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“But what seems so odd to me, so horribly pathetic, is that such people don’t resist,” said Leidall, suddenly entering the conversation. The intensity of his tone startled everybody; it was so passionate, yet with a beseeching touch that made the women feel uncomfortable a little. “As a rule, I’m told, they submit willingly, almost as though——”


He hesitated, grew confused, and dropped his glance to the floor; and a smartly dressed woman eager to be heard, seized the opening. “Oh, come now,” she laughed; “one always hears of a man being put into a strait waistcoat. I’m sure he doesn’t slip it on as if he were going to a dance!” And she looked flippantly at Leidall, whose casual manners she resented. “People are put under restraint. It’s not in human nature to accept it—healthy human nature, that is?” But for some reason no one took her question up. “That is so, I believe, yes,” a polite voice murmured, while the group at tea in the Dover Street Club turned with one accord to Leidall as to one whose interesting sentence still remained unfinished. He had hardly spoken before, and a silent man is ever credited with wisdom.


“As though—you were just saying, Mr. Leidall?” a quiet little man in a dark corner helped him.


“As though, I meant, a man in that condition of mind is not insane—all through,” Leidall continued stammeringly; “but that some wise portion of him watches the proceeding with gratitude, and welcomes the protection against himself. It seems awfully pathetic. Still,” again hesitating and fumbling in his speech—“er—it seems queer to me that he should yield quietly to enforced restraint—the waistcoat, handcuffs, and the rest.” He looked round hurriedly, half suspiciously, at the faces in the circle, then dropped his eyes again to the floor. He sighed, leaning back in his chair. “I cannot understand it,” he added, as no one spoke, but in a very low voice, and almost to himself. “One would expect them to struggle furiously.”


Someone had mentioned that remarkable book, The Mind that Found Itself, and the conversation had slipped into this serious vein. The women did not like it. What kept it alive was the fact that the silent Leidall, with his handsome, melancholy face, had suddenly wakened into speech, and that the little man opposite to him, half invisible in his dark corner, was assistant to one of London’s great hypnotic doctors, who could, an’ he would, tell interesting and terrible things. No one cared to ask the direct question, but all hoped for revelations, possibly about people they actually knew. It was a very ordinary tea-party indeed. And this little man now spoke, though hardly in the desired vein. He addressed his remarks to Leidall across the disappointed lady.


“I think, probably, your explanation is the true one,” he said gently, “for madness in its commoner forms is merely want of proportion; the mind gets out of right and proper relations with its environment. The majority of madmen are mad on one thing only, while the rest of them is as sane as myself—or you.”


The words fell into the silence. Leidall bowed his agreement, saying no actual word. The ladies fidgeted. Someone made a jocular remark to the effect that most of the world was mad anyhow, and the conversation shifted with relief into a lighter vein—the scandal in the family of a politician. Everybody talked at once. Cigarettes were lit. The corner soon became excited and even uproarious. The tea-party was a great success, and the offended lady no longer ignored, led all the skirmishes—towards herself. She was in her element. Only Leidall and the little invisible man in the corner took small part in it; and presently, seizing the opportunity when some new arrivals joined the group, Leidall rose to say his adieux, and slipped away, his departure scarcely noticed. Dr. Hancock followed him a minute later. The two men met in the hall; Leidall already had his hat and coat on. “I’m going West, Mr. Leidall. If that’s your way too, and you feel inclined for the walk, we might go together.” Leidall turned with a start. His glance took in the other with avidity—a keenly-searching, hungry glance. He hesitated for an imperceptible moment, then made a movement towards him, half inviting, while a curious shadow dropped across his face and vanished. It was both pathetic and terrible. The lips trembled. He seemed to say, “God bless you; do come with me!” But no words were audible.


“It’s a pleasant evening for a walk,” added Dr. Hancock gently; “clean and dry under foot for a change. I’ll get my hat and join you in a second.” And there was a hint, the merest flavour, of authority in his voice.


That touch of authority was his mistake. Instantly Leidall’s hesitation passed. “I’m sorry,” he said abruptly, “but I’m afraid I must take a taxi. I have an appointment at the Club and I’m late already.” “Oh, I see,” the other replied, with a kindly smile; “then I mustn’t keep you. But if you ever have a free evening, won’t you look me up, or come and dine? You’ll find my telephone number in the book. I should like to talk with you about—those things we mentioned at tea.” Leidall thanked him politely and went out. The memory of the little man’s kindly sympathy and understanding eyes went with him.


“Who was that man?” someone asked, the moment Leidall had left the tea-table. “Surely he’s not the Leidall who wrote that awful book some years ago?”


“Yes—the Gulf of Darkness. Did you read it?”


They discussed it and its author for five minutes, deciding by a large majority that it was the book of a madman. Silent, rude men like that always had a screw loose somewhere, they agreed. Silence was invariably morbid.


“And did you notice Dr. Hancock? He never took his eyes off him. That’s why he followed him out like that. I wonder if he thought anything!”


“I know Hancock well,” said the lady of the wounded vanity. “I’ll ask him and find out.” They chattered on, somebody mentioned a risqué play, the talk switched into other fields, and in due course the tea-party came to an end.


And Leidall, meanwhile, made his way towards the Park on foot, for he had not taken a taxi after all. The suggestion of the other man, perhaps, had worked upon him. He was very open to suggestion. With hands deep in his overcoat pockets, and head sunk forward between his shoulders, he walked briskly, entering the Park at one of the smaller gates. He made his way across the wet turf, avoiding the paths and people. The February sky was shining in the west; beautiful clouds floated over the houses; they looked like the shore-line of some radiant strand his childhood once had known. He sighed; thought dived and searched within; self-analysis, that old, implacable demon, lifted its voice; introspection took the reins again as usual. There seemed a strain upon the mind he could not dispel. Thought circled poignantly. He knew it was unhealthy, morbid, a sign of these many years of difficulty and stress that had marked him so deeply, but for the life of him he could not escape from the hideous spell that held him. The same old thoughts bored their way into his mind like burning wires, tracing the same unanswerable questions. From this torture, waking or sleeping, there was no escape. Had a companion been with him it might have been different. If, for instance, Dr. Hancock——


He was angry with himself for having refused—furious; it was that vile, false pride his long loneliness had fostered. The man was sympathetic to him, friendly, marvellously understanding; he could have talked freely with him, and found relief. His intuition had picked out the little doctor as a man in ten thousand. Why had he so curtly declined his gentle invitation? Dr. Hancock knew; he guessed his awful secret. But how? In what had he betrayed himself?


The weary self-questioning began again, till he sighed and groaned from sheer exhaustion. He must find people, companionship, someone to talk to. The Club—it crossed his tortured mind for a second—was impossible; there was a conspiracy among the members against him. He had left his usual haunts everywhere for the same reason—his restaurants, where he had his lonely meals; his music hall, where he tried sometimes to forget himself; his favourite walks, where the very policemen knew and eyed him. And, coming to the bridge across the Serpentine just then, he paused and leaned over the edge, watching a bubble rise to the surface.


“I suppose there are fish in the Serpentine?” he said to a man a few feet away.


They talked a moment—the other was evidently a clerk on his way home—and then the stranger edged off and continued his walk, looking back once or twice at the sad-faced man who had addressed him. “It’s ridiculous, that with all our science we can’t live under water as the fish do,” reflected Leidall, and moved on round the other bank of the water, where he watched a flight of duck whirl down from the darkening air and settle with a long, mournful splash beside the bushy island. “Or that, for all our pride of mechanism in a mechanical age, we cannot really fly.” But these attempts to escape from self were never very successful. Another part of him looked on and mocked. He returned ever to the endless introspection and self-analysis, and in the deepest moment of it—ran into a big, motionless figure that blocked his way. It was the Park policeman, the one who always eyed him. He sheered off suddenly towards the trees, while the man, recognising him, touched his cap respectfully. “It’s a pleasant evening, sir; turned quite mild again.” Leidall mumbled some reply or other, and hurried on to hide himself among the shadows of the trees. The policeman stood and watched him, till the darkness swallowed him. “He knows too!” groaned the wretched man. And every bench was occupied; every face turned to watch him; there were even figures behind the trees. He dared not go into the street, for the very taxi-drivers were against him. If he gave an address, he would not be driven to it; the man would know, and take him elsewhere. And something in his heart, sick with anguish, weary with the endless battle, suddenly yielded.


“There are fish in the Serpentine,” he remembered the stranger had said. “And,” he added to himself, with a wave of delicious comfort, “they lead secret, hidden lives that no one can disturb.” His mind cleared surprisingly. In the water he could find peace and rest and healing. Good Lord! How easy it all was! Yet he had never thought of it before. He turned sharply to retrace his steps, but in that very second the clouds descended upon his thought again, his mind darkened, he hesitated. Could he get out again when he had had enough? Would he rise to the surface? A battle began over these questions. He ran quickly, then stood still again to think the matter out. Darkness shrouded him. He heard the wind rush laughing through the trees. The picture of the whirring duck flashed back a moment, and he decided that the best way was by air, and not by water. He would fly into the place of rest, not sink or merely float; and he remembered the view from his bedroom window, high over old smoky London town, with a drop of eighty feet on to the pavements. Yes, that was the best way. He waited a moment, trying to think it all out clearly, but one moment the fish had it, and the next the birds. It was really impossible to decide. Was there no one who could help him, no one in all this enormous town who was sufficiently on his side to advise him on the point? Some clear-headed, experienced, kindly man?


And the face of Dr. Hancock flashed before his vision. He saw the gentle eyes and sympathetic smile, remembered the soothing voice and the offer of companionship he had refused. Of course, there was one serious drawback: Hancock knew. But he was far too tactful, too sweet and good a man to let that influence his judgment, or to betray in any way at all that he did know.


Leidall found it in him to decide. Facing the entire hostile world, he hailed a taxi from the nearest gate upon the street, looked up the address in a chemist’s telephone-book, and reached the door in a condition of delight and relief. Yes, Dr. Hancock was at home. Leidall sent his name in. A few minutes later the two men were chatting pleasantly together, almost like old friends, so keen was the little man’s intuitive sympathy and tact. Only Hancock, patient listener though he proved himself to be, was uncommonly full of words. Leidall explained the matter very clearly. “Now, what is your decision, Dr. Hancock? Is it to be the way of the fish or the way of the duck?” And, while Hancock began his answer with slow, well-chosen words, a new idea, better than either, leaped with a flash into his listener’s mind. It was an inspiration. For where could he find a better hiding-place from all his troubles than—inside Hancock himself? The man was kindly; he surely would not object. Leidall this time did not hesitate a second. He was tall and broad; Hancock was small; yet he was sure there would be room. He sprang upon him like a wild animal. He felt the warm, thin throat yield and bend between his great hands … then darkness, peace and rest, a nothingness that surely was the oblivion he had so long prayed for. He had accomplished his desire. He had secreted himself for ever from persecution—inside the kindliest little man he had ever met—inside Hancock….


He opened his eyes and looked about him into a room he did not know. The walls were soft and dimly coloured. It was very silent. Cushions were everywhere. Peaceful it was, and out of the world. Overhead was a skylight, and one window, opposite the door, was heavily barred. Delicious! No one could get in. He was sitting in a deep and comfortable chair. He felt rested and happy. There was a click, and he saw a tiny window in the door drop down, as though worked by a sliding panel. Then the door opened noiselessly, and in came a little man with smiling face and soft brown eyes—Dr. Hancock.


Leidall’s first feeling was amazement. “Then I didn’t get into him properly after all! Or I’ve slipped out again, perhaps! The dear, good fellow!” And he rose to greet him. He put his hand out, and found that the other came with it in some inexplicable fashion. Movement was cramped. “Ah, then I’ve had a stroke,” he thought, as Hancock pressed him, ever so gently, back into the big chair. “Do not get up,” he said soothingly but with authority; “sit where you are and rest. You must take it very easy for a bit; like all clever men who have overworked——”


“I’ll get in the moment he turns,” thought Leidall. “I did it badly before. It must be through the back of his head, of course, where the spine runs up into the brain,” and he waited till Hancock should turn. But Hancock never turned. He kept his face towards him all the time, while he chatted, moving gradually nearer to the door. On Leidall’s face was the smile of an innocent child, but there lay a hideous cunning behind that smile, and the eyes were terrible.


“Are those bars firm and strong,” asked Leidall, “so that no one can get in?” He pointed craftily, and the doctor, caught for a second unawares, turned his head. That instant Leidall was upon him with a roar, then sank back powerless into the chair, unable to move his arms more than a few inches in any direction. Hancock stepped up quietly and made him comfortable again with cushions.


And something in Leidall’s soul turned round and looked another way. His mind became clear as daylight for a moment. The effort perhaps had caused the sudden change from darkness to great light. A memory rushed over him. “Good God!” he cried. “I am violent. I was going to do you an injury—you who are so sweet and good to me!” He trembled dreadfully, and burst into tears. “For the sake of Heaven,” he implored, looking up, ashamed and keenly penitent, “put me under restraint. Fasten my hands before I try it again.” He held both hands out willingly, beseechingly, then looked down, following the direction of the other’s kind brown eyes. His wrists, he saw, already wore steel handcuffs, and a strait waistcoat was across his chest and arms and shoulders.


Ten Minute Stories

Ten Minute Stories

Status: Completed Type: , Author: Native Language: English
"Ten Minute Stories" is a collection of short stories by Algernon Blackwood, an English writer known for his works in the supernatural and horror genres. This collection showcases Blackwood's ability to create atmospheric and eerie tales, often exploring the mystical and unknown aspects of nature and the human psyche. **Description:** Dive into the mysterious and eerie world of Algernon Blackwood with "Ten Minute Stories," a collection that showcases the masterful storytelling of one of the greatest writers of supernatural fiction. Each story, carefully crafted to be read in just ten minutes, takes you on a journey through the unknown, exploring the depths of the human mind and the mysteries of the natural world. From haunting tales of the supernatural to introspective reflections on human nature, this collection is a testament to Blackwood's ability to captivate and intrigue readers with his unique blend of suspense, mysticism, and psychological insight.  


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not work with dark mode