It is about Lord Mountdrago. He is an able and distinguished politician with threads of smugness in his substance that stimulate his nationalism. His arrogance finally leads him to defaming a Welsh Member of Parliament, called Owen Griffiths, discomfiting him and precluding him from reaching his office in Parliament.
It is about Lord Mountdrago. He is an able and distinguished politician with threads of smugness in his substance that stimulate his nationalism. His arrogance finally leads him to defaming a Welsh Member of Parliament, called Owen Griffiths, discomfiting him and precluding him from reaching his office in Parliament.
Lord Mountdrago by W. Somerset Maugham
Doctor Audlin looked at the clock on his desk. It was twenty minutes to six. He was surprised that Lord Mountdrago was late, since he had always been on time for previous appointments. Lord Mountdrago’s appointment today was for half past five.
There was in Dr Audlin’s appearance nothing to attract attention. He was tall and thin, with narrow shoulders; he was a little bent; his hair was thin and grey; his long pale face was deeply lined. He was not more than fifty, but he looked older. His eyes, pale blue and rather large, were tired. When you had been with him for a time, you noticed that they moved very little; they remained fixed on your face, but they were so empty of expression that this caused no discomfort. They gave no idea of his thoughts, nor changed with the words he spoke. His hands were rather large, with long fingers; they were soft, but firm. You could never have described what Dr Audlin wore unless you looked specifically. His clothes were dark. His tie was black. His dress made his pale face paler.
Dr Audlin was a psychoanalyst who had entered the profession by accident. When the war started he had not been working long and was gaining experience at different hospitals; he offered his services, and after a time was sent out to France. It was then that he discovered his strange qualities. He could stop certain pains by the touch of his firm hands, and by talking to men who were suffering from sleeplessness, he could often cause them to sleep. He spoke slowly. His voice had no particular quality, and its sound did not change with the words he used, but it was musical and soft. He told the men that they must rest, that they mustn’t worry, that they must sleep; and the rest seemed to slip into their tired bones; calmness pushed their anxieties away, and sleep fell on their tired eyelids like the light rain of spring on the earth. Dr Audlin found that by speaking to men in his low voice, by looking at them with his pale, quiet eyes, by touching their tired heads with his long firm hands, he could calm them. Sometimes he performed cures that seemed like miracles. He brought back speech to a man who was unable to speak after being buried under the earth in an explosion; and he gave back the use of his legs to a man who could not move after his plane was shot down. He could not understand his powers, but the results of his work were clear to everyone, and he had to admit to himself that he had some strange quality that allowed him to do things for which he could offer no explanation.
When the war was over he went to Vienna and studied there, and afterwards to Zurich; and then he settled in London to practise the art which he had so strangely learnt. He had been practising now for fifteen years and was well known. People told one another of the astonishing things he had done, and though his charges were high, many came to him for his advice. He knew that he had done a great deal of good in the world; he had brought back health and happiness to many. But at the back of his mind he was never quite sure how he had done so.
He did not like using a power which he could not understand, and he thought it was dishonest to make money from patients who believed in him when he had no belief in himself. He was rich enough now to live without working, and the work made him very tired. He had seen a lot of human nature during his 15 years in Wimpole Street. The stories that had been told to him, sometimes easily, sometimes with shame, with anger, had stopped surprising him long ago. Nothing could shock him any more. He knew by now that men were liars, that they were proud; he knew far worse than that about them, but he also knew that it was not his duty to judge. But year after year these terrible truths told to him made his face a little greyer, its lines a little more marked and his pale eyes more tired. He rarely laughed, but sometimes when he read a book he smiled. Did the writers really think men and women were like that? Real people had much darker, more complicated souls.
It was a quarter to six. Dr Audlin could remember no case which was stranger than that of Lord Mountdrago. For one thing it was strange because Lord Mountdrago was a successful and famous man. He had been appointed Foreign Minister when still under forty years of age, and it was generally agreed that he was the cleverest man in his party. There was nothing to prevent Lord Mountdrago from continuing as Foreign Minister in later governments.
Lord Mountdrago had many good qualities. He was intelligent and worked hard. He had travelled widely and spoke several languages well. He knew a great deal about other countries. He had courage and determination. He was a good speaker. He was a tall, good-looking man, though perhaps rather heavy. At the age of twenty-four he had married a girl of eighteen whose father was a lord and whose American mother was very rich, so that he had a good position and wealth. He also had two sons. He had, in fact, much of what was necessary to make him a popular and successful man. But unfortunately he also had many faults.
He was very proud of his social position. For 300 years his family had held the title of Lord Mountdrago and had married into the oldest families of England. But he still never missed an opportunity of telling others about it. He had beautiful manners when he wanted to show them, but he did this only with people whom he considered his equals. He was rude to his servants and his secretaries. The lower officials in the government offices feared and hated him. He knew that he was a great deal cleverer than most of the people he worked with, and never missed an opportunity of telling them so. He had no patience with the weaknesses of human nature. He felt himself born to command and was angry when people expected him to listen to their arguments or wished to hear the reasons for his decisions. He had many enemies to whom he showed no pity. He had no friends. He was unpopular with his party because he was so proud; but he loved his country so much and managed affairs so well that they had to accept his faults. It was possible to do this because sometimes he could be quite charming. He could be the best company in the world, and you could forget that he had insulted you the day before and was quite able to insult you again.
Lord Mountdrago had almost failed to become Dr Audlin’s patient. A secretary had telephoned the doctor and told him that his lordship would be glad if the doctor would come to his house at ten o’clock on the following morning. Dr Audlin answered that he was unable to go to Lord Mountdrago’s house, but would be pleased to see him in Wimpole Street on the day after that. The secretary took the message and telephoned again to say that Lord Mountdrago was determined to see Dr Audlin in his own house and the doctor could charge what he liked. Dr Audlin replied that he only saw people in his own room and explained that unless Lord Mountdrago was prepared to come to him, he could not give him his attention. In a quarter of an hour a short message was delivered to him that his lordship would come, not in two days’ time but the next day, at five o’clock.
When Lord Mountdrago was announced, he did not come forward, but stood at the door and looked the doctor up and down. Dr Audlin could see that he was very angry. He saw a big, heavy man, with greying hair, a swollen face and a cold, proud expression. He had the look of an eighteenth-century French king.
‘It seems that it is extremely difficult to see you, Dr Audlin. I’m a very busy man.’
‘Won’t you sit down?’ said the doctor.
His face showed no sign that Lord Mountdrago’s speech had had any effect on him. Dr Audlin sat in his chair at the desk. Lord Mountdrago still stood and looked angrier.
‘I think I should tell you that I am the Foreign Minister,’ he said sharply.
‘Won’t you sit down?’ the doctor repeated.
Lord Mountdrago made a movement which appeared to suggest that he was about to turn and leave the room; but if that was his intention, he seemed to change his mind. He sat down. Dr Audlin opened a large book and took up his pen. He wrote without looking at his patient.
‘How old are you?’
‘Are you married?’
‘How long have you been married?’
‘Have you any children?’
‘I have two sons.’
Dr Audlin wrote down the facts as Lord Mountdrago answered. Then he leaned back in his chair and looked at him. He did not speak; he just looked, with pale blue eyes that did not move.
‘Why have you come to see me?’ he asked at last.
‘I’ve heard about you. Lady Canute comes to see you, I believe. She tells me you’ve done a certain amount of good.’
Dr Audlin did not reply. His eyes remained fixed on the other’s face, but they were so empty of expression that you might have thought he did not even see him.
‘I can’t perform miracles,’ he said at last. Not a smile, but the shadow of a smile, passed over his eyes.
Lord Mountdrago spoke in a more friendly way ‘You have a good name. People seem to believe in you.’
‘Why have you come to see me?’ repeated Dr Audlin.
Now it was Lord Mountdrago’s turn to be silent. It looked as though he found it hard to answer. Dr Audlin waited. At last Lord Mountdrago seemed to make an effort. He spoke.
‘I’m in perfect health. I was examined by my own doctor just recently. He’s Sir Augustus Fitzherbert. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He tells me I’m as fit as a man of thirty. I work hard, but I’m never tired, and I enjoy my work. I smoke very little and do not drink much. I take enough exercise and I lead a regular life. I am a perfectly normal, healthy man. I quite expect you to think me childish in coming to see you.
Dr Audlin saw that he must help him.
‘I don’t know if I can do anything for you. I’ll try. You’re unhappy?’
‘My present work is important. The decisions that I have to make affect the country and even the peace of the world. It is necessary that my judgement should be good and my brain clear. I consider it my duty to rid myself of any cause of worry that may prevent this.’
Dr Audlin had never taken his eyes off him. He saw a great deal. He saw behind the man’s pride an anxiety that he could not get rid of.
‘I asked you to be good enough to come here because I know by experience that it’s easier for someone to speak openly in a doctor’s room than in his usual surroundings.’
It was clear that Lord Mountdrago, usually so quick and decided, at this moment did not know what to say. He smiled to show the doctor that he was relaxed, but his eyes showed his real feelings. He spoke again.
‘The whole thing’s so unimportant that I can hardly bring myself to trouble you with it. I’m afraid you’ll just tell me not to be a fool and waste your valuable time.’
‘Even things that seem unimportant may have their importance. They can be signs of deeper troubles. And my time is at your service.’
Dr Audlin’s voice was low and serious. It was strangely calming. Lord Mountdrago at last made up his mind to speak openly.
‘The fact is I’ve been having some dreams recently that have been bothering me. I know it’s foolish to pay any attention to them, but — well, the honest truth is they’ve begun to have an effect on my nerves.’
‘Can you describe any of them to me?’
‘They’re so foolish, I can hardly begin to tell them.’
‘Well, the first I had was about a month ago. I dreamt that I was at a party at Connemara House. It was an official party. The King and Queen were going to be there. I went to take off my coat and there was a little man in the room called Owen Griffiths, who’s a Welsh Member of Parliament, and to tell you the truth, I was surprised to see him. He’s very common, and I said to myself, “Really, Lydia Connemara shouldn’t have asked him to her house. Whom will she ask next?” I thought that he looked at me rather strangely, but I didn’t take any notice of him; in fact I did not speak a word and I walked upstairs. I suppose you’ve never been there?’
‘No, it’s not the sort of house you would ever go to. It’s in rather bad taste, but it’s got a very fine stone staircase, and the Connemaras were at the top receiving their guests. Lady Connemara gave me a look of surprise when I shook hands with her, and began to laugh. I didn’t pay much attention; she’s a foolish woman and her manners are no better than those of her relatives. I must say the rooms at Connemara House are very grand. I walked through, shaking hands with a number of people. Then I saw the German minister talking with an Austrian lord. I particularly wanted to have a word with him, so I went up and held out my hand. As soon as he saw me he burst out laughing. I was deeply insulted. I looked him up and down, but he only laughed louder. I was about to speak to him rather sharply, when the room suddenly went quiet, and I realized that the King and Queen had come. Turning my back on him, I stepped forward, and then, quite suddenly, I noticed that I hadn’t got any trousers on. I was wearing silk underclothes. It was not surprising that Lady Connemara and the German minister had laughed. I can’t tell you how I felt at that moment. The shame! I awoke shaking. Oh, you don’t know how glad I felt to find it was only a dream.’
‘It’s the kind of dream that’s not so very uncommon,’ said Dr Audlin.
‘Perhaps not. But a strange thing happened the next day. I was in the House of Commons when Griffiths walked past me. He looked down at my legs and then he looked me in the face, and there was something in his eyes that made me feel he was laughing at me. A foolish thought came to me — he had been there the night before, and now he was enjoying the joke. But of course I knew that was impossible because it was only a dream. I gave him an icy look and he walked on. But he was laughing.’
Lord Mountdrago took his handkerchief out of his pocket and rubbed it over his hands. He was making no attempt now to hide his anxiety.. Dr Audlin never took his eyes off him.
‘Tell me another dream.’
‘It was the next night. I dreamt that I was in the House of Commons. We were discussing foreign affairs and not only the country but the whole world was waiting for the discussion with serious interest. It was, in fact, a historic occasion. Of course the House was crowded. Representatives of foreign countries were there. I had to make the most important speech of the evening. I had prepared it carefully. A man like me has enemies. A lot of people are jealous because I have reached the position I have at an early age, and I was determined to speak well. I rose to my feet. When I began to speak, the silence was like the silence of the grave. Suddenly, though, I saw that hateful little devil on one of the seats opposite, Griffiths, the Welsh member; he put out his tongue at me… I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a song called “A Bicycle Made For Two”. It was very popular many years ago. To show Griffiths my disgust for him I began to sing it. I sang the first part right through. There was a moment’s surprise, and when I finished they cried ‘Hear, hear,’ from the opposition seats to express their approval. I put up my hand to silence them and sang the second part. The members listened to me in complete silence and I felt that the song wasn’t being received very well. I was angry, because I have a good voice, and I was determined that they should be fair to me. When I started the third part the members began to laugh; in a moment the laughter spread. Everyone in the House shook; they cheered, they held their sides, they rolled on the seats. Everyone was helpless with laughter except the government ministers just behind me. They sat as if turned to stone. I gave them a look, and I suddenly understood the terrible thing that I had done. The whole world would laugh at me. I realized that I would have to leave my post in the government. I woke and realized that it was only a dream.’
Lord Mountdrago’s proud manner had left him as he told this, and now, having finished, he was pale and trembling. But with an effort he regained his calm. He forced a laugh to his shaking lips.
‘The whole thing was so crazy that I couldn’t help being amused. I didn’t give it another thought, and when I went into the House on the following afternoon I was feeling good. I sat in my place and read some papers that demanded my attention. For some reason I chanced to look up and I saw that Griffiths was speaking. I couldn’t imagine that he had anything to say that was worth listening to, and I was about to return to my papers when he mentioned two lines from “A Bicycle Made For Two”. I couldn’t help looking at him, and I saw that his eyes were fixed on me and that there was a cruel smile on his lips. I didn’t care. It was just strange that he’d included in his speech two lines from that terrible song that I’d sung in my dream. I began to read my papers again, but I found it difficult to think about them. Owen Griffiths had been in my first dream, the one at Connemara House, and I thought afterwards that he knew how foolish I had looked. Was it pure chance that he’d used those two lines from the song? I asked myself if it was possible that he was dreaming the same dreams as I was. But of course it wasn’t, and I decided not to give it a second thought.’
There was a silence. Dr Audlin looked at Lord Mountdrago and Lord Mountdrago looked at Dr Audlin.
‘Other people’s dreams are very uninteresting. My wife used to dream occasionally and always told me her dreams the next day with every detail. It nearly drove me mad.’
Dr Audlin smiled faintly.‘I’m interested in your dreams.’
‘I’ll tell you one more dream that I had a few days later. I dreamt that I went into a bar in Limehouse. I’ve never been to Limehouse in my life and I don’t think I’ve been in a public bar for a drink since I was at university, but I saw the street and the place I went into very clearly. I went into a room; there was a fireplace and a large leather chair on one side of it, and on the other a long seat. Near the door was a round table with two big chairs beside it. It was a Saturday night and the place was crowded. It was brightly lit, but the smoke was so thick that it made my eyes hurt. I was dressed like a working-class man, with a cap on my head and a handkerchief round my neck. It seemed to me that most of the people there were drunk. I thought it rather amusing. There was a radio and in front of the fireplace two women were doing a mad sort of dance. There was a little crowd round them, laughing and singing. I went to have a look, and a man said to me, “Have a drink, Bill?” There were glasses on the table full of dark beer. He gave me a glass and I drank it. One of the women who were dancing left the other and took hold of the glass. “What are you doing?” she said. “That’s mine.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “This gentleman offered it to me.” “All right,” she said, “it doesn’t matter. Come and have a dance with me.” Before I could object, she had caught hold of me and we were dancing together. And then I found myself sitting in the leather chair and the woman and I were sharing a drink. I should tell you that women have never played any great part in my life. I’ve always been too busy to give much thought to that kind of thing. This woman was drunk; she wasn’t pretty and she wasn’t young. She filled me with disgust. Suddenly I heard a voice. “That’s right, my friend, have a good time.” I looked up and there was Owen Griffiths. I tried to jump out of the chair but that terrible woman didn’t let me. “Don’t pay any attention to him,” she said. “Enjoy yourself,” he said.
‘I pushed the woman away and stood up and faced him. “I don’t know you and I don’t want to know you,” I said. “I know you, all right,” he said. There was a bottle standing on the table close to me. Without a word I seized it by the neck and hit him over the head with it as hard as I could. The blow was so violent that it woke me up.’
‘A dream of that sort is easily understandable,’ said Dr Audlin. ‘It is the revenge which nature takes on people of good character.’
‘The story’s crazy. But again, it’s what happened the next day that worries me. I wanted to look at a book in a hurry and I went into the parliamentary library. I got the book and began reading. I hadn’t noticed when I sat down that Griffiths was sitting in a chair close to me. Another member came in and went up to him. “Hullo, Owen,” he said to him, “you’re looking ill today.” “I’ve got a terrible headache,” he answered. “I feel as if someone’s hit me on the head with a bottle.” ’
Now Lord Mountdrago’s face was grey with anxiety.
‘I knew then that the idea which I had dismissed as foolish was true. I knew that Griffiths was dreaming my dreams and that he remembered them as well as I did.’
‘It may also have been chance.’
‘When he spoke, he wasn’t speaking to his friend. He was speaking to me.’
‘Can you explain why this same man should come into your dreams?’
‘No, I can’t.’
Dr Audlin’s eyes had not left Lord Mountdrago’s face, and he saw that he was lying. He had a pencil in his hand and he drew a line or two on a bit of paper. It often took a long time to make people tell the truth; but they knew that unless they told it he could do nothing for them.
‘The dream you’ve just described happened just over three weeks ago. Have you had any since?’
‘And does this man Griffiths come into them all?’
The doctor drew some more lines on the paper. He wanted the silence of the room to have its effect on Lord Mountdrago. Lord Mountdrago turned his head away from the other’s serious eyes.
‘Dr Audlin, I shall go mad if this goes on. I’m afraid to go to sleep. For two or three nights I haven’t slept. I’ve sat up reading, and when I felt sleepy I put on my coat and walked until I couldn’t walk any further. But I must have sleep. With all the work I have to do, my brain must be clear. I need rest; sleep brings me none. As soon as I fall asleep, my dreams begin, and he’s always there, that common little devil, laughing at me. I don’t deserve this treatment. I tell you, doctor, I’m not the man of my dreams; it’s not fair to judge me by them. Ask anyone you like. I’m an honest, good man. No one can say anything against my moral character, either private or public. All I want is to serve my country. I have money, I have rank, so my life is easier than other men’s. But I have always done my duty. I’ve given up everything to become the man I am. Greatness is my aim. Greatness is within my reach, and I’m losing my courage. I’m not that creature that Griffiths sees. I’ve told you three of my dreams: they’re nothing; that man has seen me do things that are so shameful that I wouldn’t tell them even if my life depended on it. And he remembers them. He has seen me do things that no man with any self-respect would do, things for which men are driven out of the society of others and sent to prison. He feels nothing but disgust for me and he no longer pretends to hide it. I tell you that if you can’t do something to help me I shall either kill myself or kill him.’
‘It’s not a good idea to kill him,’ said Dr Audlin calmly in his quiet voice. ‘Your future would become even more uncertain.’
‘I wouldn’t be hanged for it, if that’s what you mean. Who would know that I had killed him? That dream of mine has shown me how. I told you, the day after I’d hit him over the head with a bottle, he had a bad headache. He said so himself. That shows that he can feel with his waking body what happens to his body when he is asleep. I shan’t hit him with a bottle next time. One night, when I’m dreaming, I shall find myself with a knife in my hand or a gun in my pocket. I must, because I want to so much. Then I shah seize my opportunity. I’ll kill him; I’ll shoot him like a dog. In the heart. And then I shall be free.’
Some people might have thought that Lord Mountdrago was mad. After all the years during which Dr Audlin had been treating the souls of men, he knew how thin the line is which divides those who are mad from those who are not. He knew that men who seemed healthy and appeared responsible citizens had such strange ideas in their minds, when you looked into them, that you could only call them mad. If you put them in a madhouse, not all the madhouses in the world would be large enough. But a man was not mad because he had strange dreams which had destroyed his courage. The case was unusual, but not unlike others which Dr Audlin had seen. He was doubtful, though, whether his methods of treatment would be of any use.
‘Have you asked the advice of any other member of my profession?’ he said.
‘Only Sir Augustus. I simply told him that I suffered from very bad dreams. He said I was working too hard, and advised me to go away for a while. But I can’t leave the Foreign Office just now, when the international situation needs all my attention. They can’t do without me, and I know it. He gave me something to make me sleep. It had no effect.’
‘Can you give me any reason why this particular man continues to feature in your dreams?’
‘You asked me that question before. I answered it.’
That was true. But Dr Audlin had not been satisfied with the answer.
‘Why should Owen Griffiths want to hurt you?’
‘I don’t know’
Dr Audlin was sure that his patient was not speaking the truth.
‘Have you ever harmed him?’
Dr Audlin saw before him a large, proud man who seemed to think that the questions put to him were insulting; but in spite of that he made you think of a frightened animal in a trap. Dr Audlin leaned forward and by the power of his eyes forced Lord Mountdrago to meet them.
‘Are you quite sure?’
‘Quite sure. He and I live different lives. I don’t wish to say too much about it, but I must remind you that I am a Minister of the King and Griffiths is an ordinary member of the opposition party. Of course there’s no social connection between us; he’s a man from a much lower class, so he’s not the sort of person I am likely to meet at any of the houses I go to. And politically we are far apart.’
‘I can do nothing for you unless you tell me the complete truth.’
Lord Mountdrago s voice was cold. ‘I am not used to having my word doubted, Dr Audlin. If you’re going to do that, I think that to take up any more of your time can only be a waste of mine. If you will kindly tell my secretary what I owe you, he will send you a cheque.’
Dr Audlin’s face showed no expression; you might have thought that he had not heard what Lord Mountdrago said. He continued to look steadily into his eyes, and his voice was serious and low.
‘Have you done anything to this man that he might consider an injury?’
Lord Mountdrago paused. He looked away, and then looked back. He answered in a bad-tempered voice, ‘Only if he was a dirty, low person.’
‘But that is exactly what you’ve described him to be.’
Lord Mountdrago was beaten. Dr Audlin knew that he was at last going to say what he had until then held back. He dropped his eyes, and began drawing with his pencil. The silence lasted two or three minutes.
‘If I didn’t mention this before, it’s only because it was so unimportant that I didn’t see how it could be connected with the case. When Griffiths became a Member of Parliament, he began to make trouble almost immediately. His father’s a miner, and he worked in a mine himself when he was a boy; he has also been a schoolmaster. He has the half-formed knowledge and useless dreams of a person of poor education. He’s thin and grey-faced and never well dressed. His clothes are an insult to the House. His collar’s never clean, and his tie’s never tied properly. He looks as if he hasn’t had a bath for a month, and his hands are dirty. But he is a good speaker, and he has some simple ideas on a number of subjects, and he is frequently asked to speak in the House. It appeared that he thought he knew something about foreign affairs, and some people listened to what he had to say. I heard stories that Griffiths might become Foreign Minister if another government came into power.
‘One day I was speaking last in a discussion on foreign affairs. Griffiths had spoken before me for an hour. I thought it a good opportunity to destroy him, and by God, sir, I did. I tore his arguments to pieces. I showed the faults in his reasoning and his lack of knowledge. In the House of Commons the best way to attack someone is to make fun of him. I laughed at him, and the House laughed with me. Even some of Griffiths’s friends could not help laughing at him. If ever a man was made to look a fool, I made Griffiths look a fool. I saw his face go white and soon he buried it in his hands. When I sat down I had killed him. I had destroyed his name for ever. He had no more chance of becoming Foreign Minister than the policeman at the door. I heard afterwards that his father, the old miner, and his mother had come to London with supporters from his home town to hear him speak.’
‘So you ruined his political future?’
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
‘That is a very serious injury that you’ve done to him.’
‘He brought it on himself.’
‘Have you never felt at all sorry?’
‘I think perhaps that if I had known his father and mother were listening, I would have been more gentle.’
There was nothing more for Dr Audlin to say, and he began to treat Lord Mountdrago in the manner that he thought best. He tried to make him forget his dreams when he awoke; he tried to make him sleep so deeply that he would not dream. But it was impossible. At the end of an hour he dismissed Lord Mountdrago. Since then he had seen him five or six times. He had done him no good. The terrible dreams continued every night. It was clear that his general condition was growing rapidly worse. He was very tired. He was very bad-tempered. He was angry because the treatment had not helped, but he continued it, because it seemed his only hope, and because he found it a help to talk openly. Dr Audlin felt that there was only one way in which Lord Mountdrago could be free from his troubles. After several visits the doctor managed to put him into a state of complete relaxation. Lord Mountdrago lay quite still, his eyes closed. Then Dr Audlin spoke the words which he had prepared.
‘You will go to Owen Griffiths and say that you are sorry that you caused him that great injury. You will say that you will do whatever you can to undo the harm that you have done to him.’
The words acted on Lord Mountdrago like the blow of a whip across his face. He shook himself out of his sleep and jumped to his feet. His eyes burned and he poured out on Dr Audlin a stream of angry words such as even he had never heard. He swore at him. He shouted at him. He used such bad language that even Dr Audlin was surprised that he knew it.
‘Say sorry to that dirty Welshman? I would rather kill myself.’
‘I believe it to be the only way in which you can regain your calm.’
Dr Audlin had not often seen a man in such a state of uncontrolled anger. He grew red in the face and his eyes were sticking out of his head. Dr Audlin watched him calmly, waiting for the storm to end, and soon he saw that Lord Mountdrago, weakened by the troubles of so long a time, had no more strength.
‘Sit down,’ he said then, sharply.
Lord Mountdrago fell into a chair.
‘I am tired,’ he said; ‘I must rest a minute and then I’ll go.’
For five minutes perhaps they sat in complete silence. Lord Mountdrago was a proud man, but he was also a gentleman. When he broke the silence, he had regained his self-control.
‘I’m afraid I’ve been very rude to you. I’m ashamed of the things I’ve said to you, and I’d understand if you refused to see me again. I hope you won’t refuse. I think you’re my only chance.’
‘You mustn’t worry about what you said. It’s of no importance.’
‘But there’s one thing you mustn’t ask me to do, and that is to say sorry to Griffiths.’
‘I’ve thought a great deal about your case. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I believe your only hope is to do what I suggest.’
‘It’s not my fault if I ruined him. I am not sorry.’
It was with these words that Lord Mountdrago had left the doctor.
Dr Audlin read through his notes, and looked at the clock. It was six. It was strange that Lord Mountdrago had not come. His secretary had telephoned that morning to say that he would come at the usual hour. He must have been kept by important work. This idea gave Dr Audlin something else to think about: Lord Mountdrago was quite unfit to work and in no condition to deal with important matters of government. Dr Audlin wondered whether he ought to tell someone at the Foreign Office that it was dangerous to leave things to him just now.
But it would be difficult, and he would receive no thanks.
‘After all,’ he thought, ‘politicians have caused so much trouble in the world during the last 25 years, I don’t suppose it matters if they’re mad or not.’
He rang the bell.
‘If Lord Mountdrago comes now, will you tell him that I have another appointment at a quarter past six and so I’m afraid I can’t see him.’
‘Very good, sir.’
‘Has the evening paper come yet?’
‘I’ll go and see.’
In a moment the servant brought it in. Across the top of the front page in big letters were the words: Death of a Foreign Minister.
‘My God!’ cried Dr Audlin.
For once he lost his usual calm. He was shocked, but he was not completely surprised. He had sometimes thought that Lord Mountdrago might kill himself, and he could not doubt that he had killed himself. The paper said that Lord Mountdrago had been waiting at an Underground station, and as the train came in he was seen to fall in front of it. It was supposed that he had suddenly fainted. The paper went on to say that Lord Mountdrago had been suffering for some weeks from the effects of overwork, but had felt it impossible to leave the Foreign Office. There was more about his love of his country, and about his skill, and various guesses about who would replace him as Foreign Minister. Dr Audlin read all this. He had not liked Lord Mountdrago. The chief feeling that his death caused in him was dissatisfaction that he had been able to do nothing to help him.
Dr Audlin felt discouraged, as he always did when he failed, and he was filled with disgust for the way in which he earned his living. He was dealing with dark forces that it was impossible for the human mind to understand.
He turned the pages of his paper in misery and hopelessness. But his misery turned once more to shock as his eyes fell on a paragraph near the bottom of a page. ‘Sudden death of a Member of Parliament,’ he read. ‘Mr Owen Griffiths was taken ill in Fleet Street this afternoon, and when he was brought to the nearest hospital he was found to be dead. It is thought that death was from natural causes, but this is not certain.’ Dr Audlin could hardly believe his eyes. Was it possible that, the night before, Lord Mountdrago had at last in his dream found a weapon, knife or gun, and had killed his enemy? And had that dream murder, in the same way as the blow from the bottle, taken effect a certain number of hours later on the waking man? Or was it, stranger and more frightening, that when Lord Mountdrago found a means of escape by killing himself, the enemy, still not satisfied, had followed him to some other world to continue his attacks there? It was strange. The sensible thing was to think of it as pure chance. Dr Audlin rang the bell.
‘Tell Mrs Milton that I’m sorry I can’t see her this evening. I’m not well.’
It was true; he was trembling. The dark night of the soul swallowed him up, and he felt a strange, deep fear of something that he did not understand.