By Algernon Blackwood
It was difficult at first to return to Hampstead and the details of ordinary life about him. Francis looked round him slowly, freeing himself gradually from the spell his friend’s words had laid even upon his analytical temperament. The transition was helped by the details that everywhere met his eye. The Chinese atmosphere remained. More, its effect had gained, if anything. The embroideries of yellow gold, the pictures, the lacquered stools and inlaid cabinets, above all, the exquisite figures in green jade upon the shelf beside him, all this, in the shimmering pale olive light the lamps shed everywhere, helped his puzzled mind to bridge the gulf from the Garden of Happiness into the decorated villa upon Hampstead Heath.
There was silence between the two men for several minutes. Far was it from the doctor’s desire to injure his old friend’s delightful fantasy. For he called it fantasy, although something in him trembled. He remained silent. Truth to tell he knew not exactly what to say.
Farque broke the silence himself. He had not moved since the story ended; he sat motionless, his hands tightly clasped, his eyes alight with the memory of his strange imagined joy, his face rapt and almost luminous, as though he still wandered through the groves of the Enchanted Garden and inhaled the perfume of its perfect happiness in the Valley of the Thousand Temples.
“It was two days later,” he went on suddenly in his quiet voice, “only two days afterwards, that I met her.”
“You met her? You met the woman of your dream?” Francis’s eyes opened very wide.
“In that little harbour town,” repeated Farque calmly, “I met her in the flesh. She had just landed in a steamer from up the coast. The details are of no particular interest. She knew me at once. And I knew her.”
The doctor’s tongue refused to act as he heard. It dawned upon him suddenly that his friend was married. He remembered the woman’s touch about the house; he recalled, too, for the first time that the letter of invitation to dinner had said “come to us.” He was full of a bewildered astonishment.
The reaction upon himself was odd yet wholly natural. His heart warmed towards his imaginative friend. He could now tell him his own new strange romance. The woman who haunted him crept back into the room and sat between them. He found his tongue.
“You married her, Edward?” he exclaimed.
“She is my wife,” was the reply, in a gentle, happy voice.
“A Ch——” he could not bring himself to say the word. “A foreigner?”
“My wife is a Chinese woman,” Farque helped him easily, with a delighted smile.
So great was the other’s absorption in the actual moment, that he had not heard the step in the passage that his host had heard. The latter stood up suddenly.
“I hear her now,” he said. “I’m glad she’s come back before you left.” He stepped towards the door.
But before he reached it, the door was opened and in came the woman herself. Francis tried to rise, but something had happened to him. His heart missed a beat. Something, it seemed, broke in him. He faced a tall, graceful young English woman with black eyes of sparkling happiness, the woman of his own romance. She still wore the feather boa round her neck. She was no more Chinese than he was.
“My wife,” he heard Farque introducing them, as he struggled to his feet, searching feverishly for words of congratulation, normal, everyday words he ought to use, “I’m so pleased, oh, so pleased,” Farque was saying—he heard the sound from a distance, his sight was blurred as well—“my two best friends in the world, my English comrade and my Chinese wife.” His voice was absolutely sincere with conviction and belief.
“But we have already met,” came the woman’s delightful voice, her eyes full upon his face with smiling pleasure, “I saw you at Mrs. Malleson’s tea only this afternoon.”
And Francis remembered suddenly that the Mallesons were old acquaintances of Farque’s as well as of himself. “And I even dared to ask who you were,” the voice went on, floating from some other space to his ears, “I had you pointed out to me. I had heard of you from Edward, of course. But you vanished before I could be introduced.”
The doctor mumbled something or other polite and, he hoped, adequate. But the truth had flashed upon him with remorseless suddenness. She had “heard of” him—the famous mental specialist. Her interest in him was cruelly explained, cruelly both for himself and for his friend. Farque’s delusion lay clear before his eyes. An awakening to reality might involve dislocation of the mind. She, too, knew the truth. She was involved as well. And her interest in himself was—consultation.
“Seven years we’ve been married, just seven years to-day,” Farque was saying thoughtfully as he looked at them. “Curious, rather, isn’t it?”
“Very,” said Francis, turning his regard from the black eyes to the grey.
Thus it was that Owen Francis left the house a little later with a mind in a measure satisfied, yet in a measure forgetful too—forgetful of his own deep problem, because another of even greater interest had replaced it.
“Why undeceive him?” ran his thought. “He need never know. It’s harmless anyhow—I can tell her that.”
But, side by side with this reflection, ran another that was oddly haunting, considering his type of mind: “Destroyer of Honourable Homes,” was the form of words it took. And with a sigh he added “Chinese Magic.”