[ W. F. Harvey’s skilful short story “Full Circle” was first published in his 1933 collection Moods and Tenses. It is omitted from the anthologies of Harvey’s short fiction that have been compiled this century by Wordsworth (2009) and Tartarus (2016) and it is posted here merely out of an innocent desire to fill a gap in what is publicly available from Harvey’s writing. My understanding is that the copyright protection had expired after 2007 but please write to email@example.com if you have any bone to pick with this. By the by, I have taken the liberty of changing one word in this story and replacing it with the more twenty-first-century “[look] black.”]
“What’s the matter with you this morning, Benacre? You look bored stiff, and haven’t made an intelligent remark since breakfast.”
The three men were in the billiard room. It was raining hard. Curtis and Branxton-Hicks were knocking the balls about. Benacre lay sprawling on the divan, lost in thought.
“I’m dead tired,” he said at last. “There’s nothing to do, and if there was I haven’t the energy to do it. There’s no taste in my tobacco. That means I’m seriously unwell. But shall I get any sympathy? Of course not. If the weather clears up, and thank goodness it shows no sign of clearing, my aunt is almost certain to suggest that I should take the girls over to Peldon Farm to see the Roman excavations. I came down here for a thorough rest. I ought to be in bed. No one has any right to expect me to be agreeable. What an awful ass that fellow Abberton is.”
“Yes, I can’t say I’ve much use for him,” said Branxton-Hicks. “I suppose he’s got any amount of brains, but the worst of people like that who are keen on psycho-analysis is that there is no arguing with them, and that they have no sense of humour. Omnipotence and omniscience. And yet I suppose he’s got a leg that could be pulled.”
“Four at least, the conceited little puppy,” broke in Curtis; “and a tail. Did you see his quiet smile of superiority when Lady Mellaby told the story of the dream she had had at Le Touquet? He told me afterwards that it would be charitable if people were warned against undressing in public.”
“Do they really mean that they find sense in dreams?” asked Benacre.
“Of course they do. I didn’t know you were such a back number. Dreams give the show away every time. If you want to do the thing properly you keep a note book and pencil by the side of your bed and write down what you have dreamed as soon as you wake up, no matter what hour of the night it may be.”
“What infernal rot,” said Benacre testily, “I’ve a good mind to make up a dream and get him to interpret it.”
Curtis was in the middle of a long break. “That’s not half a bad idea,” he said when it was finished. “What you want is something strange and inconsequential, and you mustn’t lose your temper when he begins to unfold your lurid past. He’ll probably tell you some home truths. Get on with your dream now, and unburden yourself to Abberton in the library before the girls think of bridge.”
Benacre for five minutes puffed at his pipe in silence. “So long,” he said at last; “the dream and the interpretation thereof shall be yours when I return.”
Half an hour later he was back in the billiard room. “I would never have believed,” he said, “that such folly walked the earth. I got talking with him and steered the conversation round with a light and airy touch. The dream I invented was this: I was lying in the four-poster bed in the blue room, when silently the door opened and two men appeared. One was an immense Zulu carrying an assegai in one hand and a candle in the other. The other was a crusader. At least I thought he was a crusader. The armour was a little sketchy, but he wore a surcoat or whatever you call it, on which a red cross was emblazoned on a white ground. I then disappeared behind a grey curtain, but I could hear everything they said. ‘Little Willy sleeps,’ whispered the crusader. The Zulu dropped his assegai on the floor. ‘My God,’ he stammered. ‘He can’t have gone!” I chuckled behind the curtain, thinking what fools they were; and then I awoke. Quite a good dream. What?”
“And the interpretation?”
“I may have got rather mixed with the interpretation, because I’m not familiar with their jargon, but as far as I could gather, I’m in a state of conflict. I hide behind the grey curtain because I’m afraid to face reality. I’ve always been under the influence of my father; he is a parson, you must remember, and is represented by the crusader. I’m not quite sure what the Zulu stood for. But I know that it was very significant that he should be carrying the candle. I fancy that Abberton thought that I should have embraced the Zulu and given the crusader the boot. He certainly gave me the impression that he very much disliked my father, and considered his influence as wholly evil, especially when he heard that the Church and the army had both been seriously considered as possible careers before it was discovered that I had a dicky heart. Abberton was very bucked with my dream. I have promised in future to enter them in a notebook.”
“And you didn’t disillusion him?” asked Curtis.
“I hadn’t the heart to. He was so very much in earnest about it all. But if ever his arrogance becomes unbearable I shall trot out the Zulu and the crusader and they shall smite him hip and thigh. And now I must get some letters written before the rain stops and I’m dragged out to Peldon.”
“Poor old Benacre,” said Curtis when he had left the room. “I’d like to have been present in the library when he tackled Abberton. Can’t you picture him, as serious as an owl, blinking away behind his spectacles? I doubt though whether he would ever succeed in cornering Abberton. If he told Abberton that his dream was pure invention, Abberton would still be capable of finding it significant. That’s the worst of these fellows; they’d stoop to analyse upon their mother’s grave.”
“But if he can’t fool Abberton,” said Branxton-Hicks, “there is no reason why we shouldn’t get a rise out of Benacre. Let us give him the stimulant he evidently needs. You were born to lead a crusade. You always cross your legs in repose. You will supply the quiet dignity, and I, with the magnificent physique of the Zulu, the impudence. We will give just that element of reality which is lacking in Benacre’s dream. He pulls Abberton’s leg; we pull Benacre’s.”
“And I wonder who will pull ours?” said Branxton-Hicks.
Ursula Mellaby, aged fourteen, and up to any mischief, was chosen as an accomplice, or more properly, mistress of the robes. She was solemnly sworn to secrecy on the bare blade of a Spanish rapier, but what the secret was she never quite understood, apart from the fact that it had to do with fancy dress. She it was who discovered a white ensign in the attic, an admirable surcoat. The shadowy coat of mail was more difficult until a grey woollen cardigan of Sir Frank Mellaby’s was found among a pile of clothes put aside for the next jumble sale. A trophy in the hall supplied Curtis with shield and assegai. Ursula, with commendable thoroughness, burnt a cork bath-mat in the kitchen garden.
“You’ve got to look black,” she said, “and there’s an awful lot of white to blacken. Walnut juice would only make you brown, and besides, our tree’s not big enough.”
Benacre went early to bed. The bridge players retired soon after eleven, and Curtis and Branxton-Hicks took their drinks into the billiard room. At twelve they stole quietly upstairs to Curtis’ bedroom. After a quarter of an hour they surveyed their handiwork with approval.
“We look rather like a scene from a missionary pageant,” said Curtis as he stood before the glass. “One of the final tableaux illustrating the impact of Christianity on Africa, while the organ plays ‘From Greenland’s icy mountains,’ and the silver collection is being taken. Have you got the candle all right? Lead on, Lobengula, and don’t run your assegai into any of the pictures.”
The bedroom door opened with a creak. They paused for a moment on the threshold to listen, but all was silent.
“Oft in the stilly night,” said Curtis.
“Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me.”
“Keep on the carpet, you fool. Those boards on the stairs creak abominably.”
“I feel like one who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
It’s something fled, it’s something shed
And all save he departed –“
“Tom Moore, you know, or Tom Hood; I’ve forgotten which, but I used to know the piece as a boy. Now down the long corridor to the right – what a magic there is in the words – and the room at the end of the passage is the Blue Room.”
“The hopes and fears of boyhood’s years
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone –“
“Mind the draught doesn’t blow the candle out when I open the door, and don’t forget the book of words.”
He turned the handle and the two men entered the room.
Curtis stood for a moment behind the curtain at the foot of the four-poster.
“Little Willie sleeps,” he whispered, and stepped forward; but the huge Zulu with the candle was ahead of him. He had seen something that Curtis had not seen.
Benacre lay strangely still, with one long thin arm outstretched on the coverlid. Impulsively his fingers clutched the wrist.
“My God!” he stammered. “He can’t have gone!” The candle which he was carrying dropped to the floor. There was the tinkle of shattered fragments of glass, the faint metallic echo of a still fainter laugh.