THE PORTENT AND OTHER STORIES
By George MacDonald
A STORY OF THE INNER VISION OF THE HIGHLANDERS,
COMMONLY CALLED THE SECOND SIGHT
MY DEAR SIR, KENSINGTON, May, 1864.
Allow me, with the honour due to my father's friend, to inscribe this
little volume with your name. The name of one friend is better than those
of all the Muses.
And permit me to say a few words about the story.—It is a Romance. I
am well aware that, with many readers, this epithet will be enough to
ensure condemnation. But there ought to be a place for any story, which,
although founded in the marvellous, is true to human nature and to itself.
Truth to Humanity, and harmony within itself, are almost the sole
unvarying essentials of a work of art. Even The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner—than which what more marvellous?—is true in these
respects. And Shakespere himself will allow any amount of the marvellous,
provided this truth is observed. I hope my story is thus true; and
therefore, while it claims some place, undeserving of being classed with
what are commonly called sensational novels.
I am well aware that such tales are not of much account, at present; and
greatly would I regret that they should ever become the fashion; of which,
however, there is no danger. But, seeing so much of our life must be spent
in dreaming, may there not be a still nook, shadowy, but not miasmatic, in
some lowly region of literature, where, in the pauses of labour, a man may
sit down, and dream such a day-dream as I now offer to your acceptance,
and that of those who will judge the work, in part at least, by its purely
literary claims? If I confined my pen to such results, you, at least,
would have a right to blame me. But you, for one, will, I am sure, justify
an author in dreaming sometimes.
In offering you a story, however, founded on The Second Sight, the
belief in which was common to our ancestors, I owe you, at the same time,
an apology. For the tone and colour of the story are so different from
those naturally belonging to a Celtic tale, that you might well be
inclined to refuse my request, simply on the ground that your pure
Highland blood revolted from the degenerate embodiment given to the
ancient belief. I can only say that my early education was not Celtic
enough to enable me to do better in this respect. I beg that you will
accept the offering with forgiveness, if you cannot with approbation.
To DUNCAN MCCOLL, Esq., R.N., Huntly.
CHAPTER I. My Boyhood.
CHAPTER II. The Second Hearing.
CHAPTER III. My Old Nurses Story.
CHAPTER IV. Hilton Hall.
CHAPTER V. Lady Alice.
CHAPTER VI. My Quarters.
CHAPTER VII. The Library.
CHAPTER VIII. The Somnambulist.
CHAPTER IX. The First Waking.
CHAPTER X. Love and Power.
CHAPTER XI. A New Pupil.
CHAPTER XII. Confession.
CHAPTER XIII. Questioning.
CHAPTER XIV. Jealousy.
CHAPTER XV. The Chamber of Ghosts.
CHAPTER XVI. The Clanking Shoe.
CHAPTER XVII. The Physician.
CHAPTER XVIII. Old Friends.
CHAPTER XIX. Old Constancy.
CHAPTER XX. Margaret.
CHAPTER XXI. Hilton.
CHAPTER XXII. The Sleeper.
CHAPTER XXIII. My Old Room.
CHAPTER XXIV. Prison-Breaking.
CHAPTER XXV. New Entrenchments.
CHAPTER XXVI. Escape.
CHAPTER XXVII. Freedom.
THE CRUEL PAINTER
THE WOW O'RIVEN
THE BROKEN SWORDS
THE GRAY WOLF
UNCLE CORNELIUS HIS STORY
CHAPTER I. My Boyhood.
My father belonged to the widespread family of the Campbells, and
possessed a small landed property in the north of Argyll. But although of
long descent and high connection, he was no richer than many a farmer of a
few hundred acres. For, with the exception of a narrow belt of arable land
at its foot, a bare hill formed almost the whole of his possessions. The
sheep ate over it, and no doubt found it good; I bounded and climbed all
over it, and thought it a kingdom. From my very childhood, I had rejoiced
in being alone. The sense of room about me had been one of my greatest
delights. Hence, when my thoughts go back to those old years, it is not
the house, nor the family room, nor that in which I slept, that first of
all rises before my inward vision, but that desolate hill, the top of
which was only a wide expanse of moorland, rugged with height and hollow,
and dangerous with deep, dark pools, but in many portions purple with
large-belled heather, and crowded with cranberry and blaeberry plants.
Most of all, I loved it in the still autumn morning, outstretched in
stillness, high uplifted towards the heaven. On every stalk hung the dew
in tiny drops, which, while the rising sun was low, sparkled and burned
with the hues of all the gems. Here and there a bird gave a cry; no other
sound awoke the silence. I never see the statue of the Roman youth,
praying with outstretched arms, and open, empty, level palms, as waiting
to receive and hold the blessing of the gods, but that outstretched barren
heath rises before me, as if it meant the same thing as the statue—or
were, at least, the fit room in the middle space of which to set the
praying and expectant youth.
There was one spot upon the hill, half-way between the valley and the
moorland, which was my favourite haunt. This part of the hill was covered
with great blocks of stone, of all shapes and sizes—here crowded
together, like the slain where the battle had been fiercest; there parting
asunder from spaces of delicate green—of softest grass. In the
centre of one of these green spots, on a steep part of the hill, were
three huge rocks—two projecting out of the hill, rather than
standing up from it, and one, likewise projecting from the hill, but lying
across the tops of the two, so as to form a little cave, the back of which
was the side of the hill. This was my refuge, my home within a home, my
study—and, in the hot noons, often my sleeping chamber, and my house
of dreams. If the wind blew cold on the hillside, a hollow of lulling
warmth was there, scooped as it were out of the body of the blast, which,
sweeping around, whistled keen and thin through the cracks and crannies of
the rocky chaos that lay all about; in which confusion of rocks the wind
plunged, and flowed, and eddied, and withdrew, as the sea-waves on the
cliffy shores or the unknown rugged bottoms. Here I would often lie, as
the sun went down, and watch the silent growth of another sea, which the
stormy ocean of the wind could not disturb—the sea of the darkness.
First it would begin to gather in the bottom of hollow places. Deep
valleys, and all little pits on the hill-sides, were well-springs where it
gathered, and whence it seemed to overflow, till it had buried the earth
beneath its mass, and, rising high into the heavens, swept over the faces
of the stars, washed the blinding day from them, and let them shine, down
through the waters of the dark, to the eyes of men below. I would lie till
nothing but the stars and the dim outlines of hills against the sky was to
be seen, and then rise and go home, as sure of my path as if I had been
descending a dark staircase in my father's house.
On the opposite side the valley, another hill lay parallel to mine; and
behind it, at some miles' distance, a great mountain. As often as, in my
hermit's cave, I lifted my eyes from the volume I was reading, I saw this
mountain before me. Very different was its character from that of the hill
on which I was seated. It was a mighty thing, a chieftain of the race,
seamed and scarred, featured with chasms and precipices and over-leaning
rocks, themselves huge as hills; here blackened with shade, there
overspread with glory; interlaced with the silvery lines of falling
streams, which, hurrying from heaven to earth, cared not how they went, so
it were downwards. Fearful stories were told of the gulfs, sullen waters,
and dizzy heights upon that terror-haunted mountain. In storms the wind
roared like thunder in its caverns and along the jagged sides of its
cliffs, but at other times that uplifted land-uplifted, yet secret and
full of dismay—lay silent as a cloud on the horizon.
I had a certain peculiarity of constitution, which I have some reason to
believe I inherit. It seems to have its root in an unusual delicacy of
hearing, which often conveys to me sounds inaudible to those about me.
This I have had many opportunities of proving. It has likewise, however,
brought me sounds which I could never trace back to their origin; though
they may have arisen from some natural operation which I had not
perseverance or mental acuteness sufficient to discover. From this, or, it
may be, from some deeper cause with which this is connected, arose a
certain kind of fearfulness associated with the sense of hearing, of which
I have never heard a corresponding instance. Full as my mind was of the
wild and sometimes fearful tales of a Highland nursery, fear never entered
my mind by the eyes, nor, when I brooded over tales of terror, and fancied
new and yet more frightful embodiments of horror, did I shudder at any
imaginable spectacle, or tremble lest the fancy should become fact, and
from behind the whin-bush or the elder-hedge should glide forth the tall
swaying form of the Boneless. When alone in bed, I used to lie awake, and
look out into the room, peopling it with the forms of all the persons who
had died within the scope of my memory and acquaintance. These fancied
forms were vividly present to my imagination. I pictured them pale, with
dark circles around their hollow eyes, visible by a light which glimmered
within them; not the light of life, but a pale, greenish phosphorescence,
generated by the decay of the brain inside. Their garments were white and
trailing, but torn and soiled, as by trying often in vain to get up out of
the buried coffin. But so far from being terrified by these imaginings, I
used to delight in them; and in the long winter evenings, when I did not
happen to have any book that interested me sufficiently, I used even to
look forward with expectation to the hour when, laying myself straight
upon my back, as if my bed were my coffin, I could call up from
underground all who had passed away, and see how they fared, yea, what
progress they had made towards final dissolution of form—but all the
time, with my fingers pushed hard into my ears, lest the faintest sound
should invade the silent citadel of my soul. If inadvertently I removed
one of my fingers, the agony of terror I instantly experienced is
indescribable. I can compare it to nothing but the rushing in upon my
brain of a whole churchyard of spectres. The very possibility of hearing a
sound, in such a mood, and at such a time, was almost enough to paralyse
me. So I could scare myself in broad daylight, on the open hillside, by
imagining unintelligible sounds; and my imagination was both original and
fertile in the invention of such. But my mind was too active to be often
subjected to such influences. Indeed life would have been hardly endurable
had these moods been of more than occasional occurrence. As I grew older,
I almost outgrew them. Yet sometimes one awful dread would seize me—that,
perhaps, the prophetic power manifest in the gift of second sight, which,
according to the testimony of my old nurse, had belonged to several of my
ancestors, had been in my case transformed in kind without losing its
nature, transferring its abode from the sight to the hearing, whence
resulted its keenness, and my fear and suffering.
CHAPTER II. The Second Hearing.
One summer evening, I had lingered longer than usual in my rocky retreat:
I had lain half dreaming in the mouth of my cave, till the shadows of
evening had fallen, and the gloaming had deepened half-way towards the
night. But the night had no more terrors for me than the day. Indeed, in
such regions there is a solitariness for which there seems a peculiar
sense, and upon which the shadows of night sink with a strange relief,
hiding from the eye the wide space which yet they throw more open to the
imagination. When I lifted my head, only a star here and there caught my
eye; but, looking intently into the depths of blue-grey, I saw that they
were crowded with twinkles. The mountain rose before me, a huge mass of
gloom; but its several peaks stood out against the sky with a clear, pure,
sharp outline, and looked nearer to me than the bulk from which they rose
heaven-wards. One star trembled and throbbed upon the very tip of the
loftiest, the central peak, which seemed the spire of a mighty temple
where the light was worshipped—crowned, therefore, in the darkness,
with the emblem of the day. I was lying, as I have said, with this fancy
still in my thought, when suddenly I heard, clear, though faint and far
away, the sound as of the iron-shod hoofs of a horse, in furious gallop
along an uneven rocky surface. It was more like a distant echo than an
original sound. It seemed to come from the face of the mountain, where no
horse, I knew, could go at that speed, even if its rider courted certain
destruction. There was a peculiarity, too, in the sound—a certain
tinkle, or clank, which I fancied myself able, by auricular analysis, to
distinguish from the body of the sound. Supposing the sound to be caused
by the feet of a horse, the peculiarity was just such as would result from
one of the shoes being loose. A terror—strange even to my experience—seized
me, and I hastened home. The sounds gradually died away as I descended the
hill. Could they have been an echo from some precipice of the mountain? I
knew of no road lying so that, if a horse were galloping upon it, the
sounds would be reflected from the mountain to me.
The next day, in one of my rambles, I found myself near the cottage of my
old foster-mother, who was distantly related to us, and was a trusted
servant in the family at the time I was born. On the death of my mother,
which took place almost immediately after my birth, she had taken the
entire charge of me, and had brought me up, though with difficulty; for
she used to tell me, I should never be either folk or fairy.
For some years she had lived alone in a cottage, at the bottom of a deep
green circular hollow, upon which, in walking over a healthy table-land,
one came with a sudden surprise. I was her frequent visitor. She was a
tall, thin, aged woman, with eager eyes, and well-defined clear-cut
features. Her voice was harsh, but with an undertone of great tenderness.
She was scrupulously careful in her attire, which was rather above her
station. Altogether, she had much the bearing of a gentle-woman. Her
devotion to me was quite motherly. Never having had any family of her own,
although she had been the wife of one of my father's shepherds, she
expended the whole maternity of her nature upon me. She was always my
first resource in any perplexity, for I was sure of all the help she could
give me. And as she had much influence with my father, who was rather
severe in his notions, I had had occasion to beg her interference. No
necessity of this sort, however, had led to my visit on the present
I ran down the side of the basin, and entered the little cottage. Nurse
was seated on a chair by the wall, with her usual knitting, a stocking, in
one hand; but her hands were motionless, and her eyes wide open and fixed.
I knew that the neighbours stood rather in awe of her, on the ground that
she had the second sight; but, although she often told us frightful enough
stories, she had never alluded to such a gift as being in her possession.
Now I concluded at once that she was seeing. I was confirmed in
this conclusion when, seeming to come to herself suddenly, she covered her
head with her plaid, and sobbed audibly, in spite of her efforts to
command herself. But I did not dare to ask her any questions, nor did she
attempt any excuse for her behaviour. After a few moments, she unveiled
herself, rose, and welcomed me with her usual kindness; then got me some
refreshment, and began to question me about matters at home. After a
pause, she said suddenly: "When are you going to get your commission,
Duncan, do you know?" I replied that I had heard nothing of it; that I did
not think my father had influence or money enough to procure me one, and
that I feared I should have no such good chance of distinguishing myself.
She did not answer, but nodded her head three times, slowly and with
compressed lips—apparently as much as to say, "I know better."
Just as I was leaving her, it occurred to me to mention that I had heard
an odd sound the night before. She turned towards me, and looked at me
fixedly. "What was it like, Duncan, my dear?"
"Like a horse galloping with a loose shoe," I replied.
"Duncan, Duncan, my darling!" she said, in a low, trembling voice, but
with passionate earnestness, "you did not hear it? Tell me that you did
not hear it! You only want to frighten poor old nurse: some one has been
telling you the story!"
It was my turn to be frightened now; for the matter became at once
associated with my fears as to the possible nature of my auricular
peculiarities. I assured her that nothing was farther from my intention
than to frighten her; that, on the contrary, she had rather alarmed me;
and I begged her to explain. But she sat down white and trembling, and did
not speak. Presently, however, she rose again, and saying, "I have known
it happen sometimes without anything very bad following," began to put
away the basin and plate I had been using, as if she would compel herself
to be calm before me. I renewed my entreaties for an explanation, but
without avail. She begged me to be content for a few days, as she was
quite unable to tell the story at present. She promised, however, of her
own accord, that before I left home she would tell me all she knew.
The next day a letter arrived announcing the death of a distant relation,
through whose influence my father had had a lingering hope of obtaining an
appointment for me. There was nothing left but to look out for a situation
CHAPTER III. My Old Nurses Story.
I was now almost nineteen. I had completed the usual curriculum of study
at one of the Scotch universities; and, possessed of a fair knowledge of
mathematics and physics, and what I considered rather more than a good
foundation for classical and metaphysical acquirement, I resolved to apply
for the first suitable situation that offered. But I was spared the
trouble. A certain Lord Hilton, an English nobleman, residing in one of
the midland counties, having heard that one of my father's sons was
desirous of such a situation, wrote to him, offering me the post of tutor
to his two boys, of the ages of ten and twelve. He had been partly
educated at a Scotch university; and this, it may be, had prejudiced him
in favour of a Scotch tutor; while an ancient alliance of the families by
marriage was supposed by my nurse to be the reason of his offering me the
situation. Of this connection, however, my father said nothing to me, and
it went for nothing in my anticipations. I was to receive a hundred pounds
a year, and to hold in the family the position of a gentleman, which might
mean anything or nothing, according to the disposition of the heads of the
family. Preparations for my departure were immediately commenced. I set
out one evening for the cottage of my old nurse, to bid her good-bye for
many months, probably years. I was to leave the next day for Edinburgh, on
my way to London, whence I had to repair by coach to my new abode—almost
to me like the land beyond the grave, so little did I know about it, and
so wide was the separation between it and my home. The evening was sultry
when I began my walk, and before I arrived at its end, the clouds rising
from all quarters of the horizon, and especially gathering around the
peaks of the mountain, betokened the near approach of a thunderstorm. This
was a great delight to me. Gladly would I take leave of my home with the
memory of a last night of tumultuous magnificence; followed, probably, by
a day of weeping rain, well suited to the mood of my own heart in bidding
farewell to the best of parents and the dearest of homes. Besides, in
common with most Scotchmen who are young and hardy enough to be unable to
realise the existence of coughs and rheumatic fevers, it was a positive
pleasure to me to be out in rain, hail, or snow.
"I am come to bid you good-bye, Margaret; and to hear the story which you
promised to tell me before I left home: I go to-morrow."
"Do you go so soon, my darling? Well, it will be an awful night to tell it
in; but, as I promised, I suppose I must."
At the moment, two or three great drops of rain, the first of the storm,
fell down the wide chimney, exploding in the clear turf-fire.
"Yes, indeed you must," I replied.
After a short pause, she commenced. Of course she spoke in Gaelic; and I
translate from my recollection of the Gaelic; but rather from the
impression left upon my mind, than from any recollection of the words. She
drew her chair near the fire, which we had reason to fear would soon be
put out by the falling rain, and began.
"How old the story is, I do not know. It has come down through many
generations. My grandmother told it to me as I tell it to you; and her
mother and my mother sat beside, never interrupting, but nodding their
heads at every turn. Almost it ought to begin like the fairy tales, Once
upon a time,—it took place so long ago; but it is too dreadful
and too true to tell like a fairy tale.—There were two brothers,
sons of the chief of our clan, but as different in appearance and
disposition as two men could be. The elder was fair-haired and strong,
much given to hunting and fishing; fighting too, upon occasion, I dare
say, when they made a foray upon the Saxon, to get back a mouthful of
their own. But he was gentleness itself to every one about him, and the
very soul of honour in all his doings. The younger was very dark in
complexion, and tall and slender compared to his brother. He was very fond
of book-learning, which, they say, was an uncommon taste in those times.
He did not care for any sports or bodily exercises but one; and that, too,
was unusual in these parts. It was horsemanship. He was a fierce rider,
and as much at home in the saddle as in his study-chair. You may think
that, so long ago, there was not much fit room for riding hereabouts; but,
fit or not fit, he rode. From his reading and riding, the neighbours
looked doubtfully upon him, and whispered about the black art. He usually
bestrode a great powerful black horse, without a white hair on him; and
people said it was either the devil himself, or a demon-horse from the
devil's own stud. What favoured this notion was, that, in or out of the
stable, the brute would let no other than his master go near him. Indeed,
no one would venture, after he had killed two men, and grievously maimed a
third, tearing him with his teeth and hoofs like a wild beast. But to his
master he was obedient as a hound, and would even tremble in his presence
"The youth's temper corresponded to his habits. He was both gloomy and
passionate. Prone to anger, he had never been known to forgive. Debarred
from anything on which he had set his heart, he would have gone mad with
longing if he had not gone mad with rage. His soul was like the night
around us now, dark, and sultry, and silent, but lighted up by the red
levin of wrath and torn by the bellowings of thunder-passion. He must have
his will: hell might have his soul. Imagine, then, the rage and malice in
his heart, when he suddenly became aware that an orphan girl, distantly
related to them, who had lived with them for nearly two years, and whom he
had loved for almost all that period, was loved by his elder brother, and
loved him in return. He flung his right hand above his head, swore a
terrible oath that if he might not, his brother should not, rushed out of
the house, and galloped off among the hills.
"The orphan was a beautiful girl, tall, pale, and slender, with plentiful
dark hair, which, when released from the snood, rippled down below her
knees. Her appearance formed a strong contrast with that of her favoured
lover, while there was some resemblance between her and the younger
brother. This fact seemed, to his fierce selfishness, ground for a prior
"It may appear strange that a man like him should not have had instant
recourse to his superior and hidden knowledge, by means of which he might
have got rid of his rival with far more of certainty and less of risk; but
I presume that, for the moment, his passion overwhelmed his consciousness
of skill. Yet I do not suppose that he foresaw the mode in which his
hatred was about to operate. At the moment when he learned their mutual
attachment, probably through a domestic, the lady was on her way to meet
her lover as he returned from the day's sport. The appointed place was on
the edge of a deep, rocky ravine, down in whose dark bosom brawled and
foamed a little mountain torrent. You know the place, Duncan, my dear, I
(Here she gave me a minute description of the spot, with directions how to
"Whether any one saw what I am about to relate, or whether it was put
together afterwards, I cannot tell. The story is like an old tree—so
old that it has lost the marks of its growth. But this is how my
grandmother told it to me.—An evil chance led him in the right
direction. The lovers, startled by the sound of the approaching horse,
parted in opposite directions along a narrow mountain-path on the edge of
the ravine. Into this path he struck at a point near where the lovers had
met, but to opposite sides of which they had now receded; so that he was
between them on the path. Turning his horse up the course of the stream,
he soon came in sight of his brother on the ledge before him. With a
suppressed scream of rage, he rode head-long at him, and ere he had time
to make the least defence, hurled him over the precipice. The helplessness
of the strong man was uttered in one single despairing cry as he shot into
the abyss. Then all was still. The sound of his fall could not reach the
edge of the gulf. Divining in a moment that the lady, whose name was
Elsie, must have fled in the opposite direction, he reined his steed on
his haunches. He could touch the precipice with his bridle-hand half
outstretched; his sword-hand half outstretched would have dropped a stone
to the bottom of the ravine. There was no room to wheel. One desperate
practicability alone remained. Turning his horse's head towards the edge,
he compelled him, by means of the powerful bit, to rear till he stood
almost erect; and so, his body swaying over the gulf, with quivering and
straining muscles, to turn on his hind-legs. Having completed the
half-circle, he let him drop, and urged him furiously in the opposite
direction. It must have been by the devil's own care that he was able to
continue his gallop along that ledge of rock.
"He soon caught sight of the maiden. She was leaning, half fainting,
against the precipice. She had heard her lover's last cry, and although it
had conveyed no suggestion of his voice to her ear, she trembled from head
to foot, and her limbs would bear her no farther. He checked his speed,
rode gently up to her, lifted her unresisting, laid her across the
shoulders of his horse, and, riding carefully till he reached a more open
path, dashed again wildly along the mountain-side. The lady's long hair
was shaken loose, and dropped trailing on the ground. The horse trampled
upon it, and stumbled, half dragging her from the saddle-bow. He caught
her, lifted her up, and looked at her face. She was dead. I suppose he
went mad. He laid her again across the saddle before him, and rode on,
reckless whither. Horse, and man, and maiden were found the next day,
lying at the foot of a cliff, dashed to pieces. It was observed that a
hind-shoe of the horse was loose and broken. Whether this had been the
cause of his fall, could not be told; but ever when he races, as race he
will, till the day of doom, along that mountain-side, his gallop is
mingled with the clank of the loose and broken shoe. For, like the sin,
the punishment is awful: he shall carry about for ages the phantom-body of
the girl, knowing that her soul is away, sitting with the soul of his
brother, down in the deep ravine, or scaling with him the topmost crags of
the towering mountain-peaks. There are some who, from time to time, see
the doomed man careering along the face of the mountain, with the lady
hanging across the steed; and they say it always betokens a storm, such as
this which is now raving around us."
I had not noticed till now, so absorbed had I been in her tale, that the
storm had risen to a very ecstasy of fury.
"They say, likewise, that the lady's hair is still growing; for, every
time they see her, it is longer than before; and that now such is its
length and the head-long speed of the horse, that it floats and streams
out behind, like one of those curved clouds, like a comet's tail, far up
in the sky; only the cloud is white, and the hair dark as night. And they
say it will go on growing till the Last Day, when the horse will falter
and her hair will gather in; and the horse will fall, and the hair will
twist, and twine, and wreathe itself like a mist of threads about him, and
blind him to everything but her. Then the body will rise up within it,
face to face with him, animated by a fiend, who, twining her arms around
him, will drag him down to the bottomless pit."
I may mention something which now occurred, and which had a strange effect
on my old nurse. It illustrates the assertion that we see around us only
what is within us: marvellous things enough will show themselves to the
marvellous mood.—During a short lull in the storm, just as she had
finished her story, we heard the sound of iron-shod hoofs approaching the
cottage. There was no bridle-way into the glen. A knock came to the door,
and, on opening it, we saw an old man seated on a horse, with a long
slenderly-filled sack lying across the saddle before him. He said he had
lost the path in the storm, and, seeing the light, had scrambled down to
inquire his way. I perceived at once, from the scared and mysterious look
of the old woman's eyes, that she was persuaded that this appearance had
more than a little to do with the awful rider, the terrific storm, and
myself who had heard the sound of the phantom-hoofs. As he ascended the
hill, she looked after him, with wide and pale but unshrinking eyes; then
turning in, shut and locked the door behind her, as by a natural instinct.
After two or three of her significant nods, accompanied by the compression
of her lips, she said:—
"He need not think to take me in, wizard as he is, with his disguises. I
can see him through them all. Duncan, my dear, when you suspect anything,
do not be too incredulous. This human demon is of course a wizard still,
and knows how to make himself, as well as anything he touches, take a
quite different appearance from the real one; only every appearance must
bear some resemblance, however distant, to the natural form. That man you
saw at the door was the phantom of which I have been telling you. What he
is after now, of course, I cannot tell; but you must keep a bold heart,
and a firm and wary foot, as you go home to-night."
I showed some surprise, I do not doubt; and, perhaps, some fear as well;
but I only said, "How do you know him, Margaret?"
"I can hardly tell you," she replied; "but I do know him. I think he hates
me. Often, of a wild night, when there is moonlight enough by fits, I see
him tearing around this little valley, just on the top edge—all
round; the lady's hair and the horses mane and tail driving far behind,
and mingling, vaporous, with the stormy clouds. About he goes, in wild
careering gallop; now lost as the moon goes in, then visible far round
when she looks out again—an airy, pale-grey spectre, which few eyes
but mine could see; for, as far as I am aware, no one of the family but
myself has ever possessed the double gift of seeing and hearing both. In
this case I hear no sound, except now and then a clank from the broken
shoe. But I did not mean to tell you that I had ever seen him. I am not a
bit afraid of him. He cannot do more than he may. His power is limited;
else ill enough would he work, the miscreant."
"But," said I, "what has all this, terrible as it is, to do with the
fright you took at my telling you that I had heard the sound of the broken
shoe? Surely you are not afraid of only a storm?"
"No, my boy; I fear no storm. But the fact is, that that sound is seldom
heard, and never, as far as I know, by any of the blood of that wicked
man, without betokening some ill to one of the family, and most probably
to the one who hears it—but I am not quite sure about that. Only
some evil it does portend, although a long time may elapse before it shows
itself; and I have a hope it may mean some one else than you."
"Do not wish that," I replied. "I know no one better able to bear it than
I am; and I hope, whatever it may be, that I only shall have to meet it.
It must surely be something serious to be so foretold—it can hardly
be connected with my disappointment in being compelled to be a pedagogue
instead of a soldier."
"Do not trouble yourself about that, Duncan," replied she. "A soldier you
must be. The same day you told me of the clank of the broken horseshoe, I
saw you return wounded from battle, and fall fainting from your horse in
the street of a great city—only fainting, thank God. But I have
particular reasons for being uneasy at your hearing that boding sound. Can
you tell me the day and hour of your birth?"
"No," I replied. "It seems very odd when I think of it, but I really do
not know even the day."
"Nor any one else; which is stranger still," she answered.
"How does that happen, nurse?"
"We were in terrible anxiety about your mother at the time. So ill was
she, after you were just born, in a strange, unaccountable way, that you
lay almost neglected for more than an hour. In the very act of giving
birth to you, she seemed to the rest around her to be out of her mind, so
wildly did she talk; but I knew better. I knew that she was fighting some
evil power; and what power it was, I knew full well; for twice, during her
pains, I heard the click of the horseshoe. But no one could help her.
After her delivery, she lay as if in a trance, neither dead, nor at rest,
but as if frozen to ice, and conscious of it all the while. Once more I
heard the terrible sound of iron; and, at the moment, your mother started
from her trance, screaming, 'My child! my child!' We suddenly became aware
that no one had attended to the child, and rushed to the place where he
lay wrapped in a blanket. Uncovering him, we found him black in the face,
and spotted with dark spots upon the throat. I thought he was dead; but,
with great and almost hopeless pains, we succeeded in making him breathe,
and he gradually recovered. But his mother continued dreadfully exhausted.
It seemed as if she had spent her life for her child's defence and birth.
That was you, Duncan, my dear.
"I was in constant attendance upon her. About a week after your birth, as
near as I can guess, just in the gloaming, I heard yet again the awful
clank—only once. Nothing followed till about midnight. Your mother
slept, and you lay asleep beside her. I sat by the bedside. A horror fell
upon me suddenly, though I neither saw nor heard anything. Your mother
started from her sleep with a cry, which sounded as if it came from far
away, out of a dream, and did not belong to this world. My blood curdled
with fear. She sat up in bed, with wide staring eyes and half-open rigid
lips, and, feeble as she was, thrust her arms straight out before her with
great force, her hands open and lifted up, with the palms outwards. The
whole action was of one violently repelling another. She began to talk
wildly as she had done before you were born, but, though I seemed to hear
and understand it all at the time, I could not recall a word of it
afterwards. It was as if I had listened to it when half asleep. I
attempted to soothe her, putting my arms round her, but she seemed quite
unconscious of my presence, and my arms seemed powerless upon the fixed
muscles of hers. Not that I tried to constrain her, for I knew that a
battle was going on of some kind or other, and my interference might do
awful mischief. I only tried to comfort and encourage her. All the time, I
was in a state of indescribable cold and suffering, whether more bodily or
mental I could not tell. But at length I heard yet again the clank of the
shoe A sudden peace seemed to fall upon my mind—or was it a warm,
odorous wind that filled the room? Your mother dropped her arms, and
turned feebly towards her baby. She saw that he slept a blessed sleep. She
smiled like a glorified spirit, and fell back exhausted on the pillow. I
went to the other side of the room to get a cordial. When I returned to
the bedside, I saw at once that she was dead. Her face smiled still, with
an expression of the uttermost bliss."
Nurse ceased, trembling as overcome by the recollection; and I was too
much moved and awed to speak. At length, resuming the conversation, she
said: "You see it is no wonder, Duncan, my dear, if, after all this, I
should find, when I wanted to fix the date of your birth, that I could not
determine the day or the hour when it took place. All was confusion in my
poor brain. But it was strange that no one else could, any more than I.
One thing only I can tell you about it. As I carried you across the room
to lay you down, for I assisted at your birth, I happened to look up to
the window. Then I saw what I did not forget, although I did not think of
it again till many days after,—a bright star was shining on the very
tip of the thin crescent moon."
"Oh, then," said I, "it is possible to determine the day and the very hour
when my birth took place."
"See the good of book-learning!" replied she. "When you work it out, just
let me know, my dear, that I may remember it."
"That I will."
A silence of some moments followed. Margaret resumed:—
"I am afraid you will laugh at my foolish fancies, Duncan; but in thinking
over all these things, as you may suppose I often do, lying awake in my
lonely bed, the notion sometimes comes to me: What if my Duncan be the
youth whom his wicked brother hurled into the ravine, come again in a new
body, to live out his life on the earth, cut short by his brother's
hatred? If so, his persecution of you, and of your mother for your sake,
is easy to understand. And if so, you will never be able to rest till you
find your fere, wherever she may have been born on the face of the earth.
For born she must be, long ere now, for you to find. I misdoubt me much,
however, if you will find her without great conflict and suffering
between, for the Powers of Darkness will be against you; though I have
good hope that you will overcome at last. You must forgive the fancies of
a foolish old woman, my dear."
I will not try to describe the strange feelings, almost sensations, that
arose in me while listening to these extraordinary utterances, lest it
should be supposed I was ready to believe all that Margaret narrated or
concluded. I could not help doubting her sanity; but no more could I help
feeling very peculiarly moved by her narrative.
Few more words were spoken on either side, but after receiving renewed
exhortations to carefulness on my way home, I said good-bye to dear old
nurse, considerably comforted, I must confess, that I was not doomed to be
a tutor all my days; for I never questioned the truth of that vision and
its consequent prophecy.
I went out into the midst of the storm, into the alternating throbs of
blackness and radiance; now the possessor of no more room than what my
body filled, and now isolated in world-wide space. And the thunder seemed
to follow me, bellowing after me as I went.
Absorbed in the story I had heard, I took my way, as I thought, homewards.
The whole country was well known to me. I should have said, before that
night, that I could have gone home blindfold. Whether the lightning
bewildered me and made me take a false turn, I cannot tell; for the
hardest thing to understand, in intellectual as well as moral mistakes, is—how
we came to go wrong. But after wandering for some time, plunged in
meditation, and with no warning whatever of the presence of inimical
powers, a brilliant lightning-flash showed me that at least I was not near
home. The light was prolonged for a second or two by a slight electric
pulsation; and by that I distinguished a wide space of blackness on the
ground in front of me. Once more wrapped in the folds of a thick darkness,
I dared not move. Suddenly it occurred to me what the blackness was, and
whither I had wandered. It was a huge quarry, of great depth, long
disused, and half filled with water. I knew the place perfectly. A few
more steps would have carried me over the brink. I stood still, waiting
for the next flash, that I might be quite sure of the way I was about to
take before I ventured to move. While I stood, I fancied I heard a single
hollow plunge in the black water far below. When the lightning came, I
turned, and took my path in another direction.
After walking for some time across the heath, I fell. The fall became a
roll, and down a steep declivity I went, over and over, arriving at the
Another flash soon showed me where I was-in the hollow valley, within a
couple of hundred yards from nurse's cottage. I made my way towards it.
There was no light in it, except the feeblest glow from the embers of her
peat fire. "She is in bed," I said to myself, "and I will not disturb
her." Yet something drew me towards the little window. I looked in. At
first I could see nothing. At length, as I kept gazing, I saw something,
indistinct in the darkness, like an outstretched human form.
By this time the storm had lulled. The moon had been up for some time, but
had been quite concealed by tempestuous clouds. Now, however, these had
begun to break up; and, while I stood looking into the cottage, they
scattered away from the face of the moon, and a faint vapoury gleam of her
light, entering the cottage through a window opposite that at which I
stood, fell directly on the face of my old nurse, as she lay on her back,
outstretched upon chairs, pale as death, and with her eyes closed. The
light fell nowhere but on her face. A stranger to her habits would have
thought she was dead; but she had so much of the appearance she had had on
a former occasion, that I concluded at once she was in one of her trances.
But having often heard that persons in such a condition ought not to be
disturbed, and feeling quite sure she knew best how to manage herself, I
turned, though reluctantly, and left the lone cottage behind me in the
night, with the death-like woman lying motionless in the midst of it.
I found my way home without any further difficulty, and went to bed, where
I soon fell asleep, thoroughly wearied, more by the mental excitement I
had been experiencing than by the amount of bodily exercise I had gone
My sleep was tormented with awful dreams; yet, strange to say, I awoke in
the morning refreshed and fearless. The sun was shining through the chinks
in my shutters, which had been closed because of the storm, and was making
streaks and bands of golden brilliancy upon the wall. I had dressed and
completed my preparations long before I heard the steps of the servant who
came to call me.
What a wonderful thing waking is! The time of the ghostly moonshine passes
by, and the great positive sunlight comes. A man who dreams, and knows
that he is dreaming, thinks he knows what waking is; but knows it so
little, that he mistakes, one after another, many a vague and dim change
in his dream for an awaking. When the true waking comes at last, he is
filled and overflowed with the power of its reality. So, likewise, one
who, in the darkness, lies waiting for the light about to be struck, and
trying to conceive, with all the force of his imagination, what the light
will be like, is yet, when the reality flames up before him, seized as by
a new and unexpected thing, different from and beyond all his imagining.
He feels as if the darkness were cast to an infinite distance behind him.
So shall it be with us when we wake from this dream of life into the truer
life beyond, and find all our present notions of being, thrown back as
into a dim, vapoury region of dreamland, where yet we thought we knew, and
whence we looked forward into the present. This must be what Novalis means
when he says: "Our life is not a dream; but it may become a dream, and
perhaps ought to become one."
And so I looked back upon the strange history of my past; sometimes asking
myself,—"Can it be that all this realty happened to the same me,
who am now thinking about it in doubt and wonder?"
CHAPTER IV. Hilton Hall.
As my father accompanied me to the door, where the gig, which was to carry
me over the first stage of my journey, was in waiting, a large target of
hide, well studded with brass nails, which had hung in the hall for time
unknown—to me, at least—fell on the floor with a dull bang. My
father started, but said nothing; and, as it seemed to me, rather pressed
my departure than otherwise. I would have replaced the old piece of armour
before I went, but he would not allow me to touch it, saying, with a grim
"Take that for an omen, my boy, that your armour must be worn over the
conscience, and not over the body. Be a man, Duncan, my boy. Fear nothing,
and do your duty."
A grasp of the hand was all the good-bye I could make; and I was soon
rattling away to meet the coach for Edinburgh and London. Seated on the
top, I was soon buried in a reverie, from which I was suddenly
startled by the sound of tinkling iron. Could it be that my adversary was
riding unseen alongside of the coach? Was that the clank of the ominous
shoe? But I soon discovered the cause of the sound, and laughed at my own
apprehensiveness. For I observed that the sound was repeated every time
that we passed any trees by the wayside, and that it was the peculiar echo
they gave of the loose chain and steel work about the harness. The sound
was quite different from that thrown back by the houses on the road. I
became perfectly familiar with it before the day was over.
I reached London in safety, and slept at the house of an old friend of my
father, who treated me with great kindness, and seemed altogether to take
a liking to me. Before I left he held out a hope of being able, some day
or other, to procure for me what I so much desired—a commission in
After spending a day or two with him, and seeing something of London, I
climbed once more on the roof of a coach; and, late in the afternoon, was
set down at the great gate of Hilton Hall. I walked up the broad avenue,
through the final arch of which, as through a huge Gothic window, I saw
the hall in the distance. Everything about me looked strange, rich, and
lovely. Accustomed to the scanty flowers and diminutive wood of my own
country, what I now saw gave me a feeling of majestic plenty, which I can
recall at will, but which I have never experienced again. Behind the trees
which formed the avenue, I saw a shrubbery, composed entirely of flowering
plants, almost all unknown to me. Issuing from the avenue, I found myself
amid open, wide, lawny spaces, in which the flower-beds lay like islands
of colour. A statue on a pedestal, the only white thing in the surrounding
green, caught my eye. I had seen scarcely any sculpture; and this,
attracting my attention by a favourite contrast of colour, retained it by
its own beauty. It was a Dryad, or some nymph of the woods, who had just
glided from the solitude of the trees behind, and had sprung upon the
pedestal to look wonderingly around her. A few large brown leaves lay at
her feet, borne thither by some eddying wind from the trees behind. As I
gazed, filled with a new pleasure, a drop of rain upon my face made me
look up. From a grey, fleecy cloud, with sun-whitened border, a light,
gracious, plentiful rain was falling. A rainbow sprang across the sky, and
the statue stood within the rainbow. At the same moment, from the base of
the pedestal rose a figure in white, graceful as the Dryad above, and
neither running, nor appearing to walk quickly, yet fleet as a ghost,
glided past me at a few paces, distance, and, keeping in a straight line
for the main entrance of the hall, entered by it and vanished.
I followed in the direction of the mansion, which was large, and of
several styles and ages. One wing appeared especially ancient. It was
neglected and out of repair, and had in consequence a desolate, almost
sepulchral look, an expression heightened by the number of large cypresses
which grew along its line. I went up to the central door and knocked. It
was opened by a grave, elderly butler. I passed under its flat arch, as if
into the midst of the waiting events of my story. For, as I glanced around
the hall, my consciousness was suddenly saturated, if I may be allowed the
expression, with the strange feeling—known to everyone, and yet so
strange—that I had seen it before; that, in fact, I knew it
perfectly. But what was yet more strange, and far more uncommon, was,
that, although the feeling with regard to the hall faded and vanished
instantly, and although I could not in the least surmise the appearance of
any of the regions into which I was about to be ushered, I yet followed
the butler with a kind of indefinable expectation of seeing something
which I had seen before; and every room or passage in that mansion
affected me, on entering it for the first time, with the same sensation of
previous acquaintance which I had experienced with regard to the hall.
This sensation, in every case, died away at once, leaving that portion
such as it might be expected to look to one who had never before entered
I was received by the housekeeper, a little, prim, benevolent old lady,
with colourless face and antique head-dress, who led me to the room
prepared for me. To my surprise, I found a large wood-fire burning on the
hearth; but the feeling of the place revealed at once the necessity for
it; and I scarcely needed to be informed that the room, which was upon the
ground floor, and looked out upon a little solitary grass-grown and
ivy-mantled court, had not been used for years, and therefore required to
be thus prepared for an inmate. My bedroom was a few paces down a passage
to the right.
Left alone, I proceeded to make a more critical survey of my room. Its
look of ancient mystery was to me incomparably more attractive than any
show of elegance or comfort could have been. It was large and low,
panelled throughout in oak, black with age, and worm-eaten in many parts—otherwise
entire. Both the windows looked into the little court or yard before
mentioned. All the heavier furniture of the room was likewise of black
oak, but the chairs and couches were covered with faded tapestry and
tarnished gilding, apparently the superannuated members of the general
household of seats. I could give an individual description of each, for
every atom in that room, large enough for discernable shape or colour,
seems branded into my brain. If I happen to have the least feverishness on
me, the moment I fall asleep, I am in that room.
CHAPTER V. Lady Alice.
When the bell rang for dinner, I managed to find my way to the
drawing-room, where were assembled Lady Hilton, her only daughter, a girl
of about thirteen, and the two boys, my pupils. Lady Hilton would have
been pleasant, could she have been as natural as she wished to appear. She
received me with some degree of kindness; but the half-cordiality of her
manner towards me was evidently founded on the impassableness of the gulf
between us. I knew at once that we should never be friends; that she would
never come down from the lofty table-land upon which she walked; and that
if, after being years in the house, I should happen to be dying, she would
send the housekeeper to me. All right, no doubt; I only say that it was
so. She introduced to me my pupils; fine, open-eyed, manly English boys,
with something a little overbearing in their manner, which speedily
disappeared in relation to me. Lord Hilton was not at home. Lady Hilton
led the way to the dining-room; the elder boy gave his arm to his sister,
and I was about to follow with the younger, when from one of the deep bay
windows glided out, still in white, the same figure which had passed me
upon the lawn. I started, and drew back. With a slight bow, she preceded
me, and followed the others down the great staircase. Seated at table, I
had leisure to make my observations upon them all; but most of my glances
found their way to the lady who, twice that day, had affected me like an
apparition. What is time, but the airy ocean in which ghosts come and go!
She was about twenty years of age; rather above the middle height, and
rather slight in form; her complexion white rather than pale, her face
being only less white than the deep marbly whiteness of her arms. Her eyes
were large, and full of liquid night—a night throbbing with the
light of invisible stars. Her hair seemed raven-black, and in quantity
profuse. The expression of her face, however, generally partook more of
vagueness than any other characteristic. Lady Hilton called her Lady
Alice; and she never addressed Lady Hilton but in the same ceremonious
I afterwards learned from the old house-keeper, that Lady Alice's position
in the family was a very peculiar one. Distantly connected with Lord
Hilton's family on the mother's side, she was the daughter of the late
Lord Glendarroch, and step-daughter to Lady Hilton, who had become Lady
Hilton within a year after Lord Glendarroch's death. Lady Alice, then
quite a child, had accompanied her stepmother, to whom she was moderately
attached, and who had been allowed to retain undisputed possession of her.
She had no near relatives, else the fortune I afterwards found to be at
her disposal would have aroused contending claims to the right of
Although she was in many respects kindly treated by her stepmother,
certain peculiarities tended to her isolation from the family pursuits and
pleasures. Lady Alice had no accomplishments. She could neither spell her
own language, nor even read it aloud. Yet she delighted in reading to
herself, though, for the most part, books which Mrs. Wilson characterised
as very odd. Her voice, when she spoke, had a quite indescribable music in
it; yet she neither sang nor played. Her habitual motion was more like a
rhythmical gliding than an ordinary walk, yet she could not dance. Mrs.
Wilson hinted at other and more serious peculiarities, which she either
could not, or would not describe; always shaking her head gravely and
sadly, and becoming quite silent, when I pressed for further explanation;
so that, at last, I gave up all attempts to arrive at an understanding of
the mystery by her means. Not the less, however, I speculated on the
One thing soon became evident to me: that she was considered not merely
deficient as to the power of intellectual acquirement, but in a quite
abnormal intellectual condition. Of this, however, I could myself see no
sign. The peculiarity, almost oddity, of some of her remarks, was
evidently not only misunderstood, but, with relation to her mental state,
misinterpreted. Such remarks Lady Hilton generally answered only by an
elongation of the lips intended to represent a smile. To me, they appeared
to indicate a nature closely allied to genius, if not identical with it-a
power of regarding things from an original point of view, which perhaps
was the more unfettered in its operation from the fact that she was
incapable of looking at them in the ordinary common-place way. It seemed
to me, sometimes, as if her point of observation was outside of the sphere
within which the thing observed took place; and as if what she said, had a
relation, occasionally, to things and thoughts and mental conditions
familiar to her, but at which not even a definite guess could be made by
me. I am compelled to acknowledge, however, that with such utterances as
these mingled now and then others, silly enough for any drawing-room young
lady; which seemed again to be accepted by the family as proofs that she
was not altogether out of her right mind. She was gentle and kind
to the children, as they were still called; and they seemed reasonably
fond of her.
There was something to me exceedingly touching in the solitariness of this
girl; for no one spoke to her as if she were like other people, or as if
any heartiness were possible between them. Perhaps no one could have felt
quite at home with her but a mother, whose heart had been one with hers
from a season long anterior to the development of any repulsive oddity.
But her position was one of peculiar isolation, for no one really
approached her individual being; and that she should be unaware of this
loneliness, seemed to me saddest of all. I soon found, however, that the
most distant attempt on my part to show her attention, was either received
with absolute indifference, or coldly repelled without the slightest
But I return to the first night of my sojourn at Hilton Hall.
CHAPTER VI. My Quarters.
After making arrangements for commencing work in the morning, I took my
leave, and retired to my own room, intent upon carrying out with more
minuteness the survey I had already commenced: several cupboards in the
wall, and one or two doors, apparently of closets, had especially
attracted my attention. Strange was its look as I entered—as of a
room hollowed out of the past, for a memorial of dead times. The fire had
sunk low, and lay smouldering beneath the white ashes, like the life of
the world beneath the snow, or the heart of a man beneath cold and grey
thoughts. I lighted the candles which stood upon the table, but the room,
instead of being brightened looked blacker than before, for the light
revealed its essential blackness.
As I cast my eyes around me, standing with my back to the hearth (on
which, for mere companionship's sake, I had just heaped fresh wood), a
thrill ran suddenly throughout my frame. I felt as if, did it last a
moment longer, I should become aware of another presence in the room; but,
happily for me, it ceased before it had reached that point; and I,
recovering my courage, remained ignorant of the cause of my fear, if there
were any, other than the nature of the room itself. With a candle in my
hand, I proceeded to open the various cupboards and closets. At first I
found nothing remarkable about any of them. The latter were quite empty,
except the last I came to, which had a piece of very old elaborate
tapestry hanging at the back of it. Lifting this up, I saw what seemed at
first to be panels, corresponding to those which formed the room; but on
looking more closely, I discovered that this back of the closet was, or
had been, a door. There was nothing unusual in this, especially in such an
old house; but the discovery roused in me a strong desire to know what lay
behind the old door. I found that it was secured only by an ordinary bolt,
from which the handle had been removed. Soothing my conscience with the
reflection that I had a right to know what sort of place had communication
with my room, I succeeded, by the help of my deer-knife, in forcing back
the rusty bolt; and though, from the stiffness of the hinges, I dreaded a
crack, they yielded at last with only a creak.
The opening door revealed a large hall, empty utterly, save of dust and
cobwebs, which festooned it in all quarters, and gave it an appearance of
unutterable desolation. The now familiar feeling, that I had seen the
place before, filled my mind the first moment, and passed away the next. A
broad, right-angled staircase, with massive banisters, rose from the
middle of the hall. This staircase could not have originally belonged to
the ancient wing which I had observed on my first approach, being much
more modern; but I was convinced, from the observations I had made as to
the situation of my room, that I was bordering upon, if not within, the
oldest portion of the pile. In sudden horror, lest I should hear a light
footfall upon the awful stair, I withdrew hurriedly, and having secured
both the doors, betook myself to my bedroom; in whose dingy four-post bed,
with its carving and plumes reminding me of a hearse, I was soon ensconced
amidst the snowiest linen, with the sweet and clean odour of lavender. In
spite of novelty, antiquity, speculation, and dread, I was soon fast
asleep; becoming thereby a fitter inhabitant of such regions, than when I
moved about with restless and disturbing curiosity, through their ancient
and death-like repose.
I made no use of my discovered door, although I always intended doing so;
especially after, in talking about the building with Lady Hilton, I found
that I was at perfect liberty to make what excursions I pleased into the
My pupils turned out to be teachable, and therefore my occupation was
pleasant. Their sister frequently came to me for help, as there happened
to be just then an interregnum of governesses: soon she settled into a
After a few weeks Lord Hilton returned. Though my room was so far from the
great hall, I heard the clank of his spurs on its pavement. I trembled;
for it sounded like the broken shoe. But I shook off the influence in a
moment, heartily ashamed of its power over me. Soon I became familiar
enough both with the sound and its cause; for his lordship rarely went
anywhere except on horseback, and was booted and spurred from morning till
He received me with some appearance of interest, which immediately
stiffened and froze. Beginning to shake hands with me as if he meant it,
he instantly dropped my hand, as if it had stung him.
His nobility was of that sort which stands in constant need of repair.
Like a weakly constitution, it required keeping up, and his lordship could
not be said to neglect it; for he seemed to find his principal employment
in administering continuous doses of obsequiousness to his own pride. His
rank, like a coat made for some large ancestor, hung loose upon him: he
was always trying to persuade himself that it was an excellent fit, but
ever with an unacknowledged misgiving. This misgiving might have done him
good, had he not met it with renewed efforts at looking that which he
feared he was not. Yet this man was capable of the utmost persistency in
carrying out any scheme he had once devised. Enough of him for the
present: I seldom came into contact with him.
I scarcely ever saw Lady Alice, except at dinner, or by accidental meeting
in the grounds and passages of the house; and then she took no notice of
CHAPTER VII. The Library.
One day, a week after his arrival, Lord Hilton gave a dinner-party to some
of his neighbours and tenants. I entered the drawing-room rather late, and
saw that, though there were many guests, not one was talking to Lady
Alice. She appeared, however, altogether unconscious of neglect. Presently
dinner was announced, and the company marshalled themselves, and took
their way to the dining-room. Lady Alice was left unattended, the guests
taking their cue from the behaviour of their entertainers. I ventured to
go up to her, and offer her my arm. She made me a haughty bow, and passed
on before me unaccompanied. I could not help feeling hurt at this, and I
think she saw it; but it made no difference to her behaviour, except that
she avoided everything that might occasion me the chance of offering my
Nor did I get any further with Lady Hilton. Her manner and smile remained
precisely the same as on our first interview. She did not even show any
interest in the fact that her daughter, Lady Lucy, had joined her brothers
in the schoolroom. I had an uncomfortable feeling that the latter was like
her mother, and was not to be trusted. Self-love is the foulest of all
foul feeders, and will defile that it may devour. But I must not
The neglected library was open to me at all hours; and in it I often took
refuge from the dreariness of unsympathetic society. I was never admitted
within the magic circle of the family interests and enjoyments. If there
was such a circle, Lady Alice and I certainly stood outside of it; but
whether even then it had any real inside to it, I doubted much.
Nevertheless, as I have said, our common exclusion had not the effect of
bringing us together as sharers of the same misfortune. In the library I
found companions more to my need. But, even there, they were not easy to
find; for the books were in great confusion. I could discover no
catalogue, nor could I hear of the existence of such a useless luxury. One
morning at breakfast, therefore, I asked Lord Hilton if I might arrange
and catalogue the books during my leisure hours. He replied:—
"Do anything you like with them, Mr. Campbell, except destroy them."
Now I was in my element. I never had been by any means a book-worm; but
the very outside of a book had a charm to me. It was a kind of sacrament—an
outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace; as, indeed,
what on God's earth is not? So I set to work amongst the books, and soon
became familiar with many titles at least, which had been perfectly
unknown to me before. I found a perfect set of our poets-perfect according
to the notion of the editor and the issue of the publisher, although it
omitted both Chaucer and George Herbert. I began to nibble at that portion
of the collection which belonged to the sixteenth century; but with little
success. I found nothing, to my idea, but love poems without any love in
them, and so I soon became weary. But I found in the library what I liked
far better—many romances of a very marvellous sort, and plentiful
interruption they gave to the formation of the catalogue. I likewise came
upon a whole nest of the German classics which seemed to have kept their
places undisturbed, in virtue of their unintelligibility. There must have
been some well-read scholar in the family, and that not long before, to
judge by the near approach of the line of this literature; happening to be
a tolerable reader of German, I found in these volumes a mine of wealth
inexhaustible. I learned from Mrs. Wilson that this scholar was a younger
brother of Lord Hilton, who had died about twenty years before. He had led
a retired, rather lonely life, was of a melancholy and brooding
disposition, and was reported to have had an unfortunate love-story. This
was one of many histories which she gave me. For the library being dusty
as a catacomb, the private room of Old Time himself, I had often to betake
myself to her for assistance. The good lady had far more regard than the
owners of it for the library, and was delighted with the pains I was
taking to re-arrange and clean it. She would allow no one to help me but
herself; and to many a long-winded story, most of which I forgot as soon
as I heard them, did I listen, or seem to listen, while she dusted the
shelves and I the books.
One day I had sent a servant to ask Mrs. Wilson to come to me. I had taken
down all the books from a hitherto undisturbed corner, and had seated
myself on a heap of them, no doubt a very impersonation of the genius of
the place; for while I waited for the housekeeper, I was consuming a
morsel of an ancient metrical romance. After waiting for some time, I
glanced towards the door, for I had begun to get impatient for the
entrance of my helper. To my surprise, there stood Lady Alice, her eyes
fixed upon me with an expression I could not comprehend. Her face
instantly altered to its usual look of indifference, dashed with the least
possible degree of scorn, as she turned and walked slowly away. I rose
involuntarily. An old cavalry sword, which I had just taken down from the
wall, and had placed leaning against the books from which I now rose, fell
with a clash to the floor. I started; for it was a sound that always
startled me; and stooping I lifted the weapon. But what was my surprise
when I raised my head, to see once more the face of Lady Alice staring in
at the door! yet not the same face, for it had changed in the moment that
had passed. It was pale with fear—not fright; and her great black
eyes were staring beyond me as if she saw something through the wall of
the room. Once more her face altered to the former scornful indifference,
and she vanished. Keen of hearing as I was, I had never yet heard the
footstep of Lady Alice.
CHAPTER VIII. The Somnambulist.
One night I was sitting in my room, devouring an old romance which I had
brought from the library. It was late. The fire blazed bright; but the
candles were nearly burnt out, and I grew sleepy over the volume, romance
as it was.
Suddenly I found myself on my feet, listening with an agony of intention.
Whether I had heard anything I could not tell; but I felt as if I had.
Yes; I was sure of it. Far away, somewhere in the labyrinthine pile, I
heard a faint cry. Driven by some secret impulse, I flew, without a
moment's reflection, to the closet door, lifted the tapestry within,
unfastened the second door, and stood in the great waste echoing hall,
amid the touches, light and ghostly, of the cobwebs set afloat in the
eddies occasioned by my sudden entrance.
A faded moonbeam fell on the floor, and filled the place with an ancient
dream-light, which wrought strangely on my brain, and filled it, as if it,
too, were but a deserted, sleepy house, haunted by old dreams and
memories. Recollecting myself, I went back for a light; but the candles
were both flickering in the sockets, and I was compelled to trust to the
moon. I ascended the staircase. Old as it was, not a board creaked, not a
banister shook—the whole felt solid as rock. Finding, at length, no
more stair to ascend, I groped my way on; for here there was no direct
light from the moon—only the light of the moonlit air. I was in some
trepidation, I confess; for how should I find my way back? But the worst
result likely to ensue was, that I should have to spend the night without
knowing where; for with the first glimmer of morning, I should be able to
return to my room. At length, after wandering into several rooms and out
again, my hand fell on a latched door. I opened it, and entered a long
corridor, with many windows on one side. Broad strips of moonlight lay
slantingly across the narrow floor, divided by regular intervals of shade.
I started, and my heart swelled; for I saw a movement somewhere—I
could neither tell where, nor of what: I was only aware of motion. I stood
in the first shadow, and gazed, but saw nothing. I sped across the light
to the next shadow, and stood again, looking with fearful fixedness of
gaze towards the far end of the corridor. Suddenly a white form glimmered
and vanished. I crossed to the next shadow. Again a glimmer and vanishing,
but nearer. Nerving myself to the utmost, I ceased the stealthiness of my
movements, and went forward, slowly and steadily. A tall form, apparently
of a woman, dressed in a long white robe, appeared in one of the streams
of light, threw its arms over its head, gave a wild cry—which,
notwithstanding its wildness and force, had a muffled sound, as if many
folds, either of matter or of space, intervened—and fell at full
length along the moonlight. Amidst the thrill of agony which shook me at
the cry, I rushed forward, and, kneeling beside the prostrate figure,
discovered that, unearthly as was the scream which had preceded her fall,
it was the Lady Alice. I saw the fact in a moment: the Lady Alice was a
somnambulist. Startled by the noise of my advance, she had awaked; and the
usual terror and fainting had followed. She was cold and motionless as
death. What was to be done? If I called, the probability was that no one
would hear me; or if any one should hear—but I need not follow the
course of my thought, as I tried in vain to recover the poor girl. Suffice
it to say, that both for her sake and my own, I could not face the chance
of being found, in the dead of night, by common-minded domestics, in such
I was kneeling by her side, not knowing what to do, when a horror, as from
the presence of death suddenly recognized, fell upon me. I thought she
must be dead. But at the same moment, I hear, or seemed to hear, (how
should I know which?) the rapid gallop of a horse, and the clank of a
In an agony of fear, I caught her up in my arms, and, carrying her on my
arms, as one carries a sleeping child, hurried back through the corridor.
Her hair, which was loose, trailed on the ground; and, as I fled, I
trampled on it and stumbled. She moaned; and that instant the gallop
ceased. I lifted her up across my shoulder, and carried her more easily.
How I found my way to the stair I cannot tell: I know that I groped about
for some time, like one in a dream with a ghost in his arms. At last I
reached it, and descending, crossed the hall, and entered my room. There I
placed Lady Alice upon an old couch, secured the doors, and began to
breathe—and think. The first thing was to get her warm, for she was
cold as the dead. I covered her with my plaid and my dressing-gown, pulled
the couch before the fire, and considered what to do next.
CHAPTER IX. The First Waking.
While I hesitated, Nature had her own way, and, with a deep-drawn sigh,
Lady Alice opened her eyes. Never shall I forget the look of mingled
bewilderment, alarm, and shame, with which her great eyes met mine. But,
in a moment, this expression changed to that of anger. Her dark eyes
flashed with light; and a cloud of roseate wrath grew in her face, till it
glowed with the opaque red of a camellia. She had almost started from the
couch, when, apparently discovering the unsuitableness of her dress, she
checked her impetuosity, and remained leaning on her elbow. Overcome by
her anger, her beauty, and my own confusion, I knelt before her, unable to
speak, or to withdraw my eyes from hers. After a moment's pause, she began
to question me like a queen, and I to reply like a culprit.
"How did I come here?"
"I carried you."
"Where did you find me, pray?"
Her lip curled with ten times the usual scorn.
"In the old house, in a long corridor."
"What right had you to be there?"
"I heard a cry, and could not help going."
"Tis impossible.—I see. Some wretch told you, and you watched for
"I did not, Lady Alice."
She burst into tears, and fell back on the couch, with her face turned
away. Then, anger reviving, she went on through her sobs:—
"Why did you not leave me where I fell? You had done enough to hurt me
without bringing me here."
And again she fell a-weeping.
Now I found words.
"Lady Alice," I said, "how could I leave you lying in the moonlight?
Before the sun rose, the terrible moon might have distorted your beautiful
"Be silent, sir. What have you to do with my face?"
"And the wind, Lady Alice, was blowing through the corridor windows, keen
and cold as the moonlight. How could I leave you?"
"You could have called for help."
"Forgive me, Lady Alice, if I erred in thinking you would rather command
the silence of a gentleman to whom an accident had revealed your secret,
than be exposed to the domestics who would have gathered round us."
Again she half raised herself, and again her eyes flashed.
"A secret with you, sir!"
"But, besides, Lady Alice," I cried, springing to my feet, in distress at
her hardness, "I heard the horse with the clanking shoe, and, in terror, I
caught you up, and fled with you, almost before I knew what I did. And I
hear it now—I hear it now!" I cried, as once more the ominous sound
rang through my brain.
The angry glow faded from her face, and its paleness grew almost ghastly
"Do you hear it?" she said, throwing back her covering, and rising
from the couch. "I do not."
She stood listening with distended eyes, as if they were the gates
by which such sounds entered.
"I do not hear it," she said again, after a pause. "It must be gone now."
Then, turning to me, she laid her hand on my arm, and looked at me. Her
black hair, disordered and entangled, wandered all over her white dress to
her knees. Her face was paler than ever; and her eyes were so wide open
that I could see the white all round the large dark iris.
"Did you hear it?" she said. "No one ever heard it before but me. I must
forgive you—you could not help it. I will trust you, too. Take me to
Without a word of reply, I wrapped my plaid about her. Then bethinking me
of my chamber-candle, I lighted it, and opening the two doors, led her out
of the room.
"How is this?" she asked. "Why do you take me this way? I do not know the
"This is the way I brought you in, Lady Alice," I answered. "I know no
other way to the spot where I found you. And I can guide you no farther
than there—hardly even so far, for I groped my way there for the
first time this night or morning—whichever it may be."
"It is past midnight, but not morning yet," she replied, "I always know.
But there must be another way from your room?"
"Yes, of course; but we should have to pass the housekeeper's door—she
is always late."
"Are we near her room? I should know my way from there. I fear it would
not surprise any of the household to see me. They would say—'It is
only Lady Alice.' Yet I cannot tell you how I shrink from being seen. No—I
will try the way you brought me—if you do not mind going back with
This conversation passed in low tone and hurried words. It was scarcely
over before we found ourselves at the foot of the staircase. Lady Alice
shivered, and drew the plaid close round her.
We ascended, and soon found the corridor; but when we got through it, she
was rather bewildered. At length, after looking into several of the rooms,
empty all, except for stray articles of ancient furniture, she exclaimed,
as she entered one, and, taking the candle from my hand, held it above her
"Ah, yes! I am right at last. This is the haunted room. I know my way
I caught a darkling glimpse of a large room, apparently quite furnished;
but how, except from the general feeling of antiquity and mustiness, I
could not tell. Little did I think then what memories—old, now, like
the ghosts that with them haunt the place—would ere long find their
being and take their abode in that ancient room, to forsake it never more.
In strange, half-waking moods, I seem to see the ghosts and the memories
flitting together through the spectral moonlight, and weaving mystic
dances in and out of the storied windows and the tapestried walls.
At the door of this room she said, "I must leave you here. I will put down
the light a little further on, and you can come for it. I owe you many
thanks. You will not be afraid of being left so near the haunted room?"
I assured her that at present I felt strong enough to meet all the ghosts
in or out of Hades. Turning, she smiled a sad, sweet smile, then went on a
few paces, and disappeared. The light, however, remained; and I found the
candle, with my plaid, deposited at the foot of a short flight of steps,
at right angles to the passage she left me in. I made my way back to my
room, threw myself on the couch on which she had so lately lain, and
neither went to bed nor slept that night. Before the morning, I had fully
entered that phase of individual development commonly called love,
of which the real nature is as great a mystery to me now, as it was at any
period previous to its evolution in myself.
CHAPTER X. Love and Power.
When the morning came, I began to doubt whether my wakefulness had not
been part of my dream, and I had not dreamed the whole of my supposed
adventures. There was no sign of a lady's presence left in the room.—How
could there have been?—But throwing the plaid which covered me
aside, my hand was caught by a single thread of something so fine that I
could not see it till the light grew strong. I wound it round and round my
finger, and doubted no longer.
At breakfast there was no Lady Alice—nor at dinner. I grew uneasy,
but what could I do? I soon learned that she was ill; and a weary
fortnight passed before I saw her again. Mrs. Wilson told me that she had
caught cold, and was confined to her room. So I was ill at ease, not from
love alone, but from anxiety as well. Every night I crept up through the
deserted house to the stair where she had vanished, and there sat in the
darkness or groped and peered about for some sign. But I saw no light
even, and did not know where her room was. It might be far beyond this
extremity of my knowledge; for I discovered no indication of the proximity
of the inhabited portion of the house. Mrs. Wilson said there was nothing
serious the matter; but this did not satisfy me, for I imagined something
mysterious in the way in which she spoke.
As the days went on, and she did not appear, my soul began to droop within
me; my intellect seemed about to desert me altogether. In vain I tried to
read. Nothing could fix my attention. I read and re-read the same page;
but although I understood every word as I read, I found when I came to a
pause, that there lingered in my mind no palest notion of the idea. It was
just what one experiences in attempting to read when half-asleep.
I tried Euclid, and fared a little better with that. But having now to
initiate my boys into the mysteries of equations, I soon found that
although I could manage a very simple one, yet when I attempted one more
complex—one in which something bordering upon imagination was
necessary to find out the object for which to appoint the symbol to handle
it by—the necessary power of concentration was itself a missing
But although my thoughts were thus beyond my control, my duties were not
altogether irksome to me. I remembered that they kept me near her; and
although I could not learn, I found that I could teach a little.
Perhaps it is foolish to dwell upon an individual variety of an almost
universal stage in the fever of life; but one exception to these
indications of mental paralysis I think worth mentioning.
I continued my work in the library, although it did not advance with the
same steadiness as before. One day, in listless mood, I took up a volume,
without knowing what it was, or what I sought. It opened at the Amoretti
of Edmund Spenser. I was on the point of closing it again, when a line
caught my eye. I read the sonnet; read another; found I could understand
them perfectly; and that hour the poetry of the sixteenth century,
hitherto a sealed fountain, became an open well of refreshment, and the
strength that comes from sympathy. What if its second-rate writers were
full of conceits and vagaries, the feelings are very indifferent to the
mere intellectual forms around which the same feelings in others have
gathered, if only by their means they hint at, and sometimes express
themselves. Now I understood this old fantastic verse, and knew that the
foam-bells on the torrent of passionate feeling are iris-hued. And what
was more—it proved an intellectual nexus between my love and my
studies, or at least a bridge by which I could pass from the one to the
That same day, I remember well, Mrs. Wilson told me that Lady Alice was
much better. But as days passed, and still she did not make her
appearance, my anxiety only changed its object, and I feared that it was
from aversion to me that she did not join the family. But her name was
never mentioned in my hearing by any of the other members of it; and her
absence appeared to be to them a matter of no moment or interest.
One night, as I sat in my room, I found, as usual, that it was impossible
to read; and throwing the book aside, relapsed into that sphere of thought
which now filled my soul, and had for its centre the Lady Alice. I
recalled her form as she lay on the couch, and brooded over the
remembrance till a longing to see her, almost unbearable, arose within me.
"Would to heaven," I said to myself, "that will were power!"
In this concurrence of idleness, distraction, and vehement desire, I found
all at once, without any foregone resolution, that I was concentrating and
intensifying within me, until it rose almost to a command, the operative
volition that Lady Alice should come to me. In a moment more I trembled at
the sense of a new power which sprang into conscious being within me. I
had had no prevision of its existence, when I gave way to such extravagant
and apparently helpless wishes. I now actually awaited the fulfilment of
my desire; but in a condition ill-fitted to receive it, for the effort had
already exhausted me to such a degree, that every nerve was in a conscious
tremor. Nor had I long to wait.
I heard no sound of approach: the closet-door folded back, and in glided,
open-eyed, but sightless pale as death, and clad in white, ghostly-pure
and saint-like, the Lady Alice. I shuddered from head to foot at what I
had done. She was more terrible to me in that moment than any pale-eyed
ghost could have been. For had I not exercised a kind of necromantic art,
and roused without awaking the slumbering dead? She passed me, walking
round the table at which I was seated, went to the couch, laid herself
down with a maidenly care, turned a little on one side, with her face
towards me, and gradually closed her eyes. In something deeper than sleep
she lay, and yet not in death. I rose, and once more knelt beside her, but
dared not touch her. In what far realms of life might the lovely soul be
straying! What mysterious modes of being might now be the homely
surroundings of her second life! Thoughts unutterable rose in me,
culminated, and sank, like the stars of heaven, as I gazed on the present
symbol of an absent life—a life that I loved by means of the symbol;
a symbol that I loved because of the life. How long she lay thus, how long
I gazed upon her thus, I do not know. Gradually, but without my being able
to distinguish the gradations, her countenance altered to that of one who
sleeps. But the change did not end there. A colour, faint as the blush in
the centre of a white rose, tinged her lips, and deepened; then her cheek
began to share in the hue, then her brow and her neck. The colour was that
of the cloud which, the farthest from the sunset, yet acknowledges the
rosy atmosphere. I watched, as it were, the dawn of a soul on the horizon
of the visible. The first approaches of its far-off flight were manifest;
and as I watched, I saw it come nearer and nearer, till its great, silent,
speeding pinions were folded, and it looked forth, a calm, beautiful,
infinite woman, from the face and form sleeping before me.
I knew that she was awake, some moments before she opened her eyes. When
at last those depths of darkness disclosed themselves, slowly uplifting
their white cloudy portals, the same consternation she had formerly
manifested, accompanied by yet greater anger, followed.
"Yet again! Am I your slave, because I am weak?" She rose in the majesty
of wrath, and moved towards the door.
"Lady Alice, I have not touched you. I am to blame, but not as you think.
Could I help longing to see you? And if the longing passed, ere I was
aware, into a will that you should come, and you obeyed it, forgive me."
I hid my face in my hands, overcome by conflicting emotions. A kind of
stupor came over me. When I lifted my head, she was standing by the
"I have waited," she said, "to make a request of you."
"Do not utter it, Lady Alice. I know what it is. I give you my word—my
solemn promise, if you like—that I will never do it again." She
thanked me, with a smile, and vanished.
Much to my surprise, she appeared at dinner next day. No notice was taken
of her, except by the younger of my pupils, who called out,—
"Hallo, Alice! Are you down?"
She smiled and nodded, but did not speak. Everything went on as usual.
There was no change in her behaviour, except in one point. I ventured the
experiment of paying her some ordinary enough attention. She thanked me,
without a trace of the scornful expression I all but expected to see upon
her beautiful face. But when I addressed her about the weather, or
something equally interesting, she made no reply; and Lady Hilton gave me
a stare, as much as to say, "Don't you know it's of no use to talk to
her?" Alice saw the look, and colouring to the eyes, rose, and left the
room. When she had gone, Lady Hilton said to me,—
"Don't speak to her, Mr. Campbell—it distresses her. She is very
peculiar, you know."
She could not hide the scorn and dislike with which she spoke; and I could
not help saying to myself, "What a different thing scorn looks on your
face, Lady Hilton!" for it made her positively and hatefully ugly for the
moment—to my eyes, at least.
After this, Alice sat down with us at all our meals, and seemed tolerably
well. But, in some indescribable way, she was quite a different person
from the Lady Alice who had twice awaked in my presence. To use a phrase
common in describing one of weak intellect—she never seemed to be
all there. There was something automatical in her movements; and a sort of
frozen indifference was the prevailing expression of her countenance. When
she smiled, a sweet light shone in her eyes, and she looked for the moment
like the Lady Alice of my nightly dreams. But, altogether, the Lady Alice
of the night, and the Lady Alice of the day, were two distinct persons. I
believed that the former was the real one.
What nights I had now, watching and striving lest unawares I should fall
into the exercise of my new power! I allowed myself to think of her as
much as I pleased in the daytime, or at least as much as I dared; for when
occupied with my pupils, I dreaded lest any abstraction should even hint
that I had a thought to conceal. I knew that I could not hurt her then;
for that only in the night did she enter that state of existence in which
my will could exercise authority over her. But at night—at night—when
I knew she lay there, and might be lying here; when but a thought would
bring her, and that thought was fluttering its wings, ready to spring
awake out of the dreams of my heart—then the struggle was fearful.
And what added force to the temptation was, that to call her to me in the
night, seemed like calling the real immortal Alice forth from the tomb in
which she wandered about all day. It was as painful to me to see her such
in the day, as it was entracing to remember her such as I had seen her in
the night. What matter if her true self came forth in anger against me?
What was I? It was enough for my life, I said, to look on her, such as she
really was. "Bring her yet once, and tell her all—tell her how
madly, hopelessly you love her. She will forgive you at least," said a
voice within me. But I heard it as the voice of the tempter, and kept down
the thought which might have grown to the will.
CHAPTER XI. A New Pupil.
One day, exactly three weeks after her last visit to my room, as I was
sitting with my three pupils in the schoolroom, Lady Alice entered, and
began to look on the bookshelves as if she wanted some volume. After a few
moments, she turned, and, approaching the table, said to me, in an abrupt,
yet hesitating way.
"Mr. Campbell, I cannot spell. How am I to learn?"
I thought for a moment, and replied: "Copy a passage every day, Lady
Alice, from some favourite book. Then, if you allow me, I shall be most
happy to point out any mistakes you may have made."
"Thank you, Mr. Campbell, I will; but I am afraid you will despise me,
when you find how badly I spell."
"There is no fear of that," I rejoined. "It is a mere peculiarity. So long
as one can think well, spelling is altogether secondary."
"Thank you; I will try," she said, and left the room. Next day, she
brought me an old ballad, written tolerably, but in a school-girl's hand.
She had copied the antique spelling, letter for letter.
"This is quite correct," I said; "but to copy such as this will not teach
you properly; for it is very old, and consequently old-fashioned."
"Is it old? Don't we spell like that now? You see I do not know anything
about it. You must set me a task, then."
This I undertook with more pleasure than I dared to show. Every day she
brought me the appointed exercise, written with a steadily improving hand.
To my surprise, I never found a single error in the spelling. Of course,
when, advancing a step in the process, I made her write from my dictation,
she did make blunders, but not so many as I had expected; and she seldom
repeated one after correction.
This new association gave me many opportunities of doing more for her than
merely teaching her to spell. We talked about what she copied; and I had
to explain. I also told her about the writers. Soon she expressed a desire
to know something of figures. We commenced arithmetic. I proposed geometry
along with it, and found the latter especially fitted to her powers. One
by one we included several other necessary branches; and ere long I had
four around the schoolroom table—equally my pupils. Whether the
attempts previously made to instruct her had been insufficient or
misdirected, or whether her intellectual powers had commenced a fresh
growth, I could not tell; but I leaned to the latter conclusion,
especially after I began to observe that her peculiar remarks had become
modified in form, though without losing any of their originality. The
unearthliness of her beauty likewise disappeared, a slight colour
displacing the almost marbly whiteness of her cheek.
Long before Lady Alice had made this progress, my nightly struggles began
to diminish in violence. They had now entirely ceased. The temptation had
left me. I felt certain that for weeks she had never walked in her sleep.
She was beyond my power, and I was glad of it.
I was, of course, most careful of my behaviour during all this period. I
strove to pay Lady Alice no more attention than I paid to the rest of my
pupils; and I cannot help thinking that I succeeded. But now and then, in
the midst of some instruction I was giving Lady Alice, I caught the eye of
Lady Lucy, a sharp, common-minded girl, fixed upon one or the other of us,
with an inquisitive vulgar expression, which I did not like. This made me
more careful still. I watched my tones, to keep them even, and free from
any expression of the feeling of which my heart was full. Sometimes,
however, I could not help revealing the gratification I felt when she made
some marvellous remark—marvellous, I mean, in relation to her other
attainments; such a remark as a child will sometimes make, showing that he
has already mastered, through his earnest simplicity, some question that
has for ages perplexed the wise and the prudent. On one of these
occasions, I found the cat eyes of Lady Lucy glittering on me. I turned
away; not, I fear, without showing some displeasure.
Whether it was from Lady Lucy's evil report, or that the change in Lady
Alice's habits and appearance had attracted the attention of Lady Hilton,
I cannot tell; but one morning she appeared at the door of the study, and
called her. Lady Alice rose and went, with a slight gesture of impatience.
In a few minutes she returned, looking angry and determined, and resumed
her seat. But whatever it was that had passed between them, it had
destroyed that quiet flow of the feelings which was necessary to the
working of her thoughts. In vain she tried: she could do nothing
correctly. At last she burst into tears and left the room. I was almost
beside myself with distress and apprehension. She did not return that day.
Next morning she entered at the usual hour, looking composed, but paler
than of late, and showing signs of recent weeping. When we were all
seated, and had just commenced our work, I happened to look up, and caught
her eyes intently fixed on me. They dropped instantly, but without any
appearance of confusion. She went on with her arithmetic, and succeeded
tolerably. But this respite was to be of short duration. Lady Hilton again
entered, and called her. She rose angrily, and my quick ear caught the
half-uttered words, "That woman will make an idiot of me again!" She did
not return; and never from that hour resumed her place in the schoolroom.
The time passed heavily. At dinner she looked proud and constrained; and
spoke only in monosyllables.
For two days I scarcely saw her. But the third day, as I was busy in the
library alone, she entered.
"Can I help you, Mr. Campbell?" she said.
I glanced involuntarily towards the door.
"Lady Hilton is not at home," she replied to my look, while a curl of
indignation contended with a sweet tremor of shame for the possession of
her lip.—"Let me help you."
"You will help me best if you sing that ballad I heard you singing just
before you came in. I never heard you sing before."
"Didn't you? I don't think I ever did sing before."
"Sing it again, will you, please?"
"It is only two verses. My old Scotch nurse used to sing it when I was a
little girl-oh, so long ago! I didn't know I could sing it."
She began without more ado, standing in the middle of the room, with her
back towards the door.
Annie was dowie, an' Willie was wae:
What can be the matter wi' siccan a twae?
For Annie was bonnie's the first o' the day,
And Willie was strang an' honest an' gay.
Oh! the tane had a daddy was poor an' was proud;
An' the tither a minnie that cared for the gowd.
They lo'ed are anither, an' said their say—
But the daddy an' minnie hae pairtit the twae.
Just as she finished the song, I saw the sharp eyes of Lady Lucy peeping
in at the door.
"Lady Lucy is watching at the door, Lady Alice," I said.
"I don't care," she answered; but turned with a flush on her face, and
stepped noiselessly to the door.
"There is no one there," she said, returning.
"There was, though," I answered.
"They want to drive me mad," she cried, and hurried from the room.
The next day but one, she came again with the same request. But she had
not been a minute in the library before Lady Hilton came to the door and
called her in angry tones.
"Presently," replied Alice, and remained where she was.
"Do go, Lady Alice," I said. "They will send me away if you refuse."
She blushed scarlet, and went without another word.
She came no more to the library.
CHAPTER XII. Confession.
Day followed day, the one the child of the other. Alice's old paleness and
unearthly look began to reappear; and, strange to tell, my midnight
temptation revived. After a time she ceased to dine with us again, and for
days I never saw her. It was the old story of suffering with me, only more
intense than before. The day was dreary, and the night stormy. "Call her,"
said my heart; but my conscience resisted.
I was lying on the floor of my room one midnight, with my face to the
ground, when suddenly I heard a low, sweet, strange voice singing
somewhere. The moment I became aware that I heard it I felt as if I had
been listening to it unconsciously for some minutes past. I lay still,
either charmed to stillness, or fearful of breaking the spell. As I lay, I
was lapt in the folds of a waking dream.
I was in bed in a castle, on the seashore; the wind came from the sea in
chill eerie soughs, and the waves fell with a threatful tone upon
the beach, muttering many maledictions as they rushed up, and whispering
cruel portents as they drew back, hissing and gurgling, through the
million narrow ways of the pebbly ramparts; and I knew that a maiden in
white was standing in the cold wind, by the angry sea, singing. I had a
kind of dreamy belief in my dream; but, overpowered by the spell of the
music, I still lay and listened. Keener and stronger, under the impulses
of my will, grew the power of my hearing. At last I could distinguish the
words. The ballad was Annie of Lochroyan; and Lady Alice was
singing it. The words I heard were these:—
Oh, gin I had a bonnie ship,
And men to sail wi' me,
It's I wad gang to my true love,
Sin' he winna come to me.
Lang stood she at her true love's door,
And lang tirled at the pin;
At length up gat his fause mother,
Says, "Wha's that wad be in?"
Love Gregory started frae his sleep,
And to his mother did say:
"I dreamed a dream this night, mither,
That maks my heart right wae.
"I dreamed that Annie of Lochroyan,
The flower of a' her kin,
Was standing mournin' at my door,
But nane wad let her in."
I sprang to my feet, and opened the hidden door. There she stood, white,
asleep, with closed eyes, singing like a bird, only with a heartful of sad
meaning in every tone. I stepped aside, without speaking, and she passed
me into the room. I closed the door, and followed her. She lay already
upon the couch, still and restful—already covered with my plaid. I
sat down beside her, waiting; and gazed upon her in wonderment. That she
was possessed of very superior intellectual powers, whatever might be the
cause of their having lain dormant so long, I had already fully convinced
myself; but I was not prepared to find art as well as intellect. I had
already heard her sing the little song of two verses, which she had
learned from her nurse. But here was a song, of her own making as to the
music, so true and so potent, that, before I knew anything of the words,
it had surrounded me with a dream of the place in which the scene of the
ballad was laid. It did not then occur to me that, perhaps, our
idiosyncrasies were such as not to require even the music of the ballad
for the production of rapport between our minds, the brain of the
one generating in the brain of the other the vision present to itself.
I sat and thought:—Some obstruction in the gateways, outward,
prevented her, in her waking hours, from uttering herself at all. This
obstruction, damming back upon their sources the out-goings of life, threw
her into this abnormal sleep. In it the impulse to utterance, still
unsatisfied, so wrought within her unable, yet compliant form, that she
could not rest, but rose and walked. And now, a fresh surge from the sea
of her unknown being, unrepressed by the hitherto of the objects of
sense, had burst the gates and bars, swept the obstructions from its
channel, and poured from her in melodious song.
The first green lobes, at least, of these thoughts, appeared above the
soil of my mind, while I sat and gazed on the sleeping girl. And now I had
once more the delight of watching a spirit-dawn, a soul-rise, in that
lovely form. The light flushing of its pallid sky was, as before, the
first sign. I dreaded the flash of lovely flame, and the outburst of
regnant anger, ere I should have time to say that I was not to blame. But
when, at length, the full dawn, the slow sunrise came, it was with all the
gentleness of a cloudy summer morn. Never did a more celestial rosy red
hang about the skirts of the level sun, than deepened and glowed upon her
face, when, opening her eyes, she saw me beside her. She covered her face
with her hands; and instead of the words of indignant reproach which I
dreaded to hear, she murmured behind the snowy screen: "I am glad you have
broken your promise."
My heart gave a bound and was still. I grew faint with delight. "No," I
said; "I have not broken my promise, Lady Alice; I have struggled nearly
to madness to keep it—and I have kept it."
"I have come then of myself. Worse and worse! But it is their fault."
Tears now found their way through the repressing fingers. I could not
endure to see her weep. I knelt beside her, and, while she still covered
her face with her hands, I said—I do not know what I said. They were
wild, and, doubtless, foolish words in themselves, but they must have been
wise and true in their meaning. When I ceased, I knew that I had ceased
only by the great silence around me. I was still looking at her hands.
Slowly she withdrew them. It was as when the sun breaks forth on a cloudy
day. The winter was over and gone; the time of the singing of birds had
come. She smiled on me through her tears, and heart met heart in the light
of that smile.
She rose to go at once, and I begged for no delay. I only stood with
clasped hands, gazing at her. She turned at the door, and said;
"I daresay I shall come again; I am afraid I cannot help it; only mind you
do not wake me."
Before I could reply, I was alone; and I felt that I must not follow her.
CHAPTER XIII. Questioning.
I laid myself on the couch she had left, but not to sleep. A new pulse of
life, stronger than I could bear, was throbbing within me. I dreaded a
fever, lest I should talk in it, and drop the clue to my secret treasure.
But the light of the morning stilled me, and a bath in ice-cold water made
me strong again. Yet I felt all that day as if I were dying a delicious
death, and going to a yet more exquisite life. As far as I might, however,
I repressed all indications of my delight; and endeavoured, for the sake
both of duty and of prudence, to be as attentive to my pupils and their
studies as it was possible for man to be. This helped to keep me in my
right mind. But, more than all my efforts at composure, the pain which, as
far as my experience goes, invariably accompanies, and sometimes even
usurps, the place of the pleasure which gave it birth, was efficacious in
keeping me sane.
Night came, but brought no Lady Alice. It was a week before I saw her
again. Her heart had been stilled, and she was able to sleep aright.
But seven nights after, she did come. I waited her awaking, possessed with
one painful thought, which I longed to impart to her. She awoke with a
smile, covered her face for a moment, but only for a moment, and then sat
up. I stood before her; and the first words I spoke were:
"Lady Alice, ought I not to go?"
"No," she replied at once. "I can claim some compensation from them for
the wrong they have been doing me. Do you know in what relation I stand to
Lord and Lady Hilton? They are but my stepmother and her husband."
"I know that."
"Well, I have a fortune of my own, about which I never thought or cared—till—till—within
the last few weeks. Lord Hilton is my guardian. Whether they made me the
stupid creature I was, I do not know; but I believe they have
represented me as far worse than I was, to keep people from making my
acquaintance. They prevented my going on with my lessons, because they saw
I was getting to understand things, and grow like other people; and that
would not suit their purposes. It would be false delicacy in you to leave
me to them, when you can make up to me for their injustice. Their
behaviour to me takes away any right they had over me, and frees you from
any obligation, because I am yours.—Am I not?"
Once more she covered her face with her hands. I could answer only by
withdrawing one of them, which I was now emboldened to keep in my
I was very willingly persuaded to what was so much my own desire. But
whether the reasoning was quite just or not, I am not yet sure. Perhaps it
might be so for her, and yet not for me: I do not know; I am a poor
She resumed, laying her other hand upon mine:—
"It would be to tell the soul which you have called forth, to go back into
its dark moaning cavern, and never more come out to the light of day."
How could I resist this?
A long pause ensued.
"It is strange," she said, at length, "to feel, when I lie down at night,
that I may awake in your presence, without knowing how. It is strange,
too, that, although I should be utterly ashamed to come wittingly, I feel
no confusion when I find myself here. When I feel myself coming awake, I
lie for a little while with my eyes closed, wondering and hoping, and
afraid to open them, lest I should find myself only in my own chamber;
shrinking a little, too—just a little—from the first glance
into your face."
"But when you awake, do you know nothing of what has taken place in your
"Have you no vague sensations, no haunting shadows, no dim ghostly moods,
seeming to belong to that condition, left?"
She rose, said "Good-night," and left me.
CHAPTER XIV. Jealousy.
Again seven days passed before she revisited me. Indeed, her visits had
always an interval of seven days, or a multiple of seven, between.
Since the last, a maddening jealousy had seized me. For, returning from
those unknown regions into which her soul had wandered away, and where she
had stayed for hours, did she not sometimes awake with a smile? How could
I be sure that she did not lead two distinct existences?—that she
had not some loving spirit, or man, who, like her, had for a time left the
body behind—who was all in all to her in that region, and whom she
forgot when she forsook it, as she forgot me when she entered it? It was a
thought I could not brook. But I put aside its persistency as well as I
could, till she should come again. For this I waited. I could not now
endure the thought of compelling the attendance of her unconscious form;
of making her body, like a living cage, transport to my presence the
unresisting soul. I shrank from it as a true man would shrink from kissing
the lips of a sleeping woman whom he loved, not knowing that she loved him
It may well be said that to follow such a doubt was to inquire too
curiously; but once the thought had begun, and grown, and been born, how
was I to slay the monster, and be free of its hated presence? Was its
truth not a possibility?—Yet how could even she help me, for she
knew nothing of the matter? How could she vouch for the unknown? What news
can the serene face of the moon, ever the same to us, give of the hidden
half of herself turned ever towards what seems to us but the blind abysmal
darkness, which yet has its own light and its own life? All I could hope
for was to see her, to tell her, to be comforted at least by her smile.
My saving angel glided blind into my room, lay down upon her bier, and
awaited the resurrection. I sat and awaited mine, panting to untwine from
my heart the cold death-worm that twisted around it, yet picturing to
myself the glow of love on the averted face of the beautiful spirit—averted
from me, and bending on a radiant companion all the light withdrawn from
the lovely form beside me. That light began to return. "She is coming, she
is coming," I said within me. "Back from its glowing south travels the sun
of my spring, the glory of my summer." Floating slowly up from the
infinite depths of her being, came the conscious woman; up—up from
the realms of stillness lying deeper than the plummet of self-knowledge
can sound; up from the formless, up into the known, up into the material,
up to the windows that look forth on the embodied mysteries around. Her
eyelids rose. One look of love all but slew my fear. When I told her my
grief, she answered with a smile of pity, yet half of disdain at the
"If ever I find it so, I will kill myself there, that I may go to my Hades
with you. But if I am dreaming of another, how is it that I always rise in
my vision and come to you? You will go crazy if you fancy such foolish
things," she added, with a smile of reproof.
The spectral thought vanished, and I was free.
"Shall I tell you," she resumed, covering her face with her hands, "why I
behaved so proudly to you, from the very first day you entered the house?
It was because, when I passed you on the lawn, before ever you entered the
house, I felt a strange, undefinable attraction towards you, which
continued, although I could not account for it and would not yield to it.
I was heartily annoyed at it. But you see it was of no use—here I
am. That was what made me so fierce, too, when I first found myself in
It was indeed long before she came to my room again.
CHAPTER XV. The Chamber of Ghosts.
But now she returned once more into the usual routine of the family. I
fear I was unable to repress all signs of agitation when, next day, she
entered the dining-room, after we were seated, and took her customary
place at the table. Her behaviour was much the same as before; but her
face was very different. There was light in it now, and signs of mental
movement. The smooth forehead would be occasionally wrinkled, and she
would fall into moods which were evidently not of inanity, but of
abstracted thought. She took especial care that our eyes should not meet.
If by chance they did, instead of sinking hers, she kept them steady, and
opened them wider, as if she was fixing them on nothing at all, or she
raised them still higher, as if she was looking at something above me,
before she allowed them to fall. But the change in her altogether was such
that it must have attracted the notice and roused the speculation of Lady
Hilton at least. For me, so well did she act her part, that I was thrown
into perplexity by it. And when day after day passed, and the longing to
speak to her grew, and remained unsatisfied, new doubts arose. Perhaps she
was tired of me. Perhaps her new studies filled her mind with the clear,
gladsome morning light of the pure intellect, which always throws doubt
and distrust and a kind of negation upon the moonlight of passion,
mysterious, and mingled ever with faint shadows of pain. I walked as in an
unresting sleep. Utterly as I loved her, I was yet alarmed and distressed
to find how entirely my being had grown dependent upon her love; how
little of individual, self-existing, self-upholding life, I seemed to have
left; how little I cared for anything, save as I could associate it with
I was sitting late one night in my room. I had all but given up hope of
her coming. I had, perhaps, deprived her of the somnambulic power. I was
brooding over this possibility, when all at once I felt as if I were
looking into the haunted room. It seemed to be lighted by the moon,
shining through the stained windows. The feeling came and went suddenly,
as such visions of places generally do; but this had an indescribable
something about it more clear and real than such resurrections of the
past, whether willed or unwilled, commonly possess; and a great longing
seized me to look into the room once more. I rose with a sense of yielding
to the irresistible, left the room, groped my way through the hall and up
the oak staircase—I had never thought of taking a light with me—and
entered the corridor. No sooner had I entered it, than the thought sprang
up in my mind—"What if she should be there!" My heart stood still
for a moment, like a wounded deer, and then bounded on, with a pang in
every bound. The corridor was night itself, with a dim, bluish-grey light
from the windows, sufficing to mark their own spaces. I stole through it,
and, without erring once, went straight to the haunted chamber. The door
stood half open. I entered, and was bewildered by the dim, mysterious,
dreamy loveliness upon which I gazed. The moon shone full upon the
windows, and a thousand coloured lights and shadows crossed and
intertwined upon the walls and floor, all so soft, and mingling, and
undefined, that the brain was filled as with a flickering dance of ghostly
rainbows. But I had little time to think of these; for out of the only
dark corner in the room came a white figure, flitting across the chaos of
lights, bedewed, besprinkled, bespattered, as she passed, with their
multitudinous colours. I was speechless, motionless, with something far
beyond joy. With a low moan of delight, Lady Alice sank into my arms.
Then, looking up, with a light laugh—"The scales are turned, dear,"
she said. "You are in my power now; I brought you here. I thought I could,
and I tried, for I wanted so much to see you—and you are come." She
led me across the room to the place where she had been seated, and we sat
side by side.
"I thought you had forgotten me," I said, "or had grown tired of me."
"Did you? That was unkind. You have made my heart so still, that, body and
soul, I sleep at night."
"Then shall I never see you more?"
"We can meet here. This is the best place. No one dares come near the
haunted room at night. We might even venture in the evening. Look, now,
from where we are sitting, across the air, between the windows and the
shadows on the floor. Do you see nothing moving?"
I looked, but could see nothing. She resumed:—
"I almost fancy, sometimes, that what old stories say about this room may
be true. I could fancy now that I see dim transparent forms in ancient
armour, and in strange antique dresses, men and women, moving about,
meeting, speaking, embracing, parting, coming and going. But I was never
afraid of such beings. I am sure these would not, could not hurt us."
If the room was not really what it was well fitted to be—a
rendezvous for the ghosts of the past—then either my imagination,
becoming more active as she spoke, began to operate upon my brain, or her
fancies were mysteriously communicated to me; for I was persuaded that I
saw such dim undefined forms as she described, of a substance only denser
than the moonlight, flitting, and floating about, between the windows and
the illuminated floor. Could they have been coloured shadows thrown from
the stained glass upon the fine dust with which the slightest motion in
such an old and neglected room must fill its atmosphere? I did not think
of that then, however.
"I could persuade myself that I, too, see them," I replied. "I cannot say
that I am afraid of such beings any more than you—if only they will
"Ah!" she replied, with a lengthened, meaning utterance, expressing
sympathy with what I said; "I know what you mean. I, too, am afraid of
hearing things. And that reminds me, I have never yet asked you about the
galloping horse. I too hear sometimes the sound of a loose horse-shoe. It
always betokens some evil to me; but I do not know what it means. Do you?"
"Do you know," I rejoined, "that there is a connection between your family
and mine, somewhere far back in their histories?"
"No! Is there? How glad I am! Then perhaps you and I are related, and that
is how we are so much alike, and have power over each other, and hear the
"Yes. I suppose that is how."
"But can you account for that sound which we both hear?"
"I will tell you what my old foster-mother told me," I replied. And I
began by narrating when and where I had first heard the sound; and then
gave her, as nearly as I could, the legend which nurse had recounted to
me. I did not tell her its association with the events of my birth, for I
feared exciting her imagination too much. She listened to it very quietly,
however, and when I came to a close, only said:
"Of course, we cannot tell how much of it is true, but there may be
something in it. I have never heard anything of the sort, and I, too, have
an old nurse. She is with me still. You shall see her some day."
She rose to go.
"Will you meet me here again soon?" I said.
"As soon as you wish," she answered.
"Then to-morrow, at midnight?"
And we parted at the door of the haunted chamber. I watched the flickering
with which her whiteness just set the darkness in motion, and nothing
more, seeming to see it long after I knew she must have turned aside and
descended the steps leading towards her own room. Then I turned and groped
my way back to mine.
We often met after this in the haunted room. Indeed my spirit haunted it
all day and all night long. And when we met amid the shadows, we were
wrapped in the mantle of love, and from its folds looked out fearless on
the ghostly world about us. Ghosts or none, they never annoyed us. Our
love was a talisman, yea, an elixir of life, which made us equal to the
twice-born,—the disembodied dead. And they were as a wall of fear
about us, to keep far off the unfriendly foot and the prying eye.
In the griefs that followed, I often thought with myself that I would
gladly die for a thousand years, might I then awake for one night in the
haunted chamber, a ghost, among the ghosts who crowded its stained
moonbeams, and see my dead Alice smiling across the glimmering rays, and
beckoning me to the old nook, she, too, having come awake out of the sleep
of death, in the dream of the haunted chamber. "Might we but sit there," I
said, "through the night, as of old, and love and comfort each other, till
the moon go down, and the pale dawn, which is the night of the ghosts,
begin to arise, then gladly would I go to sleep for another thousand
years, in the hope that when I next became conscious of life, it might be
in another such ghostly night, in the chamber of the ghosts."
CHAPTER XVI. The Clanking Shoe.
Time passed. We began to feel very secure in that room, watched as it was
by the sleepless sentry, Fear. One night I ventured to take a light with
"How nice to have a candle!" she said as I entered. "I hope they are all
in bed, though. It will drive some of them into fits if they see the
"I wanted to show you something I found in the library to-day."
"What is it?"
I opened a book, and showed her a paper inside it, with some verses
written on it.
"Whose writing is that?" I asked.
"Yours, of course. As if I did not know your writing!"
"Will you look at the date?"
"Seventeen hundred and ninety-three.' You are making game of me,
Duncan. But the paper does look yellow and old."
"I found it as you see it, in that book. It belonged to Lord Hilton's
brother. The verses are a translation of part of the poem beside which
they lie—one by Von Salis, who died shortly before that date at the
bottom. I will read them to you, and then show you something else that is
strange about them. The poem is called Psyche's Sorrow. Psyche
means the soul, Alice."
"I remember. You told me about her before, you know."
"Psyche's sighing all her prison darkens;
She is moaning for the far-off stars;
Fearing, hoping, every sound she hearkens—
Fate may now be breaking at her bars.
Bound, fast bound, are Psyche's airy pinions:
High her heart, her mourning soft and low—
Knowing that in sultry pain's dominions
Grow the palms that crown the victor's brow;
That the empty hand the wreath encloses;
Earth's cold winds but make the spirit brave;
Knowing that the briars bear the roses,
Golden flowers the waste deserted grave.
In the cypress-shade her myrtle groweth;
Much she loves, because she much hath borne;
Love-led, through the darksome way she goeth—
On to meet him in the breaking morn.
She can bear—"
"Here the translation ceases, you see; and then follows the date, with the
words in German underneath it—'How weary I am!' Now what is strange,
Alice, is, that this date is the very month and year in which I was born."
She did not reply to this with anything beyond a mere assent. Her mind was
fixed on the poem itself. She began to talk about it, and I was surprised
to find how thoroughly she entered into it and understood it. She seemed
to have crowded the growth of a lifetime into the last few months. At
length I told her how unhappy I had felt for some time, at remaining in
Lord Hilton's house, as matters now were.
"Then you must go," she said, quite quietly.
This troubled me.
"You do not mind it?"
"No. I shall be very glad."
"Will you go with me?" I asked, perplexed.
"Of course I will."
I did not know what to say to this, for I had no money, and of course I
should have none of my salary. She divined at once the cause of my
"I have a diamond bracelet in my room," she said, with a smile, "and a few
"How shall we get away?"
"Nothing is easier. My old nurse, whom I mentioned to you before, lives at
the lodge gate."
"Oh! I know her very well," I interrupted. "But she's not Scotch?"
"Indeed she is. But she has been with our family almost all her life. I
often go to see her, and sometimes stay all night with her. You can get a
carriage ready in the village, and neither of us will be missed before
I looked at her in renewed surprise at the decision of her invention. She
covered her face, as she seldom did now, but went on:
"We can go to London, where you will easily find something to do. Men
always can there. And when I come of age—"
"Alice, how old are you?" I interrupted.
"Nineteen," she answered. "By the way," she resumed, "when I think of it—how
odd!—that"—pointing to the date on the paper—"is the
very month in which I too was born."
I was too much surprised to interrupt her, and she continued:
"I never think of my age without recalling one thing about my birth, which
nurse often refers to. She was going up the stair to my mother's room,
when she happened to notice a bright star, not far from the new moon. As
she crossed the room with me in her arms, just after I was born, she saw
the same star almost on the tip of the opposite horn. My mother died a
week after. Who knows how different I might have been if she had lived!"
It was long before I spoke. The awful and mysterious thoughts roused in my
mind by the revelations of the day held me silent. At length I said, half
"Then you and I, Alice, were born the same hour, and our mothers died
Receiving no answer, I looked at her. She was fast asleep, and breathing
gentle, full breaths. She had been sitting for some time with her head
lying on my shoulder and my arm around her. I could not bear to wake her.
We had been in this position perhaps for half an hour, when suddenly a
cold shiver ran through me, and all at once I became aware of the far-off
gallop of a horse. It drew nearer. On and on it came—nearer and
nearer. Then came the clank of the broken shoe!
At the same moment, Alice started from her sleep and, springing to her
feet, stood an instant listening. Then crying out, in an agonised whisper,—"The
horse with the clanking shoe!" she flung her arms around me. Her face was
white as the spectral moon which, the moment I put the candle out, looked
in through a clear pane beside us; and she gazed fearfully, yet
wildly-defiant, towards the door. We clung to each other. We heard the
sound come nearer and nearer, till it thundered right up to the very door
of the room, terribly loud. It ceased. But the door was flung open, and
Lord Hilton entered, followed by servants with lights.
I have but a very confused remembrance of what followed. I heard a vile
word from the lips of Lord Hilton; I felt my fingers on his throat; I
received a blow on the head; and I seem to remember a cry of agony from
Alice as I fell. What happened next I do not know.
When I came to myself, I was lying on a wide moor, with the night wind
blowing about me. I presume that I had wandered thither in a state of
unconsciousness, after being turned out of the Hall, and that I had at
last fainted from loss of blood. I was unable to move for a long time. At
length the morning broke, and I found myself not far from the Hall. I
crept back, a mile or two, to the gates, and having succeeded in rousing
Alice's old nurse, was taken in with many lamentations, and put to bed in
the lodge. I had a violent fever; and it was all the poor woman could do
to keep my presence a secret from the family at the Hall.
When I began to mend, my first question was about Alice. I learned, though
with some difficulty—for my kind attendant was evidently unwilling
to tell me all the truth—that Alice, too, had been very ill; and
that, a week before, they had removed her. But she either would not or
could not tell me where they had taken her. I believe she could not. Nor
do I know for certain to this day.
Mrs. Blakesley offered me the loan of some of her savings to get me to
London. I received it with gratitude, and as soon as I was fit to travel,
made my way thither. Afraid for my reason, if I had no employment to keep
my thoughts from brooding on my helplessness, and so increasing my
despair, and determined likewise that my failure should not make me
burdensome to any one else, I enlisted in the Scotch Greys, before letting
any of my friends know where I was. Through the help of one already
mentioned in my story, I soon obtained a commission. From the field of
Waterloo, I rode into Brussels with a broken arm and a sabre-cut in the
As we passed along one of the streets, through all the clang of iron-shod
hoofs on the stones around me, I heard the ominous clank. At the same
moment, I heard a cry. It was the voice of my Alice. I looked up. At a
barred window I saw her face; but it was terribly changed. I dropped from
my horse. As soon as I was able to move from the hospital, I went to the
place, and found it was a lunatic asylum. I was permitted to see the
inmates, but discovered no one resembling her. I do not now believe that
she was ever there. But I may be wrong. Nor will I trouble my reader with
the theories on which I sought to account for the vision. They will occur
to himself readily enough.
For years and years I know not whether she was alive or dead. I sought her
far and near. I wandered over England, France, and Germany, hopelessly
searching; listening at tables-d'hôte; lurking about mad-houses;
haunting theatres and churches; often, in wild regions, begging my way
from house to house; I did not find her.
Once I visited Hilton Hall. I found it all but deserted. I learned that
Mrs. Wilson was dead, and that there were only two or three servants in
the place. I managed to get into the house unseen, and made my way to the
haunted chamber. My feelings were not so keen as I had anticipated, for
they had been dulled by long suffering. But again I saw the moon shine
through those windows of stained glass. Again her beams were crowded with
ghosts. She was not amongst them. "My lost love!" I cried; and then,
rebuking myself, "No; she is not lost. They say that Time and Space exist
not, save in our thoughts. If so, then that which has been, is, and the
Past can never cease. She is mine, and I shall find her—what matters
it where, or when, or how? Till then, my soul is but a moon-lighted
chamber of ghosts; and I sit within, the dreariest of them all. When she
enters, it will be a home of love. And I wait—I wait."
I sat and brooded over the Past, till I fell asleep in the phantom-peopled
night. And all the night long they were about me—the men and women
of the long past. And I was one of them. I wandered in my dreams over the
whole house, habited in a long old-fashioned gown, searching for one who
was Alice, and yet would be some one else. From room to room I wandered
till weary, and could not find her. At last, I gave up the search, and,
retreating to the library, shut myself in. There, taking down from the
shelf the volume of Von Salis, I tried hard to go on with the translation
of Pysche's Sorrow, from the point where the student had left it,
thinking it, all the time, my own unfinished work.
When I woke in the morning, the chamber of ghosts, in which I had fallen
asleep, had vanished. The sun shone in through the windows of the library;
and on its dusty table lay Von Salis, open at Pysche's Trauer. The
sheet of paper with the translation on it, was not there. I hastened to
leave the house, and effected my escape before the servants were astir.
Sometimes I condensed my whole being into a single intensity of will—that
she should come to me; and sustained it, until I fainted with the effort.
She did not come. I desisted altogether at last, for I bethought me that,
whether dead or alive, it must cause her torture not to be able to obey
Sometimes I questioned my own sanity. But the thought of the loss of my
reason did not in itself trouble me much. What tortured me almost to the
madness it supposed was the possible fact, which a return to my right mind
might reveal—that there never had been a Lady Alice. What if I died,
and awoke from my madness, and found a clear blue air of life, a joyous
world of sunshine, a divine wealth of delight around and in me—but
no Lady Alice—she having vanished with all the other phantoms of a
sick brain! "Rather let me be mad still," I said, "if mad I am; and so
dream on that I have been blessed. Were I to wake to such a heaven, I
would pray God to let me go and live the life I had but dreamed, with all
its sorrows, and all its despair, and all its madness, that when I died
again, I might know that such things had been, and could never be awaked
from, and left behind with the dream." But I was not mad, any more than
Hamlet; though, like him, despair sometimes led me far along the way at
the end of which madness lies.
CHAPTER XVII. The Physician.
I was now Captain Campbell, of the Scotch Greys, contriving to live on my
half pay, and thinking far more about the past than the present or the
future. My father was dead. My only brother was also gone, and the
property had passed into other hands. I had no fixed place of abode, but
went from one spot to another, as the whim seized me—sometimes
remaining months, sometimes removing next day, but generally choosing
retired villages about which I knew nothing.
I had spent a week in a small town on the borders of Wales, and intended
remaining a fortnight longer, when I was suddenly seized with a violent
illness, in which I lay insensible for three weeks. When I recovered
consciousness, I found that my head had been shaved, and that the
cicatrice of my old wound was occasionally very painful. Of late I have
suspected that I had some operation performed upon my skull during my
illness; but Dr. Ruthwell never dropped a hint to that effect. This was
the friend whom, when first I opened my seeing eyes, I beheld sitting by
my bedside, watching the effect of his last prescription. He was one of
the few in the profession, whose love of science and love of their fellows
combined, would be enough to chain them to the art of healing,
irrespective of its emoluments. He was one of the few, also, who see the
marvellous in all science, and, therefore, reject nothing merely because
the marvellous may seem to predominate in it. Yet neither would he accept
anything of the sort as fact, without the strictest use of every
experiment within his power, even then remaining often in doubt. This man
conferred honour by his friendship; and I am happy to think that before
many days of recovery had passed, we were friends indeed. But I lay for
months under his care before I was able to leave my bed.
He attributed my illness to the consequences of the sabre-cut, and my
recovery to the potency of the drugs he had exhibited. I attributed my
illness in great measure to the constant contemplation of my early
history, no longer checked by any regular employment; and my recovery in
equal measure to the power of his kindness and sympathy, helping from
within what could never have been reached from without.
He told me that he had often been greatly perplexed with my symptoms,
which would suddenly change in the most unaccountable manner, exhibiting
phases which did not, as far as his knowledge went, belong to any variety
of the suffering which gave the prevailing character to my ailment; and
after I had so far recovered as to render it safe to turn my regard more
particularly upon my own case, he said to me one day,
"You would laugh at me, Campbell, were I to confess some of the bother
this illness of yours has occasioned me; enough, indeed, to overthrow any
conceit I ever had in my own diagnosis."
"Go on," I answered; "I promise not to laugh."
He little knew how far I should be from laughing. "In your case," he
continued, "the pathognomonic, if you will excuse medical slang,
was every now and then broken by the intrusion of altogether foreign
I listened with breathless attention.
"Indeed, on several occasions, when, after meditating on your case till I
was worn out, I had fallen half asleep by your bedside, I came to myself
with the strangest conviction that I was watching by the bedside of a
"Thank Heaven!" I exclaimed, starting up, "She lives still."
I need not describe the doctor's look of amazement, almost consternation;
for he thought a fresh access of fever was upon me, and I had already
begun to rave. For his reassurance, however, I promised to account fully
for my apparently senseless excitement; and that evening I commenced the
narrative which forms the preceeding part of this story. Long before I
reached its close, my exultation had vanished, and, as I wrote it for him,
it ended with the expressed conviction that she must be dead. Ere long,
however, the hope once more revived. While, however, the narrative was in
progress, I gave him a summary, which amounted to this:—
I had loved a lady—loved her still. I did not know where she was,
and had reason to fear that her mind had given way under the suffering of
our separation. Between us there existed, as well, the bond of a distant
blood relationship; so distant, that but for its probable share in the
production of another relationship of a very marvellous nature, it would
scarcely have been worth alluding to. This was a kind of psychological
attraction, which, when justified and strengthened by the spiritual
energies of love, rendered the immediate communication of certain
feelings, both mental and bodily, so rapid, that almost the consciousness
of the one existed for the time in the mental circumstances of the other.
Nay, so complete at times was the communication, that I even doubted her
testimony as to some strange correspondence in our past history on this
very ground, suspecting that, my memory being open to her retrospection,
she saw my story, and took it for her own. It was, therefore, easy for me
to account for Dr. Ruthwell's scientific bewilderment at the symptoms I
As my health revived, my hope and longing increased. But although I loved
Lady Alice with more entireness than even during the latest period of our
intercourse, a certain calm endurance had supervened, which rendered the
relief of fierce action no longer necessary to the continuance of a sane
existence. It was as if the concentrated orb of love had diffused itself
in a genial warmth through the whole orb of life, imparting fresh vitality
to many roots which had remained leafless in my being. For years the field
of battle was the only field that had borne the flower of delight; now
nature began to live again for me.
One day, the first on which I ventured to walk into the fields alone, I
was delighted with the multitude of the daisies peeping from the grass
everywhere—the first attempts of the earth, become conscious of
blindness, to open eyes, and see what was about and above her. Everything
is wonderful after the resurrection from illness. It is a resurrection of
all nature. But somehow or other I was not satisfied with the daisies.
They did not seem to me so lovely as the daisies I used to see when I was
a child. I thought with myself, "This is the cloud that gathers with life,
the dimness that passion and suffering cast over the eyes of the mind."
That moment my gaze fell upon a single, solitary, red-tipped daisy. My
reasoning vanished, and my melancholy with it, slain by the red tips of
the lonely beauty. This was the kind of daisy I had loved as a child; and
with the sight of it, a whole field of them rushed back into my mind; a
field of my father's where, throughout the multitude, you could not have
found a white one. My father was dead; the fields had passed into other
hands; but perhaps the red-tipped gowans were left. I must go and
see. At all events, the hill that overlooked the field would still be
there, and no change would have passed upon it. It would receive me
with the same familiar look as of old, still fronting the great mountain
from whose sides I had first heard the sound of that clanking horseshoe,
which, whatever might be said to account for it, had certainly had a
fearful connection with my joys and sorrows both. Did the ghostly rider
still haunt the place? or, if he did, should I hear again that sound of
coming woe? Whether or not, I defied him. I would not be turned from my
desire to see the old place by any fear of a ghostly marauder, whom I
should be only too glad to encounter, if there were the smallest chance of
coming off with the victory.
As soon as my friend would permit me, I set out for Scotland.
CHAPTER XVIII. Old Friends.
I made the journey by easy stages, chiefly on the back of a favourite
black horse, which had carried me well in several fights, and had come out
of them scarred, like his master, but sound in wind and limb. It was night
when I reached the village lying nearest to my birth place.
When I woke in the morning, I found the whole region filled with a white
mist, hiding the mountains around. Now and then a peak looked through, and
again retired into the cloudy folds. In the wide, straggling street, below
the window at which I had made them place my breakfast-table, a periodical
fair was being held; and I sat looking down on the gathering crowd, trying
to discover some face known to my childhood, and still to be recognized
through the veil which years must have woven across the features. When I
had finished my breakfast, I went down and wandered about among the
people. Groups of elderly men were talking earnestly; and young men and
maidens who had come to be fee'd, were joking and laughing. They
stared at the Sassenach gentleman, and, little thinking that he understood
every word they uttered, made their remarks upon him in no very subdued
tones. I approached a stall where a brown old woman was selling
gingerbread and apples. She was talking to a man with long, white locks.
Near them was a group of young people. One of them must have said
something about me; for the old woman, who had been taking stolen glances
at me, turned rather sharply towards them, and rebuked them for rudeness.
"The gentleman is no Sassenach," she said. "He understands everything you
This was spoken in Gaelic, of course. I turned and looked at her with more
observance. She made me a courtesy, and said, in the same language:
"Your honour will be a Campbell, I'm thinking."
"I am a Campbell," I answered, and waited.
"Your honour's Christian name wouldn't be Duncan, sir?"
"It is Duncan," I answered; "but there are many Duncan Campbells."
"Only one to me, your honour; and that's yourself. But you will not
I did not remember her. Before long, however, urged by her anxiety to
associate her Present with my Past, she enabled me to recall in her
time-worn features those of a servant in my father's house when I was a
"But how could you recollect me?" I said.
"I have often seen you since I left your father's, sir. But it was really,
I believe, that I hear more about you than anything else, every day of my
"I do not understand you."
"From old Margaret, I mean."
"Dear old Margaret! Is she alive?"
"Alive and hearty, though quite bedridden. Why, sir, she must be within
near sight of a hundred."
"Where does she live?"
"In the old cottage, sir. Nothing will make her leave it. The new laird
wanted to turn her out; but Margaret muttered something at which he grew
as white as his shirt, and he has never ventured across her threshold
"How do you see so much of her, though?"
"I never leave her, sir. She can't wait on herself, poor old lady. And
she's like a mother to me. Bless her! But your honour will come and see
"Of course I will. Tell her so when you go home."
"Will you honour me by sleeping at my house, sir?" said the old man to
whom she had been talking. "My farm is just over the brow of the hill, you
I had by this time recognised him, and I accepted his offer at once.
"When may we look for you, sir?" he asked.
"When shall you be home?" I rejoined.
"This afternoon, sir. I have done my business already."
"Then I shall be with you in the evening, for I have nothing to keep me
"Will you take a seat in my gig?"
"No, thank you. I have my own horse with me. You can take him in too, I
"With pleasure, sir."
We parted for the meantime. I rambled about the neighbourhood till it was
time for an early dinner.
CHAPTER XIX. Old Constancy.
The fog cleared off; and, as the hills began to throw long, lazy shadows,
their only embraces across the wide valleys, I mounted and set out on the
ride of a few miles which should bring me to my old acquaintance's
I lingered on the way. All the old places demanded my notice. They seemed
to say, "Here we are—waiting for you." Many a tuft of harebells drew
me towards the roadside, to look at them and their children, the blue
butterflies, hovering over them; and I stopped to gaze at many a wild
rosebush, with a sunset of its own roses. The sun had set to me, before I
had completed half the distance. But there was a long twilight, and I knew
the road well.
My horse was an excellent walker, and I let him walk on, with the reins on
his neck; while I, lost in a dream of the past, was singing a song of my
own making, with which I often comforted my longing by giving it voice.
The autumn winds are sighing
Over land and sea;
The autumn woods are dying
Over hill and lea;
And my heart is sighing, dying,
Maiden, for thee.
The autumn clouds are flying
Homeless over me;
The homeless birds are crying
In the naked tree;
And my heart is flying, crying,
Maiden, to thee.
My cries may turn to gladness,
And my flying flee;
My sighs may lose the sadness,
Yet sigh on in me;
All my sadness, all my gladness,
Maiden, lost in thee.
I was roused by a heavy drop of rain upon my face. I looked up. A cool
wave of wind flowed against me. Clouds had gathered; and over the peak of
a hill to the left, the sky was very black. Old Constancy threw his head
up, as if he wanted me to take the reins, and let him step out. I
remembered that there used to be an awkward piece of road somewhere not
far in front, where the path, with a bank on the left side, sloped to a
deep descent on the right. If the road was as bad there as it used to be,
it would be better to pass it before it grew quite dark. So I took the
reins, and away went old Constancy. We had just reached the spot, when a
keen flash of lightning broke from the cloud overhead, and my horse
instantly stood stock-still, as if paralysed, with his nostrils turned up
towards the peak of the mountain. I sat as still as he, to give him time
to recover himself. But all at once, his whole frame was convulsed, as if
by an agony of terror. He gave a great plunge, and then I felt his muscles
swelling and knotting under me, as he rose on his hind legs, and went
backwards, with the scaur behind him. I leaned forward on his neck to
bring him down, but he reared higher and higher, till he stood bolt
upright, and it was time to slip off, lest he should fall upon me. I did
so; but my foot alighted upon no support. He had backed to the edge of the
shelving ground, and I fell, and went to the bottom. The last thing I was
aware of, was the thundering fall of my horse beside me.
When I came to myself, it was dark. I felt stupid and aching all over; but
I soon satisfied myself that no bones were broken. A mass of something lay
near me. It was poor Constancy. I crawled to him, laid my hand on his
neck, and called him by his name. But he made no answer in that gentle,
joyful speech—for it was speech in old Constancy—with which he
always greeted me, if only after an hour's absence. I felt for his heart.
There was just a flutter there. He tried to lift his head, and gave a
little kick with one of his hind legs. In doing so, he struck a bit of
rock, and the clank of the iron made my flesh creep. I got hold of his leg
in the dark, and felt the shoe. It was loose. I felt his heart
again. The motion had ceased. I needed all my manhood to keep from crying
like a child; for my charger was my friend. How long I lay beside him, I
do not know; but, at length, I heard the sound of wheels coming along the
road. I tried to shout, and, in some measure, succeeded; for a voice,
which I recognised as that of my farmer-friend, answered cheerily. He was
shocked to discover that his expected guest was in such evil plight. It
was still dark, for the rain was falling heavily; but, with his
directions, I was soon able to take my seat beside him in the gig. He had
been unexpectedly detained, and was now hastening home with the hope of
being yet in time to welcome me.
Next morning, after the luxurious rest of a heather-bed, I found myself
not much the worse for my adventure, but heart-sore for the loss of my
CHAPTER XX. Margaret.
Early in the forenoon, I came in sight of the cottage of Margaret. It lay
unchanged, a grey, stone-fashioned hut, in the hollow of the
mountain-basin. I scrambled down the soft green brae, and soon stood
within the door of the cottage. There I was met and welcomed by Margaret's
attendant. She led me to the bed where my old nurse lay. Her eyes were yet
undimmed by years, and little change had passed upon her countenance since
I parted with her on that memorable night. The moment she saw me, she
broke out into a passionate lamentation such as a mother might utter over
the maimed strength and disfigured beauty of her child.
"What ill has he done—my bairn—to be all night the sport of
the powers of the air and the wicked of the earth? But the day will dawn
for my Duncan yet, and a lovely day it will be!"
Then looking at me anxiously, she said,
"You're not much the worse for last night, my bairn. But woe's me! His
grand horse, that carried him so, that I blessed the beast in my prayers!"
I knew that no one could have yet brought her the news of my accident.
"You saw me fall, then, nurse?" I said.
"That I did," she answered. "I see you oftener than you think. But there
was a time when I could hardly see you at all, and I thought you were
dead, my Duncan."
I stooped to kiss her. She laid the one hand that had still the power of
motion upon my head, and dividing the hair, which had begun to be mixed
with grey, said: "Eh! The bonny grey hairs! My Duncan's a man in spite of
She searched until she found the scar of the sabre-cut.
"Just where I thought to find it!" she said. "That was a terrible day;
worse for me than for you, Duncan."
"You saw me then!" I exclaimed.
"Little do folks know," she answered, "who think I'm lying here like a
live corpse in its coffin, what liberty my soul—and that's just me—enjoys.
Little do they know what I see and hear. And there's no witchcraft or
evil-doing in it, my boy; but just what the Almighty made me. Janet, here,
declares she heard the cry that I made, when this same cut, that's no so
well healed yet, broke out in your bonny head. I saw no sword, only the
bursting of the blood from the wound. But sit down, my bairn, and have
something to eat after your walk. We'll have time enough for speech."
Janet had laid out the table with fare of the old homely sort, and I was a
boy once more as I ate the well-known food. Every now and then I glanced
towards the old face. Soon I saw that she was asleep. From her lips broke
murmured sounds, so partially connected that I found it impossible to
remember them; but the impression they left on my mind was something like
"Over the water. Yes; it is a rough sea—green and white. But over
the water. There is a path for the pathless. The grass on the hill is long
and cool. Never horse came there. If they once sleep in that grass, no
harm can hurt them more. Over the water. Up the hill." And then she
murmured the words of the psalm: "He that dwelleth in the secret place."
For an hour I sat beside her. It was evidently a sweet, natural sleep, the
most wonderful sleep of all, mingled with many a broken dream-rainbow. I
rose at last, and, telling Janet that I would return in the evening, went
back to my quarters; for my absence from the mid-day meal would have been
a disappointment to the household.
When I returned to the cottage, I found Margaret only just awaked, and
greatly refreshed. I sat down beside her in the twilight, and the
following conversation began:
"You said, nurse, that, some time ago, you could not see me. Did you know
nothing about me all that time?"
"I took it to mean that you were ill, my dear. Shortly after you left us,
the same thing happened first; but I do not think you were ill then."
"I should like to tell you all my story, dear Margaret," I said,
conceiving a sudden hope of assistance from one who hovered so near the
unseen that she often flitted across the borders. "But would it tire you?"
"Tire me, my child!" she said, with sudden energy. "Did I not carry you in
my bosom, till I loved you more than the darling I had lost? Do I not
think about you and your fortunes, till, sitting there, you are no nearer
to me than when a thousand miles away? You do not know my love to you,
Duncan. I have lived upon it when, I daresay, you did not care whether I
was alive or dead. But that was all one to my love. When you leave me now,
I shall not care much. My thoughts will only return to their old ways. I
think the sight of the eyes is sometimes an intrusion between the heart
and its love."
Here was philosophy, or something better, from the lips of an old Highland
seeress! For me, I felt it so true, that the joy of hearing her say so
turned, by a sudden metamorphosis, into freak. I pretended to rise, and
"Then I had better go, nurse. Good-bye."
She put out her one hand, with a smile that revealed her enjoyment of the
poor humour, and said, while she held me fast:
"Nay, nay, my Duncan. A little of the scarce is sometimes dearer to us
than much of the better. I shall have plenty of time to think about you
when I can't see you, my boy." And her philosophy melted away into tears,
that filled her two blue eyes.
"I was only joking," I said.
"Do you need to tell me that?" she rejoined, smiling. "I am not so old as
to be stupid yet. But I want to hear your story. I am hungering to hear
"But," I whispered, "I cannot speak about it before anyone else."
"I will send Janet away. Janet, I want to talk to Mr. Campbell alone."
"Very well, Margaret," answered Janet, and left the room.
"Will she listen?" I asked.
"She dares not," answered Margaret, with a smile; "she has a terrible idea
of my powers."
The twilight grew deeper; the glow of the peat-fire became redder; the old
woman lay still as death. And I told all the story of Lady Alice. My voice
sounded to myself as I spoke, not like my own, but like its echo from the
vault of some listening cave, or like the voices one hears beside as sleep
is slowly creeping over the sense. Margaret did not once interrupt me.
When I had finished she remained still silent, and I began to fear I had
talked her asleep.
"Can you help me?" I said.
"I think I can," she answered. "Will you call Janet?" I called her.
"Make me a cup of tea, Janet. Will you have some tea with me, Duncan?"
Janet lighted a little lamp, and the tea was soon set out, with
"flour-scons" and butter. But Margaret ate nothing; she only drank her
tea, lifting her cup with her one trembling hand. When the remains of our
repast had been removed, she said:—
"Now, Janet, you can leave us; and on no account come into the room till
Mr. Campbell calls you. Take the lamp with you."
Janet obeyed without a word of reply, and we were left once more alone,
lighted only by the dull glow of the fire.
The night had gathered cloudy and dark without, reminding me of that night
when she told me the story of the two brothers. But this time no storm
disturbed the silence of the night. As soon as Janet was gone, Margaret
"Will you take the pillow from under my head, Duncan, my dear?"
I did so, and she lay in an almost horizontal position. With the living
hand she lifted the powerless arm, and drew it across her chest, outside
the bed-clothes. Then she laid the other arm over it, and, looking up at
"Kiss me, my bairn; I need strength for what I am going to do for your
I kissed her.
"There now!" she said, "I am ready. Good-bye. Whatever happens, do not
speak to me; and let no one come near me but yourself. It will be
wearisome for you, but it is for your sake, my Duncan. And don't let the
fire out. Don't leave me."
I assured her I would attend to all she said. She closed her eyes, and lay
still. I went to the fire, and sat down in a high-backed arm-chair, to
wait the event.—There was plenty of fuel in the corner. I made up
the fire, and then, leaning back, with my eyes fixed on it, let my
thoughts roam at will. Where was my old nurse now? What was she seeing or
encountering? Would she meet our adversary? Would she be strong enough to
foil him? Was she dead for the time, although some bond rendered her
return from the regions of the dead inevitable?—But she might never
come back, and then I should have no tidings of the kind which I knew she
had gone to see, and which I longed to hear!
I sat thus for a long time. I had again replenished the fire—that is
all I know about the lapse of the time—when, suddenly, a kind of
physical repugnance and terror seized me, and I sat upright in my chair,
with every fibre of my flesh protesting against some—shall I call it
presence?—in its neighbourhood. But my real self repelled the
invading cold, and took courage for any contest that might be at hand.
Like Macbeth, I only inhabited trembling; I did not tremble. I had
withdrawn my gaze from the fire, and fixed it upon the little window,
about two feet square, at which the dark night looked in. Why or when I
had done so I knew not.
What I next relate, I relate only as what seemed to happen. I do not
altogether trust myself in the matter, and think I was subjected to a
delusion of some sort or other. My feelings of horror grew as I looked
through or rather at the window, till, notwithstanding all my resolution
and the continued assurance that nothing could make me turn my back on the
cause of the terror, I was yet so far possessed by a feeling I
could neither account for nor control, that I felt my hair rise upon my
head, as if instinct with individual fear of its own—the only
instance of the sort in my experience.—In such a condition, the
sensuous nerves are so easily operated upon, either from within or from
without, that all certainty ceases.
I saw two fiery eyes looking in at the window, huge, and wide apart. Next,
I saw the outline of a horse's head, in which the eyes were set; and
behind, the dimmer outline of a man's form seated on the horse. The
apparition faded and reappeared, just as if it retreated, and again rode
up close to the window. Curiously enough, I did not even fancy that I
heard any sound. Instinctively I felt for my sword, but there was no sword
there. And what would it have availed me? Probably I was in more need of a
soothing draught. But the moment I put my hand to the imagined sword-hilt,
a dim figure swept between me and the horseman, on my side of the window—a
tall, stately female form. She stood facing the window, in an attitude
that seemed to dare the further approach of a foe. How long she remained
thus, or he confronted her, I have no idea; for when self-consciousness
returned, I found myself still gazing at the window from which both
apparitions had vanished. Whether I had slept, or, from the relaxation of
mental tension, had only forgotten, I could not tell; but all fear had
vanished, and I proceeded at once to make up the sunken fire. Throughout
the time I am certain I never heard the clanking shoe, for that I should
The rest of the night passed without any disturbance; and when the first
rays of the early morning came into the room, they awoke me from a
comforting sleep in the arm-chair. I rose and approached the bed softly.
Margaret lay as still as death. But having been accustomed to similar
conditions in my Alice, I believed I saw signs of returning animation, and
withdrew to my seat. Nor was I mistaken; for, in a few minutes more, she
murmured my name. I hastened to her.
"Call Janet," she said.
I opened the door, and called her. She came in a moment, looking at once
frightened and relieved.
"Get me some tea," said Margaret once more.
After she had drunk the tea, she looked at me, and said,
"Go home now, Duncan, and come back about noon. Mind you go to bed."
She closed her eyes once more. I waited till I saw her fast in an
altogether different sleep from the former, if sleep that could in any
sense be called.
As I went, I looked back on the vision of the night as on one of those
illusions to which the mind, busy with its own suggestions, is always
liable. The night season, simply because it excludes the external, is
prolific in such. The more of the marvellous any one may have experienced
in the course of his history, the more sceptical ought he to become, for
he is the more exposed to delusion. None have made more blunders in the
course of their revelations than genuine seers. Was it any wonder that, as
I sat at midnight beside the woman of a hundred years, who had voluntarily
died for a time that she might discover what most of all things it
concerned me to know, the ancient tale, on which, to her mind, my whole
history turned, and which she had herself told me in this very cottage,
should take visible shape to my excited brain and watching eyes?
I have one thing more to tell, which strengthens still further this view
of the matter. As I walked home, before I had gone many hundred yards from
the cottage, I suddenly came upon my own old Constancy. He was limping
about, picking the best grass he could find from among the roots of the
heather and cranberry bushes. He gave a start when I came upon him, and
then a jubilant neigh.
But he could not be so glad as I was. When I had taken sufficient pains to
let him know this fact, I walked on, and he followed me like a dog, with
his head at my heel; but as he limped much, I turned to examine him; and
found one cause of his lameness to be, that the loose shoe, which was a
hind one, was broken at the toe; and that one half, held only at the toe,
had turned round and was sticking right out, striking his forefoot every
time he moved. I soon remedied this, and he walked much better.
But the phenomena of the night, and the share my old horse might have
borne in them, were not the subjects, as may well be supposed, that
occupied my mind most, on my walk to the farm. Was it possible that
Margaret might have found out something about her? That was the one
After removing the anxiety of my hostess, and partaking of their Highland
breakfast, a ceremony not to be completed without a glass of peaty whisky,
I wandered to my ancient haunt on the hill. Thence I could look down on my
old home, where it lay unchanged, though not one human form, which had
made it home to me, moved about its precincts. I went no nearer. I no more
felt that that was home, than one feels that the form in the coffin is the
departed dead. I sat down in my old study-chamber among the rocks, and
thought that if I could but find Alice she would be my home—of the
past as well as of the future;—for in her mind my necromantic words
would recall the departed, and we should love them together.
Towards noon I was again at the cottage.
Margaret was sitting up in bed, waiting for me. She looked weary, but
cheerful; and a clean white mutch gave her a certain company-air.
Janet left the room directly, and Margaret motioned me to a chair by her
side. I sat down. She took my hand, and said,
"Duncan, my boy, I fear I can give you but little help; but I will tell
you all I know. If I were to try to put into words the things I had to
encounter before I could come near her, you would not understand what I
meant. Nor do I understand the things myself. They seem quite plain to me
at the time, but very cloudy when I come back. But I did succeed in
getting one glimpse of her. She was fast asleep. She seemed to have
suffered much, for her face was very thin, and as patient as it was pale."
"But where was she?"
"I must leave you to find out that, if you can, from my description. But,
alas! it is only the places immediately about the persons that I can see.
Where they are, or how far I have gone to get there, I cannot tell."
She then gave me a rather minute description of the chamber in which the
lady was lying. Though most of the particulars were unknown to me, the
conviction, or hope at least, gradually dawned upon me, that I knew the
room. Once or twice I had peeped into the sanctuary of Lady Alice's
chamber, when I knew she was not there; and some points in the description
Margaret gave set my heart in a tremor with the bare suggestion that she
might now be at Hilton Hall.
"Tell me, Margaret," I said, almost panting for utterance, "was there a
mirror over the fireplace, with a broad gilt frame, carved into huge
representations of crabs and lobsters, and all crawling sea-creatures with
shells on them—very ugly, and very strange?"
She would have interrupted me before, but I would not be stopped.
"I must tell you, my dear Duncan," she answered, "that in none of these
trances, or whatever you please to call them, did I ever see a mirror. It
has struck me before as a curious thing, that a mirror is then an absolute
blank to me—I see nothing on which I could put a name. It does not
even seem a vacant space to me. A mirror must have nothing in common with
the state I am then in, for I feel a kind of repulsion from it; and indeed
it would be rather an awful thing to look at, for of course I should see
no reflection of myself in it."
(Here I beg once more to remind the reader, that Margaret spoke in Gaelic,
and that my translation into ordinary English does not in the least
represent the extreme simplicity of the forms of her speculations, any
more than of the language which conveyed them.)
"But," she continued, "I have a vague recollection of seeing some broad,
big, gilded thing with figures on it. It might be something else, though,
"I will go in hope," I answered, rising at once.
"Not already, Duncan?"
"Why should I stay longer?"
"Stay over to-night."
"What is the use? I cannot."
"For my sake, Duncan!"
"Yes, dear Margaret; for your sake. Yes, surely."
"Thank you," she answered. "I will not keep you longer now. But if I send
Janet to you, come at once. And, Duncan, wear this for my sake."
She put into my hand an ancient gold cross, much worn. To my amazement I
recognised the counterpart of one Lady Alice had always worn. I pressed it
to my heart.
"I am a Catholic; you are a Protestant, Duncan; but never mind: that's the
same sign to both of us. You won't part with it. It has been in our family
for many long years."
"Not while I live," I answered, and went out, half wild with hope, into
the keen mountain air. How deliciously it breathed upon me!
I passed the afternoon in attempting to form some plan of action at Hilton
Hall, whither I intended to proceed as soon as Margaret set me at liberty.
That liberty came sooner than I expected; and yet I did not go at once.
Janet came for me towards sundown. I thought she looked troubled. I rose
at once and followed her, but asked no questions. As I entered the
cottage, the sun was casting the shadow of the edge of the hollow in which
the cottage stood just at my feet; that is, the sun was more than half set
to one who stood at the cottage door. I entered.
Margaret sat, propped with pillows. I saw some change had passed upon her.
She held out her hand to me. I took it. She smiled feebly, closed her
eyes, and went with the sun, down the hill of night. But down the hill of
night is up the hill of morning in other lands, and no doubt Margaret soon
found that she was more at home there than here.
I sat holding the dead hand, as if therein lay some communion still with
the departed. Perhaps she who saw more than others while yet alive, could
see when dead that I held her cold hand in my warm grasp. Had I not good
cause to love her? She had exhausted the last remnants of her life in that
effort to find for me my lost Alice. Whether she had succeeded I had yet
to discover. Perhaps she knew now.
I hastened the funeral a little, that I might follow my quest. I had her
grave dug amidst her own people and mine; for they lay side by side. The
whole neighbourhood for twenty miles round followed Margaret to the grave.
Such was her character and reputation, that the belief in her supernatural
powers had only heightened the notion of her venerableness.
When I had seen the last sod placed on her grave, I turned and went, with
a desolate but hopeful heart. I had a kind of feeling that her death had
sealed the truth of her last vision. I mounted old Constancy at the
churchyard gate, and set out for Hilton Hall.
CHAPTER XXI. Hilton.
It was a dark, drizzling night when I arrived at the little village of
Hilton, within a mile of the Hall. I knew a respectable second-rate inn on
the side next the Hall, to which the gardener and other servants had been
in the habit of repairing of an evening; and I thought I might there
stumble upon some information, especially as the old-fashioned place had a
large kitchen in which all sorts of guests met. When I reflected on the
utter change which time, weather, and a great scar must have made upon me,
I feared no recognition. But what was my surprise when, by one of those
coincidences which have so often happened to me, I found in the ostler one
of my own troop at Waterloo! His countenance and salute convinced me that
he recognised me. I said to him:
"I know you perfectly, Wood; but you must not know me. I will go with you
to the stable."
He led the way instantly.
"Wood," I said, when we had reached the shelter of the stable, "I don't
want to be known here, for reasons which I will explain to you another
"Very well, sir. You may depend on me, sir."
"I know I may, and I shall. Do you know anybody about the Hall?"
"Yes, sir. The gardener comes here sometimes, sir. I believe he's in the
house now. Shall I ask him to step this way, sir?"
"No. All I want is to learn who is at the Hall now. Will you get him
talking? I shall be by, having something to drink."
"Yes, sir. As soon as I have rubbed down the old horse, sir—bless
"You'll find me there."
I went in, and, with my condition for an excuse, ordered something hot by
the kitchen-fire. Several country people were sitting about it. They made
room for me, and I took my place at a table on one side. I soon discovered
the gardener, although time had done what he could to disguise him. Wood
came in presently, and, loitering about, began to talk to him.
"What's the last news at the Hall, William?" he said.
"News!" answered the old man, somewhat querulously. "There's never nothing
but news up there, and very new-fangled news, too. What do you think, now,
John? They do talk of turning all them greenhouses into hothouses; for, to
be sure, there's nothing the new missus cares about but just the finest
grapes in the country; and the flowers, purty creatures, may go to the
devil for her. There's a lady for ye!"
"But you'll be glad to have her home, and see what she's like, won't you?
It's rather dull up there now, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you call dull," replied the old man, as if half
offended at the suggestion. "I don't believe a soul missed his lordship
when he died; and there's always Mrs. Blakesley and me, as is the best
friends in the world, besides the three maids and the stableman, who helps
me in the garden, now there's no horses. And then there's Jacob and—"
"But you don't mean," said Wood, interrupting him, "that there's none
o' the family at home now?"
"No. Who should there be? Least ways, only the poor lady. And she hardly
counts now—bless her sweet face!"
"Do you ever see her?" interposed one of the by-sitters.
"Is she quite crazy?"
"Al-to-gether; but that quiet and gentle, you would think she was
an angel instead of a mad woman. But not a notion has she in her
head, no more than the babe unborn."
It was a dreadful shock to me. Was this to be the end of all? Were it not
better she had died? For me, life was worthless now. And there were no
wars, with the chance of losing it honestly.
I rose, and went to my own room. As I sat in dull misery by the fire, it
struck me that it might not have been Lady Alice after all that the old
man spoke about. That moment a tap came to my door, and Wood entered.
After a few words, I asked him who was the lady the gardener had said was
"Lady Alice," he answered, and added: "A love story, that came to a bad
end up at the Hall years ago. A tutor was in it, they say. But I don't
know the rights of it."
When he left me, I sat in a cold stupor, in which the thoughts—if
thoughts they could be called—came and went of themselves. Overcome
by the appearances of things—as what man the strongest may not
sometimes be?—I felt as if I had lost her utterly, as if there was
no Lady Alice anywhere, and as if, to add to the vacant horror of the
world without her, a shadow of her, a goblin simulacrum, soul-less,
unreal, yet awfully like her, went wandering about the place which had
once been glorified by her presence—as to the eyes of seers the
phantoms of events which have happened years before are still visible,
clinging to the room in which they have indeed taken place. But, in
a little while, something warm began to throb and flow in my being; and I
thought that if she were dead, I should love her still; that now she was
not worse than dead; it was only that her soul was out of sight. Who could
tell but it might be wandering in worlds of too noble shapes and too high
a speech, to permit of representation in the language of the world in
which her bodily presentation remained, and therefore her speech and
behaviour seemed to men to be mad? Nay, was it not in some sense better
for me that it should be so? To see once the pictured likeness of her of
whom I had no such memorial, would I not give years of my poverty-stricken
life? And here was such a statue of her, as that of his wife which the
widowed king was bending before, when he said:—
"What fine chisel
Could ever yet cut breath?"
This statue I might see, "looking like an angel," as the gardener had
said. And, while the bond of visibility remained, must not the soul be,
somehow, nearer to the earth, than if the form lay decaying beneath it?
Was there not some possibility that the love for whose sake the reason had
departed, might be able to recall that reason once more to the windows of
sense,—make it look forth at those eyes, and lie listening in the
recesses of those ears? In her somnambulic sleeps, the present body was
the sign that the soul was within reach: so it might be still.
Mrs. Blakesley was still at the lodge, then: I would call upon her
to-morrow. I went to bed, and dreamed all night that Alice was sitting
somewhere in a land "full of dark mountains," and that I was wandering
about in the darkness, alternately calling and listening; sometimes
fancying I heard a faint reply, which might be her voice or an echo of my
own; but never finding her. I woke in an outburst of despairing tears, and
my despair was not comforted by my waking.
CHAPTER XXII. The Sleeper.
It was a lovely morning in autumn. I walked to the Hall. I entered at the
same gate by which I had entered first, so many years before. But it was
not Mrs. Blakesley that opened it. I inquired after her, and the woman
told me that she lived at the Hall now, and took care of Lady Alice. So
far, this was hopeful news.
I went up the same avenue, through the same wide grassy places, saw the
same statue from whose base had arisen the lovely form which soon became a
part of my existence. Then everything looked rich, because I had come from
a poor, grand country. In all my wanderings I had seen nothing so rich;
yet now it seemed poverty-stricken. That it was autumn could not account
for this; for I had always found that the sadness of autumn vivified the
poetic sense; and that the colours of decay had a pathetic glory more
beautiful than the glory of the most gorgeous summer with all its flowers.
It was winter within me—that was the reason; and I could feel no
autumn around me, because I saw no spring beyond me. It had fared with my
mind as with the garden in the Sensitive Plant, when the lady was
dead. I was amazed and troubled at the stolidity with which I walked up to
the door, and, having rung the bell, waited. No sweet memories of the past
arose in my mind; not one of the well-known objects around looked at me as
claiming a recognition. Yet, when the door was opened, my heart beat so
violently at the thought that I might see her, that I could hardly stammer
out my inquiry after Mrs. Blakesley.
I was shown to a room. None of the sensations I had had on first crossing
the threshold were revived. I remembered them all; I felt none of them.
Mrs. Blakesley came. She did not recognise me. I told her who I was. She
stared at me for a moment, seemed to see the same face she had known still
glimmering through all the changes that had crowded upon it, held out both
her hands, and burst into tears.
"Mr. Campbell," she said, "you are changed! But not like her. She's
the same to look at; but, oh dear!"
We were both silent for some time. At length she resumed:—
"Come to my room; I have been mistress here for some time now."
I followed her to the room Mrs. Wilson used to occupy. She put wine on the
table. I told her my story. My labours, and my wounds, and my illness,
slightly touched as I trust they were in the course of the tale, yet moved
all her womanly sympathies.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Campbell?" she said.
"Let me see her," I replied.
She hesitated for a moment.
"I dare not, sir. I don't know what it might do to her. It might send her
raving; and she is so quiet."
"Has she ever raved?"
"Not often since the first week or two. Now and then occasionally, for an
hour or so, she would be wild, wanting to get out. But she gave that over
altogether; and she has had her liberty now for a long time. But, Heaven
bless her! at the worst she was always a lady."
"And am I to go away without even seeing her?"
"I am very sorry for you, Mr. Campbell."
I felt hurt—foolishly, I confess—and rose. She put her hand on
"I'll tell you what I'll do, sir. She always falls asleep in the
afternoon; you may see her asleep, if you like."
"Thank you; thank you," I answered. "That will be much better. When shall
"About three o'clock."
I went wandering about the woods, and at three I was again in the
housekeeper's room. She came to me presently, looking rather troubled.
"It is very odd," she began, the moment she entered, "but for the first
time, I think, for years, she's not for her afternoon sleep."
"Does she sleep at night?" I asked.
"Like a bairn. But she sleeps a great deal; and the doctor says that's
what keeps her so quiet. She would go raving again, he says, if the sleep
did not soothe her poor brain."
"Could you not let me see her when she is asleep to-night?"
Again she hesitated, but presently replied:—
"I will, sir; but I trust to you never to mention it."
"Of course I will not."
"Come at ten o'clock, then. You will find the outer door on this side
open. Go straight to my room."
With renewed thanks I left her and, once again betaking myself to the
woods, wandered about till night, notwithstanding signs of an approaching
storm. I thus kept within the boundaries of the demesne, and had no
occasion to request re-admittance at any of the gates.
As ten struck on the tower-clock, I entered Mrs. Blakesley's room. She was
not there. I sat down. In a few minutes she came.
"She is fast asleep," she said. "Come this way."
I followed, trembling. She led me to the same room Lady Alice used to
occupy. The door was a little open. She pushed it gently, and I followed
her in. The curtains towards the door were drawn. Mrs. Blakesley took me
round to the other side.—There lay the lovely head, so phantom-like
for years, coming only in my dreams; filling now, with a real presence,
the eyes that had longed for it, as if in them dwelt an appetite of sight.
It calmed my heart at once, which had been almost choking me with the
violence of its palpitation. "That is not the face of insanity," I said to
myself. "It is clear as the morning light." As I stood gazing, I made no
comparisons between the past and the present, although I was aware of some
difference—of some measure of the unknown fronting me; I was filled
with the delight of beholding the face I loved—full, as it seemed to
me, of mind and womanhood; sleeping—nothing more. I murmured a
fervent "Thank God!" and was turning away with a feeling of satisfaction
for all the future, and a strange great hope beginning to throb in my
heart, when, after a little restless motion of her head on the pillow, her
patient lips began to tremble. My soul rushed into my ears.
"Mr. Campbell," she murmured, "I cannot spell; what am I to do to learn?"
The unexpected voice, naming my name, sounded in my ears like a voice from
the far-off regions where sighing is over. Then a smile gleamed up from
the depths unseen, and broke and melted away all over her face. But her
nurse had heard her speak, and now approached in alarm. She laid hold of
my arm, and drew me towards the door. I yielded at once, but heard a moan
from the bed as I went. I looked back—the curtains hid her from my
view. Outside the door, Mrs. Blakesley stood listening for a moment, and
then led the way downstairs.
"You made her restless. You see, sir, she never was like other people,
"Her face is not like one insane," I rejoined.
"I often think she looks more like herself when she's asleep," answered
she. "And then I have often seen her smile. She never smiles when she's
awake. But, gracious me, Mr. Campbell! what shall I do?"
This exclamation was caused by my suddenly falling back in my chair and
closing my eyes. I had almost fainted. I had eaten nothing since
breakfast; and had been wandering about in a state of excitement all day.
I greedily swallowed the glass of wine she brought me, and then first
became aware that the storm which I had seen gathering while I was in the
woods had now broken loose. "What a night in the old hall!" thought I. The
wind was dashing itself like a thousand eagles against the house, and the
rain was trampling the roofs and the court like troops of galloping
steeds. I rose to go.
But Mrs. Blakesley interfered.
"You don't leave this house to-night, Mr. Campbell," she said. "I won't
have your death laid at my door."
"Dear Mrs. Blakesley,—" I said, seeing her determined.
"I won't hear a word," she interrupted. "I wouldn't let a horse out in
such a tempest. No, no; you shall just sleep in your old quarters, across
the passage there."
I did not care for any storm. It hardly even interested me. That beautiful
face filled my whole being. But I yielded to Mrs. Blakesley, and not
CHAPTER XXIII. My Old Room.
Once more I was left alone in that room of dark oak, looking out on the
little ivy-mantled court, of which I was now reminded by the howling of
the storm within its high walls. Mrs. Blakesley had extemporised a bed for
me on the old sofa; and the fire was already blazing away splendidly. I
sat down beside it, and the sombre-hued Past rolled back upon me.
After I had floated, as it were, upon the waves of memory for some time, I
suddenly glanced behind me and around the room, and a new and strange
experience dawned upon me. Time became to my consciousness what some
metaphysicians say it is in itself—only a form of human
thought. For the Past had returned and had become the Present. I could not
be sure that the Past had passed, that I had not been dreaming through the
whole series of years and adventures, upon which I was able to look back.
For here was the room, all as before; and here was I, the same man, with
the same love glowing in my heart. I went on thinking. The storm went on
howling. The logs went on cheerily burning. I rose and walked about the
room, looking at everything as I had looked at it on the night of my first
arrival. I said to myself, "How strange that I should feel as if all this
had happened to me before!" And then I said, "Perhaps it has
happened to me before." Again I said, "And when it did happen before, I
felt as if it had happened before that; and perhaps it has been happening
to me at intervals for ages." I opened the door of the closet, and looked
at the door behind it, which led into the hall of the old house. It was
bolted. But the bolt slipped back at my touch; twelve years were nothing
in the history of its rust; or was it only yesterday I had forced the iron
free from the adhesion of the rust-welded surfaces? I stood for a moment
hesitating whether to open the door, and have one peep into the wide hall,
full of intent echoes, listening breathless for one air of sound, that
they might catch it up jubilant and dash it into the ears of—Silence—their
ancient enemy—their Death. But I drew back, leaving the door
unopened; and, sitting down again by my fire, sank into a kind of
unconscious weariness. Perhaps I slept—I do not know; but as I
became once more aware of myself, I awoke, as it were, in the midst of an
old long-buried night. I was sitting in my own room, waiting for Lady
Alice. And, as I sat waiting, and wishing she would come, by slow degrees
my wishes intensified themselves, till I found myself, with all my
gathered might, willing that she should come. The minutes passed, but the
How shall I tell what followed? The door of the closet opened—slowly,
gently—and in walked Lady Alice, pale as death, her eyes closed, her
whole person asleep. With a gliding motion as in a dream, where the
volition that produces motion is unfelt, she seemed to me to dream herself
across the floor to my couch, on which she laid herself down as
gracefully, as simply, as in the old beautiful time. Her appearance did
not startle me, for my whole condition was in harmony with the phenomenon.
I rose noiselessly, covered her lightly from head to foot, and sat down,
as of old to watch. How beautiful she was! I thought she had grown taller;
but, perhaps, it was only that she had gained in form without losing
anything in grace. Her face was, as it had always been, colourless; but
neither it nor her figure showed any signs of suffering. The holy sleep
had fed her physical as well as shielded her mental nature. But what would
the waking be? Not all the power of the revived past could shut out the
anticipation of the dreadful difference to be disclosed, the moment she
should open those sleeping eyes. To what a frightfully farther distance
was that soul now removed, whose return I had been wont to watch, as from
the depths of the unknown world! That was strange; this was terrible.
Instead of the dawn of rosy intelligence I had now to look for the fading
of the loveliness as she woke, till her face withered into the bewildered
and indigent expression of the insane.
She was waking. My love with the unknown face was at hand. The reviving
flush came, grew, deepened. She opened her eyes. God be praised! They were
lovelier than ever. And the smile that broke over her face was the very
sunlight of the soul.
"Come again, you see!" she said gently, as she stretched her beautiful
arms towards me.
I could not speak. I could only submit to her embrace, and hold myself
with all my might, lest I should burst into helpless weeping. But a sob or
two broke their prison, and she felt the emotion she had not seen.
Relaxing her hold, she pushed me gently from her, and looked at me with
concern that grew as she looked.
"You are dreadfully changed, my Duncan! What is the matter? Has Lord
Hilton been rude to you? You look so much older, somehow. What can it be?"
I understood at once how it was. The whole of those dreary twelve years
was gone. The thread of her consciousness had been cut, those years
dropped out, and the ends reunited. She thought this was one of her old
visits to me, when, as now, she had walked in her sleep. I answered,
"I will tell you all another time. I don't want to waste the moments with
you, my Alice, in speaking about it. Lord Hilton has behaved very
badly to me; but never mind."
She half rose in anger; and her eyes looked insane for the first time.
"How dares he?" she said, and then checked herself with a sigh at her own
"But it will all come right, Alice," I went on in terror lest I should
disturb her present conception of her circumstances. I felt as if the very
face I wore, with the changes of those twelve forgotten years, which had
passed over her like the breath of a spring wind, were a mask of which I
had to be ashamed before her. Her consciousness was my involuntary
standard of fact. Hope of my life as she was, there was thus mingled with
my delight in her presence a restless fear that made me wish fervently
that she would go. I wanted time to quiet my thoughts and resolve how I
should behave to her.
"Alice," I said, "it is nearly morning. You were late to-night. Don't you
think you had better go—for fear, you know?"
"Ah!" she said, with a smile, in which there was no doubt of fear, "you
are tired of me already! But I will go at once to dream about you."
"Go, my darling," I said; "and mind you get some right sleep. Shall I go
Much to my relief, she answered,
"No, no; please not. I can go alone as usual. When a ghost meets me, I
just walk through him, and then he's nowhere; and I laugh."
One kiss, one backward lingering look, and the door closed behind her. I
heard the echo of the great hall. I was alone. But what a loneliness—a
loneliness crowded with presence! I paced up and down the room, threw
myself on the couch she had left, started up, and paced again. It was long
before I could think. But the conviction grew upon me that she would be
mine yet. Mine yet? Mine she was, beyond all the power of madness
or demons; and mine I trusted she would be beyond the dispute of the
world. About me, at least, she was not insane. But what should I do? The
only chance of her recovery lay in seeing me still; but I could resolve on
nothing till I knew whether Mrs. Blakesley had discovered her absence from
her room; because, if I drew her, and she were watched and prevented from
coming, it would kill her, or worse. I must take to-morrow to think.
Yet at the moment, by a sudden impulse, I opened the window gently,
stepped into the little grassy court, where the last of the storm was
still moaning, and withdrew the bolts of a door which led into an alley of
trees running along one side of the kitchen-garden. I felt like a
housebreaker; but I said, "It is her right." I pushed the bolts
forward again, so as just to touch the sockets and look as if they went
in, and then retreated into my own room, where I paced about till the
household was astir.
CHAPTER XXIV. Prison-Breaking.
It was with considerable anxiety that I repaired to Mrs. Blakesley's room.
There I found the old lady at the breakfast-table, so thoroughly composed,
that I was at once reassured as to her ignorance of what had occurred
while she slept. But she seemed uneasy till I should take my departure,
which I attributed to the fear that I might happen to meet Lady Alice.
Arrived at my inn, I kept my room, my dim-seen plans rendering it
desirable that I should attract as little attention in the neighbourhood
as might be. I had now to concentrate these plans, and make them definite
to myself. It was clear that there was no chance of spending another night
at Hilton Hall by invitation: would it be honourable to go there without
one, as I, knowing all the outs and ins of the place, could, if I
pleased? I went over the whole question of Alice's position in that house,
and of the crime committed against her. I saw that, if I could win my wife
by restoring to her the exercise of reason, that very success would
justify the right I already possessed in her. And could she not demand of
me to climb over any walls, or break open whatsoever doors, to free her
from her prison—from the darkness of a clouded brain? Let them say
what they would of the meanness and wickedness of gaining such access to,
and using such power over, the insane—she was mine, and as safe with
me as with her mother. There is a love that tears and destroys; and there
is a love that enfolds and saves. I hated mesmerism and its vulgar
impertinences; but here was a power I possessed, as far as I knew, only
over one, and that one allied to me by a reciprocal influence, as well as
long-tried affection.—Did not love give me the right to employ this
My cognitions concluded in the resolve to use the means in my hands for
the rescue of Lady Alice. Midnight found me in the alley of the
kitchen-garden. The door of the little court opened easily. Nor had I
withdrawn its bolts without knowing that I could manage to open the window
of my old room from the outside. I stood in the dark, a stranger and
housebreaker, where so often I had sat waiting the visits of my angel. I
secured the door of the room, struck a light, lighted a remnant of taper
which I found on the table, threw myself on the couch, and said to my
And she came. I rose. She laid herself down. I pulled off my coat—it
was all I could find—and laid it over her. The night was chilly. She
revived with the same sweet smile, but, giving a little shiver, said:
"Why have you no fire, Duncan? I must give orders about it. That's some
trick of old Clankshoe."
"Dear Alice, do not breath a word about me to any one. I have quarrelled
with Lord Hilton. He has turned me away, and I have no business to be in
"Oh!" she replied, with a kind of faint recollecting hesitation. "That
must be why you never come to the haunted chamber now. I go there every
night, as soon as the sun is down."
"Yes, that is it, Alice."
"Ah! that must be what makes the day so strange to me too."
She looked very bewildered for a moment, and then resumed:
"Do you know, Duncan, I feel very strange all day—as if I was
walking about in a dull dream that would never come to an end? But it is
very different at night—is it not, dear?"
She had not yet discovered any distinction between my presence to her
dreams and my presence to her waking sight. I hardly knew what reply to
make; but she went on:
"They won't let me come to you now, I suppose. I shall forget my Euclid
and everything. I feel as if I had forgotten it all already. But you won't
be vexed with your poor Alice, will you? She's only a beggar-girl, you
I could answer only by a caress.
"I had a strange dream the other night. I thought I was sitting on a stone
in the dark. And I heard your voice calling me. And it went all round
about me, and came nearer, and went farther off, but I could not move to
go to you. I tried to answer you, but I could only make a queer sound, not
like my own voice at all."
"I dreamed it too, Alice."
"The same dream?"
"Yes, the very same."
"I am so glad. But I didn't like the dream. Duncan, my head feels so
strange sometimes. And I am so sleepy. Duncan, dearest—am I
dreaming now? Oh! tell me that I am awake and that I hold you; for
to-morrow, when I wake, I shall fancy that I have lost you. They've
spoiled my poor brain, somehow. I am all right, I know, but I cannot get
at it. The red is withered, somehow."
"You are wide awake, my Alice. I know all about it. I will help you to
understand it all, only you must do exactly as I tell you."
"Then go to bed now, and sleep as much as you can; else I will not let you
come to me at night."
"That would be too cruel, when it is all I have."
"Then go, dearest, and sleep."
She rose and went. I, too, went, making all close behind me. The moon was
going down. Her light looked to me strange, and almost malignant. I feared
that when she came to the full she would hurt my darling's brain, and I
longed to climb the sky, and cut her in pieces. Was I too going mad? I
needed rest, that was all.
Next morning, I called again upon Mrs. Blakesley, to inquire after Lady
Alice, anxious to know how yesterday had passed.
"Just the same," answered the old lady. "You need not look for any change.
Yesterday I did see her smile once, though."
And was that nothing?
In her case there was a reversal of the usual facts of nature—(I
say facts, not laws): the dreams of most people are more or
less insane; those of Lady Alice were sound; thus, with her, restoring the
balance of sane life. That smile was the sign of the dream-life beginning
to leaven the waking and false life.
"Have you heard of young Lord Hilton's marriage?" asked Mrs. Blakesley.
"I have only heard some rumours about it," I answered. "Who is the new
"The daughter of a rich merchant somewhere. They say she isn't the best of
tempers. They're coming here in about a month. I am just terrified to
think how it may fare with my lamb now. They won't let her go wandering
about wherever she pleases, I doubt. And if they shut her up, she will
I vowed inwardly that she should be free, if I carried her off, madness
CHAPTER XXV. New Entrenchments.
But this way of breaking into the house every night did not afford me the
facility I wished. For I wanted to see Lady Alice during the day, or at
least in the evening before she went to sleep; as otherwise I could not
thoroughly judge of her condition. So I got Wood to pack up a small stock
of provisions for me in his haversack, which I took with me; and when I
entered the house that night, I bolted the door of the court behind me,
and made all fast.
I waited till the usual time for her appearance had passed; and, always
apprehensive now, as was very natural, I had begun to grow uneasy, when I
heard her voice, as I had heard it once before, singing. Fearful of
disturbing her, I listened for a moment. Whether the song was her own or
not, I cannot be certain. When I questioned her afterwards, she knew
nothing about it. It was this,—
Days of old,
Ye are not dead, though gone from me;
Ye are not cold,
But like the summer-birds gone o'er the sea.
The sun brings back the swallows fast,
O'er the sea:
When thou comest at the last,
The days of old come back to me.
She ceased singing. Still she did not enter. I went into the closet, and
found that the door was bolted. When I opened it, she entered, as usual;
and, when she came to herself, seemed still better than before.
"Duncan," she said, "I don't know how it is, but I believe I must have
forgotten everything I ever knew. I feel as if I had. I don't think I can
even read. Will you teach me my letters?"
She had a book in her hand. I hailed this as another sign that her waking
and sleeping thoughts bordered on each other; for she must have taken the
book during her somnambulic condition. I did as she desired. She seemed to
know nothing till I told her. But the moment I told her anything, she knew
it perfectly. Before she left me that night she was reading tolerably,
with many pauses of laughter that she should ever have forgotten how. The
moment she shared the light of my mind, all was plain; where that had not
shone, all was dark. The fact was, she was living still in the shadow of
that shock which her nervous constitution had received from our discovery
and my ejection.
As she was leaving me, I said,
"Shall you be in the haunted room at sunset tomorrow, Alice?"
"Of course I shall," she answered.
"You will find me there then," I rejoined—"that is, if you think
there is no danger of being seen."
"Not the least," she answered. "No one follows me there; not even Mrs.
Blakesley, good soul! They are all afraid, as usual."
"And you won't be frightened to see me there?"
"Frightened? No. Why? Oh! you think me queer too, do you?"
She looked vexed, but tried to smile.
"I? I would trust you with my life," I said. "That's not much, though—with
my soul, whatever that means, Alice."
"Then don't talk nonsense," she rejoined coaxingly, "about my being
frightened to see you."
When she had gone, I followed into the old hall, taking my sack with me;
for, after having found the door in the closet bolted, I was determined
not to spend one night more in my old quarters, and never to allow Lady
Alice to go there again, if I could prevent her. And I had good hopes
that, if we met in the day, the same consequences would follow as had
followed long ago—namely, that she would sleep at night.
It was just such a night as that on which I had first peeped into the
hall. The moon shone through one of the high windows, scarcely more dim
than before, and showed all the dreariness of the place. I went up the
great old staircase, hoping I trod in the very footsteps of Lady Alice,
and reached the old gallery in which I had found her on that night when
our strangely-knit intimacy began. My object was to choose one of the
deserted rooms in which I might establish myself without chance of
discovery. I had not turned many corners, or gone through many passages,
before I found one exactly to my mind. I will not trouble my reader with a
description of its odd position and shape. All I wanted was concealment,
and that it provided plentifully. I lay down on the floor, and was soon
Next morning, having breakfasted from the contents of my bag, I proceeded
to make myself thoroughly acquainted with the bearings, etc., of this
portion of the house. Before evening, I knew it all thoroughly.
But I found it very difficult to wait for the evening. By the windows of
one of the rooms looking westward, I sat watching the down-going of the
sun. When he set, my moon would rise. As he touched the horizon, I went
the old, well-known way to the haunted chamber. What a night had passed
for me since I left Alice in that charmed room! I had a vague feeling,
however, notwithstanding the misfortune that had befallen us there, that
the old phantoms that haunted it were friendly to Alice and me. But I
waited her arrival in fear. Would she come? Would she be as in the night?
Or should I find her but half awake to life, and perhaps asleep to me?
One moment longer, and a light hand was laid on the door. It opened
gently, and Alice, entering, flitted across the room straight to my arms.
How beautiful she was! her old-fashioned dress bringing her into harmony
with the room and its old consecrated twilight! For this room looked
eastward, and there was only twilight here. She brought me some water, at
my request; and then we read, and laughed over our reading. Every moment
she not only knew something fresh, but knew that she had known it before.
The dust of the years had to be swept away; but it was only dust, and flew
at a breath. The light soon failed us in that dusky chamber; and we sat
and whispered, till only when we kissed could we see each other's eyes. At
length Lady Alice said:
"They are looking for me; I had better go. Shall I come at night?"
"No," I answered. "Sleep, and do not move."
"Very well, I will."
She went, and I returned to my den. There I lay and thought. Had she ever
been insane at all? I doubted it. A kind of mental sleep or stupor had
come upon her—nothing more. True it might be allied to madness; but
is there a strong emotion that man or woman experiences that is not allied
to madness? Still her mind was not clear enough to reflect the past. But
if she never recalled that entirely, not the less were her love and
tenderness—all womanliness—entire in her.
Next evening we met again, and the next, and many evenings. Every time I
was more convinced than before that she was thoroughly sane in every
practical sense, and that she would recall everything as soon as I
reminded her. But this I forbore to do, fearing a reaction.
Meantime, after a marvellous fashion, I was living over again the old
lovely time that had gone by twelve years ago; living it over again,
partly in virtue of the oblivion that had invaded the companion and source
of the blessedness of the time. She had never ceased to live it; but had
renewed it in dreams, unknown as such, from which she awoke to
forgetfulness and quiet, while I awoke from my troubled fancies to tears
It was strange, indeed, to live the past over again thus.
CHAPTER XXVI. Escape.
It was time, however, to lay some plan, and make some preparations, for
our departure. The first thing to be secured was a convenient exit from
the house. I searched in all directions, but could discover none better
than that by which I had entered. Leaving the house one evening, as soon
as Lady Alice had retired, I communicated my situation to Wood, who
entered with all his heart into my projects. Most fortunately, through all
her so-called madness, Lady Alice had retained and cherished the feeling
that there was something sacred about the diamond-ring and the little
money which had been intended for our flight before; and she had kept them
carefully concealed, where she could find them in a moment. I had sent the
ring to a friend in London, to sell it for me; and it produced more than I
expected. I had then commissioned Wood to go to the county town and buy a
light gig for me; and in this he had been very fortunate. My dear old
Constancy had the accomplishment, not at all common to chargers, of going
admirably in harness; and I had from the first enjoined upon Wood to get
him into as good condition as possible. I now fixed a certain hour at
which Wood was to be at a certain spot on one of the roads skirting the
park, where I had found a crazy door in the plank-fence—with
Constancy in the dogcart, and plenty of wraps for Alice.
"And for Heaven's sake, Wood," I concluded, "look to his shoes."
It may seem strange that I should have been able to go and come thus
without detection; but it must be remembered that I had made myself more
familiar with the place than any of its inhabitants, and that there were
only a very few domestics in the establishment. The gardener and stableman
slept in the house, for its protection; but I knew their windows
perfectly, and most of their movements. I could watch them all day long,
if I liked, from some loophole or other of my quarter; where, indeed, I
sometimes found that the only occupation I could think of.
The next evening I said, "Alice, I must leave the house: will you go with
"Of course I will, Duncan. When?"
"The night after to-morrow, as soon as every one is in bed and the house
quiet. If you have anything you value very much, take it; but the lighter
we go the better."
"I have nothing, Duncan. I will take a little bag—that will do for
"But dress as warmly as you can. It will be cold."
"Oh, yes; I won't forget that. Good night."
She took it as quietly as going to church.
I had not seen Mrs. Blakesley since she had told me that the young earl
and countess were expected in about a month; else I might have learned one
fact which it was very important I should have known, namely, that their
arrival had been hastened by eight or ten days. The very morning of our
intended departure, I was looking into the court through a little round
hole I had cleared for observation in the dust of one of the windows,
believing I had observed signs of unusual preparation on the part of the
household, when a carriage drove up, followed by two others, and Lord and
Lady Hilton descended and entered, with an attendance of some eight or
There was a great bustle in the house all day. Of course I felt uneasy,
for if anything should interfere with our flight, the presence of so many
would increase whatever difficulty might occur. I was also uneasy about
the treatment my Alice might receive from the new-comers. Indeed, it might
be put out of her power to meet me at all. It had been arranged between us
that she should not come to the haunted chamber at the usual hour, but
I was there waiting for her. The hour arrived; the house seemed quiet; but
she did not come. I began to grow very uneasy. I waited half an hour more,
and then, unable to endure it longer, crept to her door. I tried to open
it, but found it fast. At the same moment I heard a light sob inside. I
put my lips to the keyhole, and called "Alice." She answered in a
"They have locked me in."
The key was gone. There was no time to be lost. Who could tell what they
might do to-morrow, if already they were taking precautions against her
madness? I would try the key of a neighbouring door, and if that would not
fit, I would burst the door open, and take the chance. As it was, the key
fitted the lock, and the door opened. We locked it again on the outside,
restored the key, and in another moment were in the haunted chamber. Alice
was dressed, ready for flight. To me, it was very pathetic to see her in
the shapes of years gone by. She looked faded and ancient, notwithstanding
that this was the dress in which I had seen her so often of old. Her
stream had been standing still, while mine had flowed on. She was a
portrait of my own young Alice, a picture of her own former self.
One or two lights glancing about below detained us for a little while. We
were standing near the window, feeling now very anxious to be clear of the
house; Alice was holding me and leaning on me with the essence of trust;
when, all at once, she dropped my arm, covered her face with her hands,
and called out: "The horse with the clanking shoe!" At the same moment,
the heavy door which communicated with this part of the house flew open
with a crash, and footsteps came hurrying along the passage. A light
gleamed into the room, and by it I saw that Lady Alice, who was standing
close to me still, was gazing, with flashing eyes, at the door. She
"I remember it all now, Duncan. My brain is all right. It is come again.
But they shall not part us this time. You follow me for once."
As she spoke, I saw something glitter in her hand. She had caught up an
old Malay creese that lay in a corner, and was now making for the door, at
which half a dozen domestics were by this time gathered. They, too, saw
the glitter, and made way. I followed close, ready to fell the first who
offered to lay hands on her. But she walked through them unmenaced, and,
once clear, sped like a bird into the recesses of the old house. One
fellow started to follow. I tripped him up. I was collared by another. The
same instant he lay by his companion, and I followed Alice. She knew the
route well enough, and I overtook her in the great hall. We heard pursuing
feet rattling down the echoing stair. To enter my room and bolt the door
behind us was a moment's work; and a few moments more took us into the
alley of the kitchen-garden. With speedy, noiseless steps, we made our way
to the park, and across it to the door in the fence, where Wood was
waiting for us, old Constancy pawing the ground with impatience for a good
He had had enough of it before twelve hours were over.
Was I not well recompensed for my long years of despair? The cold stars
were sparkling overhead; a wind blew keen against us—the wind of our
own flight; Constancy stepped out with a will; and I urged him on, for he
bore my beloved and me into the future life. Close beside me she sat,
wrapped warm from the cold, rejoicing in her deliverance, and now and then
looking up with tear-bright eyes into my face. Once and again I felt her
sob, but I knew it was a sob of joy, and not of grief. The spell was
broken at last, and she was mine. I felt that not all the spectres of the
universe could tear her from me, though now and then a slight shudder
would creep through me, when the clank of Constancy's bit would echo
sharply back from the trees we swept past.
We rested no more than was absolutely necessary; and in as short a space
as ever horse could perform the journey, we reached the Scotch border, and
before many more hours had gone over us, Alice was my wife.
CHAPTER XXVII. Freedom.
Honest Wood joined us in the course of a week or two, and has continued in
my service ever since. Nor was it long before Mrs. Blakesley was likewise
added to our household, for she had been instantly dismissed from the
countess's service on the charge of complicity in Lady Alice's abduction.
We lived for some months in a cottage on a hill-side, overlooking one of
the loveliest of the Scotch lakes. Here I was once more tutor to my Alice.
And a quick scholar she was, as ever. Nor, I trust, was I slow in my part.
Her character became yet clearer to me, every day. I understood her better
She could endure marvellously; but without love and its joy she could not
live, in any real sense. In uncongenial society, her whole mental
faculty had frozen; when love came, her mental world, like a garden in the
spring sunshine, blossomed and budded. When she lost me, the Present
vanished, or went by her like an ocean that has no milestones; she caring
only for the Past, living only in the Past, and that reflection of it in
the dim glass of her hope, which prefigured the Future.
We have never again heard the clanking shoe. Indeed, after we had passed a
few months in the absorption of each other's society, we began to find
that we doubted a great deal of what seemed to have happened to us. It was
as if the gates of the unseen world were closing against us, because we
had shut ourselves up in the world of the present. But we let it go
gladly. We felt that love was the gate to an unseen world infinitely
beyond that region of the psychological in which we had hitherto moved;
for this love was teaching us to love all men, and live for all men. In
fact, we are now, I am glad to say, very much like other people; and
wonder, sometimes, how much of the story of our lives might be accounted
for on the supposition that unusual coincidences had fallen in with
psychological peculiarities. Dr. Ruthwell, who is sometimes our most
welcome guest, has occasionally hinted at the sabre-cut as the key to all
the mysteries of the story, seeing nothing of it was at least recorded
before I came under his charge. But I have only to remind him of one or
two circumstances, to elicit from his honesty and immediate confession of
bewilderment, followed by silence; although he evidently still clings to
the notion that in that sabre-cut lies the solution of much of the marvel.
At all events, he considers me sane enough now, else he would hardly
honour me with so much of his confidence as he does. Having examined into
Lady Alice's affairs, I claimed the fortune which she had inherited. Lord
Hilton, my former pupil, at once acknowledged the justice of the claim,
and was considerably astonished to find how much more might have been
demanded of him, which had been spent over the allowance made from her
income for her maintenance. But we had enough without claiming that.
My wife purchased for me the possession of my forefathers, and there we
live in peace and hope. To her I owe the delight which I feel every day of
my life in looking upon the haunts of my childhood as still mine. They
help me to keep young. And so does my Alice's hair; for although much grey
now mingles with mine, hers is as dark as ever. For her heart, I know that
cannot grow old; and while the heart is young, man may laugh old Time in
the face, and dare him to do his worst.
THE CRUEL PAINTER
Among the young men assembled at the University of Prague, in the year 159—,
was one called Karl von Wolkenlicht. A somewhat careless student, he yet
held a fair position in the estimation of both professors and men, because
he could hardly look at a proposition without understanding it. Where such
proposition, however, had to do with anything relating to the deeper
insights of the nature, he was quite content that, for him, it should
remain a proposition; which, however, he laid up in one of his mental
cabinets, and was ready to reproduce at a moment's notice. This mental
agility was more than matched by the corresponding corporeal excellence,
and both aided in producing results in which his remarkable strength was
equally apparent. In all games depending upon the combination of muscle
and skill, he had scarce rivalry enough to keep him in practice. His
strength, however, was embodied in such a softness of muscular outline,
such a rare Greek-like style of beauty, and associated with such a
gentleness of manner and behaviour, that, partly from the truth of the
resemblance, partly from the absurdity of the contrast, he was known
throughout the university by the diminutive of the feminine form of his
name, and was always called Lottchen.
"I say, Lottchen," said one of his fellow-students, called Richter, across
the table in a wine-cellar they were in the habit of frequenting, "do you
know, Heinrich Höllenrachen here says that he saw this morning, with
mortal eyes, whom do you think?—Lilith."
"Adam's first wife?" asked Lottchen, with an attempt at carelessness,
while his face flushed like a maiden's.
"None of your chaff!" said Richter. "Your face is honester than your
tongue, and confesses what you cannot deny, that you would give your
chance of salvation—a small one to be sure, but all you've got—for
one peep at Lilith. Wouldn't you now, Lottchen?"
"Go to the devil!" was all Lottchen's answer to his tormentor; but he
turned to Heinrich, to whom the students had given the surname above
mentioned, because of the enormous width of his jaws, and said with
eagerness and envy, disguising them as well as he could, under the
appearance of curiosity—
"You don't mean it, Heinrich? You've been taking the beggar in! Confess
"Not I. I saw her with my two eyes."
"Notwithstanding the different planes of their orbits," suggested Richter.
"Yes, notwithstanding the fact that I can get a parallax to any of the
fixed stars in a moment, with only the breadth of my nose for the base,"
answered Heinrich, responding at once to the fun, and careless of the
personal defect insinuated. "She was near enough for even me to see her
"When? Where? How?" asked Lottchen.
"Two hours ago. In the churchyard of St. Stephen's. By a lucky chance. Any
more little questions, my child?" answered Höllenrachen.
"What could have taken her there, who is seen nowhere?" said Richter.
"She was seated on a grave. After she left, I went to the place; but it
was a new-made grave. There was no stone up. I asked the sexton about her.
He said he supposed she was the daughter of the woman buried there last
Thursday week. I knew it was Lilith."
"Her mother dead!" said Lottchen, musingly. Then he thought with himself—"She
will be going there again, then!" But he took care that this ghost-thought
should wander unembodied. "But how did you know her, Heinrich? You never
saw her before."
"How do you come to be over head and ears in love with her, Lottchen, and
you haven't seen her at all?" interposed Richter.
"Will you or will you not go to the devil?" rejoined Lottchen, with a
comic crescendo; to which the other replied with a laugh.
"No one could miss knowing her," said Heinrich.
"Is she so very like, then?"
"It is always herself, her very self."
A fresh flask of wine, turning out to be not up to the mark, brought the
current of conversation against itself; not much to the dissatisfaction of
Lottchen, who had already resolved to be in the churchyard of St.
Stephen's at sun-down the following day, in the hope that he too might be
favoured with a vision of Lilith.
This resolution he carried out. Seated in a porch of the church, not
knowing in what direction to look for the apparition he hoped to see, and
desirous as well of not seeming to be on the watch for one, he was gazing
at the fallen rose-leaves of the sunset, withering away upon the sky;
when, glancing aside by an involuntary movement, he saw a woman seated
upon a new-made grave, not many yards from where he sat, with her face
buried in her hands, and apparently weeping bitterly. Karl was in the
shadow of the porch, and could see her perfectly, without much danger of
being discovered by her; so he sat and watched her. She raised her head
for a moment, and the rose-flush of the west fell over it, shining on the
tears with which it was wet, and giving the whole a bloom which did not
belong to it, for it was always pale, and now pale as death. It was indeed
the face of Lilith, the most celebrated beauty of Prague.
Again she buried her face in her hands; and Karl sat with a strange
feeling of helplessness, which grew as he sat; and the longing to help her
whom he could not help, drew his heart towards her with a trembling
reverence which was quite new to him. She wept on. The western roses
withered slowly away, and the clouds blended with the sky, and the stars
gathered like drops of glory sinking through the vault of night, and the
trees about the churchyard grew black, and Lilith almost vanished in the
wide darkness. At length she lifted her head, and seeing the night around
her, gave a little broken cry of dismay. The minutes had swept over her
head, not through her mind, and she did not know that the dark had come.
Hearing her cry, Karl rose and approached her. She heard his footsteps,
and started to her feet. Karl spoke—
"Do not be frightened," he said. "Let me see you home. I will walk behind
"Who are you?" she rejoined.
"I have heard of you. Thank you. I can go home alone."
Yet, as if in a half-dreamy, half-unconscious mood, she accepted his
offered hand to lead her through the graves, and allowed him to walk
beside her, till, reaching the corner of a narrow street, she suddenly
bade him good-night and vanished. He thought it better not to follow her,
so he returned her good-night and went home.
How to see her again was his first thought the next day; as, in fact, how
to see her at all had been his first thought for many days. She went
nowhere that ever he heard of; she knew nobody that he knew; she was never
seen at church, or at market; never seen in the street. Her home had a
dreary, desolate aspect. It looked as if no one ever went out or in. It
was like a place on which decay had fallen because there was no indwelling
spirit. The mud of years was baked upon its door, and no faces looked out
of its dusty windows.
How then could she be the most celebrated beauty of Prague? How then was
it that Heinrich Höllenrachen knew her the moment he saw her? Above all,
how was it that Karl Wolkenlicht had, in fact, fallen in love with her
before ever he saw her? It was thus—
Her father was a painter. Belonging thus to the public, it had taken the
liberty of re-naming him. Every one called him Teufelsbürst, or
Devilsbrush. It was a name with which, to judge from the nature of his
representations, he could hardly fail to be pleased. For, not as a
nightmare dream, which may alternate with the loveliest visions, but as
his ordinary everyday work, he delighted to represent human suffering.
Not an aspect of human woe or torture, as expressed in countenance or
limb, came before his willing imagination, but he bore it straightway to
his easel. In the moments that precede sleep, when the black space before
the eyes of the poet teems with lovely faces, or dawns into a
spirit-landscape, face after face of suffering, in all varieties of
expression, would crowd, as if compelled by the accompanying fiends, to
present themselves, in awful levee, before the inner eye of the expectant
master. Then he would rise, light his lamp, and, with rapid hand, make
notes of his visions; recording, with swift successive sweeps of his
pencil, every individual face which had rejoiced his evil fancy. Then he
would return to his couch, and, well satisfied, fall asleep to dream yet
further embodiments of human ill.
What wrong could man or mankind have done him, to be thus fearfully
pursued by the vengeance of the artist's hate?
Another characteristic of the faces and form which he drew was, that they
were all beautiful in the original idea. The lines of each face, however
distorted by pain, would have been, in rest, absolutely beautiful; and the
whole of the execution bore witness to the fact that upon this original
beauty the painter had directed the artillery of anguish to bring down the
sky-soaring heights of its divinity to the level of a hated existence. To
do this, he worked in perfect accordance with artistic law, falsifying no
line of the original forms. It was the suffering, rather than his pencil,
that wrought the change. The latter was the willing instrument to record
what the imagination conceived with a cruelty composed enough to be
To enhance the beauty he had thus distorted, and so to enhance yet further
the suffering that produced the distortion, he would often represent
attendant demons, whom he made as ugly as his imagination could compass;
avoiding, however, all grotesqueness beyond what was sufficient to
indicate that they were demons, and not men. Their ugliness rose from
hate, envy, and all evil passions; amongst which he especially delighted
to represent a gloating exultation over human distress. And often in the
midst of his clouds of demon faces, would some one who knew him recognise
the painter's own likeness, such as the mirror might have presented it to
him when he was busiest over the incarnation of some exquisite torture.
But apparently with the wish to avoid being supposed to choose such
representations for their own sakes, he always found a story, often in the
histories of the church, whose name he gave to the painting, and which he
pretended to have inspired the pictorial conception. No one, however, who
looked upon his suffering martyrs, could suppose for a moment that he
honoured their martyrdom. They were but the vehicles for his hate of
humanity. He was the torturer, and not Diocletian or Nero.
But, stranger yet to tell, there was no picture, whatever its subject,
into which he did not introduce one form of placid and harmonious
loveliness. In this, however, his fierceness was only more fully
displayed. For in no case did this form manifest any relation either to
the actors or the endurers in the picture. Hence its very loveliness
became almost hateful to those who beheld it. Not a shade crossed the
still sky of that brow, not a ripple disturbed the still sea of that
cheek. She did not hate, she did not love the sufferers: the painter would
not have her hate, for that would be to the injury of her loveliness:
would not have her love, for he hated. Sometimes she floated above, as a
still, unobservant angel, her gaze turned upward, dreaming along, careless
as a white summer cloud, across the blue. If she looked down on the scene
below, it was only that the beholder might see that she saw and did not
care—that not a feather of her outspread pinions would quiver at the
sight. Sometimes she would stand in the crowd, as if she had been copied
there from another picture, and had nothing to do with this one, nor any
right to be in it at all. Or when the red blood was trickling drop by drop
from the crushed limb, she might be seen standing nearest, smiling over a
primrose or the bloom on a peach. Some had said that she was the painter's
wife; that she had been false to him; that he had killed her; and, finding
that that was no sufficing revenge, thus half in love, and half in deepest
hate, immortalised his vengeance. But it was now universally understood
that it was his daughter, of whose loveliness extravagant reports went
abroad; though all said, doubtless reading this from her father's
pictures, that she was a beauty without a heart. Strange theories of
something else supplying its place were rife among the anatomical
students. With the girl in the pictures, the wild imagination of Lottchen,
probably in part from her apparently absolute unattainableness and her
undisputed heartlessness, had fallen in love, as far as the mere
imagination can fall in love.
But again, how was he to see her? He haunted the house night after night.
Those blue eyes never met his. No step responsive to his came from that
door. It seemed to have been so long unopened that it had grown as fixed
and hard as the stones that held its bolts in their passive clasp. He
dared not watch in the daytime, and with all his watching at night, he
never saw father or daughter or domestic cross the threshold. Little he
thought that, from a shot-window near the door, a pair of blue eyes, like
Lilith's, but paler and colder, were watching him just as a spider watches
the fly that is likely ere long to fall into his toils. And into those
toils Karl soon fell. For her form darkened the page; her form stood on
the threshold of sleep; and when, overcome with watching, he did enter its
precincts, her form entered with him, and walked by his side. He must find
her; or the world might go to the bottomless pit for him. But how?
Yes. He would be a painter. Teufelsbürst would receive him as a humble
apprentice. He would grind his colours, and Teufelsbürst would teach him
the mysteries of the science which is the handmaiden of art. Then he might
see her, and that was all his ambition.
In the clear morning light of a day in autumn, when the leaves were
beginning to fall seared from the hand of that Death which has his dance
in the chapels of nature as well as in the cathedral aisles of men—he
walked up and knocked at the dingy door. The spider painter opened it
himself. He was a little man, meagre and pallid, with those faded blue
eyes, a low nose in three distinct divisions, and thin, curveless, cruel
lips. He wore no hair on his face; but long grey locks, long as a woman's,
were scattered over his shoulders, and hung down on his breast. When
Wolkenlicht had explained his errand, he smiled a smile in which hypocrisy
could not hide the cunning, and, after many difficulties, consented to
receive him as a pupil, on condition that he would become an inmate of his
house. Wolkenlicht's heart bounded with delight, which he tried to hide:
the second smile of Teufelsbürst might have shown him that he had ill
succeeded. The fact that he was not a native of Prague, but coming from a
distant part of the country, was entirely his own master in the city,
rendered this condition perfectly easy to fulfil; and that very afternoon
he entered the studio of Teufelsbürst as his scholar and servant.
It was a great room, filled with the appliances and results of art. Many
pictures, festooned with cobwebs, were hung carelessly on the dirty walls.
Others, half finished, leaned against them, on the floor. Several, in
different stages of progress, stood upon easels. But all spoke the cruel
bent of the artist's genius. In one corner a lay figure was extended on a
couch, covered with a pall of black velvet. Through its folds, the form
beneath was easily discernible; and one hand and forearm protruded from
beneath it, at right angles to the rest of the frame. Lottchen could not
help shuddering when he saw it. Although he overcame the feeling in a
moment, he felt a great repugnance to seating himself with his back
towards it, as the arrangement of an easel, at which Teufelsbürst wished
him to draw, rendered necessary. He contrived to edge himself round, so
that when he lifted his eyes he should see the figure, and be sure that it
could not rise without his being aware of it. But his master saw and
understood his altered position; and under some pretence about the light,
compelled him to resume the position in which he had placed him at first;
after which he sat watching, over the top of his picture, the expression
of his countenance as he tried to draw; reading in it the horrid fancy
that the figure under the pall had risen, and was stealthily approaching
to look over his shoulder. But Lottchen resisted the feeling, and, being
already no contemptible draughtsman, was soon interested enough to forget
it. And then, any moment she might enter.
Now began a system of slow torture, for the chance of which the painter
had been long on the watch—especially since he had first seen Karl
lingering about the house. His opportunities of seeing physical suffering
were nearly enough even for the diseased necessities of his art; but now
he had one in his power, on whom, his own will fettering him, he could try
any experiments he pleased for the production of a kind of suffering, in
the observation of which he did not consider that he had yet sufficient
experience. He would hold the very heart of the youth in his hand, and
wring it and torture it to his own content. And lest Karl should be strong
enough to prevent those expressions of pain for which he lay on the watch,
he would make use of further means, known to himself, and known to few
All that day Karl saw nothing of Lilith; but he heard her voice once—and
that was enough for one day. The next, she was sitting to her father the
greater part of the day, and he could see her as often as he dared glance
up from his drawing. She had looked at him when she entered, but had shown
no sign of recognition; and all day long she took no further notice of
him. He hoped, at first, that this came of the intelligence of love; but
he soon began to doubt it. For he saw that, with the holy shadow of
sorrow, all that distinguished the expression of her countenance from that
which the painter so constantly reproduced, had vanished likewise. It was
the very face of the unheeding angel whom, as often as he lifted his eyes
higher than hers, he saw on the wall above her, playing on a psaltery in
the smoke of the torment ascending for ever from burning Babylon.—The
power of the painter had not merely wrought for the representation of the
woman of his imagination; it had had scope as well in realising her.
Karl soon began to see that communication, other than of the eyes, was all
but hopeless; and to any attempt in that way she seemed altogether
indisposed to respond. Nor if she had wished it, would it have been safe;
for as often as he glanced towards her, instead of hers, he met the blue
eyes of the painter gleaming upon him like winter lightning. His tones,
his gestures, his words, seemed kind: his glance and his smile refused to
The first day he dined alone in the studio, waited upon by an old woman;
the next he was admitted to the family table, with Teufelsbürst and
Lilith. The room offered a strange contrast to the study. As far as
handicraft, directed by a sumptuous taste, could construct a
house-paradise, this was one. But it seemed rather a paradise of demons;
for the walls were covered with Teufelsbürst's paintings. During the
dinner, Lilith's gaze scarcely met that of Wolkenlicht; and once or twice,
when their eyes did meet, her glance was so perfectly unconcerned, that
Karl wished he might look at her for ever without the fear of her looking
at him again. She seemed like one whose love had rushed out glowing with
seraphic fire, to be frozen to death in a more than wintry cold: she now
walked lonely without her love. In the evenings, he was expected to
continue his drawing by lamplight; and at night he was conducted by
Teufelsbürst to his chamber. Not once did he allow him to proceed thither
alone, and not once did he leave him there without locking and bolting the
door on the outside. But he felt nothing except the coldness of Lilith.
Day after day she sat to her father, in every variety of costume that
could best show the variety of her beauty. How much greater that beauty
might be, if it ever blossomed into a beauty of soul, Wolkenlicht never
imagined; for he soon loved her enough to attribute to her all the
possibilities of her face as actual possessions of her being. To account
for everything that seemed to contradict this perfection, his brain was
prolific in inventions; till he was compelled at last to see that she was
in the condition of a rose-bud, which, on the point of blossoming, had
been chilled into a changeless bud by the cold of an untimely frost. For
one day, after the father and daughter had become a little more accustomed
to his silent presence, a conversation began between them, which went on
until he saw that Teufelsbürst believed in nothing except his art. How
much of his feeling for that could be dignified by the name of belief,
seeing its objects were such as they were, might have been questioned. It
seemed to Wolkenlicht to amount only to this: that, amidst a thousand
distastes, it was a pleasant thing to reproduce on the canvas the forms he
beheld around him, modifying them to express the prevailing feelings of
his own mind.
A more desolate communication between souls than that which then passed
between father and daughter could hardly be imagined. The father spoke of
humanity and all its experiences in a tone of the bitterest scorn. He
despised men, and himself amongst them; and rejoiced to think that the
generations rose and vanished, brood after brood, as the crops of corn
grew and disappeared. Lilith, who listened to it all unmoved, taking only
an intellectual interest in the question, remarked that even the corn had
more life than that; for, after its death, it rose again in the new crop.
Whether she meant that the corn was therefore superior to man, forgetting
that the superior can produce being without losing its own, or only
advanced an objection to her father's argument, Wolkenlicht could not
tell. But Teufelsbürst laughed like the sound of a saw, and said: "Follow
out the analogy, my Lilith, and you will see that man is like the corn
that springs again after it is buried; but unfortunately the only result
we know of is a vampire."
Wolkenlicht looked up, and saw a shudder pass through the frame, and over
the pale thin face of the painter. This he could not account for. But
Teufelsbürst could have explained it, for there were strange whispers
abroad, and they had reached his ear; and his philosophy was not quite
enough for them. But the laugh with which Lilith met this frightful
attempt at wit, grated dreadfully on Wolkenlicht's feeling. With her, too,
however, a reaction seemed to follow. For, turning round a moment after,
and looking at the picture on which her father was working, the tears rose
in her eyes, and she said: "Oh! father, how like my mother you have made
me this time!" "Child!" retorted the painter with a cold fierceness, "you
have no mother. That which is gone out is gone out. Put no name in my
hearing on that which is not. Where no substance is, how can there be a
Lilith rose and left the room. Wolkenlicht now understood that Lilith was
a frozen bud, and could not blossom into a rose. But pure love lives by
faith. It loves the vaguely beheld and unrealised ideal. It dares believe
that the loved is not all that she ever seemed. It is in virtue of this
that love loves on. And it was in virtue of this, that Wolkenlicht loved
Lilith yet more after he discovered what a grave of misery her unbelief
was digging for her within her own soul. For her sake he would bear
anything—bear even with calmness the torments of his own love; he
would stay on, hoping and hoping.—The text, that we know not what a
day may bring forth, is just as true of good things as of evil things; and
out of Time's womb the facts must come.
But with the birth of this resolution to endure, his suffering abated; his
face grew more calm; his love, no less earnest, was less imperious; and he
did not look up so often from his work when Lilith was present. The master
could see that his pupil was more at ease, and that he was making rapid
progress in his art. This did not suit his designs, and he would betake
himself to his further schemes.
For this purpose he proceeded first to simulate a friendship for
Wolkenlicht, the manifestations of which he gradually increased, until,
after a day or two, he asked him to drink wine with him in the evening.
Karl readily agreed. The painter produced some of his best; but took care
not to allow Lilith to taste it; for he had cunningly prepared and mingled
with it a decoction of certain herbs and other ingredients, exercising
specific actions upon the brain, and tending to the inordinate excitement
of those portions of it which are principally under the rule of the
imagination. By the reaction of the brain during the operation of these
stimulants, the imagination is filled with suggestions and images. The
nature of these is determined by the prevailing mood of the time. They are
such as the imagination would produce of itself, but increased in number
and intensity. Teufelsbürst, without philosophising about it, called his
preparation simply a love-philtre, a concoction well known by name, but
the composition of which was the secret of only a few. Wolkenlicht had, of
course, not the least suspicion of the treatment to which he was
Teufelsbürst was, however, doomed to fresh disappointment. Not that his
potion failed in the anticipated effect, for now Karl's real sufferings
began; but that such was the strength of Karl's will, and his fear of
doing anything that might give a pretext for banishing him from the
presence of Lilith, that he was able to conceal his feelings far too
successfully for the satisfaction of Teufelsbürst's art. Yet he had to
fetter himself with all the restraints that self-exhortation could load
him with, to refrain from falling at the feet of Lilith and kissing the
hem of her garment. For that, as the lowliest part of all that surrounded
her, itself kissing the earth, seemed to come nearest within the reach of
his ambition, and therefore to draw him the most.
No doubt the painter had experience and penetration enough to perceive
that he was suffering intensely; but he wanted to see the suffering
embodied in outward signs, bringing it within the region over which his
pencil held sway. He kept on, therefore, trying one thing after another,
and rousing the poor youth to agony; till to his other sufferings were
added, at length, those of failing health; a fact which notified itself
evidently enough even for Teufelsbürst, though its signs were not of the
sort he chiefly desired. But Karl endured all bravely.
Meantime, for various reasons, he scarcely ever left the house.
I must now interrupt the course of my story to introduce another element.
A few years before the period of my tale, a certain shoemaker of the city
had died under circumstances more than suggestive of suicide. He was
buried, however, with such precautions, that six weeks elapsed before the
rumour of the facts broke out; upon which rumour, not before, the most
fearful reports began to be circulated, supported by what seemed to the
people of Prague incontestable evidence.—A spectrum of the
deceased appeared to multitudes of persons, playing horrible pranks, and
occasioning indescribable consternation throughout the whole town. This
went on till at last, about eight months after his burial, the magistrates
caused his body to be dug up; when it was found in just the condition of
the bodies of those who in the eastern countries of Europe are called vampires.
They buried the corpse under the gallows; but neither the digging up nor
the reburying were of avail to banish the spectre. Again the spade and
pick-axe were set to work, and the dead man being found considerably
improved in condition since his last interment, was, with various
horrible indignities, burnt to ashes, "after which the spectrum was
never seen more."
And a second epidemic of the same nature had broken out a little before
the period to which I have brought my story.
About midnight, after a calm frosty day, for it was now winter, a terrible
storm of wind and snow came on. The tempest howled frightfully about the
house of the painter, and Wolkenlicht found some solace in listening to
the uproar, for his troubled thoughts would not allow him to sleep. It
raged on all the next three days, till about noon on the fourth day, when
it suddenly fell, and all was calm. The following night, Wolkenlicht,
lying awake, heard unaccountable noises in the next house, as of things
thrown about, of kicking and fighting horses, and of opening and shutting
gates. Flinging wide his lattice and looking out, the noise of howling
dogs came to him from every quarter of the town. The moon was bright and
the air was still. In a little while he heard the sounds of a horse going
at full gallop round the house, so that it shook as if it would fall; and
flashes of light shone into his room. How much of this may have been owing
to the effect of the drugs on poor Lottchen's brain, I leave my readers to
determine. But when the family met at breakfast in the morning,
Teufelsbürst, who had been already out of doors, reported that he had
found the marks of strange feet in the snow, all about the house and
through the garden at the back; stating, as his belief, that the tracks
must be continued over the roofs, for there was no passage otherwise.
There was a wicked gleam in his eye as he spoke; and Lilith believed that
he was only trying an experiment on Karl's nerves. He persisted that he
had never seen any footprints of the sort before. Karl informed him of his
experiences during the night; upon which Teufelsbürst looked a little
graver still, and proceeded to tell them that the storm, whose snow was
still covering the ground, had arisen the very moment that their next door
neighbour died, and had ceased as suddenly the moment he was buried,
though it had raved furiously all the time of the funeral, so that "it
made men's bodies quake and their teeth chatter in their heads." Karl had
heard that the man, whose name was John Kuntz, was dead and buried. He
knew that he had been a very wealthy, and therefore most respectable,
alderman of the town; that he had been very fond of horses; and that he
had died in consequence of a kick received from one of his own, as he was
looking at his hoof. But he had not heard that, just before he died, a
black cat "opened the casement with her nails, ran to his bed, and
violently scratched his face and the bolster, as if she endeavoured by
force to remove him out of the place where he lay. But the cat afterwards
was suddenly gone, and she was no sooner gone, but he breathed his last."
So said Teufelsbürst, as the reporter of the town talk. Lilith looked very
pale and terrified; and it was perhaps owing to this that the painter
brought no more tales home with him. There were plenty to bring, but he
heard them all and said nothing. The fact was that the philosopher himself
could not resist the infection of the fear that was literally raging in
the city; and perhaps the reports that he himself had sold himself to the
devil had sufficient response from his own evil conscience to add to the
influence of the epidemic upon him. The whole place was infested with the
presence of the dead Kuntz, till scarce a man or woman would dare to be
alone. He strangled old men; insulted women; squeezed children to death;
knocked out the brains of dogs against the ground; pulled up posts; turned
milk into blood; nearly killed a worthy clergyman by breathing upon him
the intolerable airs of the grave, cold and malignant and noisome; and, in
short, filled the city with a perfect madness of fear, so that every
report was believed without the smallest doubt or investigation.
Though Teufelsbürst brought home no more of the town talk, the old servant
was a faithful purveyor, and frequented the news-mart assiduously. Indeed
she had some nightmare experiences of her own that she was proud to add to
the stock of horrors which the city enjoyed with such a hearty community
of goods. For those regions were not far removed from the birthplace and
home of the vampire. The belief in vampires is the quintessential
concentration and embodiment of all the passion of fear in Hungary and the
adjacent regions. Nor, of all the other inventions of the human
imagination, has there ever been one so perfect in crawling terror as
this. Lilith and Karl were quite familiar with the popular ideas on the
subject. It did not require to be explained to them, that a vampire was a
body retaining a kind of animal life after the soul had departed. If any
relation existed between it and the vanished ghost, it was only sufficient
to make it restless in its grave. Possessed of vitality enough to keep it
uncorrupted and pliant, its only instinct was a blind hunger for the sole
food which could keep its awful life persistent—living human blood.
Hence it, or, if not it, a sort of semi-material exhalation or essence of
it, retaining its form and material relations, crept from its tomb, and
went roaming about till it found some one asleep, towards whom it had an
attraction, founded on old affection. It sucked the blood of this unhappy
being, transferring so much of its life to itself as a vampire could
assimilate. Death was the certain consequence. If suspicion conjectured
aright, and they opened the proper grave, the body of the vampire would be
found perfectly fresh and plump, sometimes indeed of rather florid
complexion;—with grown hair, eyes half open, and the stains of
recent blood about its greedy, leech-like lips. Nothing remained but to
consume the corpse to ashes, upon which the vampire would show itself no
more. But what added infinitely to the horror was the certainty that
whoever died from the mouth of the vampire, wrinkled grandsire or delicate
maiden, must in turn rise from the grave, and go forth a vampire, to suck
the blood of the dearest left behind. This was the generation of the
vampire brood. Lilith trembled at the very name of the creature. Karl was
too much in love to be afraid of anything. Yet the evident fear of the
unbelieving painter took a hold of his imagination; and, under the
influence of the potions of which he still partook unwittingly, when he
was not thinking about Lilith, he was thinking about the vampire.
Meantime, the condition of things in the painter's household continued
much the same for Wolkenlicht—work all day; no communication between
the young people; the dinner and the wine; silent reading when work was
done, with stolen glances many over the top of the book, glances that were
never returned; the cold good-night; the locking of the door; the wakeful
night and the drowsy morning. But at length a change came, and sooner than
any of the party had expected. For, whether it was that the impatience of
Teufelsbürst had urged him to yet more dangerous experiments, or that the
continuance of those he had been so long employing had overcome at length
the vitality of Wolkenlicht—one afternoon, as he was sitting at his
work, he suddenly dropped from his chair, and his master hurrying to him
in some alarm, found him rigid and apparently lifeless. Lilith was not in
the study when this took place. In justice to Teufelsbürst, it must be
confessed that he employed all the skill he was master of, which for
beneficent purposes was not very great, to restore the youth; but without
avail. At last, hearing the footsteps of Lilith, he desisted in some
consternation; and that she might escape being shocked by the sight of a
dead body where she had been accustomed to see a living one, he removed
the lay figure from the couch, and laid Karl in its place, covering him
with a black velvet pall. He was just in time. She started at seeing no
one in Karl's place and said—
"Where is your pupil, father?"
"Gone home," he answered, with a kind of convulsive grin.
She glanced round the room, caught sight of the lay figure where it had
not been before, looked at the couch, and saw the pall yet heaved up from
beneath, opened her eyes till the entire white sweep around the iris
suggested a new expression of consternation to Teufelsbürst, though from a
quarter whence he did not desire or look for it; and then, without a word,
sat down to a drawing she had been busy upon the day before. But her
father, glancing at her now, as Wolkenlicht had used to do, could not help
seeing that she was frightfully pale. She showed no other sign of
uneasiness. As soon as he released her, she withdrew, with one more
glance, as she passed, at the couch and the figure blocked out in black
upon it. She hastened to her chamber, shut and locked the door, sat down
on the side of the couch, and fell, not a-weeping, but a-thinking. Was he
dead? What did it matter? They would all be dead soon. Her mother was dead
already. It was only that the earth could not bear more children, except
she devoured those to whom she had already given birth. But what if they
had to come back in another form, and live another sad, hopeless,
love-less life over again?—And so she went on questioning, and
receiving no replies; while through all her thoughts passed and repassed
the eyes of Wolkenlicht, which she had often felt to be upon her when she
did not see them, wild with repressed longing, the light of their love
shining through the veil of diffused tears, ever gathering and never
overflowing. Then came the pale face, so worshipping, so distant in its
self-withdrawn devotion, slowly dawning out of the vapours of her reverie.
When it vanished, she tried to see it again. It would not come when she
called it; but when her thoughts left knocking at the door of the lost,
and wandered away, out came the pale, troubled, silent face again,
gathering itself up from some unknown nook in her world of phantasy, and
once more, when she tried to steady it by the fixedness of her own regard,
fading back into the mist. So the phantasm of the dead drew near and
wooed, as the living had never dared.—What if there were any good in
loving? What if men and women did not die all out, but some dim shade of
each, like that pale, mind-ghost of Wolkenlicht, floated through the
eternal vapours of chaos? And what if they might sometimes cross each
other's path, meet, know that they met, love on? Would not that revive the
withered memory, fix the fleeting ghost, give a new habitation, a body
even, to the poor, unhoused wanderers, frozen by the eternal frosts, no
longer thinking beings, but thoughts wandering through the brain of the
"Melancholy Mass?" Back with the thought came the face of the dead Karl,
and the maiden threw herself on her bed in a flood of bitter tears. She
could have loved him if he had only lived: she did love him, for he was
dead. But even in the midst of the remorse that followed—for had she
not killed him?—life seemed a less hard and hopeless thing than
before. For it is love itself and not its responses or results that is the
soul of life and its pleasures.
Two hours passed ere she could again show herself to her father, from whom
she seemed in some new way divided by the new feeling in which he did not,
and could not share. But at last, lest he should seek her, and finding
her, should suspect her thoughts, she descended and sought him.—For
there is a maidenliness in sorrow, that wraps her garments close around
her.—But he was not to be seen; the door of the study was locked. A
shudder passed through her as she thought of what her father, who lost no
opportunity of furthering his all but perfect acquaintance with the human
form and structure, might be about with the figure which she knew lay dead
beneath that velvet pall, but which had arisen to haunt the hollow caves
and cells of her living brain. She rushed away, and up once more to her
silent room, through the darkness which had now settled down in the house;
threw herself again on her bed, and lay almost paralysed with horror and
But Teufelsbürst was not about anything so frightful as she supposed,
though something frightful enough. I have already implied that Wolkenlicht
was, in form, as fine an embodiment of youthful manhood as any old Greek
republic could have provided one of its sculptors with as model for an
Apollo. It is true, that to the eye of a Greek artist he would not have
been more acceptable in consequence of the regimen he had been going
through for the last few weeks; but the emaciation of Wolkenlicht's frame,
and the consequent prominence of the muscles, indicating the pain he had
gone through, were peculiarly attractive to Teufelsbürst.—He was
busy preparing to take a cast of the body of his dead pupil, that it might
aid to the perfection of his future labours.
He was deep in the artistic enjoyment of a form, at the same time so
beautiful and strong, yet with the lines of suffering in every limb and
feature, when his daughter's hand was laid on the latch. He started, flung
the velvet drapery over the body, and went to the door. But Lilith had
vanished. He returned to his labours. The operation took a long time, for
he performed it very carefully. Towards midnight, he had finished encasing
the body in a close-clinging shell of plaster, which, when broken off, and
fitted together, would be the matrix to the form of the dead Wolkenlicht.
Before leaving it to harden till the morning, he was just proceeding to
strengthen it with an additional layer all over, when a flash of
lightning, reflected in all its dazzle from the snow without, almost
blinded him. A peal of long-drawn thunder followed; the wind rose; and
just such a storm came on as had risen some time before at the death of
Kuntz, whose spectre was still tormenting the city. The gnomes of terror,
deep hidden in the caverns of Teufelsbürst's nature, broke out jubilant.
With trembling hands he tried to cast the pall over the awful white
chrysalis,—failed, and fled to his chamber. And there lay the studio
naked to the eyes of the lightning, with its tortured forms throbbing out
of the dark, and quivering, as with life, in the almost continuous
palpitations of the light; while on the couch lay the motionless mass of
whiteness, gleaming blue in the lightning, almost more terrible in its
crude indications of the human form, than that which it enclosed. It lay
there as if dropped from some tree of chaos, haggard with the snows of
eternity—a huge mis-shapen nut, with a corpse for its kernel.
But the lightning would soon have revealed a more terrible sight still,
had there been any eyes to behold it. At midnight, while a peal of thunder
was just dying away in the distance, the crust of death flew asunder,
rending in all directions; and, pale as his investiture, staring with
ghastly eyes, the form of Karl started up sitting on the couch. Had he not
been far beyond ordinary men in strength, he could not thus have rent his
sepulchre. Indeed, had Teufelsbürst been able to finish his task by the
additional layer of gypsum which he contemplated, he must have died the
moment life revived; although, so long as the trance lasted, neither the
exclusion from the air, nor the practical solidification of the walls of
his chest, could do him any injury. He had lain unconscious throughout the
operations of Teufelsbürst, but now the catalepsy had passed away,
possibly under the influence of the electric condition of the atmosphere.
Very likely the strength he now put forth was intensified by a convulsive
reaction of all the powers of life, as is not infrequently the case in
sudden awakenings from similar interruptions of vital activity. The coming
to himself and the bursting of his case were simultaneous. He sat staring
about him, with, of all his mental faculties, only his imagination awake,
from which the thoughts that occupied it when he fell senseless had not
yet faded. These thoughts had been compounded of feelings about Lilith,
and speculations about the vampire that haunted the neighbourhood; and the
fumes of the last drug of which he had partaken, still hovering in his
brain, combined with these thoughts and fancies to generate the delusion
that he had just broken from the embrace of his coffin, and risen, the
last-born of the vampire race. The sense of unavoidable obligation to
fulfil his doom, was yet mingled with a faint flutter of joy, for he knew
that he must go to Lilith. With a deep sigh, he rose, gathered up the pall
of black velvet, flung it around him, stepped from the couch, and left the
study to find her.
Meantime, Teufelsbürst had sufficiently recovered to remember that he had
left the door of the studio unfastened, and that any one entering would
discover in what he had been engaged, which, in the case of his getting
into any difficulty about the death of Karl, would tell powerfully against
him. He was at the farther end of a long passage, leading from the house
to the studio, on his way to make all secure, when Karl appeared at the
door, and advanced towards him. The painter, seized with invincible
terror, turned and fled. He reached his room, and fell senseless on the
floor. The phantom held on its way, heedless.
Lilith, on gaining her room the second time, had thrown herself on her bed
as before, and had wept herself into a troubled slumber. She lay dreaming—and
dreadful dreams. Suddenly she awoke in one of those peals of thunder which
tormented the high regions of the air, as a storm billows the surface of
the ocean. She lay awake and listened. As it died away, she thought she
heard, mingling with its last muffled murmurs, the sound of moaning. She
turned her face towards the room in keen terror. But she saw nothing.
Another light, long-drawn sigh reached her ear, and at the same moment a
flash of lightning illumined the room. In the corner farthest from her
bed, she spied a white face, nothing more. She was dumb and motionless
with fear. Utter darkness followed, a darkness that seemed to enter into
her very brain. Yet she felt that the face was slowly crossing the black
gulf of the room, and drawing near to where she lay. The next flash
revealed, as it bended over her, the ghastly face of Karl, down which
flowed fresh tears. The rest of his form was lost in blackness. Lilith did
not faint, but it was the very force of her fear that seemed to keep her
alive. It became for the moment the atmosphere of her life. She lay
trembling and staring at the spot in the darkness where she supposed the
face of Karl still to be. But the next flash showed her the face far off,
looking at her through the panes of her lattice-window.
For Lottchen, as soon as he saw Lilith, seemed to himself to go through a
second stage of awaking. Her face made him doubt whether he could be a
vampire after all; for instead of wanting to bite her arm and suck the
blood, he all but fell down at her feet in a passion of speechless love.
The next moment he became aware that his presence must be at least very
undesirable to her; and in an instant he had reached her window, which he
knew looked upon a lower roof that extended between two different parts of
the house, and before the next flash came, he had stepped through the
lattice and closed it behind him.
Believing his own room to be attainable from this quarter, he proceeded
along the roof in the direction he judged best. The cold winter air by
degrees restored him entirely to his right mind, and he soon comprehended
the whole of the circumstances in which he found himself. Peeping through
a window he was passing, to see whether it belonged to his room, he spied
Teufelsbürst, who, at the very moment, was lifting his head from the faint
into which he had fallen at the first sight of Lottchen. The moon was
shining clear, and in its light the painter saw, to his horror, the pale
face staring in at his window. He thought it had been there ever since he
had fainted, and dropped again in a deeper swoon than before. Karl saw him
fall, and the truth flashed upon him that the wicked artist took him for
what he had believed himself to be when first he recovered from his trance—namely,
the vampire of the former Karl Wolkenlicht. The moment he comprehended it,
he resolved to keep up the delusion if possible. Meantime he was
innocently preparing a new ingredient for the popular dish of horrors to
be served at the ordinary of the city the next day. For the old servant's
were not the only eyes that had seen him besides those of Teufelsbürst.
What could be more like a vampire, dragging his pall after him, than this
apparition of poor, half-frozen Lottchen, crawling across the roof? Karl
remembered afterwards that he had heard the dogs howling awfully in every
direction, as he crept along; but this was hardly necessary to make those
who saw him conclude that it was the same phantasm of John Kuntz, which
had been infesting the whole city, and especially the house next door to
the painter's, which had been the dwelling of the respectable alderman who
had degenerated into this most disreputable of moneyless vagabonds. What
added to the consternation of all who heard of it, was the sickening
conviction that the extreme measures which they had resorted to in order
to free the city from the ghoul, beyond which nothing could be done, had
been utterly unavailing, successful as they had proved in every other
known case of the kind. For, urged as well by various horrid signs about
his grave, which not even its close proximity to the altar could render a
place of repose, they had opened it, had found in the body every
peculiarity belonging to a vampire, had pulled it out with the greatest
difficulty on account of a quite supernatural ponderosity; which rendered
the horse which had killed him—a strong animal—all but unable
to drag it along, and had at last, after cutting it in pieces, and
expending on the fire two hundred and sixteen great billets, succeeded in
conquering its incombustibleness, and reducing it to ashes. Such, at
least, was the story which had reached the painter's household, and was
believed by many; and if all this did not compel the perturbed corpse to
rest, what more could be done?
When Karl had reached his room, and was dressing himself, the thought
struck him that something might be made of the report of the extreme
weight of the body of old Kuntz, to favour the continuance of the delusion
of Teufelsbürst, although he hardly knew yet to what use he could turn
this delusion. He was convinced that he would have made no progress
however long he might have remained in his house; and that he would have
more chance of favour with Lilith if he were to meet her in any other
circumstances whatever than those in which he invariably saw her—namely,
surrounded by her father's influences, and watched by her father's cold
As soon as he was dressed, he crept down to the studio, which was now
quiet enough, the storm being over, and the moon filling it with her
steady shine. In the corner lay in all directions the fragments of the
mould which his own body had formed and filled. The bag of plaster and the
bucket of water which the painter had been using stood beside. Lottchen
gathered all the pieces together, and then making his way to an outhouse
where he had seen various odds and ends of rubbish lying, chose from the
heap as many pieces of old iron and other metal as he could find. To these
he added a few large stones from the garden. When he had got all into the
studio, he locked the door, and proceeded to fit together the parts of the
mould, filling up the hollow as he went on with the heaviest things he
could get into it, and solidifying the whole by pouring in plaster; till,
having at length completed it, and obliterated, as much as possible, the
marks of joining, he left it to harden, with the conviction that now it
would make a considerable impression on Teufelsbürst's imagination, as
well as on his muscular sense. He then left everything else as nearly
undisturbed as he could; and, knowing all the ways of the house, was soon
in the street, without leaving any signs of his exit.
Karl soon found himself before the house in which his friend Höllenrachen
resided. Knowing his studious habits, he had hoped to see his light still
burning, nor was he disappointed. He contrived to bring him to his window,
and a moment after, the door was cautiously opened.
"Why, Lottchen, where do you come from?"
"From the grave, Heinrich, or next door to it."
"Come in, and tell me all about it. We thought the old painter had made a
model of you, and tortured you to death."
"Perhaps you were not far wrong. But get me a horn of ale, for even a
vampire is thirsty, you know."
"A vampire!" exclaimed Heinrich, retreating a pace, and involuntarily
putting himself upon his guard.
"My hand was warm, was it not, old fellow?" he said. "Vampires are cold,
all but the blood."
"What a fool I am!" rejoined Heinrich. "But you know we have been hearing
such horrors lately that a fellow may be excused for shuddering a little
when a pale-faced apparition tells him at two o'clock in the morning that
he is a vampire, and thirsty, too."
Karl told him the whole story; and the mental process of regarding it for
the sake of telling it, revealed to him pretty clearly some of the
treatment of which he had been unconscious at the time. Heinrich was quite
sure that his suspicions were correct. And now the question was, what was
to be done next?
"At all events," said Heinrich, "we must keep you out of the way for some
time. I will represent to my landlady that you are in hiding from enemies,
and her heart will rule her tongue. She can let you have a garret-room, I
know; and I will do as well as I can to bear you company. We shall have
time then to invent some plan of operation."
To this proposal Karl agreed with hearty thanks, and soon all was
arranged. The only conclusion they could yet arrive at was, that somehow
or other the old demon-painter must be tamed.
Meantime, how fared it with Lilith? She too had no doubt that she had seen
the body-ghost of poor Karl, and that the vampire had, according to rule,
paid her the first visit because he loved her best. This was horrible
enough if the vampire were not really the person he represented; but if in
any sense it were Karl himself, at least it gave some expectation of a
more prolonged existence than her father had taught her to look for; and
if love anything like her mother's still lasted, even along with the
habits of a vampire, there was something to hope for in the future. And
then, though he had visited her, he had not, as far as she was aware,
deprived her of a drop of blood. She could not be certain that he had not
bitten her, for she had been in such a strange condition of mind that she
might not have felt it, but she believed that he had restrained the
impulses of his vampire nature, and had left her, lest he should yet yield
to them. She fell fast asleep; and, when morning came, there was not, as
far as she could judge, one of those triangular leech-like perforations to
be found upon her whole body. Will it be believed that the moment she was
satisfied of this, she was seized by a terrible jealousy, lest Karl should
have gone and bitten some one else? Most people will wonder that she
should not have gone out of her senses at once; but there was all the
difference between a visit from a real vampire and a visit from a man she
had begun to love, even although she took him for a vampire. All the
difference does not lie in a name. They were very different causes,
and the effects must be very different.
When Teufelsbürst came down in the morning, he crept into the studio like
a murderer. There lay the awful white block, seeming to his eyes just the
same as he had left it. What was to be done with it? He dared not open it.
Mould and model must go together. But whither? If inquiry should be made
after Wolkenlicht, and this were discovered anywhere on his premises,
would it not be enough to bring him at once to the gallows? Therefore it
would be dangerous to bury it in the garden, or in the cellar.
"Besides," thought he, with a shudder, "that would be to fix the vampire
as a guest for ever."—And the horrors of the past night rushed back
upon his imagination with renewed intensity. What would it be to have the
dead Karl crawling about his house for ever, now inside, now out, now
sitting on the stairs, now staring in at the windows?
He would have dragged it to the bottom of his garden, past which the
Moldau flowed, and plunged it into the stream; but then, should the
spectre continue to prove troublesome, it would be almost impossible to
reach the body so as to destroy it by fire; besides which, he could not do
it without assistance, and the probability of discovery. If, however, the
apparition should turn out to be no vampire, but only a respectable ghost,
they might manage to endure its presence, till it should be weary of
He resolved at last to convey the body for the meantime into a concealed
cellar in the house, seeing something must be done before his daughter
came down. Proceeding to remove it, his consternation as greatly increased
when he discovered how the body had grown in weight since he had thus
disposed of it, leaving on his mind scarcely a hope that it could turn out
not to be a vampire after all. He could scarcely stir it, and there was
but one whom he could call to his assistance—the old woman who acted
as his housekeeper and servant.
He went to her room, roused her, and told her the whole story. Devoted to
her master for many years, and not quite so sensitive to fearful
influences as when less experienced in horrors, she showed immediate
readiness to render him assistance. Utterly unable, however, to lift the
mass between them, they could only drag and push it along; and such a slow
toil was it that there was no time to remove the traces of its track,
before Lilith came down and saw a broad white line leading from the door
of the studio down the cellarstairs. She knew in a moment what it meant;
but not a word was uttered about the matter, and the name of Karl
Wolkenlicht seemed to be entirely forgotten.
But how could the affairs of a house go on all the same when every one of
the household knew that a dead body lay in the cellar?—nay more,
that, although it lay still and dead enough all day, it would come half
alive at nightfall, and, turning the whole house into a sepulchre by its
presence, go creeping about like a cat all over it in the dark—perhaps
with phosphorescent eyes? So it was not surprising that the painter
abandoned his studio early, and that the three found themselves together
in the gorgeous room formerly described, as soon as twilight began to
Already Teufelsbürst had begun to experience a kind of shrinking from the
horrid faces in his own pictures, and to feel disgusted at the abortions
of his own mind. But all that he and the old woman now felt was an
increasing fear as the night drew on, a kind of sickening and paralysing
terror. The thing down there would not lie quiet—at least its
phantom in the cellars of their imagination would not. As much as
possible, however, they avoided alarming Lilith, who, knowing all they
knew, was as silent as they. But her mind was in a strange state of
excitement, partly from the presence of a new sense of love, the pleasure
of which all the atmosphere of grief into which it grew could not totally
quench. It comforted her somehow, as a child may comfort when his father
Bedtime came, and no one made a move to go. Without a word spoken on the
subject, the three remained together all night; the elders nodding and
slumbering occasionally, and Lilith getting some share of repose on a
couch. All night the shape of death might be somewhere about the house;
but it did not disturb them. They heard no sound, saw no sight; and when
the morning dawned, they separated, chilled and stupid, and for the time
beyond fear, to seek repose in their private chambers. There they remained
But when the painter approached his easel a few hours after, looking more
pale and haggard still than he was wont, from the fears of the night, a
new bewilderment took possession of him. He had been busy with a fresh
embodiment of his favourite subject, into which he had sketched the form
of the student as the sufferer. He had represented poor Wolkenlicht as
just beginning to recover from a trance, while a group of surgeons,
unaware of the signs of returning life, were absorbed in a minute
dissection of one of the limbs. At an open door he had painted Lilith
passing, with her face buried in a bunch of sweet peas. But when he came
to the picture, he found, to his astonishment and terror, that the face of
one of the group was now turned towards that of the victim, regarding his
revival with demoniac satisfaction, and taking pains to prevent the others
from discovering it. The face of this prince of torturers was that of
Teufelsbürst himself. Lilith had altogether vanished, and in her place
stood the dim vampire reiteration of the body that lay extended on the
table, staring greedily at the assembled company. With trembling hands the
painter removed the picture from the easel, and turned its face to the
Of course this was the work of Lottchen. When he left the house, he took
with him the key of a small private door, which was so seldom used that,
while it remained closed, the key would not be missed, perhaps for many
months. Watching the windows, he had chosen a safe time to enter, and had
been hard at work all night on these alterations. Teufelsbürst attributed
them to the vampire, and left the picture as he found it, not daring to
put brush to it again.
The next night was passed much after the same fashion. But the fear had
begun to die away a little in the hearts of the women, who did not know
what had taken place in the studio on the previous night. It burrowed,
however, with gathered force in the vitals of Teufelsbürst. But this night
likewise passed in peace; and before it was over, the old woman had taken
to speculating in her own mind as to the best way of disposing of the
body, seeing it was not at all likely to be troublesome. But when the
painter entered his studio in trepidation the next morning, he found that
the form of the lovely Lilith was painted out of every picture in the
room. This could not be concealed; and Lilith and the servant became aware
that the studio was the portion of the house in haunting which the vampire
left the rest in peace.
Karl recounted all the tricks he had played to his friend Heinrich, who
begged to be allowed to bear him company the following night. To this Karl
consented, thinking it would be considerably more agreeable to have a
companion. So they took a couple of bottles of wine and some provisions
with them, and before midnight found themselves snug in the studio. They
sat very quiet for some time, for they knew that if they were seen, two
vampires would not be so terrible as one, and might occasion discovery.
But at length Heinrich could bear it no longer.
"I say, Lottchen, let's go and look; for your dead body. What has the old
beggar done with it?"
"I think I know. Stop; let me peep out. All right! Come along."
With a lamp in his hand, he led the way to the cellars, and after
searching about a little they discovered it.
"It looks horrid enough," said Heinrich, "but think a drop or two of wine
would brighten it up a little."
So he took a bottle from his pocket, and after they had had a glass
apiece, he dropped a third in blots all over the plaster. Being red wine,
it had the effect Höllenrachen desired.
"When they visit it next, they will know that the vampire can find the
food he prefers," said he.
In a corner close by the plaster, they found the clothes Karl had worn.
"Hillo!" said Heinrich, "we'll make something of this find."
So he carried them with him to the studio. There he got hold of the
"What are you about, Heinrich?"
"Going to make a scarecrow to keep the ravens off old Teufel's pictures,"
answered Heinrich, as he went on dressing the lay-figure in Karl's
clothes. He next seated the creature at an easel with its back to the
door, so that it should be the first thing the painter should see when he
entered. Karl meant to remove this before he went, for it was too comical
to fall in with the rest of his proceedings. But the two sat down to their
supper, and by the time they had finished the wine, they thought they
should like to go to bed. So they got up and went home, and Karl forgot
the lay-figure, leaving it in busy motionlessness all night before the
easel. When Teufelsbürst saw it, he turned and fled with a cry that
brought his daughter to his help. He rushed past her, able only to
"The vampire! The vampire! Painting!"
Far more courageous than he, because her conscience was more peaceful,
Lilith passed on to the studio. She too recoiled a step or two when she
saw the figure; but with the sight of the back of Karl, as she supposed it
to be, came the longing to see the face that was on the other side. So she
crept round and round by the wall, as far off as she could. The figure
remained motionless. It was a strange kind of shock that she experienced
when she saw the face, disgusting from its inanity. The absurdity next
struck her; and with the absurdity flashed into her mind the conviction
that this was not the doing of a vampire; for of all creatures under the
moon, he could not be expected to be a humorist. A wild hope sprang up in
her mind that Karl was not dead. Of this she soon resolved to make herself
She closed the door of the studio; in the strength of her new hope
undressed the figure, put it in its place, concealed the garments—all
the work of a few minutes; and then, finding her father just recovering
from the worst of his fear, told him there was nothing in the studio but
what ought to be there, and persuaded him to go and see. He not only saw
no one, but found that no further liberties had been taken with his
pictures. Reassured, he soon persuaded himself that the spectre in this
case had been the offspring of his own terror-haunted brain. But he had no
spirit for painting now. He wandered about the house, himself haunting it
like a restless ghost.
When night came, Lilith retired to her own room. The waters of fear had
begun to subside in the house; but the painter and his old attendant did
not yet follow her example.
As soon, however, as the house was quite still, Lilith glided noiselessly
down the stairs, went into the studio, where as yet there assuredly was no
vampire, and concealed herself in a corner.
As it would not do for an earnest student like Heinrich to be away from
his work very often, he had not asked to accompany Lottchen this time. And
indeed Karl himself, a little anxious about the result of the scarecrow,
greatly preferred going alone.
While she was waiting for what might happen, the conviction grew upon
Lilith, as she reviewed all the past of the story, that these phenomena
were the work of the real Karl, and of no vampire. In a few moments she
was still more sure of this. Behind the screen where she had taken refuge,
hung one of the pictures out of which her portrait had been painted the
night before last. She had taken a lamp with her into the studio, with the
intention of extinguishing it the moment she heard any sign of approach;
but as the vampire lingered, she began to occupy herself with examining
the picture beside her. She had not looked at it long, before she wetted
the tip of her forefinger, and began to rub away at the obliteration. Her
suspicions were instantly confirmed: the substance employed was only a
gummy wash over the paint. The delight she experienced at the discovery
threw her into a mischievous humour.
"I will see," she said to herself, "whether I cannot match Karl
Wolkenlicht at this game."
In a closet in the room hung a number of costumes, which Lilith had at
different times worn for her father. Among them was a large white drapery,
which she easily disposed as a shroud. With the help of some chalk, she
soon made herself ghastly enough, and then placing her lamp on the floor
behind the screen, and setting a chair over it, so that it should throw no
light in any direction, she waited once more for the vampire. Nor had she
much longer to wait. She soon heard a door move, the sound of which she
hardly knew, and then the studio door opened. Her heart beat dreadfully,
not with fear lest it should be a vampire after all, but with hope that it
was Karl. To see him once more was too great joy. Would she not make up to
him for all her coldness! But would he care for her now? Perhaps he had
been quite cured of his longing for a hard heart like hers. She peeped. It
was he sure enough, looking as handsome as ever. He was holding his light
to look at her last work, and the expression of his face, even in
regarding her handiwork, was enough to let her know that he loved her
still. If she had not seen this, she dared not have shown herself from her
hiding-place. Taking the lamp in her hand, she got upon the chair, and
looked over the screen, letting the light shine from below upon her face.
She then made a slight noise to attract Karl's attention. He looked up,
evidently rather startled, and saw the face of Lilith in the air: He gave
a stifled cry threw himself on his knees with his arms stretched towards
her, and moaned—
"I have killed her! I have killed her!"
Lilith descended, and approached him noiselessly. He did not move. She
came close to him and said—
"Are you Karl Wolkenlicht?"
His lips moved, but no sound came.
"If you are a vampire, and I am a ghost," she said—but a low happy
laugh alone concluded the sentence.
Karl sprang to his feet. Lilith's laugh changed into a burst of sobbing
and weeping, and in another moment the ghost was in the arms of the
Lilith had no idea how far her father had wronged Karl, and though, from
thinking over the past, he had no doubt that the painter had drugged him,
he did not wish to pain her by imparting this conviction. But Lilith was
afraid of a reaction of rage and hatred in her father after the terror was
removed; and Karl saw that he might thus be deprived of all further
intercourse with Lilith, and all chance of softening the old man's heart
towards him; while Lilith would not hear of forsaking him who had banished
all the human race but herself. They managed at length to agree upon a
plan of operation.
The first thing they did was to go to the cellar where the plaster mass
lay, Karl carrying with him a great axe used for cleaving wood. Lilith
shuddered when she saw it, stained as it was with the wine Heinrich had
spilt over it, and almost believed herself the midnight companion of a
vampire after all, visiting with him the terrible corpse in which he lived
all day. But Karl soon reassured her; and a few good blows of the axe
revealed a very different core to that which Teufelsbürst supposed to be
in it. Karl broke it into pieces, and with Lilith's help, who insisted on
carrying her share, the whole was soon at the bottom of the Moldau and
every trace of its ever having existed removed. Before morning, too, the
form of Lilith had dawned anew in every picture. There was no time to
restore to its former condition the one Karl had first altered; for in it
the changes were all that they seemed; nor indeed was he capable of
restoring it in the master's style; but they put it quite out of the way,
and hoped that sufficient time might elapse before the painter thought of
When they had done, and Lilith, for all his entreaties, would remain with
him no longer, Karl took his former clothes with him, and having spent the
rest of the night in his old room, dressed in them in the morning. When
Teufelsbürst entered his studio next day, there sat Karl, as if nothing
had happened, finishing the drawing on which he had been at work when the
fit of insensibility came upon him. The painter started, stared, rubbed
his eyes, thought it was another spectral illusion, and was on the point
of yielding to his terror, when Karl rose, and approached him with a
smile. The healthy, sunshiny countenance of Karl, let him be ghost or
goblin, could not fail to produce somewhat of a tranquillising effect on
Teufelsbürst. He took his offered hand mechanically, his countenance
utterly vacant with idiotic bewilderment. Karl said—
"I was not well, and thought it better to pay a visit to a friend for a
few days; but I shall soon make up for lost time, for I am all right now."
He sat down at once, taking no notice of his master's behaviour, and went
on with his drawing. Teufelsbürst stood staring at him for some minutes
without moving, then suddenly turned and left the room. Karl heard him
hurrying down the cellar stairs. In a few moments he came up again. Karl
stole a glance at him. There he stood in the same spot, no doubt more full
of bewilderment than ever, but it was not possible that his face should
express more. At last he went to his easel, and sat down with a long-drawn
sigh as if of relief. But though he sat at his easel, he painted none that
day; and as often as Karl ventured a glance, he saw him still staring at
him. The discovery that his pictures were restored to their former
condition aided, no doubt, in leading him to the same conclusion as the
other facts, whatever that conclusion might be—probably that he had
been the sport of some evil power, and had been for the greater part of a
week utterly bewitched. Lilith had taken care to instruct the old woman,
with whom she was all-powerful; and as neither of them showed the smallest
traces of the astonishment which seemed to be slowly vitrifying his own
brain, he was at last perfectly satisfied that things had been going on
all right everywhere but in his inner man; and in this conclusion he
certainly was not far wrong, in more senses than one. But when all was
restored again to the old routine, it became evident that the peculiar
direction of his art in which he had hitherto indulged had ceased to
interest him. The shock had acted chiefly upon that part of his mental
being which had been so absorbed. He would sit for hours without doing
anything, apparently plunged in meditation.—Several weeks elapsed
without any change, and both Lilith and Karl were getting dreadfully
anxious about him. Karl paid him every attention; and the old man, for he
now looked much older than before, submitted to receive his services as
well as those of Lilith. At length, one morning, he said in a slow
"Karl Wolkenlicht, I should like to paint you."
"Certainly, sir," answered Karl, jumping up, "where would you like me to
So the ice of silence and inactivity was broken, and the painter drew and
painted; and the spring of his art flowed once more; and he made a
beautiful portrait of Karl—a portrait without evil or suffering. And
as soon as he had finished Karl, he began once more to paint Lilith; and
when he had painted her, he composed a picture for the very purpose of
introducing them together; and in this picture there was neither ugliness
nor torture, but human feeling and human hope instead. Then Karl knew that
he might speak to him of Lilith; and he spoke, and was heard with a smile.
But he did not dare to tell him the truth of the vampire story till one
day that Teufelsbürst was lying on the floor of a room in Karl's ancestral
castle, half smothered in grandchildren; when the only answer it drew from
the old man was a kind of shuddering laugh and the words "Don't speak of
it, Karl, my boy!"
On the top of a high cliff, forming part of the base of a great mountain,
stood a lofty castle. When or how it was built, no man knew; nor could any
one pretend to understand its architecture. Every one who looked upon it
felt that it was lordly and noble; and where one part seemed not to agree
with another, the wise and modest dared not to call them incongruous, but
presumed that the whole might be constructed on some higher principle of
architecture than they yet understood. What helped them to this conclusion
was, that no one had ever seen the whole of the edifice; that, even of the
portion best known, some part or other was always wrapped in thick folds
of mist from the mountain; and that, when the sun shone upon this mist,
the parts of the building that appeared through the vaporous veil were
strangely glorified in their indistinctness, so that they seemed to belong
to some aerial abode in the land of the sunset; and the beholders could
hardly tell whether they had ever seen them before, or whether they were
now for the first time partially revealed.
Nor, although it was inhabited, could certain information be procured as
to its internal construction. Those who dwelt in it often discovered rooms
they had never entered before—yea, once or twice,—whole suites
of apartments, of which only dim legends had been handed down from former
times. Some of them expected to find, one day, secret places, filled with
treasures of wondrous jewels; amongst which they hoped to light upon
Solomon's ring, which had for ages disappeared from the earth, but which
had controlled the spirits, and the possession of which made a man simply
what a man should be, the king of the world. Now and then, a narrow,
winding stair, hitherto untrodden, would bring them forth on a new turret,
whence new prospects of the circumjacent country were spread out before
them. How many more of these there might be, or how much loftier, no one
could tell. Nor could the foundations of the castle in the rock on which
it was built be determined with the smallest approach to precision. Those
of the family who had given themselves to exploring in that direction,
found such a labyrinth of vaults and passages, and endless successions of
down-going stairs, out of one underground space into a yet lower, that
they came to the conclusion that at least the whole mountain was
perforated and honeycombed in this fashion. They had a dim consciousness,
too, of the presence, in those awful regions, of beings whom they could
not comprehend. Once they came upon the brink of a great black gulf, in
which the eye could see nothing but darkness: they recoiled with horror;
for the conviction flashed upon them that that gulf went down into the
very central spaces of the earth, of which they had hitherto been
wandering only in the upper crust; nay, that the seething blackness before
them had relations mysterious, and beyond human comprehension, with the
far-off voids of space, into which the stars dare not enter.
At the foot of the cliff whereon the castle stood, lay a deep lake,
inaccessible save by a few avenues, being surrounded on all sides with
precipices which made the water look very black, although it was pure as
the nightsky. From a door in the castle, which was not to be otherwise
entered, a broad flight of steps, cut in the rock, went down to the lake,
and disappeared below its surface. Some thought the steps went to the very
bottom of the water.
Now in this castle there dwelt a large family of brothers and sisters.
They had never seen their father or mother. The younger had been educated
by the elder, and these by an unseen care and ministration, about the
sources of which they had, somehow or other, troubled themselves very
little—for what people are accustomed to, they regard as coming from
nobody; as if help and progress and joy and love were the natural crops of
Chaos or old Night. But Tradition said that one day—it was utterly
uncertain when—their father would come, and leave them no
more; for he was still alive, though where he lived nobody knew. In the
meantime all the rest had to obey their eldest brother, and listen to his
But almost all the family was very fond of liberty, as they called it; and
liked to run up and down, hither and thither, roving about, with neither
law nor order, just as they pleased. So they could not endure their
brother's tyranny, as they called it. At one time they said that he was
only one of themselves, and therefore they would not obey him; at another,
that he was not like them, and could not understand them, and therefore
they would not obey him. Yet, sometimes, when he came and looked them full
in the face, they were terrified, and dared not disobey, for he was
stately and stern and strong. Not one of them loved him heartily, except
the eldest sister, who was very beautiful and silent, and whose eyes shone
as if light lay somewhere deep behind them. Even she, although she loved
him, thought him very hard sometimes; for when he had once said a thing
plainly, he could not be persuaded to think it over again. So even she
forgot him sometimes, and went her own ways, and enjoyed herself without
him. Most of them regarded him as a sort of watchman, whose business it
was to keep them in order; and so they were indignant and disliked him.
Yet they all had a secret feeling that they ought to be subject to him;
and after any particular act of disregard, none of them could think, with
any peace, of the old story about the return of their father to his house.
But indeed they never thought much about it, or about their father at all;
for how could those who cared so little for their brother, whom they saw
every day, care for their father whom they had never seen?—One chief
cause of complaint against him was that he interfered with their favourite
studies and pursuits; whereas he only sought to make them give up trifling
with earnest things, and seek for truth, and not for amusement, from the
many wonders around them. He did not want them to turn to other studies,
or to eschew pleasures; but, in those studies, to seek the highest things
most, and other things in proportion to their true worth and nobleness.
This could not fail to be distasteful to those who did not care for what
was higher than they. And so matters went on for a time. They thought they
could do better without their brother; and their brother knew they could
not do at all without him, and tried to fulfil the charge committed into
At length, one day, for the thought seemed to strike them simultaneously,
they conferred together about giving a great entertainment in their
grandest rooms to any of their neighbours who chose to come, or indeed to
any inhabitants of the earth or air who would visit them. They were too
proud to reflect that some company might defile even the dwellers in what
was undoubtedly the finest palace on the face of the earth. But what made
the thing worse, was, that the old tradition said that these rooms were to
be kept entirely for the use of the owner of the castle. And, indeed,
whenever they entered them, such was the effect of their loftiness and
grandeur upon their minds, that they always thought of the old story, and
could not help believing it. Nor would the brother permit them to forget
it now; but, appearing suddenly amongst them, when they had no expectation
of being interrupted by him, he rebuked them, both for the indiscriminate
nature of their invitation, and for the intention of introducing any one,
not to speak of some who would doubtless make their appearance on the
evening in question, into the rooms kept sacred for the use of the unknown
father. But by this time their talk with each other had so excited their
expectations of enjoyment, which had previously been strong enough, that
anger sprung up within them at the thought of being deprived of their
hopes, and they looked each other in the eyes; and the look said: "We are
many and he is one—let us get rid of him, for he is always finding
fault, and thwarting us in the most innocent pleasures;—as if we
would wish to do anything wrong!" So without a word spoken, they rushed
upon him; and although he was stronger than any of them, and struggled
hard at first, yet they overcame him at last. Indeed some of them thought
he yielded to their violence long before they had the mastery of him; and
this very submission terrified the more tender-hearted amongst them.
However, they bound him; carried him down many stairs, and, having
remembered an iron staple in the wall of a certain vault, with a thick
rusty chain attached to it, they bore him thither, and made the chain fast
around him. There they left him, shutting the great gnarring brazen door
of the vault, as they departed for the upper regions of the castle.
Now all was in a tumult of preparation. Every one was talking of the
coming festivity; but no one spoke of the deed they had done. A sudden
paleness overspread the face, now of one, and now of another; but it
passed away, and no one took any notice of it; they only plied the task of
the moment the more energetically. Messengers were sent far and near, not
to individuals or families, but publishing in all places of concourse a
general invitation to any who chose to come on a certain day, and partake
for certain succeeding days of the hospitality of the dwellers in the
castle. Many were the preparations immediately begun for complying with
the invitation. But the noblest of their neighbours refused to appear; not
from pride, but because of the unsuitableness and carelessness of such a
mode. With some of them it was an old condition in the tenure of their
estates, that they should go to no one's dwelling except visited in
person, and expressly solicited. Others, knowing what sort of persons
would be there, and that, from a certain physical antipathy, they could
scarcely breathe in their company, made up their minds at once not to go.
Yet multitudes, many of them beautiful and innocent as well as gay,
resolved to appear.
Meanwhile the great rooms of the castle were got in readiness—that
is, they proceeded to deface them with decorations; for there was a
solemnity and stateliness about them in their ordinary condition, which
was at once felt to be unsuitable for the light-hearted company so soon to
move about in them with the self-same carelessness with which men walk
abroad within the great heavens and hills and clouds. One day, while the
workmen were busy, the eldest sister, of whom I have already spoken,
happened to enter, she knew not why. Suddenly the great idea of the mighty
halls dawned upon her, and filled her soul. The so-called decorations
vanished from her view, and she felt as if she stood in her father's
presence. She was at one elevated and humbled. As suddenly the idea faded
and fled, and she beheld but the gaudy festoons and draperies and
paintings which disfigured the grandeur. She wept and sped away. Now it
was too late to interfere, and things must take their course. She would
have been but a Cassandra-prophetess to those who saw but the pleasure
before them. She had not been present when her brother was imprisoned; and
indeed for some days had been so wrapt in her own business, that she had
taken but little heed of anything that was going on. But they all expected
her to show herself when the company was gathered; and they had applied to
her for advice at various times during their operations.
At length the expected hour arrived, and the company began to assemble. It
was a warm summer evening. The dark lake reflected the rose-coloured
clouds in the west, and through the flush rowed many gaily painted boats,
with various coloured flags, towards the massy rock on which the castle
stood. The trees and flowers seemed already asleep, and breathing forth
their sweet dream-breath. Laughter and low voices rose from the breast of
the lake to the ears of the youths and maidens looking forth expectant
from the lofty windows. They went down to the broad platform at the top of
the stairs in front of the door to receive their visitors. By degrees the
festivities of the evening commenced. The same smiles flew forth both at
eyes and lips, darting like beams through the gathering crowd. Music, from
unseen sources, now rolled in billows, now crept in ripples through the
sea of air that filled the lofty rooms. And in the dancing halls, when
hand took hand, and form and motion were moulded and swayed by the
indwelling music, it governed not these alone, but, as the ruling spirit
of the place, every new burst of music for a new dance swept before it a
new and accordant odour, and dyed the flames that glowed in the lofty
lamps with a new and accordant stain. The floors bent beneath the feet of
the time-keeping dancers. But twice in the evening some of the inmates
started, and the pallor occasionally common to the household overspread
their faces, for they felt underneath them a counter-motion to the dance,
as if the floor rose slightly to answer their feet. And all the time their
brother lay below in the dungeon, like John the Baptist in the castle of
Herod, when the lords and captains sat around, and the daughter of
Herodias danced before them. Outside, all around the castle, brooded the
dark night unheeded; for the clouds had come up from all sides, and were
crowding together overhead. In the unfrequent pauses of the music, they
might have heard, now and then, the gusty rush of a lonely wind, coming
and going no one could know whence or whither, born and dying unexpected
But when the festivities were at their height, when the external and
passing confidence which is produced between superficial natures by a
common pleasure was at the full, a sudden crash of thunder quelled the
music, as the thunder quells the noise of the uplifted sea. The windows
were driven in, and torrents of rain, carried in the folds of a rushing
wind, poured into the halls. The lights were swept away; and the great
rooms, now dark within, were darkened yet more by the dazzling shoots of
flame from the vault of blackness overhead. Those that ventured to look
out of the windows saw, in the blue brilliancy of the quick-following jets
of lightning, the lake at the foot of the rock, ordinarily so still and so
dark, lighted up, not on the surface only, but down to half its depth; so
that, as it tossed in the wind, like a tortured sea of writhing flames, or
incandescent half-molten serpents of brass, they could not tell whether a
strong phosphorescence did not issue from the transparent body of the
waters, as if earth and sky lightened together, one consenting source of
Sad was the condition of the late plastic mass of living form that had
flowed into shape at the will and law of the music. Broken into
individuals, the common transfusing spirit withdrawn, they stood drenched,
cold, and benumbed, with clinging garments; light, order, harmony, purpose
departed, and chaos restored; the issuings of life turned back on their
sources, chilly and dead. And in every heart reigned the falsest of
despairing convictions, that this was the only reality, and that was but a
dream. The eldest sister stood with clasped hands and down-bent head,
shivering and speechless, as if waiting for something to follow. Nor did
she wait long. A terrible flash and thunder-peal made the castle rock; and
in the pausing silence that followed, her quick sense heard the rattling
of a chain far off, deep down; and soon the sound of heavy footsteps,
accompanied with the clanking of iron, reached her ear. She felt that her
brother was at hand. Even in the darkness, and amidst the bellowing of
another deep-bosomed cloud-monster, she knew that he had entered the room.
A moment after, a continuous pulsation of angry blue light began, which,
lasting for some moments, revealed him standing amidst them, gaunt,
haggard, and motionless; his hair and beard untrimmed, his face ghastly,
his eyes large and hollow. The light seemed to gather around him as a
centre. Indeed some believed that it throbbed and radiated from his
person, and not from the stormy heavens above them. The lightning had rent
the wall of his prison, and released the iron staple of his chain, which
he had wound about him like a girdle. In his hand he carried an iron
fetter-bar, which he had found on the floor of the vault. More terrified
at his aspect than at all the violence of the storm, the visitors, with
many a shriek and cry, rushed out into the tempestuous night. By degrees,
the storm died away. Its last flash revealed the forms of the brothers and
sisters lying prostrate, with their faces on the floor, and that fearful
shape standing motionless amidst them still.
Morning dawned, and there they lay, and there he stood. But at a word from
him, they arose and went about their various duties, though listlessly
enough. The eldest sister was the last to rise; and when she did, it was
only by a terrible effort that she was able to reach her room, where she
fell again on the floor. There she remained lying for days. The brother
caused the doors of the great suite of rooms to be closed, leaving them
just as they were, with all the childish adornment scattered about, and
the rain still falling in through the shattered windows. "Thus let them
lie," said he, "till the rain and frost have cleansed them of paint and
drapery: no storm can hurt the pillars and arches of these halls."
The hours of this day went heavily. The storm was gone, but the rain was
left; the passion had departed, but the tears remained behind. Dull and
dark the low misty clouds brooded over the castle and the lake, and shut
out all the neighbourhood. Even if they had climbed to the loftiest known
turret, they would have found it swathed in a garment of clinging vapour,
affording no refreshment to the eye, and no hope to the heart. There was
one lofty tower that rose sheer a hundred feet above the rest, and from
which the fog could have been seen lying in a grey mass beneath; but that
tower they had not yet discovered, nor another close beside it, the top of
which was never seen, nor could be, for the highest clouds of heaven
clustered continually around it. The rain fell continuously, though not
heavily, without; and within, too, there were clouds from which dropped
the tears which are the rain of the spirit. All the good of life seemed
for the time departed, and their souls lived but as leafless trees that
had forgotten the joy of the summer, and whom no wind prophetic of spring
had yet visited. They moved about mechanically, and had not strength
enough left to wish to die.
The next day the clouds were higher, and a little wind blew through such
loopholes in the turrets as the false improvements of the inmates had not
yet filled with glass, shutting out, as the storm, so the serene visitings
of the heavens. Throughout the day, the brother took various opportunities
of addressing a gentle command, now to one and now to another of his
family. It was obeyed in silence. The wind blew fresher through the
loopholes and the shattered windows of the great rooms, and found its way,
by unknown passages, to faces and eyes hot with weeping. It cooled and
blessed them.—When the sun arose the next day, it was in a clear
By degrees, everything fell into the regularity of subordination. With the
subordination came increase of freedom. The steps of the more youthful of
the family were heard on the stairs and in the corridors more light and
quick than ever before. Their brother had lost the terrors of aspect
produced by his confinement, and his commands were issued more gently, and
oftener with a smile, than in all their previous history. By degrees his
presence was universally felt through the house. It was no surprise to any
one at his studies, to see him by his side when he lifted up his eyes,
though he had not before known that he was in the room. And although some
dread still remained, it was rapidly vanishing before the advances of a
firm friendship. Without immediately ordering their labours, he always
influenced them, and often altered their direction and objects. The change
soon evident in the household was remarkable. A simpler, nobler expression
was visible on all the countenances. The voices of the men were deeper,
and yet seemed by their very depth more feminine than before; while the
voices of the women were softer and sweeter, and at the same time more
full and decided. Now the eyes had often an expression as if their sight
was absorbed in the gaze of the inward eyes; and when the eyes of two met,
there passed between those eyes the utterance of a conviction that both
meant the same thing. But the change was, of course, to be seen more
clearly, though not more evidently, in individuals.
One of the brothers, for instance, was very fond of astronomy. He had his
observatory on a lofty tower, which stood pretty clear of the others,
towards the north and east. But hitherto, his astronomy, as he had called
it, had been more of the character of astrology. Often, too, he might have
been seen directing a heaven-searching telescope to catch the rapid
transit of a fiery shooting-star, belonging altogether to the earthly
atmosphere, and not to the serene heavens. He had to learn that the signs
of the air are not the signs of the skies. Nay, once, his brother
surprised him in the act of examining through his longest tube a patch of
burning heath upon a distant hill. But now he was diligent from morning
till night in the study of the laws of the truth that has to do with
stars; and when the curtain of the sunlight was about to rise from before
the heavenly worlds which it had hidden all day long, he might be seen
preparing his instruments with that solemn countenance with which it
becometh one to look into the mysterious harmonies of Nature. Now he
learned what law and order and truth are, what consent and harmony mean;
how the individual may find his own end in a higher end, where law and
freedom mean the same thing, and the purest certainty exists without the
slightest constraint. Thus he stood on the earth, and looked to the
Another, who had been much given to searching out the hollow places and
recesses in the foundations of the castle, and who was often to be found
with compass and ruler working away at a chart of the same which he had
been in process of constructing, now came to the conclusion, that only by
ascending the upper regions of his abode could he become capable of
understanding what lay beneath; and that, in all probability, one clear
prospect, from the top of the highest attainable turret, over the castle
as it lay below, would reveal more of the idea of its internal
construction, than a year spent in wandering through its subterranean
vaults. But the fact was, that the desire to ascend wakening within him
had made him forget what was beneath; and having laid aside his chart for
a time at least, he was now to be met in every quarter of the upper parts,
searching and striving upward, now in one direction, now in another; and
seeking, as he went, the best outlooks into the clear air of outer
And they began to discover that they were all meditating different aspects
of the same thing; and they brought together their various discoveries,
and recognised the likeness between them; and the one thing often
explained the other, and combining with it helped to a third. They grew in
consequence more and more friendly and loving; so that every now and then
one turned to another and said, as in surprise, "Why, you are my brother!"—"Why,
you are my sister!" And yet they had always known it.
The change reached to all. One, who lived on the air of sweet sounds, and
who was almost always to be found seated by her harp or some other
instrument, had, till the late storm, been generally merry and playful,
though sometimes sad. But for a long time after that, she was often found
weeping, and playing little simple airs which she had heard in childhood—backward
longings, followed by fresh tears. Before long, however, a new element
manifested itself in her music. It became yet more wild, and sometimes
retained all its sadness, but it was mingled with anticipation and hope.
The past and the future merged in one; and while memory yet brought the
rain-cloud, expectation threw the rainbow across its bosom—and all
was uttered in her music, which rose and swelled, now to defiance, now to
victory; then died in a torrent of weeping.
As to the eldest sister, it was many days before she recovered from the
shock. At length, one day, her brother came to her, took her by the hand,
led her to an open window, and told her to seat herself by it, and look
out. She did so; but at first saw nothing more than an unsympathising
blaze of sunlight. But as she looked, the horizon widened out, and the
dome of the sky ascended, till the grandeur seized upon her soul, and she
fell on her knees and wept. Now the heavens seemed to bend lovingly over
her, and to stretch out wide cloud-arms to embrace her; the earth lay like
the bosom of an infinite love beneath her, and the wind kissed her cheek
with an odour of roses. She sprang to her feet, and turned, in an agony of
hope, expecting to behold the face of the father, but there stood only her
brother, looking calmly though lovingly on her emotion. She turned again
to the window. On the hilltops rested the sky: Heaven and Earth were one;
and the prophecy awoke in her soul, that from betwixt them would the steps
of the father approach.
Hitherto she had seen but Beauty; now she beheld Truth. Often had she
looked on such clouds as these, and loved the strange ethereal curves into
which the winds moulded them; and had smiled as her little pet sister told
her what curious animals she saw in them, and tried to point them out to
her. Now they were as troops of angels, jubilant over her new birth, for
they sang, in her soul, of beauty, and truth, and love. She looked down,
and her little sister knelt beside her.
She was a curious child, with black, glittering eyes, and dark hair; at
the mercy of every wandering wind; a frolicsome, daring girl, who laughed
more than she smiled. She was generally in attendance on her sister, and
was always finding and bringing her strange things. She never pulled a
primrose, but she knew the haunts of all the orchis tribe, and brought
from them bees and butterflies innumerable, as offerings to her sister.
Curious moths and glow-worms were her greatest delight; and she loved the
stars, because they were like the glow-worms. But the change had affected
her too; for her sister saw that her eyes had lost their glittering look,
and had become more liquid and transparent. And from that time she often
observed that her gaiety was more gentle, her smile more frequent, her
laugh less bell-like; and although she was as wild as ever, there was more
elegance in her motions, and more music in her voice. And she clung to her
sister with far greater fondness than before.
The land reposed in the embrace of the warm summer days. The clouds of
heaven nestled around the towers of the castle; and the hearts of its
inmates became conscious of a warm atmosphere—of a presence of love.
They began to feel like the children of a household, when the mother is at
home. Their faces and forms grew daily more and more beautiful, till they
wondered as they gazed on each other. As they walked in the gardens of the
castle, or in the country around, they were often visited, especially the
eldest sister, by sounds that no one heard but themselves, issuing from
woods and waters; and by forms of love that lightened out of flowers, and
grass, and great rocks. Now and then the young children would come in with
a slow, stately step, and, with great eyes that looked as if they would
devour all the creation, say that they had met the father amongst the
trees, and that he had kissed them; "And," added one of them once, "I grew
so big!" But when the others went out to look, they could see no one. And
some said it must have been the brother, who grew more and more beautiful,
and loving, and reverend, and who had lost all traces of hardness, so that
they wondered they could ever have thought him stern and harsh. But the
eldest sister held her peace, and looked up, and her eyes filled with
tears. "Who can tell," thought she, "but the little children know more
about it than we?"
Often, at sunrise, might be heard their hymn of praise to their unseen
father, whom they felt to be near, though they saw him not. Some words
thereof once reached my ear through the folds of the music in which they
floated, as in an upward snowstorm of sweet sounds. And these are some of
the words I heard—but there was much I seemed to hear which I could
not understand, and some things which I understood but cannot utter again.
"We thank thee that we have a father, and not a maker; that thou hast
begotten us, and not moulded us as images of clay; that we have come forth
of thy heart, and have not been fashioned by thy hands. It must be
so. Only the heart of a father is able to create. We rejoice in it, and
bless thee that we know it. We thank thee for thyself. Be what thou art—our
root and life, our beginning and end, our all in all. Come home to us.
Thou livest; therefore we live. In thy light we see. Thou art—that
is all our song."
Thus they worship, and love, and wait. Their hope and expectation grow
ever stronger and brighter, that one day, ere long, the Father will show
Himself amongst them, and thenceforth dwell in His own house for evermore.
What was once but an old legend has become the one desire of their hearts.
And the loftiest hope is the surest of being fulfilled.
THE WOW O'RIVEN
Elsie Scott had let her work fall on her knees, and her hands on her work,
and was looking out of the wide, low window of her room, which was on one
of the ground floors of the village street. Through a gap in the household
shrubbery of fuchsias and myrtles filling the window-sill, one passing on
the foot pavement might get a momentary glimpse of her pale face, lighted
up with two blue eyes, over which some inward trouble had spread a faint,
gauze-like haziness. But almost before her thoughts had had time to wander
back to this trouble, a shout of children's voices, at the other end of
the street, reached her ear. She listened a moment. A shadow of
displeasure and pain crossed her countenance; and rising hastily, she
betook herself to an inner apartment, and closed the door behind her.
Meantime the sounds drew nearer; and by and by an old man, whose strange
appearance and dress showed that he had little capacity either for good or
evil, passed the window. His clothes were comfortable enough in quality
and condition, for they were the annual gift of a benevolent lady in the
neighbourhood; but, being made to accommodate his taste, both known and
traditional, they were somewhat peculiar in cut and adornment. Both coat
and trousers were of a dark grey cloth; but the former, which, in its
shape, partook of the military, had a straight collar of yellow, and
narrow cuffs of the same; while upon both sleeves, about the place where a
corporal wears his stripes, was expressed, in the same yellow cloth, a
somewhat singular device. It was as close an imitation of a bell, with its
tongue hanging out of its mouth, as the tailor's skill could produce from
a single piece of cloth. The origin of the military cut of his coat was
well known. His preference for it arose in the time of the wars of the
first Napoleon, when the threatened invasion of the country caused the
organisation of many volunteer regiments. The martial show and exercises
captivated the poor man's fancy; and from that time forward nothing
pleased his vanity, and consequently conciliated his goodwill more, than
to style him by his favourite title—the Colonel. But the
badge on his arm had a deeper origin, which will be partially manifest in
the course of the story—if story it can be called. It was, indeed,
the baptism of the fool, the outward and visible sign of his relation to
the infinite and unseen. His countenance, however, although the features
were not of any peculiarly low or animal type, showed no corresponding
sign of the consciousness of such a relation, being as vacant as human
countenance could well be.
The cause of Elsie's annoyance was that the fool was annoyed; he was
followed by a troop of boys, who turned his rank into scorn, and assailed
him with epithets hateful to him. Although the most harmless of creatures
when left alone, he was dangerous when roused; and now he stooped
repeatedly to pick up stones and hurl them at his tormentors, who took
care, while abusing him, to keep at a considerable distance, lest he
should get hold of them. Amidst the sounds of derision that followed him,
might be heard the words frequently repeated—"Come hame, come
hame." But in a few minutes the noise ceased, either from the
interference of some friendly inhabitant, or that the boys grew weary, and
departed in search of other amusement. By and by, Elsie might be seen
again at her work in the window; but the cloud over her eyes was deeper,
and her whole face more sad.
Indeed, so much did the persecution of this poor man affect her, that an
onlooker would have been compelled to seek the cause in some yet deeper
sympathy than that commonly felt for the oppressed, even by women. And
such a sympathy existed, strange as it may seem, between the beautiful
girl (for many called her a bonnie lassie) and this "tatter of
humanity". Nothing would have been farther from the thoughts of those that
knew them, than the supposition of any correspondence or connection
between them; yet this sympathy sprang in part from a real similarity in
their history and present condition.
All the facts that were known about Feel Jock's origin were these:
that seventy years ago, a man who had gone with his horse and cart some
miles from the village, to fetch home a load of peat from a desolate moss,
had heard, while toiling along as rough a road on as lonely a hillside as
any in Scotland, the cry of a child; and, searching about, had found the
infant, hardly wrapt in rags, and untended, as if the earth herself had
just given birth—that desert moor, wide and dismal, broken and
watery, the only bosom for him to lie upon, and the cold, clear
night-heaven his only covering. The man had brought him home, and the
parish had taken parish-care of him. He had grown up, and proved what he
now was—almost an idiot. Many of the townspeople were kind to him,
and employed him in fetching water for them from the river or wells in the
neighbourhood, paying him for his trouble in victuals, or whisky, of which
he was very fond. He seldom spoke; and the sentences he could utter were
few; yet the tone, and even the words of his limited vocabulary, were
sufficient to express gratitude and some measure of love towards those who
were kind to him, and hatred of those who teased and insulted him. He
lived a life without aim, and apparently to no purpose; in this resembling
most of his more gifted fellow-men, who, with all the tools and materials
necessary for building a noble mansion, are yet content with a clay hut.
Elsie, on the contrary, had been born in a comfortable farmhouse, amidst
homeliness and abundance. But at a very early age she had lost both father
and mother; not so early, however, but that she had faint memories of warm
soft times on her mother's bosom, and of refuge in her mother's arms from
the attacks of geese, and the pursuit of pigs. Therefore, in after-times,
when she looked forward to heaven, it was as much a reverting to the old
heavenly times of childhood and mother's love, as an anticipation of
something yet to be revealed. Indeed, without some such memory, how should
we ever picture to ourselves a perfect rest? But sometimes it would seem
as if the more a heart was made capable of loving, the less it had to
love; and poor Elsie, in passing from a mother's to a brother's
guardianship, felt a change of spiritual temperature too keen. He was not
a bad man, or incapable of benevolence when touched by the sight of want
in anything of which he would himself have felt the privation; but he was
so coarsely made that only the purest animal necessities affected him, and
a hard word, or unfeeling speech, could never have reached the quick of
his nature through the hide that enclosed it. Elsie, on the contrary, was
excessively and painfully sensitive, as if her nature constantly portended
an invisible multitude of half-spiritual, half-nervous antenna, which
shrank and trembled in every current of air at all below their own
temperature. The effect of this upon her behaviour was such that she was
called odd; and the poor girl felt she was not like other people, yet
could not help it. Her brother, too, laughed at her without the slightest
idea of the pain he occasioned, or the remotest feeling of curiosity as to
what the inward and consistent causes of the outward abnormal condition
might be. Tenderness was the divine comforting she needed; and it was
altogether absent from her brother's character and behaviour.
Her neighbours looked on her with some interest, but they rather shunned
than courted her acquaintance; especially after the return of certain
nervous attacks, to which she had been subject in childhood, and which
were again brought on by the events I must relate. It is curious how
certain diseases repel, by a kind of awe, the sympathies of the
neighbours: as if, by the fact of being subject to them, the patient were
removed into another realm of existence, from which, like the dead with
the living, she can hold communion with those around her only partially,
and with a mixture of dread pervading the intercourse. Thus some of the
deepest, purest wells of spiritual life, are, like those in old castles,
choked up by the decay of the outer walls. But what tended more than
anything, perhaps, to keep up the painful unrest of her soul (for the
beauty of her character was evident in the fact that the irritation seldom
reached her mind), was a circumstance at which, in its present
connection, some of my readers will smile, and others feel a shudder
corresponding in kind to that of Elsie.
Her brother was very fond of a rather small, but ferocious-looking
bull-dog, which followed close at his heels, wherever he went, with
hanging head and slouching gait, never leaping or racing about like other
dogs. When in the house, he always lay under his master's chair. He seemed
to dislike Elsie, and she felt an unspeakable repugnance to him. Though
she never mentioned her aversion, her brother easily saw it by the way in
which she avoided the animal; and attributing it entirely to fear—which
indeed had a great share in the matter—he would cruelly aggravate
it, by telling her stories of the fierce hardihood and relentless
persistency of this kind of animal. He dared not yet further increase her
terror by offering to set the creature upon her, because it was doubtful
whether he might be able to restrain him; but the mental suffering which
he occasioned by this heartless conduct, and for which he had no sympathy,
was as severe as many bodily sufferings to which he would have been sorry
to subject her. Whenever the poor girl happened inadvertently to pass near
the dog, which was seldom, a low growl made her aware of his proximity,
and drove her to a quick retreat. He was, in fact, the animal
impersonation of the animal opposition which she had continually to
endure. Like chooses like; and the bulldog in her brother made
choice of the bull-dog out of him for his companion. So her day was
one of shrinking fear and multiform discomfort.
But a nature capable of so much distress, must of necessity be capable
of a corresponding amount of pleasure; and in her case this was manifest
in the fact that sleep and the quiet of her own room restored her
wonderfully. If she were only let alone, a calm mood, filled with images
of pleasure, soon took possession of her mind.
Her acquaintance with the fool had commenced some ten years previous to
the time I write of, when she was quite a little girl, and had come from
the country with her brother, who, having taken a small farm close to the
town, preferred residing in the town to occupying the farmhouse, which was
not comfortable. She looked at first with some terror on his uncouth
appearance, and with much wonderment on his strange dress. This wonder was
heightened by a conversation she overheard one day in the street, between
the fool and a little pale-faced boy, who, approaching him respectfully,
said, "Weel, cornel!" "Weel, laddie!" was the reply. "Fat dis the wow say,
cornel?" "Come hame, come hame!" answered the colonel, with both
accent and quantity heaped on the word hame. What the wow could be,
she had no idea; only, as the years passed on, the strange word became in
her mind indescribably associated with the strange shape in yellow cloth
on his sleeves. Had she been a native of the town, she could not have
failed to know its import, so familiar was every one with it, although it
did not belong to the local vocabulary; but, as it was, years passed away
before she discovered its meaning. And when, again and again, the fool,
attempting to convey his gratitude for some kindness she had shown him
mumbled over the words—"The wow o' Rivven—the wow o'
Rivven," the wonder would return as to what could be the idea
associated with them in his mind, but she made no advance towards their
That, however, which most attracted her to the old man, was his
persecution by the children. They were to him what the bull-dog was to her—the
constant source of irritation and annoyance. They could hardly hurt him,
nor did he appear to dread other injury from them than insult, to which,
fool though he was, he was keenly alive. Human gadflies that they were!
they sometimes stung him beyond endurance, and he would curse them in the
impotence of his anger. Once or twice Elsie had been so far carried beyond
her constitutional timidity, by sympathy for the distress of her friend,
that she had gone out and talked to the boys—even scolded them, so
that they slunk away ashamed, and began to stand as much in dread of her
as of the clutches of their prey. So she, gentle and timid to excess,
acquired among them the reputation of a termagant. Popular opinion among
children, as among men, is of ten just, but as often very unjust; for the
same manifestations may proceed from opposite principles; and, therefore,
as indices to character, may mislead as often as enlighten.
Next door to the house in which Elsie resided, dwelt a tradesman and his
wife, who kept an indefinite sort of shop, in which various kinds of goods
were exposed for sale. Their youngest son was about the same age as Elsie;
and while they were rather more than children, and less than young people,
he spent many of his evenings with her, somewhat to the loss of position
in his classes at the parish school. They were, indeed, much attached to
each other; and, peculiarly constituted as Elsie was, one may imagine what
kind of heavenly messenger a companion stronger than herself must have
been to her. In fact, if she could have framed the undefinable need of her
childlike nature into an articulate prayer, it would have been—"Give
me some one to love me stronger than I." Any love was helpful, yes, in its
degree, saving to her poor troubled soul; but the hope, as they grew older
together, that the powerful, yet tender-hearted youth, really loved her,
and would one day make her his wife, was like the opening of heavenly eyes
of life and love in the hitherto blank and deathlike face of her
existence. But nothing had been said of love, although they met and parted
Doubtless, if the circles of their thought and feeling had continued as
now to intersect each other, there would have been no interruption to
their affection; but the time at length arrived when the old couple,
seeing the rest of their family comfortably settled in life, resolved to
make a gentleman of the youngest; and so sent him from school to college.
The facilities existing in Scotland for providing a professional training
enabled them to educate him as a surgeon. He parted from Elsie with some
regret; but, far less dependent on her than she was on him, and full of
the prospects of the future, he felt none of that sinking at the heart
which seemed to lay her whole nature open to a fresh inroad of all the
terrors and sorrows of her peculiar existence. No correspondence took
place between them. New pursuits and relations, and the development of his
tastes and judgments, entirely altered the position of poor Elsie in his
memory. Having been, during their intercourse, far less of a man than she
of a woman, he had no definite idea of the place he had occupied in her
regard; and in his mind she receded into the background of the past,
without his having any idea that she would suffer thereby, or that he was
unjust towards her; while, in her thoughts, his image stood in the highest
and clearest relief. It was the centre-point from which and towards which
all lines radiated and converged; and although she could not but be
doubtful about the future, yet there was much hope mingled with her
But when, at the close of two years, he visited his native village, and
she saw before her, instead of the homely youth who had left her that
winter evening, one who, to her inexperienced eyes, appeared a finished
gentleman, her heart sank within her, as if she had found Nature herself
false in her ripening processes, destroying the beautiful promise of a
former year by changing instead of developing her creations. He spoke
kindly to her, but not cordially. To her ear the voice seemed to come from
a great distance out of the past; and while she looked upon him, that
optical change passed over her vision, which all have experienced after
gazing abstractedly on any object for a time: his form grew very small,
and receded to an immeasurable distance; till, her imagination mingling
with the twilight haze of her senses, she seemed to see him standing far
off on a hill, with the bright horizon of sunset for a background to his
clearly defined figure.
She knew no more till she found herself in bed in the dark; and the first
message that reached her from the outer world was the infernal growl of
the bull-dog from the room below. Next day she saw her lover walking with
two ladies, who would have thought it some degree of condescension to
speak to her; and he passed the house without once looking towards it.
One who is sufficiently possessed by the demon of nervousness to be glad
of the magnetic influences of a friend's company in a public promenade, or
of a horse beneath him in passing through a churchyard, will have some
faint idea of how utterly exposed and defenceless poor Elsie now felt on
the crowded thoroughfare of life. And so the insensibility which had
overtaken her, was not the ordinary swoon with which Nature relieves the
overstrained nerves, but the return of the epileptic fits of her early
childhood; and if the condition of the poor girl had been pitiable before,
it was tenfold more so now. Yet she did not complain, but bore all in
silence, though it was evident that her health was giving way. But now,
help came to her from a strange quarter; though many might not be willing
to accord the name of help to that which rather hastened than retarded the
progress of her decline.
She had gone to spend a few of the summer days with a relative in the
country, some miles from her home, if home it could be called. One
evening, towards sunset, she went out for a solitary walk. Passing from
the little garden gate, she went along a bare country road for some
distance, and then, turning aside by a footpath through a thicket of low
trees, she came out in a lonely little churchyard on the hillside. Hardly
knowing whether or not she had intended to go there, she seated herself on
a mound covered with long grass, one of many. Before her stood the ruins
of an old church which was taking centuries to crumble. Little remained
but the gable wall, immensely thick, and covered with ancient ivy. The
rays of the setting sun fell on a mound at its foot, not green like the
rest, but of a rich red-brown in the rosy sunset, and evidently but newly
heaped up. Her eyes, too, rested upon it. Slowly the sun sank below the
As the last brilliant point disappeared, the ivy darkened, and a wind
arose and shook all its leaves, making them look cold and troubled; and to
Elsie's ear came a low faint sound, as from a far-off bell. But close
beside her—and she started and shivered at the sound—rose a
deep, monotonous, almost sepulchral voice, "Come hame, come hame! The
wow, the wow!"
At once she understood the whole. She sat in the churchyard of the ancient
parish church of Ruthven; and when she lifted up her eyes, there she saw,
in the half-ruined belfry, the old bell, all but hidden with ivy, which
the passing wind had roused to utter one sleepy tone; and there beside
her, stood the fool with the bell on his arm; and to him and to her the wow
o' Rivven said, "Come hame, come hame!" Ah, what did she want
in the whole universe of God but a home? And though the ground beneath was
hard, and the sky overhead far and boundless, and the hillside lonely and
companionless, yet somewhere within the visible and beyond these the outer
surface of creation, there might be a home for her; as round the wintry
house the snows lie heaped up cold and white and dreary all the long forenight,
while within, beyond the closed shutters, and giving no glimmer through
the thick stone wall, the fires are blazing joyously, and the voice and
laughter of young unfrozen children are heard, and nothing belongs to
winter but the grey hairs on the heads of the parents, within whose warm
hearts childlike voices are heard, and childlike thoughts move to and fro.
The kernel of winter itself is spring, or a sleeping summer.
It was no wonder that the fool, cast out of the earth on a far more
desolate spot than this, should seek to return within her bosom at this
place of open doors, and should call it home. For surely the
surface of the earth had no home for him. The mound at the foot of the
gable contained the body of one who had shown him kindness. He had
followed the funeral that afternoon from the town, and had remained behind
with the bell. Indeed it was his custom, though Elsie had not known it, to
follow every funeral going to this, his favourite churchyard of Ruthven;
and, possibly in imitation of its booming, for it was still tolled at the
funerals, he had given the old bell the name of the wow, and had
translated its monotonous clangour into the articulate sounds—come
hame, come hame. What precise meaning he attached to the words, it is
impossible to say; but it was evident that the place possessed a strange
attraction for him, drawing him towards it by the cords of some spiritual
magnetism. It is possible that in the mind of the idiot there may have
been some feeling about this churchyard and bell, which, in the mind of
another, would have become a grand poetic thought; a feeling as if the
ghostly old bell hung at the church door of the invisible world, and ever
and anon rung out joyous notes (though they sounded sad in the ears of the
living), calling to the children of the unseen to come home, come home.
She sat for some time in silence; for the bell did not ring again, and the
fool spoke no more; till the dews began to fall, when she rose and went
home, followed by her companion, who passed the night in the barn. From
that hour Elsie was furnished with a visual image of the rest she sought;
an image which, mingling with deeper and holier thoughts, became, like the
bow set in the cloud, the earthly pledge and sign of the fulfilment of
heavenly hopes. Often when the wintry fog of cold discomfort and
homelessness filled her soul, all at once the picture of the little
churchyard—with the old gable and belfry, and the slanting sunlight
steeping down to the very roots of the long grass on the graves—arose
in the darkened chamber (camera obscura,) of her soul; and again
she heard the faint Aeolian sound of the bell, and the voice of the
prophet-fool who interpreted the oracle; and the inward weariness was
soothed by the promise of a long sleep. Who can tell how many have been
counted fools simply because they were prophets; or how much of the
madness in the world may be the utterance of thoughts true and just, but
belonging to a region differing from ours in its nature and scenery!
But to Elsie looking out of her window came the mocking tones of the idle
boys who had chosen as the vehicle of their scorn the very words which
showed the relation of the fool to the eternal, and revealed in him an
element higher far than any yet developed in them. They turned his glory
into shame, like the enemies of David when they mocked the would-be king.
And the best in a man is often that which is most condemned by those who
have not attained to his goodness. The words, however, even as repeated by
the boys, had not solely awakened indignation at the persecution of the
old man: they had likewise comforted her with the thought of the refuge
that awaited both him and her.
But the same evening a worse trial was in store for her. Again she sat
near the window, oppressed by the consciousness that her brother had come
in. He had gone upstairs, and his dog had remained at the door, exchanging
surly compliments with some of his own kind, when the fool came strolling
past, and, I do not know from what cause, the dog flew at him. Elsie heard
his cry and looked up. Her fear of the brute vanished in a moment before
her sympathy for her friend. She darted from the house, and rushed towards
the dog to drag him off the defenceless idiot, calling him by his name in
a tone of anger and dislike. He left the fool, and, springing at Elsie,
seized her by the arm above the elbow with such a grip that, in the midst
of her agony, she fancied she heard the bone crack. But she uttered no
cry, for the most apprehensive are sometimes the most courageous. Just
then, however, her former lover was coming along the street, and, catching
a glimpse of what had happened, was on the spot in an instant, took the
dog by the throat with a gripe not inferior to his own, and having thus
compelled him to relax his hold, dashed him on the ground with a force
that almost stunned him, and then with a superadded kick sent him away
limping and howling; whereupon the fool, attacking him furiously with a
stick, would certainly have finished him, had not his master descried his
plight and come to his rescue.
Meantime the young surgeon had carried Elsie into the house; for, as soon
as she was rescued from the dog, she had fallen down in one of her fits,
which were becoming more and more frequent of themselves, and little
needed such a shock as this to increase their violence. He was dressing
her arm when she began to recover; and when she opened her eyes, in a
state of half-consciousness, he first object she beheld was his face
bending over her. Recalling nothing of what had occurred, it seemed to
her, in the dreamy condition in which the fit had left her, the same face,
unchanged, which had once shone in upon her tardy springtime, and promised
to ripen it into summer. She forgot it had departed and left her in the
wintry cold. And so she uttered wild words of love and trust; and the
youth, while stung with remorse at his own neglect, was astonished to
perceive the poetic forms of beauty in which the soul of the uneducated
maiden burst into flower. But as her senses recovered themselves, the face
gradually changed to her, as if the slow alteration of two years had been
phantasmagorically compressed into a few moments; and the glow departed
from the maiden's thoughts and words, and her soul found itself at the
narrow window of the present, from which she could behold but a dreary
country.—From the street came the iambic cry of the fool, "Come
hame, come hame."
Tycho Brahe, I think, is said to have kept a fool, who frequently sat at
his feet in his study, and to whose mutterings he used to listen in the
pauses of his own thought. The shining soul of the astronomer drew forth
the rainbow of harmony from the misty spray of words ascending ever from
the dark gulf into which the thoughts of the idiot were ever falling. He
beheld curious concurrences of words therein; and could read strange
meanings from them—sometimes even received wondrous hints for the
direction of celestial inquiry, from what, to any other, and it may be to
the fool himself, was but a ceaseless and aimless babble. Such power lieth
in words. It is not then to be wondered at, that the sounds I have
mentioned should fall on the ears of Elsie, at such a moment, as a message
from God Himself. This then—all this dreariness—was but a
passing show like the rest, and there lay somewhere for her a reality—a
home. The tears burst up from her oppressed heart. She received the
message, and prepared to go home. From that time her strength gradually
sank, but her spirits as steadily rose.
The strength of the fool, too, began to fail, for he was old. He bore all
the signs of age, even to the grey hairs, which betokened no wisdom. But
one cannot say what wisdom might be in him, or how far he had fought his
own battle, and been victorious. Whether any notion of a continuance of
life and thought dwelt in his brain, it is impossible to tell; but he
seemed to have the idea that this was not his home; and those who saw him
gradually approaching his end, might well anticipate for him a higher life
in the world to come. He had passed through this world without ever
awaking to such a consciousness of being as is common to mankind. He had
spent his years like a weary dream through a long night—a strange,
dismal, unkindly dream; and now the morning was at hand. Often in his
dream had he listened with sleepy senses to the ringing of the bell, but
that bell would awake him at last. He was like a seed buried too deep in
the soil, to which the light has never penetrated, and which, therefore,
has never forced its way upwards to the open air, ever experienced the
resurrection of the dead. But seeds will grow ages after they have fallen
into the earth; and, indeed, with many kinds, and within some limits, the
older the seed before it germinates, the more plentiful the fruit. And may
it not be believed of many human beings, that, the Great Husbandman having
sown them like seeds in the soil of human affairs, there they lie buried a
life long; and only after the upturning of the soil by death reach a
position in which the awakening of their aspiration and the consequent
growth become possible. Surely He has made nothing in vain.
A violent cold and cough brought him at last near to his end, and hearing
that he was ill, Elsie ventured one bright spring day to go to see him.
When she entered the miserable room where he lay, he held out his hand to
her with something like a smile, and muttered feebly and painfully, "I'm
gaein' to the wow, nae to come back again." Elsie could not restrain her
tears; while the old man, looking fixedly at her, though with meaningless
eyes, muttered, for the last time, "Come hame! come hame!" and sank
into a lethargy, from which nothing could rouse him, till, next morning,
he was waked by friendly death from the long sleep of this world's night.
They bore him to his favourite churchyard, and buried him within the site
of the old church, below his loved bell, which had ever been to him as the
cuckoo-note of a coming spring. Thus he at length obeyed its summons, and
Elsie lingered till the first summer days lay warm on the land. Several
kind hearts in the village, hearing of her illness, visited her and
ministered to her. Wondering at her sweetness and patience, they regretted
they had not known her before. How much consolation might not their
kindness have imparted, and how much might not their sympathy have
strengthened her on her painful road! But they could not long have delayed
her going home. Nor, mentally constituted as she was, would this have been
at all to be desired. Indeed it was chiefly the expectation of departure
that quieted and soothed her tremulous nature. It is true that a deep
spring of hope and faith kept singing on in her heart, but this alone,
without the anticipation of speedy release, could only have kept her mind
at peace. It could not have reached, at least for a long time, the border
land between body and mind, in which her disease lay.
One still night of summer, the nurse who watched by her bedside heard her
murmur through her sleep, "I hear it: come hame—come hame.
I'm comin', I'm comin'—I'm gaein' hame to the wow, nae to come
back." She awoke at the sound of her own words, and begged the nurse to
convey to her brother her last request, that she might be buried by the
side of the fool, within the old church of Ruthven. Then she turned her
face to the wall, and in the morning was found quiet and cold. She must
have died within a few minutes after her last words. She was buried
according to her request; and thus she too went home.
Side by side rest the aged fool and the young maiden; for the bell called
them, and they obeyed; and surely they found the fire burning bright, and
heard friendly voices, and felt sweet lips on theirs, in the home to which
they went. Surely both intellect and love were waiting them there.
Still the old bell hangs in the old gable; and whenever another is borne
to the old churchyard, it keeps calling to those who are left behind, with
the same sad, but friendly and unchanging voice—"Come hame! come
hame! come hame!"
"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself:
for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy
mourning shall be ended."—ISA. LX 20.
THE BROKEN SWORDS
The eyes of three, two sisters and a brother, gazed for the last time on a
great pale-golden star, that followed the sun down the steep west. It went
down to arise again; and the brother about to depart might return, but
more than the usual doubt hung upon his future. For between the white
dresses of the sisters, shone his scarlet coat and golden sword-knot,
which he had put on for the first time, more to gratify their pride than
his own vanity. The brightening moon, as if prophetic of a future memory,
had already begun to dim the scarlet and the gold, and to give them a
pale, ghostly hue. In her thoughtful light the whole group seemed more
like a meeting in the land of shadows, than a parting in the substantial
earth. But which should be called the land of realities?—the region
where appearance, and space, and time drive between, and stop the flowing
currents of the soul's speech? or that region where heart meets heart, and
appearance has become the slave to utterance, and space and time are
Through the quiet air came the far-off rush of water, and the near cry of
the land-rail. Now and then a chilly wind blew unheeded through the
startled and jostling leaves that shaded the ivy-seat. Else, there was
calm everywhere, rendered yet deeper and more intense by the dusky sorrow
that filled their hearts. For, far away, hundreds of miles beyond the
hearing of their ears, roared the great war-guns; next week their brother
must sail with his regiment to join the army; and tomorrow he must leave
The sisters looked on him tenderly, with vague fears about his fate. Yet
little they divined it. That the face they loved might lie pale and
bloody, in a heap of slain, was the worst image of it that arose before
them; but this, had they seen the future, they would, in ignorance of the
further future, have infinitely preferred to that which awaited him. And
even while they looked on him, a dim feeling of the unsuitableness of his
lot filled their minds. For, indeed, to all judgments it must have seemed
unsuitable that the home-boy, the loved of his mother, the pet of his
sisters, who was happy womanlike (as Coleridge says), if he possessed the
signs of love, having never yet sought for its proofs—that he should
be sent amongst soldiers, to command and be commanded; to kill, or perhaps
to be himself crushed out of the fair earth in the uproar that brings back
for the moment the reign of Night and Chaos. No wonder that to his sisters
it seemed strange and sad. Yet such was their own position in the battle
of life, in which their father had died with doubtful conquest, that when
their old military uncle sent the boy an ensign's commission, they did not
dream of refusing the only path open, as they thought, to an honourable
profession, even though it might lead to the trench-grave. They heard it
as the voice of destiny, wept, and yielded.
If they had possessed a deeper insight into his character, they would have
discovered yet further reason to doubt the fitness of the profession
chosen for him; and if they had ever seen him at school, it is possible
the doubt of fitness might have strengthened into a certainty of
incongruity. His comparative inactivity amongst his schoolfellows, though
occasioned by no dulness of intellect, might have suggested the necessity
of a quiet life, if inclination and liking had been the arbiters in the
choice. Nor was this inactivity the result of defective animal spirits
either, for sometimes his mirth and boyish frolic were unbounded; but it
seemed to proceed from an over-activity of the inward life, absorbing, and
in some measure checking, the outward manifestation. He had so much to do
in his own hidden kingdom, that he had not time to take his place in the
polity and strife of the commonwealth around him. Hence, while other boys
were acting, he was thinking. In this point of difference, he felt keenly
the superiority of many of his companions; for another boy would have the
obstacle overcome, or the adversary subdued, while he was meditating on
the propriety, or on the means, of effecting the desired end. He envied
their promptitude, while they never saw reason to envy his wisdom; for his
conscience, tender and not strong, frequently transformed slowness of
determination into irresolution: while a delicacy of the sympathetic
nerves tended to distract him from any predetermined course, by the
diversity of their vibrations, responsive to influences from all quarters,
and destructive to unity of purpose.
Of such a one, the a priori judgment would be, that he ought to be
left to meditate and grow for some time, before being called upon to
produce the fruits of action. But add to these mental conditions a vivid
imagination, and a high sense of honour, nourished in childhood by the
reading of the old knightly romances, and then put the youth in a position
in which action is imperative, and you have elements of strife sufficient
to reduce that fair kingdom of his to utter anarchy and madness. Yet so
little, do we know ourselves, and so different are the symbols with which
the imagination works its algebra, from the realities which those symbols
represent, that as yet the youth felt no uneasiness, but contemplated his
new calling with a glad enthusiasm and some vanity; for all his prospect
lay in the glow of the scarlet and the gold. Nor did this excitement
receive any check till the day before his departure, on which day I have
introduced him to my readers, when, accidently taking up a newspaper of a
week old, his eye fell on these words—"Already crying women are
to be met in the streets." With this cloud afar on his horizon, which,
though no bigger than a man's hand, yet cast a perceptible shadow over his
mind, he departed next morning. The coach carried him beyond the
consecrated circle of home laws and impulses, out into the great tumult,
above which rises ever and anon the cry of Cain, "Am I my brother's
Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times, will
correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein the first
act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in which childish
sense and need are served with all the profusion of the indulgent nurse.
But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night settles down upon
the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish, and not having yet
learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood as a thing denied by
the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature; so sets forth alone to
climb the heavens, and instead of climbing, falls into the abyss. Then
follows the long dismal night of feverish efforts and delirious visions,
or, it may be, helpless despair; till at length a deeper stratum of the
soul is heaved to the surface; and amid the first dawn of morning, the
youth says within him, "I have sinned against my Maker—I will
arise and go to my Father." More or less, I say, will Christian
tragedy correspond to this—a fall and a rising again; not a rising
only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a triumph. Such, in its way
and degree, is my story. I have shown, in one passing scene, the home
paradise; now I have to show a scene of a far differing nature.
The young ensign was lying in his tent, weary, but wakeful. All day long
the cannon had been bellowing against the walls of the city, which now lay
with wide, gaping breach, ready for the morrow's storm, but covered yet
with the friendly darkness. His regiment was ordered to be ready with the
earliest dawn to march up to the breach. That day, for the first time,
there had been blood on his sword—there the sword lay, a spot on the
chased hilt still. He had cut down one of the enemy in a skirmish with a
sally party of the besieged and the look of the man as he fell, haunted
him. He felt, for the time, that he dared not pray to the Father, for the
blood of a brother had rushed forth at the stroke of his arm, and there
was one fewer of living souls on the earth because he lived thereon. And
to-morrow he must lead a troop of men up to that poor disabled town, and
turn them loose upon it, not knowing what might follow in the triumph of
enraged and victorious foes, who for weeks had been subjected, by the
constancy of the place, to the greatest privations. It was true the
general had issued his commands against all disorder and pillage; but if
the soldiers once yielded to temptation, what might not be done before the
officers could reclaim them! All the wretched tales he had read of the
sack of cities rushed back on his memory. He shuddered as he lay. Then his
conscience began to speak, and to ask what right he had to be there.—Was
the war a just one?—He could not tell; for this was a bad time for
settling nice questions. But there he was, right or wrong, fighting and
shedding blood on God's earth, beneath God's heaven.
Over and over he turned the question in his mind; again and again the
spouting blood of his foe, and the death-look in his eye, rose before him;
and the youth who at school could never fight with a companion because he
was not sure that he was in the right, was alone in the midst of
undoubting men of war, amongst whom he was driven helplessly along, upon
the waves of a terrible necessity. What wonder that in the midst of these
perplexities his courage should fail him! What wonder that the
consciousness of fainting should increase the faintness! or that the dread
of fear and its consequences should hasten and invigorate its attacks! To
crown all, when he dropped into a troubled slumber at length, he found
himself hurried, as on a storm of fire, through the streets of the
captured town, from all the windows of which looked forth familiar faces,
old and young, but distorted from the memory of his boyhood by fear and
wild despair. On one spot lay the body of his father, with his face to the
earth; and he woke at the cry of horror and rage that burst from his own
lips, as he saw the rough, bloody hand of a soldier twisted in the loose
hair of his elder sister, and the younger fainting in the arms of a
scoundrel belonging to his own regiment. He slept no more. As the grey
morning broke, the troops appointed for the attack assembled without sound
of trumpet or drum, and were silently formed in fitting order. The young
ensign was in his place, weary and wretched after his miserable night.
Before him he saw a great, broad-shouldered lieutenant, whose brawny hand
seemed almost too large for his sword-hilt, and in any one of whose limbs
played more animal life than in the whole body of the pale youth. The
firm-set lips of this officer, and the fire of his eye, showed a
concentrated resolution, which, by the contrast, increased the misery of
the ensign, and seemed, as if the stronger absorbed the weaker, to draw
out from him the last fibres of self-possession: the sight of unattainable
determination, while it increased the feeling of the arduousness of that
which required such determination, threw him into the great gulf which lay
between him and it. In this disorder of his nervous and mental condition,
with a doubting conscience and a shrinking heart, is it any wonder that
the terrors which lay before him at the gap in those bristling walls,
should draw near, and, making sudden inroad upon his soul, overwhelm the
government of a will worn out by the tortures of an unassured spirit? What
share fear contributed to unman him, it was impossible for him, in the
dark, confused conflict of differing emotions, to determine; but doubtless
a natural shrinking from danger, there being no excitement to deaden its
influence, and no hope of victory to encourage to the struggle, seeing
victory was dreadful to him as defeat, had its part in the sad result.
Many men who have courage, are dependent on ignorance and a low state of
the moral feeling for that courage; and a further progress towards the
development of the higher nature would, for a time at least, entirely
overthrow it. Nor could such loss of courage be rightly designated by the
name of cowardice. But, alas! the colonel happened to fix his eyes upon
him as he passed along the file; and this completed his confusion. He
betrayed such evident symptoms of perturbation, that that officer ordered
him under arrest; and the result was, that, chiefly for the sake of
example to the army, he was, upon trial by court-martial, expelled from
the service, and had his sword broken over his head. Alas for the delicate
minded youth! Alas for the home-darling!
Long after, he found at the bottom of his chest the pieces of the broken
sword, and remembered that, at the time, he had lifted them from the
ground and carried them away. But he could not recall under what impulse
he had done so. Perhaps the agony he suffered, passing the bounds of
mortal endurance, had opened for him a vista into the eternal, and had
shown him, if not the injustice of the sentence passed upon him, yet his
freedom from blame, or, endowing him with dim prophetic vision, had given
him the assurance that some day the stain would be wiped from his soul,
and leave him standing clear before the tribunal of his own honour. Some
feeling like this, I say, may have caused him, with a passing gleam of
indignant protest, to lift the fragments from the earth, and carry them
away; even as the friends of a so-called traitor may bear away his
mutilated body from the wheel. But if such was the case, the vision was
soon overwhelmed and forgotten in the succeeding anguish. He could not see
that, in mercy to his doubting spirit, the question which had agitated his
mind almost to madness, and which no results of the impending conflict
could have settled for him, was thus quietly set aside for the time; nor
that, painful as was the dark, dreadful existence that he was now to pass
in self-torment and moaning, it would go by, and leave his spirit clearer
far, than if, in his apprehension, it had been stained with further
blood-guiltiness, instead of the loss of honour. Years after, when he
accidentally learned that on that very morning the whole of his company,
with parts of several more, had, or ever they began to mount the breach,
been blown to pieces by the explosion of a mine, he cried aloud in
bitterness, "Would God that my fear had not been discovered before I
reached that spot!" But surely it is better to pass into the next region
of life having reaped some assurance, some firmness of character,
determination of effort, and consciousness of the worth of life, in the
present world; so approaching the future steadily and faithfully, and if
in much darkness and ignorance, yet not in the oscillations of moral
Close upon the catastrophe followed a torpor, which lasted he did not know
how long, and which wrapped in a thick fog all the succeeding events. For
some time he can hardly be said to have had any conscious history. He
awoke to life and torture when half-way across the sea towards his native
country, where was no home any longer for him. To this point, and no
farther, could his thoughts return in after years. But the misery which he
then endured is hardly to be understood, save by those of like delicate
temperament with himself. All day long he sat silent in his cabin; nor
could any effort of the captain, or others on board, induce him to go on
deck till night came on, when, under the starlight, he ventured into the
open air. The sky soothed him then, he knew not how. For the face of
nature is the face of God, and must bear expressions that can influence,
though unconsciously to them, the most ignorant and hopeless of His
children. Often did he watch the clouds in hope of a storm, his spirit
rising and falling as the sky darkened or cleared; he longed, in the
necessary selfishness of such suffering, for a tumult of waters to swallow
the vessel; and only the recollection of how many lives were involved in
its safety besides his own, prevented him from praying to God for
lightning and tempest, borne on which he might dash into the haven of the
other world. One night, following a sultry calm day, he thought that Mercy
had heard his unuttered prayer. The air and sea were intense darkness,
till a light as intense for one moment annihilated it, and the succeeding
darkness seemed shattered with the sharp reports of the thunder that
cracked without reverberation. He who had shrunk from battle with his
fellow-men, rushed to the mainmast, threw himself on his knees, and
stretched forth his arms in speechless energy of supplication; but the
storm passed away overhead, and left him kneeling still by the uninjured
mast. At length the vessel reached her port. He hurried on shore to bury
himself in the most secret place he could find. Out of sight was
his first, his only thought. Return to his mother he would not, he could
not; and, indeed, his friends never learned his fate, until it had carried
him far beyond their reach.
For several weeks he lurked about like a malefactor, in low lodging-houses
in narrow streets of the seaport to which the vessel had borne him,
heeding no one, and but little shocked at the strange society and
conversation with which, though only in bodily presence, he had to mingle.
These formed the subjects of reflection in after times; and he came to the
conclusion that, though much evil and much misery exist, sufficient to
move prayers and tears in those who love their kind, yet there is less of
both than those looking down from a more elevated social position upon the
weltering heap of humanity, are ready to imagine; especially if they
regard it likewise from the pedestal of self-congratulation on which a
meagre type of religion has elevated them. But at length his little stock
of money was nearly expended, and there was nothing that he could do, or
learn to do, in this seaport. He felt impelled to seek manual labour,
partly because he thought it more likely he could obtain that sort of
employment, without a request for reference as to his character, which
would lead to inquiry about his previous history; and partly, perhaps,
from an instinctive feeling that hard bodily labour would tend to lessen
his inward suffering.
He left the town, therefore, at nightfall of a July day, carrying a little
bundle of linen, and the remains of his money, somewhat augmented by the
sale of various articles of clothing and convenience, which his change of
life rendered superfluous and unsuitable. He directed his course
northwards, travelling principally by night—so painfully did he
shrink from the gaze even of foot-farers like himself; and sleeping during
the day in some hidden nook of wood or thicket, or under the shadow of a
great tree in a solitary field. So fine was the season, that for three
successive weeks he was able to travel thus without inconvenience, lying
down when the sun grew hot in the forenoon, and generally waking when the
first faint stars were hesitating in the great darkening heavens that
covered and shielded him. For above every cloud, above every storm, rise
up, calm, clear, divine, the deep infinite skies; they embrace the tempest
even as the sunshine; by their permission it exists within their boundless
peace: therefore it cannot hurt, and must pass away, while there they
stand as ever, domed up eternally, lasting, strong, and pure.
Several times he attempted to get agricultural employment; but the
whiteness of his hands and the tone of his voice not merely suggested
unfitness for labour, but generated suspicion as to the character of one
who had evidently dropped from a rank so much higher, and was seeking
admittance within the natural masonic boundaries and secrets and
privileges of another. Disheartened somewhat, but hopeful, he journeyed
on. I say hopeful; for the blessed power of life in the universe in fresh
air and sunshine absorbed by active exercise, in winds, yea in rain,
though it fell but seldom, had begun to work its natural healing, soothing
effect, upon his perturbed spirit. And there was room for hope in his new
endeavour. As his bodily strength increased, and his health, considerably
impaired by inward suffering, improved, the trouble of his soul became
more endurable—and in some measure to endure is to conquer and
destroy. In proportion as the mind grows in the strength of patience, the
disturber of its peace sickens and fades away. At length, one day, a widow
lady in a village through which his road led him, gave him a day's work in
her garden. He laboured hard and well, notwithstanding his soon-blistered
hands, received his wages thankfully, and found a resting-place for the
night on the low part of a haystack from which the upper portion had been
cut away. Here he ate his supper of bread and cheese, pleased to have
found such comfortable quarters, and soon fell fast asleep.
When he awoke, the whole heavens and earth seemed to give a full denial to
sin and sorrow. The sun was just mounting over the horizon, looking up the
clear cloud-mottled sky. From millions of water-drops hanging on the
bending stalks of grass, sparkled his rays in varied refraction,
transformed here to a gorgeous burning ruby, there to an emerald, green as
the grass, and yonder to a flashing, sunny topaz. The chanting priest-lark
had gone up from the low earth, as soon as the heavenly light had begun to
enwrap and illumine the folds of its tabernacle; and had entered the high
heavens with his offering, whence, unseen, he now dropped on the earth the
sprinkled sounds of his overflowing blessedness. The poor youth rose but
to kneel, and cry, from a bursting heart, "Hast Thou not, O Father, some
care for me? Canst Thou not restore my lost honour? Can anything befall
Thy children for which Thou hast no help? Surely, if the face of Thy world
lie not, joy and not grief is at the heart of the universe. Is there none
The highest poetic feeling of which we are now conscious, springs not from
the beholding of perfected beauty, but from the mute sympathy which the
creation with all its children manifests with us in the groaning and
travailing which look for the sonship. Because of our need and aspiration,
the snowdrop gives birth in our hearts to a loftier spiritual and poetic
feeling, than the rose most complete in form, colour, and odour. The rose
is of Paradise—the snowdrop is of the striving, hoping, longing
Earth. Perhaps our highest poetry is the expression of our aspirations in
the sympathetic forms of visible nature. Nor is this merely a longing for
a restored Paradise; for even in the ordinary history of men, no man or
woman that has fallen, can be restored to the position formerly held. Such
must rise to a yet higher place, whence they can behold their former
standing far beneath their feet. They must be restored by the attainment
of something better than they ever possessed before, or not at all. If the
law be a weariness, we must escape it by taking refuge with the spirit,
for not otherwise can we fulfil the law than by being above the law. To
escape the overhanging rocks of Sinai, we must climb to its secret top.
"Is thy strait horizon dreary?
Is thy foolish fancy chill?
Change the feet that have grown weary
For the wings that never will."
Thus, like one of the wandering knights searching the wide earth for the
Sangreal, did he wander on, searching for his lost honour, or rather (for
that he counted gone for ever) seeking unconsciously for the peace of mind
which had departed from him, and taken with it, not the joy merely, but
almost the possibility, of existence.
At last, when his little store was all but exhausted, he was employed by a
market gardener, in the neighbourhood of a large country town, to work in
his garden, and sometimes take his vegetables to market. With him he
continued for a few weeks, and wished for no change; until, one day
driving his cart through the town, he saw approaching him an elderly
gentleman, whom he knew at once, by his gait and carriage, to be a
military man. Now he had never seen his uncle the retired officer, but it
struck him that this might be he; and under the tyranny of his passion for
concealment, he fancied that, if it were he, he might recognise him by
some family likeness—not considering the improbability of his
looking at him. This fancy, with the painful effect which the sight of an
officer, even in plain clothes, had upon him, recalling the torture of
that frightful day, so overcame him, that he found himself at the other
end of an alley before he recollected that he had the horse and cart in
charge. This increased his difficulty; for now he dared not return, lest
his inquiries after the vehicle, if the horse had strayed from the direct
line, should attract attention, and cause interrogations which he would be
unable to answer. The fatal want of self-possession seemed again to ruin
him. He forsook the town by the nearest way, struck across the country to
another line of road, and before he was missed, was miles away, still in a
But although he thus shunned the face of man, especially of any one who
reminded him of the past, the loss of his reputation in their eyes was not
the cause of his inward grief. That would have been comparatively
powerless to disturb him, had he not lost his own respect. He quailed
before his own thoughts; he was dishonoured in his own eyes. His
perplexity had not yet sufficiently cleared away to allow him to see the
extenuating circumstances of the case; not to say the fact that the
peculiar mental condition in which he was at the time, removed the case
quite out of the class of ordinary instances of cowardice. He condemned
himself more severely than any of his judges would have dared; remembering
that portion of his mental sensations which had savoured of fear, and
forgetting the causes which had produced it. He judged himself a man
stained with the foulest blot that could cleave to a soldier's name, a
blot which nothing but death, not even death, could efface. But, inwardly
condemned and outwardly degraded, his dread of recognition was intense;
and feeling that he was in more danger of being discovered where the
population was sparser, he resolved to hide himself once more in the midst
of poverty; and, with this view, found his way to one of the largest of
the manufacturing towns.
He reached it during the strike of a great part of the workmen; so that,
though he found some difficulty in procuring employment, as might be
expected from his ignorance of machine-labour, he yet was sooner
successful than he would otherwise have been. Possessed of a natural
aptitude for mechanical operations, he soon became a tolerable workman;
and he found that his previous education assisted to the fitting execution
of those operations even which were most purely mechanical.
He found also, at first, that the unrelaxing attention requisite for the
mastering of the many niceties of his work, of necessity drew his mind
somewhat from its brooding over his misfortune, hitherto almost ceaseless.
Every now and then, however, a pang would shoot suddenly to his heart, and
turn his face pale, even before his consciousness had time to inquire what
was the matter. So by degrees, as attention became less necessary, and the
nervo-mechanical action of his system increased with use, his thoughts
again returned to their old misery. He would wake at night in his poor
room, with the feeling that a ghostly nightmare sat on his soul; that a
want—a loss—miserable, fearful—was present; that
something of his heart was gone from him; and through the darkness he
would hear the snap of the breaking sword, and lie for a moment
overwhelmed beneath the assurance of the incredible fact. Could it be true
that he was a coward? that his honour was gone, and in its
place a stain? that he was a thing for men—and worse, for
women—to point the finger at, laughing bitter laughter? Never lover
or husband could have mourned with the same desolation over the departure
of the loved; the girl alone, weeping scorching tears over her
degradation, could resemble him in his agony, as he lay on his bed, and
wept and moaned.
His sufferings had returned with the greater weight, that he was no longer
upheld by the "divine air" and the open heavens, whose sunlight now only
reached him late in an afternoon, as he stood at his loom, through windows
so coated with dust that they looked like frosted glass; showing, as it
passed through the air to fall on the dirty floor, how the breath of life
was thick with dust of iron and wood, and films of cotton; amidst which
his senses were now too much dulled by custom to detect the exhalations
from greasy wheels and overtasked human-kind. Nor could he find comfort in
the society of his fellow-labourers. True, it was a kind of comfort to
have those near him who could not know of his grief; but there was so
little in common between them, that any interchange of thought was
impossible. At least, so it seemed to him. Yet sometimes his longing for
human companionship would drive him out of his dreary room at night, and
send him wandering through the lower part of the town, where he would gaze
wistfully on the miserable faces that passed him, as if looking for some
one—some angel, even there—to speak goodwill to his hungry
Once he entered one of those gin-palaces, which, like the golden gates of
hell, entice the miserable to worse misery, and seated himself close to a
half-tipsy, good-natured wretch, who made room for him on a bench by the
wall. He was comforted even by this proximity to one who would not repel
him. But soon the paintings of warlike action—of knights, and
horses, and mighty deeds done with battle-axe, and broad-sword, which
adorned the—panels all round, drove him forth even from this heaven
of the damned; yet not before the impious thought had arisen in his heart,
that the brilliantly painted and sculptural roof, with the gilded
vine-leaves and bunches of grapes trained up the windows, all lighted with
the great shining chandeliers, was only a microcosmic repetition of the
bright heavens and the glowing earth, that overhung and surrounded the
misery of man. But the memory of how kindly they had comforted and
elevated him, at one period of his painful history, not only banished the
wicked thought, but brought him more quiet, in the resurrection of a past
blessing, than he had known for some time. The period, however, was now at
hand when a new grief, followed by a new and more elevated activity, was
to do its part towards the closing up of the fountain of bitterness.
Amongst his fellow-labourers, he had for a short time taken some interest
in observing a young woman, who had lately joined them. There was nothing
remarkable about her, except what at first sight seemed a remarkable
plainness. A slight scar over one of her rather prominent eyebrows,
increased this impression of plainness. But the first day had not passed,
before he began to see that there was something not altogether common in
those deep eyes; and the plain look vanished before a closer observation,
which also discovered, in the forehead and the lines of the mouth, traces
of sorrow or other suffering. There was an expression, too, in the whole
face, of fixedness of purpose, without any hardness of determination. Her
countenance altogether seemed the index to an interesting mental history.
Signs of mental trouble were always an attraction to him; in this case so
great, that he overcame his shyness, and spoke to her one evening as they
left the works. He often walked home with her after that; as, indeed, was
natural, seeing that she occupied an attic in the same poor lodging-house
in which he lived himself. The street did not bear the best character;
nor, indeed, would the occupations of all the inmates of the house have
stood investigation; but so retiring and quiet was this girl, and so
seldom did she go abroad after work hours, that he had not discovered till
then that she lived in the same street, not to say the same house with
He soon learned her history—a very common one as outward events, but
not surely insignificant because common. Her father and mother were both
dead, and hence she had to find her livelihood alone, and amidst
associations which were always disagreeable, and sometimes painful. Her
quick womanly instinct must have discovered that he too had a history; for
though, his mental prostration favouring the operation of outward
influences, he had greatly approximated in appearance to those amongst
whom he laboured, there were yet signs, besides the educated accent of his
speech, which would have distinguished him to an observer; but she put no
questions to him, nor made any approach towards seeking a return of the
confidence she reposed in him. It was a sensible alleviation to his
sufferings to hear her kind voice, and look in her gentle face, as they
walked home together; and at length the expectation of this pleasure began
to present itself, in the midst of the busy, dreary work-hours, as the
shadow of a heaven to close up the dismal, uninteresting day.
But one morning he missed her from her place, and a keener pain passed
through him than he had felt of late; for he knew that the Plague was
abroad, feeding in the low stagnant places of human abode; and he had but
too much reason to dread that she might be now struggling in its grasp. He
seized the first opportunity of slipping out and hurrying home. He sprang
upstairs to her room. He found the door locked, but heard a faint moaning
within. To avoid disturbing her, while determined to gain an entrance, he
went down for the key of his own door, with which he succeeded in
unlocking hers, and so crossed her threshold for the first time. There she
lay on her bed, tossing in pain, and beginning to be delirious. Careless
of his own life, and feeling that he could not die better than in helping
the only friend he had; certain, likewise, of the difficulty of finding a
nurse for one in this disease and of her station in life; and sure,
likewise, that there could be no question of propriety, either in the
circumstances with which they were surrounded, nor in this case of
terrible fever almost as hopeless for her as dangerous to him, he
instantly began the duties of a nurse, and returned no more to his
employment. He had a little money in his possession, for he could not, in
the way in which he lived, spend all his wages; so he proceeded to make
her as comfortable as he could, with all the pent-up tenderness of a
loving heart finding an outlet at length. When a boy at home, he had often
taken the place of nurse, and he felt quite capable of performing its
duties. Nor was his boyhood far behind yet, although the trials he had
come through made it appear an age since he had lost his light heart. So
he never left her bedside, except to procure what was necessary for her.
She was too ill to oppose any of his measures, or to seek to prohibit his
presence. Indeed, by the time he had returned with the first medicine, she
was insensible; and she continued so through the whole of the following
week, during which time he was constantly with her.
That action produces feeling is as often true as its converse; and it is
not surprising that, while he smoothed the pillow for her head, he should
have made a nest in his heart for the helpless girl. Slowly and
unconsciously he learned to love her. The chasm between his early
associations and the circumstances in which he found her, vanished as he
drew near to the simple, essential womanhood. His heart saw hers and loved
it; and he knew that, the centre once gained, he could, as from the
fountain of life, as from the innermost secret of the holy place, the
hidden germ of power and possibility, transform the outer intellect and
outermost manners as he pleased. With what a thrill of joy, a feeling for
a long time unknown to him, and till now never known in this form or with
this intensity, the thought arose in his heart that here lay one who some
day would love him; that he should have a place of refuge and rest; one to
lie in his bosom and not despise him! "For," said he to himself, "I will
call forth her soul from where it sleeps, like an unawakened echo, in an
unknown cave; and like a child, of whom I once dreamed, that was mine, and
to my delight turned in fear from all besides, and clung to me, this soul
of hers will run with bewildered, half-sleeping eyes, and tottering steps,
but with a cry of joy on its lips, to me as the life-giver. She will cling
to me and worship me. Then will I tell her, for she must know all, that I
am low and contemptible; that I am an outcast from the world, and that if
she receive me, she will be to me as God. And I will fall down at her feet
and pray her for comfort, for life, for restoration to myself; and she
will throw herself beside me, and weep and love me, I know. And we will go
through life together, working hard, but for each other; and when we die,
she shall lead me into paradise as the prize her angel-hand found cast on
a desert shore, from the storm of winds and waves which I was too weak to
resist—and raised, and tended, and saved." Often did such thoughts
as these pass through his mind while watching by her bed; alternated,
checked, and sometimes destroyed, by the fears which attended her
precarious condition, but returning with every apparent betterment or
I will not stop to decide the nice question, how far the intention was
right, of causing her to love him before she knew his story. If in the
whole matter there was too much thought of self, my only apology is the
sequel. One day, the ninth from the commencement of her illness, a letter
arrived, addressed to her; which he, thinking he might prevent some
inconvenience thereby, opened and read, in the confidence of that love
which already made her and all belonging to her appear his own. It was
from a soldier—her lover. It was plain that they had been
betrothed before he left for the continent a year ago; but this was the
first letter which he had written to her. It breathed changeless love, and
hope, and confidence in her. He was so fascinated that he read it through
Laying it down, he sat pale, motionless, almost inanimate. From the
hard-won sunny heights, he was once more cast down into the shadow of
death. The second storm of his life began, howling and raging, with yet
more awful lulls between. "Is she not mine?" he said, in agony. "Do
I not feel that she is mine? Who will watch over her as I? Who will kiss
her soul to life as I? Shall she be torn away from me, when my soul seems
to have dwelt with hers for ever in an eternal house? But have I not a
right to her? Have I not given my life for hers? Is he not a soldier, and
are there not many chances that he may never return? And it may be that,
although they were engaged in word, soul has never touched soul with them;
their love has never reached that point where it passes from the mortal to
the immortal, the indissoluble: and so, in a sense, she may be yet free.
Will he do for her what I will do? Shall this precious heart of hers, in
which I see the buds of so many beauties, be left to wither and die?"
But here the voice within him cried out, "Art thou the disposer of
destinies? Wilt thou, in a universe where the visible God hath died for
the Truth's sake, do evil that a good, which He might neglect or overlook,
may be gained? Leave thou her to Him, and do thou right." And he said
within himself, "Now is the real trial for my life! Shall I conquer or
no?" And his heart awoke and cried, "I will. God forgive me for wronging
the poor soldier! A brave man, brave at least, is better for her than I."
A great strength arose within him, and lifted him up to depart. "Surely I
may kiss her once," he said. For the crisis was over, and she slept. He
stooped towards her face, but before he had reached her lips he saw her
eyelids tremble; and he who had longed for the opening of those eyes, as
of the gates of heaven, that she might love him, stricken now with fear
lest she should love him, fled from her, before the eyelids that hid such
strife and such victory from the unconscious maiden had time to unclose.
But it was agony—quietly to pack up his bundle of linen in the room
below, when he knew she was lying awake above, with her dear, pale face,
and living eyes! What remained of his money, except a few shillings, he
put up in a scrap of paper, and went out with his bundle in his hand,
first to seek a nurse for his friend, and then to go he knew not whither.
He met the factory people with whom he had worked, going to dinner, and
amongst them a girl who had herself but lately recovered from the fever,
and was yet hardly able for work. She was the only friend the sick girl
had seemed to have amongst the women at the factory, and she was easily
persuaded to go and take charge of her. He put the money in her hand,
begging her to use it for the invalid, and promising to send the
equivalent of her wages for the time he thought she would have to wait on
her. This he easily did by the sale of a ring, which, besides his mother's
watch, was the only article of value he had retained. He begged her
likewise not to mention his name in the matter; and was foolish enough to
expect that she would entirely keep the promise she had made him.
Wandering along the street, purposeless now and bereft, he spied a
recruiting party at the door of a public-house; and on coming nearer,
found, by one of those strange coincidences which do occur in life, and
which have possibly their root in a hidden and wondrous law, that it was a
party, perhaps a remnant, of the very regiment in which he had himself
served, and in which his misfortune had befallen him. Almost
simultaneously with the shock which the sight of the well-known number on
the soldiers' knapsacks gave him, arose in his mind the romantic, ideal
thought, of enlisting in the ranks of this same regiment, and recovering,
as a private soldier and unknown, that honour which as officer he had
lost. To this determination, the new necessity in which he now stood for
action and change of life, doubtless contributed, though unconsciously. He
offered himself to the sergeant; and, notwithstanding that his dress
indicated a mode of life unsuitable as the antecedent to a soldier's, his
appearance, and the necessity for recruits combined, led to his easy
The English armies were employed in expelling the enemy from an invaded
and helpless country. Whatever might be the political motives which had
induced the Government to this measure, the young man was now able to feel
that he could go and fight, individually and for his part, in the cause of
liberty. He was free to possess his own motives for joining in the
execution of the schemes of those who commanded his commanders.
With a heavy heart, but with more of inward hope and strength than he had
ever known before, he marched with his comrades to the seaport and
embarked. It seemed to him that because he had done right in his last
trial, here was a new glorious chance held out to his hand. True, it was a
terrible change to pass from a woman in whom he had hoped to find healing,
into the society of rough men, to march with them, "mitgleichem Tritt
und Schritt," up to the bristling bayonets or the horrid vacancy of
the cannon mouth. But it was the only cure for the evil that consumed his
He reached the army in safety, and gave himself, with religious assiduity,
to the smallest duties of his new position. No one had a brighter polish
on his arms, or whiter belts than he. In the necessary movements, he soon
became precise to a degree that attracted the attention of his officers;
while his character was remarkable for all the virtues belonging to a
One day, as he stood sentry, he saw the eyes of his colonel intently fixed
on him. He felt his lip quiver, but he compressed and stilled it, and
tried to look as unconscious as he could; which effort was assisted by the
formal bearing required by his position. Now the colonel, such had been
the losses of the regiment, had been promoted from a lieutenancy in the
same, and had belonged to it at the time of the ensign's degradation.
Indeed, had not the changes in the regiment been so great, he could hardly
have escaped so long without discovery. But the poor fellow would have
felt that his name was already free of reproach, if he had seen what
followed on the close inspection which had awakened his apprehensions, and
which, in fact, had convinced the colonel of his identity with the
disgraced ensign. With a hasty and less soldierly step than usual the
colonel entered his tent, threw himself on his bed and wept like a child.
When he rose he was overheard to say these words—and these only
escaped his lips: "He is nobler than I."
But this officer showed himself worthy of commanding such men as this
private; for right nobly did he understand and meet his feelings. He
uttered no word of the discovery he had made, till years afterwards; but
it soon began to be remarked that whenever anything arduous, or in any
manner distinguished, had to be done, this man was sure to be of the party
appointed. In short, as often as he could, the colonel "set him in the
forefront of the battle." Passing through all with wonderful escape, he
was soon as much noticed for his reckless bravery, as hitherto for his
precision in the discharge of duties bringing only commendation and not
honour. But his final lustration was at hand.
A great part of the army was hastening, by forced marches, to raise the
siege of a town which was already on the point of falling into the hands
of the enemy. Forming one of a reconnoitring party, which preceded the
main body at some considerable distance, he and his companions came
suddenly upon one of the enemy's outposts, occupying a high, and on one
side precipitous rock, a short way from the town, which it commanded.
Retreat was impossible, for they were already discovered, and the bullets
were falling amongst them like the first of a hail-storm. The only
possibility of escape remaining for them was a nearly hopeless
improbability. It lay in forcing the post on this steep rock; which if
they could do before assistance came to the enemy, they might, perhaps, be
able to hold out, by means of its defences, till the arrival of the army.
Their position was at once understood by all; and, by a sudden,
simultaneous impulse, they found themselves halfway up the steep ascent,
and in the struggle of a close conflict, without being aware of any order
to that effect from their officer. But their courage was of no avail; the
advantages of the place were too great; and in a few minutes the whole
party was cut to pieces, or stretched helpless on the rock. Our youth had
fallen amongst the foremost; for a musket ball had grazed his skull, and
laid him insensible.
But consciousness slowly returned, and he succeeded at last in raising
himself and looking around him. The place was deserted. A few of his
friends, alive, but grievously wounded, lay near him. The rest were dead.
It appeared that, learning the proximity of the English forces from this
rencontre with part of their advanced guard, and dreading lest the town,
which was on the point of surrendering, should after all be snatched from
their grasp, the commander of the enemy's forces had ordered an immediate
and general assault; and had for this purpose recalled from their outposts
the whole of his troops thus stationed, that he might make the attempt
with the utmost strength he could accumulate.
As the youth's power of vision returned, he perceived, from the height
where he lay, that the town was already in the hands of the enemy. But
looking down into the level space immediately below him, he started to his
feet at once; for a girl, bare-headed, was fleeing towards the rock,
pursued by several soldiers. "Aha!" said he, divining her purpose—the
soldiers behind and the rock before her—"I will help you to die!"
And he stooped and wrenched from the dead fingers of a sergeant the sword
which they clenched by the bloody hilt. A new throb of life pulsed through
him to his very finger-tips; and on the brink of the unseen world he
stood, with the blood rushing through his veins in a wild dance of
excitement. One who lay near him wounded, but recovered afterwards, said
that he looked like one inspired. With a keen eye he watched the chase.
The girl drew nigh; and rushed up the path near which he was standing.
Close on her footsteps came the soldiers, the distance gradually lessening
Not many paces higher up, was a narrower part of the ascent, where the
path was confined by great stones, or pieces of rock. Here had been the
chief defence in the preceding assault, and in it lay many bodies of his
friends. Thither he went and took his stand.
On the girl came, over the dead, with rigid hands and flying feet, the
bloodless skin drawn tight on her features, and her eyes awfully large and
wild. She did not see him though she bounded past so near that her hair
flew in his eyes. "Never mind!" said he, "we shall meet soon." And he
stepped into the narrow path just in time to face her pursuers—between
her and them. Like the red lightning the bloody sword fell, and a man
beneath it. Cling! clang! went the echoes in the rocks—and another
man was down; for, in his excitement, he was a destroying angel to the
breathless pursuers. His stature rose, his chest dilated; and as the third
foe fell dead, the girl was safe; for her body lay a broken, empty, but
undesecrated temple, at the foot of the rock. That moment his sword flew
in shivers from his grasp. The next instant he fell, pierced to the heart;
and his spirit rose triumphant, free, strong, and calm, above the stormy
world, which at length lay vanquished beneath him.
THE GRAY WOLF
One evening-twilight in spring, a young English student, who had wandered
northwards as far as the outlying fragments of Scotland called the Orkney
and Shetland Islands, found himself on a small island of the latter group,
caught in a storm of wind and hail, which had come on suddenly. It was in
vain to look about for any shelter; for not only did the storm entirely
obscure the landscape, but there was nothing around him save a desert
At length, however, as he walked on for mere walking's sake, he found
himself on the verge of a cliff, and saw, over the brow of it, a few feet
below him, a ledge of rock, where he might find some shelter from the
blast, which blew from behind. Letting himself down by his hands, he
alighted upon something that crunched beneath his tread, and found the
bones of many small animals scattered about in front of a little cave in
the rock, offering the refuge he sought. He went in, and sat upon a stone.
The storm increased in violence, and as the darkness grew he became
uneasy, for he did not relish the thought of spending the night in the
cave. He had parted from his companions on the opposite side of the
island, and it added to his uneasiness that they must be full of
apprehension about him. At last there came a lull in the storm, and the
same instant he heard a footfall, stealthy and light as that of a wild
beast, upon the bones at the mouth of the cave. He started up in some
fear, though the least thought might have satisfied him that there could
be no very dangerous animals upon the island. Before he had time to think,
however, the face of a woman appeared in the opening. Eagerly the wanderer
spoke. She started at the sound of his voice. He could not see her well,
because she was turned towards the darkness of the cave.
"Will you tell me how to find my way across the moor to Shielness?" he
"You cannot find it to-night," she answered, in a sweet tone, and with a
smile that bewitched him, revealing the whitest of teeth.
"What am I to do, then?"
"My mother will give you shelter, but that is all she has to offer."
"And that is far more than I expected a minute ago," he replied. "I shall
be most grateful."
She turned in silence and left the cave. The youth followed.
She was barefooted, and her pretty brown feet went catlike over the sharp
stones, as she led the way down a rocky path to the shore. Her garments
were scanty and torn, and her hair blew tangled in the wind. She seemed
about five and twenty, lithe and small. Her long fingers kept clutching
and pulling nervously at her skirts as she went. Her face was very gray in
complexion, and very worn, but delicately formed, and smooth-skinned. Her
thin nostrils were tremulous as eyelids, and her lips, whose curves were
faultless, had no colour to give sign of indwelling blood. What her eyes
were like he could not see, for she had never lifted the delicate films of
At the foot of the cliff, they came upon a little hut leaning against it,
and having for its inner apartment a natural hollow within. Smoke was
spreading over the face of the rock, and the grateful odour of food gave
hope to the hungry student. His guide opened the door of the cottage; he
followed her in, and saw a woman bending over a fire in the middle of the
floor. On the fire lay a large fish broiling. The daughter spoke a few
words, and the mother turned and welcomed the stranger. She had an old and
very wrinkled, but honest face, and looked troubled. She dusted the only
chair in the cottage, and placed it for him by the side of the fire,
opposite the one window, whence he saw a little patch of yellow sand over
which the spent waves spread themselves out listlessly. Under this window
there was a bench, upon which the daughter threw herself in an unusual
posture, resting her chin upon her hand. A moment after, the youth caught
the first glimpse of her blue eyes. They were fixed upon him with a
strange look of greed, amounting to craving, but, as if aware that they
belied or betrayed her, she dropped them instantly. The moment she veiled
them, her face, notwithstanding its colourless complexion, was almost
When the fish was ready, the old woman wiped the deal table, steadied it
upon the uneven floor, and covered it with a piece of fine table-linen.
She then laid the fish on a wooden platter, and invited the guest to help
himself. Seeing no other provision, he pulled from his pocket a hunting
knife, and divided a portion from the fish, offering it to the mother
"Come, my lamb," said the old woman; and the daughter approached the
table. But her nostrils and mouth quivered with disgust.
The next moment she turned and hurried from the hut.
"She doesn't like fish," said the old woman, "and I haven't anything else
to give her."
"She does not seem in good health," he rejoined.
The woman answered only with a sigh, and they ate their fish with the help
of a little rye bread. As they finished their supper, the youth heard the
sound as of the pattering of a dog's feet upon the sand close to the door;
but ere he had time to look out of the window, the door opened, and the
young woman entered. She looked better, perhaps from having just washed
her face. She drew a stool to the corner of the fire opposite him. But as
she sat down, to his bewilderment, and even horror, the student spied a
single drop of blood on her white skin within her torn dress. The woman
brought out a jar of whisky, put a rusty old kettle on the fire, and took
her place in front of it. As soon as the water boiled, she proceeded to
make some toddy in a wooden bowl.
Meantime the youth could not take his eyes off the young woman, so that at
length he found himself fascinated, or rather bewitched. She kept her eyes
for the most part veiled with the loveliest eyelids fringed with darkest
lashes, and he gazed entranced; for the red glow of the little oil-lamp
covered all the strangeness of her complexion. But as soon as he met a
stolen glance out of those eyes unveiled, his soul shuddered within him.
Lovely face and craving eyes alternated fascination and repulsion.
The mother placed the bowl in his hands. He drank sparingly, and passed it
to the girl. She lifted it to her lips, and as she tasted—only
tasted it—looked at him. He thought the drink must have been drugged
and have affected his brain. Her hair smoothed itself back, and drew her
forehead backwards with it; while the lower part of her face projected
towards the bowl, revealing, ere she sipped, her dazzling teeth in strange
prominence. But the same moment the vision vanished; she returned the
vessel to her mother, and rising, hurried out of the cottage.
Then the old woman pointed to a bed of heather in one corner with a
murmured apology; and the student, wearied both with the fatigues of the
day and the strangeness of the night, threw himself upon it, wrapped in
his cloak. The moment he lay down, the storm began afresh, and the wind
blew so keenly through the crannies of the hut, that it was only by
drawing his cloak over his head that he could protect himself from its
currents. Unable to sleep, he lay listening to the uproar which grew in
violence, till the spray was dashing against the window. At length the
door opened, and the young woman came in, made up the fire, drew the bench
before it, and lay down in the same strange posture, with her chin propped
on her hand and elbow, and her face turned towards the youth. He moved a
little; she dropped her head, and lay on her face, with her arms crossed
beneath her forehead. The mother had disappeared.
Drowsiness crept over him. A movement of the bench roused him, and he
fancied he saw some four-footed creature as tall as a large dog trot
quietly out of the door. He was sure he felt a rush of cold wind. Gazing
fixedly through the darkness, he thought he saw the eyes of the damsel
encountering his, but a glow from the falling together of the remnants of
the fire revealed clearly enough that the bench was vacant. Wondering what
could have made her go out in such a storm, he fell fast asleep.
In the middle of the night he felt a pain in his shoulder, came broad
awake, and saw the gleaming eyes and grinning teeth of some animal close
to his face. Its claws were in his shoulder, and its mouth in the act of
seeking his throat. Before it had fixed its fangs, however, he had its
throat in one hand, and sought his knife with the other. A terrible
struggle followed; but regardless of the tearing claws, he found and
opened his knife. He had made one futile stab, and was drawing it for a
surer, when, with a spring of the whole body, and one wildly contorted
effort, the creature twisted its neck from his hold, and with something
betwixt a scream and a howl, darted from him. Again he heard the door
open; again the wind blew in upon him, and it continued blowing; a sheet
of spray dashed across the floor, and over his face. He sprung from his
couch and bounded to the door.
It was a wild night—dark, but for the flash of whiteness from the
waves as they broke within a few yards of the cottage; the wind was
raving, and the rain pouring down the air. A gruesome sound as of mingled
weeping and howling came from somewhere in the dark. He turned again into
the hut and closed the door, but could find no way of securing it.
The lamp was nearly out, and he could not be certain whether the form of
the young woman was upon the bench or not. Overcoming a strong repugnance,
he approached it, and put out his hands—there was nothing there. He
sat down and waited for the daylight: he dared not sleep any more.
When the day dawned at length, he went out yet again, and looked around.
The morning was dim and gusty and gray. The wind had fallen, but the waves
were tossing wildly. He wandered up and down the little strand, longing
for more light.
At length he heard a movement in the cottage. By and by the voice of the
old woman called to him from the door.
"You're up early, sir. I doubt you didn't sleep well."
"Not very well," he answered. "But where is your daughter?"
"She's not awake yet," said the mother. "I'm afraid I have but a poor
breakfast for you. But you'll take a dram and a bit of fish. It's all I've
Unwilling to hurt her, though hardly in good appetite, he sat down at the
table. While they were eating, the daughter came in, but turned her face
away and went to the farther end of the hut. When she came forward after a
minute or two, the youth saw that her hair was drenched, and her face
whiter than before. She looked ill and faint, and when she raised her
eyes, all their fierceness had vanished, and sadness had taken its place.
Her neck was now covered with a cotton handkerchief. She was modestly
attentive to him, and no longer shunned his gaze. He was gradually
yielding to the temptation of braving another night in the hut, and seeing
what would follow, when the old woman spoke.
"The weather will be broken all day, sir," she said. "You had better be
going, or your friends will leave without you."
Ere he could answer, he saw such a beseeching glance on the face of the
girl, that he hesitated, confused. Glancing at the mother, he saw the
flash of wrath in her face. She rose and approached her daughter, with her
hand lifted to strike her. The young woman stooped her head with a cry. He
darted round the table to interpose between them. But the mother had
caught hold of her; the handkerchief had fallen from her neck; and the
youth saw five blue bruises on her lovely throat—the marks of the
four fingers and the thumb of a left hand. With a cry of horror he darted
from the house, but as he reached the door he turned. His hostess was
lying motionless on the floor, and a huge gray wolf came bounding after
There was no weapon at hand; and if there had been, his inborn chivalry
would never have allowed him to harm a woman even under the guise of a
wolf. Instinctively, he set himself firm, leaning a little forward, with
half outstretched arms, and hands curved ready to clutch again at the
throat upon which he had left those pitiful marks. But the creature as she
sprung eluded his grasp, and just as he expected to feel her fangs, he
found a woman weeping on his bosom, with her arms around his neck. The
next instant, the gray wolf broke from him, and bounded howling up the
cliff. Recovering himself as he best might, the youth followed, for it was
the only way to the moor above, across which he must now make his way to
find his companions.
All at once he heard the sound of a crunching of bones—not as if a
creature was eating them, but as if they were ground by the teeth of rage
and disappointment; looking up, he saw close above him the mouth of the
little cavern in which he had taken refuge the day before. Summoning all
his resolution, he passed it slowly and softly. From within came the
sounds of a mingled moaning and growling.
Having reached the top, he ran at full speed for some distance across the
moor before venturing to look behind him. When at length he did so, he
saw, against the sky, the girl standing on the edge of the cliff, wringing
her hands. One solitary wail crossed the space between. She made no
attempt to follow him, and he reached the opposite shore in safety.
UNCLE CORNELIUS HIS STORY
It was a dull evening in November. A drizzling mist had been falling all
day about the old farm. Harry Heywood and his two sisters sat in the
house-place, expecting a visit from their uncle, Cornelius Heywood. This
uncle lived alone, occupying the first floor above a chemist's shop in the
town, and had just enough of money over to buy books that nobody seemed
ever to have heard of but himself; for he was a student in all those
regions of speculation in which anything to be called knowledge is
"What a dreary night!" said Kate. "I wish uncle would come and tell us a
"A cheerful wish," said Harry. "Uncle Cornie is a lively companion—isn't
he? He cant even blunder through a Joe Miller without tacking a moral to
it, and then trying to persuade you that the joke of it depends on the
"Here he comes!" said Kate, as three distinct blows with the knob of his
walking-stick announced the arrival of Uncle Cornelius. She ran to the
door to open it.
The air had been very still all day, but as he entered he seemed to have
brought the wind with him, for the first moan of it pressed against rather
than shook the casement of the low-ceiled room.
Uncle Cornelius was very tall, and very thin, and very pale, with large
gray eyes that looked greatly larger because he wore spectacles of the
most delicate hair-steel, with the largest pebble-eyes that ever were
seen. He gave them a kindly greeting, but too much in earnest even in
shaking hands to smile over it. He sat down in the arm-chair by the
I have been particular in my description of him, in order that my reader
may give due weight to his words. I am such a believer in words, that I
believe everything depends on who says them. Uncle Cornelius Heywood's
story told word for word by Uncle Timothy Warren, would not have been the
same story at all. Not one of the listeners would have believed a syllable
of it from the lips of round-bodied, red-faced, small-eyed, little Uncle
Tim; whereas from Uncle Cornie—disbelieve one of his stories if you
One word more concerning him. His interest in everything conjectured or
believed relative to the awful borderland of this world and the next, was
only equalled by his disgust at the vulgar, unimaginative forms which
curiosity about such subjects has assumed in the present day. With a
yearning after the unseen like that of a child for the lifting of the
curtain of a theatre, he declared that, rather than accept such a
spirit-world as the would-be seers of the nineteenth century thought or
pretended to reveal,—the prophets of a pauperised, workhouse
immortality, invented by a poverty-stricken soul, and a sense so greedy
that it would gorge on carrion,—he would rejoice to believe that a
man had just as much of a soul as the cabbage of Iamblichus, namely, an
aerial double of his body.
"I'm so glad you're come, uncle!" said Kate. "Why wouldn't you come to
dinner? We have been so gloomy!"
"Well, Katey, you know I don't admire eating. I never could bear to see a
cow tearing up the grass with her long tongue." As he spoke he looked very
much like a cow. He had a way of opening his jaws while he kept his lips
closely pressed together, that made his cheeks fall in, and his face look
awfully long and dismal. "I consider eating," he went on, "such an animal
exercise that it ought always to be performed in private. You never saw me
"Never, uncle; but I have seen you drink;—nothing but water, I must
"Yes that is another affair. According to one eyewitness that is no more
than the disembodied can do. I must confess, however, that, although well
attested, the story is to me scarcely credible. Fancy a glass of Bavarian
beer lifted into the air without a visible hand, turned upside down, and
set empty on the table!—and no splash on the floor or anywhere
A solitary gleam of humour shone through the great eyes of the spectacles
as he spoke.
"Oh, uncle! how can you believe such nonsense!" said Janet.
"I did not say I believed it—did I? But why not? The story has at
least a touch of imagination in it."
"That is a strange reason for believing a thing, uncle," said Harry.
"You might have a worse, Harry. I grant it is not sufficient; but it is
better than that commonplace aspect which is the ground of most faith. I
believe I did say that the story puzzled me."
"But how can you give it any quarter at all, uncle?"
"It does me no harm. There it is—between the boards of an old German
book. There let it remain."
"Well, you will never persuade me to believe such things," said Janet.
"Wait till I ask you, Janet," returned her uncle, gravely. "I have not the
slightest desire to convince you. How did we get into this unprofitable
current of talk? We will change it at once. How are consols, Harry?"
"Oh, uncle!" said Kate, "we were longing for a story, and just as I
thought you were coming to one, off you go to consols!"
"I thought a ghost story at least was coming," said Janet.
"You did your best to stop it, Janet," said Harry.
Janet began an angry retort, but Cornelius interrupted her. "You never
heard me tell a ghost story, Janet."
"You have just told one about a drinking ghost, uncle," said Janet—in
such a tone that Cornelius replied—
"Well, take that for your story, and let us talk of something else."
Janet apparently saw that she had been rude, and said as sweetly as she
might—"Ah! but you didn't make that one, uncle. You got it out of a
"Make it!—Make a ghost story!" repeated Cornelius. "No; that I never
"Such things are not to be trifled with, are they?" said Janet.
"I at least have no inclination to trifle with them."
"But, really and truly, uncle," persisted Janet, "you don't believe in
"Why should I either believe or disbelieve in them? They are not essential
to salvation, I presume."
"You must do the one or the other, I suppose."
"I beg your pardon. You suppose wrong. It would take twice the proof I
have ever had to make me believe in them; and exactly your prejudice, and
allow me to say ignorance, to make me disbelieve in them. Neither is
within my reach. I postpone judgment. But you, young people, of course,
are wiser, and know all about the question."
"Oh, uncle! I'm so sorry!" said Kate. "I'm sure I did not mean to vex
"Not at all, not at all, my dear.—It wasn't you."
"Do you know," Kate went on, anxious to prevent anything unpleasant, for
there was something very black perched on Janet's forehead, "I have taken
to reading about that kind of thing."
"I beg you will give it up at once. You will bewilder your brains till you
are ready to believe anything, if only it be absurd enough. Nay, you may
come to find the element of vulgarity essential to belief. I should be
sorry to the heart to believe concerning a horse or dog what they tell you
nowadays about Shakespeare and Burns. What have you been reading, my
"Don't be alarmed, uncle. Only some Highland legends, which are too absurd
either for my belief or for your theories."
"I don't know that, Kate."
"Why, what could you do with such shapeless creatures as haunt their fords
and pools for instance? They are as featureless as the faces of the
"And so much the more terrible."
"But that does not make it easier to believe in them," said Harry.
"I only said," returned his uncle, "that their shapelessness adds to their
"But you allowed—almost, at least, uncle," said Kate, "that you
could find a place in your theories even for those shapeless creatures."
Cornelius sat silent for a moment; then, having first doubled the length
of his face, and restored it to its natural condition, said thoughtfully,
"I suspect, Katey, if you were to come upon an ichthyosaurus or a
pterodactyl asleep in the shubbery, you would hardly expect your report of
it to be believed all at once either by Harry or Janet."
"I suppose not, uncle. But I can't see what—"
"Of course such a thing could not happen here and now. But there was a
time when and a place where such a thing may have happened. Indeed, in my
time, a traveller or two have got pretty soundly disbelieved for reporting
what they saw,—the last of an expiring race, which had strayed over
the natural verge of its history, coming to life in some neglected swamp,
itself a remnant of the slime of Chaos."
"I never heard you talk like that before, uncle," said Harry. "If you go
on like that, you'll land me in a swamp, I'm afraid."
"I wasn't talking to you at all, Harry. Kate challenged me to find a place
for kelpies, and such like, in the theories she does me the honour of
supposing I cultivate."
"Then you think, uncle, that all these stories are only legends which, if
you could follow them up, would lead you back to some one of the awful
monsters that have since quite disappeared from the earth."
"It is possible those stories may be such legends; but that was not what I
intended to lead you to. I gave you that only as something like what I am
going to say now. What if,—mind, I only suggest it,—what if
the direful creatures, whose report lingers in these tales, should have an
origin far older still? What if they were the remnants of a vanishing
period of the earth's history long antecedent to the birth of mastodon and
iguanodon; a stage, namely, when the world, as we call it, had not yet
become quite visible, was not yet so far finished as to part from the
invisible world that was its mother, and which, on its part, had not then
become quite invisible—was only almost such; and when, as a credible
consequence, strange shapes of those now invisible regions, Gorgons and
Chimaeras dire, might be expected to gloom out occasionally from the awful
Fauna of an ever-generating world upon that one which was being born of
it. Hence, the life-periods of a world being long and slow, some of these
huge, unformed bulks of half-created matter might, somehow, like the
megatherium of later times,—a baby creation to them,—roll at
age-long intervals, clothed in a mighty terror of shapelessness into the
half-recognition of human beings, whose consternation at the uncertain
vision were barrier enough to prevent all further knowledge of its
"I begin to have some notion of your meaning, uncle," said Kate.
"But then," said Janet, "all that must be over by this time. That world
has been invisible now for many years."
"Ever since you were born, I suppose, Janet. The changes of a world are
not to be measured by the changes of its generations."
"Oh, but, uncle, there can't be any such things. You know that as well as
"Yes, just as well, and no better."
"There can't be any ghosts now. Nobody believes such things."
"Oh, as to ghosts, that is quite another thing. I did not know you were
talking with reference to them. It is no wonder if one can get nothing
sensible out of you, Janet, when your discrimination is no greater than to
lump everything marvellous, kelpies, ghosts, vampires, doubles, witches,
fairies, nightmares, and I don't know what all, under the one head of
ghosts; and we haven't been saying a word about them. If one were to
disprove to you the existence of the afreets of Eastern tales, you would
consider the whole argument concerning the reappearance of the departed
upset. I congratulate you on your powers of analysis and induction, Miss
Janet. But it matters very little whether we believe in ghosts, as you
say, or not, provided we believe that we are ghosts—that within this
body, which so many people are ready to consider their own very selves,
their lies a ghostly embryo, at least, which has an inner side to it God
only can see, which says I concerning itself, and which will soon have to
know whether or not it can appear to those whom it has left behind, and
thus solve the question of ghosts for itself, at least."
"Then you do believe in ghosts, uncle?" said Janet, in a tone that
certainly was not respectful.
"Surely I said nothing of the sort, Janet. The man most convinced that he
had himself had such an interview as you hint at, would find—ought
to find it impossible to convince any one else of it."
"You are quite out of my depth, uncle," said Harry. "Surely any honest man
ought to be believed?"
"Honesty is not all, by any means, that is necessary to being believed. It
is impossible to convey a conviction of anything. All you can do is to
convey a conviction that you are convinced. Of course, what satisfied you
might satisfy another; but, till you can present him with the sources of
your conviction, you cannot present him with the conviction—and
perhaps not even then."
"You can tell him all about, it, can't you?"
"Is telling a man about a ghost, affording him the source of your
conviction? Is it the same as a ghost appearing to him? Really, Harry!—You
cannot even convey the impression a dream has made upon you."
"But isn't that just because it is only a dream?"
"Not at all. The impression may be deeper and clearer on your mind than
any fact of the next morning will make. You will forget the next day
altogether, but the impression of the dream will remain through all the
following whirl and storm of what you call facts. Now a conviction may be
likened to a deep impression on the judgment or the reason, or both. No
one can feel it but the person who is convinced. It cannot be conveyed."
"I fancy that is just what those who believe in spirit-rapping would say."
"There are the true and false of convictions, as of everything else. I
mean that a man may take that for a conviction in his own mind which is
not a conviction, but only resembles one. But those to whom you refer
profess to appeal to facts. It is on the ground of those facts, and with
the more earnestness the more reason they can give for receiving them as
facts, that I refuse all their deductions with abhorrence. I mean that, if
what they say is true, the thinker must reject with contempt the claim to
anything like revelation therein."
"Then you do not believe in ghosts, after all?" said Kate, in a tone of
"I did not say so, my dear. Will you be reasonable, or will you not?"
"Dear uncle, do tell us what you really think."
"I have been telling you what I think ever since I came, Katey; and you
won't take in a word I say."
"I have been taking in every word, uncle, and trying hard to understand it
as well.—Did you ever see a ghost, uncle?"
Cornelius Heywood was silent. He shut his lips and opened his jaws till
his cheeks almost met in the vacuum. A strange expression crossed the
strange countenance, and the great eyes of his spectacles looked as if, at
the very moment, they were seeing something no other spectacles could see.
Then his jaws closed with a snap, his countenance brightened, a flash of
humour came through the goggle eyes of pebble, and, at length, he actually
smiled as he said—"Really, Katey, you must take me for a simpleton!"
"To think, if I had ever seen a ghost, I would confess the fact before a
set of creatures like you—all spinning your webs like so many
spiders to catch and devour old Daddy Longlegs."
By this time Harry had grown quite grave. "Indeed, I am very sorry,
uncle," he said, "if I have deserved such a rebuke."
"No, no, my boy," said Cornelius; "I did not mean it more than half. If I
had meant it, I would not have said it. If you really would like—"
Here he paused.
"Indeed we should, uncle," said Kate, earnestly. "You should have heard
what we were saying just before you came in."
"All you were saying, Katey?"
"Yes," answered Kate, thoughtfully. "The worst we said was that you could
not tell a story without—well, we did say tacking a moral to it."
"Well, well! I mustn't push it. A man has no right to know what people say
about him. It unfits him for occupying his real position amongst them. He,
least of all, has anything to do with it. If his friends won't defend him,
he can't defend himself. Besides, what people say is so often untrue!—I
don't mean to others, but to themselves. Their hearts are more honest than
their mouths. But Janet doesn't want a strange story, I am sure."
Janet certainly was not one to have chosen for a listener to such a tale.
Her eyes were so small that no satisfaction could possibly come of it.
"Oh! I don't mind, uncle," she said, with half-affected indifference, as
she searched in her box for silk to mend her gloves.
"You are not very encouraging, I must say," returned her uncle, making
"I will go away, if you like," said Janet, pretending to rise.
"No, never mind," said her uncle hastily. "If you don't want me to tell
it, I want you to hear it; and, before I have done, that may have come to
the same thing perhaps."
"Then you really are going to tell us a ghost story!" said Kate, drawing
her chair nearer to her uncle's; and then, finding this did not satisfy
her sense of propinquity to the source of the expected pleasure, drawing a
stool from the corner, and seating herself almost on the hearth-rug at his
"I did not say so," returned Cornelius, once more. "I said I would tell
you a strange story. You may call it a ghost story if you like; I do not
pretend to determine what it is. I confess it will look like one, though."
After so many delays, Uncle Cornelius now plunged almost hurriedly into
"In the year 1820," he said, "in the month of August, I fell in love."
Here the girls glanced at each other. The idea of Uncle Cornie in love,
and in the very same century in which they were now listening to the
confession, was too astonishing to pass without ocular remark; but, if he
observed it, he took no notice of it; he did not even pause. "In the month
of September, I was refused. Consequently, in the month of October, I was
ready to fall in love again. Take particular care of yourself, Harry, for
a whole month, at least, after your first disappointment; for you will
never be more likely to do a foolish thing. Please yourself after the
second. If you are silly then, you may take what you get, for you will
deserve it—except it be good fortune."
"Did you do a foolish thing then, uncle?" asked Harry, demurely.
"I did, as you will see; for I fell in love again."
"I don't see anything so very foolish in that."
"I have repented it since, though. Don't interrupt me again, please. In
the middle of October, then, in the year 1820, in the evening, I was
walking across Russell Square, on my way home from the British Museum,
where I had been reading all day. You see I have a full intention of being
"I'm sure I don't know why you make the remark to me, uncle," said Janet,
with an involuntary toss of her head. Her uncle only went on with his
"I begin at the very beginning of my story," he said; "for I want to be
particular as to everything that can appear to have had anything to do
with what came afterwards. I had been reading, I say, all the morning in
the British Museum; and, as I walked, I took off my spectacles to ease my
eyes. I need not tell you that I am short-sighted now, for that you know
well enough. But I must tell you that I was short-sighted then, and
helpless enough without my spectacles, although I was not quite so much so
as I am now;—for I find it all nonsense about short-sighted eyes
improving with age. Well, I was walking along the south side of Russell
Square, with my spectacles in my hand, and feeling a little bewildered in
consequence—for it was quite the dusk of the evening, and
short-sighted people require more light than others. I was feeling, in
fact, almost blind. I had got more than half-way to the other side, when,
from the crossing that cuts off the corner in the direction of Montagu
Place, just as I was about to turn towards it, an old lady stepped upon
the kerbstone of the pavement, looked at me for a moment, and passed—an
occurrence not very remarkable, certainly. But the lady was remarkable,
and so was her dress. I am not good at observing, and I am still worse at
describing dress, therefore I can only say that hers reminded me of an old
picture—that is, I had never seen anything like it, except in old
pictures. She had no bonnet, and looked as if she had walked straight out
of an ancient drawing-room in her evening attire. Of her face I shall say
nothing now. The next instant I met a man on the crossing, who stopped and
addressed me. So short-sighted was I that, although I recognised his voice
as one I ought to know, I could not identify him until I had put on my
spectacles, which I did instinctively in the act of returning his
greeting. At the same moment I glanced over my shoulder after the old
lady. She was nowhere to be seen.
"'What are you looking at?' asked James Hetheridge.
"'I was looking after that old lady,' I answered, 'but I can't see her.'
"'What old lady?' said Hetheridge, with just a touch of impatience.
"'You must have seen her,' I returned. 'You were not more than three yards
"'Where is she then?'
"'She must have gone down one of the areas, I think. But she looked a
lady, though an old-fashioned one.'
"'Have you been dining?' asked James, in a tone of doubtful inquiry.
"'No,' I replied, not suspecting the insinuation; 'I have only just come
from the Museum.'
"'Then I advise you to call on your medical man before you go home.'
"'Medical man!' I returned; 'I have no medical man. What do you mean? I
never was better in my life.'
"'I mean that there was no old lady. It was an illusion, and that
indicates something wrong. Besides, you did not know me when I spoke to
"'That is nothing," I returned. 'I had just taken off my spectacles, and
without them I shouldn't know my own father.'
"'How was it you saw the old lady, then?'
"The affair was growing serious under my friend's cross-questioning. I did
not at all like the idea of his supposing me subject to hallucinations. So
I answered, with a laugh, 'Ah! to be sure, that explains it. I am so blind
without my spectacles, that I shouldn't know an old lady from a big dog.'
"'There was no big dog,' said Hetheridge, shaking his head, as the fact
for the first time dawned upon me that, although I had seen the old lady
clearly enough to make a sketch of her, even to the features of her
care-worn, eager old face, I had not been able to recognise the well-known
countenance of James Hetheridge.
"'That's what comes of reading till the optic nerve is weakened," he went
on. 'You will cause yourself serious injury if you do not pull up in time.
I'll tell you what; I'm going home next week—will you go with me?'
"'You are very kind,' I answered, not altogether rejecting the proposal,
for I felt that a little change to the country would be pleasant, and I
was quite my own master. For I had unfortunately means equal to my wants,
and had no occasion to follow any profession—not a very desirable
thing for a young man, I can tell you, Master Harry. I need not keep you
over the commonplaces of pressing and yielding. It is enough to say that
he pressed and that I yielded. The day was fixed for our departure
together; but something or other, I forget what, occurred, to make him
advance the date, and it was resolved that I should follow later in the
"It was a drizzly afternoon in the beginning of the last week of October
when I left the town of Bradford in a post-chaise to drive to Lewton
Grange, the property of my friend's father. I had hardly left the town,
and the twilight had only begun to deepen, when, glancing from one of the
windows of the chaise, I fancied I saw, between me and the hedge, the dim
figure of a horse keeping pace with us. I thought, in the first interval
of unreason, that it was a shadow from my own horse, but reminded myself
the next moment that there could be no shadow where there was no light.
When I looked again, I was at the first glance convinced that my eyes had
deceived me. At the second, I believed once more that a shadowy something,
with the movements of a horse in harness, was keeping pace with us. I
turned away again with some discomfort, and not till we had reached an
open moorland road, whence a little watery light was visible on the
horizon, could I summon up courage enough to look out once more. Certainly
then there was nothing to be seen, and I persuaded myself that it had been
all a fancy, and lighted a cigar. With my feet on the cushions before me,
I had soon lifted myself on the clouds of tobacco far above all the
terrors of the night, and believed them banished for ever. But, my cigar
coming to an end just as we turned into the avenue that led up to the
Grange, I found myself once more glancing nervously out of the window. The
moment the trees were about me, there was, if not a shadowy horse out
there by the side of the chaise, yet certainly more than half that
conviction in here in my consciousness. When I saw my friend, however,
standing on the doorstep, dark against the glow of the hall fire, I forgot
all about it; and I need not add that I did not make it a subject of
conversation when I entered, for I was well aware that it was essential to
a man's reputation that his senses should be accurate, though his heart
might without prejudice swarm with shadows, and his judgment be a very
stable of hobbies.
"I was kindly received. Mrs. Hetheridge had been dead for some years, and
Laetitia, the eldest of the family, was at the head of the household. She
had two sisters, little more than girls. The father was a burly, yet
gentlemanlike Yorkshire squire, who ate well, drank well, looked radiant,
and hunted twice a week. In this pastime his son joined him when in the
humour, which happened scarcely so often. I, who had never crossed a horse
in my life, took his apology for not being able to mount me very coolly,
assuring him that I would rather loiter about with a book than be in at
the death of the best-hunted fox in Yorkshire.
"I very soon found myself at home with the Hetheridges; and very soon
again I began to find myself not so much at home; for Miss Hetheridge—Laetitia
as I soon ventured to call her—was fascinating. I have told you,
Katey, that there was an empty place in my heart. Look to the door then,
Katey. That was what made me so ready to fall in love with Laetitia. Her
figure was graceful, and I think, even now, her face would have been
beautiful but for a certain contraction of the skin over the nostrils,
suggesting an invisible thumb and forefinger pinching them, which repelled
me, although I did not then know what it indicated. I had not been with
her one evening before the impression it made on me had vanished, and that
so entirely that I could hardly recall the perception of the peculiarity
which had occasioned it. Her observation was remarkably keen, and her
judgment generally correct. She had great confidence in it herself; nor
was she devoid of sympathy with some of the forms of human imagination,
only they never seemed to possess for her any relation to practical life.
That was to be ordered by the judgment alone. I do not mean she ever said
so. I am only giving the conclusions I came to afterwards. It is not
necessary that you should have any more thorough acquaintance with her
mental character. One point in her moral nature, of special consequence to
my narrative, will show itself by and by.
"I did all I could to make myself agreeable to her, and the more I
succeeded the more delightful she became in my eyes. We walked in the
garden and grounds together; we read, or rather I read and she listened;—read
poetry, Katey—sometimes till we could not read any more for certain
haziness and huskiness which look now, I am afraid, considerably more
absurd than they really were, or even ought to look. In short, I
considered myself thoroughly in love with her."
"And wasn't she in love with you, uncle?"
"Don't interrupt me, child. I don't know. I hoped so then. I hope the
contrary now. She liked me I am sure. That is not much to say. Liking is
very pleasant and very cheap. Love is as rare as a star."
"I thought the stars were anything but rare, uncle."
"That's because you never went out to find one for yourself, Katey. They
would prove a few miles apart then."
"But it would be big enough when I did find it."
"Right, my dear. That is the way with love.—Laetitia was a good
housekeeper. Everything was punctual as clockwork. I use the word
advisedly. If her father, who was punctual to one date,—the
dinner-hour,—made any remark to the contrary as he took up the
carving-knife, Laetitia would instantly send one of her sisters to
question the old clock in the hall, and report the time to half a minute.
It was sure to be found that, if there was a mistake, the mistake was in
the clock. But although it was certainly a virtue to have her household in
such perfect order, it was not a virtue to be impatient with every
infringement of its rules on the part of others. She was very severe, for
instance, upon her two younger sisters if, the moment after the second
bell had rung, they were not seated at the dinner-table, washed and
aproned. Order was a very idol with her. Hence the house was too tidy for
any sense of comfort. If you left an open book on the table, you would, on
returning to the room a moment after, find it put aside. What the
furniture of the drawing-room was like, I never saw; for not even on
Christmas Day, which was the last day I spent there, was it uncovered.
Everything in it was kept in bibs and pinafores. Even the carpet was
covered with a cold and slippery sheet of brown holland. Mr. Hetheridge
never entered that room, and therein was wise. James remonstrated once.
She answered him quite kindly, even playfully, but no change followed.
What was worse, she made very wretched tea. Her father never took tea;
neither did James. I was rather fond of it, but I soon gave it up.
Everything her father partook of was first-rate. Everything else was
somewhat poverty-stricken. My pleasure in Laetitia's society prevented me
from making practical deductions from such trifles."
"I shouldn't have thought you knew anything about eating, uncle," said
"The less a man eats, the more he likes to have it good, Janet. In short,—there
can be no harm in saying it now,—Laetitia was so far from being like
the name of her baptism,—and most names are so good that they are
worth thinking about; no children are named after bad ideas,—Laetitia
was so far unlike hers as to be stingy—an abominable fault. But, I
repeat, the notion of such a fact was far from me then. And now for my
"The first of November was a very lovely day, quite one of the 'halcyon
days' of 'St. Martin's summer.' I was sitting in a little arbour I had
just discovered, with a book in my hand,—not reading, however, but
day-dreaming,—when, lifting my eyes from the ground, I was startled
to see, through a thin shrub in front of the arbour, what seemed the form
of an old lady seated, apparently reading from a book on her knee. The
sight instantly recalled the old lady of Russell Square. I started to my
feet, and then, clear of the intervening bush, saw only a great stone such
as abounded on the moors in the neighbourhood, with a lump of quartz set
on the top of it. Some childish taste had put it there for an ornament.
Smiling at my own folly, I sat down again, and reopened my book. After
reading for a while, I glanced up again, and once more started to my feet,
overcome by the fancy that there verily sat the old lady reading. You will
say it indicated an excited condition of the brain. Possibly; but I was,
as far as I can recall, quite collected and reasonable. I was almost vexed
this second time, and sat down once more to my book. Still, every time I
looked up, I was startled afresh. I doubt, however, if the trifle is worth
mentioning, or has any significance even in relation to what followed.
"After dinner I strolled out by myself, leaving father and son over their
claret. I did not drink wine; and from the lawn I could see the windows of
the library, whither Laetitia commonly retired from the dinner-table. It
was a very lovely soft night. There was no moon, but the stars looked
wider awake than usual. Dew was falling, but the grass was not yet wet,
and I wandered about on it for half an hour. The stillness was somehow
strange. It had a wonderful feeling in it as if something were expected—as
if the quietness were the mould in which some event or other was about to
"Even then I was a reader of certain sorts of recondite lore. Suddenly I
remembered that this was the eve of All Souls. This was the night on which
the dead came out of their graves to visit their old homes. 'Poor dead!' I
thought with myself; 'have you any place to call a home now? If you have,
surely you will not wander back here, where all that you called home has
either vanished or given itself to others, to be their home now and yours
no more! What an awful doom the old fancy has allotted you! To dwell in
your graves all the year, and creep out, this one night, to enter at the
midnight door, left open for welcome! A poor welcome truly!—just an
open door, a clean-swept floor, and a fire to warm your rain-sodden limbs!
The household asleep, and the house-place swarming with the ghosts of
ancient times,—the miser, the spendthrift, the profligate, the
coquette,—for the good ghosts sleep, and are troubled with no waking
like yours! Not one man, sleepless like yourselves, to question you, and
be answered after the fashion of the old nursery rhyme—
"'What makes your eyes so holed?'
'I've lain so long among the mould.'
'What makes your feet so broad?'
'I've walked more than ever I rode!'
"'Yet who can tell?' I went on to myself. 'It may be your hell to return
thus. It may be that only on this one night of all the year you can show
yourselves to him who can see you, but that the place where you were
wicked is the Hades to which you are doomed for ages.' I thought and
thought till I began to feel the air alive about me, and was enveloped in
the vapours that dim the eyes of those who strain them for one peep
through the dull mica windows that will not open on the world of ghosts.
At length I cast my fancies away, and fled from them to the library, where
the bodily presence of Laetitia made the world of ghosts appear shadowy
"'What a reality there is about a bodily presence!' I said to myself, as I
took my chamber-candle in my hand. 'But what is there more real in a
body?' I said again, as I crossed the hall. 'Surely nothing,' I went on,
as I ascended the broad staircase to my room. 'The body must vanish. If
there be a spirit, that will remain. A body can but vanish. A ghost can
"I woke in the morning with a sense of such discomfort as made me spring
out of bed at once. My foot lighted upon my spectacles. How they came to
be on the floor I could not tell, for I never took them off when I went to
bed. When I lifted them I found they were in two pieces; the bridge was
broken. This was awkward. I was so utterly helpless without them! Indeed,
before I could lay my hand on my hair-brush I had to peer through one eye
of the parted pair. When I looked at my watch after I was dressed, I found
I had risen an hour earlier than usual. I groped my way downstairs to
spend the hour before breakfast in the library.
"No sooner was I seated with a book than I heard the voice of Laetitia
scolding the butler, in no very gentle tones, for leaving the garden door
open all night. The moment I heard this, the strange occurrences I am
about to relate began to dawn upon my memory. The door had been open the
night long between All Saints and All Souls. In the middle of that night I
awoke suddenly. I knew it was not the morning by the sensations I had, for
the night feels altogether different from the morning. It was quite dark.
My heart was beating violently, and I either hardly could or hardly dared
breathe. A nameless terror was upon me, and my sense of hearing was,
apparently by the force of its expectation, unnaturally roused and keen.
There it was—a slight noise in the room!—slight, but clear,
and with an unknown significance about it! It was awful to think it would
come again. I do believe it was only one of those creaks in the timbers
which announce the torpid, age-long, sinking flow of every house back to
the dust—a motion to which the flow of the glacier is as a torrent,
but which is no less inevitable and sure. Day and night it ceases not; but
only in the night, when house and heart are still, do we hear it. No
wonder it should sound fearful! for are we not the immortal dwellers in
ever-crumbling clay? The clay is so near us, and yet not of us, that its
every movement starts a fresh dismay. For what will its final ruin
disclose? When it falls from about us, where shall we find that we have
existed all the time?
"My skin tingled with the bursting of the moisture from its pores.
Something was in the room beside me. A confused, indescribable sense of
utter loneliness, and yet awful presence, was upon me, mingled with a
dreary, hopeless desolation, as of burnt-out love and aimless life. All at
once I found myself sitting up. The terror that a cold hand might be laid
upon me, or a cold breath blow on me, or a corpse-like face bend down
through the darkness over me, had broken my bonds!—I would meet
half-way whatever might be approaching. The moment that my will burst into
action the terror began to ebb.
"The room in which I slept was a large one, perfectly dreary with
tidiness. I did not know till afterwards that it was Laetitia's room,
which she had given up to me rather than prepare another. The furniture,
all but one article, was modern and commonplace. I could not help
remarking to myself afterwards how utterly void the room was of the
nameless charm of feminine occupancy. I had seen nothing to wake a
suspicion of its being a lady's room. The article I have excepted was an
ancient bureau, elaborate and ornate, which stood on one side of the large
bow window. The very morning before, I had seen a bunch of keys hanging
from the upper part of it, and had peeped in. Finding however, that the
pigeon-holes were full of papers, I closed it at once. I should have been
glad to use it, but clearly it was not for me. At that bureau the figure
of a woman was now seated in the posture of one writing. A strange dim
light was around her, but whence it proceeded I never thought of
inquiring. As if I, too, had stepped over the bourne, and was a ghost
myself, all fear was now gone. I got out of bed, and softly crossed the
room to where she was seated. 'If she should be beautiful!' I thought—for
I had often dreamed of a beautiful ghost that made love to me. The figure
did not move. She was looking at a faded brown paper. 'Some old
love-letter,' I thought, and stepped nearer. So cool was I now, that I
actually peeped over her shoulder. With mingled surprise and dismay I
found that the dim page over which she bent was that of an old
account-book. Ancient household records, in rusty ink, held up to the
glimpses of the waning moon, which shone through the parting in the
curtains, their entries of shillings and pence!—Of pounds there was
not one. No doubt pounds and farthings are much the same in the world of
thought—the true spirit-world; but in the ghost-world this eagerness
over shillings and pence must mean something awful! I To think that coins
which had since been worn smooth in other pockets and purses, which had
gone back to the Mint, and been melted down, to come out again and yet
again with the heads of new kings and queens,—that dinners, eaten by
men and women and children whose bodies had since been eaten by the worms,—that
polish for the floors, inches of whose thickness had since been worn away,—that
the hundred nameless trifles of a life utterly vanished, should be
perplexing, annoying, and worst of all, interesting the soul of a ghost
who had been in Hades for centuries! The writing was very old-fashioned,
and the words were contracted. I could read nothing but the moneys and one
single entry—'Corinths, Vs.'
"Currants for a Christmas pudding, most likely!—Ah, poor lady! the
pudding and not the Christmas was her care; not the delight of the
children over it, but the beggarly pence which it cost. And she cannot get
it out of her head, although her brain was 'powdered all as thin as flour'
ages ago in the mortar of Death. 'Alas, poor ghost!' It needs no treasured
hoard left behind, no floor stained with the blood of the murdered child,
no wickedly hidden parchment of landed rights! An old account-book is
enough for the hell of the housekeeping gentlewoman!
"She never lifted her face, or seemed to know that I stood behind her. I
left her, and went into the bow window, where I could see her face. I was
right. It was the same old lady I had met in Russell Square, walking in
front of James Hetheridge. Her withered lips went moving as if they would
have uttered words had the breath been commissioned thither; her brow was
contracted over her thin nose; and once and again her shining forefinger
went up to her temple as if she were pondering some deep problem of
humanity. How long I stood gazing at her I do not know, but at last I
withdrew to my bed, and left her struggling to solve that which she could
never solve thus. It was the symbolic problem of her own life, and she had
failed to read it. I remember nothing more. She may be sitting there
still, solving at the insolvable.
"I should have felt no inclination, with the broad sun of the squire's
face, the keen eyes of James, and the beauty of Laetitia before me at the
breakfast table, to say a word about what I had seen, even if I had not
been afraid of the doubt concerning my sanity which the story would
certainly awaken. What with the memories of the night and the want of my
spectacles, I passed a very dreary day, dreading the return of the night,
for, cool as I had been in her presence, I could not regard the possible
reappearance of the ghost with equanimity. But when the night did come, I
slept soundly till the morning.
"The next day, not being able to read with comfort, I went wandering about
the place, and at length began to fit the outside and inside of the house
together. It was a large and rambling edifice, parts of it very old, parts
comparatively modern. I first found my own window, which looked out of the
back. Below this window, on one side, there was a door. I wondered whither
it led, but found it locked. At the moment James approached from the
stables. 'Where does this door lead?' I asked him. 'I will get the key,'
he answered. 'It is rather a queer old place. We used to like it when we
were children.' 'There's a stair, you see,' he said, as he threw the door
open. 'It leads up over the kitchen.' I followed him up the stair.
'There's a door into your room,' he said, 'but it's always locked now.—And
here's Grannie's room, as they call it, though why, I have not the least
idea,' he added, as he pushed open the door of an old-fashioned parlour,
smelling very musty. A few old books lay on a side table. A china bowl
stood beside them, with some shrivelled, scentless rose-leaves in the
bottom of it. The cloth that covered the table was riddled by moths, and
the spider-legged chairs were covered with dust.
"A conviction seized me that the old bureau must have belonged to this
room, and I soon found the place where I judged it must have stood. But
the same moment I caught sight of a portrait on the wall above the spot I
had fixed upon. 'By Jove!' I cried, involuntarily, 'that's the very old
lady I met in Russell Square!'
"'Nonsense!' said James. 'Old-fashioned ladies are like babies—they
all look the same. That's a very old portrait.'
"'So I see,' I answered. 'It is like a Zucchero.'
"'I don't know whose it is," he answered hurriedly, and I thought he
looked a little queer.
"'Is she one of the family?' I asked.
"'They say so; but who or what she was, I don't know. You must ask Letty,"
"'The more I look at it,' I said, 'the more I am convinced it is the same
"'Well,' he returned with a laugh, 'my old nurse used to say she was
rather restless. But it's all nonsense.'
"'That bureau in my room looks about the same date as this furniture,' I
"'It used to stand just there,' he answered, pointing to the space under
the picture. 'Well I remember with what awe we used to regard it; for they
said the old lady kept her accounts at it still. We never dared touch the
bundles of yellow papers in the pigeon-holes. I remember thinking Letty a
very heroine once when she touched one of them with the tip of her
forefinger. She had got yet more courageous by the time she had it moved
into her own room.'
"'Then that is your sister's room I am occupying?' I said.
"'I am ashamed of keeping her out of it.'
"'Oh! she'll do well enough.'
"'If I were she though,' I added, 'I would send that bureau back to its
"'What do you mean, Heywood? Do you believe every old wife's tale that
ever was told?'
"'She may get a fright some day—that's all!' I replied.
"He smiled with such an evident mixture of pity and contempt that for the
moment I almost disliked him; and feeling certain that Laetitia would
receive any such hint in a somewhat similar manner, I did not feel
inclined to offer her any advice with regard to the bureau.
"Little occurred during the rest of my visit worthy of remark. Somehow or
other I did not make much progress with Laetitia. I believe I had begun to
see into her character a little, and therefore did not get deeper in love
as the days went on. I know I became less absorbed in her society,
although I was still anxious to make myself agreeable to her—or
perhaps, more properly, to give her a favourable impression of me. I do
not know whether she perceived any difference in my behaviour, but I
remember that I began again to remark the pinched look of her nose, and to
be a little annoyed with her for always putting aside my book. At the same
time, I daresay I was provoking, for I never was given to tidiness myself.
"At length Christmas Day arrived. After breakfast, the squire, James, and
the two girls arranged to walk to church. Laetitia was not in the room at
the moment. I excused myself on the ground of a headache, for I had had a
bad night. When they left, I went up to my room, threw myself on the bed,
and was soon fast asleep.
"How long I slept I do not know, but I woke again with that indescribable
yet well-known sense of not being alone. The feeling was scarcely less
terrible in the daylight than it had been in the darkness. With the same
sudden effort as before, I sat up in the bed. There was the figure at the
open bureau, in precisely the same position as on the former occasion. But
I could not see it so distinctly. I rose as gently as I could, and
approached it, after the first physical terror. I am not a coward. Just as
I got near enough to see the account book open on the folding cover of the
bureau, she started up, and, turning, revealed the face of Laetitia. She
"'I beg your pardon, Mr. Heywood,' she said in great confusion; 'I thought
you had gone to church with the rest.'
"'I had lain down with a headache, and gone to sleep,' I replied. 'But,—forgive
me, Miss Hetheridge,' I added, for my mind was full of the dreadful
coincidence,—'don't you think you would have been better at church
than balancing your accounts on Christmas Day?'
"'The better day the better deed,' she said, with a somewhat offended air,
and turned to walk from the room.
"'Excuse me, Laetitia,' I resumed, very seriously, 'but I want to tell you
"She looked conscious. It never crossed me, that perhaps she fancied I was
going to make a confession. Far other things were then in my mind. For I
thought how awful it was, if she too, like the ancestral ghost, should
have to do an age-long penance of haunting that bureau and those horrid
figures, and I had suddenly resolved to tell her the whole story. She
listened with varying complexion and face half turned aside. When I had
ended, which I fear I did with something of a personal appeal, she lifted
her head and looked me in the face, with just a slight curl on her thin
lip, and answered me. 'If I had wanted a sermon, Mr. Heywood, I should
have gone to church for it. As for the ghost, I am sorry for you.' So
saying she walked out of the room.
"The rest of the day I did not find very merry. I pleaded my headache as
an excuse for going to bed early. How I hated the room now! Next morning,
immediately after breakfast, I took my leave of Lewton Grange."
"And lost a good wife, perhaps, for the sake of a ghost, uncle!" said
"If I lost a wife at all, it was a stingy one. I should have been ashamed
of her all my life long."
"Better than a spendthrift," said Janet.
"How do you know that?" returned her uncle. "All the difference I see is,
that the extravagant ruins the rich, and the stingy robs the poor."
"But perhaps she repented, uncle," said Kate.
"I don't think she did, Katey. Look here."
Uncle Cornelius drew from the breast pocket of his coat a black-edged
"I have kept up my friendship with her brother," he said. "All he knows
about the matter is, that either we had a quarrel, or she refused me;—he
is not sure which. I must say for Laetitia, that she was no tattler. Well,
here's a letter I had from James this very morning. I will read it to you.
"'MY DEAR MR. HEYWOOD,—We have had a terrible \shock this morning.
Letty did not come down to breakfast, and Lizzie went to see if she was
ill. We heard her scream, and, rushing up, there was poor Letty, sitting
at the old bureau, quite dead. She had fallen forward on the desk, and her
housekeeping-book was crumpled up under her. She had been so all night
long, we suppose, for she was not undressed, and was quite cold. The
doctors say it was disease of the heart.'
"There!" said Uncle Cornie, folding up the letter.
"Do you think the ghost had anything to do with it, uncle?" asked Kate,
almost under her breath.
"How should I know, my dear? Possibly."
"It's very sad," said Janet; "but I don't see the good of it all. If the
ghost had come to tell that she had hidden away money in some secret place
in the old bureau, one would see why she had been permitted to come back.
But what was the good of those accounts after they were over and done
with? I don't believe in the ghost."
"Ah, Janet, Janet! but those wretched accounts were not over and done
with, you see. That is the misery of it."
Uncle Cornelius rose without another word, bade them good-night, and
walked out into the wind