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TALBOT MUNDY

THE MAN ON THE MAT

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A MYSTIC TALE OF RAJPUTANA


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First published in Adventure, 1 August 1931
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-09-22
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Adventure, 1 August 1931, with "The Man on the Mat"


THE MAN ON THE MAT

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EVERYBODY in India had seemed to know some one else, who knew a man, who knew a genuine guru. There had been credible tales, and incredible ones. There had also been false gurus—fairly easy to detect because, sooner or later, they either boasted or demanded money. Charlie Grover visited so many caves and temples that he could not remember the names or whereabouts of half of them, and he had almost given up the hunt when at last, as if by accident, he was sent for.

A Hindu about fifty years old came to Charlie as he sat on a rock, by a bridle path on a slope of Mt. Abu in Rajputana, considering the problem of a lamed horse. He spoke agreeably good English in a soft voice, and his manner was neither overconfident nor too respectful—in fact, a very gentlemanly manner, although half a dollar would have easily refinanced his wardrobe.

"He will see you, sahib."

"Who will?"

"He whom you seek, and whose chela I am."

Then Charlie remembered that chelas are seldom permitted to name their gurus, supposing even that they know their real names, the reason being that a guru does not advertise and does object to being mobbed and asked to show his familiarity with unknown forces. No genuine guru cares whether or not other people believe in his existence or his powers. So it looked like the possible end of the trail. However, men don't get Congressional medals of honor for being rotters. Charlie Grover happened to possess one, although he had never worn it since the day it was presented. He was the kind of man who attends to his obligations before snatching something for himself.

"I have a lame horse."

"Then the three of us will walk as slowly as is necessary. He shall be attended to," the chela answered.

So they followed a track over a hillside where the rose-quartz sparkled through the spring grass, brown against an azure sky. And they came, amid blossomy trees, to a farmstead that looked orderly and prosperous for Rajputana. There was a thatched house, a thatched barn, three teams of oxen ploughing. Spring water splashed from a cleft in a rock, and birds sang blithely, which is rare in India.

"This is a good place," said Charlie. "Does the guru live here?"

"Sometimes he is here. If you will tie up your horse in that barn, some one shall care for him."

So Charlie unsaddled the horse and left him resting in the cool shade; then he washed himself at the spring and let the wind and sun serve for towel. After that he fastened and unfastened his tie two or three "times and wished he had a hair brush.

"I am ready," he said, turning to the chela.

There was a man who might not be a Hindu, although he was dressed as one, who sat cross legged on a mat, at the foot of a tree on a slope that faced the farmhouse. He was whittling a big peg with a small knife, smiling to himself and humming as he shaped the peg to his satisfaction. It was he whom they approached, and Charlie wondered whether this might be another chela, it being his understanding that a guru has as many of them as he feels able to instruct. Or it might be the farmer himself, although he looked too clean for that, and not worried enough. As they drew near the man spoke to the chela.

"Take this peg and fit it to that bullock's yoke; the one they are using galls the poor beast. Then attend to this sahib's horse. It is only a little matter, but it is painful, so be gentle with him."

The chela turned away without a word and Charlie approached nearer to the man, surprised not only by his speaking English but by the ease with which he used it and by the resonance of his bass voice. The man had a rather full beard, but no turban. He wore a white skullcap, and a coarse white cotton smock that revealed part of his chest. He had skin like satin. Charlie bowed to him.

"Excuse me, I am looking for a guru."

"You could have gone on looking until you were dead," the man answered, "if you had not passed a wayside test or two."

"Do you mean it was known I was looking?" Charlie asked him.

"How not? If a fish moves in the sea, the farthest stars must ultimately feel its movement. How should a guru not know when a pilgrim sets forth on the Middle Way? Is not a man more than a fish? And is a guru not nearer to him than the stars are? Many set forth. Few attain the object of their search, because few are fitted for it. Nevertheless, the search will do those failures no harm."

"I was told just now," said Charlie, "that the guru whom I seek will see me."

"He has seen you for a long time," said the other. "Perhaps now he will let you see him."

"Will you lead me to him?"

"That may not be necessary. He may wish to sit here; he enjoys this tree and often sits here teaching. I should offer you a seat on this mat, but I know your Western sinews yield uncomfortably to our Oriental way of sitting. Will you try that chair instead?"

Charlie had not noticed a chair until that moment; however, there was one, so he sat on it.


"WHAT do you want with the guru?" the man asked him. "If you care to tell me, I will listen."

"I would rather tell him," Charlie answered.

"Doubtless."

"Well," said Charlie, "to put it briefly, I need teaching and I wish to be a chela. I have heard—and I know there are gurus who understand life, although I have never met one."

"Why should this one teach you?"

"I can't think of any reason, except that I ask it. I have been told that really great gurus never turn down applicants whose character bears investigation. I am hoping mine will bear it. There is nothing else in the world that I want to do."

"Why not?"

"Since the war," said Charlie, "life, for me, has been a wilderness. I had a wife and child and we were happy. When the war broke I was offered a commission. I went through the war unscathed—did well, in fact; I was promoted and received some decorations. But I found my wife and child dead and buried when I returned home. I believe I nearly lost my reason. I am sure I would have lost it but for the same half philosophy, half intuition that I think preserved me through the fighting in Belleau Wood and at Chateau Thierry."

"That must be a very positive philosophy, I should say."

"No, I believe it's negative," said Charlie. "It amounts to this: That all experience is hypnotic—an illusion. Even war is an illusion. I stuck to that-thought day and night until the Armistice. Bullets—shellfire—bayonets—it was all mass hypnotism. And when I returned and found/ my young wife and our child dead and buried in one grave, I had nothing else than that half philosophy to preserve me from losing my mind. If that, too, was not an illusion I should have to kill myself; the grief and loneliness were too much."

"What reality did you put in place of the illusion?"

"Nothing. I could think of nothing to put in place of it. I was forced to concede my own existence, because otherwise what is it that has experience and suffers? But at that point I was baffled. That is why I am here."

"You propose," said the man on the mat, "to take advantage of a guru's wisdom without putting yourself to the necessity of working for it?"

"Not at all," Charlie answered. "I am willing to work. All I ask is instruction. I have attended lectures, read books and studied every scrap of philosophy that I could find in my own country. I have been like Jason hunting for the Golden Fleece. But I don't know what the Golden Fleece is, so how can I find it unless some one tells me?"

"And you think he will tell you? What if he should tell you wrong?"

"I don't fear that."

"Why?"

"Because I have learned how to detect illusion, which is the result of hypnotism. No one can be made to believe a lie without first being hypnotized in one way or another; and I know how to protect myself against that."

"Do you?"

"Yes," said Charlie.

"That is a lot to have learned in one lifetime," the man on the mat remarked. "Why should a guru give his time to you, when there are so many who need to learn what you say you already know?' You yourself should take chelas and teach them."

"Don't you see that I am hungry to know something positive?" said Charlie. "I am willing to leave behind me all the past—everything that once seemed important. I am willing to submit to any test whatever, and to undergo any amount of humiliation if that is needed. I am in deadly earnest. Life is nothing to me if I can't find some one who will show me what it all means."

The man on the mat shook his head.

"What does it matter that you know or don't know? Will your ignorance or knowledge change life's meaning or its purpose?"

"Kindly introduce me to the guru," Charlie answered. "I will explain my need to him and he will understand."

But again the man on the mat shook his head. He picked up the knife and began whittling another yoke pin.

"If you are still anxious to meet the guru, then return in two years. Meanwhile, use what you already know."

"But I have told you. I only know how to protect myself from hypnotism."

"Use that knowledge."

"Then you won't introduce me?"

"Not for two years."

Charlie recognized finality and glanced at his watch from force of habit. It was exactly midday. Sadly, because his heart was set on spiritual information and he had thrown his whole integrity into the search for it, Charlie withdrew. He supposed this fellow was a sort of Cerberus appointed to protect his guru from unnecessary interruption; possibly a near initiate—a chela far enough advanced to be entrusted with such duty of discrimination. But it hurt to be turned down. All the utter loneliness and misery of having lost his wife and child swept back, almost overwhelming him. He had not a friend in the world, since he could not endure to meet the old friends who had known his happiness, and to new ones he felt he had nothing to offer, nor they anything to offer him.

Life held nothing. How should he employ himself for two years? Should he stay near this place? He was sure he had come within reach of a guru, and at that a great one; only a great one could have known by intuition that a stranger sought him. And he was all the more sure when he saw his horse being led toward him, healed of the lameness. Charlie was philosopher enough to understand that any one who actually knows what life is should be able to heal dumb animals without much effort; it is not knowing what life is that makes us helpless. Two years? He would try to endure them. Self-examination and self-discipline might make him more acceptable.


BUT as he mounted the horse and rode away his courage almost failed. He felt as if his wife and child knew, and that they also valued fame and medals not at all, but grieved that he was not worthy to be a wise one's chela. The old impulse toward self-destruction stirred him, based on self-contempt and a sensation of life's futility. But when he reached the hotel at Mt. Abu he was saved from blowing out his brains by the same kind of three-in-the-morning courage that had stiffened him in the Argonne; only now the courage had to do harder work, because he had no one dependent on him for leadership and encouragement. It was the loneliness that made life so abominable.

He decided not to remain at Mt. Abu, so he gave his horse away, a little puzzled by his own distaste for selling the animal, and went to Delhi, footloose and without the slightest interest in life. He wondered why nobody noticed him, but supposed that was due to his own morbidity; not many people like to talk with men whose faces betray their inner gloom, and he could not throw off the gloom. He could not read. He could take no interest in world news. It occurred to him to try what drink could do for him; but he could remember plenty of fellows who had tried that.

"Just another form of hypnotism. Why go from bad to worse?"

So he cut out drink entirely, and then tobacco, lest reliance on them should tempt him to drop deeper into life's illusion. If he should ever again believe that all the evil in the world was real, then he knew he would blow his brains out. Why not? What use living in a world where one's good is another's evil, and vice-versa?

An English doctor, noticing his depression, struck up an acquaintance and suggested various amusements, such as tiger shooting, pig sticking, or polo; but it was not until he casually mentioned cholera at Benares that he drew any response.

"I leave tonight. I'm drafted," said the doctor.

Charlie brightened.

"Then I'll go too," he announced. "I've had some training. I can obey orders. They can probably use a volunteer assistant to do detail work."

"Nothing nice about it," said the doctor. "Dangerous—"

"Suits me."

So Charlie took the train that night; and because Benares was crowded with pilgrims, and the epidemic was the worst in twenty years, the short handed medical staff accepted his offer without a moment's hesitation. He was given charge of a disinfecting squad, and he carried his life in his hands for days and nights on end because many of the more ignorant Hindus actively resented interference with time honored dirt.

But he remembered the mental attitude that he believed had brought him unscathed through the war in France, so he tried it again. He stuck to the idea that nothing except mass hypnotism had produced the cholera, and he refused to be hypnotized. He stuck to the same idea when an indignant Hindu downed him with a long stick; and though it took him three days to recover, he attributed recovery to his own line of thinking, and not to the medical aid he received.

After that, he was given a worse job, in the improvised cholera camp, and it was no time at all before he caught the cholera, which is a ravening disease that kills a strong man quicker than a weak one. He was actually given up for dead, and they would have cremated his body if a native orderly had not seen his eyelids flutter. But he was more than ever convinced that it was all illusion, because he distinctly remembered every detail of his almost dying. He had seen himself, as it were, objectively. He had looked on at his own pain, although he had been helpless to banish it.

Recovering slowly—wasted almost to a shadow of himself—he still refused to believe that the experience was real. He refused to believe it even when they told him he was unlikely ever to recover his full strength and packed him off to a convalescent hospital in the mountains.

There the doctor to all intents and purposes ordered him out of India as his only chance to recover some part of his health. As soon as he was strong enough to travel he was sent to Bombay, where another doctor advised him to go home to the United States.

"India is no country for a man in your condition, Major Grover."

"But neither is the United States," said Charlie—and grew silent.

He could not bear to speak of his wife and child who had not met him when he came back from the war. He did not in the least mind the prospects of dying, but he did not want to lose his reason. Home? The mere word filled him with misery such as he knew he could not endure.

"You have money? All right. Try England then. They'll talk your language. Look for something to amuse you. Try horse-racing, or anything else that will take your mind off yourself."

"England will do," said Charlie.

So they carried him aboard a liner and he spent three miserable weeks at sea endeavoring to like the company of thoroughly likable men and women who were all looking forward to going home. Not one of those was lonely, and not one was less than good natured; but he neither enjoyed their jokes nor the thought of ever meeting them again, and he declined several invitations. However, his health improved in cooler latitudes and by the time he reached England he was well enough to feel the need of occupation.

He even thought of buying a farm, and for several weeks he traveled all over the South of England looking for one, until it occurred to him that if he bought a farm it would tie up his funds and perhaps prevent him from returning to India when the two years were up and it was time again to meet the guru.

He returned to London; and because hotel life was unendurable he established himself at a boarding house in a middle class street in Mayfair.

There he felt less lonely. At least twenty people dined at the long table every evening, and the majority were as gloomy as himself, some suffering from hard times, others from the drab monotony of tasks in city offices.

Without exactly realizing it, he warmed toward folk whose lot seemed hardly better than his own and began to be interested. They were not companionable people, but they needed something that he felt he could give; and at dinner they seemed to like to listen to his opinion about hypnotic illusion, although most of them laughed at it.


LITTLE by little three or four became more intimate. They discussed their own private affairs, until at last a man named Staples touched on business. It transpired that Staples and three others hoped to form a partnership and to persuade another man, named Griggs, to join them; but Griggs was doubtful of their united ability to finance their share of the undertaking. Griggs was a man of means, and cautious, if not suspicious. He was disinclined to hard work, and frankly in favor of letting partners do that for him. Furthermore, he liked the idea of real estate development. But he did not enjoy running risks.

Staples artfully and very gradually outlined the proposition to Charlie, who perfectly understood that he was being angled for. He had no objection. If the project was on the level, and sound, why should he have? He needed occupation, and he had plenty of money lying idle in a New York bank. So he made careful inquiries and found that Staples, Griggs and the three others had business records that were not remarkable but certainly unblemished.

Life seemed less dismal when he entertained the thought of helping these men, and he knew he could give them the benefit of American ideas. So when Griggs bluntly intimated that the deal could go through provided Staples and his friends raised an extra ten thousand pounds, Charlie offered the money, in the form of a loan secured by mortgage. In addition, in return for his advice and personal service, he was to receive a sliding scale percentage of the profits.

He had named stiff terms, expecting to have to reduce them; but Staples and the others closed with him so eagerly that he began to doubt the wisdom of his offer. However, the money did not matter much; he had plenty more, and nobody dependent on him; and he was not the kind of man who backs down lightly, once he has pledged his word. So he signed the agreement and sent for the money, he and Griggs agreeing privately together to keep a close eye on the business; Charlie was to watch the field work, Griggs the office.

From then on, Charlie threw his heart into the work and enjoyed some phases of it. He was irritated by the incompetence of Staples and the other three; and now and then Griggs angered him by being too suspicious. Side whiskered, middle aged, pompous, the senior partner was too lazy to do anything but find fault; and now and then, of an evening, when Charlie met Griggs in the office there were hot words that were sometimes overheard by Staples and the others.

Staples' thin lips and aquiline nose used to twitch and his eyes looked furtive on those occasions, but Charlie set that down to dread of the senior partner's frequent threat to exercise his rights under the contract and demand repayment of his money.

However, on the whole the undertaking prospered, and it was months before Charlie suspected there was something crooked going on. Even then he was unable to detect what it was, although he had the accounts examined by a public auditor and questioned all the partners narrowly, including Griggs, who took offense at it and there were high words again, Griggs being one of those fools who assert an exclusive right to be suspicious. Staples overheard the quarrel and reported it to the other partners.

Then, as usual when baffling conditions presented themselves, Charlie fell back on his theory of hypnotic illusion. He decided he had made a mistake by believing in the reality of these men's problem and by being drawn into its orbit. True, it had given him occupatio, and for nearly a year his fits of gloom had hardly touched him.

But now, along with the growing conviction that his partners were crooks, despair returned and regret marched with it, so that Charlie, recognizing symptoms, knew he must either break loose from his environment or die.

It seemed simple enough. All he had to do was to cancel the mortgage and assign to the other partners his share of the prospective profits. He supposed ten thousand pounds was a lot of money to give away to men whom he distrusted and disliked, but that seemed better than to remain in association with them. He ignored the ungrateful greed with which they accepted his gift; and he put himself to no great trouble to examine the receipt they gave him, or to notice that the envelop, into which it was tucked, exactly resembled an empty envelop beside it on the table. He was glad they did not offer to shake hands with him when the conference was over.

Then, in his room at the boarding house, he sat down to review the situation and decided that the root of the illusion from which he suffered lay much deeper than he had been willing to perceive. The fact was, as he saw it now, that he should have faced the trouble on its home ground. He had run away from the enemy. Perhaps the guru had refused to receive him as a chela, because of that.

Perhaps he had postponed an interview for two years simply to provide an opportunity, meanwhile, to go home and conquer his weakness. That might be the guru's test of his inherent character. It probably was, since there was nothing—absolutely nothing—that Charlie dreaded more than to revisit the scenes of his former happiness. But he knew, from hearsay, and from thinking about it logically, that no genuine guru would accept a chela without first testing his moral courage to the utmost limit.

Charlie knew that his physical courage had withstood trial, and he did not doubt that the guru knew that also.' He had not shirked, going over the top; he had not flinched from the cholera camp. But he would rather face both of those horrors again, day after day for two whole years, than go home and revive the memory of wife and child, and of the homecoming after the war. If it only were sorrow he had to face. But it was worse than sorrow—emptiness—utter negation of hope—a sense of impotent rebellion against a heartless, soulless, sickening illusion.

"I will go," said Charlie.


HE was nothing if not a man of action. He immediately booked a passage for New York, spent a whole night packing and destroying letters and caught the next day's steamer. He stiffened himself.

He tried to regain the spirit that in the war in France had saved a thousand lives and brought him a few moments' fame. But a gloom and a dread descended on him that were worse than anything he had yet experienced.

Even the Atlantic seemed to share his mood; there was a moaning ground swell in the English Channel, and the open sea was shrouded in sunless fog when it was not storm ridden. It was a luckless voyage. A passenger died and was buried at sea. The ship was three days overdue. The wireless bulletins posted daily in the smoking room reported nothing except disasters—storms, wrecks, earthquakes, revolution, bank failures . . .

They quarantined in fog, exactly as on the day when the troopship had brought Charlie back from France. New York was invisible now, as it had been then. The difference was that on that day Charlie had been looking forward to meeting his wife and child. This time, he knew nobody would meet him, and when a tug drew alongside he eyed it without curiosity, merely because it was something to look at. He was startled out of melancholy by the approach of his cabin steward.

"Two men want to see you, sir."

The steward backed away. Two men in heavy overcoats stepped forward briskly.

"Are you Major Charles Grover?"

"Yes. Why?"

One of the men undid his overcoat and displayed a police badge.

"I have a warrant for you. You're to come to police headquarters. The tug's waiting."

"Warrant?"

The man with the undone overcoat opened it again sufficiently to show the upper edge of a folded paper protruding from the inside pocket.

"What am I charged with?"

"Murder. But they'll read that to you at the office. If you come without making a fuss we won't put handcuffs on you. Just step lively and don't try any smart stuff, that's all. Some one else will see about your baggage when the ship docks."

Murder! It was almost funny. It was almost a relief from the morbid misery of homecoming to a home that held nothing but heartache. It was at any rate something to think about—an accident, of course—mistaken identity—or somebody might have been using his name. It should be easy to disprove such a charge. There was probably no need even to engage a lawyer. The less fuss, the less likelihood of headlines in the papers. It was another plain case of illusion; he would not increase it by taking it seriously.

People who had hypnotized themselves into believing such a ridiculous lie could best be de-hypnotized by being left to find out its absurdity themselves. But Charlie, as he walked between the two detectives to the tug, did wonder why he, of all men in the world, should be the chosen victim. Why should reasonable things not happen to him, as they do to other people?

He was staggered when he reached police headquarters. He was charged with having murdered Griggs in London, and he was to be held without bail pending the arrival of extradition papers. There were hardly any particulars, but some one showed him an Associated Press clipping from a morning paper, from which it appeared that Griggs had been found shot dead in the early morning of the day on which Charlie left England. The financial affairs of Griggs, it seemed, were not in order and his business associates had supplied the police with the name and description of an absconding partner who was thought to be en route to the United States.

"The place to face this is in London," said Charlie. "Can I waive extradition?"

Scotland Yard men were already on their way to fetch him, so he had to sit in a cell and await their arrival, denying himself to reporters and hoping that none of his former friends would hear of his predicament. It would be unendurable to have to face the suspicious generosity of men who probably would rally to his aid from charitable motives.

He would rather hang than taste their charity. He had deserted them, ten years ago, because he suffered too much in their company, and he sincerely hoped they would ignore him now. They did. Perhaps none of them noticed the few lines about him in the papers that were filled with sensational news.

The strange thing was that Charlie felt obsessed by a foreboding that disgrace and death were unavoidable. He knew that was illusion—knew it was hypnotic—due, in part at any rate, to the atmosphere of a police headquarters cell in a row with a number of prisoners, not all of whom were likely to escape the penitentiary or execution. In silence, eating almost nothing, and refusing to answer even the doctor's questions, he struggled mentally to master the illusion—to destroy it—to look forward with a laugh to being vindicated.

But by the time the Scotland Yard men came and the formality of his surrender to them was completed he felt doomed. He felt unclean—incapable of making himself look clean to the eyes of normal men and women. It was not that he felt guilty of a crime; of course, he did not. But he felt foully sick, like a leper. He accused himself of spiritual filth that made him a fit target for what others might call misfortune but that he knew as simply the sequence of cause and effect.

Like begets like. Evil begets evil. As above, so below. He remembered all those time worn platitudes, and every one of them became a mocking index finger pointing at his impotence to shake himself free from the lies of illusion; until he was ashamed, at last, that he had even dared to try to find a guru and to offer himself for chela-ship.

Then deeper depths. He had to share a stateroom with the men from Scotland Yard, who took turns to stay awake in four-hour watches. They were decent enough fellows, and as considerate of his feelings as they could be, but he could not force himself to talk to them. One of them gave him a New York daily paper—a tabloid, printed on the day of his departure. It devoted two whole pages to him.

They had dug up his photograph, his parentage, his military record, his citation for the medal of honor. Worse, they had found pictures of his wife and child and published those, along with an opinion by an alleged psychiatrist that probably his grief at losing them had so unhinged his mind as to make him capable of murder. There were comments on his silence, and on the fact that he had refused to engage an attorney. There was an imaginary picture of him seated in a barred cell with his head between his hands, above the caption: "Stricken from the roll of honor?"


THE two men from Scotland Yard watched him incessantly after that for fear he might commit suicide. Used though they were to human misery they had seen nothing to equal his. His very dumbness overcame their will to comfort him in any way they could, so that in self-defense they tried rougher tactics; but they could not even get him to resent their remarks. Since he refused almost all food, they brought the doctor to him; and the doctor expressed the opinion that he was feigning madness to escape the gallows.

Charlie, who overheard the opinion, knew that he was not mad; and it was typical of him, that when the time came to instruct a lawyer he insisted that in no event should a plea of insanity be raised in his defense.

They lodged him in prison in London; and with the usual speed of English justice he was charged before a magistrate with having murdered Herbert Stanley Griggs with a repeating pistol (placed in evidence). At his own request, and at his own expense, a solicitor was introduced to him, who entered a formal plea of not guilty, and the magistrate committed him for trial, that day three weeks, at the Old Bailey. The solicitor retained a barrister, and a fight for life began that to Charlie, at first, seemed too simple to be taken seriously. Even long conferences with the solicitor failed to convince him that he was in danger, and he so resented the repeated hints that he should enter a plea of insanity that he at last insisted on examination, at his own expense, by three medical experts, who pronounced him sane.

Charlie's opinion that Griggs had been murdered by Staples or one of the other partners was of no value whatever to the defense. The case for the Crown was as simple as twice two. Somebody had forged Griggs' signature to a note for twenty thousand pounds, and if Charlie's indorsement of the note was a forgery it was such a good one that even he could detect no flaw in it. The note had been sold to a third party, who purchased it in good faith, and the forgery of Griggs' name was not discovered until the day before Charlie's sudden departure for the United States. The repeating pistol that killed Griggs was one that Charlie admitted having brought home with him from India; having no use for it, he had presented it to Staples, but Staples denied that.

The contention of the prosecution was that Charlie, having forged the note, had made a confession to Griggs, who had accepted the ten thousand pound mortgage on partial repayment but had insisted on an immediate settlement of the balance. It was argued that Griggs' threat to prosecute unless that full amount was paid immediately had so terrified Charlie that he shot Griggs dead, and his sudden flight to the United States was cited as an indication of his terror.

The document signed by Griggs, Staples and the other partners, acknowledging Charlie's gift of the ten thousand pound mortgage anti the surrender of his claim to a share of the profits, would have been valuable evidence. But when Charlie hunted through his papers he discovered that the envelop that he had picked up that day from the office table was the wrong one; it contained only a blank sheet of paper.

After that, it made no difference that he knew he had been framed by Staples and the others—that Staples had forged that note and the indorsement—and that Staples or one of the other partners was the actual murderer. His knowledge was not demonstrable in court. He knew that Staples intended to swear his life away; and he had not one friend in all England who could come forward and give him as much as a good character.

The trial lasted less than a day, before a judge and jury, who, as usual, gave the prisoner at the bar full benefit of doubt and rather more latitude in his defense than he was entitled to by law. Charlie had no witnesses to call, but he took the stand in his own defense and simply denied all knowledge of either the forgery or the murder. Under cross-examination he admitted he had nothing to show in corroboration of his account of having withdrawn from the business because of a suspicion that the other men were dishonest; and he had to admit, too, that his story of having gratuitously surrendered his mortgage and share of the profits was, to say the least of it, fantastic.

In the end, Charlie's barrister made a speech for the defense entirely contrary to Charlie's wishes, in which he stressed the probable effect of drum-fire on a soldier's nerves. That practically amounted to a plea of guilty. The speech for the Crown hardly amounted to more than a review of the evidence. And the judge summed up so flatly against Charlie that the jury was only absent twenty minutes before returning a verdict of guilty.

Solemnly then, with a cap on his head, the judge sentenced Charlie to be taken thence and, that day six weeks, to be hanged by the neck until he was dead; and might the Lord have mercy on his soul.

Then friends appeared—unknown ones—altruists—too sentimental to achieve much in the face of law. An appeal was taken, contrary to Charlie's wishes; but there was no new evidence and the report of the trial disclosed no errors; the appeal was promptly thrown out. Then societies for the abolition of capital punishment, and dear old ladies, and some officers who knew Charlie's war record applied to the Home Secretary for commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. Cablegrams were received from the American Legion and from former friends in the United States. Charlie was examined by a commission-in-lunacy. But he preferred death to life imprisonment, so he came out of his morbid silence and was at great pains to convince the commissioners of his perfect sanity, although now he himself doubted it.


HIS whole theory of illusion and mass hypnotism seemed to him to have destroyed itself. He had stuck to it to its grim conclusion. And the theory was wrong. If this was true—and how could he resist the truth of it?—then it was true, too, that his wife and child were an episode—a mere contrasting, mocking touch of happiness to make life's cruelty more poignant. He was glad, at any rate, that they were actually dead and might not see, and feel and grieve over his shame.

He had been mad to set out on that search for a guru. Granting, as it might perhaps be, that a guru truly does know more of life than other people do, why should a guru waste endeavor on a man incapable of facing facts? Should he go to a guru to learn that misery is misery and death is death? Should he go to a guru to learn that life is cruel and consists of one—not illusion, but disillusion following another? Death now—death by a rope, at the hands of a hired man in a jail-yard, for a crime that no earthly inducement could have forced him to commit.

Innocent? Of what? He had been innocent of common sense. Well, death was a fact that he had to face now. He would face it, a bit tired, but without dread or hope.

No, he was wrong there. He would hope to meet his wife and child. If it was true they had died, it was true they had lived. If death was an eternal fact, so life must be. If drum-fire was a fact, and cholera, and murder; if lies and treachery were facts; if hanging was a fact; then life beyond the grave might be as true as any of them. He determined he would die accepting that fact and expecting others, equally convincing but less cruel.

He denied himself to the prison chaplain, because the chaplain wished to speak of theories, whereas hard, inescapable facts had become now the basis of Charlie's philosophy. He was converted to them and, like any other convert, he was more intolerant of heresy than any old believer is. But he saw the solicitor again and made his will, bequeathing all his money to a fund in the United States for the defense of friendless prisoners. It was his last gesture—to provide what little concrete help he could, for a few of the victims of fact.

When the day of execution came he almost welcomed it, smiling at the irony of circumstance. It was two years to the day since he had sat 'before that guru. Had it been the real guru, or a chela? He suspected it was the actual guru. Well—no matter, that was a closed chapter.

Preferring to die fasting, because he feared that a merciful doctor might have drugged that last meal, he refused to touch the special food provided for condemned men. He intended to face death fully conscious. He would at least look that fact in the face. He submitted to being pinioned in the cell and marched out to the gallows, without speaking to any one; and he ran up the steps of the gallows so quickly that the executioner hurried after him for fear he meant to cheat the noose by jumping off the platform.

He was interested in the executioner. The man's face seemed familiar, although Charlie could not remember where he had met him before. It seemed important to remember this—no reason why, unless perhaps in order to rid his own consciousness of the least trace of resentment. It would be an undignified and dirty business to die hating any one. He thought that if the executioner should speak, perhaps he might identify him; he might be an ex-soldier—some one he had met in Flanders. So he asked the executioner if it was against the rules to be allowed to die without the black cap.

"I prefer to face facts."

"Why not?" the executioner answered.

It was strange, but the man's face grew more and more familiar. Perhaps the beard was confusing. Or was it his eyes? He arranged the noose around Charlie's neck and then—anticipation probably—there began to be a singing in Charlie's ears and his eyes swam, as if the noose were tighter than the executioner had intended it should be before springing the trap. The executioner seemed far off. His eyes looked larger—his beard longer—he seemed lower, as if he had stepped down and was waiting for some one to tell him to pull the lever.

"Now for it. Get it over with!" said Charlie.

"Now? What time is it?"

Charlie glanced down at his wrist watch. He was seated on the chair under the tree before the man on the mat. The birds were singing. And the man's face was that of the executioner, only its harshness was gone and it looked more humorous.

"It is two minutes past midday," Charlie answered, and then checked himself bewildered. "Am I dead?"

"Does it seem so?" the other asked him.

"How did I get here? Are you not the guru?"

"I am he whom you were seeking," said the other.

"And it's two years to the day since—"

"Two years! Nay, two minutes. Did you not say that you can protect yourself against hypnotism?"


THE END