A Dark Mirror
by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch
In the room of one of my friends hangs a mirror. It is an oblong
sheet of glass, set in a frame of dark, highly varnished wood, carved
in the worst taste of the Regency period, and relieved with faded
gilt. Glancing at it from a distance, you would guess the thing a
relic from some "genteel" drawing-room of Miss Austen's time. But go
nearer and look into the glass itself. By some malformation or mere
freak of make, all the images it throws back are livid. Flood the
room with sunshine; stand before this glass with youth and hot blood
tingling on your cheeks; and the glass will give back neither sun nor
colour; but your own face, blue and dead, and behind it a horror of
Since I heard this mirror's history, I have stood more than once and
twice before it, and peered into this shadow. And these are the
simulacra I seem to have seen there darkly.
I have seen a bleak stone parsonage, hemmed in on two sides by a
grave-yard; and behind for many miles nothing but sombre moors
climbing and stretching away. I have heard the winds moaning and
wuthering night and morning, among the gravestones, and around the
angles of the house; and crossing the threshold, I know by instinct
that this mirror will stand over the mantelpiece in the bare room to
the left. I know also to whom those four suppressed voices will
belong that greet me while yet my hand is on the latch.
Four children are within—three girls and a boy—and they are
disputing over a box of wooden soldiers. The eldest girl, a plain
child with reddish-brown eyes, and the most wonderfully small hands,
snatches up one of the wooden soldiers, crying, "This is the Duke of
Wellington! This shall be the Duke!" and her soldier is the gayest
of all, and the tallest, and the most perfect in every part.
The second girl makes her choice, and they call him "Gravey" because
of the solemnity of his painted features. And then all laugh at the
youngest girl, for she has chosen a queer little warrior, much like
herself; but she smiles at their laughter, and smiles again when they
christen him "Waiting Boy." Lastly the boy chooses. He is handsomer
than his sisters, and is their hope and pride; and has a massive brow
and a mouth well formed though a trifle loose. His soldier shall be
Though the door is closed between us, I can see these motherless
children under this same blue mirror—the glass that had helped to
pale the blood on their mother's face after she left the warm Cornish
sea that was her home, and came to settle and die in this bleak
exile. Some of her books are in the little bookcase here. They were
sent round from the West by sea, and met with shipwreck. For the
most part they are Methodist Magazines—for, like most Cornish folk,
her parents were followers of Wesley—and the stains of the salt
water are still on their pages.
I know also that the father will be sitting in the room to my right—
sitting at his solitary meal, for his digestion is queer, and he
prefers to dine alone: a strange, small, purblind man, full of sorrow
and strong will. He is a clergyman, but carries a revolver always in
his pocket by day, and by night sleeps with it under his pillow.
He has done so ever since some one told him that the moors above were
unsafe for a person with his opinions.
All this the glass shows me, and more. I see the children growing
up. I see the girls droop and pine in this dreary parsonage, where
the winds nip, and the miasma from the churchyard chokes them.
I see the handsome promising boy going to the devil—slowly at first,
then by strides. As their hope fades from his sisters' faces, he
drinks and takes to opium-eating—and worse. He comes home from a
short absence, wrecked in body and soul. After this there is no rest
in the house. He sleeps in the room with that small, persistent
father of his, and often there are sounds of horrible strugglings
within it. And the girls lie awake, sick with fear, listening, till
their ears grow heavy and dull, for the report of their father's
pistol. At morning, the drunkard will stagger out, and look perhaps
into this glass, that gives him back more than all his despair.
"The poor old man and I have had a terrible night of it," he
stammers; "he does his best—the poor old man! but it's all over with
I see him go headlong at last and meet his end in the room above
after twenty minutes' struggle, with a curious desire at the last to
play the man and face his death standing. I see the second sister
fight with a swiftly wasting disease; and, because she is a solitary
Titanic spirit, refuse all help and solace. She gets up one morning,
insists on dressing herself, and dies; and the youngest sister
follows her but more slowly and tranquilly, as beseems her gentler
Two only are left now—the queer father and the eldest of the four
children, the reddish-eyed girl with the small hands, the girl who
"never talked hopefully." Fame has come to her and to her dead
sisters. For looking from childhood into this livid glass that
reflected their world, they have peopled it with strange spirits.
Men and women in the real world recognise the awful power of these
spirits, without understanding them, not having been brought up
themselves in front of this mirror. But the survivor knows the
mirror too well.
"Mademoiselle, vous etes triste."
"Monsieur, j'en ai bien le droit."
With a last look I see into the small, commonplace church that lies
just below the parsonage: and on a tablet by the altar I read a list
of many names. . .
And the last is that of Charlotte Bronte.