please, bound in Longepierre’s morocco livery, doublé with red morocco, and, oh ecstasy! with a copy of Longepierre’s version of one Idyll on the flyleaf, signed with the translator’s initials, and headed “à Mon Roy.” It is known to the curious that Louis XIV. particularly admired and praised this little poem, calling it “a model of honourable gallantry.” Clearly the grateful author had presented his own copy to the king; and here it was, when king and crown had gone down into dust.

Allen showed me the book; he could hardly let it leave his hands.

“Here is a pearl,” he had said, “a gem beyond price!”

“I’m afraid you’ll find it so,” I said; “that is for a Paillet or Rothschild, not for you, my boy.”

“I fear so,” he had answered; “if I were to sell my whole library to-morrow, I could hardly raise the money;” for he was poor, and it was rumoured that his mania had already made him acquainted with the Jews.

We parted. I went home to chambers; Allen stayed adoring the unexampled Longepierre. That night I dined out, and happened to sit next a young lady who possessed a great deal of taste, though that was the least of her charms. The fashion for book-collecting was among her innocent pleasures; she had seen Allen’s books at Oxford, and I told her of his longings for the Theocritus. Miss Breton at once was eager to see the book, and the other books, and I obtained leave to go with her and Mrs. Breton to the auction-rooms next day. The little side-room where the treasures were displayed was empty, except for an attendant, when we went in; we looked at the things and made learned remarks, but I admit that I was more concerned to look at Miss Breton than at any work in leather by Derome or Bauzonnet. We were thus a good deal occupied, perhaps, with each other; people came and went, while our heads were bent over a case of volumes under the window. When we did leave, on the appeal of Mrs. Breton, we both, both I and Kate, Miss Breton, I mean, saw Allen, at least I saw him, and believed she did, absorbed in gazing at the Longepierre Theocritus. He held it rather near his face; the gas, which had been lit, fell on the shining Golden Fleeces of the cover, on his long thin hands and eager studious features. It would have been a pity to disturb him in his ecstasy. I looked at Miss Breton; we both smiled, and, of course, I presumed we smiled for the same reason.

I happen to know, and unluckily did it happen, the very minute of the hour when we left Blocksby’s. It was a quarter to four o’clock, a church-tower was chiming the three-quarters in the Strand, and I looked half mechanically at my own watch, which was five minutes fast. On Sunday I went down to Oxford, and happened to walk into Allen’s rooms. He was lying on a sofa reading the “Spectator.” After chatting a little, I said, “You took no notice of me, nor of the Bretons yesterday, Allen, at Blocksby’s.”

“I didn’t see you,” he said; and as he was speaking there came a knock at the door.

“Come in!” cried Allen, and a man entered who was a stranger to me. You would not have called him a gentleman perhaps. However, I admit that I am possibly no great judge of a gentleman.

Allen looked up.

“Hullo, Mr. Thomas,” he said, “have you come up to see Mr. Mortby?” mentioning a well-known Oxford bibliophile. “Wharton,” he went on, addressing me, “this is Mr. Thomas from Blocksby’s.” I bowed. Mr. Thomas seemed embarrassed. “Can I have a word alone with you, sir?” he murmured to Allen.

“Certainly,” answered Allen, looking rather surprised. “You’ll excuse me a moment, Wharton,” he said to me. “Stop and lunch, won’t you? There’s the old ‘Spectator’ for you;” and he led Mr. Thomas into a small den where he used to hear his pupils read their essays, and so forth.

In a few minutes he came out, looking rather pale, and took an embarrassed farewell of Mr. Thomas.

“Look here, Wharton,” he said to me, “here is a curious business. That fellow from Blocksby’s tells me that the Longepierre Theocritus disappeared yesterday afternoon; that I was the last person in whose hand it was seen, and that not only the man who always attends in the room but Lord Tarras and Mr. Wentworth, saw it in my hands just before it was missed.”

“What a nuisance!” I answered. “You were looking at it when Miss Breton and I saw you, and you didn’t notice us; Does Thomas know when, I mean about what o’clock, the book was first missed?”

“That’s the lucky part of the whole worry,” said Allen. “I left the rooms at three exactly, and it was missed about ten minutes to four; dozens of people must have handled it in that interval of time. So interesting a book!”

“But,” I said, and paused—“are you sure your watch was right?”

“Quite certain; besides, I looked at a church clock. Why on earth do you ask?”

“Because, I am awfully sorry, there is some unlucky muddle; but it was exactly a quarter, or perhaps seventeen minutes, to four when both Miss Breton and I saw you absorbed in the Longepierre.”

“Oh, it’s quite impossible,” Allen answered; “I was far enough away from Blocksby’s at a quarter to four.”

“That’s all right,” I said. “Of course you can prove that; if it is necessary; though I dare say the book has fallen behind a row of others, and has been found by this time. Where were you at a quarter to four?”

“I really don’t feel obliged to stand a cross-examination before my time,” answered Allen, flushing a little. Then I remembered that I was engaged to lunch at All Souls’, which was true enough; convenient too, for I do not quite see how the conversation could have been carried on pleasantly much further. For I had seen him—not a doubt about it. But there was one curious thing. Next time I met Miss Breton I told her the story, and said, “You remember how we saw Allen, at Blocksby’s, just as we were going away?”

“No,” she said, “I did not see him; where was he?”

“Then why did you smile, don’t you remember? I looked at him and at you, and I thought you smiled!”

“Because, well, I suppose because you smiled,” she said. And the subject of the conversation was changed.

It was an excessively awkward affair. It did not come “before the public,” except, of course, in the agreeably mythical gossip of an evening paper. There was no more public scandal than that. Allen was merely ruined. The matter was introduced to the notice of the Wardens and the other Fellows of St. Jude’s. What Lord Tarras saw, what Mr. Wentworth saw, what I saw, clearly proved that Allen was in the auction-rooms, and had the confounded book in his hand, at an hour when, as he asserted, he had left the place for some time. It was admitted by one of the people employed at the sale-rooms that Allen had been noticed (he was well known there) leaving the house at three. But he must have come back again, of course, as at least four people could have sworn to his presence in the show-room at a quarter to four o’clock. When he was asked in a private interview, by the Head of his College, to say where he went after leaving Blocksby’s Allen refused to answer. He merely said that he could not prove the facts; that his own word would not be taken against that of so many unprejudiced and even friendly witnesses. He simply threw up the game. He resigned his fellowship; he took his name off the books; he disappeared.

There was a good deal of talk; people spoke about the unscrupulousness of collectors, and repeated old anecdotes on that subject. Then the business was forgotten. Next, in a year’s time or so, the book—the confounded Longepierre’s Theocritus—was found in a pawnbroker’s shop. The history of its adventures was traced beyond a shadow of doubt. It had been very adroitly stolen, and disposed of, by a notorious book-thief, a gentleman by birth, now dead, but well remembered. Ask Mr. Quaritch!

Allen’s absolute innocence was thus demonstrated beyond cavil, though nobody paid any particular attention to the demonstration. As for Allen, he had vanished; he was heard of no more.

He was here; dying here, beside the black wave of lone Loch Nan.

All this, so long in the telling, I had time enough to think over, as I sat and watched him, and wiped his lips with water from the burn, clearer and sweeter than the water of the loch.

At last his fit of coughing ceased, and a kind of peace came into his face.

“Allen, my dear old boy,” I said, I don’t often use the language of affection, “did you never hear that all that stupid story was cleared up; that everyone knows you are innocent?”

He only shook his head; he did not dare to speak, but he looked happier, and he put his hand in mine.

I sat holding his hand, stroking it. I don’t know how long I sat there; I had put my coat and waterproof under him. He was “wet through,” of course; there was little use in what I did. What could I do with him? how bring him to a warm and dry place?

The idea seemed to strike him, for he half rose and pointed to the little burnside, across the loch. A plan occurred to me; I tore a leaf from my sketch-book, put the paper with pencil in his hand, and said, “Where do you live? Don’t speak. Write.”

He wrote in a faint scrawl, “Help me to that burnside. Then I can guide you.”

I hardly know how I got him there, for, light as he was, I am no Hercules. However, with many a rest, we reached the little dell; and then I carried him up its green side, and laid him on the heather of the moor.

He wrote again:

“Go to that clump of rushes, the third from the little hillock. Then look, but be careful. Then lift the big grass tussock.”

The spot which Allen indicated was on the side of a rather steep grassy slope. I approached it, dragged at the tussock of grass, which came away easily enough, and revealed the entrance to no more romantic hiding-place than an old secret whiskey “still.” Private stills, not uncommon in Sutherland and some other northern shires, are extinct in Galloway. Allen had probably found this one by accident in his wanderings, and in his half-insane bitterness against mankind had made it, for some time at least, his home. The smoke-blackened walls, the recesses where the worm-tub and the still now stood, all plainly enough betrayed the original user of the hiding-place. There was a low bedstead, a shelf or two, whereon lay a few books—a Shakespeare, a Homer, a Walton, Plutarch’s “Lives”; very little else out of a library once so rich. There was a tub of oatmeal, a heap of dry peat, two or three eggs in a plate, some bottles, a keg of whiskey, some sardine-tins, a box with clothes—that was nearly all the “plenishing” of this hermitage. It was never likely to be discovered, except by the smoke, when the inmate lit a fire. The local shepherd knew it, of course, but Allen had bought his silence, not that there were many neighbours for the shepherd to tattle with.

Allen had recovered strength enough by this time to reach his den with little assistance. He made me beat up the white of one of the eggs with a little turpentine, which was probably, under the circumstances, the best styptic for his malady within his reach. I lit his fire of peats, undressed him, put him to bed, and made him as comfortable as might be in the den which he had chosen. Then I went back to the shepherd’s, sent a messenger to the nearest doctor, and procured a kind of sledge, generally used for dragging peat home, wherein, with abundance of blankets for covering, I hoped to bring Allen back to the shepherd’s cottage.

Not to delay over details, this was managed at last, and the unhappy fellow was under a substantial roof. But he was very ill; he became delirious and raved of many things, talked of old college adventures, bid recklessly for imaginary books, and practised other eccentricities of fever.

When his fever left him he was able to converse in a way, I talking, and he scrawling faintly with a pencil on paper. I told him how his character had been cleared, how he had been hunted for, advertised for, vainly enough. To the shepherds’ cottages where he had lived till the beginning of that summer, newspapers rarely came; to his den in the old secret still, of course they never came at all.

His own story of what he had been doing at the fatal hour when so many people saw him at the auction-rooms was brief. He had left the rooms, as he said, at three o’clock, pondering how he might raise money for the book on which his heart was set. His feet had taken him, half unconsciously, to

a dismal court,
Place of Israelite resort,

where dwelt and dealt one Isaacs, from whom he had, at various times, borrowed money on usury. The name of Isaacs was over a bell, one of many at the door, and, when the bell was rung, the street door “opened of his own accord,” like that of the little tobacco-and-talk club which used to exist in an alley off Pall Mall. Allen rang the bell, the outer door opened, and, as he was standing at the door of Isaacs’ chambers, before he had knocked, that portal also opened, and the office-boy, a young Jew, slunk cautiously out. On seeing Allen, he had seemed at once surprised and alarmed. Allen asked if his master was in; the lad answered “No” in a hesitating way; but on second thoughts, averred that Isaacs “would be back immediately,” and requested Allen to go in and wait. He did so, but Isaacs never came, and Allen fell asleep. He had a very distinct and singular dream, he said, of being in Messrs. Blocksy’s rooms, of handling the Longepierre, and of seeing Wentworth there, and Lord Tarras. When he wakened he was very cold, and, of course, it was pitch dark. He did not remember where he was; he lit a match and a candle on the chimney-piece. Then slowly his memory came back to him, and not only his memory, but his consciousness of what he had wholly forgotten—namely, that this was Saturday, the Sabbath of the Jews, and that there was not the faintest chance of Isaacs’ arrival at his place of business. In the same moment the embarrassment and confusion of the young Israelite flashed vividly across his mind, and he saw that he was in a very awkward position. If that fair Hebrew boy had been robbing, or trying to rob, the till, then Allen’s position was serious indeed, as here he was, alone, at an untimely hour, in the office. So he blew the candle out, and went down the dingy stairs as quietly as possible, took the first cab he met, drove to Paddington, and went up to Oxford.

It is probable that the young child of Israel, if he had been attempting any mischief, did not succeed in it. Had there been any trouble, it is likely enough that he would have involved Allen in the grief. Then Allen would have been in a, perhaps, unprecedented position. He could have established an alibi, as far as the Jew’s affairs went, by proving that he had been at Blocksby’s at the hour when the boy would truthfully have sworn that he had let him into Isaacs’ chambers. And, as far as the charge against him at Blocksby’s went, the evidence of the young Jew would have gone to prove that he was at Isaacs’, where he had no business to be, when we saw him at Blocksby’s. But, unhappily, each alibi would have been almost equally compromising. The difficulty never arose, but the reason why Allen refused to give any account of what he had been doing, and where he had been, at four o’clock on that Saturday afternoon—a refusal that told so heavily against him, is now sufficiently clear. His statement would, we may believe, never have been corroborated by the youthful Hebrew, who certainly had his own excellent reasons for silence, and who probably had carefully established an alibi of his own elsewhere.

The true account of Allen’s appearance, or apparition, at Blocksby’s, when I and Tarras, Wentworth and the attendant recognised him, and Miss Breton did not, is thus part of the History of the Unexplained. Allen might have appealed to precedents in the annals of the Psychical Society, where they exist in scores, and are technically styled “collective hallucinations.” But neither a jury, nor a judge, perhaps, would accept the testimony of experts in Psychical Research if offered in a criminal trial, nor acquit a wraith.

Possibly this scepticism has never yet injured the cause of an innocent man. Yet I know, in my own personal experience, and have heard from others, from men of age, sagacity, and acquaintance with the greatest affairs, instances in which people have been distinctly seen by sane, healthy, and honourable witnesses, in places and circumstances where it was (as we say) “physically impossible” that they should have been, and where they certainly were not themselves aware of having been. That is why human testimony seems to me to establish no more, in certain circumstances, than a highly probable working hypothesis, a hypothesis on which, of course, we are bound to act.

There is little more to tell. By dint of careful nursing, poor Allen was enabled to travel; he reached Mentone, and there the mistral ended him. He was a lonely man, with no kinsfolk; his character was cleared among the people who knew him best; the others have forgotten him. Nobody can be injured by this explanation of his silence when called on to prove his innocence, and of his unusually successful vanishing from a society which had never tried very hard to discover him in his retreat. He has lived and suffered and died, and left behind him little but an incident in the History of the Unexplained.



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