Ensign Knightley and Other Stories

The Shuttered House

A.E.W. Mason

IF EVER a man’s pleasures jumped with his duties mine did in the year 1744, when, as a clerk in the service of the Royal African Company of Adventurers, I was despatched to the remote islands of Scilly in search of certain information which, it was believed, Mr. Robert Lovyes alone could impart. For even a clerk that sits all day conning his ledgers may now and again chance upon a record or name which will tickle his dull fancies with the suggestion of a story. Such a suggestion I had derived from the circumstances of Mr. Lovyes. He had passed an adventurous youth, during which he had for eight years been held to slavery by a negro tribe on the Gambia river; he had afterwards amassed a considerable fortune, and embarked it in the ventures of the Company; he had thereupon withdrawn himself to Tresco, where he had lived for twenty years: so much any man might know without provocation to his curiosity. The strange feature of Mr. Lovyes’ conduct was revealed to me by the ledgers. For during all those years he had drawn neither upon his capital nor his interest, so that his stake in the Company grew larger and larger, with no profit to himself that any one could discover. It seemed to me, in fact, clean against nature that a man so rich should so disregard his wealth; and I busied myself upon the journey with discovering strange reasons for his seclusion, of which none, I may say, came near the mark, by so much did the truth exceed them all.

I landed at the harbour of New Grimsey, on Tresco, in the grey twilight of a September evening; and asking for Mr. Lovyes, was directed across a little ridge of heather to Dolphin Town, which lies on the eastward side of Tresco, and looks across Old Grimsey Sound to the island of St. Helen’s. Dolphin Town, you should know, for all its grand name, boasts but a poor half-score of houses dotted about the ferns and bracken, with no semblance of order. One of the houses, however, attracted my notice—first, because it was built in two storeys, and was, therefore, by a storey taller than the rest; and, secondly, because all its windows were closely shuttered, and it wore in that falling light a drooping, melancholy aspect, like a derelict ship upon the seas. It stood in the middle of this scanty village, and had a little unkempt garden about it inclosed within a wooden paling. There was a wicket-gate in the paling, and a rough path from the gate to the house door, and a few steps to the right of this path a well was sunk and rigged with a winch and bucket. I was both tired and thirsty, so I turned into the garden and drew up some water in the bucket. A narrow track was beaten in the grass between the well and the house, and I saw with surprise that the stones about the mouth of the well were splashed and still wet. The house, then, had an inmate. I looked at it again, but the shutters kept their secret: there was no glimmer of light visible through any chink. I approached the house, and from that nearer vantage discovered that the shutters were common planks fitted into the windows and nailed fast to the woodwork from without. Growing yet more curious, I marched to the door and knocked, with an inquiry upon my tongue as to where Mr. Lovyes lived. But the excuse was not needed; the sound of my blows echoed through the house in a desolate, solitary fashion, and no step answered them. I knocked again, and louder. Then I leaned my ear to the panel, and I distinctly heard the rustling of a woman’s dress. I held my breath to hear the more surely. The sound was repeated, but more faintly, and it was followed by a noise like the closing of a door. I drew back from the house, keeping an eye upon the upper storey, for I thought it possible the woman might reconnoitre me thence. But the windows stared at me blind, unresponsive. To the right and left lights twinkled in the scattered dwellings, and I found something very ghostly in the thought of this woman entombed as it were in the midst of them and moving alone in the shuttered gloom. The twilight deepened, and suddenly the gate behind me whined on its hinges. At once I dropped to my full length on the grass—the gloom was now so thick there was little fear I should be discovered—and a man went past me to the house. He walked, so far as I could judge, with a heavy stoop, but was yet uncommon tall, and he carried a basket upon his arm. He laid the basket upon the doorstep, and, to my utter disappointment, turned at once, and so down the path and out at the gate. I heard the gate rattle once, twice, and then a click as its latch caught. I was sufficiently curious to desire a nearer view of the basket, and discovered that it contained food. Then, remembering me that all this while my own business waited, I continued on my way to Mr. Lovyes’ house. It was a long building of a brownish granite, under Merchant’s Point, at the northern extremity of Old Grimsey Harbour. Mr. Lovyes was sitting over his walnuts in the cheerless solitude of his dining-room—a frail old gentleman, older than his years, which I took to be sixty or thereabouts, and with the air of a man in a decline. I unfolded my business forthwith, but I had not got far before he interrupted me.

“There is a mistake,” he said. “It is doubtless my brother Robert you are in search of. I am John Lovyes, and was, it is true, captured with my brother in Africa, but I escaped six years before he did, and traded no more in those parts. We fled together from the negroes, but we were pursued. My brother was pierced by an arrow, and I left him, believing him to be dead.”

I had, indeed, heard something of a brother, though I little expected to find him in Tresco too. He pressed upon me the hospitality of his house, but my business was with Mr. Robert, and I asked him to direct me on my path, which he did with some hesitation and reluctance. I had once more to pass through Dolphin Town, and an impulse prompted me to take another look at the shuttered house. I found that the basket of food had been removed, and an empty bucket stood in its place. But there was still no light visible, and I went on to the dwelling of Mr. Robert Lovyes. When I came to it, I comprehended his brother’s hesitation. It was a rough, mean little cottage standing on the edge of the bracken close to the sea—a dwelling fit for the poorest fisherman, but for no one above that station, and a large open boat was drawn up on the hard beside it as though the tenant fished for his bread. I knocked at the door, and a man with a candle in his hand opened it.

“Mr. Robert Lovyes?” I asked.

“Yes, I am he.” And he led the way into a kitchen, poor and mean as the outside warranted, but scrupulously clean and bright with a fire. He led the way, as I say, and I was still more mystified to observe from his gait, his height, and the stoop of his shoulders that he was the man whom I had seen carrying the basket through the garden. I had now an opportunity of noticing his face, wherein I could detect no resemblance to his brother’s. For it was broader and more vigorous, with a great, white beard valancing it; and whereas Mr. John’s hair was neatly powdered and tied with a ribbon, as a gentleman’s should be, Mr. Robert’s, which was of a black colour with a little sprinkling of grey, hung about his head in a tangled mane. There was but a two-years difference between the ages of the brothers, but there might have been a decade. I explained my business, and we sat down to a supper of fish, freshly caught, which he served himself. And during supper he gave me the information I was come after. But I lent only an inattentive ear to his talk. For my knowledge of his wealth, the picture of him as he sat in his great sea-boots and coarse seaman’s vest, as though it was the most natural garb in the world, and his easy discourse about those far African rivers, made a veritable jumble of my mind. To add to it all, there was the mystery of the shuttered house. More than once I was inclined to question him upon this last account, but his manner did not promise confidences, and I said nothing. At last he perceived my inattention.

“I will repeat all this to-morrow,” he said grimly. “You are, no doubt, tired. I cannot, I am afraid, house you, for, as you see, I have no room; but I have a young friend who happens by good luck to stay this night on Tresco, and no doubt he will oblige me.” Thereupon he led me to a cottage on the outskirts of Dolphin Town, and of all in that village nearest to the sea.

“My friend,” said he, “is named Ginver Wyeth, and, though he comes from these parts, he does not live here, being a school-master on the mainland. His mother has died lately, and he is come on that account.”

Mr. Wyeth received me hospitably, but with a certain pedantry of speech which somewhat surprised me, seeing that his parents were common fisherfolk. He readily explained the matter, however, over a pipe, when Mr. Lovyes had left us. “I owe everything to Mrs. Lovyes,” he said. “She took me when a boy, taught me something herself, and sent me thereafter, at her own charges, to a school in Falmouth.”

“Mrs. Lovyes!” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” he continued, and, bending forward, lowered his voice. “You went up to Merchant’s Point, you say? Then you passed Crudge’s Folly—a house of two storeys with a well in the garden.”

“Yes, yes!” I said.

“She lives there,” said he.

“Behind those shutters!” I cried.

“For twenty years she has lived in the midst of us, and no one has seen her during all that time. Not even Robert Lovyes. Aye, she has lived behind the shutters.”

There he stopped. I waited, thinking that in a little he would take up his tale, but he did not, and I had to break the silence.

“I had not heard that Mr. Robert was ever married,” I said as carelessly as I might.

“Nor was he,” replied Mr. Wyeth. “Mrs. Lovyes is the wife of John. The house at Merchant’s Point is hers, and there twenty years ago she lived.”

His words caught my breath away, so little did I expect them.

“The wife of John Lovyes!” I stammered, “but—” And I told him how I had seen Robert Lovyes carry his basket up the path.

“Yes,” said Wyeth. “Twice a day Robert draws water for her at the well, and once a day he brings her food. It is in his house, too, that she lives—Crudge’s Folly, that was his name for it, and the name clings. But, none the less, she is the wife of John;” and with little more persuasion Mr. Wyeth told me the story.

“It is the story of a sacrifice,” he began, “mad or great, as you please; but, mark you, it achieved its end. As a boy, I witnessed it from its beginnings. For it was at this very door that Robert Lovyes rapped when he first landed on Tresco on the night of the seventh of May twenty-two years ago, and I was here on my holidays at the time. I had been out that day in my father’s lugger to the Poul, which is the best fishing-ground anywhere near Scilly, and the fog took us, I remember, at three of the afternoon. So what with that and the wind failing, it was late when we cast anchor in Grimsey Sound. The night had fallen in a brown mirk, and so still that the sound of our feet brushing through the ferns was loud, like the sweep of scythes. We sat down to supper in this kitchen about nine, my mother, my father, two men from the boat, and myself, and after supper we gathered about the fire here and talked. The talk in these parts, however it may begin, slides insensibly to that one element of which the noise is ever in our ears; and so in a little here were we chattering of wrecks and wrecks and wrecks and the bodies of dead men drowned. And then, in the thick of the talk, came the knock on the door—a light rapping of the knuckles, such as one hears twenty times a day; but our minds were so primed with old wives’ tales that it fairly shook us all. No one stirred, and the knocking was repeated.

“Then the latch was lifted, and Robert Lovyes stepped in. His beard was black then—coal black, like his hair—and his face looked out from it pale as a ghost and shining wet from the sea. The water dripped from his clothes and made a puddle about his feet.

“‘How often did I knock?’ he asked pleasantly. ‘Twice, I think. Yes, twice.’

“Then he sat down on the settle, very deliberately pulled off his great sea-boots, and emptied the water out of them.

“‘What island is this?’ he asked.


“‘Tresco!’ he exclaimed, in a quick, agitated whisper, as though he dreaded yet expected to hear the name. ‘We were wrecked, then, on the Golden Ball.’

“‘Wrecked?’ cried my father; but the man went on pursuing his own thoughts.

“‘I swam to an islet.’

“‘It would be Norwithel,’ said my father.

“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘it would be Norwithel.’ And my mother asked curiously—

“‘You know these islands?’ For his speech was leisurely and delicate, such as we heard neither from Scillonians nor from the sailors who visit St. Mary’s.

“‘Yes,’ he answered, his face breaking into a smile of unexpected softness, ‘I know these islands. From Rosevean to Ganilly, from Peninnis Head to Maiden Bower: I know them well.’”

.     .     .     .     .

At this point Mr. Wyeth broke off his story, and crossing to the window, opened it. “Listen!” he said. I heard as it were the sound of innumerable voices chattering and murmuring and whispering in some mysterious language, and at times the voices blended and the murmurs became a single moan.

“It is the tide making on the Golden Ball,” said Mr. Wyeth. “The reef stretches seawards from St. Helen’s island and half way across the Sound. You may see it at low tide, a ledge level as a paved causeway, and God help the ship that strikes on it!”

Even while he spoke, from these undertones of sound there swelled suddenly a great booming like a battery of cannon.

“It is the ledge cracking,” said Mr. Wyeth, “and it cracks in the calmest weather.” With that, he closed the window, and, lighting his pipe, resumed his story.

.     .     .     .     .

“It was on that reef that Mr. Robert Lovyes was wrecked. The ship, he told us, was the schooner Waking Dawn, bound from Cardiff to Africa, and she had run into the fog about half-past three, when they were a mile short of the Seven Stones. She bumped twice on the reef, and sank immediately, with, so far as he knew, all her crew.

“‘So now,’ Robert continued, tapping his belt, ‘since I have the means to pay, I will make bold to ask for a lodging, and for this night I will hang up here my dripping garments to Neptune.’

“‘Me tabula sacer
Votiva paries—’

“I began in the pride of my schooling, for I had learned that verse of Horace but a week before.

“‘This, no doubt, is the Cornish tongue,’ he interrupted gravely, ’and will you please to carry my boots outside?’

“What followed seemed to me then the strangest part of all this business, though, indeed, our sea-fogs come and go as often as not with a like abruptness. But the time of this fog’s dispersion shocked the mind as something pitiless and arbitrary. For had the air cleared an hour before, the Waking Dawn would not have struck. I opened the door, and it was as though a panel of brilliant white was of a sudden painted on the floor. Robert Lovyes sprang up from the settle, ran past me into the open, and stood on the bracken in his stockinged feet. A little patch of fog still smoked on the shining beach of Tean; a scarf of it was twisted about the granite bosses of St. Helen’s; and for the rest the moonlight sparkled upon the headlands and was spilled across miles of placid sea. There was a froth of water upon the Golden Ball, but no sign of the schooner sunk among its weeds.

“My father, however, and the two boatmen hurried down to the shore, while I was despatched with the news to Merchant’s Point. My mother asked Mr. Lovyes his name, that I might carry it with me. But he spoke in a dreamy voice, as though he had not heard her.

“‘There were eight of the crew. Four were below, and I doubt if the four on deck could swim.’

“I ran off on my errand, and, coming back a little later with a bottle of cordial waters, found Mr. Lovyes still standing in the moonlight. He seemed not to have moved a finger. I gave him the bottle, with a message that any who were rescued should be carried to Merchant’s Point forthwith, and that he himself should go down there in the morning.

“‘Who taught you Latin?’ he asked suddenly.

“‘Mrs. Lovyes taught me the rudiments,’ I began; and with that he led me on to talk of her, but with some cunning. For now he would divert me to another topic and again bring me back to her, so that it all seemed the vagrancies of a boy’s inconsequent chatter.

“Mrs. Lovyes, who was remotely akin to the Lord Proprietor, had come to Tresco three years before, immediately after her marriage, and, it was understood, at her husband’s wish. I talked of her readily, for, apart from what I owed to her bounty, she was a woman most sure to engage the affections of any boy. For one thing she was past her youth, being thirty years of age, tall, with eyes of the kindliest grey, and she bore herself in everything with a tender toleration, like a woman that has suffered much.

“Of the other topics of this conversation there was one which later I had good reason to remember. We had caught a shark twelve feet long at the Poul that day, and the shark fairly divided my thoughts with Mrs. Lovyes.

“‘You bleed a fish first into the sea,’ I explained. ‘Then you bait with a chad’s head, and let your line down a couple of fathoms. You can see your bait quite clearly, and you wait.’

“‘No doubt,’ said Robert; ‘you wait.’

“‘In a while,’ said I, ’a dim lilac shadow floats through the clear water, and after a little you catch a glimpse of a forked tail and waving fins and an evil devil’s head. The fish smells at the bait and sinks again to a lilac shadow—perhaps out of sight; and again it rises. The shadow becomes a fish, the fish goes circling round your boat, and it may be a long while before he turns on his back and rushes at the bait.’

“‘And as like as not, he carries the bait and line away.”

“‘That depends upon how quick you are with the gaff,’ said I.’ Here comes my father.’

“My father returned empty-handed. Not one of the crew had been saved.

“‘You asked my name,’ said Robert Lovyes, turning to my mother. ‘It is Crudge—Jarvis Crudge.’ With that he went to his bed, but all night long I heard him pacing his room.

“The next morning he complained of his long immersion in the sea, and certainly when he told his story to Mr. and Mrs. Lovyes as they sat over their breakfast in the parlour at Merchant’s Point, he spoke with such huskiness as I never heard the like of. Mr. Lovyes took little heed to us, but went on eating his breakfast with only a sour comment here and there. I noticed, however, that Mrs. Lovyes, who sat over against us, bent her head forward and once or twice shook it as though she would unseat some ridiculous conviction. And after the story was told, she sat with no word of kindness for Mr. Crudge, and, what was yet more unlike her, no word of pity for the sailors who were lost. Then she rose and stood, steadying herself with the tips of her fingers upon the table. Finally she came swiftly across the room and peered into Mr. Crudge’s face.

“‘If you need help,’ she said, ‘I will gladly furnish it. No doubt you will be anxious to go from Tresco at the earliest. No doubt, no doubt you will,’ she repeated anxiously.

“‘Madame,’ he said, ‘I need no help, being by God’s leave a man’—and he laid some stress upon the ‘man,’ but not boastfully—rather as though all women did, or might need help, by the mere circumstance of their sex—‘and as for going hence, why yesterday I was bound for Africa. I sailed unexpectedly into a fog off Scilly. I was wrecked in a calm sea on the Golden Ball—I was thrown up on Tresco—no one on that ship escaped but myself. No sooner was I safe than the fog lifted—-’

“‘You will stay?’ Mrs. Lovyes interrupted. ‘No?’

“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘Jarvis Crudge will stay.’

“And she turned thoughtfully away. But I caught a glimpse of her face as we went out, and it wore the saddest smile a man could see.

“Mr. Crudge and I walked for a while in silence.

“‘And what sort of a name has Mr. John Lovyes in these parts?’ he asked.

“‘An honest sort,’ said I emphatically—‘the name of a man who loves his wife.’

“‘Or her money,’ he sneered. ‘Bah! a surly ill-conditioned dog, I’ll warrant, the curmudgeon!”

“‘You are marvellously recovered of your cold,’ said I.

“He stopped, and looked across the Sound. Then he said in a soft, musing voice: ‘I once knew just such another clever boy. He was so clever that men beat him with sticks and put on great sea-boots to kick him with, so that he lived a miserable life, and was subsequently hanged in great agony at Tyburn.’

“Mr. Crudge, as he styled himself, stayed with us for a week, during which time he sailed much with me about these islands; and I made a discovery. Though he knew these islands so well, he had never visited them before, and his knowledge was all hearsay. I did not mention my discovery to him, lest I should meet with another rebuff. But I was none the less sure of its truth, for he mistook Hanjague for Nornor, and Priglis Bay for Beady Pool, and made a number of suchlike mistakes. After a week he hired the cottage in which he now lives, bought his boat, leased from the steward the patch of ground in Dolphin Town, and set about building his house. He undertook the work, I am sure, for pure employment and distraction. He picked up the granite stones, fitted them together, panelled them, made the floors from the deck of a brigantine which came ashore on Annet, pegged down the thatch roof—in a word, he built the house from first to last with his own hands and he took fifteen months over the business, during which time he did not exchange a single word with Mrs. Lovyes, nor anything more than a short ‘Good-day’ with Mr. John. He worked, however, with no great regularity. For while now he laboured in a feverish haste, now he would sit a whole day idle on the headlands; or, again, he would of a sudden throw down his tools as though the work overtaxed him, and, leaping into his boat, set all sail and run with the wind. All that night you might see him sailing in the moonlight, and he would come home in the flush of the dawn.

“After he had built the house, he furnished it, crossing for that purpose backwards and forwards between Tresco and St. Mary’s. I remember that one day he brought back with him a large chest, and I offered to lend him a hand in carrying it. But he hoisted it on his back and took it no farther than the cottage in which he lived, where it remained locked with a padlock.

“Towards Christmas-time, then, the house was ready, but to our surprise he did not move into it. He seemed, indeed, of a sudden, to have lost all liking for it, and whether it was that he had no longer any work upon his hands, he took to following Mrs. Lovyes about, but in a way that was unnoticeable unless you had other reasons to suspect that his thoughts were following her.

“His conduct in this respect was particularly brought home to me on Christmas Day. The afternoon was warm and sunny, and I walked over the hill at Merchant’s Point, meaning to bathe in the little sequestered bay beyond. From the top of the hill I saw Mrs. Lovyes walking along the strip of beach alone, and as I descended the hill-side, which is very deep in fern and heather, I came plump upon Jarvis Crudge, stretched full-length on the ground. He was watching Mrs. Lovyes with so greedy a concentration of his senses that he did not remark my approach. I asked him when he meant to enter his new house.

“‘I do not know that I ever shall,’ he replied.

“‘Then why did you build it?’ I asked.

“‘Because I was a fool!’ and then he burst out in a passionate whisper. ‘But a fool I was to stay here, and a fool’s trick it was to build that house!’ He shook his fist in its direction. ‘Call it Crudge’s Folly, and there’s the name for it!’ and with that he turned him again to spying upon Mrs. Lovyes.

“After a while he spoke again, but slowly and with his eyes fixed upon the figure moving upon the beach.

“‘Do you remember the night I came ashore? You had caught a shark that day, and you told me of it. The great lilac shadow which rises from the depths and circles about the bait, and sinks again and rises again and takes—how long?—two years maybe before he snaps it.’

“‘But he does not carry it away,’ said I, taking his meaning.

“‘Sometimes—sometimes,” he snarled.

“‘That depends on how quick we are with the gaff.”

“‘You!’ he laughed, and taking me by the elbows, he shook me till I was giddy.

“‘I owe Mrs. Lovyes everything,’ I said. At that he let me go. The ferocity of his manner, however, confirmed me in my fears, and, with a boy’s extravagance, I carried from that day a big knife in my belt.

“‘The gaff, I suppose,’ said Mr. Grudge with a polite smile when first he remarked it. During the next week, however, he showed more contentment with his lot, and once I caught him rubbing his hands and chuckling, like a man well pleased; so that by New Year’s Eve I was wellnigh relieved of my anxiety on Mrs. Lovyes’ account.

“On that night, however, I went down to Crudge’s cottage, and peeping through the window on my way to the door, I saw a strange man in the room. His face was clean-shaven, his hair tied back and powdered; he was in his shirt-sleeves, with a satin waistcoat, a sword at his side, and shining buckles to his shoes. Then I saw that the big chest stood open. I opened the door and entered.

“‘Come in!’ said the man, and from his voice I knew him to be Mr. Crudge. He took a candle in his hand and held it above his head.

“‘Tell me my name,’ he said. His face, shaved of its beard and no longer hidden by his hair, stood out distinct, unmistakable.

“‘Lovyes,’ I answered.

“‘Good boy,’ said he. ‘Robert Lovyes, brother to John.’

“‘Yet he did not know you,’ said I, though, indeed, I could not wonder.

“‘But she did,’ he cried, with a savage exultation. ‘At the first glance, at the first word, she knew me.’ Then, quietly, ‘My coat is on the chair beside you.’

“I took it up. ‘What do you mean to do?’ I asked.

“‘It is New Year’s Eve,’ he said grimly. ‘The season of good wishes. It is only meet that I should wish my brother, who stole my wife, much happiness for the next twelve months.’

“He took the coat from my hands.

“‘You admire the coat? Ah! true, the colour is lilac.’ He held it out at arm’s length. Doubtless I had been staring at the coat, but I had not even given it a thought. ‘The lilac shadow!’ he went on, with a sneer. ‘Believe me, it is the purest coincidence.’ And as he prepared to slip his arm into the sleeve I flashed the knife out of my belt. He was too quick for me, however. He flung the coat over my head. I felt the knife twisted out of my hand; he stumbled over the chair; we both fell to the ground, and the next thing I know I was running over the bracken towards Merchant’s Point with Robert Lovyes hot upon my heels. He was of a heavy build, and forty years of age. I had the double advantage, and I ran till my chest cracked and the stars danced above me. I clanged at the bell and stumbled into the hall.

“‘Mrs. Lovyes!’ I choked the name out as she stepped from the parlour.

“‘Well?’ she asked. ‘What is it?’

“‘He is following—Robert Lovyes!’

“She sprang rigid, as though I had whipped her across the face. Then, ‘I knew it would come to this at the last,’ she said; and even as she spoke Robert Lovyes crossed the threshold.

“‘Molly,’ he said, and looked at her curiously. She stood singularly passive, twisting her fingers. ‘I hardly know you,’ he continued. ‘In the old days you were the wilfullest girl I ever clapped eyes on.’

“‘That was thirteen years ago,’ she said, with a queer little laugh at the recollection.

“He took her by the hand and led her into the parlour. I followed. Neither Mrs. Lovyes nor Robert remarked my presence, and as for John Lovyes, he rose from his chair as the pair approached him, stretched out a trembling hand, drew it in, stretched it out again, all without a word, and his face purple and ridged with the veins.

“‘Brother,’ said Robert, taking between his fingers half a gold coin, which was threaded on a chain about Mrs. Lovyes’ wrist, ‘where is the fellow to this? I gave it to you on the Gambia river, bidding you carry it to Molly as a sign that I would return.’

“I saw John’s face harden and set at the sound of his brother’s voice. He looked at his wife, and, since she now knew the truth, he took the bold course.

“‘I gave it to her,’ said he, ‘as a token of your death; and, by God! she was worth the lie!’

“The two men faced one another—Robert smoothing his chin, John with his arms folded, and each as white and ugly with passion as the other. Robert turned to Mrs. Lovyes, who stood like a stone.

“‘You promised to wait,’ he said in a constrained voice. ‘I escaped six years after my noble brother.’

“‘Six years?’ she asked. ‘Had you come back then you would have found me waiting.’

“‘I could not,’ he said. ‘A fortune equal to your own—that was what I promised to myself before I returned to marry you.’

“‘And much good it has done you,’ said John, and I think that he meant by the provocation to bring the matter to an immediate issue. ‘Pride, pride!’ and he wagged his head. ‘Sinful pride!’

“Robert sprang forward with an oath, and then, as though the movement had awakened her, Mrs. Lovyes stepped in between the two men, with an arm outstretched on either side to keep them apart.

“‘Wait!’ she said. ‘For what is it that you fight? Not, indeed, for me. To you, my husband, I will no more belong; to you, my lover, I cannot. My woman’s pride, my woman’s honour—those two things are mine to keep.’

“So she stood casting about for an issue, while the brothers glowered at one another across her. It was evident that if she left them alone they would fight, and fight to the death. She turned to Robert.

“‘You meant to live on Tresco here at my gates, unknown to me; but you could not.’

“‘I could not,’ he answered. ‘In the old days you had spoken so much of Scilly—every island reminded me—and I saw you every day.’

“I could read the thought passing through her mind. It would not serve for her to live beside them, visible to them each day. Sooner or later they would come to grips. And then her face flushed as the notion of her great sacrifice came to her.

“‘I see but the one way,’ she said. ‘I will go into the house that you, Robert, have built. Neither you nor John shall see me, but none the less, I shall live between you, holding you apart, as my hands do now. I give my life to you so truly that from this night no one shall see my face. You, John, shall live on here at Merchant’s Point. Robert, you at your cottage, and every day you will bring me food and water and leave it at my door.’

“The two men fell back shamefaced. They protested they would part and put the world between them; but she would not trust them. I think, too, the notion of her sacrifice grew on her as she thought of it. For women are tenacious of sacrifice even as men are of revenge. And in the end she had her way. That night Robert Lovyes nailed the boards across the windows, and brought the door-key back to her; and that night, twenty years ago, she crossed the threshold. No man has seen her since. But, none the less, for twenty years she has lived between the brothers, keeping them apart.”

This was the story which Mr. Wyeth told me as we sat over our pipes, and the next day I set off on my journey back to London. The conclusion of the affair I witnessed myself. For a year later we received a letter from Mr. Robert, asking that a large sum of money should be forwarded to him. Being curious to learn the reason for his demand, I carried the sum to Tresco myself. Mr. John Lovyes had died a month before, and I reached the island on Mr. Robert’s wedding-day. I was present at the ceremony. He was now dressed in a manner which befitted his station—an old man bent and bowed, but still handsome, and he bore upon his arm a tall woman, grey-haired and very pale, yet with the traces of great beauty. As the parson laid her hand in her husband’s, I heard her whisper to him, “Dust to Dust.”

Ensign Knightley and Other Stories - Contents

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