Dead Man's Rock by Arthur Quiller-Couch
THE FINDING OF THE GREAT RUBY
TELLS HOW THE BLACK AND YELLOW FAN SENT A MESSAGE;
AND HOW I SAW A FACE
IN THE FOG
As I sat stupefied our eyes met. It was but for an instant, but in that
instant I saw that she recognised me and mutely challenged my verdict. Then she
turned to Valentine.
The theatre rang with tumultuous plaudits as her song ended. I could feel
Tom's grasp at my elbow, but I could neither echo the applause nor answer him.
It was all so wildly, grotesquely improbable.
This then was my love, this the Claire whom I had wooed and won in the shy
covert of Pangbourne Woods—this deified and transfigured being before whom
thousands were hushed in awe. Those were the lips that had faltered in sweet
confession—those before which the breath of thousands came and went in agitated
wonder. It was incredible.
And then, as Tom's hand was laid upon my arm, it flashed upon me that the
woman he loved was my plighted bride—and he knew nothing of it. As this broke
upon me there swept over me an awful dread lest he should see my face and guess
the truth. How could I tell him? Poor Tom! Poor Tom!
I turned my eyes upon Claire again. Yes, she was superb: beyond all challenge
glorious. And all the more I felt as one who has betrayed his friend and is
angry with fate for sealing such betrayal beyond revoke.
Whether Claire misinterpreted my look of utter stupefaction or not, I do not
know; but as she turned and recognised Valentine there was a tremor in her voice
which the audience mistook for art, though I knew it to be but too real. I tried
to smile and to applaud, but neither eyes nor hand would obey my will; and so
even Claire's acting became a reproach and an appeal to me, pleading forgiveness
to which my soul cried assent though my voice denied it. Minute after minute I
sat beneath an agonising spell I could not hope to break.
"Congratulate me, Jasper. What do you think of her?"
It was Tom's voice beside me. Congratulate him! I felt the meanest among
"She is—glorious," I stammered.
"I knew you would say so. Unbeliever, did ever man see such eyes? Confess
now, what are Claire's beside them?"
"Claire's—are—much the same."
"Why, man, Claire's were deep grey but a day or two ago, and Clarissa's are
the brownest of brown; but of course you cannot see from here."
Alas! I knew too surely the colour of Claire's eyes, so like brown in the
blaze of the foot-lights. And her height—Tom had only seen her walk in tragic
buskin. How fatally easy had the mistake been!
"Tom, your success is certain now."
"Yes, thanks to her. They were going to damn the play before she entered. I
could see it. Did you see, Jasper? She looked this way for a moment. Do you
think she meant to encourage me? By the way, have you caught sight of Claire
Oh, Tom, Tom, let me spare you for this night! My heart throbbed and
something in my throat seemed choking me as I muttered, "Yes."
"Then do not stay congratulating me, but fly. Success spoils the lover. Ah,
Jasper, if only Clarissa had summoned me! Hasten: I will keep my eye upon you
and smile approval on your taste. Where is she?"
Again something seemed to catch me by the throat; I was struggling to answer
when I heard a voice behind me say, "For you, sir," and a note was thrust into
my hand. With beating heart I opened it, expecting to see Claire's handwriting.
But the note was not from her. It was scribbled hastily with pencil in a bold
hand, and ran thus:—
"An old friend wishes to see you. Come, if you have time. Box No. 7."
At first I thought the message must have reached me by mistake, but it was
very plainly directed to "J. Trenoweth, Esq." I looked around for the messenger
but found him gone, and fell to scanning the boxes once more.
As before, they were filled with strangers; and, as before, the black and
yellow fan was waving slowly to and fro, as though the hand that wielded it was
no hand at all, but rather some untiring machine. Still the owner remained
invisible. I hesitated, reflected a moment, and decided that even a fool's
errand was better than enduring the agony of Tom's rapture. I rose.
"I will be back again directly," I said, and then left him.
Still pondering on the meaning of this message, I made my way down the
passages until I came to the doors of the boxes, and stopped opposite that
labelled "No. 7." As I did so, it struck me that this, from its position, must
be the one which contained the black and yellow fan. By this time thoroughly
curious, I knocked.
"Come in," said a low voice which I seemed to remember.
I entered and found myself face to face with the yellow woman—the mistress of
She was seated there alone, slightly retired from the view of the house and
in the shadow; but her arm, as it rested on the cushion, still swayed the black
and yellow fan, and her diamonds sparkled lustrously as ever in the glare that
beat into the box. Her dress, as if to emphasise the hideousness of her skin and
form a staring contrast with her wrinkled face and white hair, was of black and
yellow, in which she seemed some grisly corpse masquerading as youth.
Struck dumb by this apparition, I took the seat into which she motioned me,
while her wonderful eyes regarded my face with stony impassiveness. I could hear
the hoarse murmurs of the house and feel the stifling heat as it swept upwards
from the pit. The strange woman did not stir except to keep up the ceaseless
motion of her wrist.
For a full five minutes, as it seemed to me, we sat there silently regarding
each other. Then at last she spoke, and the soft voice was as musically
sympathetic as ever.
"You seem astonished to see me, Mr. Trenoweth, and yet I have been looking
for you for a long time."
"I have been expecting you to give me a chance of redeeming my defeat."
"I am sorry," stammered I, not fully recovered from my surprise, "but that is
"No? From my point of view it was extremely likely. But somehow I had a
suspicion that you would be different from the rest. Perhaps it was because I
had set my heart upon your coming."
"I hope," said I, "that the money—"
She smiled and waved her hand slightly.
"Do not trouble about that. Had I chosen, I could have gone on losing to you
until this moment. No, perhaps it was simply because you were least likely to do
so, that I wished you to come back as all other young men would come back. I
hope you reached home safely with what you won; but I need not ask that."
"Indeed you need. I was attacked as I left the room, and but for a lucky
accident, should now be dead."
"Ah," she said placidly; "you suspect me. Don't say 'no,' for I can see you
do. Nevertheless you are entirely wrong. Why, Mr. Trenoweth, had I chosen, do
you think I could not have had you robbed before you had gone three paces from
This was said with such composure, and her eyes were so absolutely void of
emotion, that I could but sit and gasp. Once more I recalled the moment when, as
I fled down the dark passage, I had seen her sitting motionless and calm in the
light of her countless candles.
"But do you think I sent for you to tell you that?" she continued. "I sent
for you because you interested me, and because I want a talk with you. Hush! the
curtain is rising for the second act. Let us resume when it has finished; you
will not deny me that favour at least."
I bowed again, and was silent as the curtain rose—and once more Claire's
superb voice thrilled the house. Surely man was seldom more strangely placed
than was I, between the speech of my love and the eyes of this extraordinary
woman. As I sat in the shadow and listened, I felt those blazing fires burning
into my very soul; yet whenever I looked up and met them, their icy glitter
baffled all interpretation. Still as I sat there, the voice of Claire came to me
as though beseeching and praying for my judgment, and rising with the blaze of
light and heated atmosphere of the house, swept into the box until I could bear
the oppression no longer. She must have looked for me, and seeing my place
empty, have guessed that I condemned her. Mad with the thought, I rose to my
feet and stood for a minute full in the light of the theatre. It may not have
been even a minute, but she saw me, and once more, as our gaze met, faltered for
an instant. Then the voice rang out clear and true again, and I knew that all
was well between us. Yet in her look there was something which I could not well
As I sank back in my seat, I met the eyes of my companion still impenetrably
regarding me. But as the curtain fell she said quietly—
"So you know Clarissa Lambert?"
I stammered an affirmative.
"Well? You admire her acting?"
"I never saw it until to-night."
"That is strange; and yet you know her?"
"She is a great success—on which I congratulate myself, for I discovered
"You!" I could only exclaim.
"Yes, I. Is it so extraordinary? She and I are connected, so to speak; which
makes it the more odd that she should never have mentioned you."
The eyes seemed now to be reading me as a book. I summoned all my courage and
tried to return their steady stare. There was a pause, broken only by the
light frou-frou of the fan, as it still waved slowly backwards and
forwards. Among all the discoveries of this night, it was hard enough to summon
reason, harder to utter speech.
"But you will be leaving me again if I do not explain why I sent for you. You
are wondering now on my reasons. They are very simple— professional even, in
part. In the first place, I wished to have a good look at you. Do you wonder why
an old woman should wish to look upon a comely youth? Do not blush; but listen
to my other and professional reason. I should greatly like, if I may, to look
upon your talisman—that golden buckle or whatever it was that brought such
marvellous luck. Is it on you to-night?"
I wore it, as a matter of fact, in my waistcoat pocket, attached to one end
of my chain; but I hesitated for a moment.
"You need not be afraid," she said, and there was a suspicion of mockery in
her tone. "I will return it, as I returned it before. But if you are reluctant
to let me see it (and remember, I have seen it once), do not hesitate to refuse.
I shall not be annoyed."
Reflecting that, after all, her curiosity was certain to be baffled, I handed
her the Golden Clasp, with the chain, in silence.
"It is a curious relic," said she, as she slowly examined it and laid it on
her lap for a moment. "If the question be allowed, how did you become possessed
"It belonged to my father," I answered.
"Excuse me," she said, deliberately, "that is hardly an answer to my
During the silence that followed, she took up the clasp again, and studied
the writing. As she did so she used her right hand only; indeed, during the
whole time, her left had been occupied with her tireless fan. I fancied, though
I could not be certain, that it was waving slightly faster than before.
"The writing seems to be nonsense. What is this—'Moon end South—deep at
point'? I can make no meaning of it. I suppose there is a meaning?"
"Not to my knowledge," said I, and immediately repented, for once more I
seemed to catch that gleam in her eyes which had so baffled me when first she
saw the Clasp. The curtain rose upon the third act of "Francesca," and we sat in
silence, she with the Clasp lying upon her lap, I wondering by what possibility
she could know anything about my father's secret. She could not, I determined.
The whole history of the Golden Clasp made it impossible. And yet I repented my
rashness. It was too late now, however; so, when the act was over I waited for
her to speak.
"So this belonged to your father. Tell me, was he at all like you?"
"He was about my height, I should guess," said I, wondering at this new
question; "but otherwise quite unlike. He was a fair man, I am dark."
"But your grandfather—was he not dark?"
"I believe so," I answered, "but really—"
"You wonder at my questions, of course. Never mind me; think me a witch, if
you like. Do I not look a witch?"
Indeed she did, as she sat there. The diamonds flashed and gleamed, lighting
up the awful colour of her skin until she seemed a very "Death-in-Life."
"I see that I puzzle you; but your looks, Mr. Trenoweth, are hardly
complimentary. However, you are forgiven. Here, take your talisman, and guard it
jealously; I thank you for showing it to me, but if I were you I should keep it
secret. Shall I see you again? I suppose not. I am afraid I have made you miss
some of the tragedy. You must pardon me for that, as I have waited long to see
you. At any rate, there is the last act to come. Good-bye, and be careful of
As she spoke, she shut her fan with a sharp click, and then it flashed upon
me that it had never ceased its pendulous motion until that instant. It was a
strange idea to strike me then, but a stranger yet succeeded. Was it that I
heard a low mocking laugh within the box as I stepped out into the passage? I
cannot clearly tell; perhaps it is but a fancy conjured up by later reflection
on that meeting and its consequences. I only know that as I bowed and left her,
the vision that I bore away was not of the gleaming gems, the yellow face, the
white hair, or waving fan, but of two coal-black and impenetrable eyes.
I sought my place, and dropped into the seat beside Tom. The fourth act was
beginning, so that I had time to speculate upon my interview, but could find no
hope of solution. Finally, I abandoned guessing, to admire Claire. As the play
went on, her acting grew more and more transcendent. Lines which I had heard
from Tom's lips and scoffed at, were now fused with subtle meaning and passion.
Scenes which I had condemned as awkward and heavy, became instinct with
exquisite pathos. There comes a point in acting at which criticism ceases,
content to wonder; this point it was clear that my love had touched. The new
play was a triumphant success.
"So," said Tom, before the last act, "Claire carries a yellow fan, does she?
I looked everywhere for you at first, and only caught sight of you for an
instant by the merest chance. You behaved rather shabbily in giving me no chance
of criticism, for I never caught a glimpse of her. I hope she admired—Hallo!
I followed his gaze, and saw that Box No. 7 was no longer occupied by the
"I suppose you saw her off? Well, I do not admire your taste, I must
confess—nor Claire's—to go when Francesca was beginning to touch her grandest
height. Whew! you lovers make me blush for you."
"Tom." I said, anxious to lead him from all mention of Claire, "you must
forgive me for having laughed at your play."
"Forgive you! I will forgive you if you weep during the next act; only on
How shall I describe the last act? Those who read "Francesca" in its
published form can form no adequate idea of the enthusiasm in the Coliseum that
night. To them it is a skeleton; then it was clothed with passionate flesh and
blood, breathed, sobbed and wept in purest pathos; to me, even now, as I read it
again, it is charged with the inspiration of that wonderful art, so true, so
tender, that made its last act a miracle. I saw old men sob, and young men bow
their heads to hide the emotion which they could not check. I saw that audience
which had come to criticise, tremble and break into tumultuous weeping. Beside
me, a greyheaded man was crying as any child. Yet why do I go on? No one who saw
Clarissa Lambert can ever forget—no one who saw her not can ever imagine.
Tom had bowed his acknowledgments, the last flower had been flung, the last
cheer had died away as we stepped out into the Strand together. The street was
wrapped in the densest of November fogs. So thick was it that the lamps, the
shop windows, came into sight, stared at us in ghostly weakness for a moment,
and then were gone, leaving us in Egyptian gloom. I could not hope to see Claire
to-night, and Tom was too modest to offer his congratulations until the morning.
Both he and I were too shaken by the scene just past for many words, and outside
the black fog caught and held us by the throat.
Even in the pitchy gloom I could feel that Tom's step was buoyant. He was
treading already in imagination the path of love and fame. How should I have the
heart to tell him? How wither the chaplet that already seemed to bind his
Tom was the first to break the silence which had fallen upon us.
"Jasper, did you ever see or hear the like? Can a man help worshipping her?
But for her, 'Francesca' would have been hissed. I know it, I could see it, and
now, I suppose, I shall be famous.
"Famous!" continued he, soliloquising. "Three months ago I would have given
the last drop of my blood for fame; and now, without Clarissa, fame will be a
mockery. Do you think I might have any chance, the least chance?"
How could I answer him? The fog caught my breath as I tried to stammer a
reply, and Tom, misinterpreting my want of words, read his condemnation.
"You do not? Of course, you do not; and you are right. Success has
intoxicated me, I suppose. I am not used to the drink!" and he laughed a joyless
Then, with a change of mood, he caught my hat from off my head, and set his
own in its place.
"We will change characters for the nonce," he said, "after the fashion of
Falstaff and Prince Hal, and I will read myself a chastening discourse on the
vanity of human wishes. 'Do thou stand for me, and I'll play my father.' Eh,
"'Well, here I am set,'" quoted I, content to humour him.
"Well, then, I know thee; thou art Thomas Loveday, a beggarly Grub Street
author, i' faith, a man of literature, and wouldst set eyes upon one to whom
princes fling bouquets; a low Endymion puffing a scrannel pipe, and wouldst call
therewith a queen to be thy bride. Out upon thee for such monstrous folly!"
In his voice, as it came to me through the dense gloom, there rang, for all
its summoned gaiety, a desperate mockery hideous to hear.
"Behold, success hath turned thy weak brain. But an hour agone enfranchised
from Grub Street, thou must sing 'I'd be a butterfly.' Thou art vanity absolute,
conceit beyond measure, and presumption out of all whooping. Yea, and but as a
fool Pygmalion, not content with loving thine own handiwork, thou must needs
fall in love with the goddess that breathed life into its stiff limbs; must
yearn, not for Galatea, but for Aphrodite; not for Francesca, but for—Ah!"
What was that? I saw a figure start up as if from below our feet, and Tom's
hand go up to his breast. There was a scuffle, a curse, and as I dashed forward,
a dull, dim gleam—and Tom, with a groan, sank back into my arms.
That was all. A moment, and all had happened. Yet not all; for as I caught
the body of my friend, and saw his face turn ashy white in the gloom, I saw
also, saw unmistakably framed for an instant in the blackness of the fog, a face
I knew; a face I should know until death robbed my eyes of sight and my brain of
remembrance—the face of Simon Colliver.
A moment, and before I could pursue, before I could even shout or utter its
name, it had faded into the darkness, and was gone.