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The Dweller on the Threshold   By: (1864-1950)

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THE DWELLER ON THE THRESHOLD

by

ROBERT HICHENS

Author of The Garden of Allah , Bella Donna , Egypt and Its Monuments , The Holy Land , etc.

1911

I

When Evelyn Malling, notorious because of his sustained interest in Psychical Research and his work for Professor Stepton, first met the Rev. Marcus Harding, that well known clergyman was still in the full flow of his many activities. He had been translated from his labors in Liverpool to a West End church in London. There he had proved hitherto an astonishing success. On Hospital Sundays the total sums collected from his flock were by far the largest that came from the pockets of any congregation in London. The music in St. Joseph's was allowed by connoisseurs, who knew their Elgar as well as their Goss, their Perosi as well as their Bach, and their Wesley, to be remarkable. Critical persons, mostly men, who sat on the fence between Orthodoxy and Atheism, thought highly of Mr. Harding's sermons, and even sometimes came down on his side. And, of all signs surely the most promising for a West End clergyman's success, smart people flocked to him to be married, and Arum lilies were perpetually being carried in and out of his chancel, which was adorned with Morris windows. He was married to a woman who managed to be admirable without being dull, Lady Sophia, daughter of the late Earl of Mansford, and sister of the present peer. He was comfortably off. His health as a rule was good, though occasionally he suffered from some obscure form of dyspepsia. And he was still comparatively young, just forty eight.

Nevertheless, as Evelyn Malling immediately perceived, Mr. Harding was not a happy man.

In appearance he was remarkable. Of commanding height, with a big frame, a striking head and countenance, and a pair of keen gray eyes, he looked like a man who was intended by nature to dominate. White threads appeared in his thick brown hair, which he wore parted in the middle. But his face, which was clean shaven, had not many telltale lines. And he did not look more than his age.

The sadness noted by Malling was at first evasive and fleeting, not indellibly fixed in the puckers of a forehead, or in the down drawn corners of a mouth. It was as a thin, almost impalpable mist, that can scarcely be seen, yet that alters all the features in a landscape ever so faintly. Like a shadow it traveled across the eyes, obscured the forehead, lay about the lips. And as a shadow lifts it lifted. But it soon returned, like a thing uneasy that is becoming determined to discover an abiding place.

Malling's first meeting with the clergyman took place upon Westminster Bridge on an afternoon in early May, when London seemed, almost like a spirited child, to be flinging itself with abandon into the first gaieties of the season. Malling was alone, coming on foot from Waterloo. Mr. Harding was also on foot, with his senior curate, the Rev. Henry Chichester, who was an acquaintance of Malling, but whom Malling had not seen for a considerable period of time, having been out on his estate in Ceylon. At the moment when Malling arrived upon the bridge the two clergymen were standing by the parapet on the Parliament side, looking out over the river. As he drew near to them the curate glanced suddenly round, saw him, and uttered an involuntary exclamation which attracted Mr. Harding's attention.

"Telepathy!" said Chichester, shaking Malling by the hand. "I believe I looked round because I knew I should see you. Yet I supposed you to be still in Ceylon." He glanced at the rector rather doubtfully, seemed to take a resolution, and with an air almost of doggedness added, "May I?" and introduced the two men to one another.

Mr. Harding observed the new comer with an interest that was unmistakable.

"You are the Mr. Malling of whom Professor Stepton has spoken to me," he said, "who has done so much experimental work for him?"

"Yes."

"The professor comes to my church now and then."

"I have heard him say so."

"You saw we were looking at the river? Before I came to London I was at Liverpool, and learned there to love great rivers... Continue reading book >>




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