By J. D. Beresford
As a midge
before an elephant, so is man when opposed to Fate. The elephant
breathes or lies down, and the high shrill of the midge is done. The
midge believes passionately that the looming monster which shuts out his
whole world has come across the earth with this one awful purpose of
destroying his little life. But the elephant knows less of the midge
than the midge knows of the elephant. . . .
George Coleman was not a figure that one would
associate with the blunderings of outrageous destiny. He was of the type
that seems born to move easily and contentedly through life; neither
success nor failure; a tall, thin, fair man, reasonably intelligent,
placidly thirty-five, and neither too diligent nor noticeably lazy. He
was one of the many who had failed to find briefs; and one of the few
who had, nevertheless, succeeded in earning a decent income. He had
obtained, through special influence, a post as legal secretary and
adviser to a great firm of financiers in the City. The post was almost a
sinecure and the salary £800 a year. Added to that, he had another £300
of his own. He spent his holidays in Switzerland or Italy or Norway.
Any suburb would have made him a church-warden, but he
preferred to go on living in his chambers, in Old Buildings, Lincoln’s
Inn. He was used to the inconveniences, and the place satisfied his
feeble feeling for romance.
His friend Morley Price, the architect, told him that
there was a sinister influence about those chambers. They were on the
fifth floor, and boasted a dormer window that might have been done by
Sime, in a mood of final recklessness. The dormer was in the
sitting-room, and looked out on to the court. Price loved to lie back in
his chair and stare at it, attempting vainly to account by archeology
and building construction for the twists and contortions of the jambs
“It’s a filthy freak, Coleman,” was his usual
conclusion; “not the work of a decent human mind, but a horrid, sinister
growth that comes from within. One day it will put out another tentacle
and crush you.” After that he would fit his pipe into the gap in his
front teeth and return to another attempt at formulating a theory of
causation. He had always refused to consider any artificial substitute
for those lost teeth. He said that the hole was the natural place for
his pipe. Also, that the disfigurement was distinguished and brought him
it had been Morley Price, now. . . . However, it was the absurdly
commonplace George Coleman.
beginning of it all was ordinary enough. He fell in love with a young
woman who lived in Surbiton. She was pretty, dark, svelt, and looked
perfectly fascinating with a pole at the stern of a
punt, while her
fox-terrier, Mickie, barked at swallows from the bow.
Coleman was quite acceptable. He punted even better
than she did, and he was devoted to dogs, and more especially to Mickie.
Nothing could have been more satisfactory and altogether delightful
before the elephant came—a vast, ubiquitous, imperturbable beast that
the doctors called typhoid.
After Muriel died,
Coleman took Mickie home to his chambers in Old Buildings, Lincoln’s
Inn. Mickie was more than a legacy; he was a sacred trust. Coleman had
sworn to cherish him when his lovely mistress had been called away to
join the headquarters of that angelic host to which she had hitherto
belonged as a planetary member. She had appeared to be more concerned
about Mickie than about George, at the last. She had not known George so
But it was George who
cherished her memory. Mickie settled down at once. Within a week Muriel
might never have existed, so far as he was concerned. If there was no
longer a punt for him, there was a dormer window with a broad, flat seat
that served equally well; and in place of migrant swallows there were
Coleman was not more sentimental than the average
Englishman. At first he was “terribly cut up,” as he might have phrased
it; but six weeks after Muriel’s death the cuts, in normal conditions,
would doubtless have cicatrized.
Unhappily, the conditions were anything but normal.
The vast bulk of the elephant was between him and any possible road of
escape. In this second instance Fate assumed the form of certain
mannerisms in Mickie.
He was quite an ordinary fox-terrier, with prick-ears
that had spoiled him for show purposes, but he had lived with Muriel
from puppyhood, and all his reactions showed her influence. He had, in
fact, all the mannerisms of a spoilt lap-dog. He craved attention—he
could not bark at the sparrows without turning every few seconds to
Coleman for praise and encouragement; he was fussy and restless, on
Coleman’s lap one minute and up at the window the next; he was noisy and
mischievous, and had no sense of shame; when he was reprimanded he
jumped up joyfully and tried to lick Coleman’s face.
And every one of his
foolish tricks was inextricably associated in Coleman’s mind with
Muriel. . .
At the end of six weeks Coleman was conscious that he
had mourned long enough. He began to feel that it was not healthy for a
man of thirty-five to continue in grief for one girl when there were so
many others. He decided that the time had come when his awful gloom
might melt into resigned sadness. Moreover, a sympathetic young woman he
knew, who had a fine figure and tender eyes, had quite noticeably ceased
to insist upon the fact that she was sorry for him. In other
circumstances Coleman would have changed his unrelieved tie for one with
a faint, white stripe.
But Mickie, cheerful beast as he was, stood between
Coleman and half-mourning. Mickie was an awful reminder. Muriel had
died, but her personality lived on. Every time Mickie barked Coleman
could hear Muriel’s clear, happy voice say: “Oh, Mickie, darling, shut
up; you’ll simply deafen
mummy if you bark like that!”
Mickie began to get on Coleman’s nerves. Sometimes
when he was alone with him in the evening he regarded him with a heart
full of evil desires; thoughts of losing him in the country, of selling
him to a dog-fancier in Soho, of sending him to live with a married
sister in Yorkshire. But that was just the breaking-point with Coleman.
He was a shade too sentimental to shirk a sacred trust. Muriel, almost
with her “dying breath,” had confided Mickie to his keeping; bright,
beautiful, happy Muriel who had loved and trusted him. Coleman would
have regarded himself as a damned soul if he had been false to that
Then he tried to train Mickie. He might as well have
tried to train the dormer window. Mickie was four years old, and long
past any possibility of alteration by the methods of Coleman. For he
simply could not beat the dog; it would have been too sickeningly like
His gloom deepened, and the young woman with the
tender eyes lost sight of him for days at a time. She had no idea of the
true state of the case; she merely thought that he was rather silly to
go on making himself miserable about a little feather-brained thing like
The awful thing happened
nearly ten weeks after Muriel’s death. For many days Coleman had met no
one outside his office routine. Most afternoons and every evening he had
been shut up with the wraith of a happy voice which laughingly reproved
the unchangeable Mickie. He had begun to imagine foolish things; to try
experiments; he had kept away from any sight of those tender eyes for
nearly a fortnight, hoping to lay the ghost of that insistent, inaudible
It was a hot July evening, and Mickie was on and off
the window-sill every moment, divided between furious contempt for the
sparrows and the urgent desire for his master’s co-operation and
The voice of Muriel filled the room.
Coleman heaved himself out of his chair with a deep groan and went to
the window. Below the sill a few feet of sloping tiles pitched steeply
down to a narrow eaves-gutter; below the eaves
gutter was a sheer fall of
fifty feet on to a paved court.
Mickie had his fore-feet on the sill; he was barking
delightedly now that he had an audience. The fantastic contortions of
the dormer seemed to bend over man and dog; and the evil thing
that had come to
stay with Coleman crept into his brain and paralysed his will. He
stretched out his hand and gave Mickie a strong push.
Mickie slithered down the tiles, yelped, turned clean
round, missed the gutter with his hind feet, but caught it at the last
moment with both front paws, and so hung, shrieking desperately,
struggling to lift himself back to safety while his whole body hung over
For a moment man and dog stared into each other’s
Then the virtue returned to Coleman. He was
temporarily heroic. “Hold on, old man, hold on,” he said tenderly, and
began to work his shoulders down the short length of tiles, while he
felt about inside the room with his feet trying to maintain some sort of
hook on jamb or window board.
He was a long, thin man, and the feat was not a
difficult one; the trouble was that he was too slow over it. For as he
gingerly lifted one hand from the tiles to grasp Mickie’s neck, the dog
gave one last terrified yelp and let go.
Coleman heard the thud of his fall into the court. He could not summon
up courage to go down and gather up the mangled heap he so vividly
pictured in his imagination.
That night he believed he was
going mad, but he slept well and awoke with a strange sense of relief.
He awoke much later than usual; a new and beautiful peace reigned that
Strangely enough, neither his bedmaker nor the porter
made any reference to Mickie; and while Coleman wondered at their
failure to comment on so remarkable a tragedy, he could not bring
himself to ask a question.
All through the day, as he worked at his office, a
delicious sense of lightness and freedom exhilarated him. He dined at
the Cock in Fleet Street, and when he returned to the exquisite
stillness of his chambers he sat down to write to the girl with tender
eyes. . . .
He thought he had closed the outer door.
He was enormously startled when he heard a strangely
familiar patter of feet behind him.
He did not
turn his head; he sat cold and rigid, and his fingers began to pick at
the blottingpaper. He sat incredibly still and waited for the next
It came with excruciating suddenness: a shrill,
joyful, agonising bark, followed with a new distinctness by the echo of
a voice that said: “Oh! Mickie, darling, you’ll simply
deafen mummy if you bark like
He did not move his body, but slowly and reluctantly first his eyes and
then his head turned awfully to the window. . . .
The porter told Morley Price
that he had not seen Mr. Coleman fall. He thought he heard a dog bark, he
said, just like the little tarrier as Mr. Coleman’d been so fond of; and
he was surprised because the pore little feller ’ad fallen out o’ the
self-same winder the night afore, and he ’adn’t cared to speak of it to
Mr. Coleman knowin’ ’ow terrible cut-up ’e’d be about it. . . .
The chambers have remained unlet ever since.
Morley Price went up there once on a still July evening,
and rushed out again with his bands to his ears.