The Door in the
Wall by H. G.
One confidential evening, not three months ago, Lionel Wallace told me
this story of the Door in the Wall. And at the time I thought that so far
as he was concerned it was a true story.
He told it me with such a direct simplicity of conviction that I could not
do otherwise than believe in him. But in the morning, in my own flat, I
woke to a different atmosphere, and as I lay in bed and recalled the
things he had told me, stripped of the glamour of his earnest slow voice,
denuded of the focussed, shaded table light, the shadowy atmosphere that
wrapped about him and me, and the pleasant bright things, the dessert and
glasses and napery of the dinner we had shared, making them for the time a
bright little world quite cut off from everyday realities, I saw it all as
frankly incredible. "He was mystifying!" I said, and then: "How well he
did it!… It isn't quite the thing I should have expected him, of all
people, to do well."
Afterwards as I sat up in bed and sipped my morning tea, I found myself
trying to account for the flavour of reality that perplexed me in his
impossible reminiscences, by supposing they did in some way suggest,
present, convey—I hardly know which word to use—experiences it was
otherwise impossible to tell.
Well, I don't resort to that explanation now. I have got over my
intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the moment of telling,
that Wallace did to the very best of his ability strip the truth of his
secret for me. But whether he himself saw, or only thought he saw, whether
he himself was the possessor of an inestimable privilege or the victim of
a fantastic dream, I cannot pretend to guess. Even the facts of his death,
which ended my doubts for ever, throw no light on that.
That much the reader must judge for himself.
I forget now what chance comment or criticism of mine moved so reticent a
man to confide in me. He was, I think, defending himself against an
imputation of slackness and unreliability I had made in relation to a
great public movement, in which he had disappointed me. But he plunged
suddenly. "I have," he said, "a preoccupation——
"I know," he went on, after a pause, "I have been negligent. The fact is—
it isn't a case of ghosts or apparitions—but—it's an odd thing to tell
of, Redmond—I am haunted. I am haunted by something—that rather takes
the light out of things, that fills me with longings…"
He paused, checked by that English shyness that so often overcomes us when
we would speak of moving or grave or beautiful things. "You were at Saint
Aethelstan's all through," he said, and for a moment that seemed to me
quite irrelevant. "Well"—and he paused. Then very haltingly at first, but
afterwards more easily, he began to tell of the thing that was hidden in
his life, the haunting memory of a beauty and a happiness that filled his
heart with insatiable longings, that made all the interests and spectacle
of worldly life seem dull and tedious and vain to him.
Now that I have the clue to it, the thing seems written visibly in his
face. I have a photograph in which that look of detachment has been caught
and intensified. It reminds me of what a woman once said of him—a woman
who had loved him greatly. "Suddenly," she said, "the interest goes out of
him. He forgets you. He doesn't care a rap for you—under his very
Yet the interest was not always out of him, and when he was holding his
attention to a thing Wallace could contrive to be an extremely successful
man. His career, indeed, is set with successes. He left me behind him long
ago: he soared up over my head, and cut a figure in the world that I
couldn't cut—anyhow. He was still a year short of forty, and they say now
that he would have been in office and very probably in the new Cabinet if
he had lived. At school he always beat me without effort—as it were by
nature. We were at school together at Saint Aethelstan's College in West
Kensington for almost all our school-time. He came into the school as my
coequal, but he left far above me, in a blaze of scholarships and
brilliant performance. Yet I think I made a fair average running. And it
was at school I heard first of the "Door in the Wall"—that I was to hear
of a second time only a month before his death.
To him at least the Door in the Wall was a real door, leading through a
real wall to immortal realities. Of that I am now quite assured.
And it came into his life quite early, when he was a little fellow between
five and six. I remember how, as he sat making his confession to me with a
slow gravity, he reasoned and reckoned the date of it. "There was," he
said, "a crimson Virginia creeper in it—all one bright uniform crimson,
in a clear amber sunshine against a white wall. That came into the
impression somehow, though I don't clearly remember how, and there were
horse-chestnut leaves upon the clean pavement outside the green door. They
were blotched yellow and green, you know, not brown nor dirty, so that
they must have been new fallen. I take it that means October. I look out
for horse-chestnut leaves every year and I ought to know.
"If I'm right in that, I was about five years and four months old."
He was, he said, rather a precocious little boy—he learnt to talk at an
abnormally early age, and he was so sane and "old-fashioned," as people
say, that he was permitted an amount of initiative that most children
scarcely attain by seven or eight. His mother died when he was two, and he
was under the less vigilant and authoritative care of a nursery governess.
His father was a stern, preoccupied lawyer, who gave him little attention,
and expected great things of him. For all his brightness he found life a
little grey and dull, I think. And one day he wandered.
He could not recall the particular neglect that enabled him to get away,
nor the course he took among the West Kensington roads. All that had faded
among the incurable blurs of memory. But the white wall and the green door
stood out quite distinctly.
As his memory of that childish experience ran, he did at the very first
sight of that door experience a peculiar emotion, an attraction, a desire
to get to the door and open it and walk in. And at the same time he had
the clearest conviction that either it was unwise or it was wrong of him—
he could not tell which—to yield to this attraction. He insisted upon it
as a curious thing that he knew from the very beginning—unless memory has
played him the queerest trick—that the door was unfastened, and that he
could go in as he chose.
I seem to see the figure of that little boy, drawn and repelled. And it
was very clear in his mind, too, though why it should be so was never
explained, that his father would be very angry if he went in through that
Wallace described all these moments of hesitation to me with the utmost
particularity. He went right past the door, and then, with his hands in
his pockets and making an infantile attempt to whistle, strolled right
along beyond the end of the wall. There he recalls a number of mean dirty
shops, and particularly that of a plumber and decorator with a dusty
disorder of earthenware pipes, sheet lead, ball taps, pattern books of
wall paper, and tins of enamel. He stood pretending to examine these
things, and coveting, passionately desiring, the green door.
Then, he said, he had a gust of emotion. He made a run for it, lest
hesitation should grip him again; he went plump with outstretched hand
through the green door and let it slam behind him. And so, in a trice, he
came into the garden that has haunted all his life.
It was very difficult for Wallace to give me his full sense of that garden
into which he came.
There was something in the very air of it that exhilarated, that gave one
a sense of lightness and good happening and well-being; there was
something in the sight of it that made all its colour clean and perfect
and subtly luminous. In the instant of coming into it one was exquisitely
glad—as only in rare moments, and when one is young and joyful one can be
glad in this world. And everything was beautiful there…
Wallace mused before he went on telling me. "You see," he said, with the
doubtful inflection of a man who pauses at incredible things, "there were
two great panthers there… Yes, spotted panthers. And I was not afraid.
There was a long wide path with marble-edged flower borders on either
side, and these two huge velvety beasts were playing there with a ball.
One looked up and came towards me, a little curious as it seemed. It came
right up to me, rubbed its soft round ear very gently against the small
hand I held out, and purred. It was, I tell you, an enchanted garden. I
know. And the size? Oh! it stretched far and wide, this way and that. I
believe there were hills far away. Heaven knows where West Kensington had
suddenly got to. And somehow it was just like coming home.
"You know, in the very moment the door swung to behind me, I forgot the
road with its fallen chestnut leaves, its cabs and tradesmen's carts, I
forgot the sort of gravitational pull back to the discipline and obedience
of home, I forgot all hesitations and fear, forgot discretion, forgot all
the intimate realities of this life. I became in a moment a very glad and
wonder-happy little boy—in another world. It was a world with a different
quality, a warmer, more penetrating and mellower light, with a faint clear
gladness in its air, and wisps of sun-touched cloud in the blueness of its
sky. And before me ran this long wide path, invitingly, with weedless beds
on either side, rich with untended flowers, and these two great panthers.
I put my little hands fearlessly on their soft fur, and caressed their
round ears and the sensitive corners under their ears, and played with
them, and it was as though they welcomed me home. There was a keen sense
of home-coming in my mind, and when presently a tall, fair girl appeared
in the pathway and came to meet me, smiling, and said 'Well?' to me, and
lifted me, and kissed me, and put me down, and led me by the hand, there
was no amazement, but only an impression of delightful rightness, of being
reminded of happy things that had in some strange way been overlooked.
There were broad red steps, I remember, that came into view between spikes
of delphinium, and up these we went to a great avenue between very old and
shady dark trees. All down this avenue, you know, between the red chapped
stems, were marble seats of honour and statuary, and very tame and
friendly white doves…
"Along this cool avenue my girl-friend led me, looking down—I recall the
pleasant lines, the finely-modelled chin of her sweet kind face—asking me
questions in a soft, agreeable voice, and telling me things, pleasant
things I know, though what they were I was never able to recall…
Presently a little Capuchin monkey, very clean, with a fur of ruddy brown
and kindly hazel eyes, came down a tree to us and ran beside me, looking
up at me and grinning, and presently leapt to my shoulder. So we two went
on our way in great happiness."
"Go on," I said.
"I remember little things. We passed an old man musing among laurels, I
remember, and a place gay with paroquets, and came through a broad shaded
colonnade to a spacious cool palace, full of pleasant fountains, full of
beautiful things, full of the quality and promise of heart's desire. And
there were many things and many people, some that still seem to stand out
clearly and some that are a little vague; but all these people were
beautiful and kind. In some way—I don't know how—it was conveyed to me
that they all were kind to me, glad to have me there, and filling me with
gladness by their gestures, by the touch of their hands, by the welcome
and love in their eyes. Yes——"
He mused for a while. "Playmates I found there. That was very much to me,
because I was a lonely little boy. They played delightful games in a
grass-covered court where there was a sun-dial set about with flowers. And
as one played one loved…
"But—it's odd—there's a gap in my memory. I don't remember the games we
played. I never remembered. Afterwards, as a child, I spent long hours
trying, even with tears, to recall the form of that happiness. I wanted to
play it all over again—in my nursery—by myself. No! All I remember is
the happiness and two dear playfellows who were most with me… Then
presently came a sombre dark woman, with a grave, pale face and dreamy
eyes, a sombre woman, wearing a soft long robe of pale purple, who carried
a book, and beckoned and took me aside with her into a gallery above a
hall—though my playmates were loth to have me go, and ceased their game
and stood watching as I was carried away. Come back to us!' they cried.
'Come back to us soon!' I looked up at her face, but she heeded them not
at all. Her face was very gentle and grave. She took me to a seat in the
gallery, and I stood beside her, ready to look at her book as she opened
it upon her knee. The pages fell open. She pointed, and I looked,
marvelling, for in the living pages of that book I saw myself; it was a
story about myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me
since ever I was born…
"It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were not pictures,
you understand, but realities."
Wallace paused gravely—looked at me doubtfully.
"Go on," I said. "I understand."
"They were realities—-yes, they must have been; people moved and things
came and went in them; my dear mother, whom I had near forgotten; then my
father, stern and upright, the servants, the nursery, all the familiar
things of home. Then the front door and the busy streets, with traffic to
and fro. I looked and marvelled, and looked half doubtfully again into the
woman's face and turned the pages over, skipping this and that, to see
more of this book and more, and so at last I came to myself hovering and
hesitating outside the green door in the long white wall, and felt again
the conflict and the fear.
"'And next?' I cried, and would have turned on, but the cool hand of the
grave woman delayed me.
"'Next?' I insisted, and struggled gently with her hand, pulling up her
fingers with all my childish strength, and as she yielded and the page
came over she bent down upon me like a shadow and kissed my brow.
"But the page did not show the enchanted garden, nor the panthers, nor the
girl who had led me by the hand, nor the playfellows who had been so loth
to let me go. It showed a long grey street in West Kensington, in that
chill hour of afternoon before the lamps are lit, and I was there, a
wretched little figure, weeping aloud, for all that I could do to restrain
myself, and I was weeping because I could not return to my dear
playfellows who had called after me, 'Come back to us! Come back to us
soon!' I was there. This was no page in a book, but harsh reality; that
enchanted place and the restraining hand of the grave mother at whose knee
I stood had gone—whither had they gone?"
He halted again, and remained for a time staring into the fire.
"Oh! the woefulness of that return!" he murmured.
"Well?" I said, after a minute or so.
"Poor little wretch I was!—brought back to this grey world again! As I
realised the fulness of what had happened to me, I gave way to quite
ungovernable grief. And the shame and humiliation of that public weeping
and my disgraceful home-coming remain with me still. I see again the
benevolent-looking old gentleman in gold spectacles who stopped and spoke
to me—prodding me first with his umbrella. 'Poor little chap,' said he;
'and are you lost then?'—and me a London boy of five and more! And he
must needs bring in a kindly young policeman and make a crowd of me, and
so march me home. Sobbing, conspicuous, and frightened, I came back from
the enchanted garden to the steps of my father's house.
"That is as well as I can remember my vision of that garden—the garden
that haunts me still. Of course, I can convey nothing of that
indescribable quality of translucent unreality, that difference
from the common things of experience that hung about it all; but that—
that is what happened. If it was a dream, I am sure it was a day-time and
altogether extraordinary dream… H'm!—naturally there followed a
terrible questioning, by my aunt, my father, the nurse, the governess—
"I tried to tell them, and my father gave me my first thrashing for
telling lies. When afterwards I tried to tell my aunt, she punished me
again for my wicked persistence. Then, as I said, everyone was forbidden
to listen to me, to hear a word about it. Even my fairytale books were
taken away from me for a time—because I was too 'imaginative.' Eh? Yes,
they did that! My father belonged to the old school… And my story was
driven back upon myself. I whispered it to my pillow—my pillow that was
often damp and salt to my whispering lips with childish tears. And I added
always to my official and less fervent prayers this one heartfelt request:
'Please God I may dream of the garden. Oh! take me back to my garden!'
Take me back to my garden! I dreamt often of the garden. I may have added
to it, I may have changed it; I do not know… All this, you understand,
is an attempt to reconstruct from fragmentary memories a very early
experience. Between that and the other consecutive memories of my boyhood
there is a gulf. A time came when it seemed impossible I should ever speak
of that wonder glimpse again."
I asked an obvious question.
"No," he said. "I don't remember that I ever attempted to find my way back
to the garden in those early years. This seems odd to me now, but I think
that very probably a closer watch was kept on my movements after this
misadventure to prevent my going astray. No, it wasn't till you knew me
that I tried for the garden again. And I believe there was a period—
incredible as it seems now—when I forgot the garden altogether—when I
was about eight or nine it may have been. Do you remember me as a kid at
"I didn't show any signs, did I, in those days of having a secret dream?"
He looked up with a sudden smile.
"Did you ever play North-West Passage with me?… No, of course you didn't
come my way!"
"It was the sort of game," he went on, "that every imaginative child plays
all day. The idea was the discovery of a North-West Passage to school. The
way to school was plain enough; the game consisted in finding some way
that wasn't plain, starting off ten minutes early in some almost hopeless
direction, and working my way round through unaccustomed streets to my
goal. And one day I got entangled among some rather low-class streets on
the other side of Campden Hill, and I began to think that for once the
game would be against me and that I should get to school late. I tried
rather desperately a street that seemed a cul-de-sac, and found a
passage at the end. I hurried through that with renewed hope. 'I shall do
it yet,' I said, and passed a row of frowsy little shops that were
inexplicably familiar to me, and behold! there was my long white wall and
the green door that led to the enchanted garden!
"The thing whacked upon me suddenly. Then, after all, that garden, that
wonderful garden, wasn't a dream!"
"I suppose my second experience with the green door marks the world of
difference there is between the busy life of a schoolboy and the infinite
leisure of a child. Anyhow, this second time I didn't for a moment think
of going in straight away. You see——. For one thing, my mind was full of
the idea of getting to school in time—set on not breaking my record for
punctuality. I must surely have felt some little desire at least to
try the door—yes. I must have felt that… But I seem to remember the
attraction of the door mainly as another obstacle to my overmastering
determination to get to school. I was immensely interested by this
discovery I had made, of course—I went on with my mind full of it—but I
went on. It didn't check me. I ran past, tugging out my watch, found I had
ten minutes still to spare, and then I was going downhill into familiar
surroundings. I got to school, breathless, it is true, and wet with
perspiration, but in time. I can remember hanging up my coat and hat…
Went right by it and left it behind me. Odd, eh?"
He looked at me thoughtfully, "Of course I didn't know then that it
wouldn't always be there. Schoolboys have limited imaginations. I suppose
I thought it was an awfully jolly thing to have it there, to know my way
back to it, but there was the school tugging at me. I expect I was a good
deal distraught and inattentive that morning, recalling what I could of
the beautiful strange people I should presently see again. Oddly enough I
had no doubt in my mind that they would be glad to see me… Yes, I must
have thought of the garden that morning just as a jolly sort of place to
which one might resort in the interludes of a strenuous scholastic career.
"I didn't go that day at all. The next day was a half holiday, and that
may have weighed with me. Perhaps, too, my state of inattention brought
down impositions upon me, and docked the margin of time necessary for the
detour. I don't know. What I do know is that in the meantime the
enchanted garden was so much upon my mind that I could not keep it to
"I told. What was his name?—a ferrety-looking youngster we used to call
"Young Hopkins," said I.
"Hopkins it was. I did not like telling him. I had a feeling that in some
way it was against the rules to tell him, but I did. He was walking part
of the way home with me; he was talkative, and if we had not talked about
the enchanted garden we should have talked of something else, and it was
intolerable to me to think about any other subject. So I blabbed.
"Well, he told my secret. The next day in the play interval I found myself
surrounded by half a dozen bigger boys, half teasing, and wholly curious
to hear more of the enchanted garden. There was that big Fawcett—you
remember him?—and Carnaby and Morley Reynolds. You weren't there by any
chance? No, I think I should have remembered if you were…
"A boy is a creature of odd feelings. I was, I really believe, in spite of
my secret self-disgust, a little flattered to have the attention of these
big fellows. I remember particularly a moment of pleasure caused by the
praise of Crawshaw—you remember Crawshaw major, the son of Crawshaw the
composer?—who said it was the best lie he had ever heard. But at the same
time there was a really painful undertow of shame at telling what I felt
was indeed a sacred secret. That beast Fawcett made a joke about the girl
Wallace's voice sank with the keen memory of that shame. "I pretended not
to hear," he said. "Well, then Carnaby suddenly called me a young liar,
and disputed with me when I said the thing was true. I said I knew where
to find the green door, could lead them all there in ten minutes. Carnaby
became outrageously virtuous, and said I'd have to—and bear out my words
or suffer. Did you ever have Carnaby twist your arm? Then perhaps you'll
understand how it went with me. I swore my story was true. There was
nobody in the school then to save a chap from Carnaby, though Crawshaw put
in a word or so. Carnaby had got his game. I grew excited and red-eared,
and a little frightened. I behaved altogether like a silly little chap,
and the outcome of it all was that instead of starting alone for my
enchanted garden, I led the way presently—cheeks flushed, ears hot, eyes
smarting, and my soul one burning misery and shame—for a party of six
mocking, curious, and threatening schoolfellows.
"We never found the white wall and the green door…"
"I mean I couldn't find it. I would have found it if I could.
"And afterwards when I could go alone I couldn't find it. I never found
it. I seem now to have been always looking for it through my school-boy
days, but I never came upon it—never."
"Did the fellows—make it disagreeable?"
"Beastly… Carnaby held a council over me for wanton lying. I remember
how I sneaked home and upstairs to hide the marks of my blubbering. But
when I cried myself to sleep at last it wasn't for Carnaby, but for the
garden, for the beautiful afternoon I had hoped for, for the sweet
friendly women and the waiting playfellows, and the game I had hoped to
learn again, that beautiful forgotten game…
"I believed firmly that if I had not told—… I had bad times after
that—crying at night and wool-gathering by day. For two terms I slackened
and had bad reports. Do you remember? Of course you would! It was
you—your beating me in mathematics that brought me back to the
For a time my friend stared silently into the red heart of the fire. Then
he said: "I never saw it again until I was seventeen.
"It leapt upon me for the third time—as I was driving to Paddington on my
way to Oxford and a scholarship. I had just one momentary glimpse. I was
leaning over the apron of my hansom smoking a cigarette, and no doubt
thinking myself no end of a man of the world, and suddenly there was the
door, the wall, the dear sense of unforgettable and still attainable
"We clattered by—I too taken by surprise to stop my cab until we were
well past and round a corner. Then I had a queer moment, a double and
divergent movement of my will: I tapped the little door in the roof of the
cab, and brought my arm down to pull out my watch. 'Yes, sir!' said the
cabman, smartly. 'Er—well—it's nothing,' I cried. 'My mistake! We
haven't much time! Go on!' And he went on…
"I got my scholarship. And the night after I was told of that I sat over
my fire in my little upper room, my study, in my father's house, with his
praise—his rare praise—and his sound counsels ringing in my ears, and I
smoked my favourite pipe—the formidable bulldog of adolescence—and
thought of that door in the long white wall. 'If I had stopped,' I
thought, 'I should have missed my scholarship, I should have missed
Oxford—muddled all the fine career before me! I begin to see things
better!' I fell musing deeply, but I did not doubt then this career of
mine was a thing that merited sacrifice.
"Those dear friends and that clear atmosphere seemed very sweet to me,
very fine but remote. My grip was fixing now upon the world. I saw another
door opening—the door of my career."
He stared again into the fire. Its red light picked out a stubborn
strength in his face for just one flickering moment, and then it vanished
"Well," he said and sighed, "I have served that career. I have done—much
work, much hard work. But I have dreamt of the enchanted garden a thousand
dreams, and seen its door, or at least glimpsed its door, four times since
then. Yes—four times. For a while this world was so bright and
interesting, seemed so full of meaning and opportunity, that the
half-effaced charm of the garden was by comparison gentle and remote. Who
wants to pat panthers on the way to dinner with pretty women and
distinguished men? I came down to London from Oxford, a man of bold
promise that I have done something to redeem. Something—and yet there
have been disappointments…
"Twice I have been in love—I will not dwell on that—but once, as I went
to someone who, I knew, doubted whether I dared to come, I took a short
cut at a venture through an unfrequented road near Earl's Court, and so
happened on a white wall and a familiar green door. 'Odd!' said I to
myself, 'but I thought this place was on Campden Hill. It's the place I
never could find somehow—like counting Stonehenge—the place of that
queer daydream of mine.' And I went by it intent upon my purpose. It had
no appeal to me that afternoon.
"I had just a moment's impulse to try the door, three steps aside were
needed at the most—though I was sure enough in my heart that it would
open to me—and then I thought that doing so might delay me on the way to
that appointment in which I thought my honour was involved. Afterwards I
was sorry for my punctuality—might at least have peeped in, I thought,
and waved a hand to those panthers, but I knew enough by this time not to
seek again belatedly that which is not found by seeking. Yes, that time
made me very sorry…
"Years of hard work after that, and never a sight of the door. It's only
recently it has come back to me. With it there has come a sense as though
some thin tarnish had spread itself over my world. I began to think of it
as a sorrowful and bitter thing that I should never see that door again.
Perhaps I was suffering a little from overwork—perhaps it was what I've
heard spoken of as the feeling of forty. I don't know. But certainly the
keen brightness that makes effort easy has gone out of things recently,
and that just at a time—with all these new political developments—when I
ought to be working. Odd, isn't it? But I do begin to find life toilsome,
its rewards, as I come near them, cheap. I began a little while ago to
want the garden quite badly. Yes—and I've seen it three times."
"No—-the door! And I haven't gone in!"
He leant over the table to me, with an enormous sorrow in his voice as he
spoke. "Thrice I have had my chance—thrice! If ever that door
offers itself to me again, I swore, I will go in, out of this dust and
heat, out of this dry glitter of vanity, out of these toilsome futilities.
I will go and never return. This time I will stay… I swore it, and when
the time came—I didn't go.
"Three times in one year have I passed that door and failed to enter.
Three times in the last year.
"The first time was on the night of the snatch division on the Tenants'
Redemption Bill, on which the Government was saved by a majority of three.
You remember? No one on our side—perhaps very few on the opposite side—
expected the end that night. Then the debate collapsed like eggshells. I
and Hotchkiss were dining with his cousin at Brentford; we were both
unpaired, and we were called up by telephone, and set off at once in his
cousin's motor. We got in barely in time, and on the way we passed my wall
and door—livid in the moonlight, blotched with hot yellow as the glare of
our lamps lit it, but unmistakable. 'My God!' cried I. 'What?' said
Hotchkiss. 'Nothing!' I answered, and the moment passed.
"'I've made a great sacrifice,' I told the whip as I got in. 'They all
have,' he said, and hurried by.
"I do not see how I could have done otherwise then. And the next occasion
was as I rushed to my father's bedside to bid that stern old man farewell.
Then, too, the claims of life were imperative. But the third time was
different; it happened a week ago. It fills me with hot remorse to recall
it. I was with Gurker and Ralphs—it's no secret now, you know, that I've
had my talk with Gurker. We had been dining at Frobisher's, and the talk
had become intimate between us. The question of my place in the
reconstructed Ministry lay always just over the boundary of the
discussion. Yes—yes. That's all settled. It needn't be talked about yet,
but there's no reason to keep a secret from you… Yes—thanks! thanks!
But let me tell you my story.
"Then, on that night things were very much in the air. My position was a
very delicate one. I was keenly anxious to get some definite word from
Gurker, but was hampered by Ralphs' presence. I was using the best power
of my brain to keep that light and careless talk not too obviously
directed to the point that concerned me. I had to. Ralphs' behaviour since
has more than justified my caution… Ralphs, I knew, would leave us
beyond the Kensington High Street, and then I could surprise Gurker by a
sudden frankness. One has sometimes to resort to these little devices…
And then it was that in the margin of my field of vision I became aware
once more of the white wall, the green door before us down the road.
"We passed it talking. I passed it. I can still see the shadow of Gurker's
marked profile, his opera hat tilted forward over his prominent nose, the
many folds of his neck wrap going before my shadow and Ralphs' as we
"I passed within twenty inches of the door. 'If I say good-night to them,
and go in,' I asked myself, 'what will happen?' And I was all a-tingle for
that word with Gurker.
"I could not answer that question in the tangle of my other problems.
'They will think me mad,' I thought. 'And suppose I vanish now!—-Amazing
disappearance of a prominent politician!' That weighed with me. A thousand
inconceivably petty worldlinesses weighed with me in that crisis."
Then he turned on me with a sorrowful smile, and, speaking slowly, "Here I
am!" he said.
"Here I am!" he repeated, "and my chance has gone from me. Three times in
one year the door has been offered me—the door that goes into peace, into
delight, into a beauty beyond dreaming, a kindness no man on earth can
know. And I have rejected it, Redmond, and it has gone——"
"How do you know?"
"I know. I know. I am left now to work it out, to stick to the tasks that
held me so strongly when my moments came. You say I have success—this
vulgar, tawdry, irksome, envied thing. I have it." He had a walnut in his
big hand. "If that was my success," he said, and crushed it, and held it
out for me to see.
"Let me tell you something, Redmond. This loss is destroying me. For two
months, for ten weeks nearly now, I have done no work at all, except the
most necessary and urgent duties. My soul is full of inappeasable regrets.
At nights—when it is less likely I shall be recognised—I go out. I
wander. Yes. I wonder what people would think of that if they knew. A
Cabinet Minister, the responsible head of that most vital of all
departments, wandering alone—grieving—sometimes near audibly lamenting—
for a door, for a garden!"
I can see now his rather pallid face, and the unfamiliar sombre fire that
had come into his eyes. I see him very vividly to-night. I sit recalling
his words, his tones, and last evening's Westminster Gazette still
lies on my sofa, containing the notice of his death. At lunch to-day the
club was busy with his death. We talked of nothing else.
They found his body very early yesterday morning in a deep excavation near
East Kensington Station. It is one of two shafts that have been made in
connection with an extension of the railway southward. It is protected
from the intrusion of the public by a hoarding upon the high road, in
which a small doorway has been cut for the convenience of some of the
workmen who live in that direction. The doorway was left unfastened
through a misunderstanding between two gangers, and through it he made his
My mind is darkened with questions and riddles.
It would seem he walked all the way from the House that night—he has
frequently walked home during the past Session—and so it is I figure his
dark form coming along the late and empty streets, wrapped up, intent. And
then did the pale electric lights near the station cheat the rough
planking into a semblance of white? Did that fatal unfastened door awaken
Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?
I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me. There are times
when I believe that Wallace was no more than the victim of the coincidence
between a rare but not unprecedented type of hallucination and a careless
trap, but that indeed is not my profoundest belief. You may think me
superstitious, if you will, and foolish; but, indeed, I am more than
half convinced that he had, in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense,
something—I know not what—-that in the guise of wall and door offered
him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and
altogether more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed
him in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmost mystery
of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination. We see our
world fair and common, the hoarding and the pit. By our daylight standard
he walked out of security into darkness, danger, and death.
But did he see like that?