THE SECRET WITNESS.
BY B. S. INGEMANN.
In the year 1816 there lived in Copenhagen an elderly lady, Froken
F----, of whom it was known that she sometimes involuntarily saw what
was not visible to anyone else. She was a tall, thin, grave-looking
person, with large features, and an expressive countenance. Her dark,
deep-set eyes had a strange glance, and she saw much better than most
people in the twilight; but she was so deaf, that people had to speak
very loudly to her before she could catch their words, and when a
number of persons were speaking at the same time in a room, she could
hear nothing but an unintelligible murmur. A sort of magnetic
clairvoyance had, doubtless, in the somewhat isolated condition in
which she was placed, been awakened in her mind, without, however, her
being thrown into any peculiar state. She only seemed at times to be
labouring under absence of mind, or to have fallen into deep thought,
and then she was observed to fix her eyes upon some object invisible to
all others. What she saw at those moments were most frequently the
similitude of some absent person, or images of the future, which were
always afterwards realized. Thus she had often foreseen unexpected
deaths, and other unlooked-for fatal accidents. As she seldom beheld in
her visions anything pleasing, she was regarded by many as a bird of
ill omen, and she therefore did not visit a number of families; those,
however, who knew her intimately both respected and loved her. She was
quiet and unpretending, and it was but rarely that she said anything,
unsolicited, of the results of her wonderful faculty.
She was a frequent guest in a family with whom she was a great
favourite. The master of the house was an historical painter, and his
wife was an excellent musician. The deaf old lady was a good judge of
paintings, and extremely fond of them; also, hard of hearing as she
was, music had always a great effect upon her; she could add in fancy
what she did not hear to what she did hear; she had been very musical
herself in her youthful days, and when she saw fingers flying over the
pianoforte, she imagined she heard the music, even when anyone, to dupe
her, moved their fingers back and forwards over the instrument, but
without playing on it.
One day she was sitting on a sofa in the drawing-room at the house of
the above-mentioned family, engaged in some handiwork. The artist had a
visitor who was a very lively, witty, satirical person, and they were
standing together near a window, discoursing merrily; they often
laughed during their conversation, and the tones of their voices seemed
to change, occasionally, as if they were imitating some one, whereupon
their hilarity invariably increased, which, however, was far from being
as harmless and goodnatured as mirth and gaiety generally were in that
When the visit was over, and the artist had accompanied his friend to
the door, and returned to the drawing-room, the old lady asked him who
had been with him.
He mentioned the name of his lively friend, whom, he said, he thought
she knew very well.
'Oh, yes, I know him well enough,' she replied; 'but the other?'
'What other?' asked the painter, starting.
'Why the tall man with the long thin face, who stood yonder; he with
the dark, rough, uncombed-looking hair, and the bushy eyebrows--he who
so often laid his hand on his breast, and pointed upwards, especially
when you and your merry friend laughed heartily.'
'Did you ever see him before?' inquired the artist, turning pale. 'Did
you observe how he was dressed, and if he had any peculiar habit?'
'I do not remember having ever seen him before; as to his dress, it was
very singular, much like that of an old-fashioned country
schoolmaster.' And she described minutely his long frock-coat, with
large buttons and side-pockets, and his antiquated boots, that did not
appear to have been brushed for a very long time. 'The peculiar habit
you speak of,' she added, 'was probably the manner in which he slowly
shook his head, when he seemed to differ in opinion from you and your
other guest; in my eyes there was something noble and striking in this
movement, there was an expression of pain or sadness in his
countenance, which interested me; it was particularly observable when
he laid his right hand on his breast, and raised his left hand upwards,
as if he were solemnly affirming something, or calling God to witness
to the truth of what he said. Nevertheless, I remarked with surprise,
that I scarcely saw him open his lips. It was of course impossible for
me to hear what you were all talking about.'
The terrified artist became still paler--he tottered for a moment, and
was obliged to lean on the back of a chair for support. Shortly after
he seized his hat and hurried out of the house. The individual whom the
old lady had so graphically described had been a friend of his in
youth, but with whom he had been on bad terms for the last two years,
and whom he had not seen lately.
The whole conversation with his amusing visitor had been about this
very man. They had been engaged in a laughable and, at the same time,
merciless criticism of his character, and appearance, and had been
turning into ridicule every little peculiarity he had; his very voice
they had mimicked, and in their facetious exaggeration, had not only
made a laughing-stock of his person and manners, which were indeed odd,
but had attributed to him want of heart and want of judgment, which
latter sentence they based upon his somewhat peculiar taste, and a kind
of dry, pedantic, schoolmaster tone in conversation, from which he was
'That old maid is mad--and she has made me mad, too,' mumbled the
artist, pausing a moment when he had gained the street. 'He certainly
was not there--we do not meet any longer. She never saw him before.
There is something strangely mysterious in this matter--perhaps it
bodes some calamity. But, whether she is deranged--or I--or both of us,
I have wronged him--shamefully wronged him--and I must see him, and
tell him all.'
He stepped into a bookseller's shop, and asked to look at a Directory.
After about half-an-hour's walk he entered a house in a small back
street, and ascending to the third story, he rang at a door. A girl
opened it, and, in answer to his inquiries, told him that the person he
asked for was ill, and could not see anyone.
'But I must see him--I must speak to him,' cried the painter, almost
forcing himself in.
He was then ushered into a darkened room, where he found his poor
friend of bygone days looking pale and emaciated, lying perfectly still
upon a sofa, in his old grey frock-coat and soiled boots. The kind
anxiety with which the unexpected visitor asked about his health seemed
equally to surprise and please the invalid.
'You!' he exclaimed, 'you here! Do you still take any interest in me?
Have you any regard left for me? I did you shameful injustice two years
ago, when I saw your great masterpiece; and had not an enthusiastic
word for what I have though, often since, thought of with the greatest
admiration. Nay, within this very last hour I have wronged you, though
in quite a different manner. I was dreaming of you, and I fancied you
were speaking of me with scorn and derision--pulling me to pieces in a
jesting conversation with a very satirical person, who vied with you in
ridiculing me, and in mimicking all my oddities.'
'Forgive me--oh, forgive me! you dreamed the truth,' cried the painter,
in great agitation, while he threw himself down by the sick man's
couch, and embraced his knees.
An explanation ensued between the two friends who had so long been
estranged from each other--mutual confessions were made--old feelings
were revived in the hearts of both--and an entire reconciliation
immediately took place. The unusual emotion, and the surprise at the
event related to him, did not, as might have been expected, increase
the illness of the nervous and debilitated invalid; on the contrary,
the meeting with his former friend appeared to have had a good effect
on his health, for in the course of a few weeks he had quite recovered.
The old lady's qualifications as a seer, or rather her strange faculty
of beholding, to others invisible, apparitions, had been productive of
good; but it was such an extraordinary revelation, agreeing so entirely
with what both the reconciled friends knew to be the truth, that they
could only look upon it as a proof of the reality of what was then
beginning to be so much talked of--the magnetic clairvoyance.
They continued unalterable friends from that time. From that time,
also, the artist felt an involuntary horror at ridiculing the absent,
or making or listening to any censorious remarks upon them; he always
fancied that the injured party might be standing as a secret witness
by his side, with one hand on his breast, and the other raised in an
appeal to that great Judge, who alone can know what is passing in every
heart and every soul.