The Shape Of Fear
TIM O'CONNOR -- who was de-
scended from the O'Conors with
one N -- started life as a poet
and an enthusiast. His mother
had designed him for the priesthood, and at
the age of fifteen, most of his verses had an
ecclesiastical tinge, but, somehow or other,
he got into the newspaper business instead,
and became a pessimistic gentleman, with a
literary style of great beauty and an income
of modest proportions. He fell in with men
who talked of art for art's sake, -- though
what right they had to speak of art at all
nobody knew, -- and little by little his view
of life and love became more or less pro-
fane. He met a woman who sucked his
heart's blood, and he knew it and made no
protest; nay, to the great amusement of the
fellows who talked of art for art's sake, he
went the length of marrying her. He could
not in decency explain that he had the tra-
ditions of fine gentlemen behind him and
so had to do as he did, because his friends
might not have understood. He laughed at
the days when he had thought of the priest-
hood, blushed when he ran across any of
those tender and exquisite old verses he had
written in his youth, and became addicted
to absinthe and other less peculiar drinks,
and to gaming a little to escape a madness
As the years went by he avoided, with
more and more scorn, that part of the world
which he denominated Philistine, and con-
sorted only with the fellows who flocked about
Jim O'Malley's saloon. He was pleased with
solitude, or with these convivial wits, and with
not very much else beside. Jim O'Malley
was a sort of Irish poem, set to inspiring
measure. He was, in fact, a Hibernian
Mæcenas, who knew better than to put bad
whiskey before a man of talent, or tell a trite
tale in the presence of a wit. The recountal
of his disquisitions on politics and other cur-
rent matters had enabled no less than three
men to acquire national reputations; and a
number of wretches, having gone the way of
men who talk of art for art's sake, and dying
in foreign lands, or hospitals, or asylums,
having no one else to be homesick for, had
been homesick for Jim O'Malley, and wept
for the sound of his voice and the grasp of
his hearty hand.
When Tim O'Connor turned his back upon
most of the things he was born to and took
up with the life which he consistently lived
till the unspeakable end, he was unable to
get rid of certain peculiarities. For example,
in spite of all his debauchery, he continued
to look like the Beloved Apostle. Notwith-
standing abject friendships he wrote limpid
and noble English. Purity seemed to dog his
heels, no matter how violently he attempted
to escape from her. He was never so drunk
that he was not an exquisite, and even his
creditors, who had become inured to his
deceptions, confessed it was a privilege to
meet so perfect a gentleman. The creature
who held him in bondage, body and soul,
actually came to love him for his gentleness,
and for some quality which baffled her, and
made her ache with a strange longing which
she could not define. Not that she ever de-
fined anything, poor little beast! She had
skin the color of pale gold, and yellow eyes
with brown lights in them, and great plaits
of straw-colored hair. About her lips was a
fatal and sensuous smile, which, when it got
hold of a man's imagination, would not let
it go, but held to it, and mocked it till the
day of his death. She was the incarnation
of the Eternal Feminine, with all the wifeli-
ness and the maternity left out -- she was
ancient, yet ever young, and familiar as joy
or tears or sin.
She took good care of Tim in some ways:
fed him well, nursed him back to reason after
a period of hard drinking, saw that he put
on overshoes when the walks were wet, and
looked after his money. She even prized
his brain, for she discovered that it was a
delicate little machine which produced gold.
By association with him and his friends, she
learned that a number of apparently useless
things had value in the eyes of certain con-
venient fools, and so she treasured the auto-
graphs of distinguished persons who wrote to
him -- autographs which he disdainfully tossed
in the waste basket. She was careful with
presentation copies from authors, and she
went the length of urging Tim to write a
book himself. But at that he balked.
"Write a book!" he cried to her, his gen-
tle face suddenly white with passion. "Who
am I to commit such a profanation?"
She didn't know what he meant, but she
had a theory that it was dangerous to excite
him, and so she sat up till midnight to cook
a chop for him when he came home that night.
He preferred to have her sitting up for him,
and he wanted every electric light in their
apartments turned to the full. If, by any
chance, they returned together to a dark
house, he would not enter till she touched the
button in the hall, and illuminated the room.
Or if it so happened that the lights were
turned off in the night time, and he awoke to
find himself in darkness, he shrieked till the
woman came running to his relief, and, with
derisive laughter, turned them on again. But
when she found that after these frights he lay
trembling and white in his bed, she began to
be alarmed for the clever, gold-making little
machine, and to renew her assiduities, and to
horde more tenaciously than ever, those valu-
able curios on which she some day expected to
realize when he was out of the way, and no
longer in a position to object to their barter.
O'Connor's idiosyncrasy of fear was a
source of much amusement among the boys
at the office where he worked. They made
open sport of it, and yet, recognizing him
for a sensitive plant, and granting that genius
was entitled to whimsicalities, it was their
custom when they called for him after work
hours, to permit him to reach the lighted cor-
ridor before they turned out the gas over his
desk. This, they reasoned, was but a slight
service to perform for the most enchanting
beggar in the world.
"Dear fellow," said Rick Dodson, who
loved him, "is it the Devil you expect to see?
And if so, why are you averse? Surely the
Devil is not such a bad old chap."
"You haven't found him so?"
"Tim, by heaven, you know, you ought to
explain to me. A citizen of the world and
a student of its purlieus, like myself, ought to
know what there is to know! Now you're a
man of sense, in spite of a few bad habits --
such as myself, for example. Is this fad of
yours madness? -- which would be quite to
your credit, -- for gadzooks, I like a lunatic!
Or is it the complaint of a man who has gath-
ered too much data on the subject of Old
Rye? Or is it, as I suspect, something more
occult, and therefore more interesting?"
"Rick, boy," said Tim, "you're too -- in-
quiring!" And he turned to his desk with a
look of delicate hauteur.
It was the very next night that these two
tippling pessimists spent together talking about
certain disgruntled but immortal gentlemen,
who, having said their say and made the world
quite uncomfortable, had now journeyed on
to inquire into the nothingness which they
postulated. The dawn was breaking in the
muggy east; the bottles were empty, the cigars
burnt out. Tim turned toward his friend with
a sharp breaking of sociable silence.
"Rick," he said, "do you know that Fear
has a Shape?"
"And so has my nose!"
"You asked me the other night what I
feared. Holy father, I make my confession
to you. What I fear is Fear."
"That's because you've drunk too much --
or not enough.
"'Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your winter garment of repentance fling --'"
"My costume then would be too nebulous
for this weather, dear boy. But it's true what
I was saying. I am afraid of ghosts."
"For an agnostic that seems a bit --"
"Agnostic! Yes, so completely an agnostic
that I do not even know that I do not know!
God, man, do you mean you have no ghosts
-- no -- no things which shape themselves?
Why, there are things I have done --"
"Don't think of them, my boy! See,
'night's candles are burnt out, and jocund
day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain
Tim looked about him with a sickly smile.
He looked behind him and there was nothing
there; stared at the blank window, where the
smoky dawn showed its offensive face, and
there was nothing there. He pushed away
the moist hair from his haggard face -- that
face which would look like the blessed St.
John, and leaned heavily back in his chair.
"'Yon light is not daylight, I know it, I,'"
he murmured drowsily, "'it is some meteor
which the sun exhales, to be to thee this
The words floated off in languid nothing-
ness, and he slept. Dodson arose preparatory
to stretching himself on his couch. But first
he bent over his friend with a sense of tragic
"Damned by the skin of his teeth!" he mut-
tered. "A little more, and he would have
gone right, and the Devil would have lost a
good fellow. As it is" -- he smiled with his
usual conceited delight in his own sayings,
even when they were uttered in soliloquy -- "he
is merely one of those splendid gentlemen one
will meet with in hell." Then Dodson had a
momentary nostalgia for goodness himself,
but he soon overcame it, and stretching him-
self on his sofa, he, too, slept.
That night he and O'Connor went together
to hear "Faust" sung, and returning to the
office, Dodson prepared to write his criti-
cism. Except for the distant clatter of tele-
graph instruments, or the peremptory cries of
"copy" from an upper room, the office was
still. Dodson wrote and smoked his inter-
minable cigarettes; O' Connor rested his head
in his hands on the desk, and sat in perfect
silence. He did not know when Dodson fin-
ished, or when, arising, and absent-mindedly
extinguishing the lights, he moved to the
door with his copy in his hands. Dodson
gathered up the hats and coats as he passed
them where they lay on a chair, and called:
"It is done, Tim. Come, let's get out of
There was no answer, and he thought Tim
was following, but after he had handed his
criticism to the city editor, he saw he was
still alone, and returned to the room for his
friend. He advanced no further than the
doorway, for, as he stood in the dusky cor-
ridor and looked within the darkened room,
he saw before his friend a Shape, white, of
perfect loveliness, divinely delicate and pure
and ethereal, which seemed as the embodi-
ment of all goodness. From it came a soft
radiance and a perfume softer than the wind
when "it breathes upon a bank of violets
stealing and giving odor." Staring at it,
with eyes immovable, sat his friend.
It was strange that at sight of a thing so
unspeakably fair, a coldness like that which
comes from the jewel-blue lips of a Muir
crevasse should have fallen upon Dodson, or
that it was only by summoning all the man-
hood that was left in him, that he was able
to restore light to the room, and to rush to
his friend. When he reached poor Tim he
was stone-still with paralysis. They took
him home to the woman, who nursed him out
of that attack -- and later on worried him into
When he was able to sit up and jeer at
things a little again, and help himself to the
quail the woman broiled for him, Dodson,
sitting beside him, said:
"Did you call that little exhibition of yours
legerdemain, Tim, you sweep? Or are you
really the Devil's bairn?"
"It was the Shape of Fear," said Tim, quite
"But it seemed mild as mother's milk."
"It was compounded of the good I might
have done. It is that which I fear."
He would explain no more. Later -- many
months later -- he died patiently and sweetly
in the madhouse, praying for rest. The little
beast with the yellow eyes had high mass cele-
brated for him, which, all things considered,
was almost as pathetic as it was amusing.
Dodson was in Vienna when he heard of it.
"Sa, sa!" cried he. "I wish it wasn't so
dark in the tomb! What do you suppose Tim
is looking at?"
As for Jim O'Malley, he was with diffi-
culty kept from illuminating the grave with
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