BY WILLIAM D. O'CONNOR
the West End of Boston is a quarter of some fifty streets, more
or less, commonly known as Beacon Hill.
It is a rich and respectable quarter, sacred to the abodes of Our
First Citizens. The very houses have become sentient of its prevailing
character of riches and respectability; and, when the twilight
deepens on the place, or at high noon, if your vision is gifted, you
may see them as long rows of Our First Giants, with very corpulent
or very broad fronts, with solid-set feet of sidewalk ending in
square-toed curbstone, with an air about them as if they had thrust
their hard hands into their wealthy pockets forever, with a character
of arctic reserve, and portly dignity, and a well-dressed, full-fed,
self-satisfied, opulent, stony, repellent aspect to each, which
says plainly, "I belong to a rich family, of the very highest
History, having much to say of Beacon Hill generally, has, on the
present occasion, something to say particularly of a certain street
which bends over the eminence, sloping steeply down to its base. It
is an old street,—quaint, quiet, and somewhat picturesque. It
was young once, though,—having been born before the Revolution,
and was then given to the city by its father, Mr. Middlecott, who
died without heirs, and did this much for posterity. Posterity
has not been grateful to Mr. Middlecott. The street bore his name
till he was dust, and then got the more aristocratic epithet of
Bowdoin. Posterity has paid him by effacing what would have been
his noblest epitaph. We may expect, after this, to see Faneuil
Hall robbed of its name, and called Smith Hall! Republics are
proverbially ungrateful. What safer claim to public remembrance
has the old Huguenot, Peter Faneuil, than the old Englishman, Mr.
Middlecott? Ghosts, it is said, have risen from the grave to reveal
wrongs done them by the living; but it needs no ghost from the
grave to prove the proverb about republics.
Bowdoin Street only differs from its kindred, in a certain shady, grave,
old-fogy, fossil aspect, just touched with a pensive solemnity, as if
it thought to itself, "I'm getting old, but I'm highly respectable;
that's a comfort." It has, moreover, a dejected, injured air, as
if it brooded solemnly on the wrong done to it by taking away its
original name and calling it Bowdoin; but as if, being a very
conservative street, it was resolved to keep a cautious silence on
the subject, lest the Union should go to pieces. Sometimes it wears
a profound and mysterious look, as if it could tell something if it
had a mind to, but thought it best not. Something of the ghost of its
father—it was the only child he ever had!—walking there
all the night, pausing at the corners to look up at the signs, which
bear a strange name, and wringing his ghostly hands in lamentation
at the wrong done his memory! Rumor told it in a whisper, many years
ago. Perhaps it was believed by a few of the oldest inhabitants
of the city; but the highly respectable quarter never heard of it,
and, if it had, would not have been bribed to believe it, by any
sum. Some one had said that some very old person had seen a phantom
there. Nobody knew who some one was. Nobody knew who the very old
person was. Nobody knew who had seen it, nor when, nor how. The
very rumor was spectral.
All this was many years ago. Since then it has been reported that
a ghost was seen there one bitter Christmas eve, two or three years
back. The twilight was already in the street; but the evening lamps
were not yet lighted in the windows, and the roofs and chimney-tops
were still distinct in the last clear light of the dropping day.
It was light enough, however, for one to read easily, from the
opposite sidewalk, "Dr. C. Renton," in black letters, on the silver
plate of a door, not far from the Gothic portal of the Swedenborgian
church. Near this door stood a misty figure, whose sad, spectral
eyes floated on vacancy, and whose long, shadowy white hair lifted
like an airy weft in the streaming wind. That was the ghost! It
stood near the door a long time, without any other than a shuddering
motion, as though it felt the searching blast, which swept furiously
from the north up the declivity of the street, rattling the shutters
in its headlong passage. Once or twice, when a passer-by, muffled
warmly from the bitter air, hurried past, the phantom shrank closer
to the wall, till he was gone. Its vague, mournful face seemed to
watch for some one. The twilight darkened gradually, but it did
not flit away. Patiently it kept its piteous look fixed in one
direction,—watching,—watching; and, while the howling
wind swept frantically through the chill air, it still seemed to
shudder in the piercing cold.
A light suddenly kindled in an opposite window. As if touched by a
gleam from the lamp, or as if by some subtle interior illumination,
the spectre became faintly luminous, and a thin smile seemed to
quiver over its features. At the same moment, a strong, energetic
figure—Dr. Renton himself—came in sight, striding down
the slope of the pavement to his own door, his overcoat thrown
back, as if the icy air were a tropical warmth to him, his hat
set on the back of his head, and the loose ends of a 'kerchief
about his throat, streaming in the nor'wester. The wind set up a
howl the moment he came in sight, and swept upon him; and a curious
agitation began on the part of the phantom. It glided rapidly to and
fro, and moved in circles, and then, with the same swift, silent
motion, sailed toward him, as if blown thither by the gale. Its
long, thin arms, with something like a pale flame spiring from the
tips of the slender fingers, were stretched out, as in greeting,
while the wan smile played over its face; and when he rushed by,
unheedingly, it made a futile effort to grasp the swinging arms
with which he appeared to buffet back the buffeting gale. Then
it glided on by his side, looking earnestly into his countenance,
and moving its pallid lips with agonized rapidity, as if it said,
"Look at me—speak to me—speak to me—see me!"
But he kept his course with unconscious eyes, and a vexed frown
on his forehead betokening an irritated mind. The light that had
shone in the figure of the phantom darkened slowly, till the form
was only a pale shadow. The wind had suddenly lulled, and no longer
lifted its white hair. It still glided on with him, its head drooping
on its breast, and its long arms hanging by its side; but when he
reached the door, it suddenly sprang before him, gazing fixedly
into his eyes, while a convulsive motion flashed over its grief-worn
features, as if it had shrieked out a word. He had his foot on the
step at the moment. With a start, he put his gloved hand to his
forehead, while the vexed look went out quickly on his face. The
ghost watched him breathlessly. But the irritated expression came
back to his countenance more resolutely than before, and he began to
fumble in his pocket for a latch-key, muttering petulantly, "What
the devil is the matter with me now?" It seemed to him that a voice
had cried clearly, yet as from afar, "Charles Renton!"—his
own name. He had heard it in his startled mind; but then, he knew
he was in a highly wrought state of nervous excitement, and his
medical science, with that knowledge for a basis, could have reared
a formidable fortress of explanation against any phenomenon, were
it even more wonderful than this.
He entered the house; kicked the door to; pulled off his overcoat;
wrenched off his outer 'kerchief; slammed them on a branch of the
clothes-tree; banged his hat on top of them; wheeled about; pushed
in the door of his library; strode in, and, leaving the door ajar,
threw himself into an easy-chair, and sat there in the fire-reddened
dusk, with his white brows knit, and his arms tightly locked on his
breast. The ghost had followed him, sadly, and now stood motionless
in a corner of the room, its spectral hands crossed on its bosom,
and its white locks drooping down!
It was evident Dr. Renton was in a bad humor. The very library caught
contagion from him, and became grouty and sombre. The furniture
was grim and sullen and sulky; it made ugly shadows on the carpet
and on the wall, in allopathic quantity; it took the red gleams
from the fire on its polished surfaces in homœopathic globules,
and got no good from them. The fire itself peered out sulkily from
the black bars of the grate, and seemed resolved not to burn the
fresh deposit of black coals at the top, but to take this as a good
time to remember that those coals had been bought in the summer
at five dollars a ton,—under price, mind you,—when poor
people, who cannot buy at advantage, but must get their firing in
the winter, would then have given nine or ten dollars for them. And
so (glowered the fire), I am determined to think of that outrage,
and not to light them, but to go out myself, directly! And the
fire got into such a spasm of glowing indignation over the injury,
that it lit a whole tier of black coals with a series of little
explosions, before it could cool down, and sent a crimson gleam
over the moody figure of its owner in the easy-chair, and over
the solemn furniture, and into the shadowy corner filled by the
The spectre did not move when Dr. Renton arose and lit the chandelier.
It stood there, still and gray, in the flood of mellow light. The
curtains were drawn, and the twilight without had deepened into
darkness. The fire was now burning in despite of itself, fanned
by the wintry gusts, which found their way down the chimney. Dr.
Renton stood with his back to it, his hands behind him, his bold
white forehead shaded by a careless lock of black hair, and knit
sternly; and the same frown in his handsome, open, searching dark
eyes. Tall and strong, with an erect port, and broad, firm shoulders,
high, resolute features, a commanding figure garbed in aristocratic
black, and not yet verging into the proportions of obesity,—take
him for all in all, a very fine and favorable specimen of the solid
men of Boston. And seen in contrast (oh! could he but have known
it!) with the attenuated figure of the poor, dim ghost!
Hark! a very light foot on the stairs,—a rich rustle of silks.
Everything still again,—Dr. Renton looking fixedly, with great
sternness, at the half-open door, whence a faint, delicious perfume
floats into the library. Somebody there, for certain. Somebody
peeping in with very bright, arch eyes. Dr. Renton knew it, and
prepared to maintain his ill-humor against the invader. His face
became triply armed with severity for the encounter. That's Netty,
I know, he thought. His daughter. So it was. In she bounded. Bright
little Netty! Gay little Netty! A dear and sweet little creature,
to be sure, with a delicate and pleasant beauty of face and figure,
it needed no costly silks to grace or heighten. There she stood.
Not a word from her merry lips, but a smile which stole over all
the solitary grimness of the library, and made everything better,
and brighter, and fairer, in a minute. It floated down into the
cavernous humor of Dr. Renton, and the gloom began to lighten
directly,—though he would not own it, nor relax a single
feature. But the wan ghost in the corner lifted its head to look
at her, and slowly brightened as to something worthy a spirit's
love, and a dim phantom's smiles. Now then, Dr. Renton! the lines
are drawn, and the foe is coming. Be martial, sir, as when you
stand in the ranks of the Cadets on training-days! Steady, and
stand the charge! So he did. He kept an inflexible front as she
glided toward him, softly, slowly, with her bright eyes smiling
into his, and doing dreadful execution. Then she put her white
arms around his neck, laid her dear, fair head on his breast, and
peered up archly into his stern visage. Spite of himself, he could
not keep the fixed lines on his face from breaking confusedly into
a faint smile. Somehow or other, his hands came from behind him,
and rested on her head. There! That's all. Dr. Renton surrendered
at discretion! One of the solid men of Boston was taken after a
desperate struggle,—internal, of course,—for he kissed
her, and said, "Dear little Netty!" and so she was.
The phantom watched her with a smile, and wavered and brightened
as if about to glide to her; but it grew still, and remained.
"Pa in the sulks to-night?" she asked, in the most winning, playful,
"Pa's a fool," he answered in his deep chest-tones, with a vexed
good-humor; "and you know it."
"What's the matter with pa? What makes him be a great bear? Papa-sy,
dear," she continued, stroking his face with her little hands,
and patting him, very much as Beauty might have patted the Beast
after she fell in love with him; or as if he were a great baby.
In fact, he began to look then as if he were.
"Matter? Oh! everything's the matter, little Netty. The world goes
round too fast. My boots pinch. Somebody stole my umbrella last
year. And I've got a headache." He concluded this fanciful abstract
of his grievances by putting his arms around her, and kissing her
again. Then he sat down in the easy-chair, and took her fondly
on his knee.
"Pa's got a headache! It is t-o-o bad, so it is," she continued
in the same soothing, winning way, caressing his brow with her
tiny hands. "It's a horrid shame, so it is! P-o-o-r pa. Where does
it ache, papa-sy, dear? In the forehead? Cerebrum or cerebellum,
papa-sy? Occiput or sinciput, deary?"
"Bah! you little quiz," he replied, laughing and pinching her cheek,
"none of your nonsense! And what are you dressed up in this way
for, to-night? Silks, and laces, and essences, and what not! Where
are you going, fairy?"
"Going out with mother for the evening, Dr. Renton," she replied
briskly; "Mrs. Larrabee's party, papa-sy. Christmas eve, you know.
And what are you going to give me for a present, to-morrow, pa-sy?"
"To-morrow will tell, little Netty."
"Good! And what are you going to give me, so that I can make my
"Ugh!" But he growled it in fun, and had a pocket-book out from
his breast-pocket directly after.
Fives—tens—twenties—fifties—all crisp, and
nice, and new bank-notes.
"Will that be enough, Netty?" He held up a twenty. The smiling face
nodded assent, and the bright eyes twinkled.
"No, it won't. But that will," he continued, giving her a
"Fifty dollars, Globe Bank, Boston!" exclaimed Netty, making great
eyes at him. "But we must take all we can get, pa-sy; mustn't we?
It's too much, though. Thank you all the same, pa-sy, nevertheless."
And she kissed him, and put the bill in a little bit of a portemonnaie
with a gay laugh.
"Well done, I declare!" he said, smilingly. "But you're going to
"Pretty soon, pa."
He made no answer; but sat smiling at her. The phantom watched them,
"What made pa so cross and grim, to-night? Tell Netty—do,"
"Oh! because;—everything went wrong with me, to-day. There."
And he looked as sulky, at that moment, as he ever did in his life.
"No, no, pa-sy; that won't do. I want the particulars," continued
Netty, shaking her head, smilingly.
"Particulars! Well, then, Miss Nathalie Renton," he began, with
mock gravity, "your professional father is losing some of his oldest
patients. Everybody is in ruinous good health; and the grass is
growing in the graveyards."
"In the winter time, papa?—smart grass!"
"Not that I want practice," he went on, getting into soliloquy;
"or patients, either. A rich man who took to the profession simply
for the love of it, can't complain on that score. But to have an
interloping she-doctor take a family I've attended ten years, out
of my hands, and to hear the hodge-podge gabble about physiological
laws, and woman's rights, and no taxation without representation,
they learn from her,—well, it's too bad!"
"Is that all, pa-sy? Seems to me I'd like to vote, too,"
was Netty's piquant rejoinder.
"Hoh! I'll warrant," growled her father. "Hope you'll vote the Whig
ticket, Netty, when you get your rights."
"Will the Union be dissolved, then, pa-sy,—when the Whigs
"Bah! you little plague," he growled, with a laugh. "But, then,
you women don't know anything about politics. So, there. As I was
saying, everything went wrong with me to-day. I've been speculating
in railroad stock, and singed my fingers. Then, old Tom Hollis
outbid me to-day, at Leonard's, on a rare medical work I had set
my eyes upon having. Confound him! Then, again, two of my houses
are tenantless, and there are folks in two others that won't pay
their rent, and I can't get them out. Out they'll go, though, or
I'll know why. And, to crown all—um-m. And I wish the Devil
had him! as he will."
"Had who, Beary-papa?"
"Him. I'll tell you. The street-floor of one of my houses in Hanover
Street lets for an oyster-room. They keep a bar there, and sell
liquor. Last night they had a grand row,—a drunken fight,
and one man was stabbed, it's thought fatally."
"O father!" Netty's bright eyes dilated with horror.
"Yes. I hope he won't die. At any rate, there's likely to be a
stir about the matter, and my name will be called into question,
then, as I'm the landlord. And folks will make a handle of it,
and there'll be the deuce to pay, generally."
He got back the stern, vexed frown, to his face, with the anticipation,
and beat the carpet with his foot. The ghost still watched from
the angle of the room, and seemed to darken, while its features
"But, father," said Netty, a little tremulously, "I wouldn't let
my houses to such people. It's not right; is it? Why, it's horrid
to think of men getting drunk, and killing each other!"
Dr. Renton rubbed his hair into disorder, with vexation, and then
subsided into solemnity.
"I know it's not exactly right, Netty; but I can't help it. As I
said before, I wish the Devil had that barkeeper. I ought to have
ordered him out long ago, and then this wouldn't have happened.
I've increased his rent twice, hoping to get rid of him so; but
he pays without a murmur; and what am I to do? You see, he was
an occupant when the building came into my hands, and I let him
stay. He pays me a good, round rent; and, apart from his cursed
traffic, he's a good tenant. What can I do? It's a good thing for
him, and it's a good thing for me, pecuniarily. Confound him! Here's
a nice rumpus brewing!"
"Dear pa, I'm afraid it's not a good thing for you," said Netty,
caressing him and smoothing his tumbled hair. "Nor for him either.
I wouldn't mind the rent he pays you. I'd order him out. It's
bad money. There's blood on it."
She had grown pale, and her voice quivered. The phantom glided
over to them, and laid its spectral hand upon her forehead. The
shadowy eyes looked from under the misty hair into the doctor's
face, and the pale lips moved as if speaking the words heard only
in the silence of his heart,—"Hear her, hear her!"
"I must think of it," resumed Dr. Renton, coldly. "I'm resolved,
at all events, to warn him that if anything of this kind occurs
again, he must quit at once. I dislike to lose a profitable tenant;
for no other business would bring me the sum his does. Hang it,
everybody does the best he can with his property,—why
The ghost, standing near them, drooped its head again on its breast,
and crossed its arms. Netty was silent. Dr. Renton continued,
"A precious set of people I manage to get into my premises. There's
a woman hires a couple of rooms for a dwelling, overhead, in that
same building, and for three months I haven't got a cent from her.
I know these people's tricks. Her month's notice expires to-morrow,
and out she goes."
"Poor creature!" sighed Netty.
He knit his brow, and beat the carpet with his foot, in vexation.
"Perhaps she can't pay you, pa," trembled the sweet, silvery voice.
"You wouldn't turn her out in this cold winter, when she can't
pay you,—would you, pa?"
"Why don't she get another house, and swindle some one else?" he
replied, testily; "there's plenty of rooms to let."
"Perhaps she can't find one, pa," answered Netty.
"Humbug!" retorted her father; "I know better."
"Pa, dear, if I were you, I'd turn out that rumseller, and let the
poor woman stay a little longer; just a little, pa."
"Sha'n't do it. Hah! that would be scattering money out of both
pockets. Sha'n't do it. Out she shall go; and as for him,—well,
he'd better turn over a new leaf. There, let us leave the subject,
darling. It vexes me. How did we contrive to get into this train?
He drew her closer to him, and kissed her forehead. She sat quietly,
with her head on his shoulder, thinking very gravely.
"I feel queerly to-day, little Netty," he began, after a short
pause. "My nerves are all high-strung with the turn matters have
"How is it, papa? The headache?" she answered.
"Y-e-s—n-o—not exactly; I don't know," he said dubiously;
then, in an absent way, "it was that letter set me to think of him
all day, I suppose."
"Why, pa, I declare," cried Netty, starting up, "if I didn't forget
all about it, and I came down expressly to give it to you! Where
is it? Oh! here it is."
She drew from her pocket an old letter, faded to a pale yellow,
and gave it to him. The ghost started suddenly.
"Why, bless my soul! it's the very letter! Where did you get that,
Nathalie?" asked Dr. Renton.
"I found it on the stairs after dinner, pa."
"Yes, I do remember taking it up with me; I must have dropped it,"
he answered, musingly, gazing at the superscription. The ghost
was gazing at it, too, with startled interest.
"What beautiful writing it is, pa," murmured the young girl. "Who
wrote it to you? It looks yellow enough to have been written a
long time since."
"Fifteen years ago, Netty. When you were a baby. And the hand that
wrote it has been cold for all that time."
He spoke with a solemn sadness, as if memory lingered with the
heart of fifteen years ago, on an old grave. The dim figure by his
side had bowed its head, and all was still.
"It is strange," he resumed, speaking vacantly and slowly, "I have
not thought of him for so long a time, and to-day—especially
this evening—I have felt as if he were constantly near me.
It is a singular feeling."
He put his left hand to his forehead, and mused,—his right
clasped his daughter's shoulder. The phantom slowly raised its
head, and gazed at him with a look of unutterable tenderness.
"Who was he, father?" she asked with a hushed voice.
"A young man, an author, a poet. He had been my dearest friend, when
we were boys; and, though I lost sight of him for years,—he
led an erratic life,—we were friends when he died. Poor, poor
fellow! Well, he is at peace."
The stern voice had saddened, and was almost tremulous. The spectral
form was still.
"How did he die, father?"
"A long story, darling," he replied, gravely, "and a sad one. He
was very poor and proud. He was a genius,—that is, a person
without an atom of practical talent. His parents died, the last,
his mother, when he was near manhood. I was in college then. Thrown
upon the world, he picked up a scanty subsistence with his pen,
for a time. I could have got him a place in the counting-house,
but he would not take it; in fact, he wasn't fit for it. You can't
harness Pegasus to the cart, you know. Besides, he despised mercantile
life, without reason, of course; but he was always notional. His
love of literature was one of the rocks he foundered on. He was
n't successful; his best compositions were too delicate, fanciful,
to please the popular taste; and then he was full of the radical
and fanatical notions which infected so many people at that time
in New England, and infect them now, for that matter; and his
sublimated, impracticable ideas and principles, which he kept till
his dying day, and which, I confess, alienated me from him, always
staved off his chances of success. Consequently, he never rose
above the drudgery of some employment on newspapers. Then he was
terribly passionate, not without cause, I allow; but it wasn't
wise. What I mean is this: if he saw, or if he fancied he saw,
any wrong or injury done to any one, it was enough to throw him
into a frenzy; he would get black in the face and absolutely shriek
out his denunciations of the wrong-doer. I do believe he would
have visited his own brother with the most unsparing invective,
if that brother had laid a harming finger on a street-beggar, or
a colored man, or a poor person of any kind. I don't blame the
feeling; though with a man like him it was very apt to be a false
or mistaken one; but, at any rate, its exhibition wasn't sensible.
Well, as I was saying, he buffeted about in this world a long time,
poorly paid, fed, and clad; taking more care of other people than
he did of himself. Then mental suffering, physical exposure, and
want killed him."
The stern voice had grown softer than a child's. The same look of
unutterable tenderness brooded on the mournful face of the phantom
by his side; but its thin, shining hand was laid upon his head,
and its countenance had undergone a change. The form was still
undefined; but the features had become distinct. They were those
of a young man, beautiful and wan, and marked with great suffering.
A pause had fallen on the conversation, in which the father and
daughter heard the solemn sighing of the wintry wind around the
dwelling. The silence seemed scarcely broken by the voice of the
"Dear father, this was very sad. Did you say he died of want?"
"Of want, my child, of hunger and cold. I don't doubt it. He had
wandered about, as I gather, houseless for a couple of days and
nights. It was in December, too. Some one found him, on a rainy
night, lying in the street, drenched and burning with fever, and had
him taken to the hospital. It appears that he had always cherished
a strange affection for me, though I had grown away from him; and
in his wild ravings he constantly mentioned my name, and they sent
for me. That was our first meeting after two years. I found him
in the hospital—dying. Heaven can witness that I felt all
my old love for him return then, but he was delirious, and never
recognized me. And, Nathalie, his hair,—it had been coal-black,
and he wore it very long,—he wouldn't let them cut it either;
and as they knew no skill could save him, they let him have his
way,—his hair was then as white as snow! God alone knows
what that brain must have suffered to blanch hair which had been
as black as the wing of a raven!"
He covered his eyes with his hand, and sat silently. The fingers
of the phantom still shone dimly on his head, and its white locks
drooped above him, like a weft of light.
"What was his name, father?" asked the pitying girl.
"George Feval. The very name sounds like fever. He died on Christmas
eve, fifteen years ago this night. It was on his death-bed, while
his mind was tossing on a sea of delirious fancies, that he wrote
me this long letter,—for to the last, I was uppermost in his
thoughts. It is a wild, incoherent thing, of course,—a strange
mixture of sense and madness. But I have kept it as a memorial of
him. I have not looked at it for years; but this morning I found
it among my papers, and somehow it has been in my mind all day."
He slowly unfolded the faded sheets, and sadly gazed at the writing.
His daughter had risen from her half-recumbent posture, and now
bent her graceful head over the leaves. The phantom covered its
face with its hands.
"What a beautiful manuscript it is, father!" she exclaimed. "The
writing is faultless."
"It is, indeed," he replied. "Would he had written his life as fairly!"
"Read it, father," said Nathalie.
"No, but I'll read you a detached passage here and there," he answered,
after a pause. "The rest you may read yourself some time, if you
wish. It is painful to me. Here's the beginning:—
"'My Dear Charles Renton:—Adieu, and adieu. It is Christmas
eve, and I am going home. I am soon to exhale from my flesh, like
the spirit of a broken flower. Exultemus forever!'
"It is very wild. His mind was in a fever-craze. Here is a passage
that seems to refer to his own experience of life:—
"'Your friendship was dear to me. I give you true love. Stocks
and returns. You are rich, but I did not wish to be your bounty's
pauper. Could I beg? I had my work to do for the world, but oh!
the world has no place for souls that can only love and suffer.
How many miles to Babylon? Threescore and ten. Not so far—not
near so far! Ask starvelings—they know.
I wanted to do the world good, and the world has killed me,
"It frightens me," said Nathalie, as he paused.
"We will read no more," he replied sombrely. "It belongs to the
psychology of madness. To me, who knew him, there are gleams of
sense in it, and passages where the delirium of the language is
only a transparent veil on the meaning. All the remainder is devoted
to what he thought important advice to me. But it's all wild and
vague. Poor—poor George!"
The phantom still hid its face in its hands, as the doctor slowly
turned over the pages of the letter. Nathalie, bending over the
leaves, laid her finger on the last, and asked, "What are those
closing sentences, father? Read them."
"Oh! that is what he called his 'last counsel' to me. It's as wild
as the rest,—tinctured with the prevailing ideas of his career.
First he says, 'Farewell—farewell'; then he bids me
take his 'counsel into memory on Christmas day'; then after
enumerating all the wretched classes he can think of in the country,
he says: 'These are your sisters and your brothers,—love
them all.' Here he says, 'O friend, strong in wealth for
so much good, take my last counsel. In the name of the Saviour, I
charge you be true and tender to mankind.' He goes on to bid
me 'live and labor for the fallen, the neglected, the suffering,
and the poor'; and finally ends by advising me to help upset
any, or all, institutions, laws, and so forth, that bear hardly
on the fag-ends of society; and tells me that what he calls 'a
service to humanity' is worth more to the doer than a service to
anything else, or than anything we can gain from the world. Ah,
well! poor George."
"But isn't all that true, father?" said Netty; "it seems so."
"H'm," he murmured through his closed lips. Then, with a vague
smile, folding up the letter, meanwhile, he said, "Wild words,
Netty, wild words. I've no objection to charity, judiciously given;
but poor George's notions are not mine. Every man for himself, is a
good general rule. Every man for humanity, as George has it, and in
his acceptation of the principle, would send us all to the almshouse
pretty soon. The greatest good of the greatest number,—that's
my rule of action. There are plenty of good institutions for the
distressed, and I'm willing to help support 'em, and do. But as for
making a martyr of one's self, or tilting against the necessary evils
of society, or turning philanthropist at large, or any quixotism
of that sort, I don't believe in it. We didn't make the world,
and we can't mend it. Poor George. Well—he's at rest. The
world wasn't the place for him."
They grew silent. The spectre glided slowly to the wall, and stood
as if it were thinking what, with Dr. Renton's rule of action, was
to become of the greatest good of the smallest number. Nathalie
sat on her father's knee, thinking only of George Feval, and of
his having been starved and grieved to death.
"Father," said Nathalie, softly, "I felt, while you were reading
the letter, as if he were near us. Didn't you? The room was so
light and still, and the wind sighed so."
"Netty, dear, I've felt that all day, I believe," he replied. "Hark!
there is the door-bell. Off goes the spirit-world, and here comes
the actual. Confound it! Some one to see me, I'll warrant, and
I'm not in the mood."
He got into a fret at once. Netty was not the Netty of an hour
ago, or she would have coaxed him out of it. But she did not notice
it now in her abstraction. She had risen at the tinkle of the bell,
and seated herself in a chair. Presently a nose, with a great pimple
on the end of it, appeared at the edge of the door, and a weak,
piping voice said, reckless of the proper tense, "There was a woman
wanted to see you, sir."
"Who is it, James?—no matter, show her in."
He got up with the vexed scowl on his face, and walked the room.
In a minute the library door opened again, and a pale, thin, rigid,
frozen-looking little woman, scantily clad, the weather being
considered, entered, and dropped a curt, awkward bow to Dr. Renton.
"O, Mrs. Miller! Good evening, ma'am. Sit down," he said, with a
cold, constrained civility.
The little woman faintly said, "Good evening, Dr. Renton," and
sat down stiffly, with her hands crossed before her, in the chair
nearest the wall. This was the obdurate tenant, who had paid no
rent for three months, and had a notice to quit, expiring to-morrow.
"Cold evening, ma'am," remarked Dr. Renton, in his hard way.
"Yes, sir, it is," was the cowed, awkward answer.
"Won't you sit near the fire, ma'am?" said Netty, gently; "you look
"No, miss, thank you. I'm not cold," was the faint reply. She was
cold, though, as well she might be with her poor, thin shawl, and
open bonnet, in such a bitter night as it was outside. And there
was a rigid, sharp, suffering look in her pinched features that
betokened she might have been hungry, too. "Poor people don't mind
the cold weather, miss," she said, with a weak smile, her voice
getting a little stronger. "They have to bear it, and they get
used to it."
She had not evidently borne it long enough to effect the point of
indifference. Netty looked at her with a tender pity. Dr. Renton thought
to himself, Hoh!—blazoning her poverty,—manufacturing
sympathy already,—the old trick; and steeled himself against
any attacks of that kind, looking jealously, meanwhile, at Netty.
"Well, Mrs. Miller," he said, "what is it this evening? I suppose
you've brought me my rent."
The little woman grew paler, and her voice seemed to fail on her
quivering lips. Netty cast a quick, beseeching look at her father.
"Nathalie, please to leave the room." We'll have no nonsense carried
on here, he thought, triumphantly, as Netty rose, and obeyed the
stern, decisive order, leaving the door ajar behind her.
He seated himself in his chair, and resolutely put his right leg
up to rest on his left knee. He did not look at his tenant's face,
determined that her piteous expressions (got up for the occasion,
of course) should be wasted on him.
"Well, Mrs. Miller," he said again.
"Dr. Renton," she began, faintly gathering her voice as she proceeded,
"I have come to see you about the rent. I am very sorry, sir, to
have made you wait, but we have been unfortunate."
"Sorry, ma'am," he replied, knowing what was coming; "but your
misfortunes are not my affair. We all have misfortunes, ma'am. But
we must pay our debts, you know."
"I expected to have got money from my husband before this, sir,"
she resumed, "and I wrote to him. I got a letter from him to-day,
sir, and it said that he sent me fifty dollars a month ago, in a
letter; and it appears that the post-office is to blame, or somebody,
for I never got it. It was nearly three months' wages, sir, and it
is very hard to lose it. If it had n't been for that your rent
would have been paid long ago, sir."
"Don't believe a word of that story," thought Dr. Renton,
"I thought, sir," she continued, emboldened by his silence, "that
if you would be willing to wait a little longer, we would manage
to pay you soon, and not let it occur again. It has been a hard
winter with us, sir; firing is high, and provisions, and everything;
and we're only poor people, you know, and it's difficult to get
The doctor made no reply.
"My husband was unfortunate, sir, in not being able to get employment
here," she resumed; "his being out of work in the autumn, threw us
all back, and we've got nothing to depend on but his earnings.
The family that he's in now, sir, don't give him very good
pay,—only twenty dollars a month, and his board,—but it
was the best chance he could get, and it was either go to Baltimore
with them, or stay at home and starve, and so he went, sir. It's
been a hard time with us, and one of the children is sick, now,
with a fever, and we don't hardly know how to make out a living.
And so, sir, I have come here this evening, leaving the children
alone, to ask you if you wouldn't be kind enough to wait a little
longer, and we'll hope to make it right with you in the end."
"Mrs. Miller," said Dr. Renton, with stern composure, "I have no
wish to question the truth of any statement you may make; but I
must tell you plainly, that I can't afford to let my houses for
nothing. I told you a month ago, that if you couldn't pay me my
rent, you must vacate the premises. You know very well that there
are plenty of tenants who are able and willing to pay when the
money comes due. You know that."
He paused as he said this, and, glancing at her, saw her pale lips
falter. It shook the cruelty of his purpose a little, and he had a
vague feeling that he was doing wrong. Not without a proud struggle,
during which no word was spoken, could he beat it down. Meanwhile,
the phantom had advanced a pace toward the centre of the room.
"That is the state of the matter, ma'am," he resumed, coldly. "People
who will not pay me my rent must not live in my tenements. You
must move out. I have no more to say."
"Dr. Renton," she said, faintly, "I have a sick child,—how
can I move now? O, sir, it's Christmas eve,—don't be hard
Instead of touching him, this speech irritated him beyond measure.
Passing all considerations of her difficult position involved in
her piteous statement, his anger flashed at once on her implication
that he was unjust and unkind. So violent was his excitement that
it whirled away the words that rushed to his lips, and only fanned
the fury that sparkled from the whiteness of his face in his eyes.
"Be patient with us, sir," she continued; "we are poor, but we mean
to pay you; and we can't move now in this cold weather; please,
don't be hard with us, sir."
The fury now burst out on his face in a red and angry glow, and
the words came.
"Now, attend to me!" He rose to his feet. "I will not hear any
more from you. I know nothing of your poverty, nor of the condition
of your family. All I know is that you owe me three months' rent,
and that you can't or won't pay me. I say, therefore, leave the
premises to people who can and will. You have had your legal notice;
quit my house to-morrow; if you don't, your furniture shall be
put in the street. Mark me,—to-morrow!"
The phantom had rushed into the centre of the room. Standing face
to face with him,—dilating,—blackening,—its whole
form shuddering with a fury to which his own was tame,—the
semblance of a shriek upon its flashing lips, and on its writhing
features, and an unearthly anger streaming from its bright and
terrible eyes,—it seemed to throw down, with its tossing
arms, mountains of hate and malediction on the head of him whose
words had smitten poverty and suffering, and whose heavy hand was
breaking up the barriers of a home.
Dr. Renton sank again into his chair. His tenant,—not a
woman!—not a sister in humanity!—but only his tenant;
she sat crushed and frightened by the wall. He knew it vaguely.
Conscience was battling in his heart with the stubborn devils that
had entered there. The phantom stood before him, like a dark cloud
in the image of a man. But its darkness was lightening slowly,
and its ghostly anger had passed away.
The poor woman, paler than before, had sat mute and trembling, with
all her hopes ruined. Yet her desperation forbade her to abandon
the chances of his mercy, and she now said,—
"Dr. Renton, you surely don't mean what you have told me. Won't
you bear with me a little longer, and we will yet make it all right
"I have given you my answer," he returned, coldly; "I have no more
to add. I never take back anything I say—never!"
It was true. He never did—never! She half rose from her seat
as if to go; but weak and sickened with the bitter result of her
visit, she sunk down again with her head bowed. There was a pause.
Then, solemnly gliding across the lighted room, the phantom stole
to her side with a glory of compassion on its wasted features.
Tenderly, as a son to a mother, it bent over her; its spectral
hands of light rested upon her in caressing and benediction; its
shadowy fall of hair, once blanched by the anguish of living and
loving, floated on her throbbing brow; and resignation and comfort
not of this world sank upon her spirit, and consciousness grew
dim within her, and care and sorrow seemed to die.
He who had been so cruel and so hard, sat silent in black gloom.
The stern and sullen mood, from which had dropped but one fierce
flash of anger, still hung above the heat of his mind, like a dark
rack of thundercloud. It would have burst anew into a fury of rebuke,
had he but known his daughter was listening at the door, while the
colloquy went on. It might have flamed violently, had his tenant
made any further attempt to change his purpose. She had not. She
had left the room meekly, with the same curt, awkward bow that
marked her entrance. He recalled her manner very indistinctly;
for a feeling like a mist began to gather in his mind, and make
the occurrences of moments before uncertain.
Alone, now, he was yet oppressed with a sensation that something
was near him. Was it a spiritual instinct? for the phantom stood
by his side. It stood silent, with one hand raised above his head,
from which a pale flame seemed to flow downward to his brain; its
other hand pointed movelessly to the open letter on the table beside
He took the sheets from the table, thinking, at the moment, only
of George Feval; but the first line on which his eye rested was,
"In the name of the Saviour, I charge you, be true and tender to
mankind!" And the words touched him like a low voice from the grave.
Their penetrant reproach pierced the hardness of his heart. He
tossed the letter back on the table. The very manner of the act
accused him of an insult to the dead. In a moment he took up the
faded sheets more reverently, but only to lay them down again.
He had not been well that day, and he now felt worse than before.
The pain in his head had given place to a strange sense of dilation,
and there was a silent, confused riot in his fevered brain, which
seemed to him like the incipience of insanity. Striving to divert
his mind from what had passed, by reflection on other themes, he
could not hold his thoughts; they came teeming but dim, and slipped
and fell away; and only the one circumstance of his recent cruelty,
mixed with remembrance of George Feval, recurred and clung with
vivid persistence. This tortured him. Sitting there, with arms
tightly interlocked, he resolved to wrench his mind down by sheer
will upon other things; and a savage pleasure at what at once seemed
success, took possession of him. In this mood, he heard soft footsteps
and the rustle of festal garments on the stairs, and had a fierce
complacency in being able to apprehend clearly that it was his
wife and daughter going out to the party. In a moment he heard
the controlled and even voice of Mrs. Renton,—a serene and
polished lady with whom he had lived for years in cold and civil
alienation, both seeing as little of each other as possible. With
a scowl of will upon his brow, he received her image distinctly
into his mind, even to the minutia of the dress and ornaments he
knew she wore, and felt an absolutely savage exultation in his
ability to retain it. Then came the sound of the closing of the
hall door and the rattle of receding wheels, and somehow it was
Nathalie and not his wife that he was holding so grimly in his
thought, and with her, salient and vivid as before, the tormenting
remembrance of his tenant, connected with the memory of George
Feval. Springing to his feet, he walked the room.
He had thrown himself on a sofa, still striving to be rid of his
remorseful visitations, when the library door opened, and the inside
man appeared, with his hand held bashfully over his nose. It flashed
on him at once that his tenant's husband was the servant of a family
like this fellow; and, irritated that the whole matter should be
thus broadly forced upon him in another way, he harshly asked him
what he wanted. The man only came in to say that Mrs. Renton and
the young lady had gone out for the evening, but that tea was laid
for him in the dining-room. He did not want any tea, and if anybody
called, he was not at home. With this charge, the man left the
room, closing the door behind him.
If he could but sleep a little! Rising from the sofa, he turned
the lights of the chandelier low, and screened the fire. The room
was still. The ghost stood, faintly radiant, in a remote corner. Dr.
Renton lay down again, but not to repose. Things he had forgotten
of his dead friend, now started up again in remembrance, fresh from
the grave of many years; and not one of them but linked itself
by some mysterious bond to something connected with his tenant,
and became an accusation.
He had lain thus for more than an hour, feeling more and more unmanned
by illness, and his mental excitement fast becoming intolerable,
when he heard a low strain of music, from the Swedenborgian chapel,
hard by. Its first impression was one of solemnity and rest, and its
first sense, in his mind, was of relief. Perhaps it was the music
of an evening meeting; or it might be that the organist and choir
had met for practice. Whatever its purpose, it breathed through his
heated fancy like a cool and fragrant wind. It was vague and sweet
and wandering at first, straying on into a strain more mysterious and
melancholy, but very shadowy and subdued, and evoking the innocent
and tender moods of early youth before worldliness had hardened
around his heart. Gradually, as he listened to it, the fires in
his brain were allayed, and all yielded to a sense of coolness
and repose. He seemed to sink from trance to trance of utter rest,
and yet was dimly aware that either something in his own condition,
or some supernatural accession of tone, was changing the music from
its proper quality to a harmony more infinite and awful. It was
still low and indeterminate and sweet, but had unaccountably and
strangely swelled into a gentle and sombre dirge, incommunicably
mournful, and filled with a dark significance that touched him in
his depth of rest with a secret tremor and awe. As he listened,
rapt and vaguely wondering, the sense of his tranced sinking seemed
to come to an end, and with the feeling of one who had been descending
for many hours, and at length lay motionless at the bottom of a
deep, dark chasm, he heard the music fail and cease.
A pause, and then it rose again, blended with the solemn voices
of the choir, sublimed and dilated now, reaching him as though
from weird night gulfs of the upper air, and charged with an
overmastering pathos as of the lamentations of angels. In the dimness
and silence, in the aroused and exalted condition of his being, the
strains seemed unearthly in their immense and desolate grandeur
of sorrow, and their mournful and dark significance was now for
him. Working within him the impression of vast, innumerable fleeing
shadows, thick-crowding memories of all the ways and deeds of an
existence fallen from its early dreams and aims, poured across
the midnight of his soul, and under the streaming melancholy of
the dirge, his life showed like some monstrous treason. It did not
terrify or madden him; he listened to it rapt utterly as in some
deadening ether of dream; yet feeling to his inmost core all its
powerful grief and accusation, and quietly aghast at the sinister
consciousness it gave him. Still it swelled, gathering and sounding
on into yet mightier pathos, till all at once it darkened and spread
wide in wild despair, and aspiring again into a pealing agony of
supplication, quivered and died away in a low and funereal sigh.
The tears streamed suddenly upon his face; his soul lightened and
turned dark within him; and, as one faints away, so consciousness
swooned, and he fell suddenly down a precipice of sleep. The music
rose again, a pensive and holy chant, and sounded on to its close,
unaffected by the action of his brain, for he slept and heard it no
more. He lay tranquilly, hardly seeming to breathe, in motionless
repose. The room was dim and silent, and the furniture took uncouth
shapes around him. The red glow upon the ceiling, from the screened
fire, showed the misty figure of the phantom kneeling by his side.
All light had gone from the spectral form. It knelt beside him,
mutely, as in prayer. Once it gazed at his quiet face with a mournful
tenderness, and its shadowy hands caressed his forehead. Then it
resumed its former attitude, and the slow hours crept by.
At last it rose and glided to the table, on which lay the open
letter. It seemed to try to lift the sheets with its misty hands,
but vainly. Next it essayed the lifting of a pen which lay there,
but failed. It was a piteous sight, to see its idle efforts on
these shapes of grosser matter, which appeared now to have to it
but the existence of illusions. Wandering about the shadowy room,
it wrung its phantom hands as in despair.
Presently it grew still. Then it passed quickly to his side, and
stood before him. He slept calmly. It placed one ghostly hand above
his forehead, and with the other pointed to the open letter. In
this attitude its shape grew momentarily more distinct. It began to
kindle into brightness. The pale flame again flowed from its hand,
streaming downward to his brain. A look of trouble darkened the
sleeping face. Stronger,—stronger; brighter,—brighter;
until, at last, it stood before him, a glorious shape of light,
with an awful look of commanding love in its shining features:
and the sleeper sprang to his feet with a cry!
The phantom had vanished. He saw nothing. His first impression
was, not that he had dreamed, but that, awaking in the familiar
room, he had seen the spirit of his dead friend, bright and awful by
his side, and that it had gone! In the flash of that quick change,
from sleeping to waking, he had detected, he thought, the unearthly
being that, he now felt, watched him from behind the air, and it
had vanished! The library was the same as in the moment of that
supernatural revealing; the open letter lay upon the table still;
only that was gone which had made these common aspects terrible.
Then all the hard, strong scepticism of his nature, which had been
driven backward by the shock of his first conviction, recoiled,
and rushed within him, violently struggling for its former
vantage-ground; till, at length, it achieved the foothold for a
doubt. Could he have dreamed? The ghost, invisible, still watched
him. Yes, a dream,—only a dream; but, how vivid, how strange!
With a slow thrill creeping through his veins, the blood curdling
at his heart, a cold sweat starting on his forehead, he stared
through the dimness of the room. All was vacancy.
With a strong shudder, he strode forward, and turned up the flames
of the chandelier. A flood of garish light filled the apartment.
In a moment, remembering the letter to which the phantom of his
dream had pointed, he turned and took it from the table. The last
page lay upward, and every word of the solemn counsel at the end
seemed to dilate on the paper, and all its mighty meaning rushed
upon his soul. Trembling in his own despite, he laid it down and
moved away. A physician, he remembered that he was in a state of
violent nervous excitement, and thought that when he grew calmer
its effects would pass from him. But the hand that had touched
him had gone down deeper than the physician, and reached what God
He strove in vain. The very room, in its light and silence, and the
lurking sentiment of something watching him, became terrible. He
could not endure it. The devils in his heart, grown pusillanimous,
cowered beneath the flashing strokes of his aroused and terrible
conscience. He could not endure it. He must go out. He will walk
the streets. It is not late,—it is but ten o'clock. He will
The air of his dream still hung heavily about him. He was in the
street,—he hardly remembered how he had got there, or when;
but there he was, wrapped up from the searching cold, thinking,
with a quiet horror in his mind, of the darkened room he had left
behind, and haunted by the sense that something was groping about
there in the darkness, searching for him. The night was still and
cold. The full moon was in the zenith. Its icy splendor lay on
the bare streets, and on the walls of the dwellings. The lighted
oblong squares of curtained windows, here and there, seemed dim and
waxen in the frigid glory. The familiar aspect of the quarter had
passed away, leaving behind only a corpse-like neighborhood, whose
huge, dead features, staring rigidly through the thin, white shroud
of moonlight that covered all, left no breath upon the stainless
skies. Through the vast silence of the night he passed along; the
very sound of his footfalls was remote to his muffled sense.
Gradually, as he reached the first corner, he had an uneasy feeling
that a thing—a formless, unimaginable thing—was dogging
him. He had thought of going down to his club-room; but he now
shrank from entering, with this thing near him, the lighted rooms
where his set were busy with cards and billiards, over their liquors
and cigars, and where the heated air was full of their idle faces
and careless chatter, lest some one should bawl out that he was
pale, and ask him what was the matter, and he should answer,
tremblingly, that something was following him, and was near him
then! He must get rid of it first; he must walk quickly, and baffle
its pursuit by turning sharp corners, and plunging into devious
streets and crooked lanes, and so lose it!
It was difficult to reach through memory to the crazy chaos of
his mind on that night, and recall the route he took while haunted
by this feeling; but he afterward remembered that, without any
other purpose than to baffle his imaginary pursuer, he traversed
at a rapid pace a large portion of the moonlit city; always (he
knew not why) avoiding the more populous thoroughfares, and choosing
unfrequented and tortuous byways, but never ridding himself of
that horrible confusion of mind in which the faces of his dead
friend and the pale woman were strangely blended, nor of the fancy
that he was followed. Once, as he passed the hospital where Feval
died, a faint hint seemed to flash and vanish from the clouds of
his lunacy, and almost identify the dogging goblin with the figure
of his dream; but the conception instantly mixed with a disconnected
remembrance that this was Christmas eve, and then slipped from
him, and was lost. He did not pause there, but strode on. But just
there, what had been frightful became hideous. For at once he was
possessed with the conviction that the thing that lurked at a distance
behind him was quickening its movement, and coming up to seize
him. The dreadful fancy stung him like a goad, and, with a start,
he accelerated his flight, horribly conscious that what he feared
was slinking along in the shadow, close to the dark bulks of the
houses, resolutely pursuing, and bent on overtaking him. Faster!
His footfalls rang hollowly and loud on the moonlit pavement, and in
contrast with their rapid thuds he felt it as something peculiarly
terrible that the furtive thing behind slunk after him with soundless
feet. Faster, faster! Traversing only the most unfrequented streets,
and at that late hour of a cold winter night he met no one, and
with a terrifying consciousness that his pursuer was gaining on
him, he desperately strode on. He did not dare to look behind,
dreading less what he might see than the momentary loss of speed
the action might occasion. Faster, faster, faster! And all at once
he knew that the dogging thing had dropped its stealthy pace and
was racing up to him. With a bound he broke into a run, seeing,
hearing, heeding nothing, aware only that the other was silently
louping on his track two steps to his one; and with that frantic
apprehension upon him, he gained the next street, flung himself
around the corner with his back to the wall, and his arms convulsively
drawn up for a grapple; and felt something rush whirring past his
flank, striking him on the shoulder as it went by, with a buffet
that made a shock break through his frame. That shock restored
him to his senses. His delusion was suddenly shattered. The goblin
was gone. He was free.
He stood panting, like one just roused from some terrible dream,
wiping the reeking perspiration from his forehead, and thinking
confusedly and wearily what a fool he had been. He felt he had wandered
a long distance from his house, but had no distinct perception of
his whereabouts. He only knew he was in some thinly peopled street,
whose familiar aspect seemed lost to him in the magical disguise the
superb moonlight had thrown over all. Suddenly a film seemed to
drop from his eyes, as they became riveted on a lighted window, on
the opposite side of the way. He started, and a secret terror crept
over him, vaguely mixed with the memory of the shock he had felt as
he turned the last corner, and his distinct, awful feeling that
something invisible had passed him. At the same instant he felt, and
thrilled to feel, a touch, as of a light finger, on his cheek. He was
in Hanover Street. Before him was the house,—the oyster-room
staring at him through the lighted transparencies of its two windows,
like two square eyes, below; and his tenant's light in a chamber
above! The added shock which this discovery gave to the heaving of
his heart made him gasp for breath. Could it be? Did he still dream?
While he stood panting and staring at the building the city clocks
began to strike. Eleven o'clock; it was ten when he came away; how he
must have driven! His thoughts caught up the word. Driven,—by
what? Driven from his house in horror, through street and lane, over
half the city,—driven,—hunted in terror, and smitten
by a shock here! Driven,—driven! He could not rid his mind of
the word, nor of the meaning it suggested. The pavements about him
began to ring and echo with the tramp of many feet, and the cold,
brittle air was shivered with the noisy voices that had roared and
bawled applause and laughter at the National Theatre all the evening,
and were now singing and howling homeward. Groups of rude men,
and ruder boys, their breaths steaming in the icy air, began to
tramp by, jostling him as they passed, till he was forced to draw
back to the wall, and give them the sidewalk. Dazed and giddy, in
cold fear, and with the returning sense of something near him,
he stood and watched the groups that pushed and tumbled in through
the entrance of the oyster-room, whistling and chattering as they
went, and banging the door behind them. He noticed that some came out
presently, banging the door harder, and went, smoking and shouting,
down the street. Still they poured in and out, while the street
was startled with their stimulated riot, and the bar-room within
echoed their trampling feet and hoarse voices. Then, as his glance
wandered upward to his tenant's window, he thought of the sick
child, mixing this hideous discord in the dreams of fever. The word
brought up the name and the thought of his dead friend. "In the
name of the Saviour, I charge you be true and tender to mankind!"
The memory of these words seemed to ring clearly, as if a voice
had spoken them, above the roar that suddenly rose in his mind.
In that moment he felt himself a wretched and most guilty man. He
felt that his cruel words had entered that humble home, to make
desperate poverty more desperate, to sicken sickness, and to sadden
sorrow. Before him was the dram-shop, let and licensed to nourish
the worst and most brutal appetites and instincts of human natures,
at the sacrifice of all their highest and holiest tendencies. The
throng of tipplers and drunkards was swarming through its hopeless
door, to gulp the fiery liquor whose fumes give all shames, vices,
miseries, and crimes a lawless strength and life, and change the
man into the pig or tiger. Murder was done, or nearly done, within
those walls last night. Within those walls no good was ever done;
but daily, unmitigated evil, whose results were reaching on to
torture unborn generations. He had consented to it all! He could
not falter, or equivocate, or evade, or excuse. His dead friend's
words rang in his conscience like the trump of the judgment angel.
He was conquered.
Slowly, the resolve instantly to go in uprose within him, and with
it a change came upon his spirit, and the natural world, sadder than
before, but sweeter, seemed to come back to him. A great feeling
of relief flowed upon his mind. Pale and trembling still, he crossed
the street with a quick, unsteady step, entered a yard at the side
of the house, and, brushing by a host of white, rattling spectres of
frozen clothes, which dangled from lines in the enclosure, mounted
some wooden steps, and rang the bell. In a minute he heard footsteps
within, and saw the gleam of a lamp. His heart palpitated violently
as he heard the lock turning, lest the answerer of his summons
might be his tenant. The door opened, and, to his relief, he stood
before a rather decent-looking Irishman, bending forward in his
stocking-feet, with one boot and a lamp in his hand. The man stared
at him from a wild head of tumbled red hair, with a half-smile round
his loose open mouth, and said, "Begorra!" This was a second-floor
Dr. Renton was relieved at the sight of him; but he rather failed
in an attempt at his rent-day suavity of manner, when he said,—
"Good evening, Mr. Flanagan. Do you think I can see Mrs. Miller
"She's up there, docther, anyway." Mr. Flanagan made a sudden
start for the stairs, with the boot and lamp at arm's length before
him, and stopped as suddenly. "Yull go up? or wud she come down to
ye?" There was as much anxious indecision in Mr. Flanagan's general
aspect, pending the reply, as if he had to answer the question
"I'll go up, Mr. Flanagan," returned Dr. Renton, stepping in, after
a pause, and shutting the door. "But I'm afraid she's in bed."
"Naw—she's not, sur." Mr. Flanagan made another feint with
the boot and lamp at the stairs, but stopped again in curious
bewilderment, and rubbed his head. Then, with another inspiration,
and speaking with such velocity that his words ran into each other,
pell-mell, he continued: "Th' small girl's sick, sur. Begorra, I
wor just pullin' on th' boots tuh gaw for the docther, in th'
nixt streth, an' summons him to her relehf, fur it's bad she is.
A'id betther be goan." Another start, and a movement to put on the
boot instantly, baffled by his getting the lamp into the leg of
it, and involving himself in difficulties in trying to get it out
again without dropping either, and stopped finally by Dr. Renton.
"You needn't go, Mr. Flanagan. I'll see to the child. Don't go."
He stepped slowly up the stairs, followed by the bewildered Flanagan.
All this time Dr. Renton was listening to the racket from the bar-room.
Clinking of glasses, rattling of dishes, trampling of feet, oaths and
laughter, and a confused din of coarse voices, mingling with boisterous
calls for oysters and drink, came, hardly deadened by the partition
walls, from the haunt below, and echoed through the corridors. Loud
enough within,—louder in the street without, where the oysters and
drink were reeling and roaring off to brutal dreams. People trying to
sleep here; a sick child up stairs. Listen! "Two stew! One
roast! Four ale! Hurry 'em up! Three stew! In
number six! One fancy—two roast! One
sling! Three brandy—hot! Two stew! One whisk'
skin! Hurry 'em up! What yeh 'bout! Three
brand' punch—hot! Four stew! What-ye-e-h 'BOUT!
Two gin-cock-t'il! One stew! Hu-r-r-y 'em up!" Clashing,
rattling, cursing, swearing, laughing, shouting, trampling, stumbling,
driving, slamming of doors. "Hu-r-ry 'em
"Flanagan," said Dr. Renton, stopping at the first landing, "do
you have this noise every night?"
"Naise? Hoo! Divil a night, docther, but I'm wehked out ov me bed
wid 'em, Sundays an' all. Sure didn't they murdher wan of 'em,
out an' out, last night!"
"Is the man dead?"
"Dead? Troth he is. An' cowld."
"H'm"—through his compressed lips. "Flanagan, you needn't
come up. I know the door. Just hold the light for me here. There,
that'll do. Thank you." He whispered the last words from the top
of the second flight.
"Are ye there, docther?" Flanagan anxious to the last, and trying
to peer up at him with the lamplight in his eyes.
"Yes. That'll do. Thank you!" in the same whisper. Before he could
tap at the door, then darkening in the receding light, it opened
suddenly, and a big Irish-woman bounced out, and then whisked in
again, calling to some one in an inner room, "Here he is, Mrs.
Mill'r"; and then bounced out again, with a, "Walk royt in, if
you plaze; here's the choild"; and whisked in again, with a
"Sure an' Jehms was quick"; never once looking at him, and utterly
unconscious of the presence of her landlord. He had hardly stepped
into the room and taken off his hat, when Mrs. Miller came from
the inner chamber with a lamp in her hand. How she started! With
her pale face grown suddenly paler, and her hand on her bosom,
she could only exclaim, "Why, it's Dr. Renton!" and stand, still
and dumb, gazing with a frightened look at his face, whiter than
her own. Whereupon Mrs. Flanagan came bolting out again, with wild
eyes and a sort of stupefied horror in her good, coarse, Irish
features; and then, with some uncouth ejaculation, ran back, and
was heard to tumble over something within, and tumble something
else over in her fall, and gather herself up with a subdued howl,
"Mrs. Miller," began Dr. Renton, in a low, husky voice, glancing
at her frightened face, "I hope you'll be composed. I spoke to you
very harshly and rudely to-night; but I really was not myself—I
was in anger—and I ask your pardon. Please to overlook it
all, and—but I will speak of this presently; now—I
am a physician; will you let me look now at your sick child?"
He spoke hurriedly, but with evident sincerity. For a moment her
lips faltered; then a slow flush came up, with a quick change of
expression on her thin, worn face, and, reddening to painful scarlet,
died away in a deeper pallor.
"Dr. Renton," she said, hastily, "I have no ill-feeling for you,
sir, and I know you were hurt and vexed; and I know you have tried
to make it up to me again, sir, secretly. I know who it was, now;
but I can't take it, sir. You must take it back. You know it was
you sent it, sir?"
"Mrs. Miller," he replied, puzzled beyond measure, "I don't understand
you. What do you mean?"
"Don't deny it, sir. Please not to," she said imploringly, the
tears starting to her eyes. "I am very grateful,—indeed I
am. But I can't accept it. Do take it again."
"Mrs. Miller," he replied, in a hasty voice, "what do you mean?
I have sent you nothing,—nothing at all. I have, therefore,
nothing to receive again."
She looked at him fixedly, evidently impressed by the fervor of
"You sent me nothing to-night, sir?" she asked, doubtfully.
"Nothing at any time, nothing," he answered, firmly.
It would have been folly to have disbelieved the truthful look of
his wondering face, and she turned away in amazement and confusion.
There was a long pause.
"I hope, Mrs. Miller, you will not refuse any assistance I can render
to your child," he said, at length.
She started, and replied, tremblingly and confusedly, "No, sir; we
shall be grateful to you, if you can save her"; and went quickly,
with a strange abstraction on her white face, into the inner room.
He followed her at once, and, hardly glancing at Mrs. Flanagan,
who sat there in stupefaction, with her apron over her head and
face, he laid his hat on a table, went to the bedside of the little
girl, and felt her head and pulse. He soon satisfied himself that
the little sufferer was in no danger, under proper remedies, and
now dashed down a prescription on a leaf from his pocket-book.
Mrs. Flanagan, who had come out from the retirement of her apron,
to stare stupidly at him during the examination, suddenly bobbed
up on her legs, with enlightened alacrity, when he asked if there
was any one that could go out to the apothecary's, and said, "Sure
I wull!" He had a little trouble to make her understand that the
prescription, which she took by the corner, holding it away from
her, as if it were going to explode presently, and staring at it
upside down, was to be left—"left, mind you, Mrs.
Flanagan—with the apothecary—Mr. Flint—at the
nearest corner—and he will give you some things, which you are
to bring here." But she had shuffled off at last with a confident,
"Yis, sur—aw, I knoo," her head nodding satisfied assent, and
her big thumb covering the note on the margin, "Charge to Dr. C.
Renton, Bowdoin Street," (which, I know, could not keep it
from the eyes of the angels!) and he sat down to await her return.
"Mrs. Miller," he said, kindly, "don't be alarmed about your child.
She is doing well; and, after you have given her the medicine Mrs.
Flanagan will bring, you'll find her much better, to-morrow. She
must be kept cool and quiet, you know, and she'll be all right
"O Dr. Renton, I am very grateful," was the tremulous reply; "and
we will follow all directions, sir. It is hard to keep her quiet,
sir; we keep as still as we can, and the other children are very
still; but the street is very noisy all the daytime and evening,
"I know it, Mrs. Miller. And I'm afraid those people down stairs
disturb you somewhat."
"They make some stir in the evening, sir; and it's rather loud
in the street sometimes, at night. The folks on the lower floors
are troubled a good deal, they say."
Well they may be. Listen to the bawling outside, now, cold as it
is. Hark! A hoarse group on the opposite sidewalk beginning a
song,—"Ro-o-l on, sil-ver mo-o-n—" The silver moon
ceases to roll in a sudden explosion of yells and laughter, sending
up broken fragments of curses, ribald jeers, whoopings, and cat-calls,
high into the night air. "Ga-l-a-ng! Hi-hi! What ye-e-h 'bout!"
"This is outrageous, Mrs. Miller. Where's the watchman?"
She smiled faintly. "He takes one of them off occasionally, sir;
but he's afraid; they beat him sometimes." A long pause.
"Isn't your room rather cold, Mrs. Miller?" He glanced at the black
stove, dimly seen in the outer room. "It is necessary to keep the
rooms cool just now, but this air seems to me cold."
Receiving no answer, he looked at her, and saw the sad truth in
her averted face.
"I beg your pardon," he said quickly, flushing to the roots of his
hair. "I might have known, after what you said to me this evening."
"We had a little fire here to-day, sir," she said, struggling with
the pride and shame of poverty; "but we have been out of firing
for two or three days, and we owe the wharfman something now. The
two boys picked up a few chips; but the poor children find it hard
to get them, sir. Times are very hard with us, sir; indeed they
are. We'd have got along better, if my husband's money had come,
and your rent would have been paid—"
"Never mind the rent!—don't speak of that!" he broke in,
with his face all aglow. "Mrs. Miller, I haven't done right by
you,—I know it. Be frank with me. Are you in want of—have
No need of answer to that faintly stammered question. The thin,
rigid face was covered from his sight by the worn, wan hands, and
all the pride and shame of poverty, and all the frigid truth of
cold, hunger, anxiety, and sickened sorrow they had concealed, had
given way at last in a rush of tears. He could not speak. With a
smitten heart, he knew it all now. Ah! Dr. Renton, you know these
people's tricks? you know their lying blazon of poverty, to gather
"Mrs. Miller,"—she had ceased weeping, and as he spoke, she
looked at him, with the tear-stains still on her agitated face,
half ashamed that he had seen her,—"Mrs. Miller, I am sorry.
This shall be remedied. Don't tell me it sha'n't! Don't! I say it
shall! Mrs. Miller, I'm—I'm ashamed of myself. I am indeed."
"I am very grateful, sir, I'm sure," said she; "but we don't like
to take charity, though we need help; but we can get along now,
sir; for I suppose I must keep it, as you say you didn't send
it, and use it for the children's sake, and thank God for his good
mercy,—since I don't know, and never shall, where it came
"Mrs. Miller," he said quickly, "you spoke in this way before; and
I don't know what you refer to. What do you mean by—it?"
"Oh! I forgot, sir: it puzzles me so. You see, sir, I was sitting
here after I got home from your house, thinking what I should do,
when Mrs. Flanagan came up stairs with a letter for me, that she said
a strange man left at the door for Mrs. Miller; and Mrs. Flanagan
couldn't describe him well, or understandingly; and it had no
direction at all, only the man inquired who was the landlord, and
if Mrs. Miller had a sick child, and then said the letter was for
me; and there was no writing inside the letter, but there was fifty
dollars. That's all, sir. It gave me a great shock, sir; and I
couldn't think who sent it, only when you came to-night, I thought
it was you; but you said it wasn't, and I never shall know who
it was, now. It seems as if the hand of God was in it, sir, for
it came when everything was darkest, and I was in despair."
"Why, Mrs. Miller," he slowly answered, "this is very mysterious.
The man inquired if I was the owner of the house—oh! no—he
only inquired who was—but then he knew I was the—oh!
bother! I'm getting nowhere. Let's see. Why, it must be some one
you know, or that knows your circumstances."
"But there's no one knows them but yourself; and I told you," she
replied; "no one else but the people in the house. It must have
been some rich person, for the letter was a gilt-edge sheet, and
there was perfume in it, sir."
"Strange," he murmured. "Well, I give it up. All is, I advise you to
keep it, and I'm very glad some one did his duty by you in your hour
of need, though I'm sorry it was not myself. Here's Mrs. Flanagan."
There was a good deal done, and a great burden lifted off an humble
heart—nay, two!—before Dr. Renton thought of going
home. There was a patient gained, likely to do Dr. Renton more
good than any patient he had lost. There was a kettle singing on
the stove, and blowing off a happier steam than any engine ever blew
on that railroad whose unmarketable stock had singed Dr. Renton's
fingers. There was a yellow gleam flickering from the blazing fire
on the sober binding of a good old Book upon a shelf with others,
a rarer medical work than ever slipped at auction from Dr. Renton's
hands, since it kept the sacred lore of Him who healed the sick,
and fed the hungry, and comforted the poor, and who was also the
Physician of souls.
And there were other offices performed, of lesser range than these,
before he rose to go. There were cooling mixtures blended for the
sick child; medicines arranged; directions given; and all the items
of her tendance orderly foreseen, and put in pigeon-holes of When
and How, for service.
At last he rose to go. "And now, Mrs. Miller," he said, "I'll come
here at ten in the morning, and see to our patient. She'll be nicely
by that time. And (listen to those brutes in the street!—twelve
o'clock, too—ah! there's the bell), as I was saying, my offence
to you being occasioned by your debt to me, I feel my receipt for
your debt should commence my reparation to you; and I'll bring it
to-morrow. Mrs. Miller, you don't quite come at me—what I
mean is—you owe me, under a notice to quit, three months'
rent. Consider that paid in full. I never will take a cent of it
from you,—not a copper. And I take back the notice. Stay in
my house as long as you like; the longer the better. But, up to
this date, your rent's paid. There. I hope you'll have as happy a
Christmas as circumstances will allow, and I mean you shall."
A flush of astonishment, of indefinable emotion, overspread her
"Dr. Renton, stop, sir!" He was moving to the door. "Please, sir,
do hear me! You are very good—but I can't allow you
to—Dr. Renton, we are able to pay you the rent, and we
will, and we must—here—now. O, sir, my gratefulness
will never fail to you—but here—here—be fair with
me, sir, and do take it."
She had hurried to a chest of drawers, and came back with the letter
which she had rustled apart with eager, trembling hands, and now,
unfolding the single banknote it had contained, she thrust it into
his fingers as they closed.
"Here, Mrs. Miller,"—she had drawn back with her arms locked
on her bosom, and he stepped forward,—"no, no. This sha'n't
be. Come, come, you must take it back. Good heavens!" He spoke
low, but his eyes blazed in the red glow which broke out on his
face, and the crisp note in his extended hand shook violently at
her. "Sooner than take this money from you, I would perish in the
street! What! Do you think I will rob you of the gift sent you by
some one who had a human heart for the distresses I was aggravating?
Sooner than— Here, take it! O my God! what's this?"
The red glow on his face went out, with this exclamation, in a
pallor like marble, and he jerked back the note to his starting
eyes. Globe Bank—Boston—Fifty Dollars. For a minute he
gazed at the motionless bill in his hand. Then, with his hueless
lips compressed, he seized the blank letter from his astonished
tenant, and looked at it, turning it over and over. Grained
letter-paper—gilt-edged—with a favorite perfume in
it. Where's Mrs. Flanagan? Outside the door, sitting on the top of
the stairs, with her apron over her head, crying. Mrs. Flanagan!
Here! In she tumbled, her big feet kicking her skirts before her,
and her eyes and face as red as a beet.
"Mrs. Flanagan, what kind of a looking man gave you this letter
at the door to-night?"
"A-w, Docther Rinton, dawn't ax me!—Bother, an' all, an' sure
an' I cudn't see him wud his fur-r hat, an' he a-ll boondled oop
wud his co-at oop on his e-ars, an' his big han'kershuf smotherin'
thuh mouth uv him, an' sorra a bit uv him tuh be looked at, sehvin'
thuh poomple on thuh ind uv his naws."
"The what on the end of his nose?"
"Thuh poomple, sur."
"What does she mean, Mrs. Miller?" said the puzzled questioner,
turning to his tenant.
"I don't know, sir, indeed," was the reply. "She said that to me,
and I couldn't understand her."
"It's thuh poomple, docther. Dawn't ye knoo? Thuh big, flehmin
poomple oop there." She indicated the locality, by flattening the
rude tip of her own nose with her broad forefinger.
"Oh! the pimple! I have it." So he had. Netty, Netty!
He said nothing, but sat down in a chair, with his bold, white brow
knitted, and the warm tears in his dark eyes.
"You know who sent it, sir, don't you?" asked his wondering tenant,
catching the meaning of all this.
"Mrs. Miller, I do. But I cannot tell you. Take it, now, and use
it. It is doubly yours. There. Thank you."
She had taken it with an emotion in her face that gave a quicker
motion to his throbbing heart. He rose to his feet, hat in hand,
and turned away. The noise of a passing group of roysterers in
the street without came strangely loud into the silence of that
"Good night, Mrs. Miller. I'll be here in the morning. Good night."
"Good night, sir. God bless you, sir!"
He turned around quickly. The warm tears in his dark eyes had flowed
on his face, which was pale; and his firm lip quivered.
"I hope He will, Mrs. Miller,—I hope He will. It should have
been said oftener."
He was on the outer threshold. Mrs. Flanagan had, somehow, got
there before him, with a lamp, and he followed her down through
the dancing shadows, with blurred eyes. On the lower landing he
stopped to hear the jar of some noisy wrangle, thick with oaths,
from the bar-room. He listened for a moment, and then turned to
the staring stupor of Mrs. Flanagan's rugged visage.
"Sure, they're at ut, docther, wud a wull," she said, smiling.
"Yes. Mrs. Flanagan, you'll stay up with Mrs. Miller to-night, won't
"Dade an' I wull, sur."
"That's right. Do. And make her try and sleep, for she must be
tired. Keep up a fire,—not too warm, you understand. There'll
be wood and coal coming to-morrow, and she'll pay you back."
"A-w, docther, dawn't noo!"
"Well, well. And—look here; have you got anything to eat in
the house? Yes; well, take it up stairs. Wake up those two boys,
and give them something to eat. Don't let Mrs. Miller stop you. Make
her eat something. Tell her I said she must. And, first of all, get
your bonnet, and go to that apothecary's,—Flint's,—for
a bottle of port wine, for Mrs. Miller. Hold on. There's the order."
(He had a leaf out of his pocket-book in a minute, and wrote it down.)
"Go with this the first thing. Ring Flint's bell, and he'll wake
up. And here's something for your own Christmas dinner, to-morrow."
Out of the roll of bills he drew one of the tens—Globe
Bank—Boston—and gave it to Mrs. Flanagan.
"A-w, dawn't noo, docther."
"Bother! It's for yourself, mind. Take it. There. And now unlock
the door. That's it. Good night, Mrs. Flanagan."
"An' meh thuh Hawly Vurgin hape bless'n's on ye, Docther Rinton,
wud a-ll thuh compliments uv thuh sehzin, for yur thuh—"
He lost the end of Mrs. Flanagan's parting benedictions in the
moonlit street. He did not pause till he was at the door of the
oyster-room. He paused then, to make way for a tipsy company of
four, who reeled out,—the gaslight from the bar-room on the
edges of their sodden, distorted faces,—giving three shouts
and a yell, as they slammed the door behind them.
He pushed after a party that was just entering. They went at once
for a drink to the upper end of the room, where a rowdy crew, with
cigars in their mouths, and liquor in their hands, stood before
the bar, in a knotty wrangle concerning some one who was killed.
Where is the keeper? O, there he is, mixing hot brandy punch for
two! Here, you, sir, go up quietly, and tell Mr. Rollins Dr. Renton
wants to see him. The waiter came back presently to say Mr. Rollins
would be right along. Twenty-five minutes past twelve. Oyster trade
nearly over. Gaudy-curtained booths on the left all empty but two.
Oyster-openers and waiters—three of them in all—nearly
done for the night, and two of them sparring and scuffling behind a
pile of oysters on the trough, with the colored print of the great
prize fight between Tom Hyer and Yankee Sullivan, in a veneered
frame above them on the wall. Blower up from the fire opposite the
bar, and stewpans and griddles empty and idle on the bench beside
it, among the unwashed bowls and dishes. Oyster trade nearly over.
Bar still busy.
Here comes Rollins in his shirt-sleeves, with an apron on. Thick-set,
muscular man,—frizzled head, low forehead, sharp, black eyes,
flabby face, with a false, greasy smile on it now, oiling over a
curious, stealthy expression of mingled surprise and inquiry, as
he sees his landlord here at this unusual hour.
"Come in here, Mr. Rollins; I want to speak to you."
"Yes, sir. Jim" (to the waiter), "go and tend bar." They sat down
in one of the booths, and lowered the curtain. Dr. Renton, at one
side of the table within, looking at Rollins, sitting leaning on
his folded arms, at the other side.
"Mr. Rollins, I am told the man who was stabbed here last night
is dead. Is that so?"
"Well, he is, Dr. Renton. Died this afternoon."
"Mr. Rollins, this is a serious matter; what are you going to do
"Can't help it, sir. Who's a-goin' to touch me? Called in
a watchman. Whole mess of 'em had cut. Who knows 'em? Nobody knows
'em. Man that was stuck never see the fellers as stuck him in all
his life till then. Didn't know which one of 'em did it. Didn't
know nothing. Don't now, an' never will, 'nless he meets 'em in hell.
That's all. Feller's dead, an' who's a-goin' to touch me?
Can't do it. Ca-n-'t do it."
"Mr. Rollins," said Dr. Renton, thoroughly disgusted with this man's
brutal indifference, "your lease expires in three days."
"Well, it does. Hope to make a renewal with you, Dr. Renton. Trade's
good here. Shouldn't mind more rent on, if you insist,—hope
you won't,—if it's anything in reason. Promise sollum, I sha'
n't have no more fightin' in here. Couldn't help this. Accidents
will happen, yo' know."
"Mr. Rollins, the case is this: if you didn't sell liquor here,
you'd have no murder done in your place,—murder, sir. That
man was murdered. It's your fault, and it's mine, too. I ought
not to have let you the place for your business. It is a
cursed traffic, and you and I ought to have found it out long ago.
I have. I hope you will. Now, I advise you, as a
friend, to give up selling rum for the future; you see what it comes
to,—don't you? At any rate, I will not be responsible for
the outrages that are perpetrated in my building any more,—I
will not have liquor sold here. I refuse to renew your lease. In
three days you must move."
"Dr. Renton, you hurt my feelin's. Now, how would you—"
"Mr. Rollins, I have spoken to you as a friend, and you have no
cause for pain. You must quit these premises when your lease expires.
I'm sorry I can't make you go before that. Make no appeals to me,
if you please. I am fixed. Now, sir, good night."
The curtain was pulled up, and Rollins rolled over to his beloved
bar, soothing his lacerated feelings by swearing like a pirate,
while Dr. Renton strode to the door, and went into the street,
He walked fast through the magical moonlight, with a strange feeling
of sternness, and tenderness, and weariness, in his mind. In this
mood, the sensation of spiritual and physical fatigue gaining on
him, but a quiet moonlight in all his reveries, he reached his
house. He was just putting his latch-key in the door, when it was
opened by James, who stared at him for a second, and then dropped
his eyes, and put his hand before his nose. Dr. Renton compressed
his lips on an involuntary smile.
"Ah! James, you're up late. It's near one."
"I sat up for Mrs. Renton and the young lady, sir. They're just
come, and gone up stairs."
"All right, James. Take your lamp and come in here. I've got something
to say to you." The man followed him into the library at once, with
some wonder on his sleepy face.
"First, put some coal on that fire, and light the chandelier. I
shall not go up stairs to-night." The man obeyed. "Now, James,
sit down in that chair." He did so, beginning to look frightened
at Dr. Renton's grave manner.
"James,"—a long pause,—"I want you to tell me the truth.
Where did you go to-night? Come, I have found you out. Speak."
The man turned as white as a sheet, and looked wretched with the
whites of his bulging eyes, and the great pimple on his nose awfully
distinct in the livid hue of his features. He was a rather slavish
fellow, and thought he was going to lose his situation. Please
not to blame him, for he, too, was one of the poor.
"O Dr. Renton, excuse me, sir; I didn't mean doing any harm."
"James, my daughter gave you an undirected letter this evening; you
carried it to one of my houses in Hanover Street. Is that true?"
"Ye-yes, sir. I couldn't help it. I only did what she told me,
"James, if my daughter told you to set fire to this house, what
would you do?"
"I wouldn't do it, sir," he stammered, after some hesitation.
"You wouldn't? James, if my daughter ever tells you to set fire
to this house, do it, sir! Do it. At once. Do whatever she tells
you. Promptly. And I'll back you."
The man stared wildly at him, as he received this astonishing command.
Dr. Renton was perfectly grave, and had spoken slowly and seriously.
The man was at his wits' end.
"You'll do it, James,—will you?"
"Ye-yes, sir, certainly."
"That's right. James, you're a good fellow. James, you've got a
wife and children, hav'n't you?"
"Yes, sir, I have; living in the country, sir. In Chelsea, over
the ferry. For cheapness, sir."
"For cheapness, eh? Hard times, James? How is it?"
"Pretty hard, sir. Close, but toler'ble comfortable. Rub and go,
"Rub and go. Ve-r-y well. Rub and go. James, I'm going to raise your
wages—to-morrow. Generally, because you're a good servant.
Principally, because you carried that letter to-night, when my
daughter asked you. I sha'n't forget it. To-morrow, mind. And
if I can do anything for you, James, at any time, just tell me.
That's all. Now, you'd better go to bed. And a happy Christmas
"Much obliged to you, sir. Same to you and many of 'em. Good night,
sir." And with Dr. Renton's "good-night" he stole up to bed, thoroughly
happy, and determined to obey Miss Renton's future instructions to
the letter. The shower of golden light which had been raining for
the last two hours had fallen even on him. It would fall all day
to-morrow in many places, and the day after, and for long years
to come. Would that it could broaden and increase to a general
deluge, and submerge the world!
Now the whole house was still, and its master was weary. He sat
there, quietly musing, feeling the sweet and tranquil presence
near him. Now the fire was screened, the lights were out, save
one dim glimmer, and he had lain down on the couch with the letter
in his hand, and slept the dreamless sleep of a child.
He slept until the gray dawn of Christmas day stole into the room,
and showed him the figure of his friend, a shape of glorious light,
standing by his side, and gazing at him with large and tender eyes!
He had no fear. All was deep, serene, and happy with the happiness
of heaven. Looking up into that beautiful, wan face,—so
tranquil,—so radiant; watching, with a childlike awe, the
star-fire in those shadowy eyes; smiling faintly, with a great,
unutterable love thrilling slowly through his frame, in answer
to the smile of light that shone upon the phantom countenance;
so he passed a space of time which seemed a calm eternity, till,
at last, the communion of spirit with spirit—of mortal love
with love immortal—was perfected, and the shining hands were
laid on his forehead, as with a touch of air. Then the phantom
smiled, and, as its shining hands were withdrawn, the thought of
his daughter mingled in the vision. She was bending over him! The
dawn, the room, were the same. But the ghost of Feval had gone
out from earth, away to its own land!
"Father, dear father! Your eyes were open, and they did not look at
me. There is a light on your face, and your features are changed!
What is it,—what have you seen?"
"Hush, darling: here—kneel by me, for a little while, and
be still. I have seen the dead."
She knelt by him, burying her awe-struck face in his bosom, and
clung to him with all the fervor of her soul. He clasped her to
his breast, and for minutes all was still.
"Dear child, good and dear child!"
The voice was tremulous and low. She lifted her fair, bright
countenance, now convulsed with a secret trouble, and dimmed with
streaming tears, to his, and gazed on him. His eyes were shining;
but his pallid cheeks, like hers, were wet with tears. How still
the room was! How like a thought of solemn tenderness the pale
gray dawn! The world was far away, and his soul still wandered
in the peaceful awe of his dream. The world was coming back to
him,—but oh! how changed!—in the trouble of his daughter's
"Darling, what is it? Why are you here? Why are you weeping? Dear
child, the friend of my better days,—of the boyhood when I
had noble aims, and life was beautiful before me,—he has
been here! I have seen him. He has been with me—oh! for a
good I cannot tell!"
"Father, dear father!"—he had risen, and sat upon the couch,
but she still knelt before him, weeping, and clasped his hands in
hers,—"I thought of you and of this letter, all the time.
All last night till I slept, and then I dreamed you were tearing
it to pieces, and trampling on it. I awoke, and lay thinking of
you, and of ——. And I thought I heard you come down
stairs, and I came here to find you. But you were lying here so
quietly, with your eyes open, and so strange a light on your face.
And I knew,—I knew you were dreaming of him, and that you
saw him, for the letter lay beside you. O father! forgive me, but
do hear me! In the name of this day,—it's Christmas day,
father,—in the name of the time when we must both die,—in
the name of that time, father, hear me! That poor woman last
night,—O father! forgive me, but don't tear that letter in
pieces and trample it under foot! You know what I mean—you
know—you know. Don't tear it, and tread it under foot."
She clung to him, sobbing violently, her face buried in his hands.
"Hush, hush! It's all well,—it's all well. Here, sit by me.
So. I have—" His voice failed him, and he paused. But sitting
by him,—clinging to him,—her face hidden in his
bosom,—she heard the strong beating of his disenchanted heart.
"My child, I know your meaning. I will not tear the letter to pieces
and trample it under foot. God forgive me my life's slight to those
words. But I learned their value last night, in the house where
your blank letter had entered before me."
She started, and looked into his face steadfastly, while a bright
scarlet shot into her own.
"I know all, Netty,—all. Your secret was well kept, but it
is yours and mine now. It was well done, darling, well done. O,
I have been through strange mysteries of thought and life since
that starving woman sat here! Well—thank God!"
"Father, what have you done?" The flush had failed, but a glad
color still brightened her face, while the tears stood trembling
in her eyes.
"All that you wished yesterday," he answered. "And all that you
ever could have wished, henceforth I will do."
"O father!" She stopped. The bright scarlet shot again into her
face, but with an April shower of tears, and the rainbow of a smile.
"Listen to me, Netty, and I will tell you, and only you, what I
have done." Then, while she mutely listened, sitting by his side,
and the dawn of Christmas broadened into Christmas day, he told
And when he had told all, and emotion was stilled, they sat together
in silence for a time, she with her innocent head drooped upon his
shoulder, and her eyes closed, lost in tender and mystic reveries;
and he musing with a contrite heart. Till at last, the stir of
daily life began to waken in the quiet dwelling, and without, from
steeples in the frosty air, there was a sound of bells.
They rose silently, and stood, clinging to each other, side by side.
"Love, we must part," he said, gravely and tenderly. "Read me,
before we go, the closing lines of George Feval's letter. In the
spirit of this let me strive to live. Let it be for me the lesson
of the day. Let it also be the lesson of my life."
Her face was pale and lit with exaltation as she took the letter
from his hand. There was a pause, and then upon the thrilling and
tender silver of her voice, the words arose like solemn music:—
"Farewell—farewell! But, oh! take my counsel into memory
on Christmas Day, and forever. Once again, the ancient prophecy of
peace and good-will shines on a world of wars and wrongs and woes.
Its soft ray shines into the darkness of a land wherein swarm slaves,
poor laborers, social pariahs, weeping women, homeless exiles, hunted
fugitives, despised aliens, drunkards, convicts, wicked children,
and Magdalens unredeemed. These are but the ghastliest figures in
that sad army of humanity which advances, by a dreadful road, to
the Golden Age of the poets' dream. These are your sisters and your
brothers. Love them all. Beware of wronging one of them by word or
deed. O friend! strong in wealth for so much good,—take my
last counsel. In the name of the Saviour, I charge you, be true
and tender to mankind. Come out from Babylon into manhood, and
live and labor for the fallen, the neglected, the suffering, and
the poor. Lover of arts, customs, laws, institutions, and forms of
society, love these things only as they help mankind! With stern
love, overturn them, or help to overturn them, when they become cruel
to a single—the humblest—human being. In the world's
scale, social position, influence, public power, the applause of
majorities, heaps of funded gold, services rendered to creeds, codes,
sects, parties, or federations—they weigh weight; but in God's
scale—remember!—on the day if hope, remember!—your
least service to Humanity outweighs them all."