O. Wilde

Every evening the young Fisherman went to sea and threw his nets into the water.

Every evening he went to sea, and one evening the net was so heavy that he could not draw it into the boat. And he laughed, and said to himself, "Surely I have caught all the fish of the sea, or some monster," and he put forth all his strength and drew the net to the surface of the water.

But there were no fish at all in it, nor any monster, but only a little Mermaid, who was fast asleep.

Her wet hair was like gold, her body was as white as ivory, and her tail was of silver and pearl, and like seashells were her ears, and her lips were like sea-coral.

She was so beautiful that the young Fisherman drew the net close to him, and embraced her. And when he touched her, she gave a cry, and awoke, and looked at him in terror and tried to escape. But he held her so tight that she could not free herself.

And when she saw that she could in no way' escape from him, she began to weep, and said, "I ask you to let me go, for I am the only daughter of a King, and my father is very old and all alone."

But the young Fisherman answered, "I shall let you go if you promise that whenever I call you, you will come and sing to me, for the fish like to listen to the songs of the Sea-folk, and so my nets will be full."

"Will you indeed let me go if I promise you this?" asked the Mermaid.

"Indeed I will let you go," said the young Fisherman.

So she promised him, and swore it by the oath of the Sea-folk' and he loosened his arms, and let her go, and she sank down into the water, trembling with a strange fear.

Every evening the young Fisherman went to sea, and called to the Mermaid, and she rose out of the water and sang a marve1lous song to him.

And as she sang, all the fish came from the depth to listen to her, and the young Fisherman threw his nets and caught them. And when his boat was full, the Mermaid smiled at him and sank down into the sea.

Yet, she never came so near to him that he could touch her. He often called to her and begged her, but she did not come near him, and when he tried to seize her she sank down into the water, and he did not see her again that day. And each day the sound of her voice became sweeter to his ears. So sweet was her voice that he forgot his nets and his boat. With eyes dim with wonder, he sat idly in his boat and listened, and listened, till night came.

And one evening he called to her, and said: "Little Mermaid, little Mermaid, I love you. Let me be your bridegroom, for I love you."



But the Mermaid shook her head. "You have a human soul," she answered. "Send away your soul and I shall nothing, and he hardly knew whether to be relieved or disappointed.

The following morning was wet – so wet that even the most ardent golfer might have his enthusiasm damped.

Jack rose at the last possible moment, ate his breakfast, ran for the train and again eagerly looked through the papers. Still no mention of any tragic discovery having been made. The evening papers told the same tale.

"Queer," said Jack to himself, "but there it is. Probably some little boys having a game together up in the woods."

He was out early the following morning. As he passed the cottage, he noted out of the tail of his eye that the girj was out in the garden again weeding. Evidently a habit of hers. He did a particularly good shot, and hoped that she had noticed it.

"Just five and twenty past seven," he murmured. "I wonder –"

The words were frozen on his lips. From behind him came the same cry which had so startled him before. A woman's voice, in distress.

"Murder – help! murder!"

Jack raced back. The pansy girl was standing by the gate. She looked startled, and Jack ran up to her triumphantly, crying out: "You heard it this time, anyway."

Her eyes were wide with some emotion and he noticed that she shrank back from him as he approached, and even glanced back at the house, as though she was about to run for shelter.

She shook her head, staring at him.

"I heard nothing at all," she said wonderingly.

It was as though she had struck him a blow betweenthe eyes. Her sincerity was so evident that he could not disbelieve her. Yet he couldn't have imagined it – he couldn't – he – couldn't –…

He heard her voice speaking gently – almost with sympathy. "You have had the shell-shock', yes?"

In a flash he understood her look of fear, her glance back at the house. She thought that he suffered from delusions...

And then, like a douche of cold water, came the horrible thought, was she right? Did he suffer from delusions?
In horror of the thought he turned and stumbled away without saying a word. The girl watched him go, sighed, shook her head, and bent down to her weeding again.



Jack tried to reason matters out with himself.

"If I hear the damned thing again at twenty-five minutes past seven," he said to himself, "it's clear that I've got hold of a hallucination of some sort. But I won't hear it."

He was nervous all that day, and went to bed early determined to put the matter to the proof the following morning.

As was perhaps natural in such a case, he remained awake half the night, and finally overslept himself. It was twenty past seven by the time he was clear of the hotel and running towards the links. He realised that he would not be able to get to the fatal spot by twenty-five past, but surely, if the voice were a hallucination pure and simple, he would hear it anywhere. He ran on, his eyes fixed on the hands of his watch.

Twenty-five past. From far off came the echo of a woman's voice, calling. The words could not be distinguished, but he was convinced that it was the same cry he had heard before, and that it came from the same spot, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the cottage.

Strangely enough, that fact reassured him. It might, after all, be a hoax'. Unlikely as it seemed, the girl herself might be playing a trick on him.

The girl was in the garden as usual. She looked up this morning, and when he raised his cap to her, said good morning rather shyly... She looked, he thought, lovelier than ever.

"Nice day, isn't it?" Jack called out cheerily.

"Yes, indeed, it is lovely."

"Good for the garden, I expect?"

The girl smiled a little.

"Alas, no! For my flowers the rain is needed. See, they are all dried up. Monsieur is much better today, I can see."

Her encouraging tone annoyed Jack intensely.

"I'm perfectly well," he said irritably.

"That is good then," returned the girl quickly and soothingly.

Jack had the irritating feeling that she didn't believe him.

He played a few more holes and hurried back to breakfast.

As he ate it, he was conscious, not for the first time, of the close scrutiny of a man who sat at the table next to him. He was a man of middle-age, with a powerful forceful face. He had a small dark beard and very piercing grey eyes. His name, Jack knew, was Lavington, and he had heard vague rumours' as to his being a well-known medical specialist, but as Jack was not a frequenter of Harley Street, the name had told little or nothing to him.

But this morning he was very conscious of the quiet observation under which he was being kept, and it frightened him a little. Was his secret written plainly in his face for all to see?

Jack shivered at the thought. Was it true? Was he really going mad? Was the whole thing a hallucination, or was it a gigantic hoax?

And suddenly a very simple way of testing the solution occurred to him He had hitherto been alone on the course. Supposing someone else was with him? Then ane out of three things might happen. The voice might be silent. They might both hear it. Or – he only.might hear it.

That evening he proceeded to carry his plan into effect. Lavington was the man he wanted with him. They fell into conversation easily enough – the older man might have been waiting for such an opening. It was clear that for some reason or other Jack interested him. The latter was able to come quite easily and naturally to the suggestion that they might play a few holes together before breakfast. The arrangement was made for the following morning.

They started out a little before seven. It was a perfect day, still and cloudless, but not too warm. The doctor was playing well, Jack awfully. He kept glancing at his watch.

The girl, as usual, was in the garden as they passed. She did not look up as they passed.

It was exactly twenty-five minutes past seven.

"If you didn't mind waiting a minute," he said, "I think I'll have a smoke."

They paused a little while. Jack filled and lit the pipe with fingers that trembled a little in spite of himself. An enormous weight seemed to have lifted from his mind.

"Lord, what a good day it is," he remarked. "Go on, Lavington, your shot."

And then it came. Just at the very instant the doctor was hitting. A woman's voice, high and agonised.

"Murder – Help! Murder!"

The pipe fell from Jack's nerveless hand, as he turned round in the direction of the sound, and then, remembering, gazed breathlessly at his companion.

Lavington was looking down the course, shading his eyes.

He had heard nothing.

The world seemed to spin round with Jack. He took a step or two and fell. When he recovered himself, he was lying on the ground, and Lavington was bending over him.

"There, take it easy now, take it easy."

"What did I do?"

"You fainted, young man – or gave a very good try at it."

"My God!" said Jack, and groaned.

"What's the trouble? Something on your mind?"

"I'll tell you in one minute, but I'd like to ask you something first."

The doctor lit his own pipe and settled himself on the bank. "Ask anything you like," he said comfortably.

"You've been watching me for the last day or two.

Why?"

Lavington's eyes twinkled a little.

"That's rather an awkward question. A cat can look at a king, you know."

"Don't put me off. I'm earnest. Why was it? I've a vital reason for asking."

Lavington's face grew serious.

"I'll answer you quite honestly. I recognised in you all

the signs of a man who is under acute strain', and it intrigued me what that strain could be."

"I can tell you that easily enough," said Jack bitterly.

"I'm going mad."

He stopped dramatically, but as his statement did not seem to arouse the interest he expected, he repeated it.

"I tell you I'm going mad."

"Very curious," murmured Lavington. "Very curious indeed."

“I suppose that's all it does seem to you. Doctors are so damned callous”.

“To begin with, although I have taken my degree, I do not practise medicine. Strictly speaking, I am not a doctor – not a doctor of the body, that it”.

Jack looked at him keenly.

"Of the mind?"

"Yes, in a sense, but more truly I call myself a doctor of the soul.""O}1!"

"I see you do not quite believe me, and yet you've got to come to terms with the soul, you know, young man. I can assure you that it really did strike me as very curious that such a well-balanced and perfectly normal young man as yourself should suffer from the delusion that he was going out of his mind."

"I'm out of my mind, all right. Absolutely mad."

"You will forgive me for saying so, but I don't believe it."

"I suffer from delusions."

"After dinner?"

"No, in the morning."

"Can't be done," said the doctor.

"I tell you I hear things that no one else hears."

"It's quite possible that the delusions of to-day may be the proved scientific facts of to-morrow."

In spite of himself, Lavington's matter-of-fact manner was having its effect upon Jack. He felt awfully cheered. The doctor looked at him attentively for a minute or two and then nodded.

"That's better," he said. "The trouble with you young fellows is that you're so sure nothing can exist outside your own philosophy that you get the wind up when something occurs that may change your opinion. Let's hear your grounds for believing that you're going mad, and we'll decide whether or not to lock you up afterwards."

As faithfully as he could, Jack told the whole series of occurrences.

"But what I can't understand," he ended, "is why this morning it should come at half past seven – five minutes late."

Lavington thought for a minute or two.

"What's the time now by your watch?" he asked.

"Quarter to eight," replied Jack, consulting it.

"That's simple enough, then. Mine says twenty to eight.

Your watch is five minutes fast. That's a very interesting and important point – to me. in fact, it's invaluable."

"In what way?"

Jack was beginning to get interested.

"Well, the obvious explanation is that on the first morning you did hear some such cry – may have been a joke, may not. On the following mornings, you suggestioned yourself to hear it at exactly the same time."

"I'm sure I didn't."

"Not consciously", of course, but the subconscious plays us some funny tricks, you know. If it were a case of suggestion, you would have heard the cry at twenty-five minutes past seven by yourw atch,a ndy ouc ouldn ever have heard it when the time, as you thought, was past."

"Well, then?"

"Well – it's obvious, isn't it? This cry for help occupies a perfectly definite place and time in space."

"Yes, but why should I be the one to hear it? I don't believe in ghosts, spirits", and all the rest of it. Why should I hear the damned thing?"

"Ah! that we can't tell at present. Some people see and hear things that other people don't – we don't know why. Some day, no doubt, we shall know why you hear this thing and I and the girl don't."

"But what am I going to do?" asked Jack.

"Well, my young friend, you are going to have a good breakfast and get off to the city without worrying your head further about things you don't understand. I, on the other hand, am going to look about, and see what I can find out about that cottage back there. That's where the mystery centres."

Jack rose to his feet.

"Right, sir, I'm on, but I say –"

Jack flushed awkwardly.

"I'm sure the girl's all right," he muttered.

Lavington looked amused.

"You didn't tell me she was a pretty girl! Well, cheer up, I think the mystery started before her time."

V

Jack arrived home. Now he believed Lavington completely.

He found his new friend waiting for him in the hall when he came down for dinner, and the doctor suggested that they should dine together at the same table.

"Any news, sir?" asked Jack anxiously.

"I've collected the life history of Heather Cottage all right. It was tenanted first by an old gardener and his wife. The old man died, and the old woman went to her daughter. Then a builder got it, and modernised it with great success, selling it to a city gentleman who used it for week-ends. About a year ago, he sold it to some people called Turner – Mr. and Mrs. Turner. They seem to have been rather a curious couple from all I can make out". They lived very quietly, seeing no one, and hardly ever going outside the cottage garden. The local rumour goes that they were afraid of something. And then suddenly one day they departed and never came back. The agents here got a letter from Mr. Turner, written from London, instructing him to sell up the place as quickly as possible. The furniture was sold off, and the house itself was sold. The people who have it now are a French professor and his daughter. They have been there just ten days."

Jack digested this in silence.

"I don't see that that gets us anywhere," he said at last.

"Do you?"

"I rather want to know more about the Turners," said Lavington quietly. "They left very early in the morning, you remember. As far as I can make out, nobody actually saw them go. Mr. Turner has been seen since – but I can't find anybody who has seen Mrs. Turner."

Jack paled.

"It can't be – you don't mean."

"Don't excite yourself, young man. Let us drop the subject – for to-night at least," he suggested.

Jack agreed readily enough, but did not find it so easyto vanish the subject from his own mind.

During the week-end, he made inquiries" of his own,but succeeded in getting little more than the doctor had done. He had definitely given up playing golf before breakfast.

On getting back one day, Jack was informed that a young lady was waiting to see him. To his surprise it proved to be the girl of the garden – the pansy girl, as he always called her in his own mind. She was very nervous and confused.

"You will forgive me, Monsieur, for coming to see you like this? But there is something I want to tell you."

She looked round uncertainly.

"Come in here," said Jack.

"Now, sit down, Miss, Miss…"

"Marchaud, Monsieur. Felise Marchaud."

"Sit down, Mademoiselle Marchaud, and tell me all about it."

Felise sat down obediently. She was dressed in dark green to-day, and the beauty and charm of the proud little face was more evident than ever. Jack's heart beat faster as he sat down beside her.

"It is like this," explained Felise. "We have been here but a short time, and from the beginning we hear the house – our so sweet little house – is haunted". No servant will stay in it.

This talk of ghosts, I think it is all folly" – that is until four days ago. Monsieur, four nights running, I have had the same dream. A lady stands there – she is beautiful, tall and very f air. In her hands she holds a blue china jar. She is distressed – very distressed, and continually she holds out her jar to me, as though asking me to do something with it. But alas!" She cannot speak, and I – I do not know what she asks. That was the dream for the first two nights – but the night before last, there was more of it. She and the blue jar faded away", and suddenly I heard her voice crying out – I know it is her voice, you understand – and, oh! Monsieur, the words she says are those you spoke to me that morning. "Murder – Help! Murder!" I awoke in terror. I say to myself – it is a nightmare", the words you heard are an accident. But last night the dream came again. Monsieur, what is it? You too have heard. What shall we do?"

Felise's face was terrified. Her small hands clasped themselves together, and she gazed at Jack. The latter pretended to look calm.

"That's all right, Mademoiselle Marchaud. You mustn't worry. I tell you what I'd like you to do, if you don't mind, repeat the whole story to a friend of mine who is staying here, a Dr. Lavington."

Felise showed her willingness; and Jack went off in search of Lavington. He returned with him a few minutes later.

Lavington gave the girl a keen scrutiny as he acknowledged Jack's hurried introductions. With a few reassuring words, he soon put the girl at her ease, and he, in his turn, listened attentively to her story.

"Very curious," he said, when she had finished. "You have told your father of this?"

Felise shook her head.

"I have not liked to worry him. He is very ill still" – her eyes filled with tears – "I keep from him anything that might excite or agitate him."

"I understand," said Lavington kindly. "And I am glad you came to us, Mademoiselle Marchaud. Hartington here, as you know, had an experience something similar to yours. I think I may say that we are well on the track now. There is nothing else that you can think of?"

Felise gave a quick movement.

"Of course! How stupid I am. It is the point of the whole story. Look, Monsieur, at what I found at the back of one of the cupboards where it had slipped behind the shelf."

She held out to them a dirty piece of drawing-paper on which was made in water colours a sketch of a woman. It was a mere sketch, but the likeness was probably good enough. She was standing by a table on which was standing a blue china jar.

"I only found it this morning," explained Felise. "Monsieur le docteur, that is the face of the moman I saw in my dream, and that is the identical blue jar."

"Extraordinary," commented Lavington. "The key to the mystery is evidently the blue jar. It looks like a Chinese jar to me, probably an old one. It seems to have a curious raised pattern over it."

"It is Chinese," declared Jack. "I have seen an exactly similar one in my uncle's collection – he is a great collector of Chinese porcelain, you know, and I remember noticing a jar just like this a short time ago."

"The Chinese jar," mused Lavington. He remained a minute or two lost in thought, then raised his head suddenly, a curious light shining in his eyes. "Hartington, how long has your uncle had that jar?"

"How long? I really don't know."

"Think. Did he buy it lately?"

"I don't know – yes, I believe he did."

"Less than two months ago? The Turners left Heather Cottage just two months ago."

"Yes, I believe it was."

"Your uncle attends country sales sometimes?"

"He always goes to sales."

"Then there is a probability that he bought this particular piece of porcelain at the sale of the Turners’ things. A curious coincidence. Hartington, you must find out from your uncle at once where he bought this jar."

Jack's face fell.

"I'm afraid that's impossible. Uncle George is away on the Continent. I don't even know where to write to him."

"How long will he be away?"

"Three weeks to a month at least."

There was a silence. Felise sat looking anxiously from one man to the other.

"Is there nothing that we can do?" she asked.

"Yes, there is one thing," said Lavington. "It is unusual, perhaps, but I believe that it will succeed. Hartington, you must get hold of that jar. Bring it down here, and, if Mademoiselle permits, we will spend a night in Heather Cottage, taking the blue jar with us."

"What do you think will happen?" Jack asked uneasily.

"I have not the slightest idea – but I honestly believe that the mystery will be solved.

Felise clasped her hands. "It is a wonderful idea," she exclaimed.

Her eyes were alight with enthusiasm. Jack did not feel nearly so enthusiastic – in fact, he was afraid of it, but nothing would have forced him to admit the fact before Felise. The doctor acted as though his suggestion were the most natural one in the world.

"When can you get the jar?" asked Felise, turning to Jack.

"To-morrow," said the latter, unwillingly.

Re went to his uncle's house the following evening and took away the jar in question. He was more than ever convinced when he saw it again that it was the identical one pictured in the water colour sketch.

It wase leveno 'clockw henh ea ndL avingtona rrived at Heather Cottage. Felise was on the look-out for them, and opened the door softly before they had time to knock.

"Come in," she whispered. "My father is asleep upstairs, and we must not wake him. I have made coffee for you in here."

She led the way into a small cosy sitting-room.

Jack unwrapped the Chinese jar. Felise gasped as her eyes fell on it.

"But yes, but yes," she cried eagerly. "That is it – I would know it anywhere."

Meanwhile Lavington was making his own preparations. He removed all the things from a small table and set it in the middle of the room. Round it he placed three chairs. Then, taking the blue jar from Jack, he placed it in the centre of the table.

"Now," he said, "we are ready. Turn off the lights, and let us sit round the table in the darkness."

The others obeyed him. Lavington's voice spoke again out fo the darkness.

"Think of nothing – or of everything. Do not force the mind. It is possible that one of us has mediumistic powers. If so, that person will go into a trance. Remember, there is nothing to fear. Cast out fear" from your hearts, and drift-drift."

It was not fear that Jack felt – it was panic. And he was almost certain that Felise felt the same way. Suddenly he heard her voice, low and terrified.

"Something terrible is going to happen. I feel it."

"Cast out fear," said Lavington. "Do not fight against the influence."

The darkness seemed to get darker and the silence more acute. And nearer and nearer came that indefinable sense of menace.

Jack felt himself choking – stifling – the evil thing was very near.

And then the moment of conflict passed. He was drifting, drifting down stream – his lids closed – peace – darkness…

Jack stirred slightly"-'-. His head was heavy – heavy as lead. Where was he?

Sunshine ... birds ... He lay staring up at the sky.

Then it all came back to him. The little sitting-room. Felise and the doctor. What had happened?

He sat up and looked round him. He was lying not far from the cottage. No one else was near him. He took out his watch. To his surprise it registered half past twelve.

Jack struggled to his feet", and ran as fast as he could in the direction of the cottage. They must have been alarmed by his failure to come out of the trance, and carried him out into the open air.

Arrived at the cottage, he knocked loudly on the door. But there was no answer, and no signs of life about it. They must have gone off to get help. Or else – Jack felt an indefinable fear invade him. What had happened last night?

He made his way back to the hotel as quickly as possible. He was about to make some inquiries at the office, when he got a colossal punch in the ribs which nearly knocked him off his feet. Turning in some indignation, he saw a whitehaired old gentleman merrily laughing.

"Didn't expect me, my boy. Didn't expect me, hey?" said this individual.

"Why, Uncle George, I thought you were miles away – it Italy somewhere."

"Ah! but I wasn't. Landed at Dover last night. Thought I'd motor up to town and stop here to see you on the way. And what did I find. Out all night, hey? Nice goings on" "Uncle George," Jack checked him firmly. "I've got the most extraordinary story to tell you. I dare say you won't believe it."

"I dare say I shan't," laughed the old man. "But do your best, my boy."

"But I must have something to eat," continued Jack. "I'm hungry."

He led the way to the dining-room, and over a substantial meal, he told the whole story.

"And God knows what's become of them," he ended.

His uncle seemed on the verge of apoplexy.

"The jar," he managed to cry out at last. “THE BLUE JAR!” What's become of that?"

Jack stared at him without understanding, but under the torrent of words that followed he began to-understand.

It came with a rush: "Worth ten thousand pounds at least – offer from Hoggenheimer, the American millionaire – only one of its kind in the world – what have you done with my BLUE JAR?"

Jack rushed from the room. He must find Lavington. The young lady at the office eyed him coldly.

"Dr. Lavington left late last night – by motor. He left a note for you."

Jack tore it open. It was short and to the point.

'My Dear Young Friend, Is the day of the supernatural over? Kindest regards from Felise, invalid father, and myself. We have twelve hours start, which is quite enough.

Yours ever, Ambrose Lavington, Doctor of the Soul'

NOTES:


topped drive –

petrified –

course –

shrank back from him –

shellshock –

delusion –

hoax –

rumours –

acute strain –

damned callous –

you suggestioned yourself –

not consciously –

spirits –

from all I can make out –

inquiries –

folly –

the house is haunted –

Alas! –

faded away –

nightmare –

Cast out fear –

stirred slightly –

struggled to his feet –

on the verge of apoplexy –


Comprehension:

1) What happened to Jack Hartington one morning?

2) Why was the young man afraid that he was getting mad?

3) Whom did he make acquiantance with?

4) Why did he fully trust Lavington?

5) Why did Felise come to Jack one day and what did she tell him about?

6) In what way was the blue jar connected with her story?

7) What happened at night?

8) Who revealed the truth to Jack Hartington?



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