Death by Misadventure by Edmund Leamy

Superstitious?” Well, I confess I am a little. I would rather not sit down at table with twelve others, and I think that no really good host should expose his guest to such a predicament. I have, indeed, made one of thirteen at dinner on more than one occasion, and was not a penny the worse, nor, as far as I can recall, was anyone else. But all the same, I don’t like the number. And I would rather see two magpies than one any day, and I don’t like to hear the ‘tick’ of the death watch at night.

I would rather not pass a churchyard alone after dark, but then I don’t like churchyards even in the daytime, and would avoid them if I could. I was once induced to make one at a seance of Spiritualists, and sat for at least half an hour, with five or six others, round a table in the dark, vainly hoping for a glimpse of a spirit from the other world, or for a sound of the rapping, the system of telegraphy said to be employed by its denizens, but I neither saw nor heard anything.

The reader will gather from this that I am like nine out of ten of his acquaintances in matters of this kind. I am not a convinced sceptic as to supernatural visitations, and, on the other hand, I am not a believer in them. All I know is that I had never seen anything to bring me in touch, real or imaginary, with the other world until a certain night in the first days of the month of September, over twenty years ago, when I was staying at one of the most charming seaside resorts on the eastern coast of Ireland.

The weather was simply delightful. The breath of summer seemed still to linger in the leaves, almost as many as they are in June, and which had hardly begun to put on their autumn tints. The sea for days had been like a mill-pond. The tide glided in and out almost imperceptibly, and only in the still night could one hear its soft sighing voice.

I was lodged in a ‘furnished house’ close to the sea. My rooms were very bright, and offered splendid views of sea and mountain, and of the rich foliage that crowned the hills that rose up, gently sloping, almost from the strand.

The house was furnished after the fashion of many seaside houses let for the season, and idle during the winter months. The furniture was indifferent, but sufficient. But of this I had not taken much notice. I was easily satisfied, and moreover I spent most of my time out of doors. But there came a day when the sky was covered with black clouds, from which the rain poured down unceasingly, and the sea was hidden in a mist.

I had smoked and read for two or three hours, and then got up, stretched my legs and walked about my sitting room. And for the first time, I think, I paid serious attention to the pictures on the walls. With one exception, they were all photographs. This exception was the allegorical representation of Hope—a beautiful female figure. The others were photos of family groups, churches, etc., and they suggested in an unmistakeable way a “job lot” at an auction.

This suggestion set me speculating on the fortunes of their former owner. And what encouraged me in this was the character of the largest photograph. It was a wedding group, evidently taken just after the arrival from church. The persons forming it stood on the steps of a rather fine house, over the porch of which the word ‘Welcome’ was formed in rosebuds. There were in the group about twenty persons in all. The bride, with a bouquet in her hand, was standing beside the bridegroom, on the top step, and both came out very well in the photo, and as the central figures, of course they naturally excited more interest than the others. The bride was tall, shapely and decidedly good-looking, while the bridegroom, on the other hand, was stumpy, thick-necked, and of an ill-favoured countenance, and apparently much older than the bride. Was it a match of love or convenience? How did it fare with the two standing here side by side, whose future life till death would them part were linked together for good or ill, for happiness or misery?

An idle question, the reader may say, but then it was in an idle hour I put it to myself. As I turned from this photo to the others, it occurred to me that all of them were somehow connected. There were photos of two country churches, one with a tower and steeple recently erected at the time the picture was taken if one might judge from the clearly defined lines of masonry, and the low size of the firs and yews planted round it. The other had a square tower and was almost concealed by ivy, and a glimpse was given of the churchyard and of some of the tombstones, including a fine Celtic cross. In one or other of these I decided the marriage had taken place. In the new church doubtless, for the photo was mounted on a grey toned card, as was that of the wedding group. Moreover, both were from the same photographic studio of Grafton-street, Dublin. The photo of the old church was by a different artist, and was mounted differently. The remaining photos were of the Madeleine, the Place de la Concorde, the tomb of Napoleon, and the Louvre—souvenirs, no doubt, of the honeymoon spent in Paris, and there was one of a pretty cottage, which was, I surmised, the first home of the newly married couple. In this way I explained satisfactorily to myself all the pictures, save that of the old church, with the glimpse of the graveyard. Then it seemed to me that I had arrived at the end of the story, and so I gave it up and returned to my lounge, my book and my pipe.

That evening a friend from town dropped in after dinner and spent a few hours with me. I went down to the station to see him off by the last train, which went about eleven o’clock. Returning alone in a starless night, and with the damp breath of the sea fog clinging to my face, and the long, low moan of the ocean falling upon my ears, a ‘creepy’ feeling came over me. I was like one rescued from a harassing but unseen enemy when I got back into the shelter of my lodgings, and had closed and bolted the door.

I went almost straight to my bedroom, and I found myself leaving the gas lighting, an unusual circumstance with me. After a while I fell asleep, and began, as I thought, to dream. It seemed to me as though I was sitting alone in the sittingroom downstairs, and that I was looking curiously at the pictures, tracing from them again the little history already given. Then my eyes rested steadily on the picture of the old church, and then I thought that the picture itself had vanished, and that I was actually standing at the gate of the churchyard. Over the church and the little cemetery the morning was breaking, and the grass and leaves appeared to be quite wet as if the heavy rain had only just ceased. Then, when about to move away from the gate, I saw a white, and at first, shadowy figure standing by the Celtic cross in the graveyard. In a few seconds it seemed to become a defined and substantial form. It was that of a lady of about thirty years of age. She wore about her head drapery similar to that on the head of the allegorical picture of Hope, which, as I have said, was among the pictures in the sitting-room, but the face was different—it was that of the bride! Then I saw the figure leave the cross and pass out by another gate than that at which I was standing and go along the road. I felt myself drawn after it, and it seemed to me that both it and I flew rather than walked, so swiftly did we pass over the road.

We must have gone some miles when the figure stopped in front of a rose-clad cottage, identical with the cottage in the photo.

The figure entered the cottage, and I thought I should see it no more. But in a second the exterior of the cottage disappeared, and I saw instead a bedroom, in which a woman was lying. It was the face and figure which I had followed. The face was pale, and she appeared ill and suffering. By the bed was a man, whose back was at first towards me, but soon he moved and I saw that he was the image of the bridegroom. The woman raised herself uneasily on the pillow. Her eyes were wide and glistening, and she made a gesture towards a table at the head of the bed, on which were two or three medicine bottles. The man, in reply to her gesture, poured out something from one of the bottles into a cup and put it to her lips. She appeared to drink it all, and then, lying back quietly on the pillow, seemed to fall into a deep sleep.

I awoke, and knew I had been dreaming—to my great surprise, found myself in my dressing-gown in the sitting-room, to which I must have made my way during my sleep.

I started up, shivering with cold, and forgetting all about the dream, went up to my bedroom and was soon asleep.

However, when I awoke the dream came back to me, and so persistently that I determined to find out something about the photos, which had now a keener interest for me than before.

I questioned my landlady. She was unable to give me any information save what I had already guessed, that they had been bought at an auction at one of the Dublin salerooms, but she had no idea who the owner was, or who were the people in the group. She remembered that a former lodger had remarked that the old church was some church near Dublin, but she could not say which.

Here was something of a clue, and I determined to pursue it. I took the photo from the frame, and the next time I went to Dublin showed it to a monument maker in Brunswick Street. He at once told me the church was St. M——s, a few miles outside the city. I asked if it were he who had put up the Celtic cross. He said he had not, but adding it was the work of another sculptor who lived near Glasnevin.

I went to the sculptor whom he named, and showed him the photo. At once he recognised the cross at a glance. It had been erected to the memory of Mrs. A—— D——, who had died a few years after her marriage. Her death was, he said, the result of a misadventure, she having accidently taken the wrong medicine.

“Did she take it herself?” I asked.

“Yes, that was the evidence at the inquest. The husband was dreadfully cut up about it. It was he who put up the cross, one of the finest that ever left a Dublin yard,” said my informant, with an air of professional triumph.

“But for all that,” he continued, “he got married within a few months after his wife’s death, and then,” he added reflectively, “it is often the way, the greater the grief in the beginning the sooner it is got over.”

A question not to be decided this side of the grave if the whole of my dream might not have been true so much having proved itself so.