Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Conrad Aiken: Mr. Arcularis

Conrad Aiken, Mr. Arcularis, Relatos de misterio, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales, Relatos de ciencia ficción, Fiction Tales


Mr. Arcularis stood at the window of his room in the hospital and looked down at the street. There had been a light shower, which had patterned the sidewalks with large drops, but now again the sun was out, blue sky was showing here and there between the swift white clouds, a cold wind was blowing the poplar trees. An itinerant band had stopped before the building and was playing, with violin, harp, and flute, the finale of "Cavalleria Rusticana." Leaning against the window-sill— for he felt extraordinarily weak after his operation— Mr. Arcularis suddenly, listening to the wretched music, felt like crying. He rested the palm of one hand against a cold window pane and stared down at the old man who was blowing the flute, and blinked his eyes. It seemed absurd that he should be so weak, so emotional, so like a child-and especially now that everything was over at last. In spite of all their predictions, in spite, too, of his own dreadful certainty that he was going to die, here he was, as fit as a fiddle-but what a fiddle it was, so out of tune!-with a long life before him. And to begin with, a voyage to England ordered by the doctor. What could be more delightful? Why should he feel sad about it and want to cry like a baby? In a few minutes Harry would arrive with his car to take him to the wharf; in an hour he would be on the sea, in two hours he would see the sunset
behind him, where Boston had been, and his new life would be opening before him. It was many years since he had been abroad. June, the best of the year to come-England, France, the Rhine-how ridiculous that he should already be homesick!

There was a light footstep outside the door, a knock, the door opened, and Harry came in.

"Well, old man, I've come to get you. The old bus actually got here. Are you ready? Here, let me take your arm. You're tottering like an octogenarian!"

Mr. Arcularis submitted gratefully, laughing, and they made the journey slowly along the bleak corridor and down the stairs to the entrance hall. Miss Hoyle, his nurse, was there, and the Matron, and the charming
little assistant with freckles who had helped to prepare him for the operation. Miss Hoyle put out her hand.

"Good-by, Mr. Arcularis," she said, "and bon voyage."

"Good-by, Miss Hoyle, and thank you for everything. You were very kind to me. And I fear I was a nuisance."

The girl with the freckles, too, gave him her hand, smiling. She was very pretty, and it would have been easy to fall in love with her. She reminded him of someone. Who was it? He tried in vain to remember while he said good-by to her and turned to the Matron.


"And not too many latitudes with the young ladies, Mr. Arcularis!" she was saying.

Mr. Arcularis was pleased, flattered, by all this attention to a middle-aged invalid, and felt a joke taking shape in his mind, and no sooner in his mind than on his tongue.

"Oh, no latitudes," he said, laughing. "I'll leave the latitudes to the ship!"

"Oh, come now," said the Matron, "we don't seem to have hurt him much, do we?"

"I think we'll have to operate on him again and really cure him," said Miss Hoyle.

He was going down the front steps, between the potted palmettoes, and they all laughed and waved. The wind was cold, very cold for June' and he was glad he had put on his coat. He shivered.

"Damned cold for June!" he said. "Why should it be so cold?"

"East wind," Harry said, arranging the rug over his knees. "Sorry it's an open car, but I believe in fresh air and all that sort of thing. I'll drive slowly. We've got plenty of time."

They coasted gently down the long hill towards Beacon Street, but the road was badly surfaced, and despite Harry's care Mr. Arcularis felt his pain again. He found that he could alleviate it a little by leaning to the
right, against the arm-rest, and not breathing too deeply. But how glorious to be out again! How strange and vivid the world looked! The trees had innumerable green fresh leaves-they were all blowing and shifting and turning and flashing in the wind; drops of rainwater fell downward sparkling; the robins were singing their absurd, delicious little four-noted songs; even the street cars looked unusually bright and beauti- ful, just as they used to look when he was a child and had wanted above all things to be a motorman. He found himself smiling foolishly at everything, foolishly and weakly, and wanted to say something about it to Harry. It was no use, though-he had no strength, and the mere finding of words would be almost more than he could manage. And even if he should succeed in saying it, he would then most likely burst into tears. He shook his head slowly from side to side.

"Ain't it grand?" he said.

"I'll bet it looks good," said Harry.

"Words fail me."

"You wait till you get out to sea. You'll have a swell time."

"Oh, swell! ... I hope not. I hope it'll be calm."

"Tut tut."

When they passed the Harvard Club Mr. Arcularis made a slow and somewhat painful effort to turn in his seat and look at it. It might be the last chance to see it for a long time. Why this sentimental longing to stare at it, though? There it was, with the great flag blowing in the wind the Harvard seal now concealed by the swift folds and now revealed and there were the windows in the library, where he had spent so many delightful hours reading-Plato, and Kipling, and the Lord knows what-and the balconies from which for so many years he had watched the finish of the Marathon. Old Talbot might be in there now, sleeping with a book on his knee, hoping forlornly to be interrupted by anyone, for anything.

"Good-by to the old club," he said.

"The bar will miss you," said Harry, smiling with friendly irony and looking straight ahead.

"But let there be no moaning," said Mr. Arcularis. "What's that a quotation from?"

" 'The Odyssey/ " .

In spite of the cold, he was glad of the wind on his face, for it helped to dissipate the feeling of vagueness and dizziness that came over him in a sickening wave from time to time. All of a sudden everything would begin to swim and dissolve, the houses would lean their heads together he had to close his eyes, and there would be a curious and dreadtul humming noise, which at regular intervals rose to a crescendo arid then drawlingly subsided again. It was disconcerting. Perhaps he still had a trace of fever. When he got on the ship he would have a glass of whisky. From one of these spells he opened his eyes and found that they were on the ferry, crossing to East Boston. It must have the ferry s engines that he had heard. From another spell he woke to find himselt on the wharf, the car at a standstill beside a pile of yellow packing-cases.
"We're here because we're here because we're here," said Harry.
"Because we're here," added Mr. Arcularis.

He dozed in the car while Harry-and what a good friend Harry was!-attended to all the details. He went and came with tickets and passports and baggage checks and porters. And at last he unwrapped Mr. Arcularis from the rugs and led him up the steep gangplank to the deck, and thence by devious windings to a small cold stateroom with a solitary porthole like the eye of a cyclops.

"Here you are," he said, "and now I've got to go. Did you hear the

whistle?"

"No."

"Well, you're half asleep. It's sounded the ail-ashore. Good-by old fellow, and take care of yourself. Bring me back a^spray of edelweiss. And send me a picture post card from the Absolute."

"Will you have it finite or infinite?"

"Oh, infinite. But with your signature on it. Now you'd better turn in for a while and have a nap. Cheerio!"

Mr. Arcularis took his hand and pressed it hard, and once more felt like crying. Absurd! Had he become a child again?

"Good-by," he said.

He sat down in the little wicker chair, with his overcoat still on, closed his eyes, and listened to the humming of the air in the ventilator. Hurried footsteps ran up and down the corridor. The chair was too comfortable
and his pain began to bother him again, so he moved, with his coat still on to the narrow berth and fell asleep. When he woke up, it was dark and the porthole had been partly opened. He groped for the switch and
turned on the light. Then he rang for the steward.

"It's cold in here," he said. "Would you mind closing the port?"

The girl who sat opposite him at dinner was charming. Who was it she reminded him of? Why, of course, the girl at the hospital, the girl with the freckles. Her hair was beautiful, not quite red, not quite gold nor had it been bobbed; arranged with a sort of graceful untidiness, it made him think of a Melozzo da Forli angel. Her face was freckled, she had a mouth which was both humorous and voluptuous. And she seemed to be alone.

He frowned at the bill of fare and ordered the thick soup.

"No hors d'oeuvres?" asked the steward.

"I think not," said Mr. Arcularis. "They might kill me."

The steward permitted himself to be amused and deposited the menu card on the table against the water-bottle. His eyebrows were lifted
As he moved away, the girl followed him with her eyes and smiled.

"I'm afraid you shocked him," she said.

"Impossible," said Mr. Arcularis. "These stewards, they're dead souls How could they be stewards otherwise? And they think they've seen and known everything. They suffer terribly from the deja vu. Personally I dont blame them."

"It must be a dreadful sort of life."

"It's because they're dead that they accept it."

"Do you think so?"

"I'm sure of it. I'm enough of a dead soul myself to know the signs!"

"Well, I don't know what you mean by that!"

"But nothing mysterious! I'm just out of hospital, after an operation I was given up for dead. For six months I had given myself up for dead. If you've ever been seriously ill you know the feeling. You have a post-
humous feeling-a mild, cynical tolerance for everything and everyone. What is there you haven't seen or done or understood? Nothing."

Mr. Arcularis waved his hands and smiled.

"I wish I could understand you," said the girl, "but I've never been ill
in my life."

"Never?"

"Never."

"Good God!"

The torrent of the unexpressed and inexpressible paralyzed him and rendered him speechless. He stared at the girl, wondering who she was and then, realizing that he had perhaps stared too fixedly averted his
gaze, gave a little laugh, rolled a pill of bread between his fingers. After a second or two he allowed himself to look at her again and found her

"Never pay any attention to invalids," he said, "or they'll drag you to the hospital." 

She examined him critically, with her head tilted a little to one side, but with friendliness.

"You don't look like an invalid," she said.

Mr. Arcularis thought her charming. His pain ceased to bother him, the disagreeable humming disappeared, or rather, it was dissociated from himself and became merely, as it should be, the sound of the ship's engines, and he began to think the voyage was going to be really delightful.
The parson on his right passed him the salt.

"I fear you will need this in your soup," he said. "Thank you. Is it as bad as that?"

The steward, overhearing, was immediately apologetic and solicitous. He explained that on the first day everything was at sixes and sevens. The girl looked up at him and asked him a question. "Do you think well have a good voyage?" she said. He was passing the hot rolls to the parson, removing the napkins from
them with a deprecatory finger.

"Well, madam, I don't like to be a Jeremiah, but- "

"Oh, come," said the parson, "I hope we have no Jeremiahs. "What do you mean?" said the girl.

Mr. Arcularis ate his soup with gusto-it was nice and hot. "Well, maybe I shouldn't say it, but there's a corpse on board, going to Ireland; and I never yet knew a voyage with a corpse on board that we didn't have bad weather."

"Why, steward, you're just superstitious! What nonsense. "That's a very ancient superstition," said Mr. Arcularis. "I've heard it many times. Maybe it's true. Maybe we'll be wrecked. And what does it matter, after all?" He was very bland.

"Then let's be wrecked," said the parson coldly.

Nevertheless, Mr. Arcularis felt a shudder go through him on hearing the steward's remark. A corpse in the hold-a coffin? Perhaps it was true. Perhaps some disaster would befall them. There might be fogs There
might be icebergs. He thought of all the wrecks of which he had read. There was the Titanic, which he had read about in the warm newspaper room at the Harvard Club-it had seemed dreadfully real, even there.
That band, playing "Nearer My God to Thee" on the after-deck while the ship sank! It was one of the darkest of his memories. And the Empress of Ireland-all those poor people trapped in the smoking-room, with only one door between them and life, and that door locked for the night by the deck-steward, and the deck-steward nowhere to be found! He shivered, feeling a draft, and turned to the parson.

"How do these strange delusions arise?" he said.

The parson looked at him searchingly, appraisingly-from chin to forehead, from forehead to chin-and Mr. Arcularis, feeling uncomfortable, straightened his tie.

"From nothing but fear/' said the parson. "Nothing on earth but fear."

"How strange!" said the girl.

Mr. Arcularis again looked at her-she had lowered her face-and again tried to think of whom she reminded him. It wasn't only the freckle-faced girl at the hospital-both of them had reminded him of someone else.
Someone far back in his life: remote, beautiful, lovely. But he couldn't think. The meal came to an end, they all rose, the ship's orchestra played a feeble fox-trot, and Mr. Arcularis, once more alone, went to the bar to
have his whisky. The room was stuffy, and the ship's engines were both audible and palpable. The humming and throbbing oppressed him, the rhythm seemed to be the rhythm of his own pain, and after a short time he found his way, with slow steps, holding on to the walls in his moments of weakness and dizziness, to his forlorn and white little room. The port had been-thank God!-closed for the night: it was cold enough anyway.
The white and blue ribbons fluttered from the ventilator, the bottle and glasses clicked and clucked as the ship swayed gently to the long, slow motion of the sea. It was all very popular-it was all like something he
had experienced somewhere before. What was it? Where was it? . He untied his tie, looking at his face in the glass, and wondered, and from time to time put his hand to his side to hold in the pain. It wasn't at Portsmouth, in his childhood, nor at Salem, nor in the rose-garden at his Aunt Julia's, nor in the schoolroom at Cambridge. It was something very queer, very intimate, very precious. The jackstones, the Sunday-
School cards which he had loved when he was a child ... He fell asleep.

The sense of time was already hopelessly confused. One hour was like another, the sea looked always the same, morning was indistinguishable from afternoon-and was it Tuesday or Wednesday? Mr. Arcularis
was sitting in the smoking-room, in his favorite corner, watching the parson teach Miss Dean to play chess. On the deck outside he could see the people passing and repassing in their restless round of the ship. The
red jacket went by, then the black hat with the white feather, then the purple scarf, the brown tweed coat, the Bulgarian mustache, the monocle, the Scotch cap with fluttering ribbons, and in no time at all the red
jacket again, dipping past the windows with its own peculiar rhythm, followed once more by the black hat and the purple scarf. How odd to reflect on the fixed little orbits of these things-as definite and profound,
perhaps, as the orbits of the stars, and as important to God or the Absolute. There was a kind of tyranny in this fixedness, too-to think of it too much made one uncomfortable. He closed his eyes for a moment, to
avoid seeing for the fortieth time the Bulgarian mustache and the pursuing monocle. The parson was explaining the movements of knights. Two forward and one to the side: Miss Dean repeated the words several

times with reflective emphasis. Here, too, was the terrifying fixed curve of the infinite, the creeping curve of logic which at last must become the final signpost at the edge of nothing. After that-the deluge. The great
white light of annihilation. The bright flash of death ... Was it merely the sea which made these abstractions so insistent, so intrusive? The mere notion of orbit had somehow become extraordinarily naked; and to rid
himself of the discomfort and also to forget a little the pain which bothered his side whenever he sat down, he walked slowly and carefully into the writing-room, and examined a pile of superannuated magazines and
catalogues of travel. The bright colors amused him, the photographs or remote islands and mountains, savages in sampans or sarongs or both-it was all very far off and delightful, like something in a dream or a fever. But he found that he was too tired to read and was incapable of concentration. Dreams! Yes, that reminded him. That rather alarming business—sleep-walking!

Later in the evening-at what hour he didn't know-he was telling Miss Dean about it, as he had intended to do. They were sitting in deck-chairs on the sheltered side. The sea was black, and there was a coldwind. He wished they had chosen to sit in the lounge.

Miss Dean was extremely pretty-no, beautiful. She looked at him, too in a very strange and lovely way, with something of inquiry, some- thing of sympathy, something of affection. It seemed as if, between the question and the answer, they had sat thus for a very long time, exchanging an unspoken secret, simply looking at each other quietly and kindly. Had an hour or two passed? And was it at all necessary to speak? "No," she said, "I never have."

She breathed into the low words a note of interrogation and gave him a slow smile.

"That's the funny part of it. I never had either until last night. Never in my life. I hardly ever even dream. And it really rather frightens me. "Tell me about it, Mr. Arcularis."

"I dreamed at first that I was walking, alone, in a wide plain covered with snow. It was growing dark, I was very cold, my feet were frozen and numb, and I was lost. I came then to a signpost-at first it seemed to me there was nothing on it. Nothing but ice. Just before it grew finally dark, however, I made out on it the one word 'Polaris .

"The Polar Star."

"Yes-and you see, I didn't myself know that. I looked it up only this morning. I suppose I must have seen it somewhere? And of course it rhymes with my name."

"Why, so it does!" 

"Anyway, it gave me-in the dream-an awful feeling of despair, and the dream changed. This time, I dreamed I was standing outside my stateroom in the little dark corridor, or cul-de-sac, and trying to find the
door-handle to let myself in. I was in my pajamas, and again I was very cold. And at this point I woke up . . The extraordinary thing is thats exactly where I was!"

"Good Heavens. How strange!"

"Yes. And now the question is, where had I been? I was frightened,
when I came to-not unnaturally. For among other things I did have'
quite definitely, the feeling that I had been somewhere. Somewhere where
it was very cold. It doesn't sound very proper. Suppose I had been seen!"
"That might have been awkward," said Miss Dean.
"Awkward! It might indeed. It's very singular. I've never done such
a thing before. It's this sort of thing that reminds one-rather whole-
somely, perhaps, don't you think?"-and Mr. Arcularis gave a nervous
little laugh-"how extraordinarily little we know about the workings of
our own minds or souls. After all, what do we know?"
"Nothing-nothing-nothing-nothing," said Miss Dean slowly.
"Absolutely nothing."

Their voices had dropped, and again they were silent; and again they
looked at each other gently and sympathetically, as if for the exchange
of something unspoken and perhaps unspeakable. Time ceased. The
orbit-so it seemed to Mr. Arcularis-once more became pure, became
absolute. And once more he found himself wondering who it was that
Miss Dean-Clarice Dean-reminded him of. Long ago and far away.
Like those pictures of the islands and mountains. The little freckle-faced
girl at the hospital was merely, as it were, the stepping-stone, the sign-
post, or, as in algebra, the "equals" sign. But what was it they both
equalled"? The jackstones came again into his mind and his Aunt
Julia's rose-garden-at sunset; but this was ridiculous. It couldn't be
simply that they reminded him of his childhood! And yet why not?

They went into the lounge. The ship's orchestra, in the oval-shaped
balcony among faded palms, was playing the finale of "Cavalleria Rusti-
cana," playing it badly.

"Good God!" said Mr. Arcularis, "can't I ever escape from that damned
sentimental tune? It's the last thing I heard in America, and the last
thing I want to hear."
^But don't you like it?"

"As music? No! It moves me too much, but in the wrong way."
"What, exactly, do you mean?"

"Exactly? Nothing. When I heard it at the hospital-when was it?— it
made me feel like crying. Three old Italians tootling it in the rain. I
suppose, like most people, I'm afraid of my feelings."
"Are they so dangerous?"

"Now then, young woman! Are you pulling my leg?"
The stewards had rolled away the carpets, and the passengers were
beginning to dance. Miss Dean accepted the invitation of a young officer
and Mr. Arcularis watched them with envy. Odd, that last exchange of
remarks-very odd; in fact, everything was odd. Was it possible°that
they were falling in love? Was that what it was all about-all these con-
cealed references and recollections? He had read of such things. But at
his age! And with a girl of twenty-two!

After an amused look at his old friend Polaris from the open door
on the sheltered side, he went to bed.

The rhythm of the ship's engines was positively a persecution. It gave
one no rest, it followed one like the Hound of Heaven, it drove one out
into space and across the Milky Way and then back home by way of
Betelgeuse. It was cold there, too. Mr. Arcularis, making the round trip
by way of Betelgeuse and Polaris, sparkled with frost. He felt like a
Christmas tree. Icicles on his fingers and icicles on his toes. He tinkled
and spangled in the void, halloed to the waste echoes, rounded the buoy
on the verge of the Unknown, and tacked glitteringly homeward. The
wind whistled. He was barefooted. Snowflakes and tinsel blew past him.
Next time, by George, he would go farther still-for altogether it was
rather a lark. Forward into the untrodden! as somebody said. Some
intrepid explorer of his own backyard, probably, some middle-aged pro-
fessor with an umbrella: those were the fellows for courage! But give
us time, thought Mr. Arcularis, give us time, and we will bring back with
us the nightrime of the Obsolute. Or was it Absolete? If only there
weren't this perpetual throbbing, this iteration of sound, like a pain,
these circles and repetitions of light-the feeling as of everything coiling
inward to a center of misery ...

Suddenly it was dark, and he was lost. He was groping, he touched
the cold, white, slippery woodwork with his fingernails, looking for an
electric switch. The throbbing of course, was the throbbing of the ship.
But he was almost home-almost home. Another corner to round, a door
to be opened, and there he would be. Safe and sound. Safe in his father's

home. ii-i i.

It was at this point that he woke up: in the corridor that led to the
dining saloon. Such pure terror, such horror, seized him as he had never
known. His heart felt as if it would stop beating. His back was towards
the dining saloon; apparently he had just come from it. He was in his
pajamas. The corridor was dim, all but two lights having been turned
out for the night, and-thank God!-deserted. Not a soul, not a sound. He
was perhaps fifty yards from his room. With luck he could get to it un-
seen. Holding tremulously to the rail that ran along the wall, a brown,
greasy rail, he began to creep his way forward. He felt very weak, very
dizzy, and his thoughts refused to concentrate. Vaguely he remembered
Miss Dean-Clarice-and the freckled girl, as if they were one and the
same person. But he wasn't in the hospital, he was on the ship. Of course.
How absurd. The Great Circle. Here we are, old fellow . . . steady
round the corner . . . hold hard to your umbrella ...

In his room, with the door safely shut behind him, Mr. Arcularis broke
into a cold sweat. He had no sooner got into his bunk, shivering, than he
heard the night watchman pass.

"But where-" he thought, closing his eyes in agony- have I

been? . . ."

A dreadful idea had occurred to him.

"It's nothing serious-how could it be anything serious? Of course it's
nothing serious," said Mr. Arcularis.

"No, it's nothing serious," said the ship's doctor urbanely.

"I knew you'd think so. But just the same-"

"Such a condition is the result of worry," said the doctor. "Are you
womed-do you mind telling me-about something? Just try to think."

"Worried?"

Mr. Arcularis knitted his brows. Was there something? Some little
mosquito of a cloud disappearing into the southwest, the northeast?
Some little gnat-song of despair? But no, that was all over. All over.

"Nothing," he said, "nothing whatever."

"It's very strange," said the doctor.

"Strange! I should say so. I've come to sea for a rest, not for a night-
mare! What about a bromide?"

"Well, I can give you a bromide, Mr. Arcularis-"

"Then, please, if you don't mind, give me a bromide."

He carried the little phial hopefully to his stateroom, and took a dose
at once. He could see the sun through his porthole. It looked northern
and pale and small, like a little peppermint, which was only natural
enough, for the latitude was changing with every hour. But why was it
that doctors were all alike? and all, for that matter, like his father, or
that fellow at the hospital? Smythe, his name was. Doctor Smythe. A
nice, dry little fellow, and they said he was a writer. Wrote poetry or
something like that. Poor fellow-disappointed. Like everybody else.
Crouched in there, in his cabin, night after night, writing blank verse
or something-all about the stars and flowers and love and death- ice
and the sea and the infinite; time and tide-well, every man to his own
taste.

"But it's nothing serious," said Mr. Arcularis, later, to the parson. "How
could it be?"

"Why, of course not, my dear fellow," said the parson, patting his
back. "How could it be?"

"I know it isn't and yet I worry about it."

"It would be ridiculous to think it serious," said the parson.

Mr. Arcularis shivered: it was colder than ever. It was said that they
were near icebergs. For a few hours in the morning there had been a
fog, and the siren had blown-devastatingly-at three-minute intervals.
Icebergs caused fog-he knew that.

"These things always come," said the parson, "from a sense of guilt.
You feel guilty about something. I won't be so rude as to inquire what
it is. But if you could rid yourself of the sense of guilt—"

And later still, when the sky was pink:

"But is it anything to worry about?" said Miss Dean. "Really?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Then don't worry. We aren't children any longer!"

"Aren't we? I wonder!"

They leaned, shoulders touching, on the deck-rail, and looked at the sea,
which was multitudinously incarnadined. Mr. Arcularis scanned the hori-
zon in vain for an iceberg.

"Anyway," he said, "the colder we are the less we feel!

"I hope that's no reflection on you," said Miss Dean.

"Here . . . feel my hand," said Mr. Arcularis.

"Heaven knows it's cold!"

"It's been to Polaris and back! No wonder."

"Poor thing, poor thing!"

"Warm it."

"May I?"

"You can."

"I'll try."

Laughing, she took his hand between both of hers, one palm under
and one palm over, and began rubbing it briskly. The decks were de-
serted, no one was near them, everyone was dressing for dinner. The
sea grew darker, the wind blew colder.

"I wish I could remember who you are," he said.

"And you— who are you?"

"Myself."

"Then perhaps I am yourself."

"Don't be metaphysical!"

"But I am metaphysical!"

She laughed, withdrew, pulled the light coat about her shoulders.

The bugle blew the summons for dinner-"The Roast Beef of Old
England"-and they walked together along the darkening deck toward
the door, from which a shaft of soft light fell across the deck-rail. As
they stepped over the brass door-sill Mr. Arcularis felt the throb of the
engines again; he put his hand quickly to his side.
"Aw/ wiedersehen" he said. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Mr. Arcularis was finding it impossible, absolutely impossible, to keep
warm. A cold fog surrounded the ship, had done so, it seemed, for days.
The sun had all but disappeared, the transition from day to night was
almost unnoticeable. The ship, too, seemed scarcely to be moving-it
was as if anchored among walls of ice and rime. Monstrous, that merely
because it was June, and supposed, therefore, to be warm, the ship's
authorities should consider it unnecessary to turn on the heat! By day,
he wore his heavy coat and sat shivering in the corner of the smoking-
room. His teeth chattered, his hands were blue. By night, he heaped
blankets on his bed, closed the porthole's black eye against the sea, and
drew the yellow curtains across it, but in vain. Somehow, despite every-
thing, the fog crept in, and the icy fingers touched his throat. The stew-
ard, questioned about it, merely said, "Icebergs." Of course-any fool knew
that. But how long, in God's name, was it going to last? They surely
ought to be past the Grand Banks by this time! And surely it wasn't
necessary to sail to England by way of Greenland and Iceland!
Miss Dean— Clarice— was sympathetic.

"It's simply because," she said, "your vitality has been lowered by
your illness. You can't expect to be your normal self so soon after an
operation! When was your operation, by the way?"

Mr. Arcularis considered. Strange-he couldn't be quite sure. It was
all a little vague-his sense of time had disappeared.

"Heavens knows!" he said. "Centuries ago. When I was a tadpole and
you were a fish. I should think it must have been about the time of the
Battle of Teutoburg Forest. Or perhaps when I was a Neanderthal man
with a club!"

"Are you sure it wasn't farther back still?"
What did she mean by that?

"Not at all. Obviously, we've been on this damned ship for ages-
for eras-for aeons. And even on this ship, you must remember, I've had
plenty of time, in my nocturnal wanderings, to go several times to Orion
and back. I'm thinking, by the way, of going farther still. There's a nice
little star off to the left, as you round Betelgeuse, which looks as if it
might be right at the edge. The last outpost of the finite. I think I'll have
a look at it and bring you back a frozen rime-feather."
"It would melt when you got it back."
"Oh, no, it wouldn't-not on this ship!"
Clarice laughed.

"I wish I could go with you," she said.
"If only you would! If only—"

He broke off his sentence and looked hard at her-how lovely she was,
and how desirable! No such woman had ever before come into his life-
there had been no one with whom he had at once felt so profound a
sympathy and understanding. It was a miracle, simply-a miracle. No
need to put his arm around her or to kiss her-delightful as such small
vulgarities would be. He had only to look at her, and to feel, gazing into
those extraordinary eyes, that she knew him, had always known him. It
was as if, indeed, she might be his own soul.

But as he looked thus at her, reflecting, he noticed that she was frown-
ing.

"What is it?" he said.

She shook her head, slowly.

"I don't know."

"Tell me."

"Nothing. It just occurred to me that perhaps you weren't looking quite
so well."

Mr. Arcularis was startled. He straightened himself up.

"What nonsense! Of course this pain bothers me-and I feel astonish-
ingly weak—"

"It's more than that— much more than that. Something is worrying you
horribly." She paused, and then with an air of challenging him, added,
"Tell me, did you?"

Her eyes were suddenly asking him blazingly the question he had
been afraid of. He flinched, caught his breath, looked away. But it was

no use, as he knew: he would have to tell her. He had known all along
that he would have to tell her.

"Clarice," he said-and his voice broke in spite of his effort to control
it— "it's killing me, it's ghastly! Yes, I did"

His eyes filled with tears, he saw that her own had done so also, She
put her hand on his arm.

"I knew," she said. "I knew. But tell me."

"It's happened twice again-*u;ice-and each time I was farther away.
The same dream of going round a star, the same terrible coldness and
helplessness. That awful whistling curve . . ." He shuddered.

"And when you woke up-" she spoke quietly- 'where were you when
you woke up? Don't be afraid!"

"The first time I was at the farther end of the dining saloon. I had my
hand on the door that leads into the pantry."
"I see. Yes. And the next time?"

Mr Arcularis wanted to close his eyes in terror-he felt as if he were
going mad. His lips moved before he could speak, and when at last he
did speak it was in a voice so low as to be almost a whisper.

"I was at the bottom of the stairway that leads down from the pantry
to the hold, past the refrigerating-plant. It was dark, and I was crawling
on my hands and knees . . . Crawling on my hands and knees! . . .
"Oh!" she said, and again, "Oh!"

He began to tremble violently; he felt the hand on his arm trembling
also. And then he watched a look of unmistakable horror come slowly
into Clarice's eyes, and a look of understanding, as if she saw . . . She
tightened her hold on his arm.

"Do you think . . ." she whispered.

They stared at each other. t

"I know," he said. "And so do you . . . Twice more-three times-and
I'll be looking down into an empty . . ." 

It was then that they first embraced-then, at the edge of the infinite,
at the last signpost of the finite. The clung together desperately, for-
lornly, weeping as they kissed each other, staring hard one moment and
closing their eyes the next. Passionately, passionately, she kissed him, as
if she were indeed trying to give him her warmth, her life.

"But what nonsense!" she cried, leaning back and holding his ^ face
between her hands, her hands which were wet with his tears. What
nonsense! It can't be!"

"It is," said Mr. Arcularis slowly. „

"But how do you know? . . . How do you know where the-

For the first time Mr. Arcularis smiled.

"Don't be afraid, darling-you mean the coffin?"

"How could you know where it is?" .

"I don't need to," said Mr. Arcularis ..."Im already almost there.

Before they separated for the night, in the smoking-room, they had
several whisky cocktails.

"We must make it gay!" Mr. Arcularis said. Above all, we must make

it gay. Perhaps even now it will turn out to be nothing but a nightmare
from which both of us will wake! And even at the worst, at my present
rate of travel, I ought to need two or more nights! It's a long way, still to
that little star."

The parson passed them at the door.

"What! turning in so soon?" he said. "I was hoping for a game of

"Yes, both turning in. But tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow, then, Miss Dean! And good-night'"
"Good-night." '

They walked once round the deck, then leaned on the railing and
stared into the fog. It was thicker and whiter than ever. The ship was
m< ^ mg i barely P erce P tibl y> & e Aythm of the engines was slower, more
subdued and remote, and at regular intervals, mournfully, came the long
reverberating cry of the foghorn. The sea was calm, and lapped only
very tenderly against the side of the ship, the sound coming up to them
clearly, however, because of the profound stillness.

" 'On such a night as this- " quoted Mr. Arcularis grimly.
" 'On such a night as this- "

Their voices hung suspended in the night, time ceased for them, for
an eternal instant they were happy. When at last they parted it was
by tacit agreement on a note of the ridiculous.
"Be a good boy and take your bromide!" she said.
"Yes, mother, I'll take my medicine!"

In his stateroom, he mixed himself a strong potion of bromide, a very
strong one, and got into bed. He would have no trouble in falling' asleep:
he felt more tired, more supremely exhausted, than he had ever been in
his life; nor had bed ever seemed so delicious. And that long, magnificent,
delirious swoop of dizziness ... the Great Circle ... the swift path-
way to Arcturus . . .

It was all as before, but infinitely more rapid. Never had Mr. Arcularis
achieved such phenomenal, such supernatural, speed. In no time at all
he was beyond the moon, shot past the North Star as if it were standing
still (which perhaps it was?), swooped in a long, bright curve round the
Pleiades, shouted his frosty greetings to Betelgeuse, and was off to the
little blue star which pointed the way to the unknown. Forward into the
untrodden! Courage, old man, and hold on to your umbrella! Have you
got your garters on? Mind your hat! In no time at all we'll be back to
Clarice with the frozen time-feather, the rime-feather, the snowflake of
the Absolute, the Obsolete. If only we don't wake ... if only we needn't
wake ... if only we don't wake in that-in that-time and space . . .
somewhere or nowhere . . . cold and dark . . . "Cavalleria Rusticana"
sobbing among the palms; if a lonely ... if only ... the coffers of the
poor-not coffers, not coffers, not coffers. Oh, God, not coffers, but light,
delight, supreme white and brightness, and above all whirling lightness,
whirling lightness above all— and freezing— freezing— freezing . .

At this point in the void the surgeon's last effort to save Mr. Arcularis's

life had failed. He stood back from the operating table and made a tired
gesture with a rubber-gloved hand.

"It's all over," he said. "As I expected."

He looked at Miss Hoyle, whose gaze was downward, at the basin she
held. There was a moment's stillness, a pause, a brief flight of unex-
changed comment, and then the ordered life of the hospital was resumed.

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