When William Came HTML version

The Dead Who Do Not Understand
The pale light of a November afternoon faded rapidly into the dusk of a November
evening. Far over the countryside housewives put up their cottage shutters, lit their
lamps, and made the customary remark that the days were drawing in. In barn yards and
poultry-runs the greediest pullets made a final tour of inspection, picking up the stray
remaining morsels of the evening meal, and then, with much scrambling and squawking,
sought the places on the roosting-pole that they thought should belong to them.
Labourers working in yard and field began to turn their thoughts homeward or
tavernward as the case might be. And through the cold squelching slush of a water-
logged meadow a weary, bedraggled, but unbeaten fox stiffly picked his way, climbed a
high bramble-grown bank, and flung himself into the sheltering labyrinth of a stretching
tangle of woods. The pack of fierce-mouthed things that had rattled him from copse and
gorse-cover, along fallow and plough, hedgerow and wooded lane, for nigh on an hour,
and had pressed hard on his life for the last few minutes, receded suddenly into the
background of his experiences. The cold, wet meadow, the thick mask of woods, and the
oncoming dusk had stayed the chase—and the fox had outstayed it. In a short time he
would fall mechanically to licking off some of the mud that caked on his weary pads; in a
shorter time horsemen and hounds would have drawn off kennelward and homeward.
Yeovil rode through the deepening twilight, relying chiefly on his horse to find its way in
the network of hedge-bordered lanes that presumably led to a high road or to some
human habitation. He was desperately tired after his day’s hunting, a legacy of weakness
that the fever had bequeathed to him, but even though he could scarcely sit upright in his
saddle his mind dwelt complacently on the day’s sport and looked forward to the snug
cheery comfort that awaited him at his hunting box. There was a charm, too, even for a
tired man, in the eerie stillness of the lone twilight land through which he was passing, a
grey shadow-hung land which seemed to have been emptied of all things that belonged to
the daytime, and filled with a lurking, moving life of which one knew nothing beyond the
sense that it was there. There, and very near. If there had been wood-gods and wicked-
eyed fauns in the sunlit groves and hill sides of old Hellas, surely there were watchful,
living things of kindred mould in this dusk-hidden wilderness of field and hedge and
It was Yeovil’s third or fourth day with the hounds, without taking into account a couple
of mornings’ cub-hunting. Already he felt that he had been doing nothing different from
this all his life. His foreign travels, his illness, his recent weeks in London, they were
part of a tapestried background that had very slight and distant connection with his
present existence. Of the future he tried to think with greater energy and determination.
For this winter, at any rate, he would hunt and do a little shooting, entertain a few of his
neighbours and make friends with any congenial fellow-sportsmen who might be within
reach. Next year things would be different; he would have had time to look round him, to
regain something of his aforetime vigour of mind and body. Next year, when the hunting
season was over, he would set about finding out whether there was any nobler game for