The incident—story it never was, perhaps—began
tamely, almost meanly; it ended upon a note of
strange, unearthly wonder that has haunted him ever since.
In Headley’s memory, at any rate, it stands out as the
loveliest, the most amazing thing he ever witnessed. Other
emotions, too, contributed to the vividness of the picture.
That he had felt jealousy towards his old pal, Arthur
Deane, shocked him in the first place; it seemed impossible
until it actually happened. But that the jealousy
was proved afterwards to have been without a cause shocked
him still more. He felt ashamed and miserable.
For him, the actual incident began when he received
a note from Mrs. Blondin asking him to the Priory for a
week-end, or for longer, if he could manage it.
Captain Arthur Deane, she mentioned, was staying
with her at the moment, and a warm welcome awaited
him. Iris she did not mention—Iris Manning, the interesting
and beautiful girl for whom it was well known
he had a considerable weakness. He found a good-sized
house party; there was fishing in the little Sussex river,
tennis, golf not far away, while two motor cars brought
the remoter country across the downs into easy reach. Also
there was a bit of duck shooting for those who cared to
wake at 3 a. m. and paddle up-stream to the marshes where
the birds were feeding.
“Have you brought your gun?” was the first thing
Arthur said to him when he arrived. “Like a fool, I left
mine in town.”
“I hope you haven’t,” put in Miss Manning; “because
if you have I must get up one fine morning at three
o’clock.” She laughed merrily, and there was an undernote
of excitement in the laugh.
Captain Headley showed his surprise. “That you were
a Diana had escaped my notice, I’m ashamed to say,” he
replied lightly. “Yet I’ve known you some years, haven’t
I?” He looked straight at her, and the soft yet searching
eye, turning from his friend, met his own securely.
She was appraising him, for the hundreth time, and he,
for the hundreth time, was thinking how pretty she was,
and wondering how long the prettiness would last after
“I’m not,” he heard her answer. “That’s just it. But
“Rather!” said Arthur gallantly. “And I shall hold
you to it,” he added still more gallantly—too gallantly,
Headley thought. “I couldn’t possibly get up at cockcrow
without a very special inducement, could I, now?
You know me, Dick!”
“Well, anyhow, I’ve brought my gun,” Headley replied
evasively, “so you’ve no excuse, either of you. You’ll
have to go.” And while they were laughing and chattering
about it, Mrs. Blondin clinched the matter for them.
Provisions were hard to come by; the larder really needed
a brace or two of birds; it was the least they could do in
return for what she called amusingly her “Armistice hospitality.”
“So I expect you to get up at three,” she chaffed
them, “and return with your Victory birds.”
It was from this preliminary skirmish over the tea-table
on the law five minutes after his arrival that Dick
Headley realized easily enough the little game in progress.
As a man of experience, just on the wrong side of forty,
it was not difficult to see the cards each held. He sighed.
Had he guessed an intrigue was on foot he would not
have come, yet he might have known that wherever his
hostess was, there were the vultures gathered together.
Matchmaker by choice and instinct, Mrs. Blondin could
not help herself. True to her name, she was always balancing
on matrimonial tightropes—for others.
Her cards, at any rate, were obvious enough; she had
laid them on the table for him. He easily read her hand.
The next twenty-four hours confirmed this reading. Having
made up her mind that Iris and Arthur were destined
for each other, she had grown impatient; they had been
ten days together, yet Iris was still free. They were good
friends only. With calculation, she, therefore, took a step
that must bring things further. She invited Dick Headley,
whose weakness for the girl was common knowledge.
The card was indicated; she played it. Arthur must come
to the point or see another man carry her off. This, at
least, she planned, little dreaming that the dark King of
Spades would interfere.
Miss Manning’s hand also was fairly obvious, for both
men were extremely eligible partis. She was getting on;
one or other was to become her husband before the party
broke up. This, in crude language, was certainly in her
cards, though, being a nice and charming girl, she might
camouflage it cleverly to herself and others. Her eyes,
on each man in turn when the shooting expedition was
being discussed, revealed her part in the little intrigue
clearly enough. It was all, thus far, as commonplace as
But there were two more hands Headley had to read—his
own and his friend’s; and these, he admitted
honestly, were not so easy. To take his own first. It was
true he was fond of the girl and had often tried to make
up his mind to ask her. Without being conceited, he had
good reason to believe his affection was returned and that
she would accept him. There was no ecstatic love on
either side, for he was no longer a boy of twenty, nor
was she unscathed by tempestuous love affairs that had
scorched the first bloom from her face and heart. But
they understood one another; they were an honest couple;
she was tired of flirting; both wanted to marry and settle
down. Unless a better man turned up she probably would
say “Yes” without humbug or delay. It was this last reflection
that brought him to the final hand he had to read.
Here he was puzzled. Arthur Deane’s rôle in the teacup
strategy, for the first time since they had known one
another, seemed strange, uncertain. Why? Because,
though paying no attention to the girl openly, he met her
clandestinely, unknown to the rest of the house-party, and
above all without telling his intimate pal—at three o’clock
in the morning.
The house-party was in full swing, with a touch of
that wild, reckless gaiety which followed the end of the
war: “Let us be happy before a worse thing comes upon
us,” was in many hearts. After a crowded day they danced
till early in the morning, while doubtful weather prevented
the early shooting expedition after duck. The third night
Headley contrived to disappear early to bed. He lay
there thinking. He was puzzled over his friend’s rôle, over
the clandestine meeting in particular. It was the morning
before, waking very early, he had been drawn to the
window by an unusual sound—the cry of a bird. Was it
a bird? In all his experience he had never heard such
a curious, half-singing call before. He listened a moment,
thinking it must have been a dream, yet with the odd cry
still ringing in his ears. It was repeated close beneath his
open window, a long, low-pitched cry with three distinct
following notes in it.
He sat up in bed and listened hard. No bird that he
knew could make such sounds. But it was not repeated
a third time, and out of sheer curiosity he went to the
window and looked out. Dawn was creeping over the
distant downs; he saw their outline in the grey pearly
light; he saw the lawn below, stretching down to the
little river at the bottom, where a curtain of faint mist
hung in the air. And on this lawn he also saw Arthur
Deane—with Iris Manning.
Of course, he reflected, they were going after the duck.
He turned to look at his watch; it was three o’clock. The
same glance, however, showed him his gun standing in
the corner. So they were going without a gun. A sharp
pang of unexpected jealousy shot through him. He was
just going to shout out something or other, wishing them
good luck, or asking if they had found another gun, perhaps,
when a cold touch crept down his spine. The same
instant his heart contracted. Deane had followed the girl
into the summer-house, which stood on the right. It was
not the shooting expedition at all. Arthur was meeting
her for another purpose. The blood flowed back, filling his
head. He felt an eavesdropper, a sneak, a detective; but,
for all that, he felt also jealous. And his jealousy seemed
chiefly because Arthur had not told him.
Of this, then, he lay thinking in bed on the third
night. The following day he had said nothing, but had
crossed the corridor and put the gun in his friend’s room.
Arthur, for his part, had said nothing either. For the
first time in their long, long friendship, there lay a secret
between them. To Headley the unexpected revelation came
For something like a quarter of a century these two
had been bosom friends; they had camped together, been
in the army together, taken their pleasure together, each
the full confidant of the other in all the things that go
to make up men’s lives. Above all, Headley had been the
one and only recipient of Arthur’s unhappy love story.
He knew the girl, knew his friend’s deep passion, and
also knew his terrible pain when she was lost at sea.
Arthur was burnt out, finished, out of the running, so far
as marriage was concerned. He was not a man to love a
second time. It was a great and poignant tragedy. Headley,
as confidant, knew all. But more than that—Arthur,
on his side, knew his friend’s weakness for Iris Manning,
knew that a marriage was still possible and likely between
them. They were true as steel to one another, and each
man, oddly enough, had once saved the other’s life, thus
adding to the strength of a great natural tie.
Yet now one of them, feigning innocence by day, even
indifference, secretly met his friend’s girl by night, and
kept the matter to himself. It seemed incredible. With
his own eyes Headley had seen him on the lawn, passing
in the faint grey light through the mist into the summer-house,
where the girl had just preceded him. He had not
seen her face, but he had seen the skirt sweep round the
corner of the wooden pillar. He had not waited to see
them come out again.
So he now lay wondering what rôle his old friend was
playing in this little intrigue that their hostess, Mrs. Blondin,
helped to stage. And, oddly enough, one minor detail
stayed in his mind with a curious vividness. As naturalist,
hunter, nature-lover, the cry of that strange bird, with
its three mournful notes, perplexed him exceedingly.
A knock came at his door, and the door pushed open
before he had time to answer. Deane himself came in.
“Wise man,” he exclaimed in an easy tone, “got off
to bed. Iris was asking where you were.” He sat down
on the edge of the mattress, where Headley was lying
with a cigarette and an open book he had not read. The
old sense of intimacy and comradeship rose in the latter’s
heart. Doubt and suspicion faded. He prized his great
friendship. He met the familiar eyes. “Impossible,” he
said to himself, “absolutely impossible! He’s not playing
a game; he’s not a rotter!” He pushed over his
cigarette case, and Arthur lighted one.
“Done in,” he remarked shortly, with the first puff.
“Can’t stand it any more. I’m off to town to-morrow.”
Headley stared in amazement. “Fed up already?” he
asked. “Why, I rather like it. It’s quite amusing. What’s
wrong, old man?”
“This match-making,” said Deane bluntly. “Always
throwing that girl at my head. If it’s not the duck-shooting
stunt at 3 a. m., it’s something else. She doesn’t care
for me and I don’t care for her. Besides——”
He stopped, and the expression of his face changed
suddenly. A sad, quiet look of tender yearning came into
his clear brown eyes.
“You know, Dick,” he went on in a low, half-reverent
tone. “I don’t want to marry. I never can.”
Dick’s heart stirred within him. “Mary,” he said,
The other nodded, as though the memories were still
too much for him. “I’m still miserably lonely for her,”
he said. “Can’t help it simply. I feel utterly lost without
her. Her memory to me is everything.” He looked
deep into his pal’s eyes. “I’m married to that,” he added
They pulled their cigarettes a moment in silence. They
belonged to the male type that conceals emotion behind
“It’s hard luck,” said Headley gently, “rotten luck,
old man, I understand.” Arthur’s head nodded several
times in succession as he smoked. He made no remark
for some minutes. Then presently he said, as though it
had no particular importance—for thus old friends show
frankness to each other—“Besides, anyhow, it’s you the
girl’s dying for, not me. She’s blind as a bat, old Blondin.
Even when I’m with her—thrust with her by that
old matchmaker for my sins—it’s you she talks about. All
the talk leads up to you and yours. She’s devilish fond
of you.” He paused a moment and looked searchingly
into his friend’s face. “I say, old man—are you—I mean,
do you mean business there? Because—excuse me interfering—but
you’d better be careful. She’s a good sort,
you know, after all.”
“Yes, Arthur, I do like her a bit,” Dick told him
frankly. “But I can’t make up my mind quite. You see,
it’s like this——”
And they talked the matter over as old friends will,
until finally Arthur chucked his cigarette into the grate
and got up to go. “Dead to the world,” he said, with a
yawn. “I’m off to bed. Give you a chance, too,” he added
with a laugh. It was after midnight.
The other turned, as though something had suddenly
occurred to him.
“By the bye, Arthur,” he said abruptly, “what bird
makes this sound? I heard it the other morning. Most
extraordinary cry. You know everything that flies. What
is it?” And, to the best of his ability, he imitated the
strange three-note cry he had heard in the dawn two mornings
To his amazement and keen distress, his friend, with
a sound like a stifled groan, sat down upon the bed without
a word. He seemed startled. His face was white.
He stared. He passed a hand, as in pain, across his forehead.
“Do it again,” he whispered, in a hushed, nervous
voice. “Once again—for me.”
And Headley, looking at him, repeated the queer notes,
a sudden revulsion of feeling rising through him. “He’s
fooling me after all,” ran in his heart, “my old, old
There was silence for a full minute. Then Arthur,
stammering a bit, said lamely, a certain hush in his voice
still: “Where in the world did you hear that—and
Dick Headley sat up in bed. He was not going to
lose this friendship, which, to him, was more than the love
of woman. He must help. His pal was in distress and
difficulty. There were circumstances, he realized, that
might be too strong for the best man in the world—sometimes.
No, by God, he would play the game and help him
“Arthur, old chap,” he said affectionately, almost
tenderly. “I heard it two mornings ago—on the lawn below
my window here. It woke me up. I—I went to look.
Three in the morning, about.”
Arthur amazed him then. He first took another cigarette
and lit it steadily. He looked round the room vaguely,
avoiding, it seemed, the other’s eyes. Then he turned, pain
in his face, and gazed straight at him.
“You saw—nothing?” he asked in a louder voice, but
a voice that had something very real and true in it. It
reminded Headley of the voice he heard when he was
fainting from exhaustion, and Arthur had said, “Take
it, I tell you. I’m all right,” and had passed over the
flask, though his own throat and sight and heart were
black with thirst. It was a voice that had command in
it, a voice that did not lie because it could not—yet did
lie and could lie—when occasion warranted.
Headley knew a second’s awful struggle.
“Nothing,” he answered quietly, after his little pause.
For perhaps two minutes his friend hid his face. Then
he looked up.
“Only,” he whispered, “because that was our secret
lover’s cry. It seems so strange you heard it and not I.
I’ve felt her so close of late—Mary!”
The white face held very steady, the firm lips did not
tremble, but it was evident that the heart knew anguish
that was deep and poignant. “We used it to call each
other—in the old days. It was our private call. No one
else in the world knew it but Mary and myself.”
Dick Headley was flabbergasted. He had no time to
“It’s odd you should hear it and not I,” his friend
repeated. He looked hurt, bewildered, wounded. Then
suddenly his face brightened. “I know,” he cried suddenly.
“You and I are pretty good pals. There’s a tie
between us and all that. Why, it’s tel—telepathy, or
whatever they call it. That’s what it is.”
He got up abruptly. Dick could think of nothing to
say but to repeat the other’s words. “Of course, of course.
That’s it,” he said, “telepathy.” He stared—anywhere
but at his pal.
“Night, night!” he heard from the door, and before
he could do more than reply in similar vein Arthur was
He lay for a long time, thinking, thinking. He found
it all very strange. Arthur in this emotional state was
new to him. He turned it over and over. Well, he had
known good men behave queerly when wrought up. That
recognition of the bird’s cry was strange, of course, but—he
knew the cry of a bird when he heard it, though he
might not know the actual bird. That was no human
whistle. Arthur was—inventing. No, that was not possible.
He was worked up, then, over something, a bit
hysterical perhaps. It had happened before, though in a
milder way, when his heart attacks came on. They affected
his nerves and head a little, it seemed. He was a deep
sort, Dick remembered. Thought turned and twisted in
him, offering various solutions, some absurd, some likely.
He was a nervous, high-strung fellow underneath, Arthur
was. He remembered that. Also he remembered, anxiously
again, that his heart was not quite sound, though
what that had to do with the present tangle he did not
Yet it was hardly likely that he would bring in Mary
as an invention, an excuse—Mary, the most sacred memory
in his life, the deepest, truest, best. He had sworn, anyhow,
that Iris Manning meant nothing to him.
Through all his speculations, behind every thought,
ran this horrid working jealousy. It poisoned him. It
twisted truth. It moved like a wicked snake through mind
and heart. Arthur, gripped by his new, absorbing love
for Iris Manning, lied. He couldn’t believe it, he didn’t
believe it, he wouldn’t believe it—yet jealousy persisted
in keeping the idea alive in him. It was a dreadful
thought. He fell asleep on it.
But his sleep was uneasy with feverish, unpleasant
dreams that rambled on in fragments without coming to
conclusion. Then, suddenly, the cry of the strange bird
came into his dream. He started, turned over, woke up.
The cry still continued. It was not a dream. He jumped
out of bed.
The room was grey with early morning, the air fresh
and a little chill. The cry came floating over the lawn
as before. He looked out, pain clutching at his heart.
Two figures stood below, a man and a girl, and the man
was Arthur Deane. Yet the light was so dim, the morning
being overcast, that had he not expected to see his
friend, he would scarcely have recognized the familiar form
in that shadowy outline that stood close beside the girl.
Nor could he, perhaps, have recognized Iris Manning.
Their backs were to him. They moved away, disappearing
again into the little summer-house, and this time—he
saw it beyond question—the two were hand in hand.
Vague and uncertain as the figures were in the early twilight,
he was sure of that.
The first disagreeable sensation of surprise, disgust,
anger that sickened him turned quickly, however, into one
of another kind altogether. A curious feeling of superstitious
dread crept over him, and a shiver ran again along
“Hallo, Arthur!” he called from the window. There
was no answer. His voice was certainly audible in the
summer-house. But no one came. He repeated the call
a little louder, waited in vain for thirty seconds, then came,
the same moment, to a decision that even surprised himself,
for the truth we he could no longer bear the suspense of
waiting. He must see his friend at once and have it out
with him. He turned and went deliberately down the corridor
to Deane’s bedroom. He would wait there for his
return and know the truth from his own lips. But also
another thought had come—the gun. He had quite forgotten
it—the safety-catch was out of order. He had not
He found the door closed but not locked; opening it
cautiously, he went in.
But the unexpectedness of what he saw gave him a
genuine shock. He could hardly suppress a cry. Everything
in the room was neat and orderly, no sign of disturbance
anywhere, and it was not empty. There, in bed,
before his very eyes, was Arthur. The clothes were turned
back a little; he saw the pyjamas open at the throat; he
lay sound asleep, deeply, peacefully asleep.
So surprised, indeed, was Headley that, after staring
a moment, almost unable to believe his sight, he then put
out a hand and touched him gently, cautiously on the forehead.
But Arthur did not stir or wake; his breathing
remained deep and regular. He lay sleeping like a baby.
Headley glanced round the room, noticed the gun in
the corner where he himself had put it the day before, and
then went out, closing the door behind him softly.
Arthur Deane, however, did not leave for London as
he had intended, because he felt unwell and kept to his
room upstairs. It was only a slight attack, apparently, but
he must lie quiet. There was no need to send for a doctor;
he knew just what to do; these passing attacks were common
enough. He would be up and about again very
shortly. Headley kept him company, saying no single
word of what had happened. He read aloud to him,
chatted and cheered him up. He had no other visitors.
Within twenty-four hours he was himself once more. He
and his friend had planned to leave the following day.
But Headley, that last night in the house, felt an odd
uneasiness and could not sleep. All night long he sat
up reading, looking out of the window, smoking in a
chair where he could see the stars and hear the wind and
watch the huge shadow of the downs. The house lay
very still as the hours passed. He dozed once or twice.
Why did he sit up in this unnecessary way? Why did
he leave his door ajar so that the slightest sound of another
door opening, or of steps passing along the corridor,
must reach him? Was he anxious for his friend?
Was he suspicious? What was his motive, what his secret
Headley did not know, and could not even explain it
to himself. He felt uneasy, that was all he knew. Not
for worlds would he have let himself go to sleep or lose
full consciousness that night. It was very odd; he could
not understand himself. He merely obeyed a strange, deep
instinct that bade him wait and watch. His nerves were
jumpy; in his heart lay some unexplicable anxiety that
The dawn came slowly; the stars faded one by one;
the line of the downs showed their grand bare curves
against the sky; cool and cloudless the September morning
broke above the little Sussex pleasure house. He sat
and watched the east grow bright. The early wind brought
a scent of marshes and the sea into his room. Then suddenly
it brought a sound as well—the haunting cry of
the bird with its three following notes. And this time
there came an answer.
Headley knew then why he had sat up. A wave of
emotion swept him as he heard—an emotion he could not
attempt to explain. Dread, wonder, longing seized him.
For some seconds he could not leave his chair because
he did not dare to. The low-pitched cries of call and
answer rang in his ears like some unearthly music. With
an effort he started up, went to the window and looked
This time the light was sharp and clear. No mist
hung in the air. He saw the crimsoning sky reflected
like a band of shining metal in the reach of river beyond
the lawn. He saw dew on the grass, a sheet of pallid
silver. He saw the summer-house, empty of any passing
figures. For this time the two figures stood plainly in
view before his eyes upon the lawn. They stood there,
hand in hand, sharply defined, unmistakable in form and
outline, their faces, moreover, turned upwards to the window
where he stood, staring down in pain and amazement
at them—at Arthur Deane and Mary.
They looked into his eyes. He tried to call, but no
sound left his throat. They began to move across the dew-soaked
lawn. They went, he saw, with a floating, undulating
motion towards the river shining in the dawn. Their
feet left no marks upon the grass. They reached the
bank, but did not pause in their going. They rose a
little, floating like silent birds across the river. Turning
in mid-stream, they smiled towards him, waved their hands
with a gesture of farewell, then, rising still higher into
the opal dawn, their figures passed into the distance slowly,
melting away against the sunlit marshes and the shadowing
downs beyond. They disappeared.
Headley never quite remembers actually leaving the
window, crossing the room, or going down the passage.
Perhaps he went at once, perhaps he stood gazing into
the air above the downs for a considerable time, unable
to tear himself away. He was in some marvellous dream,
it seemed. The next thing he remembers, at any rate,
was that he was standing beside his friend’s bed, trying,
in his distraught anguish of heart, to call him from that
sleep which, on earth, knows no awakening.