by Fanny V. de G. Stevenson
Anne was walking down
the slope of a hill at the
time of the first stirring of
dawn on a spring morning.
She was an old woman,
now, her youth lying years
behind her; but she had not been one to
fall easily into the sere and yellow leaf.
Though frail in health, she had kept her
manifold interests sharp and lively; pictures
gave her pleasure keen as of yore,
and there was no critic of literature more
quick than she to detect a lapse in taste
or art, nor with a readier appreciation of
style, originality, or even intention. She
was, at last, however, forced to believe
that she was growing old. She was old,
and the days were flying past her with an
incredible rapidity. She rebelled with passionate
fierceness against the inevitable,
approaching end. As bitterly as for herself
(she was sixty and past), she resented
the fact that John, her husband, stood
even nearer the final catastrophe than she;
John, whom, though ten years her senior,
she had petted and spoiled like a child.
Hers had always been the dominant
mind. John, older and aging more rapidly
than she, had now become absolutely
dependent on her, almost for his thoughts.
Their marriage was blessed with no children,
wherefore all the motherly instincts
of the wife had been lavished on the husband.
"My very love has made him helpless,"
thought Anne; "pray God he be
called before me."
She walked more quickly, in time with
her thoughts, which now wandered along
devious pathways through the past. The
scenes she recalled were nothing in themselves,
no more than most elderly people
keep stored in their memories; but to her,
who had played the principal parts, they
were of the liveliest interest. The day she
and John took possession of the house
that had been their own ever since was as
vivid as yesterday. Nay, more vivid, for
she was not at all sure concerning yesterday;
she had had a headache, and was
stupid, and had slept a good deal; and
John dozed in his chair; there was nothing
to remember in yesterday.
But that first day in the new house,
both so proud, so fond, so full of plans;
and it was all over. The plans matured
or failed, and they were only two old
people, conscious of ever-failing strength,
careful of draughts, easily tired—well, no,
not so very easily tired after all, at least
not Anne, or at least not to-day. It must
be the early morning, or the spring
weather. She had heard of old people
who recovered their faculties in a sort of
Indian summer, possibly her Indian summer
was about to burst into a mature blossoming.
She felt so light on her feet, so
uplifted as with a wholesome, altogether
delightful intoxication. The sensation
carried her far back to her childhood, to
a first day in the garden after a winter's
illness. How she skipped, and ran, and
laughed. She was conscious to-day of the
same pure joy in living. It was like being
a child again. And those sad, querulous
days, yesterday, and the days and years
before—that was the child's illness; such
a long illness, ever-increasing, with but
one terrible cure.
But not even that fancy could depress
Anne to-day, glorious to-day, this day of
ten thousand! She laughed aloud, pretending,
as children pretend, that she had,
unknowing, drunk of the golden elixir;
her eyes should be unclouded, her cheeks
flower-fresh, her scant, white locks changed
to rings of softest brown; a tall, slim slip
of a girl, as John first met her. At the
foot of the meadow where she kept tryst
with John there used to be a still pool
where she preened her feathers while
waiting for her gallant. She looked about
for a pool, smiling at this vanity in an old
woman; but suppose—suppose—?
Of course she was always properly
dressed and coifed as became one of her
station and fortune, with a certain well-bred
deference to the prevailing modes,
and she owned to a nice taste in lace and
jewels. Jane, her maid, had been very
much remiss when she laid out the gown
her mistress wore this morning. It must
be a new one, by the way, or an old one
remodelled; it was not in her usual style,
but of a singular cut, stiff, plain, and ungraceful
in its prim folds. However, it
was white, and white was still Anne's
color. And what matters a gown when
one is in so high a humor?
The valley below was everywhere covered
with a white rime which ran in
sparkles as the sun touched it. It should
be sharply cold, Anne thought, but she
felt no chill. Frost generally passed over
the high ground, while it nipped the lower.
She hoped it had spared the tender plants
in her garden, and the budding peaches.
Already the crocuses were in bloom, and
the lilacs showed a few timid, scented
leaves. Anne was very fond of her garden,
and it was one of her grievances
against time that she could no longer tend
it in person.
She had forgotten why she searched for
the pool; she was a little confused, doubtless
the effect of yesterday's headache—nothing
unpleasant, rather a delightful,
dizzy jumbling of thoughts, ideas, remembrances.
At any rate, here was the pool,
clear and unruffled; new grass was springing
on its banks, and here and there
woolly brown bosses showed where ferns
were sprouting. She would fetch John
here one day—if he were able to walk so
far. John used to like a pool when his
sight was stronger; not in Anne's way;
her liking was innocent and sentimental.
John would bring his microscope and discover
the most wonderful things in water
that appeared absolutely pure. Decidedly
she must manage to fetch John.
Anne leaned over and looked into the
pool. She leaned farther, lower, turned
her head this way and that, and then drew
back in utter bewilderment. There was
no reflection of her face in the water!
She was overwhelmed with disappointment.
This enchanting rejuvenation, then,
was only a dream. She could almost have
wept; not quite, for the dream still held
her as in an embrace of joyousness. She
wondered what her body looked like, lying
on its bed while its soul was roaming the
fields. She pitied it, the worn, frail, old
body, as though it were a thing separate
from herself. It had suffered in its fairly
long life, and had endured many contrarieties,
but there had been more than compensating
happinesses, and no great sorrows.
She hoped it slept well. John's
dear, white head would be lying on the
pillow beside it. "Oh," she thought, "I
wish I could give my dream to John.
Well, it shall be the best dream in the
world if John is only to have it at second
In the certainty that she was dreaming,
Anne now gave her imagination a free
rein. False shame is out of place in a
dream. She gambolled like a prisoned
kid set free, and sang—softly, lest the
dream should be shattered. As the day
advanced wild things came out of the
wood; squirrels, and other animals so shy
by nature that she had only seen them,
heretofore, at a distance, stopped beside
her and conversed together in their own
language. She saw what no naturalist has
ever beheld, God's creatures at home and
unafraid. She laid her hand on the head
of a doe as it drank at a pool, and ran
with it feather-footed. She spurned the
earth and took long, smooth flights over
the undergrowth like a bird sailing on the
Suddenly she became aware of a voice,
clear and penetrating, that spoke the
name—Anne. A face was before her,
vaguely familiar, a face of her childhood.
"Marian!" she cried; "my mother's
"You remember me, dear Anne."
"You—you went to India," murmured
Anne in a maze; "I thought—mother
talked of you to us children—your
portrait in the school-room——"
"Yes, I went to the Indies; I died there
when you were a little child. You were
always much in my mind, for I loved your
mother, and you were her favorite. So
she did not allow my name to be forgotten?
She talked of me to her children,
and she kept my portrait."
"Did you say—died!" repeated Anne,
who had given an involuntary start at the
word. "I wonder if I am really meeting
your spirit in a dream? It might be.
Why should it not?"
"You certainly are meeting my spirit,
which is myself, but not in a dream,
Anne felt a thrill of terror. What if this
were not a dream? "I am not dead?"
She looked at Marian with frightened,
"You must be dead," was the answer,
"else how should you be here? Your
mother used to write me that you had unusual
powers; I never had. You might,
as a mortal, possibly see me, but I could
not be conscious of you unless you were
as real as myself."
Anne stared hard at her companion.
"I have, it is true," said she, "imagined
I saw spirits, but they were not like you;
they were phantoms, ghosts, immaterial."
She hesitated, and then took Marian's
hand in hers. "This hand is as solid as
my own. If I believed you were dead—if
I thought I was—dead—myself, oh, it
would be appalling!"
"My dear Anne," said Marian, "we
are both spirits; we were always spirits,
only in the body we were chained spirits.
Material or immaterial only means a point
of view, not a difference."
"I am no spirit," said Anne. "I am of
the earth, and the flesh; all my thoughts
are with, and on the earth, and of the
earth. As to you, Marian, I don't know.
There is an uncertainty in my mind—no,
I mean an enlightenment; I don't know
what to call it—an apprehension. Marian,
do you mind? I thought heaven
was a very different place. I should expect
something more serious, more solemn.
The idea of an everlasting sabbath
used to depress me. I have no desire
for such a state——"
"Heaven! Heaven! Did you think
you were in heaven? Oh, no, this is not
heaven. I trust there may be a heaven,
and a future life, but this is not heaven.
I only know about this world in which I
exist, and that it is immeasurably better
than that other world we have both happily
"It is all so different from one's dreams,"
said Anne. "Dreams," she repeated;
"dreams. Marian, did you long for those
you left behind? Were you lonely without
them? Or were you with them, following
all their affairs with sympathy and understanding?"
"No," replied Marian, "I knew no more
of my loved ones in the past life than
they knew of me. That is the worst of
it, both now and before; the separation,
the waiting. I wish I had had more faith
in the old days. I wish my faith were
greater now. My dearest ones left me
when I was no more than thirty, and I
was eighty when I died. It was a long
waiting. You were a little child, then,
and you must have been well in years
"Don't, don't!" cried Anne; "don't
repeat that dreadful word! I am not, I
cannot be! And yet I know, and hate
the knowledge, that it must come to me
very soon, for I am, as you say, an old
woman. Let me enjoy this beautiful
dream wherein I am still young. But is
this youth? When I look at you, Marian,
you are not old, but you are not young.
My intellect will not conceive it what it
"If you would only believe me," said
Marian, "that we are both relieved of the
burden of the flesh with all its infirmities
and limitations. It is that, only that.
There can be no pain where there is no
flesh to suffer."
"And no sorrow?" asked Anne.
"Sorrow," replied Marian, "that is of
the mind, and the mind is part of ourselves."
"Separation is the worst," replied Anne.
"Separation." "Suppose," she thought,
"that I am really in another existence,
where then is my dear, old John, my husband?"
"Marian," she cried out, "I must go
home; at once!"
"But my dear," said Marian, "you
cannot; as a mortal you could not come
here; how then can you now go there?
Oh, Anne, there are many loved ones waiting
for you here. Many who loved you.
We knew you would arrive suddenly; we
were warned of that; I came first—it was
thought best—to prepare you for the great
"I tell you," said Anne, sharply, "I am
going home. John will miss me. I have
been too long away already."
"Your mother, Anne, she is coming,"
"Not mother, nor father, nor friends
beloved can come between John and me.
I must see John first. Something may
She looked about her. "I don't quite
know where I am. There should be people
about. I see no one to put me on
"Anne," said Marian, "neither you nor
I can find that road."
"Oh, come with me," cried Anne, "help
me to find John; I must find John."
The two women moved together hand
in hand down the hill into the valley.
"I can make out nothing in this bewildering
fog," said Anne, peering out from
under her hand. "Whenever I seem just
about to recognize a familiar place or object,
it is to be blotted out by the fog.
There was no fog before. Oh, Marian, it
should be hereabouts; our house should
Marian withdrew her hand from Anne's.
"You disturb me," she said; "what
you are doing is unlawful. Come away;
something mortal might appear. If you
will not, Anne, you drive me from you;
I dare not stay."
Anne stood alone, trying to pierce with
her gaze the fog which grew perceptibly
thinner. The elm, and then the shrubbery
of her garden began to show darkly,
like shadows. She drew closer, for now
the house itself loomed up, large and imposing,
but in some intangible way different.
The walls, the doors, the windows,
all were there, all in their appointed places.
What, then, was the indefinable change?
It used to be considered such a pleasant
house, so cheerful, so gay with its hanging
creepers, and the bright curtains at the
windows. Two years running a bird had
nested in the cornice over the porch. But
to-day it presented an aspect of gloom
that was forbidding in the extreme. It
gave the impression of a house to be
avoided, a place where wrong things had
happened, or might happen. Anne, now
that she was so near that a word spoken
aloud would reach her husband's ear, and
she had only to lift the knocker and enter
her own door, shrank back with an odd
reluctance. She would walk round to the
study first, and look through the window.
Perhaps John would be there, reading, or
writing a letter, and, without doubt, wondering
what had become of his wife. The
blinds were closed. How like John not
to think of opening them. With all the
blinds down like that, people would think
there was a death——
John was sitting by the table, leaning
forward, apparently asleep. He was so
still, so quiet. Oh, if anything had happened
to John! No; he raised his head as though
he heard someone call, looking straight
in his wife's eyes. Why did he not speak?
What ailed him to look like that? Anne
remembered that she was behind the closed
blinds. His eyes had a strained look as
though he almost saw her.
"John! John!" she cried.
The old man shivered and looked vaguely
round him. Anne noticed that he had
no fire. The hoar-frost of the morning,
that looked so beautiful, he would feel that;
he was very sensitive to changes of temperature
and weather. His clothes, too,
looked thinner than he was in the habit
of wearing—and with a great black patch
on one sleeve! Anne must see to this at
once. John was less fit than ever to take
care of himself. He looked so feeble, so
old, so much older than she had thought.
Ah, what would John do without her?
Her heart yearned over him with the tender
compassion of the strong for the weak,
the deep affection that belongs to the habit
of a lifetime—stronger than the love of
"John, John, my husband!"
Again he turned his face toward the
window, a leaden gray face. Slow tears
ran down his furrowed cheeks and fell on
"Oh, what is it? Oh, my poor old husband!"
Anne flew to the closed door and
snatched at the knocker. Her hands
closed on vacancy. Her own house, her
home, John's home, and she could not get
in! Back she ran to the window. He
was still there, his head lying on his clenched
hands. As though from a long distance,
thin and faint, his voice came to Anne,
broken with weeping. He was calling on
her name—"Anne, Anne!"
"Oh, my dear old husband, do you miss
me so sorely? John, John, open the window
and let me in!"
He moved, as though in answer, but
sank back again with a weary shake of his
head. Anne lifted her arms and struck
at the wall. That it should prove "such
stuff as dreams are made on" gave her no
surprise. She was beside John; nothing
else was of importance. A shadowy serving-maid
opened a door, looked wildly
round, shuddered, and fled. John seemed
conscious of her presence; oh, why not,
then, of Anne's?
She knelt beside him, she laid her hands
on his, she murmured all the foolish endearing
phrases that were their own; but
he saw nothing, he heard nothing.
"Oh, my dear old husband," she said;
"husband of my youth and of my old age;
we are one; we cannot be parted. I
will not leave you. I shall wait beside
John turned with seeing eyes. "Anne!"
he cried, with a loud voice, as his head fell
on her breast.
Together they passed out of the house,
paying no heed to what was left behind,
nor to the terrified call of the serving-maid,
"Help, help, master is dead!"