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WHEN TIME TURNED., Press, Volume LVIII, Issue 10947, 24 April 1901
WHEN TIME TURNED.
By Ethel Wast. Mcmford. I dropped in at my friend Dr. Lamison's room., for I had been dull and bored all day, and Lamison, partly by reason of his pro fession, partly because of his own od_ humour and keen insight, is a delightful companion- To ray disgust he was not alone, but deep in an animated discussion with an elderly gentleman of pleasant appearance. Being in no mood to talk to strangers, I 5 was about to make my excuses and retire, but Lamison signed to mc to remain. "Let mc present my friend Robertson; Mr Gage," lie said politely, as we both bowed with due formality. "Robertson." he continued, addressing mc, "you will be interested in what this gentleman has to say on the Philippines—he has spent some years out there." Mr Gage smiled reminiscently. "Yes, I spent some little time in the Islands. In fact, I am just on'the point of going there now, and am very sorry I shall not see them again. 4 ' "What?" I asked. "If you're going, Avhy do you say you will never see the place again?" " . ' Lamison broke in abruptly. "That is a leng story. Let's go on with the question we hatf in hand. You were saying that the Malays are singularly shrewd and cunning." Mr Gage brightened visibly. "They are, indeed. Now, when I was in Manila," — and he launched into a highly instructive lecture on ths Malay and all his works, talking rapidly and tersely; his phrases full of vigour and originality, his descriptions vivid and picturesque; in fact, it has rarely been my good fortune to listen to so brilliant a conversationalist—though conversation it could hardly be called, for by common consent he had the floor to himself. Occasionally I asked a question, or Lamison punctuated the discourse with nods of approval as he flicked his cigar ashes on the flour. From the Philippines we wandered to the Chinese empire and its destiny. Gage had spent two years in Tientsin and Hong Kong and was as well informed and interesting as man could be. His observation was phenomenal, and his memory likewise, and - lie had a way of presenting his facts that was positively evocative. I felt, after listening to him, that the recollections were my own, so distinctly did he force his mental pictures into my consciousness. He was eminently moderate in all his views, avoiding extremes and holding a mean of charity, •md common sense that is, to say the least, unusual. A flash of lightning that stared suddenly through the windows, and was followed by a terrific thunder clap, made us start and pause. Mr Gage arose and, going to the window, looked out into the murky night, rematking as he did so on the suddenness and violence of storms in the tropics. I seized the occasion to nod to Lamison. "What a brilliant chap," I said. "I never heard a man express himself so well and sanely—who is he, anyway?" "A gentleman and a scholar, also my guest for the present," my host answeied. "So you think him well balanced?" "Eminently 'so," I said heartily. "Not. many men could state the facts of an international feud with such moderation." Dr. Lamison smiled a strange, grave smile. Our companion came back from the window whereon the heavy wash of the rain was now playing, and refilled his glass from the pitcher of shandygaff. "So you are just on the point of making your first trip to the East?" Lamison asked, to my unutterable amazement. Gade nodded. "Yes. In a few days I shall have decided." I looked blankly at him. "Then I suppose you will have, your quarrel with the family by next week?" my friend went on. Gage sighed deeply. "Yes, I shall have to go through with it again. Fortunately the worst stages come first, and I have been feeling the after effect- for some days already." Lamison looked at my confusion with amusement. "Tell Robertson about it all, old man," he said. "He is perfectly trustworthy, and yours is such an interesting story. To begin with, tell him how old you are." Gage laughed, a quick boyish chuckle, and sprang up gaily, stretching himself before the sparkling fire. " Just three and twenty," 'Ke on-wered hilariously. I looked at him carefully. His iron-gray hair, the infinitesimal tracers- of lines that covered his face and hand like a fine-spun web, and the slight stiffness of his joints, in spite of his quick and rather graceful movements, bespoke a man in the later fifties. I understood now. He was doubtless one of the curious cases of mania whioh the doctor waa constantly picking up and studying!. "Tell him how it happened," Lami-on suggested. Gage's face grew grave. " It's very sad, part of it—but on the whole I have been blest above all men, for I have lived my life 'twice over. It was this way"—he sat down once more in the easy chair from which he bad risen; " I was devotedly fond of my wife—one of the most charming women in the world, Mr Robertson ; but I lost her. She died, very suddenly, under singularly painful circumstances." His mouth twitched, but he controlled himself. -' I was away on business in Washington when the news of her sudden illness reached mc. I waited for nothing, but left by the ] first train. I remember giving ten dollars , to the driver of the cab I hailed on my arrival, if he would reach my house in ten minutes. Aside from that the journey is only i a blur of strain and horror. My memory becomes clear again with the moment when _ I saw my doorstep, wet and shining in the j rau_. I noted the reflected carriage lamp < on the streaming pavement. The serva__t . who opened the door ait the sound of the 1 •stopping of my cab was crying. The house 1 was brilliantly lit and I could hear hurried * footsteps on the floor obove and catch a i glimpse of the blue-chid figure of a trained t nurse. I rushed upstairs and into my wife's i room. She raised one hand feebly towards £ mc, and a.flash of recognition lit up her < face for an instant and then faded into 'J waxen blankness. I can't describe that £ hour—it is too keenly terrible for mc to c repeat and it is not necessary to the story. ,i At last it was all over, and her dear eyes i clc_.d forever, as I thought then. A great t emptiness settled upon my brain and heart, t Then came a slow tightening and straining r sensation somewhere inside the dome of my c skull, that seemed as fast as St. Peter's. A. snap, sharp as a broken banjo string and a perfectly- audible, was its climax. Then I k steadied myself and looked about. * No- o thing had changed. The room was still, a for the others had gone and we were left - alone together—my wife and I. 'The sil- c ence was awful. " Only the clock ticked louder and louder and louder, h till it beat like a drum. Then J I glanced at the timepiece, an ordinary . little porcelain thing that my wife kept by * her on the medicine table, and a cold fear c gripped mc as I looked, for I realised that 8 something wonderful and terrible was happening. With each tick the second hand b jerked one second backwards—the hands ** were moving around the clock face from right to left. I started, and almost at the same instant I felt the hand I held in mine a grow relaxed and warm. I gave a cry. The a door opened. The nurse, who had been the P last to leave the chamber of death, came ", in. I saw her do exactly what she had aJ done before—but reversed. Then mv sister v backed in from the opposite side, "exactly w ' as she had walked out, and turning, showed mc her tear-stained, convulsed face with . the very movement with which she had left 1E us. The others came in; it was a strange *»' phenomenon. The doctor was there now. Vl standing at the head of the bed. I looked " at the clock. It was ticking and the hands slowly turning backwards. All at once I realised what had happened. Time had v turned. ,-' "I gasped when the thing dawned on ' mc. it was so stupendous. But I saw my sweet wife's eyelids flutter, I saw her breath UI coming with difficulty, and I ..nffered once more with all my soul that terrible I s j, death agony. She turned toward mc and lifted her hand with the gestu:e I had f 0 seen as I entered the room. Ir. spire of *j] myself I rose, and left tier. I went -?.un j s the stairs—the servant was there—l pas_e 1 _ n out into the street, to find the cab that it had brought mc standing before the door. U £ I backed in. The horse trotted backward it, all the wav to the station and I found __ myself on the train speeding backwards to the city I had left to come post haste to my so darling's bedside. re
"My reason shivered in my skull. If I could not sift fhis matter I k__ew I should go mad. The thing was strange past all endurance. So I sat in the train that wa_i > s carrying mc over the miles so -recently ■ covered, and considered. A dawn of de- ' fight came to mc. it would not be so '" long before all tliis horror wonld d have doubly passed. I would have ii to go to the hotel and receive .. that terrifying, crushing telegram announca ing Isabelle's illness one. more. Then I . should go over the business that had called ' mc on to Washington, but after that I should go back to my wife to find her >> strong and well, to live over again the £ happy years of our married life, to watch her growing daily younger, while I grew c young with her. '' What matter that littlq ■" tiffs re-occurred—they were so few, and the joy of those years so* infinitely great. And ~ that. Mr Robertson, is just, what hapj. pened." He went on, after a pause, in which he a seemed lost in happy reverie. "In a week I j hud grown somewhat accustomed to doing over again the things I -had done, only reT versed; it seemed almost a matter of ; coarse ; and, after all. I cared little, for I knew I was soon going to find Isabelle, y to be greeted by her good-bye kiss, the 3 same with which she had bid mc Godspeed , on tlie fatal journey. I could hardly hold ' my impatience as. "at last, I backed up to ( the house, and when I saw her standing on . the porch as I liad last, seen her, well and . strong, dressed in the pretty gray cloth . so becoming to her bright complexion and : coppsr-coloured hair, I could have cried ■ with joy. She greeted mc as I expected, ■ with good-byes, but my heart sang with delight as we went into the house together, j I put down my dress suit case, and we | • ate luncheon together, beginning with dessert, and ending with the delicate omelette she had prepared herself, in honour of my unusual freedom to lunch with her. We went over our old conversations. I j was longing to tell her of my delight in 1 her presence, of my gratitude for the extra- i " ordinary reversal of nature that gave her j back to mc, but I could not, I was under j bondage of the past. I could only say what I had said, do what I had done. "Luncheon over—or, rather, correctly | speaking, before it had begun—l bade her good-bye in my heart, but greeted her in | my speech and went down to the tread- j mill round of my office work. My recent ■ bereavement mado mc so tender of her presence, so hungry for the sight of her. that my very- soul longed to expand itself in loving words and acts; I yearned to do and say a thousand affectionate thing?, but I could only do as I had done. I began to appreciate how I had let our relations become commonplace, and I hated .myself for it. I saw a thousand ways in which I could have made her happier, or spared her pain, yet I could not take ad- ! vantage of my new realisation of my love of her. Ah, it takes such* an experience as mine to make a man* understand what he has missed and what h_ might have been. But even if I could not be to her what I j. so dearly longed to show, myself, yet in I my heart no gesture of hers went unnoted, I no tone of her voice unloved. She de- j lighted mc wholly and completely, and the caresses that I gave her in seeming per- ! functoriness, and the words seemingly mere habits of expression, were really the outlet of my soul's yearning to her. We were very happy. For years we were- constantly together, and never was wife so appreciated. Then a great fear began to grip my heart. I remember it came suddenly, in the very midst of the little feast we were having to celebrate the first year of | our wedded life—our 'first anniversary.' I realised that soon, in the very joy of our honeymoon I must anticipate our separation—the wedding would take place, next we w*ould be engaged, then mere acquaintances, and, after that —oh, desolationit would be before I met her, and I should never see her again. "I lived that year, ouv second honeymoon, and the last' of our life together, torn between the joy of my returned happiness and the terrible knowledge of my coming loss. The wedding day came and.l could have cried out in my agony, but I ' could give my pain no voice. I had no tears, only smiles and laughter that must be.gone through with, though my heart was hre<aking. Imagine it if you can, sirs. Was ever a man so tried? Then came the period of our engagement, when I knew we were drifting slowly and surely apart—a__d the happiness and misery of that time was, per- ' haps, the hardest of all to bear, even worse than the actual slow separation, though after my declaration, when our reflations i were formal and distant, it broke mj' hear. ! to see her, whom I had loved so long, treat j mc as a mere a_qua.ii_.ance; and with it j , was the awful knowledge that there was i no future hope, no possibility of our meet- . i ing, on this earth at least. " The poignant j day of my first meeting with her arrived at last. I saw her, as I had seen her then, < so many years before, lighting that con- < vent_ora_l ballroom with her presence, ■ a radiant vision, all gold and rose, her tall, i graceful figure gowned in soft, filmy i drapery. I saw her with all my heart and ] soul, with all the pent-up memo- * ries of my twice lived life, for J I remembered it was the first, and l knew it was the last time 1 should see her. | She vanished and I was left alone. For * some time afterwards, although I was livin<over my cheerful, happy-go-lucky bachelor « days. I was internally of a suicidal turn of * mind, even on my return journeys in the r East. I could not resign myself to losing this girl that, according to reversed time, j I had never*met. But youth is gay, and its recuperative powers strong, and lam grow- C ing steadily younger, you see. Then, too, t. other loves came and went, or rather went n and came, and in spite oi myself I am able to contemplate my double past with tho buoyancy of my second youth. Yet it i.s 1, all very strange, and recently unaccountable v intervals have intruded into my life, such as this evening, for instance. You, gentle- v men, are not a part of my boyish past, 0 and yet you seem to be interpolated into mv j, otherwise coherently backward existence. t This has been happening for some time, and ], grows more marked. You may be dreams fof my oid life that I had forgotten, but I am at a loss to account for it fully. For instance—how could I get foretold then what S . the future had in store? and yet in one sense c that is what I am doing now. in telling you i.v my experience. You must admit that it is j t confusing." I Gaze's story had fairly made mc dizzy. I j ~ admitted that it was confusing. I hardly knew what to think. I even turned an anxi- ° ous eye on the clock over the fireplace to „i assure myself that its hands still moved from left to right. As I faced it, Lamison regard- ''• T ed mc with his amused but sympathetic eve. J 7, "I hope to interpolate myself a great deal | d into your world, Gage," he said. "It's time ju! j-ou stopped in your mad career of growing i n younger. I don't want you on my hands j when you become a troublesome stripling-, or even when you have to unlearn your college iducation." " I Gage laughed. "It will be lather hard, |?j but I did enjoy my Harvard days, before 1 i * y liad that row with the family. Whew! <j< How the old man did blow mc up! And _-hen I .think I have to hear all that over T igain. it makes mc sick." He paused again. • md assisted his courage from the cheering *" Ditcher. "Another thing that worries mc," j•" io went on. "is this: Have you noticed that. j ."though all the happenings of my life seem o follow in well ordered reverse' sequence. -* vl_.it I say does not? For instance, by 3 ill rights I should repeat my sentences verlatim backwards. 'I am glad to see you,' ™ n reversedlangxtage would be, 'You see to [lad am I.' Now, in all my years of re- a * 'ersed experiences, although the order of.i ." onversation progresses backwards, the sen- *?' ences themselves make perfect forward *, ense. This drives mc to distraction." 0< The whole impossible proposition danced lefore mc, but Lamison was evidently de- ££' ighted. ■* Tl "Good! Gage, splendid! You are mak- , a S progress—your logic is returning. lam I mspeakably glad." i,c Gage looked at him wondering'y, "Why we hould you? It is only more confusing. Ah', v -ell. I should not be unhappy if it were not jr the awful prospect of being a baby again. - 'hat revolts mc. like becoming senile. It Tw ; such a horrible tiling to become a squirm_g. senseless infant —it makes mc shiver, f re ; keeps mc from sleeping, it is a menace too j.* n gly and loathsome to be endured. Fancy fl' ol ;, gentlemen, the ignominy of, it—the hide- a- 1 us helplessness." * ; SC g "We'll find a way to prevent that," Lami- Bu .n said soothingly. "You are better al- the »ady. It won't be long bafor. we sat it aU firs
straight. Come, come, be a man " for Gage suddenly flung himself «n the table, his face buried in his.hands, moaning slowly. 'T don't want to be a baby—l don't want to be a babv/'
This exhibition was so pitiful that I turned to Lamison, almost with tears in my eyes. "Is there any hope for him?" I asked. Lamison nodde. "Yes, he'll pull.through. A condition brought on by overwork and the sudden death of. his wife, of whom he was devotedly fond. You see how he is beginning to realise the discrepancies of his imaginary life. He will come out all right—in time." Gage now had himself under control and sat up shamefacedly. "Don't mind mc, Mr Robertson," he said. "I don't often break down this way, and I wouldn't have you imagine for one instant that I regret my Hf e . I could not have asked a greater boon of Fate than those happy years restored to mc, when time had turned." He rose gravely, excused himself, and left ns, and we sat silent and deeply thoughtful, staring into the red embers of the fire.
WHEN TIME TURNED., Press, Volume LVIII, Issue 10947, 24 April 1901
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